*Pastor’s Note: Here’s the conclusion of Robert Eyton’s lessons on Christ as Our Moral Teacher.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them . . . – Matthew 5:1.
As it was back when Robert Eyton first penned his ideas about our subject today, there were a lot of writers, so-called modern thinkers, and today, they have certainly proliferated exponentially! Many of them then, and much more so today, truly believe there are serious omissions in the moral teaching of Christ; they have felt the divergence that so often exists between Christianity and life; that (so it seems to them) it has become a faith, a creed, and not truly a life; and they argue further that before it can be said to be a real change of lifestyle, a great deal has to be added and insisted on; that if a man were to frame his life on the Sermon on the Mount, to order himself according to the Beatitudes, he would not be completely virtuous (by the world’s standards of virtue)—that there would be sides of his character undeveloped, and whole regions of his duty neglected, as a person, and as a citizen even.
Before we deal with the subject in detail, I have to say this: that nowhere does Jesus Christ claim to have originated a NEW code of morals, that He had always assumed an existing one, and that the advances which He adds upon previously existing ones should not to be allowed to obscure this fact; we would do well to bear in mind and to say that the teaching of Christ and His Apostles takes a main portion of moral effort for granted (from the perspective of the world) which Jesus never mentions in detail. It was to the points in which previous morality failed that Christ took upon Himself to naturally address. It was not necessary to dwell on lessons already learnt, or ones that should have been taught, the most basics of morality.
Christ never said, “be brave, be self-reliant, respect yourself,” because He knew the experience of life would teach natural men all these things, and because Christian common-sense would teach them as well. So again He did not say “be honest,” because the law of the community, the very idea of human life, implants and instills honesty as a virtue. He built UPON these things indirectly.
I want to add just a bit before moving on to the effect that the area(s) of moral life, where Gospel precepts DO hold sway and make an impact, is that area within man, where social restraint and public opinion exercise and have no control at all. It is the area(s) of motive and inward self-control, in other words, spiritual discipline, which the Beatitudes govern; they fill-in where there is lack, they supplement and add to previous systems of teachings, they touch these deepest springs within man which affect his whole moral nature. The Beatitudes moral aim is (1) to accentuate the value of inward virtue as distinct from outward, and to lay down the absolute necessity of right inward intention; and (2) to emphasize the importance of certain moral elements which the existing morality either ignored or misrepresented, and which are always in danger of being forgotten in the fret and hurry of life, unless they are enforced by some higher directive,—I mean such virtues as humility, forgiveness, endurance, patience, sympathy, purity. All the things you would find with in the nature of our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, Himself!
If we would take the time to remember and meditate on this, we would approach the Sermon on the Mount with the right perspective; it is corrective, it is supporting in its ethical teaching, but it is not—and could not be exhaustive. It was addressed to those who accepted and practiced the best moral teaching of their day, but who, inasmuch as they were destined to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world,” had to aim at a more perfect standard so the rest of us could benefit.
Nothing can be more important for those who have to deal with children in the area of teaching and raising, than to understand this fact I just laid out. The primary virtues, justice, courage, good judgment, and discipline certainly need to be taught and instilled before we try to build up the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. There are elementary lessons in morality which must precede the teaching and inclusion of the Beatitudes. These primary virtues need to be a foundation on which the building of the Beatitudes could be a success. We do no real service to Christian morality when we forget to teach and instill these primary things; we shall only make ourselves ready for the higher spiritual wisdom as we are able to recognize that the New Testament was not meant to teach us everything, rather that it takes and builds, as stated before, upon the foundation which we learn for ourselves by the discipline of life, and especially when the full impact of Christian consciousness, the God-enlightened moral faculty within us comes to light from the shadows of darkness, then and only then can the Beatitudes make true and real the possibility of spiritual fruit-bearing for ourselves. So we shall arrive at that great and complete realization of life and that more abundantly, which we owe to our Divine Master, and which has been again and again realized, in the most diverse ways, in the lives of His truest and most yielded servants.