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[The Translation is Copyright by arrangement with the Author.]
Note.-The Publishers hope to issue the Second Volume in
the course of a few months.
AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE
It affords me great pleasure to see my work on the teaching of Jesus thus appearing in an English translation ; and I have to tender my warmest thanks to the publishers and the translator for the care and pains they have bestowed upon this edition of my work. At the same time, I wish briefly to indicate, for the English reader, the interest which prompted me in the prosecution of my task, and which, I hope, this work may awaken, and in some measure satisfy, in the minds of others.
My interest in the historical treatment of the teaching of Jesus arises from the conviction that the historical Jesus Christ, in His annunciation, by word and deed, of the kingdom of God, was the perfect revelation of God for men; and from the desire that this conviction may, more than ever heretofore, have practical sway in the scientific study and the popular dissemination of Christian truth. The teaching of the Founder of the Christian religion must, with entire consistency, be employed as the standard for testing all Church doctrine and tradition ; the highest authority must be accorded to it in regulating our own practical Christian life as well as Christian doctrine.
I am firmly persuaded that a resolute return to the teaching of Jesus Himself will be the most powerful and efficient means of promoting and strengthening the Christian religion in our time, and making it clear and intelligible.
The view that the historical teaching of Jesus Christ was the perfect revelation of God for men, has been always theoretically recognised in the Christian Church, and has had its place assigned it in dogmatic teaching in regard to the prophetic office of Christ. The necessary practical application of this view, however, has been cramped on the part of Catholicism by the theory of the infallible authority of Church teaching, and of Protestantism by the theory of the normative authority of the Holy Scriptures for Christian doctrine. Where the Holy Scriptures, as a whole, are regarded as expressing the immediate revelation of God, the sayings and discourses of Jesus are indeed viewed as part of the contents of Scripture; but there is no definite reason for emphasising their specific pre-eminence over the other contents of Scripture. Even Paul has in reality had a much greater influence in moulding the form of Christian doctrine in Protestantism than Jesus Himself. I will not here speak of the difficulties with which the old orthodox theory of the mechanical inspiration of Holy Scriptures is attended. Every one who really knows Scripture, will recognise that historical human factors were concerned in the production of its particular parts, and that there are gradations of religious value in the different parts. Such a one will, accordingly, judge that, in setting up Holy Scripture as the standard
for Christian doctrine, a distinction must be made between the different parts or sides of the contents of Scripture. But where shall we find the sure principle for making such a distinction ? If, passing from particulars, we sought to distinguish between the essential and non-essential, the “spirit” and the “letter,” an open door would be offered for subjective caprice. Also, no ecclesiastical formula of doctrine, of greater or less extent, and of older or more modern date, could furnish us with a sure principle of distinction, since the question, whether such a regula fidei represented in a full and authentic way the contents of Christian doctrine, would require to be ever anew tested by an independent examination of Scripture. The one sure authorised principle of such a distinction is furnished by Jesus Christ Himself, if we recognise in His teaching concerning the kingdom of God the highest and perfect revelation of God. The question, how much of the component elements of the Old Testament revelation has permanent value for the Christian Church, must ever be decided by the agreement or disagreement of the Old Testament ideas with the teaching of Jesus. But even the judgment, that the ideas of Paul and James or any other New Testament writer are of standard authority for Christian doctrine, must, in the last instance, be justified by indicating their agreement with the teaching of Jesus. So far as it may be found opposed to this teaching, the authority of Paul must yield to the higher of Jesus Christ, whose servant and apostle he was.
By such a mode of view, the evangelical recognition of the unique significance of Holy Scripture will not
be impaired, but rather, firmly established. For Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament, contains a collection of documents from which alone we learn to recognise as authentic, and historically to understand, the revelation given in Jesus Christ. But the Holy Scriptures are not directly and indiscriminately the highest standard for our Christian doctrine ; but the real touchstone is the teaching of Jesus which is borne witness to in the Holy Scriptures. This norm really combines in itself the excellences which traditional evangelical dogmatics ascribe to the Scriptures, but which cannot be shown to belong to the whole contents of Scripture indiscriminately. The teaching of Jesus is a unity, definite and complete, giving incomparable instruction in all that pertains to our saving intercourse with God; it is of transparent simplicity even for an unlettered and childlike intelligence; and it attests its own Divine truth and value immediately to our consciousness without needing to be accredited by an external authority.
If we are in earnest, however, in taking the teaching of Jesus as the highest standard for our own Christianity and our own Christian preaching, we have the highest interest in learning it with historical accuracy. We must endeavour to attain a knowledge of its authentic contents, not according to later tradition, but according to the oldest and best sources. We must seek to know its complete contents, not merely in its main outlines, but also in its organic connection and its particular details. We must seek to know its pure form, not only as unmixed with the dogmatic and ethical teaching of later Christian times, but even