What, then, is Christ’s idea of righteousness? In other words, what did He teach concerning the good life? Now here also, as in His teaching about God, Christ did not need to begin de novo. Those to whom He spoke had already their own ideals of duty and holiness. True, these were sadly in need of revision and correction. Nevertheless, such as they were, they were there, and Christ could use them as His starting-point. Consequently, therefore, we find His ideas of righteousness defined largely by contrast with existing ideas. “It was said to them of old time ... but I say unto you.” This is the note heard all through the Sermon on the Mount. The contrast may be stated in two ways.
(1) In the first place, Christ said that the righteousness of His disciples must exceed that of publicans and heathen: “If ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the Gentiles the same?” There are virtues exhibited in the lives of even wholly irreligious men. There are rudimentary moral principles which they that know not God nevertheless acknowledge and obey. It was so in Christ’s time; it is so still. The popular American ballad, “Jim Bludso,” and Ian Maclaren’s touching story of the Drumtochty postman, are familiar illustrations of self-sacrificing virtues revealed by men of coarse and vicious lives. Nor ought we to deny the reality of such virtues; still less ought we to follow the bad example of St. Augustine and call them “splendid vices.” Such was not Christ’s way. He assumed the existence and reality of this “natural goodness,” and with familiar illustrations of it on His tongue turned upon His disciples with the question, “What do ye more?”
“What do ye more?” Yet in some respects, it is to be feared, the morality of the Church sometimes falls behind that of the world. One of the most painful passages in St. Paul’s epistles is that in which he tells the Corinthian Christians that one of their own number had been guilty of immorality such as would have shocked even the conscience of an unbelieving Gentile. And it was but the other day that I came across this sentence from the pen of an observant and friendly critic of contemporary religious life: “I am afraid,” he said, “it must be admitted that the idea of honour, though in itself an essential part of Christian ethics, is much stronger outside the Churches than within them.” How far facts justify the criticism I will not stay to inquire; but the very fact that a charge like this can be made should prove a sharp reminder to us of the stringency of the demands which Jesus Christ makes upon us. There is no kind of sound moral fruit which is to be found anywhere in the wide fields of the world which He does not look for in richer and riper abundance within the garden of His Church.