The Sermon on the Mount is full of interest as being the longest recorded address given by the Founder of Christianity. In it surely, if anywhere, we should find what is the spirit of Christianity, and to it we should look for the religion of Jesus rather than to the Epistles or to creeds. As Theosophists, it should be of additional interest to us — the present Leader of The Universal Brotherhood having affirmed some years ago that the Sermon on the Mount is pure Theosophy. We can see for ourselves that the teaching of Jesus is part of the Ancient Wisdom Religion, and we can also see that between modern ecclesiasticism and the Sermon on the Mount a great gulf is fixed.
It may help us in a survey of this discourse of Jesus if we try to place ourselves in the conditions in which it was delivered. Jesus had cured many people of various diseases as he went about teaching in the north of Palestine, and as people have always been readily moved by what ministers to their physical well-being, great crowds from all the surrounding districts thronged around Jesus to be healed of their diseases. The benevolent deeds performed by Christ were not only signs of power and compassion, they also served to attract the attention of many whose interest could not have been otherwise aroused. And to those whose attention and interest had thus been awakened by the cure of bodily infirmities, or by the satisfying of their hunger, Jesus offered the healing of the soul and the Bread of Life. Therefore we read that when great multitudes were following him, seeking bodily cures, he went up into a mountain near to the Sea of Galilee,
And when he was seated, his disciples came unto him, and he opened his mouth and taught them saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We can picture the scene. Far below, the blue waters of the Lake of Galilee shimmer in the sunlight, fringed towards the north with groves of oleander. The Jordan steals down from Mount Hermon and the ranges of Lebanon through forests of green trees into the Lake of Galilee. Right opposite, to the East, the hills of the Jaulan, broken and rugged, rise from the very edge of the lake. All around the country is a lovely green, for it was near this spot that on one occasion the multitudes were made to sit down amid the green grass. It is in the midst of such surroundings that Jesus sits on a slope between two rising peaks known as the "Horns of Hattin." On the level ground in front, a vast multitude from Decapolis, and Galilee, and Jerusalem, and beyond Jordan is gathered together, with the disciples near the Master. Under such circumstances the discourse, known as the Sermon on the Mount, was given, chiefly to the disciples, but also to the great multitude gathered there. We can imagine that Jesus spoke in calm, clear tones, not loud, but sweet, and musical, and penetrating far, so that the most distant could hear as those close at hand. And have not his words reached far, even to the ends of the earth? As Carlyle says:
Here was our Orpheus whose speech being of a truth celestial sphere-music, still modulates the souls of men, and divinely leads them.
Well would it have been for the world had Carlyle's words been more generally true. Well would it have been for the Christian Church had it kept close to the Sermon on the Mount, the "celestial sphere-music" of Jesus. Had it done so, then the Church would have been led naturally to the teachings of Theosophy as now revealed. There would have been no great gaps, no abrupt pauses in the orderly course of religious evolution. There would not have been the strife, the persecution, the terrible bloodshed which have been a disgrace to our common humanity. There would have been no "dark ages." And if the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount ruled in the world today the world would have Universal Brotherhood. The world would be far advanced in wisdom and compassion, and it might have been possible for the great Guides of Humanity to entrust to our keeping, for the good of all, mighty secrets of Nature which, if given in the present condition of the world, would probably be seized upon and monopolized by a few to the injury of the rest of humanity.
If we try to answer the questions, "What is the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount? How does it agree with Theosophy? And wherein does it differ from churchianity?" we shall discover the following salient points:
The Sermon on the Mount is entirely undogmatic. It is wholly different from a creed, and from the spirit which formulates a creed.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
Who could fabricate a creed out of mercy, and purity of heart?
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
No man can serve two masters.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.
Here we have Theosophy. Here we find the law of Karma taught. This teaching about mercy, or compassion, and about singleness of heart, or one-pointedness is what we as Theosophists are familiar with in the Voice of the Silence, Light on the Path, and the Bhagavad Gita. All this that Jesus says about the inner life being the real life: all he says about the necessity for being right within rather than living for the sake of appearances, this is the Heart Doctrine as opposed to the Eye Doctrine, about which we read in Theosophical books. Compare this with creedal teaching about the innate depravity of the human soul; or with the teaching about the shifting of the burden of responsibility on to some one else's shoulders, and we cannot fail to see the great gulf that is fixed between creedalism and the teaching of Jesus.
The dogma of substitution is not found in the Sermon on the Mount, and never could have been formed out of it. Jesus teaches that profession and action must correspond — this is plainly the true rock upon which Christianity, equally with Theosophy, rests; for he says:
Every one that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not shall be likened unto a foolish man which built his house upon the sand; . . . but whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock.
It is evident from this that the rock of true religion, of true Christianity, is this, viz., the doing what we know to be right, the reducing of right knowledge to right action, as all the great Teachers and Saviors of the world have taught; the conformity of practice to precept.
All through the Sermon on the Mount the spirit breathed forth is love, purity, compassion, single-mindedness, unworldliness. He teaches us to be genuine, to be true to the very core. We are to BE rather than seem to be. We are to live as Children of God; and Jesus distinctly says we shall reach heights of divine perfection —
Ye shall be perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
The ideal Jesus sets before his followers is nothing short of Perfection, and he assures them that they will reach it, because they are children of the All-Perfect.
Do not make a show of your religion, "Let not your left hand know what your right hand does." Criticise yourself. "Cast the beam out of thine own eye, then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye." Let your light shine that others may see, and not for your own glorification. Be content to be as the silent salt of the earth, if haply you may preserve some part of the whole from decay. Does not this remind one of the Voice of the Silence — "point out the 'way' — however dimly, and lost amid the host, as does the evening star to those who tread their path in darkness"? Or, again, "be as the snow that receives the biting frost, and shields beneath it the earth that holds the promised harvest"? It is in the same spirit that Jesus says, in another place, "One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren — he that is greatest among you shall be your servant." How different this spirit from the spirit of ecclesiasticism! Church history is full of the struggle for wealth, fame, temporal power, and yet we know there are many noble-minded people in the churches, who do seek to carry out the teachings of Christ.
The sermon on the mount is essentially Theosophy: both teach the divinity of man, the law of Karma, the law of compassion, the necessity for being rather than seeming. Both teach the doctrine of the heart as opposed to the eye doctrine. Both are non-creedal. Creedalism differs from Christianity as much as the poisoned waters issuing from some chemical works differ from the limpid stream on the mountain side.
Jesus on one occasion said, "If ye had believed Moses ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me." So today it may be said, had the churches really been followers of Jesus they would have been Theosophists, for the ethical teachings of Christ, and of Theosophy, today are identical. The chief difference is that Jesus gave no scientific explanation of the origin of the universe and of man, for mankind was not then ready for any such teaching. But mankind is now ready for it, hence modern Theosophy gives an account of the origin of man and of the universe in addition to the same lofty ethical teachings which all great Teachers have given in the past. The Theosophy of Jesus 1900 years ago and the Theosophy of today are but different leaves in the same great book of Divine Revelation. Even in the objections raised against the teaching of Jesus and his works, and the objections made against Theosophy, there is a strange similarity. Jesus was said to perform his works by the aid of the devil. Many have found fault with him for performing wonderful works. Others have doubted the performance of such works. So too, H. P. Blavatsky was said to be an agent of the devil. Others thought it was a great mistake that she performed wonderful works; not understanding that, as in the case of Jesus, such works were necessary at first to rouse the attention of a materialistic world. Again some have said that the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are to be found in the Talmud and other ancient writings: and some have professed to trace H. P. Blavatsky's writings to other learned works. Again, do we not know that for a time Theosophy was rejected by many because it was not regarded as sufficiently fashionable and respectable; and for aught that I know some may think so still. This was the case with the teachings of Jesus. We read that when the officers who were sent to arrest Jesus returned and said, "never man so spake," the chief priests and Pharisees triumphantly replied, "Hath any of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees?" And this was supposed to settle the matter. Alas! the fashionable, the worldly, the outward, the conventional and respectable rabble of any age have never been ready to bow down to the messengers of Truth — they have already given their allegiance to the god of conventionality and respectability.
The Sermon on the Mount has this peculiarity that it cannot be taken to pieces and analyzed. It is a living, beautiful, harmonious Unity. When you have dissected anything it is no longer living. And that is the mistake made by churchianity. It dissected and analyzed, and then tried to build up a creed, but the thing constructed was only a dogma, or set of dogmas, not living Christianity. No doubt teachings similar to those of the Sermon on the Mount may be found in fragments throughout various ancient writings, but nowhere else are they brought together in the same harmony of proportion, and endowed with such individual life. The stones in the quarry differ greatly from the same stones fitly shaped together in a great building. How different is the human form from the chemical elements that go to build it up!
It seems to be a sign of great masterpieces that there is never but one. There is only one Paradise Lost. There is in all the wealth of Oriental literature only one Bhagavad Gita. We may never have another Voice of the Silence, or Light on the Path, even among all the grand revelations which the future will surely bring. Even so there is but one Sermon on the Mount. It is an individual note and it fits into its place in the great harmony — that harmony which ever proceeds from the Divine, which sounds through all worlds, and will continue to sound until all men, and nations, and worlds are brought into perfect unison — the joy of perfect life.
Universal Brotherhood Path