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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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PHILANTHROPY.—Philanthropy (φιλανθρωπία) is the love of man as man. It is love unconditioned by self, or by partly selfish relations of family and nation. It is love unto the uttermost. The Greek word occurs twice in the NT. St. Paul uses it of the universal compassion of God for mankind (Titus 3:4), and St. Luke uses it to describe the kindness of the ‘barbarians’ of Melita towards the aliens shipwrecked on their coasts (Acts 28:2). In both cases the word is correctly used to describe the compassion which recognizes no limitation. It is the element of universality that transforms humanitarian feeling into philanthropy. We shall not therefore consider here the kindliness that belongs in some measure to all human intercourse, nor even that special manifestation of it which is seen in the charity of the early Christian Church. We shall confine our attention to showing how Christ infused into the common human sentiment that which completely transformed it, giving to it a finer motive, a larger range of activity, an absolute sanction, until St. John could venture to use his. striking paradox, and say that the old law which they had had from the beginning was now ‘a new commandment’ (1 John 2:7-8).

Human pitifulness for human suffering belongs to the nature of man. It has always made the tender grace in human intercourse, and not infrequently it has risen to such heights as to command the instinctive admiration of the world for all that is heroic. But at best it has been spasmodic in its manifestation, it has been uncertain in its degree of intensity, and it has been strictly limited in its range. Christ took the rudimentary instinct and made it into a universal law. It is limited now neither in the sphere of its operation, nor in the time of its application: it is valid over all the earth, and applies to all generations. It dominates all mankind, and lifts man up to those levels of life in which sacrifice is consummate and eternal. It is the germ out of which has sprung all the highest good in social intercourse; out of it have come not only the occasional amenities of life, but even the moral usages of men. It is the secret of civilization, and its hold upon the imagination and conscience has become so great that it is now woven into the moral consciousness of men. It is a commandment as definite and as binding as any in the Decalogue; it comprehends them all, and where it is not honoured its neglect is visited with the contempt and censure of the world, while he who fails to obey it realizes in himself the degeneration which is the natural outworking of all Divine law abused by men. The Gospel story reveals the process by which this transformation has been made good. The evolution by which compassion has been changed into philanthropy is so subtly described that it may easily escape the notice of the superficial reader, but to those who possess the necessary spiritual insight and enlightenment the story has all the charm of a natural development. It establishes the origin of the law: reveals Christ as its Author. Philanthropy is the immediate product of the Incarnation.

1. Jesus could scarcely have been born into a less promising sphere for the promulgation of such a law. He could scarcely have found a less likely milieu than Judaism afforded for the cultivation of such a principle of life; nor could He have made His attempt at a time when common human pitifulness seemed at a lower ebb, than in the days that marked the decadence of the Empire of Rome. The contempt of the Roman for the conquered, and of the Greek for the barbarian, has always been recognized. Plato speaks with commendation of ‘the pure and innate hatred of the foreign nature,’ and Aristotle condones the slavery of his age, and complacently regards the slave as ‘a kind of animate machine.’ It is not until we come to the Stoicism of the Christian era that we meet with any teaching that approaches philanthropy, though even here we have Seneca laying down, as motive for the high type of benevolence he inculcated, the ‘consciousness of having a noble nature’ (de Benef, iv. 12). Blood relationships have always and universally laid down marked boundaries in the empire of love, and these have found a complete and historic embodiment in caste as it may be studied in India to-day. But it may well be considered whether even this system is not left far behind by the Jew, who held that the Gentiles without the Law were accursed, thus excluding all foreigners not only from the regard of man but even from that of God. Yet the fact remains that Christ, born into such a system, created the philanthropy that ignores all frontiers, and does not hesitate to lay down life itself for those whose one claim is that they share in the common humanity.

There are not wanting in the Gospel narrative incidents which seem to show that Christ inherited this feeling of His countrymen and of His age, at least to some extent. He limits the ministry of His disciples to the villages of Judaea, bidding them avoid the villages of the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5); and in His interview with the Syrophœnician woman (Mark 7:26) He not only repeats the limitation given to His disciples as binding also upon Himself, declaring that He was not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but speaks of the woman as a dog, and claims for the Jews that they are the children of the household. Contempt could no further go, and the words fall strangely from the Saviour’s lips. But without for the moment setting against these passages others in which the sympathy of Jesus is seen to be as catholic as it was tender, it may very well be argued that these two incidents do not establish exclusiveness in Christ, and in any case the exclusiveness broke down and gave way to the very opposite feeling in Him. But, apart from that, it may be shown that the limitation in the injunction given to the disciples was due not to any narrowness in the Saviour’s sympathy, but rather to His recognition of the limitations of His emissaries. The Apostles, with their prejudices strong within them, had scarcely the tact and the culture necessary for those who would open the door of faith to the Gentiles, and subsequent events show how after many a lesson the leader of the band, St. Peter himself, was unable fully to recognize the truth so clearly seen and strongly enforced by St. Paul. At any rate it is most significant that when the lessons of Christ’s life were drawing to a close the prohibition was taken away, and the Apostles were instructed to ‘go into all the world, and make disciples of all the nations’ (Matthew 28:19). A far greater difficulty is seen in the story of the Syrophœnician woman. Here the Saviour’s words are so entirely at variance not only with His own act on that occasion, but with the tenderness and courtesy with which at all other times He dealt with women, that attempts have been made from the earliest times to reconcile the contrast between the Spirit of Jesus and His harsh and contemptuous words on the occasion. The words can scarcely be justified even on the supposition that it was a harsh discipline intended to bring out the triumphant faith of the woman. We hold that Christ used the words in irony, and that, feeling the utter falseness of the leaders and teachers of the. Jews, driven in utter weariness from them into Gentile territory, He assumes for the time being the narrow spirit which belonged to them, that His disciples might see how Pharisaic doctrine looked when reduced to act in dealing with the sorrow and need of the world. He throws into contrast with that doctrine the quick intuition of the woman, as well as the humility of her trust as she declares that even the Gentiles have a place in the family of God. There could be no finer method of revealing to the disciples the contrast between that exclusiveness of spirit which He had come to destroy, and the larger trust in the all-comprehending love of God which He came to fulfil.

Christ gave, then, to the human feeling of pitiful concern for another the universality which it lacked. And He did this first by His full and generous recognition of good in the alien, whether He found him in the actual commerce of life or in the imaginary scenes which He made to live in parabolic teaching. He had not found in Israel such faith as He found in the centurion (Matthew 8:10-11), and He closed His tribute to that faith by saying that many should come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham in the Kingdom of God, while the favoured people themselves should be cast out. When He was asked for a definition of a neighbour, He pointed to a Samaritan, and described him as possessing qualities lacking in priest and Levite (Luke 10:27 ff.). He had spoken of His own people with a great tenderness as ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24), but He extends that tenderness to the Gentile world when He speaks of ‘other sheep not of this fold.’ He says that they too are His, and them also He must bring (John 10:16). Whether He spoke the words to Nicodemus or not, it is clear that John learnt from Him that the love of God was not the exclusive privilege of the Jew, but that God loved ‘the world,’ and that His salvation was within the reach of whosoever should believe (John 3:16). In ‘the Gospel to the Greeks’ He speaks of ‘all men’ as coming within the attractive power of Himself crucified and ascended (John 12:32). And when He gave to His followers His final commission, there was no limit to the sphere of their evangelic labours: they were to ‘go into all the world,’ ‘to make disciples of all the nations’ (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19). Christ not only widened the domain of this law of love, pushing back the boundaries marked out by social custom or selfish expediency or fear, but He also enriched the law by giving it a deeper note, an intenser spirit. The poor man for neglect of whom Dives found himself at last in torment, was ‘full of sores,’ he was licked by the dog, the common scavenger of offal. Such was the claimant upon the rich man’s kindliness (Luke 16:20 ff.). Lowly service touched its lowliest when the Master stooped to the feet of the disciple (John 12:5). Throughout the East the touch of the foot brings defilement and degradation. And when the service had been rendered to His followers, He spoke to them of ‘a new commandment’ which He had therein given them (John 13:15; John 13:34). He called upon those who would follow Him to be ready to sell all and follow Him (Matthew 19:21). The gift that won the approval of Heaven was not that which came out of the superfluity of the rich, but the widow’s mite, for that was ‘all that she had’ (Mark 12:43). Last of all, He declared that He Himself would give unto the uttermost, for as Good Shepherd He was ready to lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). There was thus added to the length and breadth of universal love the height and depth of sacrifice, and these two elements wrought powerfully in the instinctive love of man until the neediness of each became the common burden of all, and philanthropy became a part of the spiritual equipment of men.

2. The expression of that spiritual equipment will develop from age to age. The forms of its expression in the early days of the Christian era are well known. Christ instructed His disciples to heal the sick, and generally to minister to the physically distressed. The relief of the poor seems to have been another marked form of Christian philanthropy from the first, and they were in addition to minister in spiritual things, and to seek to admit men into the Kingdom of God. It may at first sight appear as if this was a strictly limited form of philanthropy, but it is obvious that the form of expression was accommodated to the capacities of the agents chosen and to the simplicity of the life which they were accustomed to live. Such forms of sympathetic relief, we may be assured, existed long before Christ sent forth His disciples; that which He added was the twofold vitalizing principle which made the charity of the age a living reality. It became real (ἀληθές, 1 John 2:8) in them, as it was already in Him. The universality and the intensity which were His contribution to the common love, the old commandment of mankind, were also notes of life. Love without limit in range or in intensity,—such was the new commandment illustrated in the washing of the disciples’ feet. It was now ἀγάπη εἰς τέλος, it was love unto the uttermost (John 13:1). And having dropped into the human instinct the vitalizing germ of a new principle, Christ was content to leave the new law to find wider and fuller expression as the years moved on. With the developing powers of man, that vitalized law would be certain to find a far more extended application than lay within the compass of His earliest followers. In that age the manumission of the slave, the education of the poor, the enforcement of laws of sanitation—such things as are the commonplaces of philanthropic measures in our time—were not within the power of the disciples of Christ. But we can see that that which gives them the sanction of law, that which comes into every social reform that has any promise of permanence or of helpfulness, is just that with which Christ filled the hearts of His followers as He sent them forth on their simpler mission:—all endowment is but a trust; ‘freely ye have received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:8); there is no limit in love; the neediness of each is the common burden of all. All social reform, happily increasingly recognized, advocated, accepted, in our age, is but the working out in the larger life of to-day of the vital principle contributed by Christ when He made love’s range conterminous with the universe of God, and at the same moment made it instinct with His own passion and sacrifice.

But philanthropy as Christ has taught it in the Gospel story goes further than this. It not only is the spring of all true social reform, but it possesses the power to enforce observance. It gives the sanction of duty to all such observance. It becomes not merely an added quality in human intercourse, but a positive compelling force. It is a new commandment. Neglect to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and the sick, or to translate these special terms into the general terms for which they stand,—to meet all human need as it arises,—such neglect is not in the eyes of Christ a venial offence, a trifle of indifference; it is clear He took a far more serious view of it: He taught His disciples that it meant rejection in the judgment of God; it excludes him who so neglects from the Kingdom. Philanthropy was thus invested with the august powers of a moral law. If we consider philanthropy to be the common human instinct endowed with the range given to it by Christ, the εἰς τέλος of His own showing, we can see how this binding quality, this sanction, is imparted. For such a quality in love strikes at the root of that which is destructive of all morality, and that is briefly the calculating spirit. The immoral compromises which we so often make with ourselves become impossible when love unto the uttermost is the rule of our regard for our fellow-men. It opposes every tendency to evade law where possible. It adds strength and loyalty to obedience, and imparts to scrupulous observance the gladness of enthusiasm. This operation so relines and enlarges duty, that by the side of it all other duty seems the merest travesty of duty, and to fail to reach this height of moral observance becomes a positive failure, a moral offence, a breach of law. Christ accomplished this by striking clear and strong that personal note which is the key to all His influence. He attached men to Himself, and then exhibited in. Himself the very law which He promulgated, until in after days the appeal might be made to the Christian Church that its members should bear one another’s burdens, since only thus could they fulfil that Law which Christ was (οὑτῶς ἀναπληρώσατε τὸν νόμον τοῦ Χριστοῦ, Galatians 6:2). This love unto the uttermost was lived; and lived by Him who by His own loveliness has drawn all men to Himself. It is for this reason that words which might easily have become the rules of another futile Utopia, or the striking maxims of an original teacher, have become instinct with the spiritual; and with the new law of love the power to realize it was given. When to His setting forth of the new philanthropy Christ added the words, ‘Ye have done it unto me’ (Matthew 25:40), He endowed His words with spirit and life.

This spirit the Christian Church has sought to realize in what are called Missions. No distinction need ever be made between ‘Home’ and ‘Foreign’ Missions. Least of all should any be made when we consider, as we do here, the spirit which belongs to both. The resource and ingenuity of love will appear in all such enterprise. There is no power of modern life but will be pressed into service by the love which recognizes no limit to its operation, no limitation to its spirit. Legislative powers will be used for what they are worth. Social organization, all that art or science can teach,—in a word, all the fulness of life,—will be permeated and freely used by this great law of love. That law will find its fullest application in the service of the alien, and the foreigner. Here, if anywhere, the universality of love will be seen; when the missionary breaks every tie that makes the sweetness of his life, to carry the burdens of

‘Sullen peoples, half devil and half child,’

he reveals the intensest manifestation of that love whose Divine note is sacrifice. It is no wonder that the story of the triumphs of the gospel, or of the devotion of the missionary in strange and remote regions or in circumstances of peculiar physical peril and distress, has so often come back to the Christian Church with a breath as of the ocean, a breath that infuses new life into the stale observance and gives new stimulus to the jaded servant, a breath that whispers of broad spaces, of elemental forces, of the fulness of the Infinite, the

‘Deep where all our thoughts are drowned.’

Missionary service must always be the perfection of philanthropy. And philanthropy is love without limit, and love is of Cod, for God is Love.

Literature.—Uhlhorn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church; Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity; v. Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church; Seeley, Ecce Homo; Harnack, Expansion of Christianity; Storrs, Divine Origin of Christianity; Brace, Gesta Christi; Church, Gifts of Civilization; and the following Sermons:—on John 13:34 by F. W. Robertson (i. 234), Matthew 19:18 by C. H. Spurgeon, Mark 12:29-31 by A. Alexander. The question is also treated on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount by Gore, Trench, and Tholuck.

W. W. Holdsworth.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Philanthropy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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