The Religion of Jesus requires us to understand ...

The Knowledge of God

Toyohiko Kagawa: There are very many religions in the world to-day. There are religions of self-interest, of tradition or convention, of authority, of sex desire, religions which worship a given social organization, and so forth. In Japan they take the form of belief in the seven gods of luck and other gods of fortune, the worship of idols and the fox shrines, and other forms of paganism. But the religion which Jesus taught was a Way of Life, which experiences God intuitively through life and love. For that reason the teaching of Jesus cannot be understood through theory alone. The God of Jesus is not a theoretical God of the philosopher - "The Absolute," "The Infinite "; the God of Jesus is Himself very Life (John 1:1-4).

The religion Jesus taught is a religion of life. People who are fully alive, people who are living strongly, can understand it; but those who deny life, who do not want to live, cannot get its meaning. The God of Jesus is a God of Action. People who stay at home and read their Bibles and pray and meditate, and do nothing for the poor who beg help before their very doors - such people will find the God of Jesus unintelligible. His God is One who is naturally reflected in a man's heart when he has saved even one suffering human being, or lifted up one who has been oppressed. The loveless do not know God. Only when a man has plunged into the blindly struggling crowd and tried to save them from their sins and failures, can he know this God. Only through the active movement of love will he intuitively come to know the God of Action.

It is important to bear in mind this distinction between the God of idea and the God of action. Jesus thought that when the conscience is keen, God will naturally grow in the soul. It will not be out of place therefore to examine some of those attitudes of soul which Jesus pointed out to be necessary to the knowledge of God:

(1) The Mind of the Child (Matt. 11:25, Luke 10:21, Luke 18:17). There are some very difficult religions in the world. For instance, the religion of Theosophy, recently so popular, could not be understood by babies. But Christianity can be comprehended in a wonderful way even by babes in their mothers' arms. A child a year and a half old can pray. Or again, the study of the Zen philosophy in Buddhism is unsuitable for children two or three years old. If we had to read [Benedict] Spinoza [1632-1677, "Ethics"], [Henri] Bergson [1859-1941, "An Introduction to Metaphysics"], Paul Natorp [1854-1924, "Religion inside the Boundaries of Humanity"], and [Karl Ludvig] Reichelt [1877-1952, "Meditiation and Piety in the Far East"], in order to know God, only a few of the intelligentsia could hope to be saved. But Jesus declared that His God is intelligible to children rather than to philosophers.

The revelation of God in a child's heart shows that God naturally lives in the hearts of human beings. If God really exists, there must be no time from babyhood till death when He is not with us.

When the theory of Evolution was first introduced, people concluded that Evolution had conducted the funeral of God. When Rationalism was popular, people relied on reason and dispensed with God. But more recently, since religious psychology has been studied seriously, it has become clear that religion is deeply rooted in the heart of both the individual and the race. Darwin found in Terra del Fuego a race which he thought was intermediary between man and the monkey, one that had no religion, and which, as he thought, had existed from before the time man possessed religion. But when, later on, a missionary found as a result of further investigation that this same race did have a religion, though one devoid of ceremony, Darwin acknowledged his mistake, and sent a twenty pound subscription to the missionary society. There never has been at any time in any race, nor in humanity as a whole, an era when religion did not exist.

Some say, "Karl Marx is enough for men. I have no use for religion." However it may be for others, for me, since my birth, I could not help but be religious. Before I became a Christian, I was brought up in an atmosphere of Shinto. I was made in such a fashion that I could not help but worship God. I cannot possibly be satisfied with Materialism. A desire to believe God inevitably springs up in my heart, and I cannot help but seek Him.

In one who is fully developed, the sense of pain is keen. On the other hand, a person who is backward is often lacking in the sense of pain. Religion is like one of the senses. It is the power of the perfect human being to perceive the ultimate values. It is a special sense, like the senses of pain and of emotion, which only higher animals possess. It is dull in the feeble-minded, as the Psalmist says, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." (Psa. 14:1)

Since William James wrote his Varieties of Religious Experience, all religious psychologists affirm that every complete man has a religious sense. But it is possible for people who are crushed by machines, or mad with love, or enslaved by the lust of gold, to have dissipated this religious sense and lost it. Such people must turn right-about-face once more, and start again. The experience of God is a growing as well as an intuitive one; Jesus pointed to the heart of a child, when speaking of how to know God.

For thirteen years I have lived among human wastage - the feeble-minded, insane, sick, crippled, among those whose wills were paralysed by drink, among half-conscious drug-addicts and prostitutes. It is hard for such people to know the God of Jesus. Unless one has lived in an atmosphere of love and piety one cannot really know God. God reveals Himself only in an innocent heart. People who have corrupted their consciousness can be moved by magic or sorcery, but cannot know a pure religious mind. It is very meaningful, therefore, that Jesus pointed out a child as a religious example.

The Israelites were led by Moses for forty years, but they could not see his God. Therefore God extinguished the generation which had wandered in the desert, and into the fresh childlike hearts of the succeeding generation inspired a new religion.

Similarly it may be hard for the present generation of Japanese [1931], whose blood is old and corrupted, to see the God of Jesus. In order to experience God, they must right-about-face once more, and restore in themselves the child-heart. If they do this, the unclouded image of God will again be manifested in their innocent minds.

(2) The Pure in Heart (Matt. 5:8). This is but another description of the heart of the child. To see God, one's heart must be clear. If a man suffers from astigmatism, he has to wear special glasses; and even with these, because my eyeballs are wrinkled, I can see but dimly. In this same way, if the transparent body of your heart has wrinkles on it, or is crumpled, your focus for seeing God will be disturbed, and you can only have a vague religious sense.

Some say, "I was once an earnest Christian, but Christianity has insulted me!" and refuse to come to church. What I say to such people is that they have astigmatism. Especially nowadays since the idea of materialistic revolution has become so very popular, people say, "Christian churches are but tools of capitalism. Destroy them! Bomb them!" But if they destroy everything, nothing will be left. They themselves will be destroyed also. And, of course, when that happens they will not need any religion! Many people are leading this sort of purposeless life; they need to return once more to their natural life, that is, to God.

(3) The Heart of the Publicans and Sinners (Matt. 21:31). There is a special beauty in the return of a man who, confessing his sin in his wandering life, comes back to God.

Christianity possesses three essential elements, different from those of other religions: (1) Life, (2) Self (personality, character), and (3) Salvation. It is a characteristic of the religion of Jesus that through it people who have lost their personality through living an aimless life are once more able to share in the life with God. It is for this reason the religion of Jesus is called a religion of salvation.

Some say, "Salvation? What is salvation? I can save myself. It is nobody else's business!" For such folk there is no need of Christianity. Unless a man recognizes his need, that there is something lacking in himself, and longs to have that lack made up, no matter how much he reads his Bible and hears preaching, he will not understand Christianity.

Faith acquired through reason only is liable to run away like water from an open sluice-pipe. It may last through schooldays, but once a man has commenced to go to the office and is invited a few times to geisha banquets and the like, he leaves his Christianity behind; his faith runs away like water. It has no moral fibre.

But there is something strong and courageous in the man who comes straight back to God from a wandering life. Therefore Jesus said that traitors and prostitutes are quicker to enter the Kingdom of God. There is a deep meaning in the words of Jesus that the healthy do not desire a physician, but the sick. Rudolph Virchow first discovered the cells of the human body while looking through a microscope in his pathological laboratory.

Christianity, studying man from the point of view of his sin, his pathological aspect, at the same time discovers a great power, that is, the power to save. There is at work in mankind a Life, a Regenerative Power, to redeem society in all its hopelessness and sin. It is working to turn the corrupted universe upside down and once more lift it upward.

Jesus clearly realized that this regenerative power was in Himself. It is a power which is regenerative rather than generative. It is not a one-way natural religion, it is a religion of salvation which makes a man right-about-face and be reborn again. Jesus pointed to himself as a revelation of this God of Salvation.

As has been said already, Jesus thought of God as Spirit or Life. We may doubt and deny everything, but life still exists. Descartes doubted everything in the universe, but he found it impossible to doubt his own existence, and cried, "Cogito, ergo sum." ["I think, therefore I am"] Some people think that if God is only Spirit, He is something vague and unreal; but there is nothing more certain and real than life. And because life is the very power of God, this life cannot be denied. Therefore a religion of life is always spiritual.

People often say, "We are our own selves." But there is a part of ourselves which does not belong to ourselves. For instance, my heart works on without any relation to myself. Even if I should try to stop it, it would not stop. It is the same with the many millions of brain cells. Each of us have some parts of a super-ego ["conscience"] in ourselves. The reason why religion is always spiritual is because the experience of life itself is internal and intuitive.

Again, Jesus said that God is One (Matt. 23:9). How can one know that God is One? You may explain it in many ways theoretically, but empirically God is One because the conscience is one. If a man's conscience becomes disunited, at that moment idol worship begins. When conscience is defeated by self-interest, by social customs or by outside authority, and the life-power is scattered in many pieces, God also seems to be broken to bits.

William James said, "No matter how far selection is carried, a thing which is pluralistic cannot be reduced to less than two." To the conscience in good working order, God is One; but when the conscience degenerates, pluralism appears. Religion which lacks confidence in itself is always pluralistic. But the God whom Jesus experienced in His heart was One. Those who are most sensitive to the voice of conscience feel that God is One. The soul of man is essentially one, and never should be ruptured, or disintegrated.

Sometimes people who until now have been earnest Christians suddenly become doubtful of their faith. When the reason is sought, in many cases it is because their souls have become preoccupied with love affairs or the like.

An age which does not possess a religion of unity such as Christianity is always chaotic like an age of war. When you study the history of Egypt, its religion was at first henotheistic ["belief in one god, but not to the exclusion of others"], but when it came to the age of wars the gods increased and its religion became pluralistic. This can be seen in the history of Japan also.

Jesus, who had the keenest conscience, revealed the purest God. When our consciences become keen and return to the religion of the soul, God is always One. Therefore the religion of conscience always worships a God who is One. Christianity is the religion of life and conscience. It is not to be wondered at therefore that the God who created and Who reveals Himself in the conscience is One.

This leads us on to the next thought: God is our Father. Jesus felt intuitively that God was His father. Jesus did not call God, as some Christians to-day do, "The Absolute" or "The Infinite." He simply called Him the Father, or Holy Father, or Righteous Father. I do not know whether the Father is Absolute or not, but I do believe this Father. Christianity is a "Papa" religion, one that even children can understand. If God were a supplementary God, added on afterwards, He might be the Absolute and the Infinite; but since He is inborn, the God who grows in the very soul, He is "Abba, Father." Just as the baby calls his father, so Jesus called Him affectionately, "Abba, Father."

Mrs. Akiko Yosano, a Japanese poetess, attended church once and heard the minister pray, "O! God." And afterward when she saw me she remarked that the God of that minister is very cold. The reason Christianity of to-day has become callous, or hardened, is not simply because of its brick buildings.

Again, the God of Jesus is transcendent. This is contrary to that form of Buddhism known as Zen, which regards the present body as the Buddha. Some people say, "Zen is very nice. While practicing Zen the spirit feels good." But Christianity makes you feel good, too! Most Japanese young men of to-day are pragmatic. They practice Zen at best because they hope thereby to become broad-minded. The Jesus who forgave His enemies even on the Cross had mastered the secret principles of life, and therefore it is safe to say that he had comprehended the principles of Zen philosophy also. To sum up, the God of Jesus is the God who can be seen intuitively in life and love and conscience. Unless there is a God of life and love there can be no religion of action. The one principle which can never change throughout all this is that God is specially the Father of Jesus.

If we fully experience such a God, happiness such as we have never known before springs up in our hearts, or at least should do. Nevertheless, some people after they have become Christians are still pessimistic. They only like sermons which make them cry. Such people know only the Cross of Jesus but not His Resurrection. The religion of Jesus is the Euangelion, the tidings of the Blessed Year. It is like the ringing of a great fire-bell, announcing the year of jubilee [rejoicing], of emancipation, shaking the world with hope and delight. It is the creation of new life, reborn out of blood. When we are truly filled with life and springing up with aspiration, why should we weep?

According to the statistics of Stanley Hall, about 65 per cent of young people experience sorrow. Those who are most conscious of the mutability of things have much grief. Laborers do not feel suffering to the extent of students; they use all their strength in labor, and so do not have time to fret. But students and many women have plenty of strength beyond what they use in their study or their work, and with this extra unused strength they dissipate their soul-strength; and their energy is wasted, and they participate in various sorrows.

Moreover, since many of them know nothing about the powers of life and resurrection, they wander about seeking outside stimuli. But if you restore the freedom of God within, and the inner life springs up within you, outside stimuli become entirely unnecessary. Is there any stronger impetus in the world than that which we feel when our inner light shines out and the reviving power springs up from the bottom of our heart?

The religion of laborers who do not have time to fret is very different from the religious ideas of the intelligentsia. To the working peoples religion is different from that which comes through reading of books. The religion of the Carpenter Jesus is a religion of gladness, which you can see intuitively in labor and in construction, in creation and accomplishment. Some of the young people of to-day are like those crabs which use their eyes only; their legs and arms get paralysed and lose their functions.

As Labor awakes to-day, it is giving birth to a new type of religion; its danger is that it too becomes lop-sided. In Zola's Paris there is a story of anarchists who try to destroy a church by setting dynamite underneath the building. We are tempted to turn against the Church of to-day because it is too much taken up with the religion of the eye alone. The religion of the people of the present day is fractional. To some it is the religion of the eye; to others a religion of the ear only. As long as they can see their religious symbols or hear their Christian hymns, they feel religious; but they are only so partly. Gladness never arises out of that sort of religion. But if the religious folk of to-day come forth from their study, from their dark room, and go once more to the farm, the factory, the street, no matter how sad they are, they will discover that the religion of Jesus is indeed the Euangelion.


There are two sides to religious experience the one is man's experience of God, the other God's experience of man.

To-day there are many theories as to the purpose of human life. [Walter] Pater [1839-1894] says that the purpose of human life is the aesthetic life. Epicurus said that real pleasure exists in pain. But, on the other hand, the Stoics asserted that the purpose of human life is self-denial. Still others say that the life of evolution is the true life. The Neo-Hegelian, [Thomas Hill] Green, expounded the doctrine of perfection. It is not easy to read the hundreds of pages of his book of ethics.

But Jesus taught us the doctrine of perfection long before Green did. He taught us God as our ideal. "Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) Without referring to the works of Spencer and to Green, I find this teaching entirely sufficient.

This ideal can be reached through prayer. God requires our prayer. "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8).

All religions can be divided into two classes those which emphasize abstract meditation, and those which emphasize prayer. Examples of the first class are Zen, and medieval mysticism. Christianity from the first has been a religion of prayer.

I do not know whether it is true, but some time ago it was stated in a newspaper that Mrs. Lenin had organized a Sunday School for the propagation of Communism. She gathered the children together and said to them, "You pray to God to give you bread; does He give you any? No. Then pray to Communism for bread. Communism will hear and give it to you!" And then it is said that Mrs. Lenin gave some bread to each child. If Mrs. Lenin did such a thing, and if she thinks prayer is that sort of thing, she made a big mistake.

The reason is that our God, that is, Life itself, works from within, through our personality. If we live within God, our prayers must be answered. Ask from your heart, through your personality, through all your life, and you will certainly get what you desire. It is never a mistake to ask of God. Therefore, if we pray from the bottom of our hearts for the reconstruction of mankind, our prayer will be heard.

Is there any dangerous crisis in the history of the world which has been passed through without prayer? When across the Straits of Dover all was in [the French] revolution, Wesley prayed God to give him England. "Wesley's prayer saved England from revolution," wrote [Thomas] Carlyle later.

But without reconstruction in the inner man society cannot be saved. It is for that reason, that while I am devoting myself to the Labor Movement, I am also zealous in the cause of religion. Social reconstruction is useless without the love of God.

Again, Jesus experienced God as the Forgiver of sins. Some people in their zeal for reconstruction, and impatience with all that obstructs, know nothing but hatred; they say, for example, there is no other way to stand against capitalism but to fight. But Jesus said, "Forgive them!" (luke 23:34). He knew that it is God's will to forgive.

Bertrand Russell, in the last part of his book, Roads to Freedom, says that after all the various reforms have been carried out there will still remain a problem. That is, "even when Socialism or Communism is established, there are bound to be some people who revolt against society. It is a problem as to how to deal with such people." The final problem of social reconstruction, and the one that is hardest to solve, is the problem of sin. The religion which cannot furnish a solution for this problem is useless to the human race. The God experienced through Jesus Christ is a God Who has power to solve this final problem of sin.

But our religious experience through Jesus does not cease here. If it did, our religious life would tend to become a life of exertion and struggle, a life of pain. There is another side to our religious experience; it is God's experience as Man.

A religion is not true which regards God simply as an ideal, towards whom we are pulled as by a cord. True religion says that God Himself possesses us. God Himself seeks man. There must be not only the experience of man going to God, but also of something coming back to man from God. The definition of religion has been rewritten by Jesus. It is not merely a question of man relying on God; it is also of God coming down to earth and experiencing man's way of living. That is, God, as Jesus, entered into man's experience. God does not remain merely a god; He works inside man's heart as the life of God. If this be true, then the Incarnation represents an event without parallel in human history. God's incarnation in the body of Jesus - this is the supreme religious experience. When one thinks that God gave up His Throne and came down to live with man as Jesus, a laborer of Nazareth, for us to go and live in the slums is no great sacrifice.

That is the sphere where God and man melt together. One is free to live either God's life or man's life. It is a life of the highest freedom. If we are taken hold of by God, we can go anywhere. Paul at first ran away from God's command, but later he was compelled by God, and he could not help but follow God's will [because, deep down, that is what he wanted to do].

Since I became a Christian at fifteen years of age, until to-day, I have never been unsteady in my faith: this is not due to my holding on to God, but because God has possessed me. We must experience the "Abide with me" God (John 14:16, 1 Cor. 7:24), that is, the sphere where God and man melt together.

If through the experience of Jesus we come to live the life of oneness between God and man, how can we thereafter degenerate? We have entered the sphere of the deepest religious experience, in which we reflect God's image in our hearts and make our hearts communicate with the heart of God. Such religious life naturally becomes a matter of the inner life, and refuses all petrified formalism, though it may make use of symbols. People, however, make a mistake when they think that unless it takes some very unusual form, it is not religion. In such a case the form only tends to be transmitted; lifeless convention becomes social tradition, and is called religion. Jesus relentlessly rejected all religious conventions which were obstacles in the way of genuine religious life.

Fasting itself may not be bad. Singers usually do without their supper. In the early days of the Methodist Church they fasted twice a week. But when fasting becomes only a religious form, with God absent from it, then it is a hindrance to religion. In the time of Jesus, some of the Pharisees observed this convention. Jesus mercilessly criticized their formalism. He made a point of eating with the common people without distinction, even though they called Him a gluttonous man for doing so.

Jesus' way of life must have seemed very strange indeed to those people who thought that religious people are a special class, always peculiar, always sorrowful. But the religion of Jesus was concerned with the commonest of common things; in it God experienced man's life, and purified the whole of daily life. Some may say that for a religious person to take part in a social movement is to cheapen religion, but we participate in it because we are disciples of Jesus.

It was the same with regard to prayer; it must not be a mere formality. It is said that at the time of Jesus there were seven schools among the Pharisees. Some of them were called "Shoulder-shaking Pharisees," they always walked along the streets shaking their shoulders, pretending to be inspired; others "Facing-down Pharisees," who walked with their faces down, so as not to be able to see more than three feet ahead, in order not to see women. There were "Tiptoe Pharisees," who always walked on their toes because they thought it was God's holy earth on which they stepped, and "Tremulous-voiced Pharisees" purposely made their voices tremble when in prayer, as if they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus absolutely rejected such forms.

Jesus also said, "Wash your face." Yet in those days there was a Pharisee called Rabbi Jose, who was said not to have washed his face for eighteen years out of devotion to God. To be religious does not require dishevelled hair nor a dirty face.

It is the same with clothing. Some people think it is most religious to wear a peculiar garment, but this is a mistake. Jesus said, "Anoint thine head and wash thy face." It is not advisable specially to adorn oneself, but there is no objection to wearing ordinary clothing and having an ordinary appearance, in order to worship God.

It is the same with the matter of charity. Jesus hated artificial charity. There are not a few people who contribute a florin [20 cents] in order to deceive their conscience. Unless that money comes from a true heart of love, no matter how much you give in alms, it is useless.

Sometimes the Sabbath day becomes a convention, and dries up the real life of religion. The Pharisees of Jesus' time had forty prohibitions about the Sabbath day. Some of those came from the Law of Moses and others were added by themselves. These latter mostly related to work. They thought it was sinful for tailors to use needles and for clerks to use pens after dark on Friday evenings: women were not allowed to look in a mirror lest they become guilty of pulling out their grey hairs, that would be work!

Of course it is a matter of acquired psychology [in Kagawa's opinion, but not according to the Bible], learned during four thousand years, to value the seventh day and get together once a week to worship God. It was begun because people needed a regular stimulus for the development of their souls. It is in this that there is to be found the importance of Sundays. But to think of Sunday superstitiously or idolatrously is another thing. Jesus endeavored to break down such idolizing of time. He strenuously rejected convention and taught people to worship God with their whole selves.

"O ye of little faith," (Matt. 6:30) sighed Jesus, because people who are superficially-minded cannot see God. It is said that flying yellow wasps can smell out worms four feet below the earth. We also must dig beneath the surface. We must not blunt our minds with superficial watchwords like "Reduction of Armaments" [a major post-WWI political theme] and other things we find in newspaper articles and reports; we must feel and know the tremendous power which is moving below the surface of our daily life.

Some live only a busy, superficial life, others live only in books, and there is no real life in it. But if you dig down hundreds of feet, the water under the ground will spring up unceasingly and with tremendous power. If the ship is caught in the Gulf Stream, it will go all the faster, the speed of the current plus that of the ship. Unless we move with the stream of God springing up in our hearts, we have not yet reached true salvation. Push out into the deep! Go with the tide! Why do you everlastingly bustle about daily businesses, digging a narrow ditch for yourself, while God's great Gulf Stream is trying to move you?

Chapter 1 of "The Religion of Jesus" by Toyohiko Kagawa, translated by Helen F. Topping, London, 1931

Toyohiko Kagawa, "The Religion of Jesus":
Chapter 1. The Knowledge of God
Chapter 2. Jesus and Men's Failures
Chapter 3. Jesus and Prayer
Chapter 4. The Death of Jesus - Its Before and After
Chapter 5. The Relation of Jesus to His Disciples

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