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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Kindness (2)

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KINDNESS.—The NT term χρηστότης, which is rendered in the Authorized and Revised Versions both by ‘kindness’ and by ‘goodness’ (once in Romans 3:12 as ‘good,’ following the LXX Septuagint of Psalms 13(14):1, 3, there quoted, in which χρηστότητα = טוֹב), nowhere occurs in the Gospels. The quality it denotes, however, is an evangelical virtue. Like its OT counterpart חֶסֵד, it is attributable both to God (as in Romans 2:4 et al.) and to man (as in 2 Corinthians 6:6 et al.). The adj. χρηστός, Authorized and Revised Versions ‘kind,’ is found once in the Gospels as referring to God (Luke 6:35). The other instances of its use in very different connexions, as applied to a yoke (Matthew 11:30) and to wine (Luke 5:39), though such use is a natural outgrowth of its root-meaning, need only be mentioned.

1. The Kindness of God in the Teaching of Jesus.—The passage in which God is explicitly represented as ‘kind’ occurs in Lk.’s version of the logion of Jesus concerning love of friends and hatred of foes (Luke 6:27-36 || Matthew 5:43-48). The highest reward attendant upon a love that extends to both friends and foes and is ready to show kindness to all men without distinction, is that thereby men become ‘sons of the Most High.’ ‘Sons of your Father which is in heaven,’ as it runs in Matthew 5:45, would appear to be the primitive phrase, but ‘the Most High’ (ὕψιστος) is quite a favourite name for God with Lk., and its substitution here is probably due to this preference (see Dalman, The Words of Jesus, English translation p. 199). God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. In the Mt. parallel this benign goodness is expressed in the concrete picture of sunshine and rain bestowed equally upon the evil and the good, the just and the unjust. Clearly the expression of an all-embracing benignity can go no further so far as extent is concerned. The only enhancing possible is in connexion with the gift which betokens that benignity, and this we have in the great saying of John 3:16, along with the same sweep of reference, ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.’ That fontal love is manifested in the kindness (cf. Titus 3:4) on which Jesus lays so much stress in His presentment of God as our Father, a kindness going far beyond the providential bounties and mercies of this life, and concerning itself with the profoundest needs of sinful men.

If explicit statements of the character of that now considered are not multiplied in our Lord’s teaching, it is to be pointed out that the same conception of God is necessarily implied in a considerable group of the parables—those, in particular, that illustrate the Divine grace. The great trilogy of Luke 15, exhibiting the Divine concern for man as τὸ ἀπολωλός; the parables which show how royally and wonderfully God pities and forgives, whether that forgiveness is gratefully realized (the Two Debtors, Luke 7:36-50) or is strangely disregarded (the Unmerciful Servant, Matthew 18:23-35); the parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16-24), with its comprehensive ‘welcome for the sinner’—these and other such are full of the wide-reaching kindness of God.

An OT basis for this conspicuous feature in Jesus’ representation of God undoubtedly exists. Whilst God was supremely known in Israel as King, His fatherly relation to Israel is not obscurely dwelt upon in OT writings, particularly in the prophets (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea). God’s goodness and graciousness are gratefully celebrated in the Psalms; witness the refrain of Psalms 107, ‘Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness (הַסרּוֹ)!’ Stress on this Divine quality is the great characteristic of Hosea. Hesed is the bond uniting Jahweh and Israel in one covenant relation: the hesed of J″ [Note: ″ Jehovah.] to Israel being His grace, of Israel to J″ [Note: ″ Jehovah.] , piety or dutiful love, and of Israelite to Israelite, love and mutual consideration. Love to J″ [Note: ″ Jehovah.] and love to one’s brethren are identical (cf. Hosea 4:1; Hosea 6:4; Hosea 6:6), and both are made imperative by a right sense of J″ [Note: ″ Jehovah.] ’s fatherly affection and kindness towards His people (see W. R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel, p. 160 ff.). This line of thought, however, regarding God was arrested in later Judaism; God’s transcendent kingly greatness was emphasized in Jewish thought in our Lord’s time, and His grace and loving-kindness had fallen into the background. Jesus deliberately chose this conception of fatherly kindness as the one predominant characteristic in His revelation of God, and, what is more, proclaimed this gracious God as the Father of all mankind.

No difficulty need be raised as to the reconciliation of such a conception of God with His character as ‘Rex tremendae majestatis,’ or as the holy God who cannot regard wickedness with indifference. That God is gracious does not mean that He is an easy-going God. Moral distinctions cannot be obliterated. Though in Christ’s simple language God sends sunshine and rain upon the unjust, though He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked and they enjoy great prosperity, it cannot be other than an evil thing to be unjust, ungrateful, and wicked. And even though such blessings should appear to be withheld from the just and good, it still must be an altogether good thing to be just and good. Is it not significant that Jesus declares God’s kindness without any qualification whatever, and shows Himself all unconscious that any difficulties are thereby occasioned, that there is anything requiring to be explained and adjusted? The parable of the Unmerciful Servant displays God’s benignity; but the truculence which shows itself unaffected by an amazing experience of forgiving mercy must needs lose the boon which that benignity bestowed. The conclusion of the parable (Matthew 18:35) expresses what must needs be; and Jesus presents the doom of the ‘wicked servant’ as a picture of God’s dealings with men just as directly and simply as He sets forth the kindness of our Father in heaven. The one presentation is perfectly consistent with the other.

Similarly, the problem of suffering and misery, which times without number has evoked the cry ‘Is God good?’, is not allowed by Jesus to qualify in any way His declaration of the kindness of God. It is not because He ignored the problem; He is Himself conspicuous as the Sufferer. And with our Lord the Divine kindness is not involved in doubt, because, as we say, God permits so much suffering amongst men, but rather that kindness is represented by Him as specially called forth by human misery. God is particularly set forth as viewing the sufferings and sorrows of men with compassion and pity; and pity is simply kindness brought into relation to suffering and distress. God declares Himself ‘most chiefly in shewing mercy and pity’ (Collect for 11th Sunday after Trinity). So also it is significant that in enforcing the lesson of Luke 6:35, Christ does not say, ‘Be ye kind, as your Father is kind,’ but (V. 36), ‘Be ye compassionate, as your Father is compassionate’ (οἰκτίρμων). And what a vast deduction from the sum of human misery would result, and how the problem would be simplified, if everywhere ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ gave place to such a spirit!

2. Kindness as the Law of Human Life.—‘Love one another’ is the new commandment of Jesus (John 13:34); and kindness is love in its practical manifestation. From what has been said above, we see that this great law of life is directly enforced by the exhibition of the loving-kindness of God our Father. This is the case notably in the comment of our Lord on the dictum, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy’ (Matthew 5:43-48).

The ideal of a relation of kindness between man and man is, however, not altogether an original and peculiar feature in our Lord’s teaching. In the OT (as, e.g., in Hosea) hesed is presented as the right characteristic of human relationships, even as it denotes God’s graciousness to men; and as a term belooging to common life it indicates that ‘those who are linked together by the bonds of personal affection, or of social unity, owe to one another more than can be expressed in the forms of legal obligation’ (W. R. Smith, op. cit. p. 161). And Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 with approval, ‘I desire mercy (hesed) and not sacrifice’ (Matthew 12:7)—a passage which makes that quality of kindness of greater importance than worship, and worship vain without it. In heathen religions and philosophies, too, ideas are found corresponding more or less to such a conception of the social bond.

Further, it is true that our Lord very emphatically insisted on the application of the principle of kindness as a law of life to relations of men with men in general, and not merely those of co-religionists and people of the same tribe or country. What can equal the parable of the Good Samaritan as helping to a definition of the ‘neighbour’ to whom the service of kindness is due?

Yet the OT and other forms of teaching are not without traces of a wider view than the scribes of Christ’s day would allow. The duty of kindness to the stranger in the land (as in Leviticus 19:9 f., Deuteronomy 10:18 f. et al.), and of kindness to enemies, with readiness in forgiving injuries (as in Exodus 23:4 f., Proverbs 24:29; Proverbs 25:21 f. et al.), is explicitly set forth in the OT. We get one glimpse (among many) of this wider humane feeling, from a very different quarter, in the Indian saying, ‘I met a hundred men going to Delhi, and every one of them was my brother.’

Our Lord’s exposition of this law of kindness is pre-eminent and sui generis. And the newness of His teaching in this respect appears in His having established this duty on a firm religious basis and given it ‘an essential place in the moral consciousness of men’ (Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, i. p. 332). It is significant that the judgment of men in Matthew 25:31 ff. is made to turn on the performance or neglect of the acts of mercy or kindness. The kindness inculcated, also, extends to all creatures: and it is to express itself in the little courtesies of life (Matthew 5:47; Matthew 10:12).

A view of Christ’s ethical teaching as a whole makes it clear that the stress thus laid on the duty of kindness favours no loosening of obligation to justice and fidelity in the manifold relationships of men, nor does it do away with the duty and need of punishment when that obligation is violated. The maintenance of just and faithful dealing does not necessarily involve severity and harshness; rather it is itself part of the law of kindness rightly considered. Love of neighbour and of enemy is as truly reconcilable with the claims of justice on the human plane as is God’s benignity with His righteous government. And Christ makes us see once for all that love is the only satisfactory basis for human relationships, and indeed the only possible bond in the perfected social state. See also artt. Love, Neighbour.

3. The Kindness of Jesus.—The perfect embodiment of this kindness in human life is seen in Jesus Himself. ‘As I have loved you’ is the Johannine counterpart (John 13:34; John 15:12) of the Synoptic ‘as your Father is compassionate’ in the enforcement of the Law of Love. The whole Gospel portraiture shows us that in Jesus the kindness and pity of God fully dwelt. His dealing with sickness and suffering in all forms, His attitude towards sin, His sense of social disorder, His regard for men as men and indifference to class distinctions, His whole demeanour, His gracious speech (Luke 4:22)—all proclaimed the Divine kindness. His fiery denunciation of scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 23) presents no exception; for His wrath is the wrath of love, and the denunciation must be read in the light of the yearning lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37 ff.)—Jerusalem in which Pharisaism and scribism were specially entrenched. The key to this perfect life of kindness and love is found in His own words—‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). The declaration of vivid and loving remembrance is that He ‘went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil’ (Acts 10:38).

J. S. Clemens.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Kindness (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/k/kindness-2.html. 1906-1918.

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