Buchman's adoption of this expression of Christ's standards was, as so often with him, a practical choice. He was interested, above all, in what he called 'the how' - the way in which the life of faith, at its most demanding, could be grasped by the beginner as well as by the long-time believer. The standards of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love were something anyone, however simple or scholarly, could use to measure his life, and the addition of the prefix 'absolute', while setting an aim which no one could attain, had two obvious advantages. It stopped the honest seeker from letting himself off with a second or third best, or with the relativism which adjusts to the standards of the society around him; and it set so high a goal that anyone attempting to live by these standards would constantly be turned back to God for forgiveness, grace and strength. Buchman gained through the years an overwhelming sense that 'Christianity has a moral backbone': that spirituality cannot be divorced from the highest moral imperatives and survive.
Here, as elsewhere, he was striking out against the current of the day and of the age ahead. As William Hocking later observed, 'It is a mark of the shallowness of Western life that it should be thought a conceit to recognise an absolute and a humility to consider all standards relative, when it is precisely the opposite. It is only the absolute which rebukes our pride.'6
By standards Buchman did not mean rules. He had a horror of people who tried to live Christianity by rote or regulation, and when asked whether such and such a piece of conduct was permissible was apt to answer, 'Do anything God lets you.' 'If you want to go on working round here,' he admonished a young man in the last years of his life, 'please stop living by rules and live by the Cross.' For Buchman, 'living by the Cross' meant the voluntary laying down of anything in one's personal life which did not match Christ's standards, the abandoning of one's own will to do the will of God, and the daily experience of Christ's cleansing and healing power. The essence was the free choice of such a way of life, thus avoiding the need for rules and the danger of creating a movement or sect. 'The Cross is an alternative to living by the book,' he said on another occasion. His own criterion was to do nothing which robbed him of the power to help other people spiritually. The standards, in fact, were to be interpreted to the individual by the Holy Spirit.
C. H. Dodd wrote at about the same time that as the Christian approaches any practical problem of ethics, he should 'bring the mind of Christ to bear': 'The moral demand of letting Christ's Spirit rule you in everything is far more searching than the demand of any code, and at the same time it carries with it the promise of indefinite growth and development. It means that every Christian is a centre of fermentation where the morally revolutionary Spirit of Christ attacks the dead mass of the world.'7