Once again, I remind the reader that I've written extensively on every aspect of the Oxford Group and its relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous. See www.dickb.com/Oxford.shtml - "The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works."
I've also published many articles on the Oxford Group Four Absolutes. These were highly favored in early Akron and Cleveland A.A. and by A.A. Co-founder Dr. Bob.
Nonetheless, people have had a field day trying to describe the sources and meaning of the Four Absolutes. Some have claimed they came from Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. But they didn't. Some have written pamphlets on what they thought the Four Absolutes should mean. And a few recognized that they came from the teachings of Robert Speer in his book "The Principles of Jesus." Which they did. Some have added Bible verses and private interpretations which shed little light on the origin and purpose of these "moral standards" as they were called by the Oxford Groupers and by Dr. Bob's wife Anne in her journal www.dickb.com/annesm.shtml.
What I found recently on re-reading the highly popular Oxford Group book published just before early A.A. was founded in 1935 is very very helpful.
A.J. Russell published "For Sinners Only" (NY: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932). He did a great job of describing the Oxford Group principles and practices as they were understood by the Oxford Group activists and writers of the 1930's, by Rev. Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr.--who wrote about them also, and by the many AAs who gobbled up the pages of Russell's "For Sinners Only."
And the pioneer AAs were able to read a thorough exposition of what Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Love, and Absolute Unselfishnes seemed to mean to the people who popularized these four "moral standards" which Dr. Bob called the "yardsticks" for moral behavior in early A.A.
Russell's Chapter Twenty-Two ("What Sin Is") has been discussed in my previous article on "self" and A.A. But now I point to the extended explanation by Russell of each of the Four Absolutes.
Beginning on page 269, Russell says: "Christianity has a moral backbone. And let us take for convenience four of the simple moral standards that we see in Christ's own life--honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. Those standards are absolute. No one has ever yet proved He compromised on any one of those four. Let us take them one by one and see how we measure up to His standard."
Note that they were regarded as "yardsticks," "standards on which Christ did not compromise," and a "moral test" (as Dr. Bob's wife put it) that was originally used as the basis for what became Step Four--a moral inventory.
To get the picture as Russell, the Oxford Group, and AAs were seeing it in the 1930's, I'd suggest you download the Russell book and look here:
Honesty - Pages 269-271
Purity - Page 271
Love - Pages 272-273
Unselfishness - Pages 273-277
Bill Wilson waffled in his embrace of the Four Absolutes. He made fun of them. He said they demanded too much of drunks. He even inserted a "spiritual progress, but not spiritual perfection" loophole. He later said he had incorporated the ideas in Steps Six and Seven. And he demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that he really didn't understand them, like them, or even adhere to them in his own shenanigans in sobriety.
As readers know, I emphasize the Bible roots of early A.A. (www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml). So, quite clearly, did Dr. Bob. I point out that the real Oxford Group approach is to be found in the compromised program established by Wilson in his 1939 Big Book (www.dickb.com/Oxford.shtml; and www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml).
Regrettably, most AAs today don't have before them the Bible verses that Robert Speer quoted to establish what he believed were the uncompromising "principles" of Jesus. Nor do they have before them the topical Oxford Group writings of authors like A.J. Russell. But if they want a real view of how those "standards," "yardsticks," "tests," and "lists" were viewed at the time they became popular in A.A., Russell's book is the place to look.