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5. HEARING AND SEEING
Luke 1:1–4; Matt. 13:16–17; Luke 10:23, 24; Matt. 5–7; Luke 6:17–49; Matt. 13:1–52; Matt. 8:16, 17; Mark 4:33, 34.
In the training of the twelve for the work of the apostleship, hearing and seeing the words and works of Christ necessarily occupied an important place. Eye and ear witnessing of the facts of an unparalleled life was an indispensable preparation for future witness-bearing. The apostles could secure credence for their wondrous tale only by being able to preface it with the protestation: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” None would believe their report, save those who, at the very least, were satisfied that it emanated from men who had been with Jesus. Hence the third evangelist, himself not an apostle, but only a companion of apostles, presents his Gospel with all confidence to his friend Theophilus as a genuine history, and no mere collection of fables, because its contents were attested by men who “from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word.”
In the early period of their discipleship hearing and seeing seem to have been the main occupation of the twelve. They were then like children born into a new world, whose first and by no means least important course of lessons consists in the use of their senses in observing the wonderful objects by which they are surrounded.
The things which the twelve saw and heard were wonderful enough. The great Actor in the stupendous drama was careful to impress on His followers the magnitude of their privilege. “Blessed,” said He to them on one occasion, “are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not.”6666Luke x. 23, 24. The authors of the Revised Version have introduced many changes in the A. V. by stricter rendering of tenses, and especially of the aorists, which in the old version are frequently treated as perfects. They may have carried this too far, but on the whole they have rendered good service in this department. Yet certain generations of Israel had seen very remarkable things: one had seen the wonders of the Exodus, and the sublimities connected with the lawgiving at Sinai; another, the miracles wrought by Elijah and Elisha; and successive generations had been privileged to listen to the not less wonderful oracles of God, spoken by David, Solomon, Isaiah, and the rest of the prophets. But the things witnessed by the twelve eclipsed the wonders of all bygone ages; for a greater than Moses, or Elijah, or David, or Solomon, or Isaiah, was here, and the promise to Nathanael was being fulfilled. Heaven had been opened, and the angels of God — the spirits of wisdom, and power, and love — were ascending and descending on the Son of man.
We may here take a rapid survey of the mirabilia which it was the peculiar privilege of the twelve to see and hear, more or less during the whole period of their discipleship, and specially just after their election. These may be comprehended under two heads: the Doctrine of the Kingdom, and the Philanthropic Work of the Kingdom.
I. Before the ministry of Jesus commenced, His forerunner had appeared in the wilderness of Judea, preaching, and saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;.” and some time after their election the twelve disciples were sent forth among the towns and villages of Galilee to repeat the Baptist’s message. But Jesus Himself did something more than proclaim the advent of the kingdom. He expounded the nature of the divine kingdom, described the character of its citizens, and discriminated between genuine and spurious members of the holy commonwealth. This He did partly in what is familiarly called the Sermon on the Mount, preached shortly after the election of the apostles; and partly in certain parables uttered about the same period.6767That the election of the twelve preceded the utterance of the parables is plain from Mark iv. 10, “They that were about Him with the twelve, asked of Him the parable.”
In the great discourse delivered on the mountain-top, the qualifications for citizenship in the kingdom of heaven were set forth, first positively, and then comparatively. The positive truth was summed up in seven golden sentences called the Beatitudes, in which the felicity of the kingdom was represented as altogether independent of the outward conditions with which worldly happiness is associated. The blessed, according to the preacher, were the poor, the hungry, the mournful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peaceable, the sufferers for righteousness’ sake. Such were blessed themselves, and a source of blessing to the human race: the salt of the earth, the light of the world raised above others in spirit and character, to draw them upwards, and lead them to glorify God.
Next, with more detail, Jesus exhibited the righteousness of the kingdom, and of its true citizens, in contrast to that which prevailed. “Except your righteousness,” He went on to say with solemn emphasis, “shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven;.” and then He illustrated and enforced the general proposition by a detailed description of the counterfeit in its moral and religious aspects: in its mode of interpreting the moral law, and its manner of performing the duties of piety, such as prayer, alms, and fasting. In the one aspect He characterized pharisaic righteousness as superficial and technical; in the other as ostentatious, self-complacent, and censorious. In contrast thereto, He described the ethics of the kingdom as a pure stream of life, having charity for its fountainhead; a morality of the heart, not merely of outward conduct; a morality also broad and catholic, overleaping all arbitrary barriers erected by legal pedantry and natural selfishness. The religion of the kingdom He set forth as humble, retiring, devoted in singleness of heart to God and things supernal; having faith in God as a benignant gracious Father for its root, and contentment, cheerfulness, and freedom from secular cares for its fruits; and, finally, as reserved in its bearing towards the profane, yet averse to severity in judging, yea, to judging at all, leaving men to be judged by God.
The discourse, of which we have given a hasty outline, made a powerful impression on the audience. “The people,” we read, “were astonished at His doctrine; for He taught them as one having authority (the authority of wisdom and truth), and not as the scribes,” who had merely the authority of office. It is not probable that either the multitude or the twelve understood the sermon; for it was both deep and lofty, and their minds were pre-occupied with very different ideas of the coming kingdom. Yet the drift of all that had been said was clear and simple. The kingdom whereof Jesus was both King and Lawgiver was not to be a kingdom of this world: it was not to be here or there in space, but within the heart of man; it was not be the monopoly of any class or nation, but open to all possessed of the requisite spiritual endowments on equal terms. It is nowhere said, indeed, in the sermon, that ritual qualifications, such as circumcision, were not indispensable for admission into the kingdom. But circumcision is ignored here, as it was ignored the teaching of Jesus. It is treated as something simply out of place, which cannot be dove-tailed into the scheme of doctrine set forth; an incongruity the very mention of which would create a sense of the grotesque. How truly it was so any one can satisfy himself by just imagining for a moment that among the Beatitudes had been found one running thus: Blessed are the circumcised, for no uncircumcised ones shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. This significant silence concerning the seal of the national covenant could not fail to have its effect on the minds of the disciples, as a hint at eventual antiquation.
The weighty truths thus taught first in the didactic form of an ethical discourse, Jesus sought at other times to popularize by means of parables. In the course of His ministry He uttered many parabolic sayings, the parable being with Him a favorite form of instruction. Of the thirty6868This number is only an approximate estimate. The number of the parables is estimated differently by different writers, according to their definition of a parable and method of treating the collection. parables preserved in the Gospels, the larger number were of an occasional character, and are best understood when viewed in connection with the circumstances which called them forth. But there is a special group of eight which appear to have been spoken about the same period, and to have been designed to serve one object, viz. to exhibit in simple pictures the outstanding features of the kingdom of heaven in its nature and progress, and in its relations to diverse classes of men. One of these, the parable of the sower, apparently the first spoken, shows the different reception given to the word of the kingdom by various classes of hearers, and the varied issues in their life. Two — the parables of the tares and of the net cast into the sea — describe the mixture of good and evil that should exist in the kingdom till the end, when the grand final separation would take place. Another pair of short parables — those of the treasure hid in a field and of the precious pearl — set forth the incomparable importance of the kingdom, and of citizenship therein. Other two — the grain of mustard seed, and the leaven hid in three measures of meal — explain how the kingdom advances from small beginnings to a great ending. An eighth parable, found in Mark’s Gospel only, teaches that growth in the divine kingdom proceeds by stages, analogous to the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear, in the growth of grain.6969Mark iv. 26.
These parables, or the greater number of them, were spoken in the hearing of a miscellaneous audience; and from a reply of Jesus to a question put by the disciples, it might appear that they were intended mainly for the ignorant populace. The question was, “Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?” and the reply, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given;.” which seems to imply, that in the case of the twelve such elementary views of truth — such children’s sermons, so to speak — might be dispensed with. Jesus meant no more, however, than that for them the parables were not so important as for common hearers, being only one of several means of grace through which they were to become eventually scribes instructed in the kingdom, acquainted with all its mysteries, and able, like a wise householder, to bring out of their treasures things new and old;7070Matt. xiii. 52. while for the multitude the parables were indispensable, as affording their only chance of getting a little glimpse into the mysteries of the kingdom.
That the twelve were not above parables yet appears from the fact that they asked and received explanations of them in private from their Master: of all, probably, though the interpretations of two only, the parables of the sower and the tares, are preserved in the Gospels.7171Mark iv. 34. They were still only children; the parables were pretty pictures to them, but of what they could not tell. Even after they had received private expositions of their meaning, they were probably not much wiser than before, though they professed to be satisfied.7272Matt. xiii. 51. Their profession was doubtless sincere: they spake as they felt; but they spake as children, they understood as children, they thought as children, and they had much to learn yet of these divine mysteries.
When the children had grown to spiritual manhood, and fully understood these mysteries, they highly valued the happiness they had enjoyed in former years, in being privileged to hear the parables of Jesus. We have an interesting memorial of the deep impression produced on their minds by these simple pictures of the kingdom, in the reflection with, which the first evangelist closes his account of Christ’s parabolic teaching. “All these things,” he remarks, “spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables, . . . that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”7373Matt. xiii. 34, 35. The quotation (from the seventy-eighth Psalm) significantly diverges both from the Hebrew original and from the Septuagint version.7474ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου (Matt.); אַכִּיעָה חִידוֹת מִנִּי־קֶדֶס (Hebrew); φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς (Sept). Matthew has consciously adapted the words so as to express the absolute originality of the teaching in which he found their fulfilment. While the Psalmist uttered dark sayings from the ancient times of Israel’s history, Jesus in the parables had spoken things that had been hidden from the creation. Nor was this an exaggeration on the part of the evangelist. Even the use of the parable as a vehicle of instruction was all but new, and the truths expressed in the parables were altogether new. They were indeed the eternal verities of the divine kingdom, but till the days of Jesus they had remained unannounced. Earthly things had always been fit to emblem forth heavenly things; but, till the great Teacher appeared, no one had ever thought of linking them together, so that the one should become a mirror of the other, revealing the deep things of God to the common eye: even as no one before Isaac Newton had thought of connecting the fall of an apple with the revolution of the heavenly bodies, though apples had fallen to the ground from the creation of the world.
2. The things which the disciples had the happiness to see in connection with the philanthropic work of the kingdom were, if possible, still more marvellous than those which they heard in Christ’s company. They were eye-witnesses of the events which Jesus bade the messengers of John report to their master in prison as unquestionable evidence that He was the Christ who should come.7575Matt. xi. 2. In their presence, as spectators, blind men received their sight, lame men walked, lepers were cleansed, the deaf recovered hearing, dead persons were raised to life again. The performance of such wonderful works was for a time Christ’s daily occupation. He went about in Galilee and other districts, “doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.”7676Acts xi. 38. The “miracles” recorded in detail in the Gospels give no idea whatever of the extent to which these wondrous operations were carried on. The leper cleansed on the descent from the mountain, when the great sermon was preached, the palsied servant of the Roman centurion restored to health and strength, Peter’s mother-in-law cured of a fever, the demoniac dispossessed in the synagogue of Capernaum, the widow’s son brought back to life while he was being carried out to burial, — these, and the like, are but a few samples selected out of an innumerable multitude of deeds not less remarkable, whether regarded as mere miracles or as acts of kindness. The truth of this statement appears from paragraphs of frequent recurrence in the Gospels, which relate not individual miracles, but an indefinite number of them taken en masse. Of such paragraphs take as an example the following, cursorily rehearsing the works done by Jesus at the close of a busy day: “And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils; and all the city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils.”7777Mark i. 32–34. This was what happened on a single Sabbath evening in Capernaum, shortly after the Sermon on the Mount was preached; and such scenes appear to have been common at this time: for we read a little farther on in the same Gospel, that “Jesus spake unto His disciples, that a small ship should wait on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him; for He had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon Him for to touch Him, as many as had plagues.”7878Mark iii. 9. And yet again Mark tells how “they went into an house, and the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.”7979Mark iii. 19, 20.
The inference suggested by such passages as to the vast extent of Christ’s labors among the suffering, is borne out by the impressions these made on the minds both of friends and foes. The ill-affected were so struck by what they saw, that they found it necessary to get up a theory to account for the mighty influence exerted by Jesus in curing physical, and especially psychical maladies. “This fellow,” they said, “doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of devils.” It was a lame theory, as Jesus showed; but it was at least conclusive evidence that devils were cast out, and in great numbers.
The thoughts of the well-affected concerning the works of Jesus were various, but all which have been recorded involve a testimony to His vast activity and extraordinary zeal. Some, apparently relatives, deemed him mad, fancying that enthusiasm had disturbed His mind, and compassionately sought to save Him from doing Himself harm through excessive solicitude to do good to others.8080Mark iii. 21. The sentiments of the people who received benefit were more devout. “They marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men;.”8181Matt. ix. 8. and they were naturally not inclined to criticise an “enthusiasm of humanity” whereof they were themselves the objects.
The contemporaneous impressions of the twelve concerning their Master’s deeds are not recorded; but of their subsequent reflections as apostles we have an interesting sample in the observations appended by the first evangelist to his account of the transactions of that Sabbath evening in Capernaum already alluded to. The devout Matthew, according to his custom, saw in these wondrous works Old Testament Scripture fulfilled; and the passage whose fulfilment he found therein was that touching oracle of Isaiah, “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;.” which, departing from the Septuagint, he made apt to his purpose by rendering, “Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.”8282Matt. viii. 17. The Greek translators interpreted the text as referring to men’s spiritual maladies — their sins;8383οὖτος τὰς ἀμαρτίας ἡμῶν φέρει. but Matthew deemed it neither a misapplication nor a degradation of the words to find in them a prophecy of Messiah’s deep sympathy with such as suffered from any disease, whether spiritual or mental, or merely physical. He knew not how better to express the intense compassion of his Lord towards all sufferers, than by representing Him in prophetic language as taking their sicknesses on Himself. Nor did he wrong the prophet’s thought by this application of it. He but laid the foundation of an à fortiori inference to a still more intense sympathy on the Saviour’s part with the spiritually diseased. For surely He who so cared for men’s bodies would care yet more for their souls. Surely it might safely be anticipated, that He who was so conspicuous as a healer of bodily disease would become yet more famous as a Saviour from sin.
The works which the twelve were privileged to see were verily worth seeing, and altogether worthy of the Messianic King. They served to demonstrate that the King and the kingdom were not only coming, but come; for what could more certainly betoken their presence, than mercy dropping like the “gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath”? John, indeed, seems to have thought otherwise, when he sent to inquire of Jesus if He were the Christ who was to come. He desiderated, we imagine, a work of judgment on the impenitent as a more reliable proof of Messiah’s advent than these miracles of mercy. The prophetic infirmity of querulousness and the prison air had got the better of his judgment and his heart, and he was in the truculent humor of Jonah, who was displeased with God, not because He was too stern, but rather because He was too gracious, too ready to forgive.
The least in the kingdom of heaven is incapable now of being offended with these works of our Lord on account of their mercifulness. The offence in our day lies in a different direction. Men stumble at the miraculousness of the things seen by the disciples and recorded by the evangelists. Mercy, say they, is God-like, but miracles are impossible; and they think they do well to be sceptical. An exception is made, indeed, in favor of some of the healing miracles, because it is not deemed impossible that they might fall within the course of nature, and so cease to belong to the category of the miraculous. “Moral therapeutics” might account for them — a department of medical science which Mr. Matthew Arnold thinks has not been at all sufficiently studied yet.8484Literature and Dogma, p. 143, ed. 4. All other miracles besides those wrought by moral therapeutics are pronounced fabulous. But why not extend the dominion of the moral over the physical, and say without qualification: Mercy is God-like, therefore such works as those wrought by Jesus were matters of course? So they appeared to the writers of the Gospels. What they wondered at was not the supernaturalness of Christ’s healing operations, but the unfathomable depth of divine compassion which they revealed. There is no trace of the love of the marvellous either in the Gospels or in the Epistles. The disciples may have experienced such a feeling when the era of wonders first burst on their astonished view, but they had lost it entirely by the time the New Testament books began to be written.8585Isaac Taylor, in The Restoration of Belief, founds on this fact an argument for the reality of miracles, contending that the calm, matter-of-fact tone in which miracles are spoken of in the Epistles can be accounted for only by their being a great outstanding fact of that age (vide pp. 128–211.) Throughout the New Testament miracles are spoken of in a sober, almost matter-of-fact, tone. How is this to be explained? The explanation is that the apostles had seen too many miracles while with Jesus to be excited about them. Their sense of wonder had been deadened by being sated. But though they ceased to marvel at the power of their Lord, they never ceased to wonder at His grace. The love of Christ remained for them throughout life a thing passing knowledge; and the longer they lived, the more cordially did they acknowledge the truth of their Master’s words: “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see"
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