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§ 279. Comparison of John’s Gospel with the Synoptical Gospels in regard to Jesus’ Conflict of Soul.—Historical Credibility of the Synoptical Account.
FULL of celestial serenity, Jesus went forth with the disciples, as was his wont, to the garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives, to await the coming of his captors. Various alternations of feeling ensued in his soul; and in regard to them there is an obvious difference between the synoptical Gospels and John; the former not mentioning them at all, the latter giving a partial account of them. In modern times this discrepancy has been supposed by some to be irreconcilable; so much so that one side or the other must be maintained, according to the view which we take of the whole subject.
It is argued that we cannot imagine Christ, who had, just spoken with such Divine confidence, and had poured out his soul before God in a prayer of heavenly calmness and assurance, as undergoing, immediately after, such struggles of soul as are recorded in the synoptical Gospels. But, laying John’s Gospel out of the case, do we not find the same contrast in the other Gospels? Was not all this heavenly elevation, serenity, and confidence presupposed in the institution of the Eucharist, according to its deeper sense? Was not that act, the pledge of his continuing communion with the Church, as recorded in the first three Gospels, as great a proof of those high thoughts on which his calmness was founded, as is contained in the final discourse and 405prayer given by John? Nay, even in these last, can we not trace alternations of feeling; subordinate, however, to the fundamental and Divine tone?
As for these alternations of feeling themselves, may we not conceive, that as, in the life of believers, who represent (imperfectly indeed) the image of Christ on earth, calmness and tumult, confidence and despondency, alternate with each other under the diverse influences of the outward world,752752 Cf. John the Baptist. so too there might be similar fluctuations (unconnected, however, with the reactions of sin, which might exist in believers753753 Cf. p. 79, 82.) in the soul of Him who, with all his Divine elevation; was like unto man in all things but sin, and sympathized, unutterably, with all purely human feelings?754754 Thus did that genuine disciple of Christ, John Huss, who had formed his life upon the intuition of Christ’s example, learn from the experience of his own last struggles how to comprehend these opposite manifestations in the Saviour’s life. With reference to such alternations in his own experience, he writes: “Pro certo grave est, imperturbate gaudere, et omne gaudium existimare, in variis tentationibus. Leve est loqui et illud exponere, sed grave implere. Siquidem patientissimus et fortissimus miles, sciens quod die tertia esset resurrecturus, et per mortem suam vincens inimicos, post coenam ultimam turbatus est spiritu et dixit,—tristis est anima, usque ad mortem.”
Even in John’s account of the raising of Lazarus we find such alternations in the prominency of the Divinity and the humanity of Christ; would not, therefore, similar manifestations at the approach of death be in harmony with his image, as depicted by John himself? Moreover, both John and Luke alluded to the beginnings of this struggle of soul at different times before;755755 Cf. p. 314, 376. momentary, however, and soon followed by the accustomed confidence of Divinity. In John, xiii., 21,756756 Cf. p. 387. we find Jesus “troubled in spirit” in contemplating Judas. It would be contrary to all analogy, then, that such moments should not occur, even with increased intensity, amid the ever-accumulating pangs both of soul and body that he endured up to the moment of the final and triumphant exclamation. “But,” it will perhaps be said, “according to John’s account, there was no struggle of soul at last.” How, then, could John record Christ’s “ trouble of soul” (xii., 27) in view of the last hour, and his wish757757 Cf. p 388. (xiii., 27) that the catastrophe might be hastened?
The account of the agony in the garden, taken from the other Gospels, can be aptly inserted in John’s narrative. “But why, then, does John not record it?” It is enough to say, in reply to this, that his object was, not to give a complete biography, but to arrange a number of separate features of the great picture, according to a peculiar point of view. If John, having intimated the beginnings of this struggle in the soul of Jesus, preferred, instead of delineating all its subsequent stages, to picture forth the Divine elevation of Christ as shown in his 406last discourses, can we infer any thing from this, except that in his delineation certain features of Christ’s picture are more prominent than others? Throughout, it is the method of John’s Gospel to present connected chains of Christ’s discourses and acts, rather than isolated incidents, however characteristic, such as we find in the other Evangelists. Moreover, as an eye-witness of this last struggle, he was not in a state of mind to perceive, and subsequently to describe, it as a whole. It must not be inferred, however, from this last remark, that the disciples could not have remembered, and faithfully recorded, individual features that made a deep impression upon them.
Let us now dwell for a moment upon the credibility of the synoptical account. It agrees entirely with Heb., v., 7, which was founded upon direct Apostolical tradition. How can it be conceived that such a description of Christ’s agony could have arisen from an invented legend, intended to glorify him? Nor can it be said that it was made up by collecting and putting together the various types and prophecies of the Old Testament that prefigured such an agony; after the description was extant, as history, it was natural that these should be gathered up, and doctrinal reasons assigned for the agony itself; but before, its invention would have been utterly inconsistent with the idea, generally prevalent, of the glory of Messiah. In the representations of the Evangelists, particularly Matthew, we can detect no aim but a historical one; not a trace of doctrinal motives can be discovered; only at a later period were such thrust upon them by that wilfulness which can find in a narrative any thing it chooses.
It was easy, indeed, from a natural point of view, to find a contradiction between such expressions of human weakness on the part of Christ, and his miracle-working power, his conscious dignity as Messiah or as the Son of God, his foreknowledge of his resurrection, &c. Nor could such a contradiction ever have naturally arisen from an idealizing invention. It was precisely with a view to do it away as a ground of objection, that a Docetic Christ was afterward conceived in place of the real Christ; or, his human nature was sundered from the Divine. The Divinity, the Divine Logos, was recognized in the miracles and lofty discourses; but it was feigned that this Logos, the true Redeemer, withdrew from Christ during his sufferings.
Such a Christ, indeed, as the real Christ, was always a stone of stumbling for Jewish modes of thought. How much, therefore, must the author of the epistle to the Hebrews have been concerned to remove this rock of offence, and to prove that these very struggles be longed necessarily to the Messianic calling? To be sure, after the idea of Messiah had once been modified according to the real, historical Christ, and the minds of men had thereby received a new tendency 407it was easy to find the higher unity for all these contradictions, and combine then, all into the one idea. But we can by no means infer from this possibility its converse, viz., that the new idea, suddenly arising like a Deus ex machina, could have given birth to such a historical representation of Christ.
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