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IDENTITY OF CHRIST’S CHARACTER.
THE argument expressed by this title I apply principally to the comparison of the first three Gospels with that of Saint John. It is known to every reader of Scripture that the passages of Christ’s history preserved by Saint John are, except his passion and resurrection, for the most part different from those which are delivered by the other evangelists. And I think the ancient account of this difference to be the true one, viz., that Saint John wrote after the rest, and to supply what he thought omissions in their narratives, of which the principal were our Saviour’s conferences with the Jews of Jerusalem, and his discourses to his apostles at his last supper. But what I observe in the comparison of these several accounts is, that, although actions and discourses are ascribed to Christ by Saint John in general different from what are given to him by the other evangelists, yet, under this diversity, there is a similitude of manner, which indicates that the actions and discourses proceeded from the same person. I should have laid little stress upon the repetition of actions substantially alike, or of discourses containing many of the same expressions, because that is a species of resemblance which would either belong to a true history, or might easily be imitate in a false one. Nor do I deny that a dramatic writer is able to sustain propriety and distinction of character through a great variety of separate incidents and situations. But the evangelists were not dramatic writers; nor possessed the talents of dramatic writers; nor will it, I believe, be suspected that they studied uniformity of character, or ever thought of any such thing in the person who was the subject of their histories. Such uniformity, if it exist, is on their part casual; and if there be, as I contend there is, a perceptible resemblance of manner, in passages, and between discourses, which are in themselves extremely distinct, and are delivered by historians writing without any imitation of, or reference to, one another, it affords a just presumption that these are what they profess to be, the actions and the discourses of the same real person; that the evangelists wrote from fact, and not from imagination.
The article in which I find this agreement most strong is in our Saviour’s mode of teaching, and in that particular property of it which consists in his drawing of his doctrine from the occasion; or, which is nearly the same thing, raising reflections from the objects and incidents before him, or turning a particular discourse then passing into an opportunity of general instruction.
It will be my business to point out this manner in the first three evangelism; and then to inquire whether it do not appear also in several examples of Christ’s discourses preserved by Saint John.
The reader will observe in the following quotations that the Italic letter contains the reflection; the common letter the incident or occasion from which it springs.
Matt. xii. 47-50. “Then they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother; and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren: for whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Matt. xvi. 5. “And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread; then Jesus said unto them, Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. — How is it that ye do not understand, that I speak it not to you concerning bread, that ye shall beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the DOCTRINE of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”
Matt. xv. 1, 2; 10, 11; 15-20. “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. — And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth the man. — Then answered Peter, and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do ye not understand that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? but those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man: for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man: BUT TO EAT WITH UNWASHEN HANDS DEFILETH NOT A MAN.” Our Saviour, on this occasion, expatiates rather more at large than usual, and his discourse also is more divided; but the concluding sentence brings back the whole train of thought to the incident in the first verse, viz. the objurgatory question of the Pharisees, and renders it evident that the whole sprang from that circumstance.
Mark x. 13, 14, 15. “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them: but when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God: verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
Mark i. 16, 17. “Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers: and Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Luke xi. 27. “And it came to pass as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked: but he said, Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.”
Luke xiii. 1-3. “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices; and Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye, that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Luke xiv. 15. “And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many,” &c. The parable is rather too long for insertion, but affords a striking instance of Christ’s manner of raising a discourse from the occasion. Observe also in the same chapter two other examples of advice, drawn from the circumstances of the entertainment and the behaviour of the guests.
We will now see how this manner discovers itself in Saint John’s history of Christ.
John vi. 25. “And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily I say unto you, ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you.”
John iv. 12. “Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered, and said unto her (the woman of Samaria), Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”
John iv. 31. “In the mean while, his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat; but he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work.”
John ix. 1-5. “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth: and his disciples asked him, saying, Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
John ix. 35-40. “Jesus heard that they had cast him (the blind man above mentioned) out: and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? And he answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe; and he worshipped him. And Jesus said. For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.”
All that the reader has now to do, is to compare the series of examples taken from Saint John with the series of examples taken from the other evangelists, and to judge whether there be not a visible agreement of manner between them. In the above-quoted passages, the occasion is stated, as well as the reflection. They seem, therefore, the most proper for the purpose of our argument. A large, however, and curious collection has been made by different writers, (Newton on Daniel, p. 148, note a. Jottin, Dis., p. 218. Bishop Law’s Life of Christ.) of instances in which it is extremely probable that Christ spoke in allusion to some object, or some occasion then before him, though the mention of the occasion, or of the object, be omitted in the history. I only observe that these instances are common to Saint John’s Gospel with the other three.
I conclude this article by remarking, that nothing of this manner is perceptible in the speeches recorded in the Acts, or in any other but those which are attributed to Christ, and that, in truth, it was a very unlikely manner for a forger or fabulist to attempt; and a manner very difficult for any writer to execute, if he had to supply all the materials, both the incidents and the observations upon them, out of his own head. A forger or a fabulist would have made for Christ, discourses exhorting to virtue and dissuading from vice in general terms. It would never have entered into the thoughts of either, to have crowded together such a number of allusions to time, place, and other little circumstances, as occur, for instance, in the sermon on the mount, and which nothing but the actual presence of the objects could have suggested (See Bishop Law’s Life of Christ).
II. There appears to me to exist an affinity between the history of Christ’s placing a little child in the midst of his disciples, as related by the first three evangelists, (Matt. xviii. 1. Mark ix. 33. Luke ix. 46.) and the history of Christ’s washing his disciples’ feet, as given by Saint John. (Chap. xiii. 3.) In the stories themselves there is no resemblance. But the affinity which I would point out consists in these two articles: First, that both stories denote the emulation which prevailed amongst Christ’s disciples, and his own care and desire to correct it; the moral of both is the same. Secondly, that both stories are specimens of the same manner of teaching, viz., by action; a mode of emblematic instruction extremely peculiar, and, in these passages, ascribed, we see, to our Saviour by the first three evangelists, and by Saint John, in instances totally unlike, and without the smallest suspicion of their borrowing from each other.
III. A singularity in Christ’s language which runs through all the evangelists, and which is found in those discourses of Saint John that have nothing similar to them in the other Gospels, is the appellation of “the Son of man;” and it is in all the evangelists found under the peculiar circumstance of being applied by Christ to himself, but of never being used of him, or towards him, by any other person. It occurs seventeen times in Matthew’s Gospel, twenty times in Mark’s, twenty-one times in Luke’s and eleven times in John’s, and always with this restriction.
IV. A point of agreement in the conduct of Christ, as represented by his different historians, is that of his withdrawing himself out of the way whenever the behaviour of the multitude indicated a disposition to tumult.
Matt. xiv. 22. “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitude away. And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray.”
Luke v. 15, 16. “But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him, and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities; and he withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed.” With these quotations compare the following from Saint John: Chap. v. 13. “And he that was healed wist not who it was, for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.”
Chap. vi. 15. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.”
In this last instance, Saint John gives the motive of Christ’s conduct, which is left unexplained by the other evangelists, who have related the conduct itself.
V. Another, and a more singular circumstance in Christ’s ministry, was the reserve which, for some time, and upon some occasions at least, he used in declaring his own character, and his leaving it to be collected from his works rather than his professions. Just reasons for this reserve have been assigned. (See Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity.) But it is not what one would have expected. We meet with it in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (chap. xvi. 20): “Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.” Again, and upon a different occasion, in Saint Mark’s (chap. iii. 11): “And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God: and he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.” Another instance similar to this last is recorded by Saint Luke (chap. iv. 41). What we thus find in the three evangelists, appears also in a passage of Saint John (chap. x. 24, 25): “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt: If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” The occasion here was different from any of the rest; and it was indirect. We only discover Christ’s conduct through the upbraidings of his adversaries. But all this strengthens the argument. I had rather at any time surprise a coincidence in some oblique allusion than read it in broad assertions.
VI. In our Lord’s commerce with his disciples, one very observable particular is the difficulty which they found in understanding him when he spoke to them of the future part of his history, especially of what related to his passion or resurrection. This difficulty produced, as was natural, a wish in them to ask for further explanation: from which, however, they appear to have been sometimes kept back by the fear of giving offence. All these circumstances are distinctly noticed by Mark and Luke, upon the occasion of his informing them (probably for the first time) that the Son of man should be delivered into the hands of men. “They understood not,” the evangelists tell us, “this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not; and they feared to ask him of that saying.” Luke ix. 45; Mark ix. 32. In Saint John’s Gospel we have, on a different occasion, and in a different instance, the same difficulty of apprehension, the same curiosity, and the same restraint: — “A little while and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us? A little while and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said, therefore, What is this that he saith? A little while? We cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, — ” &c. John xvi. 16, et seq.
VII. The meekness of Christ during his last sufferings, which is conspicuous in the narratives of the first three evangelists, is preserved in that of Saint John under separate examples. The answer given by him, in Saint John, (Chap. xviii. 20, 21.) when the high priest asked him of his disciples and his doctrine; “I spake openly to the world: I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me what I have said unto them,” is very much of a piece with his reply to the armed party which seized him, as we read it in Saint Mark’s Gospel, and in Saint Luke’s: (Mark xiv. 48. Luke xxii. 52.) “Are you come out as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not.” In both answers we discern the same tranquillity, the same reference to his public teaching. His mild expostulation with Pilate, on two several occasions, as related by Saint John, (Chap. xviii. 34; xix. 11.) is delivered with the same unruffled temper as that which conducted him through the last scene of his life, as described by his other evangelists. His answer, in Saint John’s Gospel, to the officer who struck him with the palm of his hand, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” (Chap. xviii. 23.) was such an answer as might have been looked for from the person who, as he proceeded to the place of execution, bid his companions (as we are told by Saint Luke; Chap. xxiii. 28.) weep not for him, but for themselves, their posterity, and their country; and who, whilst he was suspended upon the cross, prayed for his murderers, “for they know not,” said he, “what they do.” The urgency also of his judges and his prosecutors to extort from him a defence to the accusation, and his unwillingness to make any (which was a peculiar circumstance), appears in Saint John’s account, as well as in that of the other evangelists. (See John xix. 9. Matt. xxvii. 14. Luke xxiii. 9.)
There are, moreover, two other correspondencies between Saint John’s history of the transaction and theirs, of a kind somewhat different from those which we have been now mentioning.
The first three evangelists record what is called our Saviour’s agony, i.e. his devotion in the garden immediately before he was apprehended; in which narrative they all make him pray “that the cup might pass from him.” This is the particular metaphor which they all ascribe to him. Saint Matthew adds, “O, my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Chap. xxvi. 42.) Now Saint John does not give the scene in the garden: but when Jesus was seized, and some resistance was attempted to be made by Peter, Jesus, according to his account, checked the attempt, with this reply: “Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (Chap. xviii. 11.) This is something more than consistency — it is coincidence; because it is extremely natural that Jesus, who, before he was apprehended, had been praying his Father that “that cup might pass from him,” yet with such a pious retraction of his request as to have added, “If this cup may not pass from me, thy will be done;” it was natural, I say, for the same person, when he actually was apprehended, to express the resignation to which he had already made up his thoughts, and to express it in the form of speech which he had before used, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” This is a coincidence between writers in whose narratives there is no imitation, but great diversity.
A second similar correspondency is the following: Matthew and Mark make the charge upon which our Lord was condemned to be a threat of destroying the temple; “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands:” (Mark xiv. 58.) but they neither of them inform us upon what circumstance this calumny was founded. Saint John, in the early part of the history, (Chap. ii. 19.) supplies us with this information; for he relates, that on our Lord’s first journey to Jerusalem, when the Jews asked him “What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? He answered, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” This agreement could hardly arise from anything but the truth of the case. From any care or design in Saint John to make his narrative tally with the narratives of other evangelists, it certainly did not arise, for no such design appears, but the absence of it.
A strong and more general instance of agreement is the following. — The first three evangelists have related the appointment of the twelve apostles; (Matt. x. 1. Mark iii. 14. Luke vi. 12.) and have given a catalogue of their names in form. John, without ever mentioning the appointment, or giving the catalogue, supposes, throughout his whole narrative, Christ to be accompanied by a select party of disciples; the number of these to be twelve; (Chap. vi. 70.) and whenever he happens to notice any one as of that number, (Chap. xx. 24; vi. 71.) it is one included in the catalogue of the other evangelists: and the names principally occurring in the course of his history of Christ are the names extant in their list. This last agreement, which is of considerable moment, runs through every Gospel, and through every chapter of each. All this bespeaks reality.
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