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WITH the exception of these few but significant hints, the youth of Jesus, and the preparation for his public ministry, are enshrined in mysterious silence. But we know the outward condition and circumstances under which he grew up; and these furnish no explanation for the astounding results, without the admission of the supernatural and divine element in his life.
He grew up among a people seldom and only contemptuously named by the ancient classics, and subjected at the time to the yoke of a foreign oppressor; in a remote and conquered province of the Roman Empire; in the darkest district of Palestine; in a country-town of proverbial insignificance.16 He spent his youth in 35poverty and manual labor, in the obscurity of a carpenter’s shop; far away from universities, academies, libraries, and literary or polished society; without any help, as far as we know, except the parental care, the daily wonders of Nature, the Old-Testament Scriptures, the weekly Sabbath services of the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke iv. 16), the annual festivals in the Temple of Jerusalem (Luke ii. 42 ff.), and the secret intercourse of his soul with God, his heavenly Fattier. These are indeed the great educators of the mind and heart. The book of Nature and the book of Revelation are filled with richer and more important lessons than all the works of human art and learning; but they were accessible alike to every Jew, and gave no advantage to Jesus over his humblest neighbor.
Hence the question of Nathanael: “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Hence the natural surprise of the Jews, who knew all his human relations and antecedents. “How knoweth this man letters,” they asked when 36they heard Jesus teach, “having never learned?” (John vii. 15.) And on another occasion, when he taught in the synagogue: “Whence has this man this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother Mary? and his brethren (brothers), James and Joses and Simon and Judas? And his sisters—are they not all with us? Whence, then, hath this man all these things?”17 These questions are unavoidable and unanswerable, if Christ be regarded as a mere man; for each effect presupposes a corresponding cause.
The difficulty here presented can by no means be solved by a reference to the fact that many, perhaps the majority of great men, especially in the Church, have risen, by their own industry and perseverance, from the lower walks of life, and from a severe contest with poverty and obstacles of every kind. The fact itself is readily conceded; but, in every one of these cases, schools or books, or patrons and friends, or peculiar events and influences, 37can be pointed out as auxiliary aids in the development of intellectual or moral greatness. There is always some human or natural cause, or combination of causes, which accounts for the final result.
Luther, for instance, was indeed the son of poor peasants, and had a very hard youth: but he went to the schools of Mansfeld, Magdeburg, and Eisenach; to the university of Erfurt; passed through the ascetic discipline of convent life; studied and labored among professors, students, and libraries; and was innocently, as it were, made a reformer by extraordinary events, and the irresistible current of his age.
Shakspeare is generally and justly regarded as the most remarkable and most wonderful example of a self taught man; who, without the regular routine of school education, became the greatest dramatic poet, not only of his age and country, but of all times. But the absurd idea that the son of the Warwickshire yeoman or butcher or glover—we hardly 38know which—was essentially an unlearned man, and jumped with one bound from the supposed though poorly authenticated youthful folly of deer-stealing to the highest position in literature, has long since been abandoned by competent judges. It is certain that he spent several years in the free grammar-school of Stratford on Avon, where he probably acquired the “small Latin, and less Greek,” which, however small in the eyes of so profound a classical scholar as Ben Jonson, was certainly large enough to make the fortune of any enterprising youth from New England. And, whatever were the defects of his training, he must have made them up by intense private study of books, and the closest observation of men and things: for his dramas—the occasional chronological, historical, and geographical mistakes notwithstanding, which are small matters at all events, and in most cases, as in “Pericles” and in “Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” either intentional, or mere freaks of fancy—abound in the most accurate 39and comprehensive knowledge of human nature under all its types and conditions,—in the cold North and the sunny South; in the fifteenth century, and at the time of Caesar, under the influence of Christianity and of Judaism,—together with a great variety of historical and other information, which can not be acquired without immense industry, and the help of oral or printed instruction. Moreover, he lived in the city of London; united the offices of actor, manager, and writer, in the classic age of Elizabeth, in the company of genial and gifted friends, with free access to the highest ranks of blood, wealth, and wit, and during the closing scenes of the greatest upheaving of the human mind which ever took place since the introduction of Christianity.18
In the case of Christ, no such natural explanation can be given. He can be ranked neither with the school-trained nor with the self-trained or self-made men; if by the latter we understand, as we must, those who, without 40the regular aid of living teachers, yet with the same educational means, such as books, the observation of men and things, and the intense application of their mental faculties, attained to vigor of intellect, and wealth of scholarship,—like Shakspeare, Jacob Boehm, Benjamin Franklin, and others. All the attempts to bring him into contact with Egyptian wisdom, or the Essenic theosophy, or other sources of learning, are without a shadow of proof, and explain nothing after all. He never quotes from books, except the Old Testament. He never refers to secular history, poetry, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, foreign languages, natural sciences, or any of those branches of knowledge which make up human learning and literature. He confined himself strictly to religion. But, from that center, he shed light over the whole world of man and nature. In this department, unlike all other great men, even the prophets and the apostles, he was absolutely original and independent. He taught the world as one 41who had learned nothing from it, and was under no obligation to it. He speaks from divine intuition, as one who not only knows the truth, but is the truth; and with an authority that commands absolute submission, or provokes rebellion, but can never be passed ly with contempt or indifference. “His character and life were originated and sustained in spite of circumstances with which no earthly force could have contended, and therefore must have had their real foundation in a force which was preternatural and divine.”19
At the same time, it is easy to see, from the admission of Christ’s divinity, that by this condescension he has raised humble origin, poverty, manual labor, and the lower orders of society, to a dignity and sacredness never known before, and has revolutionized the false standard of judging the value of men and things from their outward appearance, and of associating moral worth with social elevation, and moral degradation with low rank.42
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