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CHRIST’S SOCIAL POSITION.
His Mother.—Her views respecting Him and their origin.—The influence of these on Him.—Nothing else, in the early life of Jesus, favorable to his subsequent elevation.—His Poverty, hinderances in this to his Ministry.—“The Carpenter.”—His want of formal education and of patronage.
IT will be proved that the common formative principles which have just been referred to utterly fail to explain the life of Jesus. His life, we shall find, stands out a mysterious exception to all the ordinary laws that govern the destiny of men. What He ultimately became, so far from harmonizing with his early course and his outward condition, was reached not because hut in spite of all the influences descending upon him from both of these regions. It was not a natural result of the circumstances amid which he grew up, but one which, unless to some hidden antagonist force, these circumstances must have rendered absolutely impossible.
We can recognize one specific agency, indeed, though only one, which undeniably had an effect 32in preparing Jesus in his early life for the position to which he eventually rose. There was one person, nearer to him and dearer than any other, who must have exerted an influence in the formation of his character favorable to the peculiar development which it was destined to reach. That person was his mother. The Virgin Mary entertained from the first very exalted notions respecting her Son. The origin of these notions can not be unfolded here, because we have consented to surrender for the time all that is supernatural in the New Testament records. The mystery of Christ’s birth, the vision of the shepherds of Bethlehem, the visit of the Chaldean sages, the prophetic words of Simeon and Anna in the Temple, must therefore be left out of the discussion. Perhaps it will be found by and by, that facts of this nature beautifully harmonize with the calmest and soundest views which can be taken of the Christian writings. But no use must be made of them here, and they must not be suffered to influence either the narrative or the argumentative part of this investigation.
Twelve years after the birth of Christ, an incident occurred, which is the more remarkable, because it forms the solitary piece of intelligence which is communicated to us respecting a period of his life, extending over nearly thirty years. On the occasion of the Passover, the child Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem after Mary and her 33husband Joseph had left to return home, and at the end of three days he was found by them in the Temple, sitting at the feet of the teachers of the Law, listening to them and asking them questions. The circumstance, of Jesus being so long separated from his earthly guardians without their knowledge, is easily accounted for by the usages of the Passover-time. Even his being found with the teachers of the Law is not out of harmony with the history and manners of the period. The Jewish historian relates something of this kind, which happened to himself when he was about fourteen years of age.33 Ἔτι δ᾽ἄρα, παῖς ὢν περὶ τεσσαρεσκαιδέκατον ἔτος, διὰ τὸ φιλογράμματον ὑπὸ πάντων ἐπητούμενος, συνιόντων ἀεὶ τῶν ἀρχιερέῶν καὶ τῶν τῆς πόλεως πρώτων ὑπὲρ τοῦ παρ᾽ ἑμοῦ περὶ τῶν νομίμων ἀκριβέστερόν τι γνῶναι. Vita Josephi, sec. 2, in Oper. Geneva, 1688. All which this incident can reasonably be supposed to convey is granted freely. It is granted also that the words of the child to his mother, when she rebuked him for tarrying behind, “Wist ye not that I must be on my Father’s business?” indicated a maturity of mind, a thirst for knowledge, a love of truth, a faith in the being, presence, and favor of God, very extraordinary. It is granted that these words must have sunk into the heart of Mary, must have renewed the impression created by the occurrences of his infancy and childhood, perhaps recalled her first views in their mysterious power, and revived all her early hopes. But after this incident 34other twelve years passed by, and half that number more, and all the while not a sign of any kind appeared. In the long and dreary interval must not impressions and hopes so utterly unsupported as hers have gradually faded, and at last altogether perished? We can only conjecture what opinions Mary for herself entertained, whether at an earlier or at a later period, respecting the rank and office of the Messiah; but in all probability, they partook of the ignorance, and prejudice, and error of those of the Jews in general in that age. It is willingly conceded that, at the least, she must have believed that her Son was destined by God to a position of great sacredness and dignity, and this faith, no one can doubt, must have influenced her behavior toward him and her method of treating and training him. Certainly she would strive to impart her own views to his mind, and fix within him the idea of his destiny, as she herself understood it.
But this, be its value what it may, was the solitary agency in the early life of Jesus helpful to his subsequent elevation; and except this, not a single friendly element can be discovered throughout the history. All else is not only not auxiliary, but thoroughly obstructive. When the whole of the conditions under which the destined development of his character and his life was effected shall have been carefully examined, it will then appear, we 35presume, that that character and life were not a natural growth for which his circumstances, according to the ordinary laws of providence and of the human mind, sufficiently account, but, on the contrary, 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.
The New Testament makes no secret of the place which Jesus occupied in the social scale. The family from which he sprang belonged to the lower ranks of life; Joseph, the husband of Mary, being a working carpenter. His birth-place, the wanderings of his infancy, his home in such a village as Nazareth, his humble occupation for many years, his dependence afterward on the labor of his disciples and the charity of other friends, are affecting evidences of the poverty of his condition through. life. The fact is noticeable in itself; but it is profoundly interesting to those who find in his later manifestations a Being who irresistibly draws toward himself their veneration, their trust, and their hope. They believe him to be the Redeemer of the world, and they are astonished that, when on earth, he was ranked with the ignoble and the poor. But the fact, as they dwell upon it, becomes suggestive and quickening; they see that it is fitted to shed marvellous peace into the bosom of 36the humblest sons of men, and to reveal a tender and holy bond of sympathy between Jesus of Nazareth and them. He endured the humiliations, the burdens, and the straits of poverty, and is he not, therefore, in a touching sense the brother of the sorrowing and the poor? It gives to poverty a singular sacredness and dignity. The principle, not new in itself, acquires new impressiveness that social rank is not the standard of social worth, or of personal excellence and power. The great lesson is pronounced with unexampled solemnity in the hearing of the world, that men and things are not always in reality what they are in appearance. It is taught that justice, truth, love, and moral and spiritual worth, must be reverenced in whatsoever associations they are found. The accidents of outward condition do not alter the essential character of good or of evil. Poverty and ignorance, and still more poverty and vice, are not inseparable either in fact, or in the judgment of right-thinking men. They do often co-exist, and there are very obvious causes which at once explain why they should often co-exist. But the connection is not uniform, and it is not inevitable. On the other hand, great wealth is seldom found associated with the highest forms of spiritual excellence. Certainly the love and the high estimation of wealth, rarely separated from the possession of it, are utterly incompatible 37with elevation, expansion, and deep spirituality of character.
But the prevailing sentiment of mankind is not to be mistaken. Even if this sentiment were not hostile, it is plain, on other grounds, that a poor man must necessarily, just because he is poor, en counter peculiar and numerous hinderances in forming and executing any purpose, however modest, for the good of his race. His knowledge of the world, for example, his acquaintance with books, and his intercourse with able and cultivated men, must in the generality of cases be exceedingly limited. By the necessity of his condition, he is shut out from much that is quickening and liberalizing, and fitted to impart comprehension, self-reliance, and freedom. But in addition to real hinderances of this nature, he has to struggle against a deep and almost universal prejudice. It is not supposed that any thing great or good can originate with persons like him. Such is the evil effect of social distinctions, that it is almost felt that nothing great or good ought to originate with persons like him; and that, if it did, this would almost amount to a crime against the usual course of the world. The contrast between his condition and his aims is painfully present even to himself, but still more to others; and the more aspiring these aims are, this contrast operates the more oppressively and injuriously. The instances are rare indeed, in which a 38poor and unknown man has risen above neglect and prejudice and the pressure of his condition, and alone has worked out a great idea which his mind had conceived. An unknown amount of obstruction to his work and his triumph was thus involved in the mere fact that Jesus belonged through life to the lower ranks of society.
In addition to the fact of poverty, it must be taken into account that almost the entire of Christ’s life was spent in manual labor. Dwelling, till he was thirty years of age, in the house of Joseph the carpenter, we are left to imagine that he, too, was engaged in the same handicraft. But this matter is set at rest by the question of the people, no doubt put contemptuously, which is distinctly mentioned by one of the evangelists, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”44 Mark vi., 3. Honest labor, honest hand-labor is dignified and dignifying. The discipline of bodily toil and struggle, wisely regarded, may exert a wholesome influence on the higher nature, may serve noble purposes, and is fitted, under certain conditions, to form vigorous, high-toned, resolute souls. Even the acquisition of superior knowledge and of the power which knowledge creates, though difficult, is not impossible to a working man and the workshop and the farm have nourished for the world some of its ablest benefactors. At the same time, a life 39taken up with the labors of the hands is certainly not favorable to high mental development. Such a life can not afford the necessary amount of leisure for study and research, and where the energies of the body are continually taxed and strained, it is not possible that at the same time the powers of the mind can be vigorously put forth, and that extensive intellectual acquisitions can be made. Jesus of Nazareth was a common working carpenter till he was thirty years of age.
What direct and formal education he received, can only be conjectured, but the high probability is, that it must have been of a most limited character. Some of his countrymen, when they first heard his discourses, exclaimed, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?”55 John vii., 16. It must have been commonly known that he had never learned, that he had received little regular instruction; perhaps none. Even in the absence of this positive evidence, the state of the Jewish nation at the time, the rude condition of the village in which his life was passed, the humble position of his family and his own destination to the trade of a carpenter, would have led us to conclude that he was unlearned and uneducated.
High patronage has sometimes made up for the absence of other advantages. But the poor were the associates of Jesus—his only associates from 40first to last—and of men of wealth and influence he knew little. Few thus distinguished., ever deigned to notice him. He received no countenance from the civil government of the country; yet less was he sanctioned by the priesthood of the nation. They were his enemies from the first, and were the secret cause of all his sufferings and of his cruel death. With the learned or the rich—with the ecclesiastical or the civil authorities with the influential classes of society, or even with single individuals of name and weight—he never had the most distant association. Jesus Christ was alone, a poor artisan, uneducated and unpatronized. His entire social circumstances pronounce the impossibility, in human judgment, of his elevation to power and glory.41
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