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THE SHORTNESS OF HIS EARTHLY COURSE.
Duration of His Ministry.—His Death.—Earthly Causes of it.—Intolerance of the World and His own unconquerable Will.—Shortness of His Life in relation to the Form of His Work—in relation to His Influence on succeeding Ages.
THE disciples of Christianity suggest that, had the Redeemer of the World lived to old age, the impression, at least on their minds, of feebleness, imperfection, and decrepitude must have been deeply injurious. They suggest, besides, that Jesus lived long enough to gain a full experience of the world—a knowledge of the duties, trials, and hazards of life—and long enough for the full probation of his personal character and for the completion of his great work for the world. Whatever force there be in these suggestions, let the simple fact of the case be here briefly stated: Jesus passed away from the earth when he was only thirty-three years of age. Thirty years he spent in Nazareth; for three years he ministered before the world, and then he suffered death by crucifixion.42
The early death of Christ is one of those peculiar conditions which, it is believed, give extraordinary significance to his character and to the actual results of his course. This fact, viewed in connection with its consequents, is so strange, that it is imperative to attempt a brief investigation of the causes which led to it. In this discussion, the fact is regarded simply in its historical significance, not at all in its doctrinal and spiritual relations. The nature and design of Christ’s death, or its bearing on the redemption of the world, or the high and holy purposes which God might contemplate in it, are not to be considered here. The human causes only, which fixed so early a period to the life of Jesus—not those which lay in the Eternal Mind, but only those which sprung up on this earth—come within the scope of the present argument.
Among these causes, the first place must be assigned to the intolerance of the world; the second to that force of will in the soul of Christ, which no amount of intolerance could conquer. With respect to the first, the simple historical fact is, that men could bear Jesus Christ no longer, and Were in haste to put him to death. Spiritual truth and its advocates are offensive to the world. The one and the other, indeed, may commend themselves to the human conscience, and be secretly reverenced even where they are publicly disowned. All that is of God shall finally triumph as surely as God lives; 43but struggles, prostrations, defeats, may, must, precede triumph. Truth comes into collision with men’s immediate interests—with their sins, exposing and denouncing them—with established opinions and usages—with what is held sacred and what has grown venerable by age—and the conflict can not but be prolonged and fierce. Men can not lightly bear to be detected in their sins—the interested and the privileged can not brook to be dispossessed—and, above all, the principle of unlimited intellectual and religious toleration is about the last which individuals or communities are disposed to adopt. Hence, that which is divinely true and pure must long appeal in vain to the judgments and hearts of men, and long suffer opposition and scorn and evil treatment at their hands; and when, in its contact with any age or nation, it directly, strikes at ancient beliefs and at cherished privileges, interests, or vices, we can not wonder that the hatred awakened against it should become envenomed and implacable, should trample on humanity and justice, and should even clamor for the destruction of its apostles. The world, conscious of evil, but proud, impatient, and incensed, can bear no longer, and crucifies the advocate of truth. But there is always a significant resurrection after such a death.
The world demanded that Jesus Christ should die. There was nothing in his spirit, doctrine, or 44life to justify the demand. It will be shown hereafter that he was no ambitious Aspirant to power and fame, no Enemy to Judaea or to Rome, to the Sanhedrim, the temple, or the God of his country, nor were corrupt and cruel men able to substantiate any such charges against him. But he had incurred the violent hatred of the leaders of all the religious sects in his day. His free and spiritual views, his deep faith and glowing piety, his open sanction of the innocent usages and institutions of society, his appeals, not to tradition or prescription, but to the common sense of mankind, and his use of common incidents and common words, not to name his reproofs, as severe as they were notoriously well deserved, rendered him obnoxious alike to Pharisees, Sadducees, Ascetics, and Mystics. They all disliked his teaching, were provoked by his calm and patient spirit, were jealous of his growing influence, and saw, in his entire life, their own public condemnation. These sects, while contending with one another, united in common hostility to him; and their leaders never rested till at their instigation the people, too ready to obey interested and wicked counsel, demanded his crucifixion.
Jesus heard the cry of the excited multitude, and with awful serenity and force of will he signified his consent. He would die if he must die, but he would not deny himself. Individuals not of common mold and not dishonest have quailed before 45the alternative, Truth or Life. It is a tremendous power within a man which can brave the fiercest assaults of intolerance; a power which must have sent its roots deep into the soul and must have taken hold of the entire spiritual nature. A human will unconquered by frowns, by curses, and by all the terrors of death, is clothed with surpassing grandeur, with the truest moral sublimity. The force of character is immense which, when hostility is gathering and deepening and maddening for its last brutal outburst, preserves a man undaunted, prepared to perish, but determined not to cower.
Jesus of Nazareth was able to die, if he must die. He was prepared to offer himself up; a precious and noble sacrifice, a nature just expanded before the eye of the world, a life in its freshness, vigor, and promise, and fitted for high service to God and man. In uncomplaining silence, in all the dignity of perfect meekness, in the gentlest spirit of love that the world ever beheld, he laid down his life. His soul, calm, humble, meek, and loving, was immovable as a rock. The intolerance of men met in him a force of will not to be overborne. If he must die he could die, and he did die at the age of thirty-three.
The fact which remains, apart from the earthly causes which brought it about, is this, that Christ acted directly and publicly on the world only for three years, and that he died in comparative youth. 46Usefulness and power are not measured by length of life. Many old men have never truly lived, and there are early deaths which yet can tell of the richest fruits of living long, and point back to deeds of spiritual prowess and to the origination for others of good that will never die. Perhaps it is to the period of youth, as distinguished from maturer age, that the greatest amount of spiritual power, the strongest impulses, the highest activity and energy belong. Grave counsels, wholesome restraints, sagacious suggestions and modifications issue from the experience of age. But youth has originated all the great movements of the world, and has most largely contributed to the agency by which they have been rendered effective.
He whom Christians recognize as the Redeemer of the world was only a youth. Whether his religion be regarded as a system of doctrines, or as a body of laws, or as a source of extraordinary influence, it is passing strange that he should have died in early life. His brief period of existence afforded no opportunity for maturing any thing. In point of .fact, while he lived he did very little, in the common sense of doing. He originated no series of well-concerted plans, he neither contrived nor put in motion any extended machinery, he entered into no correspondence with parties in his own country and in other regions of the world, in order to spread his influence and obtain co-operation. 47Even the few who were his constant companions, and were warmly attached to his person, were not, in his lifetime, imbued with his sentiments, and were not prepared to take up his work in his spirit after he .was gone. He constituted no society with its name, design, and laws all definitely fixed and formally established. He had no time to construct And to organize, his life was too short; and almost all that he did was to speak. He spoke in familiar conversation with his friends, or at the wayside to passers-by, or to those who chose to consult him, or to large assemblies, as opportunity offered. He left behind him a few spoken truths—not a line or word of writing—and a certain spirit incarnated in his principles, and breathed out from his life, and then he died.
We are not yet entitled, to place the youth of Christ and the other outer conditions of his life, by the side of his public ministry and his personal character. But even here, an amazing contrast rises up, which we must suggest for an instant. In the ordinary course of events, the memory of a mere youth, however distinguished, would soon have utterly perished from among men. But Jesus lives in the world at this moment, and has influenced the world from his death till now. It is no fiction, no mere conjecture, but a fact; an unquestioned, unquestionable fact. There have been multitudes in all the ages since his death, and at 48this moment, after nearly two thousand years, there are multitudes to whom He is dearer than life. History tells of warriors who reached the summit of their fame in comparative youth; it tells of men of science also, and of scholars, and of statesmen, who in youth rose to great and envied distinction. But the difference is obvious and it is wide, between the conquest of territory and the conquest of minds; between scientific, literary, or political renown, and moral and spiritual influence and excellence. Is there an instance, not of a man acquiring fame in youth and preserving it in old age, but of a man who died in youth, gaining vast influence of a purely spiritual kind, not by force of arms and not by secular aid in any form, but simply and .only by his principles and his life—of such a man transmitting that influence through successive generations, and after two thousand years retaining it in all its freshness, and continuing, at that. distance of time, to establish himself, and to reign almightily in the minds and hearts of myriads of human beings If there be, or any thing approaching to it, where is it? There is not such an example in the whole history of the world, except Jesus Christ.
It is time to remember that we are now only laying the foundation, not constructing the edifice. But this is the foundation on which it is proposed to rest the argument for the Divinity of Christ. 49These, with one short addition to be mentioned immediately, were the outer conditions of the life of Christ, under which his public ministry and his personal character reached their destined development. It is not in that development alone, but in that development under these conditions, that the evidence will be found of his True Origin and of his personal Pre-eminence.50
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