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IF the representation of the teaching of Christ which has been offered be faulty, it is by defect, not by excess. For our purpose it may have been sufficient; but it is only by the critical and minute study of the discourses and sayings of Jesus that we learn to do full justice to his character as a Teacher, and that we gain an impression at all adequate of his spiritual opulence and power. The words of this Being, even on common occasions, discover a breadth and universality without example; they are always very simple, but profoundly suggestive, sometimes of inexhaustible force. Jesus not only announces separate ideas of the highest value, but his sayings may be likened to rich seeds or roots of truth, from which spring up manifold living growths. 154Again, in dealing with a profound, hard, dense subject, a single utterance of his shall discover it to its depths, and leave it luminous forever. The free and earnest soul deeply pondering the sentences which fell from his lips, feels itself in a lofty and holy region, where new expanses of light and glory in-all directions break upon the sight; where forms of truth, long familiar, open freshly, and disclose unimagined wonders; and where an overpowering sense of reality, of living energy, and of Divinity is created. But this experience can not be gained without devout, profound and close study of the Gospels; and, as the study in the becoming temper of mind is prolonged, the experience, instead of fading, deepens marvelously.
The teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, as we have attempted to describe it in the last chapter, must now be compared with whatever portions of professed truth the world has received from other hands, in other places and ages. A spirit of strict impartiality must guide the comparison.
I. The latest noticeable antagonist of Christianity is the system which owes its birth to the genius, perhaps the piety, of Mohammed; and to which, on several obvious grounds, no inconsiderable importance belongs. It has spread itself over a large part of the globe; it is accepted by a hundred and fifty millions of the human race; and is, in itself 155immensely superior to all the forms of polytheism. The doctrine of One Supreme God, and of his all-ruling providence, is invaluable, and must have exerted a mighty influence for good wherever it has been received. But an examination of this system is unnecessary here, and chiefly on two accounts:—First, not to notice the extravagances and follies which it contains, it is at variance in many parts with the established facts of science, and in many other parts with just moral sentiments. Second, in all its really important aspects, it is a copy from Judaism, or from Christianity, or from both. None acquainted with the Jewish and Christian Scriptures—the latter and especially the former, much more ancient than the Koran—can doubt this fact for a moment. Altogether, in spite of its redeeming features, as a communication of spiritual truth to the world, a message respecting God, or respecting man, respecting the divine government, or respecting human destinies, it does not admit of being compared with Christianity.
II. At the opposite extreme in point of time from the religion of Arabia, and not less opposite in point of character, stand the Hindoo or Brahminical and the Buddhist systems. Our notice of them shall be very short, and it is on this account that we have ventured to depart in this instance from the chronological order. The great antiquity of these systems 156invests them with interest and importance. Buddhism belongs to a period at least several hundred years before the age of Christ, and Brahminism is certainly many centuries earlier, and may have been even much earlier than this, indeed is probably the most ancient form of religion now existing in the world. The one holds possession at this day of nearly the entire population of Hindostan, the other is adopted by the three hundred millions of the Chinese empire. The Hindoo or Brahminical religion is in form and even in essence an enormous polytheism, if indeed it be not rather a true pantheism. The Buddhist system is virtually a philosophical atheism. In the one, whatever underlying unity it may be possible to discover, all the powers and parts of the universe are held to be proper objects of worship, are indeed truly divine, inasmuch as they are all alike emanations of the divinity. In the other there is no God but intellect. The Buddhist, though he may exalt the idea of an abstract intellectual unity, though he may recognize the concentration of the idea in saint or sage, or may fancy it diffused and distributed in innumerable forms, in reality worships nothing higher than his own soul, or the conception of that soul, developed under more propitious circumstances than his individual life has supplied. Eastern scholars, who have examined the Hindoo Vedas, inform us that, along with much of a very opposite character, they contain 157passages of great sublimity on the holiest and grandest subject of thought, the Infinite Intelligence, the Fountain of Light and Life; and also many lessons of benevolence, purity, wisdom and justice. Christians receive the information with thankfulness, and are glad to believe that any such rays of light, however feeble and few, have fallen upon the darkness of the world. But they can not on this account conceal from themselves or the less deplore the idolatry, the pantheism, the moral abominations, the monstrous system of worship, and the monstrous forms of human society which have grown up beneath the shelter of Brahminism and Buddhism.
III. We return to the order of time; and, beginning with the age of Mohammed, and passing back from it toward the Christian era, we meet with certain Jewish writings, to which it is maintained the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth was largely indebted. The modern Jew asserts with much assurance, that all which is really valuable in the sayings of Christ, was borrowed, more or less directly, from the Talmud. That collection of traditions, and of expositions of the ancient Scriptures, known by this title, consisting of the Mishna or text, and two commentaries, the one the Gemara of Jerusalem, and the other the Gemara of Babylon, has long been regarded by the Jewish people, and is still regarded, with the highest veneration. We 158do not profess to be able to discuss the still debated question of its antiquity and authority, nor is such discussion at all necessary for our purpose. It is admitted freely, that much of what the Talmudical books contain was current among the Jews in the time of Christ, and probably long before it, and therefore it is possible that he may have borrowed from this source. It is admitted, also, that these books present some important religious and moral truths but it is at the same time just as undoubted, that the mass of their contents is frivolous, and even false. At all events, the Jews themselves do not deny that these writings are far inferior to the ancient inspired Scriptures. They may interpret, expand, or impress the revelations of the Old Testament, but they themselves offer no new revelation, and add nothing to the divine light before shed down from heaven. It will, therefore, be satisfactory and direct, at once to compare the teaching of Jesus with the system of truth in the ancient Scriptures.
IV. The peculiar poetical imagery, and the magnificent and gorgeous diction, which distinguish many passages of the Old Testament, are palpably wanting in the Christian Gospels. The lawgiver, the reformer, the poets, and the prophetic sages of ancient Israel speak in the name of Jehovah, in grand and solemn tones; but in the New Testament 159an apparently humble individual, using only the most familiar and simple language, claims to instruct the world; so that if there be sublimity here, it must lie in the thoughts themselves, not at all in the form in which they are presented. Christians have not been reluctant to honor the inspired seers of Israel; on the contrary, they entirely believe that the Old Testament and the New are not hostile, but harmonious revelations. They find in the ancient devotional poetry of the Jews a profound analysis of religious experience, and a freshness and fervor of pious feeling altogether unsurpassed, and they rejoice to acknowledge that there is a large amount of imperishable truth which is common to both Scriptures. But that the later is borrowed from the earlier, and is only an imitation, a repetition of it, is not only denied, but it is maintained that this is both more lucid and more complete than that, and also contains discoveries which are entirely unknown to the more ancient book. We look in vain in the Old Testament for the radiant and overflowing benignity of the New—in vain for the universality, simplicity, and freedom that distinguish the New. The doctrine of a reign of God in the minds and hearts of all men is not found, there, nor the uniform assertion of the pure spirituality of worship, and of the purely spiritual nature of the Great Object of worship, nor the luminous revelation of the soul in its reality, greatness, accountability, 160and endless life, or of that attribute of the divine nature which most of all endears God. to man—Paternity. The soul and the Father of the soul, the return of the soul to its Father, and the reign of the Father in the soul, these, in their highest form, belong peculiarly to the teaching of Jesus, and they exalt it, immeasurably above not only all Talmudical and Rabbinical writings, but even the divine oracles of an earlier age.
V. About three hundred years before Christ, Athens, rich in great men and in systems and sects, listened to the claim of a new teacher, Zeno, the founder of a new school. The system of the Stoics merits attention in this place, not so much in its early as in its later form. It became at last a theology and an ethical code more than either a physical or metaphysical philosophy, and at the commencement of the Christian era, and for two centuries later, it exerted no inconsiderable influence on the world. The names of Zeno, of Cleanthes, of Epictetus, and of Marcus Antoninus, are not forgotten at this day, by those who are interested in the genuine efforts of the human soul, and who watch the strugglings of the light of God with the darkness of the world. At the same time, it must not be forgotten, that the stoicism which is represented to us by this name was the product, not of a single mind, but of the combined efforts of many 161noble minds for a succession of ages. They, wisely profiting by the defects and errors of other systems, extracting however the best portions of them and making important additions to them, succeeded at last in forming a new whole, which reflected great glory on the intellectual and moral powers which were capable of producing it. It was this finished and final form of the stoical system which was extensively embraced before the age of Jesus, and for two centuries later. And it is this, the work of many minds and many ages, which is to be compared with the labors of a single person during a course of only three years, the probability, amounting nearly to certainty, being that the work was indebted to this very person for some of its later and most valuable peculiarities.
It would be easy, without any injustice, to produce a humiliating account of the errors of stoicism. We can not wonder that, on subjects which to this day defy speculation, such as the essential nature of things, the reasonings of the Stoics should be puerile and contradictory. The idea of infinity or incorporeity, they were able to attach to nothing, except the vacuum which encompasses the universe. An infinite, even an incorporeal God in the proper sense of the term, they knew not. Philosophers of this school speak of the incorporeal reason, but they can mean only the unembodied reason. Between God and matter they recognized no essential 162distinction, and their highest conception of the difference was expressed when they said that God was the informing principle of matter. Hence many of them identified God with the ether, which spreads itself over the exterior surface of the heavens; and this ethereal substance they imagined contained the vital principles from which all forms of existence are produced, but not by the will of a creator, but by necessity of nature. If to them Reason or God was underived, so also was the matter of the universe. By no sect was the doctrine of absolute fate more thoroughly adopted than by the Stoics. As they invariably represent it, a necessary chain of causes and effects encircles the whole universe, the divine reason and material things alike. “Whatever that be,” says Seneca, “which has determined our lives and our deaths, it binds the gods also by the same necessity. Human and divine things alike are carried along in an irrevocable course.”7070 Quidquid est quod nos sic vivere jussit sic mori, eadem necessitate et Deos alligat. Irrevocabilis humana pariter ac divina cursus vehit.—Seneca, Op. Parisiis, 1761, p. 78.
Large and just exception must be taken to the doctrine of this school on the subject of moral excellence, its foundation, its nature, and its laws. Piety toward God, as they described it, is little else than a callous surrender to irresistible fate; self-government is crucifixion of the best affections of the heart; the highest crime against God and 163against nature, self-destruction, is vindicated, and, in certain circumstances, even commanded as a duty; and benevolence, instead of being generous love, is devotion to an abstract idea, a cold calculation, an act of homage to reason. The human race is a unity, of which no part can be injured without evil to all the rest; and such injury, therefore, they argued, it is the part of wisdom to prevent or remedy. The obvious tendency of some parts of the stoical system was to nourish pride, to create heartlessness, and even hypocrisy, and to make men unnatural and artificial. The virtuous Stoic was proudly and coldly strong, was superior to pleasure and pain, would relieve the afflicted, and protect himself against personal injury, but would at the same time, repress all pity for others, and all sorrow on his own account.
But, in spite of numerous and serious errors, the ethical system of the Stoics was wonderfully grand, and wonderfully pure. When we think of principles like the following—“that the highest end of life is to contemplate truth, and to obey the Eternal Reason and the immutable law of the universe; that God is to be revered above all beings, to be acknowledged in all events, and to be universally submitted to; that the noblest office of wisdom is to subject the passions, dispositions, and conduct to reason and virtue; that virtue is the supreme good, and is to be pursued for its own sake, and not from 164fear or from hope; that it is sufficient for happiness, and is seated only in the mind, and being so, renders men independent of all external events, and happy in every condition; that the consciousness of well-doing is reward enough without the applause or approbation of others, without even their knowledge of our good deeds, and that no prospect of self-indulgence, and no fear of loss, or pain, or death must be suffered to turn us aside from truth and virtue;”—when we hear such principles as these distinctly maintained by the sages of this school, it is impossible to withhold from them our admiration, and to repress a profound feeling of thankfulness to the Great God. These are some of the redeeming features of the stoical morality, which rendered it incomparably superior to all the ancient systems, with one wonderful exception, the system of which Socrates was the founder and Plato the chief expositor.7171 In the Enchiridion of Epictetus, and in his lectures (both compiled by his disciple Arrian), and in the writings of Seneca, especially his De Providentiâ, De Sapientis Constantiâ, De Brevitate Vitæ, and De Vitâ Beatâ, the errors and the excellences of Stoicism are fully discovered. Very touchingly also, are we brought into contact with the system, as a personal experience, in the Meditations of Aurelius. “Marci Antonini Imperatoris, eorum quæ ad seipsum, libri XII.” Oxon. 1704. Especially lib. iv. cap. 10, 24, 29, 33, 34, 41, 44, 45; also in some parts of the Noctes Atticæ of Aulus Gellius.
VI. Upward of a hundred years earlier than 165the time of Zeno, Socrates questioned, perplexed, stimulated, and instructed the people of Athens. His name, and that of his disciple Plato, are associated with what is justly regarded as the most luminous and refreshing passage of ancient profane history, whether as it respects philosophy or as it respects religion. The philosophy of Plato differs in form, still more in its details, and especially in its completeness and refinement, from that of Socrates; but in ethics and religion the master and the disciple are entirely identified; and it would be. idle to attempt to distinguish between them.
About the time of Christ, or shortly afterward, a profound interest in the doctrines of Socrates and Plato was awakened throughout the Jewish world, by the writings of Philo of Alexandria. These writings are a compound of Judaism, Orientalism, and Platonism; but the Platonic element very decidedly predominates. It may be safely pronounced impossible that Jesus of Nazareth can have been acquainted with the works of the Alexandrian Jew. It is quite incapable of proof, and is most improbable, that any of these works were even in existence, in the lifetime of Christ. If they were, it can have been only a short while; and nothing is more unlikely than that Jesus, in an obscure village, and in the position of a working man, had even heard of them, far less examined them. The fact, however, is interesting, and it directly bears 166on our investigation, that not only the Gentile, but even the Jewish world, during the primitive age of Christianity, was familiar with the system of Socrates and Plato.
It is not necessary here to point out the defects and errors of that system. They are confessedly important and numerous. For example, Socrates distinctly maintained the pre-existence of human souls, before their entrance into the bodies of the present race of men. He taught also the transmigration of souls—at least their possible occupation of other bodies after the death of those they now inhabit—and, as the punishment of their vice, their occupation of the bodies of irrational animals. It must be admitted further, that his reasonings on the immortality of the soul are not seldom as unsatisfactory as they are subtle and refined. And then, the last words which he uttered, desiring that an offering he had vowed to Esculapius might be paid by his friends, are a melancholy testimony against him. It was clearly his conviction, that a wise and good man ought to worship the gods recognized by the country to which he belonged.7272 Hence Xenophon expresses his amazement that Socrates was charged with denying the gods of Athens, as if nothing could be more utterly groundless: (ὡς οὐκ ἐνόμιζεν οὓς ἡ πόλις νομίζει θεοὺς ποίῳ ποτ᾽ ἐχρήσαντο τεκμηρίω.—Comment. lib. i. cap. 1, 2. Berol. 1845. His faith in a plurality of objects of worship was undisguised and sincere; but it is at the same time as 167certain that he recognized and adored a Supreme God, the Almighty Creator and Ruler; and he speaks of this Being in language which may well excite astonishment. “He, who arranges and upholds the universe, who is the fountain of all that is beautiful and good, and who, for the use of his creatures, maintains the creation always uninjured, entire, and undecaying; . . . this Being, conducting these affairs, is invisible to us, yet is made manifest by the grandeur of his operations.”7373 ὁ τὸν ὁλον κόσμον συντάττων τε καὶ συνέχων, ἐν ᾧ πάντα τὰ καλὰ καὶ ἀγαθά ἐστι, καὶ ἀεὶ μὲν χρωμένοις ἀτριβῆ τε καὶ ὑγιᾶ καὶ ἀγήρατον παρέχων. . . . . . . . . οὖτος τὰ μέγιστα μὲν πράττων ὁρᾶται, τάδε δὲ οἰκονομῶν ἀόρατος ἡμῖν ἐστιν.—Comment. lib. 4. cap. 8. 18. Socrates maintained that the first principles of morality, which are common to all mankind, are laws of the Supreme and the distinction between them and mere human laws he finds in the fact, that they can never be transgressed with impunity. “They who violate the laws established by the gods suffer a penalty which it is not possible to escape in any such way, as some who violate the laws established by men are able to escape the consequences of transgression.”7474 ἀλλ᾽ οὗν δίκην γέ τοι διδόασιν οἱ παραβαίνοντες τοὺς ὑπὸ τῶν θεῶν κειμένους νόμους, ἢν οὐδενὶ τρόπῳ δυνατὸν ἀνθρώπῳ διαφυγεῖν, ὥσπερ τοὺς ὑπὸ ἀνθρώπων κειμένους νόμους ἔνιοι ταραβαίνοντες διαφεύγουσι τὸ δικὴν διδόναι.—Idem. cap. 4. 21.
The life of Socrates must not be overlooked, when attempting, in however brief a manner, to 168understand and estimate his system. The testimony of those who knew him best is unshaken by all the efforts that have been made to overthrow it; and there is no sufficient reason to doubt that he was a sincere, upright, disinterested man, and, withal, singularly pious, according to the light he had received. His disciple and intimate friend, Xenophon, declares that he never undertook any work without first asking counsel of the gods. A sense of God, a strong faith in the influence of God, and a deep desire to be governed by it, were habitual to his soul; and, in all probability, this is the amount of what he intended to convey, when he constantly and openly referred to a demon—a presiding spirit within him—whose voice he had heard and obeyed from his childhood. The idea on which the public life of this man was founded, is unusually impressive. The youth of Athens had long been corrupted, as he thought, by a class of instructors who set little value on what they taught or others believed, but great value on dialectic power and rhetorical art, by means of which even falsehood might be commended to the minds of men. Socrates resolved to lift up goodness and truth, in themselves, as the noblest end of living; and to show that the office of philosophy was to deliver mankind from the dominion of prejudice, ignorance, and vice, to inspire them with the love of virtue, and, through a careful intellectual and 169moral discipline, to guide them to happiness. His position, from the first, was that of a philosophic moralist and, choosing Athens as his sphere, he devoted his life to the diffusion of what he believed to be the highest truth. His entire time was spent in this work; he sought for scholars, not only among men of rank, but also among laborers and mechanics and, contrary to the general practice in that day, he exacted no remuneration from those who attached themselves to his school. “It does not accord with what is usual among men,” he says, in his memorable defense, “that I have neglected all that belongs to myself, and have tolerated for so many years this neglect of my private affairs. Your concerns, on the other hand, I have constantly attended to, appealing to you individually, like a father, or an elder brother, and urging you to the cultivation of virtue. If, indeed, I had gained any thing by this means, and had accepted payment for my exhortations, there might have been some reason for my conduct; . . . . it appears to me that I offer proof sufficient that I am speaking truly, when I name my poverty.”7575 οὐ γὰρ ἀνθρωπίνῳ ἔοικε τὸ ἐμὲ τῶν μὲν ἐμαυτοῦ ἁπάντων ἠμεληκέναι, καὶ ἀνέχεσθαι τῶν οἰκείων ἀμελουμένων τοσαῦτα ἤδη ἔην, τὸ δὲ ὑμέτερον πράττειν ἀεί, ἰδίᾳ ἐκαστῳ προσιόντα ὥσπερ πατέρα ἢ ἀδελφὸν πρεσβύτερον, πείθοντα ἐπιμελεῖσθαι ἀρετῆς. καὶ εἰ μέντοι τι ἀπὸ τούτων ἀπέλαυον, καὶ μισθὲν λαμβάνων, ταῦτα παρεκελευόμην, εἶχεν ἄν τινα λόγον . . . . . ἱκανὸν γὰρ οἷμαι, ἐγὼ παρέχομαι τὸν μάρτυρα ὡς ἀληθῆ λέγω, τὴν πενίαν.—Apol. Soc. in Plat. oper. Lipsiæ, 1829, tom. 1. p. 63. The man who thus spoke 170was often persecuted by the vicious and the false in the course of his life. “You, my fellow citizens,” he said, appealing to themselves for the truth of his statements, “have been unable to tolerate my manners and my words they have grown ever more and more oppressive and hateful to you, so that you now long to be relieved from them.”7676 ὑμεῖς μὲν ὅντες πολῖτά μου, οὐχ οἷοί τ᾽ ἐγένεσθε ἐνεγκεῖν τὰς ἐμὰς διατριβὰς καὶ τοὺς λόγους, ἀλλ᾽ ὑῖμν βαρύτεραι γεγόνασι καὶ ἐπιφθονώτεραι ὥστε ζητεὶτε αὐτῶν νυνὶ ἀπαλλανῆναι..—p. 72. At last he was condemned to death and for this reason, chiefly, whatever the ostensible grounds might be, that his fellow-citizens could no longer endure his merited rebukes.
The defense of Socrates, followed as it was by his death, is perhaps the most remarkable, all circumstances considered, of human productions. He describes the aim of his life—“I pass my time. doing nothing but persuade you, both young and old, to care so earnestly neither for the body, nor for treasures, nor for any other thing, as for the soul, by what means it may be ennobled in the highest degree.”7777 Οὐδὲν γὰρ ἄλλο πράττων ἐγὼ περιέρχομαι ἢ πειθὼν ὑμῶν καὶ νεωτέρους καὶ πρεσβυτέρους μήτε σωμάτων ἐπιμελεῖσθαι, μήτε χρημάτων πρότερον μήτε ἄλλου τινὸς οὕτω σφόδρα ὡς τῆς ψυχῆς ὅπως ως̔ ἀρίστη ἔσται.—Apol. p. 61. He announces his settled resolution, whatever it may cost—“Oh, Athenians, I esteem and love you, but I shall obey God rather than you and while I live, and as far as lies in 171me, I shall never cease philosophizing, or urging and remonstrating with whomsoever I may meet, in the very same terms I have been wont to use.”7878 Ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, ἀσπάζομαι μὲν καὶ φίλω, πείσομαι δὲ τῷ Θεῷ μᾶλλον ἢ ὑμῖν, καὶ ἕωσπερ ἂν ἐμπνέω καὶ οἶός τε ὧ, οὐ μὴ παύσομαι φιλοσοφῶν, καὶ ὑμῖν παρακελευόμενός τε καὶ ἐνδεικνύμενος, ὅτῳ ἂν ἀει ἐντυγχάνω ὑμῶν λέγων οἱάπερ εἴωθα..—Idem, p. 60. He presents a confession of his faith on a most important subject—“I declare that the highest good to man is this, to spend every day in forming opinions respecting virtue and other subjects, such as you have heard me discussing, scrutinizing both myself and others and that a life without inquiry is no life for man.”7979 λέγω ὅτι καὶ τυγχάνει μέγιστον ἀγαθὸν ὂν ἀνθρώπῳ τοῦτο, ἐκάστης ἡμέρας περὶ ἀρετῆς τοὺς λόγους ποιεῖσθαι, καὶ τῶν ἄλλων περὶ ὦν ὑμεῖς ἐμοῦ ἠκούετε διαλεγομένου, καὶ ἐμαυτὸν καὶ ἄλλους ἐξετάζοντος, ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος, οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ.—Idem, p. 71.
After the sentence of death had been pronounced, he tells his judges that he might have escaped had he employed another method of defense. But he adds: “It is no matter of regret to me now, that I have defended myself in this manner, but I should much prefer death from taking this course, to life on that ground (that is, having followed any other course) . . . . This truly is hard, oh Athenians, to escape death but it is far more difficult to avoid wickedness.”8080 οὔτε νύν μοι μεταμέλει οὕτως ἀπολογησαμένῳ, ἀλλὰ πολὺ μᾶλλον αἱροῦμαι ὧδε ἀπολογησάμενος τεθνάναι ἢ ἐκείνως ζῆω . . . . . τοῦτ᾽ ἦ χαλεπόν, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, θάνατον, ἐκφύγειν ἀλλὰ πολὺ χαλεπώτερ ν, πονηρίαν..—Idem, p. 74. “You, therefore, oh my judges, 172ought to be hopeful in reference to death, and to keep in mind this one truth, that there is nothing evil to a good man, whether in life or in death, nor are the matters which concern him neglected by the gods.”8181 Ἀλλὰ καὶ ὑμᾶς χρή, ὦ ἄνδρες δικασταί, εὐέλπιδας εἶναι πρὸς τὸν θάνατον, καὶ ἕν τι τοῦτο διανοεῖσθαι ἄληθες, ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἀνδρὶ ἀγαθῷ κακὸν οὐδὲν οὔτε ζῶντι οὔτε τελευτήσαντι, οὐδὲ ἀμελεῖται ὑπὸ θεῶν τὰ τούτου πράγματα.—Idem, p. 79. “I am not at all incensed against those who have condemned me, or my accusers.”8282 Ἔγωγε τοῖς καταψηφισαμένοις μου καὶ τοῖς κατηγόροις οὐ πάνυ χαλεπαίνω.—Idem, p. 79. “If one, arriving at Hades, shall be set free from so called judges, and shall find righteous judges, . . . would this be distressing banishment? . . . . . For my part, I should be willing to die often, if this be true.”8383 Εἰγάρ τις ἀφικόμενος εἰς ἄδου, ἀπαλλαγεὶς τουτωνὶ τῶν φασκόντων δικαστῶν εἶναι εὑρήσει τοὺς ὡς ἀληθῶς δικαστάς, . . . . . ἆρα φαύλη ἂν εἴη ἡ ἀποδημία. . . . . . ἐγὼ μὲν γὰρ πολλάκις ἐθέλω τεθνάναι, εἰ ταῦτά ἐστιν ἀληθῆ.—Idem, pp. 77, 78.
After his condemnation, awaiting the hour of his martyrdom, Socrates spoke in such language as the following, to the friends who continued their faithful attendance upon him—“It would be ridiculous for a man who during his life has habituated himself to live like one who was very near to death, to be afterward distressed when this event (which he had long anticipated) actually overtook him. . . . . Shall one who verily loves wisdom, and entertains the strong hope that he shall find that which deserves 173this name nowhere except in Hades (shall such a man) instead of rejoicing to depart, be afflicted at dying?”8484 Γελοῖον ἄν εἴη, ἄνδρα παρασκευάζονθ᾽ ἑαυτὸν ἐν τῷ βίῳ ὅτι ἐγγυτάτω ὅντα τοῦ τεθνάναι οὕτω ζῆν, κᾄπειθ᾽ ἥκοντος αὐτῷ τούτου, ἀγανακτεῖν. . . . . . φρονήσεως δὲ ἄρα τις τῷ ὄντι ἐρῶν, καὶ λαβὼν σψόδρα τὴν αὐτὴν ταύτην ἐλπίδα, μηδαμοῦ ἄλλοθι ἐντεύξεσθαι αὐτῇ ἀξίως λόγου, ἢ ἐν ἅδου, ἀγανακτήσει τε α̉ποθνήσκων, καὶ οὐκ ἂσμενος εἶσιν αὐτόσε—Phœdo in Plat. oper. ut supra, tom. i. pp. 116, 117. “Does not the soul thus conditioned (the wise and good soul) depart to that which is congenial to its nature, to the unseen, the divine, the undying, the wise? Arriving there (in Hades), its lot is to be blessed, to be emancipated from error and ignorance, and fears, and wild appetites, and all other earthly evils; and, as is said in reference to the initiated, truly does it spend the remainder of existence with the gods.”8585 Οὔκουν οὕτω μὲν ἔχουσα, εἰς τὸ ὁμοῖον αὐτῇ τὸ ἀειδὲς ἀπέρχεται, τὸ θεῖόν τε καὶ ἀθάνατον καὶ φρονίμον; οἶ ἀφικομένη ὑπάρχει αὐτῇ εὐδαίμονι εἶναι, πλάνης καὶ ἀγνοίας καὶ φόβων καὶ ἀγρίων ἐρὼτων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων κακῶν τῶν ἀνθρωπείων ἀπηλλαγμένη· ὥσπερ δὲ λέγεται κατὰ τῶν μεμυημένων, ὡς ἀληθῶς τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον μετὰ θεῶν διάγουσα.—Idem, p. 138.
These were the words of a heathen, nearly five hundred years before the advent of Jesus Christ, of a man who had never seen a line of revelation, so called, and could have had no knowledge. of the existence of such a thing; a man who lived in the very center of polytheism, who was himself a child and an avowed disciple of polytheism, and who to the last religiously observed the worship of 174inferior divinities. His name and that of Plato, and the names also of Zeno, and Epictetus, and Antoninus, have come down to our times associated with-the sentiments which have been quoted. The hope is not vain that, in that dark day, and beneath all the polluting shadows of paganism, there may have been many, like to these sages, of whom no record has descended. Above all, we can believe that there may have been multitudes of the obscurer classes on whom the influence of Socrates, Plato, and others came down as a healing and purifying power. The hope is inexpressibly refreshing to the Christian soul. God, who, for the sake of the world, and in order to preserve to it the truth which it had well-nigh lost, conferred singular distinction on Judea, had not abandoned the rest of mankind, but drew near to them also, in his secret illuminations and in his sanctifying agencies. The Holy Ghost that touched the soul of Hebrew prophets and teachers, also brooded over the spiritual chaos of the old pagan world, so that gleams of divine light flashed many times across the deep of ignorance and moral evil. It enhances the value of ancient Holy Scripture, it even adds a new significance to it, when we come to know that, far away from its sphere, the erring soul of man was always struggling toward the source of light, and that from the uncreated sun there fell upon it many a sanctifying and guiding ray. The direct and 175special provision for the coming of the promised. Saviour of men, which was made in the Jewish institutions and worship, becomes not less, but more precious, when we understand that, at the same time, over all the world, in the efforts of the human reason, the agitations of the human conscience, and the ceaseless tumult of human affairs, God was conducting, by the merciful influence of his Spirit, a more general preparation for the same grand event. To the Spirit of the living God, striving with man every where and always, must be traced whatever moral goodness and holy truth sprung up in the ungenial soil of ancient paganism. The fact of such divine striving recognized, our first feeling is unfeigned thankfulness to God; the second is deep sympathy with human souls in the day of the world’s darkness, with wise, earnest, virtuous souls in the agony of their search after truth, and in the burden of uncertainty, disappointment, and fear by which they were often crushed. In the number of these ancient spiritual heroes, none wiser or nobler shall we find than Socrates and his illustrious disciple. In their case, we recognize with joy a merciful agency of God. Instead of seeking to depreciate the recorded sayings of the Athenian sage, we acknowledge with wonder that, in some of the highest regions of moral inquiry, they embody an amount of truth which, in justice to humanity, to spiritual providence, and to the very 176office of Christ, Christians above all men are bound to understand and extol.
But, by the side of the best of all the ancient systems of morality and religion, we are now prepared to place the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, and, with this view, we shall first recall, in the briefest form, the chief subjects of that teaching.
“A universal spiritual reign, the reign of rectitude, purity, wisdom, truth, love, and peace, the reign of God in the understanding, conscience, heart, and will of men.” “Human sin, Divine pardon.” “Prayer.” “Providence.” “Worship.” “Human virtue grounded in piety toward God.” “Among the essential elements of virtue, humility, meekness, forgiveness, pure love, self-sacrifice.” “Piety and virtue, a true life of God in the soul.” “Spiritual truth received into the soul, the seed of this Divine life, and the germ of the reign of God in man.”
Yet more specially: “The doctrine of the human soul, its reality, greatness, accountability, and endless life.” “The doctrine of God, his Spirituality, Unity, Moral Perfection, and Paternity.” “The doctrine of the reconciliation of the soul and God; God in his holy mercy looking upon the soul; and the soul, in penitence, faith, and filial obedience, yielding itself to God.”
This enumeration is almost enough; there are doctrines here of inexpressible importance, perfectly 177original. To name no others, those of sin and pardon, of virtue, as summed up in pure love, in sacrifice and service for others, of an ever brightening and holy immortality, and of God’s fatherhood, have no place in the sayings of the Athenian philosopher. Altogether we behold here an originality, a consistency, a living energy, a grandeur, and a depth which can be found nowhere else. Socrates and Plato astonish us by the utterance of imperishable and grand ideas but they are not only few in number, but are unconnected. Christ offers to the world an extended and harmonious multitude of spiritual doctrines. He, too, is the only teacher who always speaks with certainty and precision. The disciples of Socrates were often left in deep perplexity by their master. One occasion may be instanced: when he was conducting a discussion with two of their number respecting the immortality of the soul. “They (that is Socrates, and Cebes, and Simmias) seemed to disturb us. afresh, though we had been fully-convinced by the previous arguments, and to plunge us again into unbelief.”8686 Ὑπὸ τοῦ ἔμπροσθεν λόγου σφόδρα πεπεισμένους ἡμᾶς πάλιν ἐδόκουν ἀναταράξαι καὶ εἰς ἀπιστίαν καταβαλεῖν.—Phœdo in Plat. oper. tom. i. p. 150. This was the frequent experience of the best men in the ancient world, in reference to the most vital questions, on which, at other times we find them expressing the utmost certainty. Even Socrates often 178 employed such ambiguous language as the following: “If death be a removal hence to another place; and if what is said of the dead be true,”—“those who live there (that is in Hades) are thenceforth immortal—if at least what is said be true.” The concluding words of his apology were these—“But the hour of separation has now come; I go to die, you to live; but which of us is destined to an improved being is concealed from every one except God.”8787 Ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἥδη ὥρα ἀπιέναι, ἐμοὶ μὲν ἀποθανουμένῳ, ὑμῖν δέ βιωσομένοις. ὁπότεροι δὲ ἡμῶν ἔρχονται ἐπὶ ἄμεινον πρᾶγμα, ἄδηλον παντὶ πλὴν ἢ τῷ θεῷ.—Apol. tom. i. p. 79. On the great subjects of futurity, the soul, and God, Socrates often utters profound and imperishable truth; but even on these, as well as less momentous questions, he sometimes exhibits lamentable hesitation and doubt. The teaching of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is a region of unclouded and serene light. From the first, a deep conviction is awakened that here is perfect knowledge and faith which can not be shaken. Christ reveals many truths unheard before; but both on these and on such as may be found elsewhere, he exhibits un wavering certainty. On all the great subjects of his ministry, his utterances are determinate and uniform. Not a shadow even of hesitation rests for a moment on his language. The conflict of other minds between faith and doubt he knew not; but however high the subject, and environed with difficulties, 179he spoke with absolute but meek assurance. Always and every where, he spoke with absolute but meek assurance.
Christ, also, is the only teacher who always expresses himself, not only without doubt, but without effort. Socrates and Plato reach some lofty and, holy thoughts, but it is with great labor, and after protracted and severe study. Jesus Christ utters the highest truths with perfect facility, and presents them in familiar and simple language. He has needed no laborious and prolonged search, he employs no severity of argument, and gives no sign of effort. Truth is native to his soul, and his words are the immediate and natural and unlabored outpourings of the fullness of his mind.
We are constrained to ask, who was this Jesus Christ; what could he be, when even the sage of Athens suffers by comparison with him? While this question waits solution, differences between Christ, and Socrates, and Plato, still wider and more startling than those which have been named, crowd upon the mind.
First.—Socrates must have labored thirty or forty years as a teacher of Philosophy, and Plato a still longer period, both ever necessarily increasing their power, as well of acquiring as of communicating truth. Jesus Christ labored only three years.
Second.—Socrates had advanced to the middle period of life before he assumed the position of a 180public guide, and he was in his seventieth year when he died. Plato also took no part in forming the minds of others till he had reached middle life, and he was in his eighty-first year when he died. Jesus Christ was only thirty-three when he was cut off, quite a young man.
Third.—Socrates, before he ventured to teach, spent many consecutive years under the most celebrated philosophers then in Greece, in studying all the branches of learning with which that age was conversant. Plato having before been taught by other celebrated masters, was for eight years a pupil of Socrates. After the death of Socrates, he spent many years in traveling into various and remote countries, in pursuit of knowledge in all its branches, conversing with the priests of Egypt, perhaps even the sages of India, certainly the philosophers of Italy and Greece. Jesus Christ was never beyond the limits of Judea in his life, excepting in childhood. He had access to no famous school and to no celebrated masters in his own or other countries. The common amount of education he may have received, and for the rest he wrought with his hands to gain his daily bread. In place of study, there was only manual labor up to the time when he began to teach the world.
The question must be renewed, and with an earnestness yet more intense, who was this Jesus Christ? The three points of contrast just named 181between him and Socrates and Plato, do not exhaust his history. The whole of the outer conditions of his earthly life, even at the risk of repetition, must be deliberately placed before our minds. Jesus Christ was a man of Nazareth, in Galilee of Judea, whom no hint of the learning and science of other lands and of the discoveries and speculations of the world’s sages, could by any possibility have reached. He was a man of humble origin his parents, his relatives, his associates, were all poor, and he himself was poor, to the last very poor. He was a working carpenter, and had spent his life in a workshop till he was thirty years of age. He had enjoyed no advantages of education, of access to books, or of introduction to superior society, but such as were open to the lowest of the people, He was unaided by the patronage of the wise or the great. He was a young man who died at the age of thirty-three. But this person, in a ministry of three years, did infinitely more for mankind and for all succeeding ages, than either Socrates or Plato, or both together were able to do, each with the labor of thirty or forty years, with all their maturity of wisdom, and experience, and with all the advantages of learning, and travel, and patronage. What the wisest and brightest souls in the ancient world, what even the inspired prophets of Israel never accomplished, was accomplished by a young, obscure, Galilean mechanic.182
Even if the teaching of Jesus Christ had been inferior in substance and in form to that of Socrates and Plato, the overwhelming differences between him and them which have been named. would yet have defied all the ordinary methods and means of interpretation. But how much more must this be true, when that teaching is not inferior, when it has been proved to be incomparably superior! It exhibits doctrines infinitely momentous which were unknown in Athens and in Rome. What is still more, it may be affirmed without misgiving, that of all the spiritual truth existing in the world at this moment, not only is there not a single important idea which is not found in the words of Christ, but all the most important ideas can be found nowhere else, and have their sole fountain in his mind. From his mind there shone a light which neither Egypt, nor India, nor Greece, nor Rome, had ever kindled, which no age before his day ever saw, and none since, except in him alone, has ever seen.
These, then, are the simple historical facts of Christ’s state on earth, on the one hand, and of his work among men on the other hand; and they demand interpretation. The supposition that he was merely a messenger and a prophet of God, a man divinely selected and furnished for a Godlike work, does not satisfy, never can satisfy, the extraordinary conditions of the case. The world has heard the voice of many God-sent men, the organs 183through which imperishable truth, in various amounts, has been conveyed; but not one of these can, on any just ground, be likened for a moment to Jesus Christ. We have found that he is not merely different from them, but, in the most material respects, incomparably above them all. Hence an explication which is perfectly reasonable and adequate in their case, is palpably insufficient, is unsatisfactory and useless, in his case. He stands unapproachably distant from all that ever were honored with a Divine mission; he is not a link in a chain of succession, but is absolutely alone, and has no predecessor and no successor. The multitude, the originality, the harmony, and the grandeur of his revelations, separate him, by an impassable line, from all that arose before his time and the fact that in two thousand years not a single important contribution has been added to the body of spiritual truth which he left, cuts off all succession. He is alone in that work, immeasurably transcending all others in human history, which he achieved for the world; alone in the unexampled circumstances amid which he accomplished it—circumstances which, according to all human modes of judging, seemed to render the accomplishment absolutely impossible; and therefore alone in constitution of being, in attributes and in nature—organically, essentially alone.
The work of Christ, and the outer conditions of 184his life, as these have been represented by us—that is to say, the age and place in which he appeared, his early death, and his entire social circumstances and position—the work of Christ and the outer conditions of his life must be capable of being harmonized, for they were combined in fact. All admit, and are compelled to admit, that they were combined in fact. Skepticism is baseless, is impossible here. There stands the record; say nothing of its inspiration so called, but its antiquity and general authenticity are indubitable, are, in point of fact, undoubted by all who have the slightest pretensions to learning or candor. There in the record, is the teaching, incomparable, alone. It is connected with the name of Jesus, it .came from his mind; if not, whence did it, could it come? To attribute it to the writers of the New Testament themselves makes no alteration in the difficulty, except to increase it indefinitely by the addition of new and more inexplicable circumstances. Among all concerned, the only individual to whose mind, with any show of reason, the teaching can be ascribed, is Jesus himself Certainly he was the teacher, if there was a teacher at all; and no subtlety of criticism, and no mythical theory, and no modification of it can set aside this fact. He, being what we have seen he was, in his external circumstances and history, was the teacher; in other words, the work of .Christ among men, and the outer conditions 185of his life, were combined in fact; and, therefore, it can admit of no question that they must be capable of being harmonized in principle. But we repeat, that on all ordinary and acceptable grounds they are utterly irreconcilable. No record of history, or of individual experience, and no law of the soul, lends us any assistance in this case; but what we have to interpret, though once realized and presented to the senses of men, is directly in the face of history, experience and psychology. Hence we maintain, and have no resource but to maintain, that the principle of harmony in this instance must be sought for, in a region altogether new and extraordinary—a region which ordinary history and experience, and psychology, do not include. There must be some profound mystery in the very constitution of this Unique Personality, to account for such teaching as his in such circumstances as his. He can not be merely human, because human laws and human experience do not interpret the formation of his life.. He must be essentially and organically separate from man, because the facts of his history transcend immeasurably all that mere man; ever accomplished or attained.
The case with which we have to deal may still further be briefly stated, thus—“There are difficulties which every thoughtful mind must recognize, when we attempt to connect the teaching of Jesus Christ with the outer conditions of his life: 186the difficulties are real, great, undeniable; and the question is, how shall they be best solved—which of the professed or possible solutions is most rational, most satisfactory? In the outset, one thing is clear, that the Supreme Being must not be supposed to be limited, either in his choice of instruments to work out his purposes, or in his mode of employing their agency. Granting that there never was another such messenger of eternal truth as Jesus Christ, it does not follow, from this alone, that Jesus Christ was more than human. He who created the mind of man can surely impart his revelations to it in different matters and forms, and can act upon it in very different ways, when he pleases to use it, as the organ through which he shall teach the world. Successive and sudden inspirations, rising one above another in amount and in kind, in a manner which it would be hard to limit, are in this way conceivable and possible. We can even go to the length of imagining the mind almost passive in the Divine hand, as in a kind of intellectual ecstasy or rapture—active, indeed, in receiving, and afterward in conveying, what is imparted to it; but yet its powers so held down and absorbed in the state of mere receptivity that it shall itself need, in common with others, to investigate, in order to understand, the messages of truth which it has announced. It is believed that in this way the ancient seers of Israel were 187sometimes mere organs through which inspirations passed from God to mankind, and were sometimes themselves as ignorant as others of the deep significance of their own utterances. Such a thing, at least, is not in itself inconceivable, and it is not irreconcilable with the experience and the laws of the soul; but it can afford us no help in solving the mystery of Christ’s teaching. He was not a mere and almost passive channel of conveyance, from God to man. He was not an instrument employed on certain special occasions, which occasions having passed away the instrument remained the same as before, unpenetrated by any change arising from the temporary purposes to which it had been applied. He was not an occasional, spasmodic, or ecstatic utterer of Divine messages; but, during his whole ministry, though its period was short, he was a free, intelligent, deliberate utterer of truth which was his own, howsoever it had come to him. If there be one thing more certain than another, it is that Jesus spoke from himself, out of the depths of his own being. Whoever was his teacher, whatever was the hidden process of instruction through which he had been conducted, and wherever might be the true source of his knowledge, that knowledge was his, truly his, dwelling in his understanding, his conscience, and his heart. That which he uttered to men had first become his own, in woven with the very texture of his soul, identified with 188its truest possessions, its freest movements, its progressive developments. It was not imposed at the moment by another, it was not an immediate impartation to him from without, but a true creation from within, a produce of his own. His soul had risen to that truth which he announced, had mastered it, had verily become it; so that not merely the glory of proclaiming it fell to Jesus, but all the inward opulence and power which the real knowledge of it supposed belonged to his mind.
We assert, without fear of contradiction by any competent and candid thinker, that under the conditions amid which Jesus was placed, such knowledge and such spiritual opulence and power were morally and even physically impossible to a mere human mind. God never acts in defiance of the nature and laws of the soul, but always in harmony with them: we speak with reverence, God could not act in defiance of the laws of the soul which he has himself established. This is not the region of miracle, so called and mere physical omnipotence has no place here. Mind is not to be forced. God could destroy the soul; but, continuing to be what it is, God can act upon it only in harmony with its laws. Now, the fact that a young man, only thirty-three, a poor man, a Galilean carpenter, uneducated, unprivileged, and unpatronized, rose to a profound, far-reaching, lofty wisdom, and to an illumination and wealth of soul which are without 189example in history, stands in direct contradiction to all other psychological experiences, and to all ascertained psychological laws. But it is a fact, nevertheless; and there must be some ground on which it can be explained. Jesus can not have been merely what he seemed to be, and his mind can not have been merely human, and in all respects constituted and conditioned as other human minds are. In sober reason, there is no choice left to us but to believe in an organic, an essential, a constitutional difference between him and all men; in other words, in an incarnation, in this unparralleled instance, of Divinity in humanity.8888 See Note A, at the end of the chapter. Admitting an original, an incomprehensible union between the mind of Christ and God—admitting a mysterious and constant access of Christ’s mind to the infinite Fountain of illumination, of excellence, and of power, such as was possible to no mere human being—then, but only then, we can account for spiritual phenomena which—all facts as they are—on no other ground are explicable or even believable. It is only by the admission of the real union of Divinity with the human soul of Jesus Christ that a solution can be found of historical and psychological difficulties, which are otherwise as insurmountable as they are undeniable. The idea of incarnation in all its meaning is, indeed, incomprehensible; but we can very distinctly comprehend, that it must 190 be true nevertheless., because, otherwise, facts of which we have the fullest evidence are absolutely unbelievable. The incarnation is a profound mystery; but intelligence and candor will allow that this is the very region where mystery was even to be looked for. We are compelled to believe that this mystery is a truth; because, if not, the marvelous phenomena of the life of Jesus, which we can not deny, are not only a mystery, and one even more inscrutable and insupportable, but a direct contradiction.
Our argument is to receive important confirmation from another region of the life of Jesus. But, even here, that life has supplied presumptive evidence amounting to the strongest proof, of a doctrine which, awfully deformed and corrupted indeed, has yet somehow found its way into most of the philosophies and religions of the world—the doctrine of Incarnation, God in man. “They shall call his name Emanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us.”
This is the only other position which merits consideration for a moment. The idea that Jesus was more than man, yet not God in man, that he pre-existed as an angel, or as the first of creatures, we believe, has now passed away from all sober minds. It is so purely fictitious, and so obviously encounters all the difficulties, without having the peculiar grounds, or any of the compensating advantages of the higher hypothesis, that we question if even a solitary supporter of it could be found in the present day. Few or none who are convinced that Jesus was not, and could not possibly be merely man, will hesitate to adopt the conclusion, that he must have been God in man.191
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