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§ 71. John’s Gospel contains chiefly connected and profound Discourses; and Why?

We must here consider the difference between the form of Christ’s expositions as given by the first three Evangelists, and as recorded by John. Some recent writers have found an irreconcilable opposition between them both of form and substance; and have concluded therefrom either that John, in reproducing the discourses of Christ from memory, involuntarily blended his own subjective views with them, and thus presented doctrines which a real disciple could not at the time have apprehended; or that some one else at a later period, and not John, was the author of this Gospel. They contrast the thoroughly practical bearing of the Sermon on the Mount with (what they call) the mystical character of the discourses recorded by John. They find every thing in the former simple and intelligible, while the latter abounds in paradoxes, and seems to study obscurity. Moreover, the latter is almost destitute of parables; a form of eloquence not only national, but also characteristic of Christ, judging from his discourses as given in the other Gospels.

But let any one only yield himself to the impression of the Sermon on the Mount, and then ask himself whether it be probable that a mind of the loftiness, depth, and power which that discourse evinces, could have employed only one mode of teaching? A mind which swayed not only simple and practical souls, but also so profoundly speculative an intellect as that of Paul, could not but have scattered the elements of such a tendency from the very first. We cannot but infer, from the irresistible power which Christianity exerted upon minds so diversely constituted and cultivated, that the sources of that power lay combined171171   We should believe this even if we were to admit Weisse’s view, viz., that the basis of this Gospel was a collection of the λὸγια τοῠ κυρίου made by John, and afterward wrought by another hand into the form of a historical narrative. But Weisse’s critical processes seem to me to be entirely arbitrary. John’s Gospel is altogether (with the exception of a few passages which are suspicious both on external and internal grounds) a work of one texture, not admitting of critical decomposition. In Matthew, not only internal signs, but also historical traditions, when considered without prejudice, seem to distinguish the original and fundamental composition from the later revision of the work. On the other hand, the author in whom we first find the tradition referred to (Papias, Euseb., iii., 39) makes mention of no such thing in regard to John’s Gospel. He must have known the fact, had it been so, living as he did in Asia Minor. Some adduce Papias’s silence about John’s Gospel as a testimony against its genuineness; but his object, most likely, was to give in formation in regard to those parts of the narrative whose origin was not so well known in that part of the country; whereas John’s Gospel was fresh in every one’s memory there. 111in Him whose self-revelation was the origin of Christianity itself. Moreover, the other Gospels are not wanting in apparently paradoxical expressions akin to the peculiar tone of John’s Gospel, e. g., “Let the dead bury their dead.”172172   Had this expression occurred in John, it might have been cited as a specimen of “Alexandrian mysticism.” Nor will an attentive observer find in John alone expressions of Christ intended to increase, instead of to remove the offence which carnal minds took at his doctrine. We repeat, again. that the words and acts of the true Christ could not have been free from paradoxes; and from this, indeed, it may have been that the Pharisees were led to report that he had lost his senses.

Still, it is true, that such passages are given by John much more abundantly than the other Evangelists. But there is nothing in his Gospel purely metaphysical or unpractical; none of the spirit of the Alexandrian-Jewish theology; but every where a direct bearing upon the inner life, the Divine communion which Christ came to establish. Its form would have been altogether different had it been composed, as some suppose, in the second century, to support the Alexandrian doctrine of the Logos, as will be plain to any one who takes the trouble to compare it with the writings of that age that have come down to us The discourses given in the first three Gospels, mostly composed of separate maxims, precepts, and parables, all in the popular forms of speech, were better fitted to be handed down by tradition than the more profound discussions which have been recorded by the beloved disciple who hung with fond affection upon the lips of Jesus, treasured his revelations in a congenial mind, and poured them forth to fill up the gaps of the popular narrative. And although it is true that the image of Christ given to us in this Gospel is the reflection of Christ’s impression upon John’s peculiar mind and feelings, it is to be remembered that these very peculiarities were obtained by his intercourse with, and vivid apprehension of, Christ himself. His susceptible nature appropriated Christ’s life, and incorporated it with his own.

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