« Prev Part III. The Marked Character of His Public… Next »



I. Severity.—Moral Condition of Palestine.—Scenes of His early Ministry.—Scribes and Pharisees.—Formalism and Hypocrisy.—II. Tenderness.—Instances and Source.—III. Simplicity.—General Character of His Life.—Relation of His Teaching to Times, Places, Persons.—His Words and Illustrations.—IV. Authority.—Testimony of Hearers.—Claim to Connection with God.

THE individuality of Jesus strongly impressed itself on his whole public life. It gave a unique form, as has just been shown, to the beginning of his ministry, and the same impress, but drawn with deeper lines, was left on his. entire subsequent course. One of the most marked features of Christ’s spirit and manner in public was

I. The terrible severity with which, although seldom, he exposed and denounced evil. Friendless and powerless as he seemed to be—as in his earthly relations he certainly was—he did not repress on necessary occasions a burning indignation and if a voice of thunder was required to awaken and alarm that generation, such a voice was lifted up and resounded 78through the length and breadth of the land. Supposing the aim of Jesus to have been, as we shall hereafter prove that it was, to plant a spiritual system among men—the mightiest obstruction then existing to such a system was the condition of Judea. The minds of the Jews were so proud, so blinded, and so hardened by sin, that until they were thoroughly aroused and convicted, there could be no opening for the entrance of new light and life. It was not of choice, but from necessity, that the preaching of Jesus took that form which was yet an exception to its pervading tone, and that with stern severity he rebuked the age in which he appeared. “This is an evil generation”—“an evil and adulterous generation”—“a sinful generation”—“a wicked generation”—“a perverse generation”—“that the blood of all the prophets which has been shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation.” 1818   Matthew, Mark, and Luke, passim.

Upon the scenes of his earlier ministrations, he poured forth his indignant, yet pathetic warnings—“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and in ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art 79exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell.”1919   Matthew, xi. 21, 22, 23.

But the objects of deepest aversion and abhorrence to Jesus were the Pharisees, Lawyers, and Scribes, the leaders of the chief sect in that day, the transcribers and interpreters of the Bible. He was strikingly more patient with the Sadducees, the latitudinarians and freethinkers of Judea, although he decisively condemned their principles. Even to the convicted and gross violator of the laws of morality, he spoke with wondrous gentleness. But his severity was consuming, when he turned to the high religious professors—the men of stern orthodoxy and of saintly rigor—the admired but unworthy champions of Judaism. Hypocrisy, pretense, hollow semblance, were of old, and they are still, unutterably abhorrent to Christ; and nothing was, or now is, so dear to him as simplicity and sincerity. If there be still, as there were of old, men “who tithe mint and anise and cummin, but neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith,” in whom, however fair their exterior, are found not the living principles of religion, but only dead dogmas and submission to outward forms, Christianity disowns them as Christ disowned these. The kingdom of God on earth which he announced and founded, is the reign of living principles in the soul, not the 80adoption with the lips, or even by the judgment, of a system of dogmas, however true, and not outward homage to any set of rites, however significant. The Being with whom we have to do is a spirit; and his worship is a spiritual and real service. Nothing but truth, pure truth, a living reality in the soul, will answer to the principles and the spirit of the Christian books. Simple reality is every thing in this religion—pretense is infamy and crime.

Against hypocrisy, formalism, pretense, Jesus lifted up his voice in the severest tones. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” “Ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men, and neither go in yourselves nor suffer them that are entering to go in.” “Ye love greetings in the market-places, and the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues.” “Ye bind heavy burdens on men’s shoulders, but ye yourselves will not touch them with one of your fingers.” “Ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.” “Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, he is tenfold more the child of hell than before.” “Ye cleanse the outside, but within ye are full of extortion and excess.” “Ye strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” “Ye blind guides.” “Oh, fools, and blind.” “Whited sepulchers, outwardly 81ye appear righteous, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the damnation of hell?”2020   Matthew, xxiii. 13-33. How withering, how blasting, must such words have been from such lips! But imagine a young man outwardly conditioned as Jesus had always hitherto been and at this very moment actually was, equal to such thinking and such daring, and still more imagine him tolerated even for an instant in uttering such words—and all the while to be no other and no more than he seemed to be! It is impossible.

But severity in Christ was exceptional and occasional, as it was terrible. It was awakened only toward certain aspects of the age, and only toward certain classes of character. Another and quite opposite attribute pervaded and distinguished his official life—the attribute of

II. Tenderness. The great lights of the world, brilliant but cold, have not often reflected, much of this gentle virtue. Philosophers and sages have deemed susceptibility of heart unbecoming their character and vocation. A gifted and God-sent man, it is thought, must be superior to all the tenderer and softer impulses of ordinary human nature; and it is found in fact, that when men imagine they are appointed to act in God’s name, they at once assume a sort of holy isolation and crucify the 82common feelings and sympathies which bind them to their fellow-creatures. They speak down to humanity, instead of standing on its level and mingling in its sorrows and its joys.

The life of Jesus Christ is full of incidents, that reveal surpassing tenderness of heart. As he journeyed to Jerusalem, when he drew near to the city, he wept over it, and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen cloth gather her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!” “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this, thy day, the things that belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes!”2121   Luke, xiii. 34, and xix. 42. At the last, this city was distinguished by a singular act of his grace; and when he commanded his disciples to “preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations,” he added, “beginning at Jerusalem.”2222   Luke, xxiv, 47. Of the same character was the merciful notice of that disciple, who, in the hour of trial, had disowned and deserted him. The first words which Jesus spoke when he again met this fallen man were admonitory but gracious: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”2323   John, xxi. 15. Among the multitudes who followed him to Calvary, were certain women, to whom he turned and said, “Daughters 83of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children.”2424   Luke, xxiii. 28. Bethany recalls the image of a friendship, as genial and as touching, as ever grew on this earth. Jesus loved Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus. Lazarus fell sick and died. Jesus came to the house of mourning, and amid the desolation and anguish of the loving hearts there, he “groaned in spirit, and was troubled;” he followed the sisters to the grave, and, when he saw them weeping, and their friends also weeping, “Jesus wept.”2525   John, xi. 35. Once, as he sat at table in a Pharisee’s house, a woman, who was a sinner, prostrated herself in his presence, and bathed his feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. She was spurned by the Pharisee; but Jesus said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven her; for she path loved much.”2626   Luke, vii. 47. Once, when he happened to be in the temple, the Pharisees brought to him a woman convicted of a mortal crime. He addressed an indirect rebuke to them, which compelled them to retire with shame; and then, turning to the guilty woman, he said, “Where are those thine accusers? Doth no man condemn thee? Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”2727   John, viii. 11. Singularly gracious, forgiving, and loving was that voice which once was heard in the temple and the streets of Jerusalem, and which woke up the 84echoes on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. It has long since died away, but not the living force of love which inspired it. That yet lingers in the ancient words which survive to this day.

III. Simplicity very strikingly marked the public appearances of Christ. He was perfectly unaffected and inartificial. It will be difficult to find in the Gospels, even a seeming indication of disingenuousness on his part. No latent wish was in his heart to conceal any circumstance connected with his origin, his past history, or his present position, from the fear that it might be unfavorable to his reputation and success. There was nothing in him like maneuvering, desire to create impression, gain influence and produce effect. If men who are really great, or who would be thought great, contract eccentric habits, adopt a peculiar mode of living, select some wild and strange abode, affect a singular dress, or manner, or look, or tone of voice, we shall search in vain for such extravagances in him. He affected no singularity, he assumed no consequence; his dress, his mode of living, and his speech continued to be to the last those of the common people. He appeared before his countrymen simply as he was and had always been, not at all solicitous to adapt either his history or his modes to his altered position.

Christ had no particular building, like the Jewish doctors, or the heathen philosophers, where he 85delivered his instructions—no lyceum, grove, portico, or hall; and he had no fixed days and hours, for unfolding the different branches of his system. The ancient sages were accustomed to distinguish their public from their private prelections. Some things they uttered freely to all who applied to them; but there were others which they reserved for the initiated—doctrines peculiarly profound, or peculiarly sacred, and which required a long preparatory course before they could be appreciated and adopted. Perhaps this was a legitimate method of awakening interest and securing power; perhaps it was even necessary; certainly its effect was to create a vast amount of influence, and to maintain in the public mind a high idea of the resources and the wisdom of these sages. Jesus spoke the same things to his disciples and to the people generally—to the few and the many. Whatever the character of his instructions might be, they were indifferently addressed to any sort of persons, any where, at any time. The most striking thoughts might be disclosed to a single individual—a member of the sanhedrim, or a poor woman of Samaria,—or to many thousands in one assembly, or in a private house as he sat at table, or when he was walking, or when he was sitting wearied by Jacob’s well, or on a mountain, or in the plain, or on the shore of a lake, or from a fishing-boat, or in a synagogue, or in one of the cloisters of the temple; but always, 86simply as the occasion offered, without contrivance, without maneuver, or underhand motive.

Christ composed no formal discourses, delivered no carefully constructed orations, but always spoke perfectly natural, making use of the commonest objects and incidents for illustration, just because they were near, and easily understood, and free to all. The lily, the corn-seed, the grain of mustard, the birds of the air, the falling of a tower, the rain, the appearances of the sky, these, and the like, gave occasion for the utterance of high and imperishable ideas. And the language in which these ideas were uttered was the language of the common people. No severe philosophical style did he adopt, no scientific formulæ, did he introduce, no new terminology did he create, no rigid dialectic method did he pursue, no high and hard abstractions, and no close and elaborate argumentation did he affect. He conveyed his instructions in the most unpretending and informal manner, and in the common est and simplest words. He owed literally nothing to phraseology, to modes, to circumstances. Whatever influence he acquired, and whatever power he exerted, it was owing to simple reality; in no degree to management, pretense, tact, or show. He did nothing—nor even seemed to wish—to suggest an idea for which there was not an actual basis, or to make the idea seem any other than the actual basis sustained. In his manner, his words, and his 87acts, he was simply real, not more, not less, no other than he showed himself to be, so far, that is to say, as respected his earthly relations, for with them only we have to do here. He was pure, unaffected, inartificial reality—his disciples maintain, the only perfectly simple reality that ever alighted on this earth.

Simplicity is true greatness, it is moral nobility, and reveals a nature too pure and too genuine to endure deception or pretense. But was this likely to have been the taste, or if the taste, the attainment, of one in the circumstances of Jesus of Nazareth, had he been no more and no other than his external life disclosed?

Blending with the attribute of simplicity there was a mysterious

IV. Authority, which marked the public appearances of Christ. Those who listened to him often testified that “his word was with power.”2828   Luke, iv. 32. “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.”2929   Matthew, vii. 29. They questioned one another, saying, “Whence path this man this wisdom?”3030   Matthew, xiii. 54. On one occasion, certain officers sent by the Pharisees to apprehend him were arrested by his voice as he taught, were unable to execute the order, and returned, saying, “Never man spake like this man.”3131   John, vii. 46.88Whether it was an air of majesty about his whole appearance, or his calm and earnest voice, or the depth and force of what he said, there was left on the minds of all who listened to him an impression of power more than human, which they found it impossible to resist. Perhaps the origin of this impression, at least in part, admits of some further explanation. In addition to any singularity in his ideas, or in his mode of conveying them, there were certain forms of expression which he was in the habit of using, and which were most startling and mysterious. This young man, from a remote and disreputable village, who had spent his life in manual labor, and had only lately appeared in public, not only claimed to possess an intimate acquaintance with spiritual truth, but he spoke in a way in which even the prophets of Israel had never dared to speak. His frequent style of address to his countrymen was this: “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time. . . . . but I say unto you.”3232   Matthew, v. 41. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do unto you.”3333   John, xiv. 13.I appoint unto you a kingdom.”3434   Luke, xxii. 29. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest to your souls.”3535   Matthew, xi. 28, 28. We offer no interpretation of 89these expressions at present, and we found no argument on what may be conceived to be their natural import. It is enough that they were uttered, and that they must have contributed to that impression which we have seen was felt so strongly by all who listened to Christ. With, or without such passages, it is certain that an extraordinary authority and power accompanied his words; and unless we add this element, we shall fail to reach a true conception of what his appearances in public actually were.

Aided, then, by the general views at which we have now arrived, let us thoughtfully follow Jesus in his wanderings through Galilee and Judaea, and look upon him in the village and the city, on the mountain side and the lake, surrounded by a small and select company, or by a vast mixed multitude. Recalling all the facts of his early history and his outward condition up to the moment when he entered on his public course, our interest, almost anxiety, can not but be profound. What is there—we try to satisfy ourselves as we ask—what is there about his general spirit and manner as a public man, to distinguish him from others? Without regarding at present either the subjects which he selects, or his method of treating them, we ask, what is the general impression left on the mind of his qualities as a teacher? Are there manifest signs of his origin and previous condition, marks 90of servility and timidity, traces even of coarseness and vulgarity, evident proofs of inexperience and youth? There are not. On the contrary, while Jesus always speaks with transparent honesty, we find among the qualities which especially marked him, now a terrible severity, and again, more frequently, a surpassing tenderness, as if his soul was a deep fountain of compassion for man; now an unaffected simplicity, in appearance, in language, and in manner, and again, a power more than human, irresistible by those that listened to him.

And was this verily a young man just taken from the carpenter’s workshop, uneducated, inexperienced, and friendless? It was. But if so, was he only this and no more?

A more decisive reply to this question, and from a higher region of thought than we have yet ascended, may perhaps be found. Christ’s teaching itself may convert into certainty the conjecture which even his marked qualities as a teacher suggest. The words that fell from him, the spiritual doctrines which he revealed, may throw fresh light on his origin, and irresistibly lift our faith above the mere outward history which belonged to him. The inquiry, at all events, is worth whatever pain can be bestowed upon it, and it must be conducted with candor and with patience.

« Prev Part III. The Marked Character of His Public… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection