« AnteriorContinuar »
NO DESIGN IN THE GOSPELS
fully possessed with the reality of the things they relate, that the idea of their ever being disproved never crossed their minds. They show not the slightest misgiving, lest others may fail to see and understand what is as clear to them as the sun at noonday. They betray no apprehension that the truth will not speak for itself, or that it needs any pains on their part to make it manifest. Hence the artless and careless brevity of their narrations.
At one time, as they tell us, an individual said to Jesus, “ Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. Jesus replied, “ The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Again, another offered to join Jesus, but begged permission first to go and bury his father. To him the reply was, “Let the dead bury their dead.” On these occasions Jesus is represented as using a roughness inconsistent with his usual mildness and consideration. We may suppose that the individual first mentioned was actuated by a mercenary feeling in offering to follow Jesus, that he hoped for some worldly advantage, and that Jesus, seeing or fearing that such was his motive, gave him timely warning not to expect anything of a worldly nature from him. With regard to the other, who desired first to be permitted to go and bury his father, we may with great probability conjecture that he made his filial duty a mere pretence for temporizing. He was not perfectly sure that Jesus was the expected Messiah; and while he wished to wait awhile until the true character of Jesus should be more satisfactorily ascertained, he desired to secure the advantage of an
TO PUT THINGS IN A STRIKING LIGHT.
early profession. His father, we may even suppose, was not yet dead, but only very aged and infirm, and the request was in effect, “Let me first discharge my duty to my father, and then I will come and be your disciple.” To him, therefore, the reply of Jesus was most appropriate, “Let the dead bury their dead," that is, let those, and they are numerous enough, who are dead-insensible to the claims of truth to the import of what I say and do, perform the necessary offices for the dead. Such are the explanations of which these passages are susceptible. They certainly appear natural and probable. But observe, they are not given, they are not hinted at, by the narrators; they are only indirectly, undesignedly suggested by the general tenor of their stories. They take no pains to guard against misapprehension, or to place the conduct of Jesus in the best light. Here I behold the boundless confidence of truth.
There are even more striking instances of the entire absence of any disposition to exaggerate the things recorded in these books. Circumstances are related with the utmost brevity, and without any indication of fear, which seem to be palpably inconsistent with the greatness and power ascribed to Jesus. told, for example, with an all-unconscious frankness, of the powerful appeals made to him by his enemies after he was fastened to the cross. They shook their heads at him, and cried, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now,
if he will have him, for he said I am the Son of God." Who has ever paused over these words for the first time, without feeling that they contained a bitter force—without secretly saying to himself, “why did he not come down ? If he had power to heal the sick and raise the dead, why did he not descend then from the cross and dissipate all doubt for ever?" Upon reflection, it is true, we recollect that he is never said to have used his extraordinary gifts for his own sake. It was not physical power that he sought to exercise, but moral power; the power of a love which no insensibility on the part of its objects could exhaust-of self-forgetfulness-of fortitude of meek and patient endurance. He sought to show how one might do and endure, not from necessity, but voluntarily, to disclose the before unrevealed energy of a generous and self-denying free will. And had he relieved himself, had he shrunk from suffering pain and contempt, he must have forgotten his great spiritual purpose.
But, although this explanation is at hand, the narrators, be it remembered, do not suggest it. They record the sneers of his enemies, in all their naked force, unrelieved by a single word of comment. But I must pause here for the present.
Many a one, I imagine, when disturbed with doubts about the truth of the New Testament history, has secretly wished that he had been permitted to live in those days—to be present on the spot, and then how easily might he have satisfied himself. For my own part, I confess, I shrink at the thought of such a trial. A trial it must have been, as every one will perceive, who is aware of his own weakness, and knows the
OF THE CHRISTIAN NARRATORS.
tremendous power of the example of a multitude. I fear I should have wanted courage and candour to resist the accumulated authority of the rich, and great, and learned, of the mass of the people, and have fallen in with the general insensibility, or participated in those prepossessions which presented so effectual a barrier against the force of the words and works of Jesus. One thing does seem to me most desirable. Could I only have an account of those events from persons, or from only one person, whom I knew, in whose good sense, integrity, and fairness, I have perfect confidence, then I should have a ground for
my faith, than which none could be surer. Could individuals of this character have been present, and could we have their testimony, nothing would be wanting. I open the four Gospels, and I feel that this want has been supplied most amply. When I read these books in the way in which I am now attempting to do it, I care not what names they bear, I see--I know—that they are the work of an honest and impartial spirit. Nowhere in the writings of the dead, or in the conduct of the living, do I discern evidences of integrity and singleness of mind so luminous and affecting. I see none of the art of a fraudulent design-none of the incoherence of self-delusion. These histories command my cordial confidence. They are to me full of inspiration, not a vague mystical inspiration, but the inspiration of truth and honesty, the same spirit that breathes in every honest man, in every true word, the Holy Spirit. God give us this spirit without measure !
THE REFUSAL OF JESUS
THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
I only speak right on.”
We have remarked upon the honesty of the Christian historians, particularly as it is evinced in the manner in which they speak of the principal personage of their narratives, the great object of their reverence and faith. They make no attempt to show him off. They manifest no apprehension about the impression that may be made by what they record. I am struck with the exhibition of their free, unguarded honesty, in the case which I am now about to mention.
We are given to understand with the utmost explicitness in these books, that Jesus was possessed of the most extraordinary powers—that he could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead, by a word. Numerous instances are detailed with remarkable particularity, in which, in the most public and satisfactory manner, he exercised these miraculous gifts. But on more than one occasion we are told that some of the principal men of the community came to him, and requested him to perform a miracle—to give them a sign : thus affording him an opportunity, as it would seem, of convincing them of his authority as a messenger from Heaven.
“How long," said they, with apparently great plausibility, - how long dost