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I confess I want words to express the sense of reality produced by these passages, so different in detail, so singularly consistent in substance. Of the consistency here, the writers do not appear to be at all conscious. They have taken no pains to make it apparent. It is perfectly natural and easy, but it is not obvious. I do not know that it has ever before been remarked upon.
I alluded just now to the driving of the moneychangers from the temple. It is related that "when Jesus found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting, he made a scourge of small cords, and drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew their tables, and said unto them that sold doves, 'Take these things hence; make not my Father's house a house of merchandize."" This incident certainly appears, at first sight, to be inconsistent with the usual gentleness of Jesus, and that abstinence from all violence which he so emphatically inculcated, and on all other occasions exemplified. The reader has probably seen a picture representing him in the temple, with outstretched arm, wielding the scourge with great vigour: I need not say how offensive it must have been.
Without the least violation of probabilities, we may suppose, that on this occasion Jesus went into the temple attended by a large concourse of people; and that, upon the first intimation of his will, the traders and money-changers, overturning the tables in their precipitation, fled before one who had the populace with him, as Jesus then had. The " Scourge of small
DRIVEN FROM THE TEMPLE.
cords," so far from being an instrument purposely fashioned for violence, we may conjecture, was nothing more than a piece of cord found on the spot, and originally used for obvious purposes by the dealers in oxen and sheep, and taken and folded up into a sort of whip by Jesus, not perhaps with reference to the men, but the cattle. It is not by any means necessary to suppose that he even struck these animals, or that he assumed any attitude inconsistent with what we feel must have been the habitual dignity of his deportment. Candour justifies us in putting such a construction upon this incident, involving, certainly, no improbability. But the narrators do not hint at it. They have not feared to relate this event in the briefest and most careless manner. They have not told us how the dealers in oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the money-changers, came to be in the temple; although upon reflection it is clear that they were there to supply the demand for sacrifices and offerings for the temple-service, and to accommodate those who, coming from distant places, were under the necessity of exchanging their foreign money for the currency of Jerusalem. The authors of the Gospels have not told us these things, obviously because it never occurred to them that they needed to be told. Now, their confidence in the reality of what they were relating, and in the correctness of the conduct of Jesus, is precisely like their knowledge of these circumstances, so settled and familiar a feeling with them, resulting from such obvious realities, so perfectly natural, that it does not occur to them that others may be deficient in these respects, and may require explanations. In the familiarity of their own
information, and in the unconscious fulness of their own faith, they forget the possible ignorance and incredulity of others. Who can fail to recognize here the simplicity and integrity of their minds?
Once more. It is obvious that the authors of these writings must have considered Jesus as possessed of extraordinary spiritual strength, great firmness or fortitude. If in the composition of their narratives they have had any earthly object but a distinct and honest statement of what they had seen, known, and believed, if they have fabricated, coloured, or even selected incidents for any particular purpose, we may suppose that it was for the sake of showing the superiority of Jesus to every human infirmity. The suspicion of such a purpose becomes exceedingly natural when we consider two things.
1. In the Epistles Jesus Christ is spoken of in the most exalted terms. He is described as the image of God, and the brightness of his glory. In him, it is said, dwelt the fulness of the Divinity. And again, in him it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell. But it is unnecessary to specify passages. The Apostles appear to exhaust language in expressing their sense of the excellence of their master.
2. But not only do the Apostles in their letters express in the strongest manner possible, and by the loftiest figures of speech, their sense of the greatness of their master, at an early period, the idea sprung up, and it has almost universally prevailed ever since, that the man of Nazareth was a super-human beingsuper-angelic,-nay, the Supreme Being himself, the very God. He has literally been deified for ages.
Believing Jesus Christ to have been a man, a man
LEADS TO THE USE OF LOFTY TERMS.
47 indeed of miraculous gifts, and of unequalled moral greatness, I see nothing either in the lofty language concerning him which we find in the Epistles, or in the prevalent faith of the Christian world, that does not admit of an easy and natural explanation. When I consider what power moral goodness has, even in its most imperfect manifestations, to touch and thrill the heart, and kindle the imagination, and inspire the utterance, I do not wonder that the Apostles used the boldest forms of speech to express the sense they had of the dignity and greatness of their Master. I do not content myself with referring to the strong and figurative character of the language of the East, although this is a circumstance not to be lost sight of. But I say it would have been strange indeed if they had employed cold and qualified terms when they spoke of Jesus. I honestly avow that I can find no epithets, no titles applied to him in their Epistles, which, with my views of his nature, I cannot cordially go along with. Had I been in their situation-had I cherished that fervent sense of his moral greatness, which they must have entertained, I am convinced I should have used language like theirs, and even stronger language, I might almost say, if that were possible. They apply no title to him, which, upon the supposition of his simple humanity, does not seem to me to have an appropriate significance.
And then, too, as to the general belief of Christians in the supreme divinity of Christ, it does not surprise me. In all times the tendency to deify the great and good has shown itself. Man has always been disposed to recognize the brightest manifestation of God in his
NO SUCH BIAS SHOWN IN THE GOSPELS.
own nature. What were the gods of the ancient pagan world but deified men, individuals of extraordinary energy? This popular doctrine, therefore, respecting the nature of Christ, which has so long prevailed, is to my mind a most expressive tribute to the transcendent excellence of his character.
But the object of these brief allusions to the language of the Epistles and the common belief of Christians concerning Christ, is, to show how very natural is the supposition, that the authors of the New Testament narratives, if they had had any earthly purpose beyond a simple statement of facts, would have been desirous of representing Jesus as superior to every human weakness, as impassible to every form of temptation and grief. This has ever been the strong tendency, to exalt the great and good above the common attributes of humanity. But every suspicion of such a bias on the part of these writers, singularly impressed though they must have been with the greatness of Jesus, vanishes the instant we open their narratives. For we find that without the slightest attempt to explain, reconcile, or soften the apparent inconsistency, they have mentioned in the plainest terms repeated instances of human weakness in Jesus. I would not needlessly shock the reader, and therefore I observe in advance, that these instances, so far from obscuring the beauty of his character, heighten its effect. Upon this point, however, I will remark as I proceed. For the present, we have only to observe, that the instances referred to are there, on the records, expressly detailed, and unqualified by a single word of explanation.