Chapter 2. Childhood and Youth
Chapter 3. The Man and his Mind
Chapter 4. The Teacher and the Disciples
Chapter 5. The Teaching of Jesus upon God
Chapter 6. Jesus and Man
Chapter 7. Jesus' Teaching upon Sin
Chapter 8. The Choice of the Cross
Chapter 9. The Christian Church in the Roman Empire
Chapter 10. Jesus in Christian Thought
That one Face, far from vanish, rather grows,
Or decomposes but to recompose,
Become my universe that feels and knows.
Robert Browning. Epilogue to Dramatis Personae
T. R. Glover: If one thing more than another marks modern thought, it is a new insistence on fact. In every sphere of study there is a growing emphasis on verification. Where a generation ago a case seemed to be closed, to-day in the light of new facts it is reopened. Matters that to our grandfathers were trivialities, to be summarily dismissed, are seriously studied. Again and again we find the most fruitful avenues opened to us by questions that another age might have laughed out of a hearing; to-day they suggest investigation of facts insufficiently known, and of the difficult connections between them. In psychology and in medicine the results of this new tendency are evident in all sorts of ways - new methods in the treatment of the sick, new inquiries as to the origin of diseases and the possibilities of their prevention, attempts to get at the relations between the soul and body, and a very new open-mindedness as to the spiritual nature and its working and experiences. In other fields of learning it is the same.
|"One of the weaknesses of the Church to-day is - put bluntly - that Christians are not making enough of Jesus Christ."|
To the modern student of man and his history the old easy way of excluding religion as an absurdity, the light prediction of its speedy, or at least its eventual, disappearance from the field of human life, and other dogmatisms of the like kind, are almost unintelligible. We realize that religion in some form is a natural working of the human spirit, and, whatever place we give to religion in the conduct of our own lives, as students of history we reckon with the religious instinct as a factor of the highest import, and we give to religious systems and organizations - above all, to religious teachers and leaders - a more sympathetic and a profounder study. Carlyle's lecture on Muhammad, in his course on "Heroes and Hero Worship," may be taken as a landmark for English people in this new treatment history.
The Christian Church, whether we like it or not, has been a force of unparalleled power in human affairs; and prophecies that it will no longer be so, and allegations that by now it has ceased to be so, are not much made by cautious thinkers. There is evidence that the influence of the Christian Church, so far from ebbing, is rising - evidence more obvious when we reflect that the influence of such a movement is not to be quickly guessed from the number of its actual adherents. A century and a quarter of Christian missions in India have resulted in so many converts - a million and a quarter is no slight outcome; but that is a small part of the story. All over India the old religious systems are being subjected to a new study by their own adherents; their weak points are being felt; there are reform movements, new apologetics, compromises, defenses - all sorts of indications of ferment and transition. There can be little question that while many things go to the making of an age, the prime impulse to all this intellectual, religious, and moral upheaval was the faith of Christian missionaries that Jesus Christ would bring about what we actually see. They believed - and they were laughed at for their belief - that Jesus Christ was still a real power, permanent and destined to hold a larger place in the affairs of men; and we see that they were right. Jesus remains the very heart and soul of the Christian movement, still controlling men, still capturing men - against their wills very often - changing men's lives and using them for ends they never dreamed of. So much is plain to the candid observer, whatever the explanation.
We find further, another fact of even more significance to the historian who will treat human experience with seriousness and sympathy. The cynical view that delusion and error in a real world have peculiar power in human affairs, may be dismissed; no serious student of history could hold it.
For those who believe, as we all do at heart, that the world is rational, that real effects follow real causes, and conversely that behind great movements lie great forces, the fact must weigh enormously that wherever the Christian Church, or a section of it, or a single Christian, has put upon Jesus Christ a higher emphasis - above all where everything has been centered in Jesus Christ - there has been an increase of power for Church, or community, or man. Where new value has been found in Jesus Christ, the Church has risen in power, in energy, in appeal, in victory.
Paul of Tarsus progressively found more in Christ, expected more of him, trusted him more; and his faith was justified. If Paul was wrong, how did he capture the Christian Church for his ideas? If he was wrong, how is it that when Luther caught his meaning, re-interpreted him and laid the same emphasis on Jesus Christ with his Nos nihil sumus, Christus solus est omnia, (Latin: "We are nothing; Christ alone is all.",) once more the hearts of men were won by the higher doctrine of Christ's person and power, and a new era followed the new emphasis? How is it that, when John Wesley made the same discovery, and once more staked all on faith in Christ, again the Church felt the pulse of new life?
On the other hand, where through a nebulous philosophy men have minimized Jesus, or where, through some weakness of the human mind, they have sought the aid of others and relegated Jesus Christ to a more distant, even if a higher, sphere - where, in short, Christ is not the living center of everything, the value of the Church has declined, its life has waned. That, to my own mind, is the most striking and outstanding fact in history. There must be a real explanation of a thing so signal in a rational universe.
The explanation in most human affairs comes after the recognition of the fact. There our great fact stands of the significance of Jesus Christ - a more wonderful thing as we study it more. We may fail to explain it, but we must recognize it. One of the weaknesses of the Church to-day is - put bluntly - that Christians are not making enough of Jesus Christ.
We find again that, where Jesus Christ is most real, and means most, there we are apt to see the human mind reach a fuller freedom and achieve more. There is a higher civilization, a greater emphasis on the value of human life and character, and a stronger endeavor for the utmost development of all human material, if we may so call the souls and faculties of men. Why should there be this correspondence between Jesus of Nazareth and human life? It is best brought out, when we realize what he has made of Christian society, and contrast it with what the various religions have left or produced in other regions - the atrophy of human nature.
In fine, there is no figure in human history that signifies more. Men may love him or hate him, but they do it intensely. If he was only what some say, he ought to be a mere figure of antiquity by now. But he is more than that; Jesus is not a dead issue; he has to be reckoned with still; and men who are to treat mankind seriously, must make the intellectual effort to understand the man on whom has been centered more of the interest and the passion of the most serious and the best of mankind than on any other. The real secret is that human nature is deeply and intensely spiritual, and that Jesus satisfies it at its most spiritual point.
The object before us in these pages is the attempt to know Jesus, if we can, in a more intimate and intelligent way than we have done - at least, to put before our minds the great problem, Who is this Jesus Christ? and to try to answer it.
One answer to this question is that Jesus was nothing, never was anything, but a myth developed for religious purposes; that he never lived at all. This view reappears from time to time, but so far it has not appealed to any who take a serious interest in history. No historian of the least repute has committed himself to the theory. Desperate attempts have been made to discredit the Christian writers of the first two centuries; it has been emphasized that Jesus is not mentioned in secular writers of the period, and the passage in Tacitus (Annals, 15:44) has been explained away as a Christian interpolation, or, more gaily, by reviving the wild notion that Poggio Bracciolini forged the whole of the Annals. But such trifling with history and literature does not serve. No scholar accepts the theory about Poggio - and yet if the passage about Christ is to be got rid of, this is the better way of the two; for there is nothing to countenance the view that the chapter is interpolated, or to explain when or by whom it was done - the wish is father to the thought.
Christians are twice mentioned by Suetonius in dealing with Emperors of the first century, though in one passage the reading Chrestus [the fool, a common word] for Christ [the anointed, a rare word] has suggested to some scholars that another man is meant; the confusion was a natural one and is instanced elsewhere, but we need not press the matter.
The argument from silence is generally recognized as an uncertain one. Sir James Melville, living at the Court of Mary, Queen of Scots, does not, I learn, mention John Knox - "whom he could not have failed to mention if Knox had really existed and played the part assigned to him by his partisans," and so forth. It might be as possible and as reasonable to prove that the Brahmo Samaj never existed, by demonstrating four hundred years hence - or two thousand - that it is not mentioned in In Memoriam, nor in The Ring and the Book, nor in George Meredith's, novels, nor (more strangely) in any of Mr. Kipling's surviving works, which definitely deal with India. None of these writers, it may be replied, had any concern to mention the Brahmo Samaj.
And when one surveys the Greek and Roman writers of the first century A.D. which of them had any concern to refer to Jesus and his disciples, beyond the historians who do? Indeed, the difficulty is to understand why some of these men should have written at all; harder still, why others should have wanted to read their poems and orations and commonplace books.
One argument, advanced in India a few years ago, against the historical value of the Gospels may be revived by way of illustration. Would not Virgil and Horace, it was asked, have taken notice of the massacre at Bethlehem, if it was historical? Would they not? it was replied, when they both had died years before its traditional date.
But the distinction between Christian and secular writers is not one that will weigh much with a serious historian. Until we have reason to distinguish between book and book, the evidence must be treated on exactly the same principles. To say abruptly that, because Luke was a Christian and Suetonius a pagan, Luke is not worthy of the credence given to Suetonius, is a line of approach that will most commend itself to those who have read neither author. To gain a real knowledge of historical truth, the historian's methods must be slower and more cautious, he must know his author intimately - his habits of mind, his turns of style, his preferences, his gifts for seeing the real issue - and always the background, and the ways of thinking that prevail in the background.
An ancient writer is not necessarily negligible because he records, and perhaps believes, miracles or marvels or omens which a modern would never notice. It is bad criticism that has made a popular legend of the unreliable character of Herodotus. As our knowledge of antiquity grows, and we become able to correct our early impressions, the credit of Herodotus rises steadily, and to-day those who study him most closely have the highest opinion of him.
We may, then, without prejudice, take the evidence of Paul of Tarsus on the historicity of Jesus, and examine it. If we are challenged as to the genuineness of Paul's epistles, let us tell our questioner to read them. Novels have been written in the form of correspondence; but Paul's letters do not tell us all that a novelist or a forger would - there are endless gaps, needless references to unknown persons (needless to us, or to anybody apart from the people themselves), constant occupation with questions which we can only dimly discover from Paul's answers.
The letters are genuine letters - written for the occasion to particular people, and not meant for us. The stamp of genuineness is on them - of life, real life. The German scholar, Norden, in his Kunstprosa, says there is much in Paul that he does not understand, but he catches in him again after three hundred years that note of life that marks the great literature of Greece. That is not easily forged. Luther and Erasmus were right when they said - each of them has said it, however it happened - that Paul "spoke pure flame."
The letters, and the theology and its influence, establish at once Paul's claim to be a historical character. We may then ask, how a man of his ability failed to observe that a non-historical Jesus, a pure figment, was being palmed off on him - on a contemporary, it should be marked - and by a combination of Jesus' own disciples with earlier friends of Paul, who were trying to exterminate them. Paul knew priests and Pharisees; he knew James and John and Peter; and he never detected that they were in collusion, yes, and to the point of martyring Stephen - to impose on him and on the world a non-historical Jesus. To such straits are we brought, if Jesus never existed. History becomes pure nonsense, and knowledge of historical fact impossible; and, it may be noted, all knowledge is abolished if history is beyond reach.
But we are not dependent on books for our evidence of the historicity of Jesus. The whole story of the Church implies him. He is inwrought in every feature of its being. Every great religious movement, of which we know, has depended on a personal impulse, and has behind it some real, living and inspiring personality.
It is true that at a comparatively late stage of Hinduism a personal devotion to Shri Krishna grew up, just as in the hour of decline of the old Mediterranean paganism we find Julian the Apostate using a devotional language to Athena at Athens that would have astonished the contemporaries of Pericles. But Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad stand on a very different footing from Krishna and Athena, even if we concede the view of some scholars that Krishna was once a man, and the contention of Euhemerus, a pre-Christian Greek, that all the gods had once been human.
If we posit that Jesus did not exist, we shall be involved other difficulties as to the story of the Church. Mr. F. C. Conybeare, an Oxford scholar avowedly not in allegiance to the Christian Church, has characterized some of the reconstructions made by contemporary anti-Christian writers as more miraculous than the history they are trying to correct.
We come now to the Gospels; and in what follows, and throughout the book, we shall confine ourselves the first three Gospels. Great as has been, and must be, the influence of the Fourth Gospel, in the present stage of historical criticism it will serve our purpose best to postpone the use of a source which we do not fully understand. The exact relations of history and interpretation in the Fourth Gospel - the methods and historical outlook of the writer - cannot yet be said to be determined.
"Only those who have merely trifled with the problems it suggests are likely to speak dogmatically upon the subject." (Canon Streeter in Foundations, p. 88.)
This is not to abandon the Fourth Gospel; for it is a document which we could not do without in early Church History, and which has vindicated its place in the devotional life in every Christian generation. But, for the present, the first Three Gospels will be our chief sources.
The Gospels have, of course, been attacked again and again. Sober criticism has raised the question as to whether here and there traces may be found of the touch of a later hand - for example, were there two asses or one, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem? has the baptismal formula at the end of Matthew been adjusted to the creed of Nicaea?
In the following pages the attempt will be made to base what is said not on isolated texts, which may - and of course may not - have been touched, but on the general tenor of the books. A single episode or phrase may suffer change from a copyist's hand, from inadvertence or from theological predilection. The character of the Personality set forth in the Gospels is less susceptible of alteration.
This point is at once of importance, for the suggestion has been made that we cannot be sure of any particular statement, episode, incident or saying in the Gospels - taken by itself. Let us for the moment imagine a more sweeping theory still - that no single episode incident or saying of Jesus in the Gospels is authentic at all. What follows?
The great historian, E. A. Freeman of Oxford, once said that a false anecdote may be good history; it may be sound evidence for character, for, to obtain currency, a false anecdote has also to true; it must be, in our proverbial phrase, "if not true, well invented." Even if exaggeration and humor contribute to give it a twist, the essence of parody is that it parodies - it must conform to the original even where it leaves it. A good story-teller will hardly tell the same story of Mr. Roosevelt and the Archbishop of Canterbury - unless it happens to be true, and then he will be cautious.
"Truth," to quote another proverb, "is stranger than fiction"; because fiction has to go warily to be probable, and must be, more or less, conventional. The story a man invents about another has to be true in some recognizable way to character - as a little experiment in this direction will show. The inventor of a story must have the gift of the caricaturist and of the bestower of nicknames; he must have a shrewd eye for the real features of his victim.
Jesus, then, was a historical person; and about him we have a mass of stories in the Gospels, which our theory for the moment asks us to say are all false; but they have a certain unity of tone, and they agree in pointing to a character of a certain type, and the general aspects and broad outlines of that character they make abundantly clear.
Even on such a hypothesis we can know something of the character of Jesus. But the hypothesis is gratuitous, and absurd, as the paragraphs that follow may help to show. The Gospels are essentially true and reliable records of a historical person.
A survey of some of the outstanding features of the Gospels should do something to assure their reader of their historical value. But there is a necessary caution to be given at this moment. When Aristotle discusses happiness, he adds a curious limitation - "as the man of sense would define." He postulates a certain intelligence of the matter in hand. Similarly Longinus, the greatest of ancient critics, says that in literature sure judgment is the outcome of long experience. In matters of historical and literary criticism, a certain instinct is needed, conscious or unconscious, perhaps more often the latter, which without a serious interest and a long experience no man is likely to have.
The Gospels are not properly biographies; they consist of collections of reminiscences - memories and fragments that have survived for years, and sometimes the fragment is little more than a phrase. Such and such were the circumstances, and Jesus spoke - a story that may occupy four or five verses, or less. Something happened, Jesus said or did something that impressed his friends, and they could never forget it. The story, as such impressions do, keeps its sharp edges. Date and perhaps even place may be forgotten, but the look and the tone of the speaker are indelible memories. In the experience of every man there are such moments, and the reminiscences can be trusted.
The Gospels are almost avowedly not first-hand. Peter is said to be behind Mark; Mark and at least one other are behind Matthew and Luke. Luke in his preface explains his methods. They are collectors and transmitters; and the indications - are that they did their work very faithfully.
There is a simplicity and a plainness about the stories in the Gospels, which further guarantees them. It is remarkable how little of the adjective there is - no compliment, no eulogy, no heroic touches, no sympathetic turn of phrase, no great passages of encomium or commendation. It is often said about the Greek historian, Thucydides, that, among his many intellectual judgments, he never offers a criticism of any act that implies moral approbation or disapprobation; that he says nothing to show that he had feelings or that he cared about questions of right and wrong. Page after page of Thucydides will make the reader tingle with pity or indignation; there is hardly in literature so tragic a story as the Syracusan expedition - and the writer did not feel! Is it not the sternest and deepest feeling, after all, when a man will not "unpack his heart with words"?
Something of this kind we find in the Gospels. There is not a word of condemnation for Herod or Pilate, for priest or Pharisee; not a touch of sympathy as the nails are driven through those hands; a blunt phrase about the soldiers, "And sitting down they watched him there" (Matt. 26:36) - that is all. (From a literary point of view, what a triumph of awful, quiet objectivity! and they had no such aim.) Luke indeed has one slight touch that might be called irony (cf. the foreigner's touch at Athens, Acts 17:21) - "And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will" (Luke 23:25) - and yet the irony is in the story itself.
"Why callest thou me good?" So it is recorded that Jesus once answered a compliment (Matt. 19:17); and it looks as if the mood had passed over to his intimates, and from them to their friends who wrote the Gospels. He meant too much for them to seek the facile relief of praise. The words of praise die away, yes, and the words of affection too; and their silence and self-restraint are in themselves evidence of their truth; and more winning than words could have been.
Here and there the Gospels keep a phrase actually used by Jesus, and in his native Aramaic speech. The Greek was not apt to use or quote foreign phrases - unlike the Englishman who "has been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps." Why, then, do the Evangelists, writing for Greek readers, keep the Aramaic sentences? It looks like a human instinct that made Peter - if, as we are told, he had some part in the origination of Mark's Gospel - and the rest wish to keep the very words and tones of their Master, as most of us would wish to keep the accents and phrases of those we love. Was there no satisfaction to the people who had lived with Jesus, when they read in Mark the very syllables they had heard him use, and caught his great accents again? Is there not for Christians in every age a joy and an inspiration in knowing the very sounds his lips framed? The first word that his mother taught him survives in Abba (Father) - something of his own speech to let us begin at the beginning; something, again, that takes us to the very heart of him at the end, in his cry: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani (Mark 15:34). Is it not true that we come nearer to him in that cry in the language strange to us, but his own? Would not the story, again, be poorer without the little tender phrase that he used to the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:41).
From time to time we find in the Gospels matters for which the writers and those behind them have felt that some apology or at least some explanation was needed. His friendship for sinners was a taunt against him in his lifetime; so was his inattention to the Sabbath (Mark 2:24, 3:2), and the details of ceremonial washing (Mark 7:1-5). The faithful record of these is a sound indication both of the date (because, later on, the Sabbath and Jewish ceremony were not among the most living issues, after the Church had come to be chiefly Gentile,) and of the truth of the Gospels. But these were not all.
Celsus, in 178 A.D., in his True Word, mocked at Jesus because of the cry upon the cross; he reminded Christians that many and many a worthless knave had endured in brave silence, and their Great Man cried out. It was from the Gospels that his knowledge came (Mark 15:37). Even during his lifetime the Gospels reveal much about Jesus that in contemporary opinion would degrade him - sighs and tears and fatigue, liability to emotion and to pain, friendship with women.
With these revelations of character we may group passages where the Gospels tell of Jesus surprising or shocking his disciples - startling them by some act or some opinion, for which they were not prepared, or which was contrary to common belief or practice - passages, too, where he blames or criticizes them for conventionality or unintelligence.
It has been remarked that the frequency and fidelity of Jesus' own allusions to country life, his illustrations from bird and beast and flower, and the work of the farm, are evidence for the genuineness of the tradition. Early Christianity, as we see already in the Acts of the Apostles, was prevailingly urban. Paul aimed at the great centers of population, where men gathered and from which ideas spread. The language of Paul in his epistles, the sermons inserted by Luke in the Acts, writings that survive of early Christians, are all in marked contrast to the speech of Jesus in this matter of country life. When we recall the practice of ancient historians of composing speeches for insertion in their narratives, and weigh the suggestion that the sermons in the Acts may conceivably owe much to the free rehandling of Luke or may even be his own compositions, there is a fresh significance in his marked abstention from any such treatment of the words of Jesus. It means that we may be secure in using them as genuine and untouched reproductions of what he said and thought.
This leads us to another point. The central figure of the Gospels must impress every attentive reader as at least a man of marked personality. He has his own attitude to life, his own views of God and man and all else, and his own language, as we shall see in the pages that follow. So much his own are all these things that it is hard to imagine the possibility of his being a mere literary creation, even if we could concede a joint literary creation by several authors writing independent works. Indeed, when we reflect on the character of the Gospels, their origin and composition, and then consider the sharp, strong outlines of the personality depicted, we shall be apt to feel his claim to historicity to be stronger than we supposed.
Finally, two points may be mentioned. The Church from the very start accepted the Gospels. Two of them were written by men in Paul's own personal circle (Philemon 24; Col. 4:10, 14). All found early acceptance and wide use, (see R. W. Dale, The Living Christ and the Four Gospels; and W. Sanday, The Gospels in the Second Century;) and after a century we find Irenaeus maintaining that four Gospels are necessary, and are necessarily all - there are four points of the compass, seasons and so forth; therefore it is appropriate that there are four Gospels. The argument is not very convincing; but that such an argument was possible is evidence to the position of the Gospels as we have them.
We must remember the solidarity of that early Church. The constituency, for which the Gospels were written, was steeped in the tradition of Jesus' life, and the Christians accepted the Gospels, as embodying what they knew; and there were still survivors from the first days of the Gospel. When Boswell's Life of Johnson was published, the great painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, a lifelong friend of Johnson, said it might be depended upon as if delivered upon oath; Burke too had a high opinion of the book. In the same way the Gospels come recommended to us by those who knew Jesus, though, it is true, we do not know their names.
The Gospels do not tell us all that Christians thought of Jesus, but they imply more than they say. The writers limited themselves. That Luke, for years a friend of Paul's, so generally kept his great friend's theology, above all his Christology, out of his Gospel, is significant. It does not mean divergence of view. More reasonably we may conclude something else: he held to his literary and other authorities, and he was content; for he knew to what the historical Jesus brings men - to new life and larger views, to a series of new estimates of Jesus himself. He left it there. In what follows, we must not forget in our study that behind the Gospels, simple and objective as they are, is the larger experience of the ever-working Christ.
There are three canons which may be laid down for the study of any human character, whether of the past or of to-day. They are so simple that it may hardly seem worth while to have stated them; yet they are not always very easy to apply. Without them the acutest critic will fail to give any sound account of a human character.
First of all, give the man's words his own meaning. Make sure that every term he uses has the full value he intends it to carry, connotes all he wishes it to cover, and has the full emotional power and suggestion that it has for himself. Two quite simple illustrations may serve. The English-born clergyman in Canada who spoke of a meeting of his congregation as a "homely gathering" did not produce quite the effect he intended; "home-like" is one thing in Canada, "homely" quite another, and the people laughed at the slip - they knew, what he did not, that "homely" meant hard-featured and ugly.
My other illustration will take us towards the second canon. I remember, years ago, a working-man of my own city talking a swift, impulsive Socialism to me. He was young and something of a poet. He got in return the obvious common sense that would be expected of a mid-Victorian, middle-aged and middle-class. And then he began to talk of hunger - the hunger that haunted whole streets in our city, where they had indeed something to eat every day, but never quite enough, and the children grew up so - the hunger that he had experienced himself, for I knew his story. With his eyes fixed on me, he brought home to me by the quiet intensity of his speech - whether he knew what he effected or not - that he and I gave hunger different senses. He gave the word for me a new meaning, with the glimpse he gave me of his experience.
Since then I have always felt, when men fling theories out like his - schemes, too, like his - wild and impracticable: "Ah, yes! what is at the heart of it all? What but this awful experience which they have known and you have not - the sight of your own folk hungering, life and faculty wasted for want of mere food, and children growing up atrophied from the cradle"?
It is not easy to dissociate the language and the terms of others from the meaning one gives to them oneself; it means intellectual effort and intellectual discipline, a training of a strenuous kind in sympathy and tenderness; but if we are to be fair, it must be done. And the rule applies to Jesus also. Have we given his meaning to his term - force, value, emotion, and suggestion? In a later chapter we shall have to concentrate on one term of his - God - and try to discover what he intends that term to convey.
The second canon is: Make sure of the experience behind the thought. How does a man come to think and feel as he does? That is the question antecedent to any real criticism. What is it that has led him to such a view? It is more important for us to determine that, than to decide at once whether we think him right or wrong. Again and again the quiet and sympathetic study of what a man has been through will modify our judgment upon his conclusions; it will often change our own conclusions, or even our way of thinking. We have, then, to ask ourselves, What is the experience that leads Jesus to speak as he does, to think as he does? In his case, as in every other, the central and crucial question is, What is his experience of God? In other words, What has he found in God? what relations has he with God? What does he expect of God? What is God to him? Such questions, if we are candid and not too quick in answering, will take us a long way.
It was once said of a man, busy with some labor problem, that he was "working it out in theory, unclouded by a single fact." Is it not fair to say that many of our current judgments upon Jesus Christ are no better founded? Can we say that we have any real, sure, and intimate knowledge of his experience of God? The old commentator, Bengel, wrote at the beginning of his book that a man, who is setting out to interpret Scripture, has to ask "by what right" he does it. What is our right to an opinion on Jesus Christ?
The third canon will be: Ask of what type and of what dimensions the nature must be, that is capable of that experience and of that language. One of the commonest sources of bad criticism is the emphasis on weak points. The really important thing in criticism is to understand the triumphs of the poet or painter, let us say, whom we are studying. How came he to achieve poem or picture, so profound and so true? In what does he differ from other men, that he should do work so fundamental and so eternal? Lamb's punning jest at Wordsworth - that Wordsworth was saying he could have written Hamlet, if he had had the mind - puts the matter directly. What is the mind that can do such things? The historian will have to ask himself a similar question about Jesus.
Here we reach a point where caution is necessary. Will the Jesus we draw be an antiquary's Jesus - an archaic figure, simple and lovable perhaps, but quaint and old-world - in blunt language, outgrown? A Galilean peasant, dressed in the garb of his day and place, his mind fitted out with the current ideas of his contemporaries, elevated, it may be, but not essentially changed? A dreamer, with the clouds of the visionaries and apocalyptists ever in his head?
When we look at the ancient world, the great men are not archaic figures. Matthew Arnold found in Homer something of the clearness and shrewdness of Voltaire. There is thing archaic about Plato or Virgil or Paul - to keep abreast of their thinking is no easy task for the strongest of our brains, so modern, eternal, and original they are. They have shaped the thinking of the world and are still shaping it.
How much more Jesus of Nazareth! When we make our picture of him, does it suggest the man who has stirred mankind to its depths, set the world on fire (Luke 12:49), and played an infinitely larger part in all the affairs of men than any man we know of in history? Is it a great figure? Does our emphasis fall on the great features of that nature - are they within our vision, and in our drawing? Does our explanation of him really explain him, or leave him more a riddle? What do we make of his originality? Is it in our picture? What was it in him that changed Peter and James and John and the rest from companions into worshipers, that in every age has captured and controlled the best, the deepest, and tenderest of men?
Are we afraid that our picture will be too modern, too little Jewish? These are not the real dangers. Again, and again our danger is that we under-estimate the great men of our race, and we always lose by so doing. That we should over-estimate Jesus is not a real risk; the story of the Church shows that the danger has always been the other way. But not to under-estimate such a figure is hard. To see him as he is, calls for all we have of intellect, of tenderness, of love, and of greatness. It is worth while to try to understand him even if we fail. God, said St. Bernard, is never sought in vain, even when we do not find Him. Jesus Christ transcends our categories and classification; we never exhaust him; and one element of Christian happiness is that there is always more in him than we supposed.
From: T.R. Glover (1917) The Jesus of History. New York: Association Press, from lectures given in India in 1915-1916. Recommended by Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell (founder of the Boy Scouts) in his book, "Rovering to Success".
T.R. Glover, "The Jesus of History":
Chapter 1. The Study of the Gospels
Chapter 2. Childhood and Youth
Chapter 3. The Man and his Mind
Chapter 4. The Teacher and the Disciples
Chapter 5. The Teaching of Jesus upon God
Chapter 6. Jesus and Man
Chapter 7. Jesus' Teaching upon Sin
Chapter 8. The Choice of the Cross
Chapter 9. The Christian Church in the Roman Empire
Chapter 10. Jesus in Christian Thought
Go to Literature Index Page
This URL is abcog.org/jesus1.htm