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The New Testament Record - Part 2

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

We make room for him to be this, and through the inadequate reporting of his followers there breaks and shines, and will more and more break and shine the more the matter is examined, abundant evidence that he was this. It is most remarkable, and the best proof of the simplicity, seriousness, and good faith, which intercourse with Jesus Christ inspired, that witnesses with a fixed prepossession, and having no doubt at all as to the interpretation to be put on his acts and career, should yet admit so much of what makes against themselves and their own power of interpreting. For them, it was a thing beyond all doubt, that by miracles Jesus manifested forth his glory, and induced the faithful to believe in him. Yet what checks to this paramount and all-governing belief of theirs do they report from Jesus himself ! Everybody will be able to recall such checks, although he may never yet have been accustomed to consider their full significance. Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe !—as much as to say : ` Believe on right grounds you cannot, and you must needs believe on wrong !' And again : ` Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me ; or else believe for the very works' sake ! '—as much as to say : `Acknowledge me on the ground of my healing and restoring acts being miraculous, if you must ; but it is not the right ground.' No, not the right ground; and when Nicodemus came and would put belief in Christ on this ground (' We know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no one can do the miracles that thou doest except God be with him'), Jesus rejoined : ' Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God I' thus tacitly changing his disciple's ground and correcting him . Even distress and impatience at this false ground being taken is visible sometimes : ' Jesus groaned in his spirit and said, Why doth this generation ask for a sign? Verily I say unto you, there shall no sign be given to this generation ! Who does not see what double and treble importance these checks from Jesus to the reliance on miracles gain, through their being reported by those who relied on miracles devoutly? Who does not see what a clue they offer as to the real mind of Jesus? To convey at all to such hearers of him that there was any objection to miracles, his own sense of the objection must have been profound ; and to get them, who neither shared nor understood it, to repeat it a few times, he must have repeated it many times.

Take, again, the eschatology of the disciples, their notion of the final things, of the approaching great judgment and end of the world. This consisted mainly in a literal appropriation of the apocalyptic pictures of the book of Daniel and the book of Enoch, and a transference of them to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. It is not surprising, certainly, that men with the mental range of their time, and with so little flexibility of thought, that, when Jesus told them to beware of 'the leaven of the Pharisees,' or when he ' called himself ' the bread of life' and said, He that eateth me shall live by me, they stuck hopelessly fast in the literal meaning of the words, and were accordingly puzzled or else offended by them,—it is not surprising that these men should have been incapable of dealing in a large spirit with prophecies like those of Daniel, that they should have applied them to Jesus narrowly and literally, and should therefore have conceived his kingdom unintelligently. This is not remarkable ; what is remarkable is, that they should themselves supply us with their Master's blame of their too literal criticism, his famous sentence ` The kingdom of God is within you ! ' Such an account of the kingdom of God has more right, even if recorded only once, to pass with us for Jesus Christ's own account, than the common materialising accounts, if repeated twenty times ; for it was manifestly quite foreign to the disciples' own notions, and they could never have invented it. Evidence of the same kind, again,—evidence borne. by the reporters themselves against their own power of rightly understanding what their Master, on this topic of the kingdom of God and its coming, meant to say,—is Christ's warning to his apostles, that the subject of final things was one where they were all out of their depth:

' It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.

So, too, with the use of prophecy and of the Old Testament generally. A very small experience of Jewish exegesis will convince us that, in the disciples, their catching at the letter of the Scriptures, and mistaking this play with words for serious argument, was nothing extraordinary. The extraordinary thing is that Jesus, even in the report of these critics, uses Scripture in a totally different manner; he wields it as an instrument of which he truly possesses the use. Either he puts prophecy into act, and by the startling point thus made he engages the popular imagination on his side, makes the popular familiarity with prophecy serve him; as when he rides into Jerusalem on an ass, or clears the Temple of buyers and sellers. Or else he applies Scripture in what is called 'a superior spirit,' to make it yield to narrow-minded hearers a lesson of wisdom ; as, for instance, to rebuke a superstitious observance of the Sabbath he employs the incident of David's taking the shewbread. His reporters, in short, are the servants of the Scripture-letter, Jesus is its master ; and it is from the very men who were servants to it themselves, that we learn that he was master of it. How signal, therefore, must this mastery have been ! how eminently and strikingly different from the treatment known and practised by the disciples themselves !

Finally, for the reporters of Jesus the rule was, undoubtedly, that men believed on Jesus when they saw the miracles which he did. Miracles were in these reporters' eyes, beyond question, the evidence of the Christian religion. And yet these same reporters indicate another and a totally different evidence offered for the Christian religion by Jesus Christ himself. Every one that heareth and learneth from the Father, cometh unto me As the Father hath taught me, so I steak; he that is of God heareth the words of God, if God was your Father, ye would have loved me! This is inward evidence, direct evidence. From that previous knowledge of God, as 'the Eternal that loveth righteousness,' which Israel possessed, the hearers of Jesus could and should have concluded irresistibly, when they heard his words, that he came from God. Now, miracles are outward evidence, indirect evidence, not conclusive in this fashion. To walk on the sea cannot really prove a man to proceed from the Eternal that loveth righteousness ; although undoubtedly, as we have said, a man who walks on the sea will be able to make the mass of mankind believe about him almost anything he chooses to say. But there is, after all, no necessary connexion between walking on the sea and proceeding from the Eternal that loveth righteousness. Jesus propounds, on the other hand, an evidence of which the whole force lies in the necessary connexion between the proving matter and the power that makes for righteousness. This is his evidence for the Christian religion.

His disciples felt the force of the evidence, indeed. Peter's answer to the question, ` Will ye also go away ?'—To whom should we go? thou hast the words of eternal life!' 5 proves it. But feeling the force of a thing is very different from understanding and possessing it. The evidence, which the disciples were conscious of understanding and possessing, was the evidence from miracles. And yet, in their report, Jesus is plainly shown to us insisting on a different evidence, an internal one. The character of the reporters gives to this indication a paramount importance. That they should indicate this internal evidence once, as the evidence on which Jesus insisted, is more significant, we say, than their indicating, twenty times, the evidence from miracles as the evidence naturally convincing to mankind, and recommended, as they thought, by Jesus. The notion of the one evidence they would have of themselves ; the notion of the other they could only get from a superior mind. This mind must have been full of it to induce them to feel it at all ; and their exhibition of it, even then, must of necessity be inadequate and broken.

But is it possible to overrate the value of the ground thus gained for showing the riches of the New Testament to those who, sick of the popular arguments from prophecy, sick of the popular arguments from miracles, are for casting the New Testament aside altogether ? The book contains all that we know of a wonderful spirit, far above the heads of his reporters, still farther above the head of our popular theology, which has added its own misunderstanding of the reporters to the reporters' misunderstanding of Jesus. And it was quite inevitable that any-thing so superior and so profound should be imperfectly understood by those amongst whom it first appeared, and for a very long time afterwards ; and that it should come at last gradually to stand out clearer only by time,—Time, as the Greek maxim says, the wisest of all things, for he is the unfailing discoverer.

Yet, however much is discovered, the object of our scrutiny must still be beyond us, must still transcend our adequate knowledge, if for no other reason, because of the character of the first and only records of him. But in the view now taken we have; even at the point to which we have already come,—at least a wonderful figure transcending his time, transcending his disciples, attaching them but transcending them ; in very much that he uttered going far above their heads, treating Scripture and prophecy like a master while they treated it like children, resting his doctrine on internal evidence while they rested it on miracles ; and yet, by his incomparable lucidity and penetrativeness, planting his profound veins of thought in their memory along with their own notions and prepossessions, to come out all mixed up together, but still distinguishable one day and separable ;—and leaving his word thus to bear fruit for the future.

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