'The Time Is Fulfilled'
AMONG the many features of the New Testament which are apt to perplex the minds of modern readers two may be singled out, with very general consent, as the most disconcerting. These are, on the one hand, the place accorded to the miraculous, and, on the other, Jesus' definite prediction of the advent, within His own generation, of a " Kingdom of God " which it is difficult to distinguish in any sharp way from the apocalyptical "age to come." Criticism has done its best to challenge the authenticity of both features, but in neither case with much success.
With regard to the miraculous the fact which has to be faced is not simply that the Gospel narratives are adorned with tales which, if taken at their face value, manifestly involve the super-natural. The miraculous does not merely adorn the story of Jesus, but enters into its very substance. He speaks as One who both is accustomed to work miracles Himself and expects His followers to do the same ; and if we were to eliminate from the record in any wholesale manner Jesus' deliberate use of powers which He regarded as supernatural, much of His most characteristic teaching would be robbed of its pregnancy, and some manifestly authentic sayings about the power of faith would be reduced to the level of irresponsible rhetoric.10 Accordingly what we have to reckon with is something much more perplexing than a mere plethora of super-natural events ; we have to reckon with what looks like a claim to human lordship over physical nature for the ends of faith. As will be argued later, the general possibility of the miraculous is not a matter that presents any special philosophical difficulty. What is philosophically surprising is rather the usual monotonous regularity of nature than occasional breaches of that monotony. But it may well seem more perplexing that miracles should ever depend on human initiative. The modern type of religious consciousness instinctively protests against any such idea. It asks at once how it can possibly accord with the humility proper to true religious faith to instigate an abrogation by God of that natural order which He seems to have deliberately decreed. Nor is such a question wholly peculiar to the modern mind. Doubtless the average Jewish contemporary of Jesus had not our scientific conception of natural law. Yet he drew a clear enough distinction between what God had, and what He had not, placed within ordinary human control ; and he would have felt it presumptuous to attempt to heal the sick or raise the dead by his mere word. Nevertheless the New Testament sees nothing presumptuous in such achievements being attempted by men of faith. Only when we have noted this fact do we realize the full perplexingness of the first of the two disconcerting features I have singled out, namely, the place accorded by the New Testament to the miraculous.
In claiming that criticism cannot eliminate this feature from the Gospel narratives without entirely sacrificing their general credibility, I may probably count on the willing assent of most of the readers of this book, but in the case of the other feature singled out there is likely to be more inclination to challenge its authenticity. If, in speaking of the " Kingdom of God," Jesus had in mind something which, like the apocalyptical " age to come," involved either the supersession or the sublimation of the existing world-order, how could He possibly have predicted its advent within His own generation ? Hardly anything could appear, at first sight, less compatible with our Christian estimate of Jesus than to accept it as matter of historical fact that He did make such a prediction. Nevertheless, in the case of this second disconcerting feature of our records as in the case of the first, the connexion with the rest of the narrative is too intimate to allow of any confident denial of authenticity.
Even if we incline a favourable ear to the critical hypothesis that the discourse found in Mark xiii, and parallels owes its most definitely eschatological features to a " Little Apocalypse ' of Jewish-Christian origin (Mark xiii. 7, 8, 14-20, 24-27, 30, 31) which has been interwoven with the more authentic material, we are still faced by other passages which are scarcely less disconcerting, and which on critical grounds have high claim to authenticity. It might be possible, indeed, to disparage their importance if we were at liberty to infer, from parables which liken the Kingdom of God to seed sown in a field, or to the mustard plant, or to leaven, that Jesus expected the consummation to arrive by way of gradual development. In that case it might seem permissible to surmise that sayings which appear to fix a definite time-limit owe their categoricalness to misunderstanding or imperfect recollection. Jesus, we might then say, knew that the con-summation could not arrive till human faith was ripe ; but on occasions when He met with unusually responsive faith, His hopes of a speedy ripening might rise to a high level, and might express themselves in words of expectancy so buoyant as to be mistaken for prediction.' As a matter of fact, however, the parables referred to cannot well bear the weight of such inferences. Indirectly, indeed, they may show how far from unconscious Jesus was that even the most sudden crisis cannot be wholly discontinuous with what has gone before ; but continuity is one thing, slow, even-paced development quite another. And when we look at the direct intention of these parables, instead of at their indirect implications, we are bound to recognize that they aim at suggesting not how gradually but how mysteriously the Kingdom approaches, not how imperceptible are the stages of its ripening but how secure is its ultimate fruition, and how independent of human contrivance. Rightly understood, then, these parables supply no proof that Jesus contemplated even the possibility of an indefinitely long-drawn process of germination and growth. They do very little to mitigate the impression which numerous emphatic sayings of a contrary tendency are calculated to make upon us. 'AvaqaiveoOat, which is Jesus' characteristic word for the advent of the Kingdom, is " expressly chosen," says Professor Scott, " in order to fix attention on the startling nature of the manifestation. There will be no slow gradations which can be traced and calculated. The Kingdom will 'shine out '—will reveal itself instantaneously. . . . It will leap on the world as if from ambush. . . . Jesus heaps image upon image in order to make men realize this bewildering suddenness of the advent of the Kingdom, and the consequent need of entire preparedness, so that every hour will find them watching. His language is of such a character that we cannot read into it any mere accommodation to a familiar feature of current apocalyptic theory. The accepted theory gave expression to His own belief, that the Kingdom was not to grow into being by some process of historical development, but was to break in all at once, by the direct intervention of God."12 However dependent its advent might be on the realization of certain indispensable prior conditions of a spiritual kind, these conditions were, nevertheless, only the sign or occasion, not the cause, of the blessed era to follow. Compared with the great portent for which they would give the signal, they were of a character homely and inconspicuous, like the sprouting of the figtree so much so, indeed, that men might be living in presence of the fulfilled preconditions of the final advent, and yet might imagine the Kingdom to be a great way off. Summer could take no one by surprise if the fig-leaves had to grow to full maturity ere the warm weather arrives. But it is otherwise if the signal is only their sprouting, for sprouting may happen in one night. Similarly, if faith had to grow to perfection of strength and stature before God can fulfil His covenant promise, it would be strange indeed if the Kingdom could break in upon an unexpectant world. But the mountains begin to move when faith is small like a grain of mustard-seed ; for what tosses them out of the way is not faith itself, but God in response to faith. The right quality of faith has only to germinate and God is free to act. And it may germinate in a single night ; for, like all living things, it is the mysterious work of God. In Jesus' way of conceiving the relation between the transcendent Kingdom and its historical preconditions, there was thus nothing to prevent Him from contemplating the possibility of an early consummation. Now this is a conclusion of the first importance. For if study of Jesus' modes of thought makes it quite conceivable that He entertained the idea that the great day might be close at hand, and if in actual fact His work of preparation was characterized, as we shall see presently, by a note of urgency not found in apocalyptical writings, then mere intellectual honesty requires us to give full weight to any express prediction of an early advent which there are no specific textual grounds for calling in question.
Such a prediction meets us in Mark ix. I (Matt. xvi. 28 ; Luke ix. 27) : "Verily I say unto you, There be some here of them that stand by, which shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Kingdom of God come with power," a passage the reference of which to the final advent is rendered unmistakable by the preceding con-text. Nor does this passage stand alone. Its substantial authenticity is supported by other sayings of a similar tendency, namely, Jesus' answer to the high priest :13 ` Ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark xiv. 62), and that perplexing earlier saying :14 " Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come " (Matt. x. 23). Thus, by a cumulative argument of which these passages are only the culminating factor, we are constrained to a conclusion which will be unwelcome to many. We are compelled to acknowledge that Jesus entered on His public career with as strong an impression as John the Baptist's of the imminence of the transcendent Kingdom of God, that even to the end He remained confident that in no case would its advent be delayed beyond the lifetime of His contemporaries, and that this confidence of His was so assured as to give itself expression in words of solemn prediction. In arriving at this conclusion we have made no use of the suspected saying of Mark xiii. 30 (= Matt. xxiv. 34 ; Luke xxi. 32) : "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all these things be accomplished." But even if this passage owes its place in the records to the intrusion of a " Little Apocalypse," we have no sufficient excuse for doubting that in its prognostication of the date of the final epoch of fulfilment it faithfully reflects Jesus' own conception of the maximum period of delay.'
The present lecture opened with the remark that among the many perplexing features of the New Testament two stood out as probably the most disconcerting, namely, the place accorded to the miraculous and Jesus' prediction of an early final advent, and that both of these features have claims to a substantial authenticity which criticism has tried but fails to shake. I have now done what the brief space at my disposal permits towards exhibiting this authenticity, and must henceforth take it for granted. All the more pressing, then, becomes the duty of probing the perplexity which these inexpungible features of the New Testament record occasion. Ought they to be, after all, as disconcerting as they appear ?
The first step to be taken consists in examining how far these two sources of perplexity may be resolved into one. That there must be between them at least an indirect connexion will be readily conceded. For the expectation of an early final advent was part of Jesus' thought about the Kingdom, and it was in His conception of the Kingdom that His consciousness of a right to invoke the supernatural powers of God was rooted.16 But may we not draw the connexion a little closer ? May we not do more than affirm in a general way that Jesus' claim of authority to work miracles depended on His beliefs about the Kingdom ? May we not assert that this claim was specifically connected with one of these beliefs in particular, namely, with His belief concerning the early date at which the Kingdom was to be victoriously established ? While it is in Jesus' conception of the nature of the Kingdom that we must seek the explanation of the kind of blessings He supernaturally bestowed, may not His thought about the dale of its advent contain the explanation of His sense of a right to bestow these blessings by super-natural means ?
I do not wish it to be thought that in making this suggestion I am relying on the view that Jesus drew a clearly conceived distinction between a sense in which the Kingdom of God was already present and another sense in which it was still future, and that I interpret His miracle-working as a manifestation of the actuality of the Kingdom in its present phase.17 The question whether any such distinction of phases can be carried through has been keenly debated, but for my present purpose a definite decision is not indispensable.' I am disposed to concede that the Kingdom was for Jesus, so far as this earth was concerned, fundamentally a fact of the future, although of a future that was already knocking at the door. Doubtless, because it was thus knocking at the door, it might be spoken of as present, in a local rather than a temporal sense present behind the scenes, as it were ; and because the community which was to inherit the Kingdom was already forming, the Kingdom might be thought of as, in the persons of its accepted citizens, already actual. But these were no more than very natural figures of speech ; in its primary and more exact significance the Kingdom belonged, I think, wholly to the near future. But I need not stay to argue this question of a distinction of phases since, even if we distinguish between the Kingdom as present and the Kingdom as future, it is with the Kingdom as future that we must connect the phenomenon of miracle-working.
Miracles, together with the other gifts of the Spirit, may be regarded as " powers of the age to come " (Heb. vi. 5), in two different senses which it is important to discriminate. They belonged to the " age to come," first of all, in the sense that the benefits which came by way of miracle belonged to that coming age, and were to constitute part of its essential blessedness. In this respect miracles belonged to the future Kingdom of God in virtue not of their miraculousness, but of the boons they imparted. The nature of these boons, that is to say, was qualitatively the same as the nature of the coming Kingdom. But there is another, and for our present purpose a more important, sense in which miracles were " powers of the age to come." This sense has to do not with the nature of the boons miraculously imparted, but with the miraculous manner of their impartation. They came to pass through a present operation of those transcendent forces by the efficacy of which the Kingdom of God was to be established. Those forces were not powers of the age to come in the sense of being part of its essential nature, but belonged to it in the sense of being peculiarly associated with the momentous crisis of that cosmic struggle by which the old age was to be expelled in order to make room for the new. A "regeneration" or rebirth of the universe (cf. Matt. xix. 28) cannot be effected without transcendent agencies; and miracles wrought at the instance of men of faith were nothing else than, as it were, preliminary raids upon the doomed Kingdom of the dark present carried out by these transcendent agencies. Their occurrence certainly meant that something had actually arrived and become present fact, but this " something " was not the final Kingdom of God. It was " the last days" (Acts ii. 17), " the end of the times " (t Pet. i. 20), the period when the forces of Armageddon were beginning to bestir themselves. The new age was to be the result of the finished conflict : the miracles were incidents of a conflict that was only begun ; and their supernaturalness was due to their being the work of the transcendent forces needed to overthrow " the Prince of this world " (John xiv. 30), and to clear the way for the peaceful " reign of God." If the Kingdom had in any sense become an accomplished fact of the present, then in the same sense its perfections would have been a new existent " nature," and its manifestations would have been not "supernatural " but " natural," not actively redemptive but passively free. Quite evidently, then, the connexion of the miracles in their supernatural or redemptive aspect is with the Kingdom of God as a fact of the near future and not of the realized present.
In the light of these considerations it will now be clear that we are justified in looking for a close relationship between the two disconcerting features on which our attention has been directed, Jesus' prediction of the victorious establishment of God's Kingdom at an early date, and the possibility and right of miracle-working. They have the appearance of being, respectively, an intelligible inference from, and a practical application of, one and the same belief, the belief that the " Day of Jehovah" had dawned and that the period in which men were then living was " the end of the times." Both the prediction and the miracle-working suggest that apocalyptical thought had suddenly cast aside the half-heartedness for which it was criticized in our first chapter, and had acquired the courage to draw from its own premises the proper inference that God was ready to intervene supernaturally there and then.
Yet precisely for this very reason one suspects that some new factor must have entered in to produce this change of heart. In any case neither the prediction nor the miracle-working can be fully explained by regarding Jesus simply as one who had the virility to be done with mere dreaming and to take the apocalyptical tradition in practical earnest.
In the first place, apocalyptic was unfitted to supply the primary requisite for such a practical application, namely, a definite programme. It is true that in the apocalyptical writings the " Day of Jehovah," by means of which the prophets had expected God's ideal reign to be ushered in, had lengthened out " into a whole period of birth-throes, leading up to the great transition." But neither as regards the length of this period nor regarding any other point of detail was there a universally accepted or authoritative tradition. Eschatology is a realm of conjecture and vision, and even those elements which apocalyptical writers shared in common they handled in the freest and often the most discordant way. As an independent apocalyptical thinker, Jesus might have fixed at one generation the duration of the expected transitional period of upheaval and cosmic stress, but in doing so He would simply have been exercising the freedom of conjecture belonging to an apocalyptical tradition that was still in the making. There was no orthodox " or accepted view on the recognized authority of which He could lean.
If we may not seek in an apocalyptical tradition the explanation of why Jesus' forecast of the limit of delay in the final advent passed beyond conjecture to prediction, neither can we find there the full explanation of His miracle-working. The type of miracle which might conceivably have been attempted by a man who was relying upon mere apocalyptical tradition a man who believed that " the last days" had begun, and was resolved at all costs to act upon his belief would have been precisely the type of miracle which Jesus consistently refused to attempt. Portents, prodigies, world-shaking catastrophes — these would have been the supernatural events which such a man might have dreamed of God bringing to pass in answer to his prayers, for the sake of overthrowing the empire of darkness and establishing in its place the ideal order. But to what man who drew his inspiration merely from apocalyptical tradition would the idea ever have come that the supernatural agencies which " the last days " would bring into the arena could be fitly employed in a homely ministry of healing ?
It is abundantly evident, then, that while we may recognize in the belief that " the last days " had dawned a connecting link between miracle-working in general and the expectation of an early victorious establishment of the Kingdom of God, we need some other factor to account for the special character of the miracles to which Jesus felt at liberty to address Himself, and to explain why His expectation of an early climax passed beyond confident conjecture to definite prediction. This other factor we cannot find within the confines of apocalyptical conception. It belongs to that which renders the New Testament a fundamentally new world of religious thought.
To turn from consideration of Jewish apocalyptic to the Christianity of the Epistles is like entering a different religious climate. It is to bid good-bye to souls which believe that behind the clouds the sun is shining, and to make the acquaintance of souls which are basking in its radiance. It is to turn away from a faith which is saving itself by means of a postulate to a faith which is resting on experimental certainties. The apocalyptical seers felt that the omnipotence of God ought to be available without reserve on behalf of all that was good in man and good for man, and they postulated that it would be thus available soon. The writers of the Epistles are men who have found and are daily finding that God's omnipotence is impressively at work on man's behalf. It manifests its activity not only in miracles of an external kind, but even more strikingly in the transformation of the affections and impulses, in an elevation of the spiritual life and a new spontaneity of virtue. And with this experience there is beginning to appear something which it is rather difficult to define as it were, a new poise of spirit. The eyes are still eagerly bent even more eagerly than were the eyes of the apocalyptists on the anticipated advent of God's final Kingdom. But " the last days " are proving so full of an inward gladness, the privilege which they afford of labouring for the Kingdom in fellowship with the risen Christ, and upheld by the omnipotent Spirit of God, is so contenting and of such an absorbing interest, that there is a new serenity in the eager waiting. " The last days," although they are still regarded as only a preface to the age of glory, are yet felt to be in a real sense an epoch of fulfilment. If the " new heavens and a new earth " still lie in the future, the Christian himself is already a new creation " (2 Cor. V. 17), new not only in feeling and out look, but in capacity. To know God as He is in truth, to have the experience of Him through Christ as One who is free to respond to human trust with a practical and intimate Fatherliness this is itself the essence of the " life eternal " ( John xvii. 3), the life characteristic of the coming Kingdom of God. Such is the Christianity of the Epistles. It is a Christianity which has acquired the spiritual poise that will keep it still Christian even when the expectation of an early final advent fades away.
It is not only, however, the Christianity of the Epistles that presents a spiritual atmosphere different from the atmosphere of apocalyptic. In the very beginnings of the new religious movement of which the New Testament is the fruit we cannot fail to detect, amid all the close resemblances to apocalyptic teaching, a difference of accent which betokens a profound spiritual change. " The age to come " has become a practical matter and an immediate expectation. I t is this alteration of attitude, rather than any changes in the conception of what the " Kingdom of God " means, that constitutes the cardinal novelty distinguishing the first stage of the new movement from its apocalyptical antecedents. Doubtless there soon begins some development of conceptions, but it is the product of the new attitude, even as the new attitude, in its turn, is itself the product of a vitalized and transformed immediate consciousness of God.
The new attitude makes its first appearance in John the Baptist. The outstanding fact here is that in John apocalyptic has passed from speculation and mystic vision to prophecy or authoritative proclamation, and that detached computation of dates and signs has given place to a practical endeavour to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the real novelty. In relation to the orthodox religion of his day John's teaching was not, to any obvious degree, a new wine that needed fresh wineskins, and it was natural for observers to contrast Jesus' followers as much with the disciples of John as with those of the Pharisees (Luke v. 33). Although the official classes had misgivings about his activities, John was as definitely opposed as they to revolutionary Messianism (cf. Luke iii. 10 -14). The Kingdom he looked for was the apocalyptic new age, and therefore something too transcendent for human contrivance or organization to bring to pass. And the apocalyptic point of view which he shared he did little if anything to modify. "We can find nothing to indicate;" says Professor Scott, " that the views of John concerning the future were in any way strange or novel to the multitude. It may rather be inferred, from the very excitement which he created, that he had an audience in full sympathy with him. He appealed to hopes and fears with which all had been familiar from their childhood, and could be sure of a response when he declared that they would presently be realized. . . . He took over the conceptions of the Kingdom, the Judgment; the office of the Messiah, as he found them ; and so far from adding new features to the ordinary picture of the last days, he aimed at presenting it in its simplest form, without any elaboration of details." In all these respects we find in John no conspicuous novelty. Where, then, is the fresh departure? It lies here: the thrice-told tale has ceased to be the story of an approaching day of magic, and has become instead the portrayal of a Divine will, envisaged as a terribly practical reality. What this Divine will intends presently to accomplish remains transcendent, something beyond the reach of human collaboration ; but in the Divine will itself, which has this transcendent intention, John makes it impossible for his hearers to feel anything remote, anything unreal, any-thing of irresponsible magic. It is a will which reaches down into the present, and demands an immediate, sober, difficult response. The super-natural has become the dynamic of the ethical. The fairy-tale of apocalypse has become a kind of tragic poetry, which transforms the drab world of dully accepted prose, and demands to be acted out, not in delirious schemes of revolution, but in a prostration of will before Him who is already mobilizing His heavenly hosts.
If such be the radically new feature in the work of John, what was its source ? It can have had only one source. No one can awaken in the multitude a living sense of the near reality of God unless he has enjoyed direct spiritual vision him-self. Few things evoke a more infallible response than the authentic note of personal religious experience ; its presence and its absence are equally easy to detect. John has been criticized for the artificial way in which he posed as a prophet, the imitative details of his dress and manner of life. But at any rate he did not merely pose as a prophet, he was a prophet. There had come to him that experience of which the human side is intuition and the Divine side revelation. With him there had come face to face the God whom legalism had put far away and apocalyptic had failed to bring near. And the immediate result was, as it always is, that time present, the commonplace " here " and "now" of practical fact, became pregnant with duty. The faithful in Israel had been crying pathetically to God, as though it were somehow His inscrutable pleasure to dally over the fulfilment of promise. But there came to John, in some form of his own, the same word of God as Moses heard when the Red Sea appeared to block his people's destiny : "Wherefore criest thou unto Me ? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward " (Ex. xiv. 15). So John became a prophet. He urged upon his contemporaries to take the first step themselves. His voice was vibrant with expectancy ; yet the burden of his discourse was not description of the coming day, but the urgent need of making ready. Apocalyptic provided the form of his message ; its substance was original, a direct gift from God.
What has been here said about John can in great measure be repeated about Jesus. The differences, indeed, are obvious. In John the original elements are few, although of the first importance ; in Jesus they crowd upon us. Emphatically His was a teaching that needed new wineskins. Yet it was upon the present that His originality lavished itself, not upon the future. Like His forerunner, Jesus abstained from fresh pictures of the nature of the " age to come" ; like him again, He threw His whole emphasis upon the fact of its nearness and the character of its requirements ; and in the case of Jesus, as in the case of John, we cannot but recognize the accents of a message which owed its essential contents to immediate religious intuition or independent revelation and not to inherited apocalyptical ideas.
To substantiate the first of these three assertions not many words are needed. Quite evidently Jesus made it no part of His primary endeavour to redefine the apocalyptical conceptions or to impart fresh ideas about the material, social and political features of the hoped-for new world-order. Such descriptive eschatological material as His teaching supplies is so conventional, and so obviously subordinate to the immediate practical message for which it provides the setting, that our curiosity goes unsatisfied. When we turn expectantly to parables which begin with the formula, " The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto," we find them preoccupied with accessory topics. What their analogies illumine is not the concrete nature of the Kingdom itself but the mode of its approach, the principles which hold good within it, and the conditions required of those who would share in its blessedness. So much is this the case as to render excusable the mistake which is still common of supposing that Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God something wholly inward and spiritual. Indeed, the strongest argument for a contrary view is the argument from silence. We know enough now about the conceptions prevalent in the time of Jesus to be sure that any one who then proclaimed the Kingdom as an approaching event would inevitably be understood as speaking either in an apocalyptic sense or in the sense of revolutionary political Messianism. Jesus made it clear that He did not favour the latter tendency. Had He also been opposed to the former, He would have been bound to make the fact equally unmistakable. But, so far from doing this, He habitually assumed that every one knew what was meant by the Kingdom, and that definition was unnecessary. Current ideas on the subject were so fluid that this procedure left Him wide liberty, but not the liberty to adopt without warning an entirely new usage, by restricting the reference of the term to purely moral and spiritual values. Now it is surely a fact of considerable significance that the data which show Jesus to have meant, by the Kingdom of God, substantially the apocalyptic " age to come," should be comparatively so scanty as to make it worth our while to emphasize and turn to use the argument from silence which I have been outlining. That argument certainly does not stand alone. Its conclusion is borne out by the language of the Parousia predictions. Also, by paying close attention to incidental utterances, one may gain some idea of the lines along which Jesus' own imagination moved in figuring the new order. Apparently He looked forward to a miraculous perfecting and transfigurement of the existing earth, rather than to its destruction and the substitution of a new world. He expected also a transformation of human nature on its physical side ; men would be "as angels in heaven." Life would continue to be of a social character, but not organized after the manner of existing institutions. Want, pain, disease and death would be done away. But all this constituted mere background in Jesus' thought. So slight is the expression it received that in regard to it we hardly get beyond conjecture. What He devoted Himself to expounding was the principles on which the new order would rest, the moral and spiritual conditions of the life eternal. Over and above this there is little else discernible than the natural assumption on Jesus' part that this eternal life would be lived under physical conditions harmonious with itself. Now, as I have said, facts like these are extremely significant. They do more than bear out the assertion made above, that Jesus was as little distinguished as the Baptist for originality of apocalyptical picture-painting. They suggest that He either had no interest in, or more probably was conscious of no God-given commission to declare, the concrete nature of the coming age. The task assigned Him by His Heavenly Father was not to unveil for men its secrets, but to win for them its realization.
The second resemblance affirmed above between Jesus and His forerunner was the emphasis on the near advent of the Kingdom and on the attitude of soul which was consequently required. In Jesus' preaching we hear sounding the very same note of reality and urgency which was so fresh in John. The note has a changed quality ; it is more gracious, more tenderly appealing ; but fundamentally it is the same note. It awakens in the hearers the same tingling expectancy, the same sense that the time for wistful dreaming is past and that the occasion calls for immediate, soul-tasking endeavour. The endeavour must needs be soul-tasking, because the Heavenly Father, who is about to give His utmost, deserves and demands man's utmost. And the duty of this endeavour is urgent, for "the time is fulfilled." Jesus' own mind is athrill with expectancy ; that is why He begins His public career with a message so like the Baptist's as to lead the first evangelist to describe both in identical terms (Matt. iii. 2, iv. 17). It is the Heavenly Father's good pleasure to give men the Kingdom ; why should He not give it now ? It is only unbelief that hinders Him. He is but waiting to be importuned. " Ask and ye shall receive ; seek and ye shall find." If the disciples, travelling two and two, can only succeed in arousing far and wide as they go a spirit of believing prayer, it may be that, even before their journey is completed, their Father in heaven may find Himself at liberty to act transcendently.23 God loves importunity like that of the friend at midnight or of the oppressed widow. He smiles approvingly on those who would storm the Kingdom of Heaven and carry it off as plunder." Pain and misery is so hateful to His Fatherly love that, even before the advent of the grief-dispelling Kingdom, God is glad when a faith which, like that of the Syrophenician woman, refuses to believe that His kindly face can say " No," provides Him with an excuse for granting immediate relief. Yet it is not upon becoming the intermediaries to men of such sporadic anticipations of the coming blessedness that the Father wishes His children to concentrate their energies. Within due limits, such miracles are useful in stimulating faith ; but it is the Kingdom in its wholeness that God wishes to establish ; and to prepare men for that it is necessary to quicken in them the sense of need and expectancy and not to satiate them with immediate benefits. Accordingly Jesus spends Himself in the labour of teaching and training. His commission is Messianic, not prophetic, but His preliminary task must be like a prophet's. He must stir the multitudes to hope and penitence and prayer and faith. And His own faith is not disturbed by delay. Final disappointment is impossible, for the Father has commissioned Him to win for His contemporaries the fulfilment of promise; but the result must come to pass in God's own way. Jesus' duty is to work while it is day. There is no time for fears ; there is no time for speculation. By personal example, by preaching, by illustrative wonder-working, He must cure men of their paralysis of hope and faith, and get them to bestir themselves in earnest, lest the final hour strike and find them unprepared.
If the message of Jesus and that of the Baptist display these two aspects of similarity ; if both exhibit so little originality of apocalyptical picture-painting, while both strike so pealing a note of reality and urgency, then in both cases we are shut up to a similar conclusion. Not in apocalyptical tradition but in an independent revelation must we seek the source of their inspiration. And to ascertain the purport of the revelation received, we must examine its reflection in the work of each. In the case of John it is evident that, in whatever form the revelation may have come, its purport was to bid the people not waste their strength in idle longing, but prepare their hearts for an immediate manifestation of the zeal of Jehovah. What was the corresponding revelation in the case of Jesus ?
Whatever may have been its complete purport, it must contain the explanation of those two features of the work of Jesus on which our attention has been fixed throughout this chapter, and which we have found it impossible to account for through His inheritance of an apocalyptical tradition. These two features, namely, the special character of the miracles which He felt empowered to perform, and the note of certainty in His proclamation of an early climax, must be grounded in that unique vocation of which Jesus attained complete assurance through revelation at His baptism. How they spring out of this consciousness of vocation will become readily manifest if we may accept as true a hypothesis which I will here briefly indicate, reserving its fuller development for the succeeding chapter. The leading idea of this hypothesis will, I trust, commend itself at once by its simplicity and naturalness, however partial may be my success in its more detailed elaboration.
We have already despaired of finding in the conception that " the last days " had dawned the complete explanation of Jesus' miracle-working and of the time-limit within which He counted on the fulfilment of His hopes. The hypothesis which I now submit does not seek this explanation directly in that conception itself ; it seeks it, instead, in a definite or concrete vocation which Jesus interpreted to Himself by means of the conception of "the last days," but which had an independent motive and sanction. I am led to this hypothesis by the answers I am constrained to give to the following questions. Was Jesus the kind of man who cannot see the trees for the wood? Did He love mankind and yet fail to love men ? Could He grow up in possession of an intimacy of fellowship with the Heavenly Father unshared by any one else without developing a passionate longing to win the same blessedness not merely for humanity at large, but in particular for the very men and women among whom His lot was cast ? To such questions there can surely be but one answer. I n conformity with this answer, then, let us suppose that it was primarily upon a holy ambition to render His own plane of spiritual privilege accessible, not merely to the human race in general, but in especial to the men and women whom He Himself knew and loved, that the vision at Jesus' baptism set the seal of Divine confirmation. Such a supposition at once removes all strangeness from His prediction of a time-limit. For the new plane of spiritual privilege had to be won for man within that generation if it was to be accessible to the men and women on whose behalf Jesus had longed for and received His sacred mission. From this point of view Jesus' words of confident prediction lose all appearance either of presumptuousness or of visionary fanaticism, and express only the certainty of His confiding trust in the commission laid upon Him by His omnipotent Father in heaven. And this certainty of confiding trust, in the form in which our hypothesis has so far expressed it, was not put to shame. By the Cross, the Resurrection and Pentecost there was made accessible to Jesus' generation, without limit other than the measure of their faith, a frank intimacy of fellow-ship with the Heavenly Father similar to that which Jesus Himself had enjoyed.
A corresponding line of approach will resolve our second perplexity likewise, the perplexity occasioned by the homely, unapocalyptical manner in which Jesus employed the transcendent agencies of the last days." Even as He loved, and knew that His Father loved, not merely humanity but the men of His acquaintance, so He hated, and knew that His Father hated, not merely evil at large but the particular ills to which He saw men a prey. Ought it to surprise us, then, that when the hour of vocation struck which brought to Jesus, under the inherited forms of apocalyptical conception, a sense of authority to invoke transcendent forces in His Father's service, He should have broken through the trammels of apocalytical theory, and should have rejoiced in every fitting opportunity of employing those forces at once for the relief of individual sufferers ? He could not so have acted, had apocalyptic been the source of His inspiration. But apocalyptic was merely a channel of His thought ; its living fountain was His life with God.
Apocalyptic, we have said, was no more than a channel of Jesus' thought ; yet indubitably it was such a channel, and our hypothesis must proceed to reckon with this fact. By that Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed to be at hand, He meant something more than a new level of spiritual blessedness. In agreement with the apocalyptic hope, He anticipated a regeneration of nature in sympathy with the regeneration of the human soul. And in respect of this genuinely apocalyptical, and therefore imaginative and conjectural, expression of His revealed vocation, He was disappointed. So little anxious am I to disguise this hard fact with soft phrases, that I find a crowning glory of the faith of Jesus in its power to survive undismayed the progressive overthrow of the apocalyptical beliefs in which it had clothed itself. Quite as notably as in any other way, it was by His manifestation of the superiority of living trust or faith in God to the imperfect beliefs about God in which it finds expression, that Jesus proved Himself, in the words of Heb. xii. 2, "the pioneer and the perfection " of our Christian type of faith. Yet it was no disillusioned and apologetic Christ who, when death had rent for Him the veils of earthly vision, " shewed Himself alive" to His disciples " by many infallible proofs." Tradition paints for us a risen Christ who explained, but not a risen Christ who retracted. The accomplished spiritual achievement was so real and so living that it was certain to receive, and might well await God's time for, its appropriate material setting. " It is not for you," we hear the risen Christ saying. to His disciples " it is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority. But ye shall receive power . . . and ye shall be My witnesses" (Acts i. 7, 8). Witnesses to a defeated Christ ? Nay, witnesses to a victor ! The "age to come" had still to be earned, but "the life eternal," which was its substance, was immediately to be granted. They would "receive power'' ; no longer for Jesus only, but for as many as believed in Him, "the last days" would now become a fact of personal experience, days of practical fellowship with God in Christ in soul-filling, triumphant adventure. For there was another " middle wall of partition " which it was Jesus' achievement to break down, besides that between Jew and Gentile. He dissolved for His Church the solid fixity of the partition between " this age" and "the age to come." He did so not by merely reinterpreting the present, but by transforming its character, by granting access to a "natural" or unredeemed that is penetrated at every point by the " supernatural " or redeeming, by transmuting the "present age" into "last days " of a nobler type than those of apocalyptic fancy. For those were days of a Jehovah who was King and Judge, while these were days of a Father who "sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him."
( Originally Published 1922 )
Redemption From This World:
Supernatural Because Redemptive
"the Time Is Fulfilled"
The Dawning Of "the Last Days"
Supernatural And Natural
The Miraculous As The Preternatural
The Miraculous As The Act Of God
On The King's Business