The Dawning Of 'The Last Days'
By way of introduction to the main topic of this chapter it may be well to indicate the nature of the evidence for a view which, since it is no novelty, I have hitherto allowed myself to take for granted without argument. The assumption I refer to is that the miracles of Jesus were acts of faith, and that by our Lord Himself His own miracle-working was regarded not as the exercise of a personally inherent Divine attribute or prerogative, but as a feature of His human Messianic vocation.
To accept such a view of the matter involves no disloyalty to our Lord nor any departure from our Christian estimate of His Person. It is forced upon us by His own words and attitude. Even in His miracle-working He was "very Man." In this, as in every other aspect of His self-manifestation, we come up against a fact that baffles analysis. When, as detached bystanders, we look upon His features, as it were, in profile, considering them singly and in repose, we seem to find none that is not human, none at least that does not belong to the nature which God designed for man. But let us move in front and catch His glance, so that the personality which lived by means of these human endowments may pierce our consciousness with a look in which its eager passion and its tender pity, its searching purity and its gracious comprehendingness, its assurance of a world-redeeming vocation and its unaffected neighbourliness, its kingly demands and its selfless devotion, make simultaneous impact on our souls, and we shall then lose all intent to measure or to classify ; we shall know ourselves in presence of the utterly unique One who exacts worship instead of submitting to appraisal. Merely look at Jesus, and you behold a Man. But meet Him face to face in the inwardness of comradeship and obedience, of faltering need and kingly succour, and you know yourself to be meeting the very Person, the very Self of God. I do not explain this ; I simply testify. And I testify the more willingly because in these chapters there has to be so much of the mere looking at Jesus so much, if certainly not of classification, still of interpretation by historical relations.
This testimony has reference to the miracle-working of Jesus as much as to any other feature of His life. When we merely look at His miracles, we have to classify them as acts of human faith. He Himself encourages us to do so ; He points to them as illustrations of the immeasurably widened reach of possibility that faith opens up to men. Yet none who, abandoning passive contemplation, has sought to emulate Jesus' attitude of faith, will wish to number his own essays in supernatural adventure in the same class with those of Jesus. In the spiritual quality of His miracle-working there is something utterly inimitable. Jesus' own attitude, however, in respect of the supernatural, is that of one who encourages imitation. Nowhere does He represent His miracles as the exercise of an incommunicable Divine prerogative. He per-forms them as One commissioned thereto by His Heavenly Father ; He speaks of them as being wrought at His instance by the Spirit of God. "If I," He says (Matt. xii. 28), "by the Spirit of God cast out devils, then is the Kingdom of God come upon you." That is to say, He invites for His miracles an interpretation vocational rather than. personal, and historical rather than metaphysical. He would have us recognize in them a proof that the forces which are to establish on earth "the reign of God" are already thundering at the gates. It is in this spirit that Jesus, in reply to the Baptist's messengers, encourages him to see an evidence of His Messianic vocation in His wonderful works (Matt. xi. 4–6; Luke vii. 22, 23). From this point of view it is but a single step to the surmise that others than the Messiah may become the intermediaries of similar marvels. The miracles are possible because " the last days " have dawned. At whose instance may they be performed? At the Messiah's certainly, because it is peculiarly His vocation to be in the forefront of the cosmic struggle through which the new age is to be ushered in. But if others are called to assist the Messiah in His vocation, may it not become their duty to share in the campaign against the malignant spirits that produce disease, infirmity and mental derangement, as well as in the campaign against the unbelief that paralyses men's souls ? This would have been a plausible surmise, even had there been nothing in the records to show that Jesus lent it His sanction. But we are not left to unsupported guesswork. We are informed that when Jesus sent out disciples, two by two, to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom, He directed them to attest their message by working miracles (Matt. x. 7, 8). And in Luke's account of the return of the Seventy from their itinerary, exultant in their victories over the demons, we read how Jesus interpreted this achievement as only the beginning of still greater things in the way of super-natural enablement. " Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy : and nothing shall in any wise hurt you " (Luke x. 19). But perhaps the most striking evidence of Jesus' refusal to regard the right of miracle-working as a privilege peculiar to Himself is the bitterness of His disappointment when, on descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, He finds that His disciples have failed in an attempt to cure an epileptic boy. " O faithless and perverse generation ! " He cries, " how long shall I be with you ? how long shall I bear with you ? bring him hither to Me" (Matt. xvii. 17).
In the view of Jesus, however, miracle-working was conditioned morally and spiritually as well as historically. Faith is needed to lay hold of the redeeming forces of " the last days," and this faith can attain the indispensable vitality, and sureness of moral intuition, only through constant prayer and the surrender of self-will in perfect obedience. On one occasion Jesus suggested that the kingly ease of His own miraculous cures was due to His moral victory over the Tempter. Having bound the strong man, He could spoil his goods at leisure (Matt. xii. 28, 29; Luke xi. 20-22). And repeatedly He impressed upon His disciples that there was no limit in nature to what unwavering faith may achieve (Mark ix. 23, xi. 23, 24; Luke xvii. 6).
The suggestion has been ventilated" that the healing ministry of Jesus was not at all so exclusively supernatural as the selective account furnished by the Gospel record might easily lead one to suppose. Jesus may easily have possessed some natural 27 gift of healing perhaps some psychical endowment which, owing to the influence of mind on mind and of mind on body, was capable of effecting remarkable cures of functional disorders by the touch of His hands, assisted possibly by the suggestive power of some use of the otherwise confessedly ineffectual remedial applications then current. But He would meet with cases which lay outside the range of this natural gift of healing, and which would necessitate a more consciously intense appeal of faith to the limitless power of God. It was of one such case that He remarked to His disciples : " This kind can come out by nothing save by prayer " (Mark ix. 29). About such a hypothesis as this there is considerable plausibility,28 particularly if it be allowed that the distinction which it draws between " natural" and "supernatural" cures would appear to Jesus Himself and His contemporaries merely as a difference in degree of marvellousness, and that every one of His works of healing, whether commonplace or extraordinary, was wrought in conscious reliance on the power of God. Faith or trust in the Father, born of a uniquely intimate knowledge of the Father, was the sustaining medium in which the whole life of Jesus moved.
Faith, however, is a spiritual energy of a peculiarly social order. It is sensitive to the presence or absence of sympathy. To be absolutely and unintermittently confident of what no one else believes is so difficult as to be well-nigh impossible, while trust in God is easy when one lives among the trustful. It would be strange if the faith of Jesus, amazing as was its capacity of persisting in vital strength upon a very solitary level of elevation, had been wholly insensitive to the sympathetic or unsympathetic influence of its social environment. It nourished its strength by prolonged seasons of prayer, and the usual impression conveyed by the narratives of Jesus' miracles is that the acts of faith which they involved were accomplished with regal ease. But there is, I venture to think, some evidence that occasionally the faith required for miracle-working cost Him some conscious effort.
In advancing this suggestion I lay no weight on the fact which seems to underlie Matt. xiii. 58 and Mark vi. 5, 6, namely, that in the region where Jesus' youth had been spent He could do no important miracle " because of their unbelief." There is no necessity to assume that what hindered Him was a consciousness of practical inability, induced by the unbelieving environment. I t may well have been only a scruple of principle. But there are two miracles narrated by the second evangelist, the details of which appear to me, in the one case to favour, and in the other case to require, the supposition that at the period to which the incidents belong Jesus was finding the effort of faith involved in miracle-working less easy than was His wont.
These miracles are placed between His retirement to the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon and the incident of Peter's confession. Accordingly their occurrence was subsequent to that effort to take Jesus by force and make Hirn king which cost His mind so much disquiet and fore-boding, and was prior to the experience on the mount in which He saw His approaching Passion transfigured. Thus the period in which these two miracles fall was one of depressed feeling and sorely tried faith. Now, in the account of the second of them (Mark viii. 22-26), we are told that Jesus cured a blind man by two stages. That this procedure was intentional, and had a pedagogic motive, seems an idea utterly artificial and far-fetched. The natural surmise would be that Jesus tried to restore the man's vision out-right and, having partially failed, made a second and completely successful effort. This surmise would be out of the question, indeed, if miracle-working had been with Jesus the effortless exercise of an unsurrendered Divine attribute of personal omnipotence ; but it is an entirely admissible surmise if He wrought His miracles by faith, and if His faith was at that time bruised and weary, but still capable of rising with an effort to supreme achievements. In the narrative of the other miracle there is an equally unusual circumstance related (Mark vii. 32-37). Before saying to the man with the impediment in his speech " ephphatha," we are told that Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed. To the cause of the sigh we are offered no clue, but at any rate it betokened discouraged feeling ; and where discouragement is, faith ceases to be effortless. Further, to both miracles there is attached another feature of an exceptional character. Jesus took the stammerer aside from the multitude privately, and the blind man He took by the hand and led him out of the village. Now, in both cases one reason for His so doing was evidently a desire to prevent popular excitement. But may there not have been another reason equally constraining ? May He not have felt that it would be easier to recover the unperturbed buoyancy of trust needed for successful miracle-working away from the contagious unspirituality of the noisy throng ?
If there be any truth in this conjectural reading of these two incidents in Jesus' ministry of healing, then the exceptionalness of the sense of effort which they seem to reflect in Jesus' exercise of a miracle-working faith only serves to set in stronger relief the serene confidence by which it was usually characterized. I know of no more telling example of this habitual confidence than a story belonging to the triple tradition of which it is fashionable to entertain something more than suspicion, but the substantial authenticity of which I myself find it more difficult to deny than to admit. 29 The case for suspicion would be immeasurably stronger if the title under which the incident is usually referred to, " The Stilling of the Tempest," fairly represented the story's centre of emphasis; for it is well known how easily a tale of prodigy may grow up in a miracle-loving age. But in the story as preserved for us by Mark and Luke Matthew has unfortunately altered the order of narration the main emphasis falls not on the stilling of the tempest but on its immediate sequel, namely, the unexpected object of Jesus' astonishment and the nature of the disciples' feelings.
Let us consider for a moment the sequence of event and action as described by Mark and Luke. The elements raged ; the disciples trembled ; Jesus continued to slumber. They wakened Him with their weak but very natural appeal : " Master, carest Thou not that we perish ? " Now what, under these conditions, was the obvious course for Jesus to follow ? What was the course which, in virtue of its obviousness, would naturally have been attributed to Him if the story were mere legend ? In the judgment of our own age the obvious action for a religious teacher under such circumstances would have been to preach a sermon on the duty of trusting God in time of danger. To a prodigy-loving age, on the other hand, the obvious action might have seemed to be the Master's stilling of the tempest. But to no age would that sequence of deed and emotion seem obvious which, we are told, marked Jesus' behaviour. That which, to His own spiritual vision, shone out so luminously -the Heavenly Father holding in the hollow of His hand the little lake, the dangerous little tempest, the tiny boat with its specks of human creatures this He flashed upon the disciples' natural vision by asking that Father's hand to close upon the little tempest and crush it into stillness. And then, with never a second thought for the deed that He had done, He turned to the disciples. and asked in grieved surprise : "Why are ye fearful ? Have ye not yet faith ?
In the peculiar play of thought, action and feeling here depicted we have, I think, something too original, too distinguished, and psychologically too true to Jesus' character, to be the product of mere legend. Let us be clear about the element of originality that distinguishes Jesus' attitude as portrayed in this story.
This originality did not consist in the idea that God would interpose to rescue men from danger, for that was an idea familiar to every reader of the Old Testament. Moreover, Jesus did not believe in the danger ; in His eyes the disciples were as safe in the storm as in a calm. Again, what was new was not the idea that God would grant a sign to strengthen hard-pressed faith. For the Old Testament chronicles many examples of that idea also ; and though it was doubtless one of the conceptions which underlay Jesus' conduct on this occasion, it is not itself the feature that captures our attention. What stirs our wonder is not so much any particular idea implied in Jesus' action here as His attitude to the deed He had done His evident lack of any feeling that what had occurred was out of the common. He did not hesitate before His own audacity in expecting of the Father so unwonted an inter-position ; nor is there, after the act, any pause to recover His breath, as it were, after an exceptional venturesomeness of faith. Precisely as though the whole incident had been the most commonplace thing in the world, He turns to His disciples with nothing else interesting His mind than His perplexed astonishment at their lack of faith. It is in this feature above all that the narrative seems to me to reveal its essential authenticity. It is dominated by the originality of One for whom it was indeed a commonplace of everyday life that the Heavenly Father controls the mightiest forces of nature in the interests of human faith in the interests even of the humblest lessons which that faith needs to learn. And this attitude of Jesus toward His own deed, His conception of the event as a simple commonplace of faith, not only stamps upon the story the hallmark of genuineness, but has guarded the prodigy against bearing the evil fruit which is so apt to spring from prodigies.
I have confessed to the credence which, in spite of the contrary tendencies of our age, this story of marvel has gradually wrung from my own mind. For the purposes of the present inquiry, however, there is no need to insist upon its historical accuracy, but only upon its psycho-logical truth. If we are to credit myth-making fancy not merely with imagining the storm and its miraculous stilling, but with the consummate feat of inventing for Jesus so distinguished a way of reacting upon the human situation which the storm occasioned, at least we must grant that this feat was possible only if the invention was historically inspired. It was possible only if that attitude of Jesus to the supernatural, which the supposed legend has the genius to adapt to a setting of storm and terror, was so continually displayed by Him in all kinds of situations as to enable His generation to catch its spirit and give it lifelike embodiment in an imaginary setting. This lifelikeness is, for our argument, the vital point. Jesus was the kind of man for whom it was matter of unwavering self-evident certainty that every detail of circumstance was subject to the control of a free Fatherly omnipotence. We must hold this fact carefully in the forefront of attention if we are to hope for any success in the task now facing us of reconstructing the outlook of Jesus somewhat more concretely than was possible in the hypothetical sketch with which the preceding chapter terminated.
There is one presumption which reflection has constrained me to accept as a working principle in any attempt to interpret the career of Jesus. This is that, except where there are specific indications to the contrary, the distinctive conceptions of His thought must be presumed to have reached mature development before the beginning of His public ministry. After that date the drama of His career runs its course with such breathless rapidity as to leave no time for fresh constructive thinking. And had the teaching of events been sufficient, without the advantage of reflective leisure, to force on Jesus new conceptions, necessitating a reconstruction of His ideas, inevitably His teaching would have betrayed at times a confusion, or at least a hesitancy, of which there is no trace. Upon all fundamentals His utterances are clear and unfaltering. The only problem which to the very end He had to keep on exploring step by step was a practical one. It was the question how to apply, in carrying out the Messianic commission newly laid upon Him, the insight into principle, and into the nature of the task that would await any true Messiah, which He had gained long previously in days of unhurried reflection. Shall we, then, throw our imagination back into the unchronicled years of Jesus' earlier life, confident that in conjecturing the kind of outlook to which they would lead Him, we need do little more than subtract from His later thought any elements directly contributed by His subsequently attained certainty of Messianic vocation ?
One circumstance which has often been commented on is the total absence of anything in Jesus' recorded utterances to suggest that, like many great religious teachers, He had required to win His way to spiritual illumination through an experience of personal dispeace and clouded faith. His teaching about the Heavenly Father has the accent not of a solution painfully discovered, but of an original possession. This impression is confirmed by Luke's story of Jesus at the age of twelve. The young boy's enthralled interest in the temple, which He had so often pictured but had not visited since infancy ; His eagerness to get answers to those bafflingly direct questions of childhood's religion to which it puzzles the wisest to make reply, and which had doubtless been but perfunctorily dealt with by His teachers at Nazareth ; His absorption in these new religious surroundings, which rendered Him oblivious or indifferent to the pilgrims' simple preparations for departure ; 30 His ingenuous surprise that parents who knew His interests should, upon missing Him, have needed to make a search at large, instead of going straight to the temple, confident of finding Him in His Father's house these are notes of the little story which have a very genuine ring. They encourage us to read back into Jesus' earliest childhood that sense of intimate fellow-ship with God which so uniquely distinguishes His later years, and that vivid assurance of things unseen which receives so striking an expression in the story of the stilling of the tempest.
Such was the young life which, growing up at Nazareth, fell heir to the apocalyptical conceptions. In what way would Jesus' mind react upon them ? Of one thing we may feel quite certain. He would never rest content with that half-hearted word "soon " at which the apocalyptical logic stopped short. Vital religion refuses to be put off with evasive vaguenesses. The faith which gets no further than generalities is a faith borrowed at second-hand. Where faith is living, it insists on proceeding to particulars, on bringing general convictions to the hard test of concrete present fact. Is it an admitted truth that God grants to men who pray whatever is good for them ? Very well ! Here is something which I conceive that it would be a real blessing to receive here and now. Either I am mistaken in so thinking, or else God will grant it immediately on my request. This " either, or" is the mark of living, practical faith. It brings to grips with each other the religious conviction that God is gracious, and the practical conviction that immediate possession of this or that would be really good ; and in the case of an unanswered petition it insists that one conviction or the other must definitely give way. And when the faith is strong as well as practical, it keeps the two convictions at grips, to the great enrichment of both, until either the prayed-for boon is granted or the practical conviction discovers itself to have been mistaken. A weak or a borrowed faith quickly wearies of such an issue. It lets the unresolved " either, or " slip out of the field of attention, so that the mind may occupy itself with less taxing matters of interest. But faith that is living and practical unweariedly presses forward to certainty, certainty about God and certainty about good. So must it have been with the faith of Jesus.
Falling heir to the apocalyptical idea of an "age to come," He would find that while the assumption was everywhere current that it would be truly good if this longed-for age were immediately to be realized, the ordinary mind was content to abide in a passive puzzledness over its inscrutable deferment. On all hands men were irreligiously consenting to relegate to a vague "sometime soon " the redeeming activity of a God who is not real at all unless every present moment of our human time contains all that it can hold of His energy of self-expression. Such a situation as this Jesus would confront with the incisive " either, or " of living, practical faith. Either the anticipated "age to come " was after all something which it was not good for man to receive there and then, or else there and then the Father must be ready to give it realization. Tested by Jesus in the crucible of this "either, or," the apocalyptical ideas of what would be immediately good for man would doubtless melt into new and purified forms. But the transmutation was not so complete as to remove for Jesus all discrepancy between what was present fact of human experience and what, it seemed, ought to be present fact. Accordingly we must suppose that through all the unchronicled years of waiting His faith would maintain its tension of expectancy, becoming ever more firmly persuaded that an immediate redeeming interposition of God was a thing for which it was right to pray, and which it was an impiety not to expect. "All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for," Jesus said later to His disciples, " believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them " (Mark xi. 24). Should we not see in this and all His other arresting words about prayer an echo of earlier years of spiritual wrestling with the fact that the Day of Jehovah seemed to tarry an echo also of the assurance of petition to which He was gradually led, and of the answer with which this petition was finally honoured ?
I have said that it is characteristic of living and practical faith never to lose touch with the concrete. May not this principle carry us still further in our reconstruction of the thought of Jesus during His years of preparation ? The real man of God translates Divine omnipresence into a presence of God here and now. He does not solace himself with mere general reflections about God's Fatherliness, but expects present succour and support. He is not content with knowing that God requires men to do good, but seeks guidance as to the particular good endeavour which it is God's will that he himself should undertake. The redeeming love of God, with which in his measure he sympathizes and tries to co-operate, is a love not for man in the abstract, but for men. Now, Jesus was supremely the man of God. His faith was no mere affair of abstractions. There was never an item of life's complexity that did not mean for Him God. He never sacrificed the individual to the general mass, or the unexpected opportunity to the pre-conceived abstract programme. Without losing unity of purpose He lived from moment to moment and from individual to individual. - Such was the personality with whose later years the records make us familiar. They portray to us a soul which from moment to moment envisaged the attitude of a Heavenly Father's heart to the particular sins and miseries and the particular sinners and sufferers it beheld on every side. By carrying this characteristic of Jesus back into His unrecorded years we may find, as was claimed in the preceding chapter, a clue to the perplexing certainty of His conviction that His own generation would witness a fulfilment of their transcendent hope.
I know of no test of faith more searching and more humbling than befalls him who, living on terms of mutual liking and familiar intercourse with individuals less spiritually enlightened than himself, finds unavailing every effort to share with them that which he has spiritually received, and has to watch them missing their way in life. On behalf of humanity in the abstract it is comparatively easy to trust in God's power to save. But humanity is composed of individuals, and in the individual case one perceives in the concrete what the task of salvation means. One watches the slow atrophy of the more spiritual emotions, the definite loss of particular potentialities, the fixation of habits, the gathering downward momentum. Is a reversal of all this possible? That redeeming grace is a real fact, one may feel no doubt ; but is God able to overcome the resistance of this particular soul ? May one approach God on this individual's behalf with a faith that will take no denial ? That is a question to which I make no answer ; it is too intricately interwoven with the mystery of human freedom. But I do know how an imperfect human faith is apt to behave under the stress of such a situation. Hope wearies ; prayer flags ; wakefulness to opportunity diminishes. The missionary or minister lets individual interest lose itself in vague general endeavour. The friend who has had a religious concern for his friend grows unexpectant, and among more promising subjects of solicitude forgets him over whom he has sorrowed. Such is the way in which human faith is too prone to exhibit the weakness of its love and the poverty of its vision. But instinctively one knows that it was not thus with the faith of Jesus.
Growing up in Galilee in familiar intercourse with His neighbours, He would arrive all too quickly at a realization of how solitary was His own experience of spiritual privilege. In the faith and piety of even the most spiritually minded the sensitive ear of His soul would mark the absence of important notes of the religious harmony, while in the average case it would feel not only thinness, but painful discord. And thus listening, His soul would experience much more than discomfort and loneliness, much more even than poignant compassion. He would be oppressed by the sense of an evil, the tragic quality of which lay above all in its needlessness. On the one side He would envisage the Heavenly Father, longing for the trust and devotion of the very men whom Jesus pitied and loved. On the other side He would behold these men, misjudging that Father, thinking of Him as a Sovereign far removed and preoccupied, incurious to distinguish the individual from the throng. He would perceive how the intimacy of fellowship to which, although they dreamed not of the fact, the Heavenly Father longed to admit these very men, was precisely what they needed to set them free from the restlessness and discontent, and the particular frailties, follies and sins, over which the heart of Jesus mourned. Surely an alienation such as this was too anomalous not to be remediable ! When two parties need, and one of them desires, to be at one, surely reconciliation cannot be permanently out of reach ! In Jeremiah's picture of a New Covenant which Jehovah would one day make with His people, Jesus would find a promise for men of an intimacy of fellowship with the Father like that which He Himself enjoyed. Would not reflection on the fact that for Himself this promise was already fulfilled quicken in Him a surmise that He was thus blessed in order that He might pass on the blessing ? So, with redoubled hope, He would give Himself to prayer, in the foremost place on behalf of His immediate circle, then on behalf of His own nation of which they were a fragment, and finally on behalf of the wider world which they typified, and of which a dweller on such a high-way of commerce as Galilee could not fail to be vividly conscious. As opportunity served Him on the homely round of daily intercourse, He would seek to share with others His own peace and joy and spiritual privilege. To a disappointing extent He would fail, just as subsequently, even with His disciples, His success was but partial. Yet one is sure that such a faith as His would never despair ; it would never grow weary and cease from its quest. And, as continued meditation on His own solitariness of privilege raised to a passionate intensity His longing to end the alienation of men from God, an alienation so unjust to the Father whom He reverenced and so disastrous to the men whom He individually understood, one cannot think that this longing would lose its concreteness of reference. The humanity for which He yearned to win the New Covenant would be humanity as typified in the individuals He had known. When the vision came, in which He knew His aspiration accepted and confirmed, it would be to His own generation that He saw Himself appointed Redeemer. " Having loved His own which were in the world " of that day, He would love them " unto the end.
The picture of a New Covenant, however, did not express the whole range of that aspiration of Jesus which received conscious sanction at the Jordan's bank. At a later time He told men that if only they would seek first God's Kingdom and His righteousness, they would find all their secondary needs supplied as well (Matt. vi. 33). It would be nothing else, therefore, than an earlier application by Jesus of the same principle if, round that spiritual centre of His aspiration which we have been considering, there hung from the first a fringe of apocalyptic hope. Could the men whom He knew and loved be made ready in soul for the New Covenant, surely all other things would be added to them by a Heavenly Father who hated pain and misery, and loved to be bountiful ! Would not the glorious visions of " the age to come " be thus abundantly fulfilled ? In surmises of this kind the mind of Jesus would have the support of that speculative linking together of natural with moral evil which forms one of the deepest notes of Old Testament reflective thought. The story of the Fall of Man has for its centre of interest not the origin of sin, of which it offers no explanation, but the origin of suffering. It traces the entry into the world of death and pain and the tragedy of hampered and defeated effort to a wilful disobedience, born of man's distrustful determination to see for him-self whether the Divinely forbidden is really as dangerous and hurtful as he has been taught. If, then, some son of the Heavenly Father should receive grace to lead men back from distrustful independence to filial loyalty, might not the blessedness of Eden be restored to human experience ? Such a conjecture on the part of Jesus would be in thorough harmony with the whole outlook on human history and Divine providence which He had inherited from prophetic teaching. Moreover, it would be in affinity with a characteristic feature of His own habits of thought.
Jesus had the poetic cast of mind which is quick to find the invisible clothing itself in the visible, and for which the dividing line between material and spiritual is ever very thin. It was to this mental trait that He owed His genius for parable, His quick sensitiveness to analogies between the seen and the unseen, and His power of graphically exhibiting eternal truth in pictures with a local and temporal reference. But this characteristic of the mind of Jesus does not come to light in His parables alone. There is at least one incident of His life which, but for this characteristic, might appear unintelligible, namely, the story which has found a place in Matthew, Mark and John of an occasion when Jesus walked upon the waves. I venture to suggest a reading of this perplexing story which seems to me, by rendering it psychologically intelligible, to remove the principal difficulty in the way of an admission of its substantial historicity. Even as thus interpreted, it runs sorely counter to our naturalistic habits of thought, but so does the whole of Christianity in its redemptive aspect.
The fact that the evangelists appear somewhat at a loss what to make of the incident adds, on the reading here suggested, a touch of genuineness to the narrative. They refrain from suggesting any clear motive for Jesus' action. The disciples were put to some distress by the storm, but they are not represented as in mortal peril. Nor is any definite moral explicitly drawn, from the story. The narrators are content to chronicle it simply as a general illustration of the mysterious majesty of the Master. In this they are right. It was not, I think, with the design of succouring His disciples, or teaching them a lesson, or indeed with any self-conscious design at all, that Jesus trod the waves. From Mark's account it appears that " He would have passed by them," and might never have joined them at all, had they not cried out in terror. At that moment His mind was not with them, but alone with His Father. The significance of what He was doing was entirely a matter of His inward life ; almost involuntarily, and certainly without didactic intention, He was expressing in the poetry of action His own absorbed thought.
The immediate antecedent of Jesus' course of conduct on this occasion was the incident which, whatever may have been its precise nature, has come down to us as " the feeding of the five thousand." The key to an understanding is sup-plied by a statement made in the Fourth Gospel and corroborated by the necessity which, according to the Synoptic narrative, Jesus felt of getting rid of the presence of His disciples. This statement is to the effect that the feeding of the multitude had the disappointing consequence of stimulating the political side of their Messianic hope and leading them to canvass the idea of constraining Him to head an insurrectionary movement. Hurrying His disciples away lest their sympathy with the popular mood might render His task more difficult, Jesus succeeded in averting the immediate danger, but He did not seek to disguise from Himself the sinister significance of what had occurred. It seemed to furnish a final proof that He was going to fail in His patient effort to carry the mass of the people with Him and to render them fit to share in the New Covenant and God's Kingdom. Hence-forth the vicarious death, which (as will be argued below) He had from early years regarded as destined for any true Messiah, must be darkened in His anticipations with the shadow of a national. apostasy. This bitterness of realization must be our clue as, with a reverent effort of imagination, we seek to interpret the immediate sequel."
Having prevailed upon the excited crowd to disperse, Jesus climbed the hills that He might be alone, and might wrestle in the solitude of prayer with the situation that confronted Him. But in the loneliness of that night there was no stillness. As if to give material substance to the spiritual tempest that threatened to engulf His Messianic mission, the winds arose and howled about His place of retreat. With the whirlwind of men's vain excitement, resting on no solid basis of insight, from which He had but now escaped and to which He must presently return, there linked themselves in His mind the eddying gusts of the storm, as they sprang up seemingly from nowhere and whirled so madly around. The cold blast which struck across His face seemed alive with the venomous spite of the cruel Murderer of souls, who hated the Messiah and longed to seduce the chosen people into flinging away their birthright. The scurrying clouds that raced across the face of heaven appeared one with those follies which, born of the Tempter's art, ever chased each other across the field of man's vision, obscuring from him the true countenance of God. Out yonder on the lake Jesus could picture His disciples' frail craft, tossed and threatened by the hungry waves. Was not the fair vessel of His own life-work also at sea in this very tempest, where the material and spiritual, joined in one unholy alliance, made simultaneous war against all that to Him was dear? Far up the mountain-slopes, amid the chaos of the elements, the soul of Jesus wrestled on in solitude. And then, upon His straining faith, there fell an inward peace. He saw the tempest, both spiritual and physical, held in the hollow of His Father's hand, its noisiest fury impotent to work more than His Father's will. And Jesus arose and walked walked down the hillside walked right out into the waves !
I do not believe that He deliberately proposed to Himself to work a miracle ; I do not think that He designed to teach a lesson ; I do not find in the narratives anything to suggest such an intention. Rather would it seem that in the poet-mind of Jesus at this high-strung moment the physical storm had become inseparably one with the spiritual disturbance which imperilled His God-given mission. So it came to pass that the act of gazing calmly into the heart of that human tempest, with the sinister dangers of which His thought had been mainly concerned, worked itself out naturally, spontaneously, without pause for deliberation or conscious decision, into the act of breasting the physical storm of exultantly fighting His way through its fiercest gusts as He descended the mountain-side, and finally walking out into the very sea, to tread down with triumphant mockery those waves which He saw tossing themselves, defiantly but so impotently, in the grasp of His Father's hand.
So venturesome a reading of this strange narrative that has come down to us must of necessity remain conjectural. I have made room for it here simply as supplying, if true, a further illustration of a trait of Jesus' mind of which there is other evidence, and the influence of which on His thought it is important, for the purposes of the present chapter, that we should not overlook. For, if He was prone to conceive a sympathetic rapport between the drama of the soul and its material setting, and to be conscious of no prosaically definite boundary between the spiritual and the physical, all the more inevitably would He tend to fill in the background of Jeremiah's vision of a New Covenant with forms and colours suggestive of a sympathetic regeneration of the natural universe.
We must take quite seriously the resultant apocalyptic note in the thinking of Jesus. We do not treat it seriously if we allow ourselves to imagine that, without any creative reaction of His own mind, He took over a ready-made apocalyptical programme. That an intellect of such obvious independence and originality as His should have slavishly adhered to the letter of any apocalyptic tradition is an absurd supposition. If He shared at all in the apocalyptical impulse, it would be as One for whom imagery of an apocalyptical type was a spontaneous vehicle of self-expression. Now apocalyptical imagery was originally and essentially the language of vision and conjecture. Hence the more genuinely Jesus had imbibed the apocalyptical spirit, the more instinctively would He reserve its forms of thought for topics on which precision and certainty failed Him. Presumably it is in this instinctive faithfulness to the genius of apocalyptic, rather than in any lack of interest in apocalyptical ideas, that we are to find the explanation why there is so little of the apocalyptic element in His public teaching. The bulk of that teaching wo -uld naturally concern itself with certainties, and speculation would here be allowed to furnish no more than the minimum of imaginative drapery required to clothe those expectations which were with Jesus matters of conviction. On the other hand, in private forecasts made to His disciples of the course of coming events, and in His own thoughts about that portion of His career in preparation for which He was to undergo the "baptism " of death,33 His mind would resort freely to apocalyptic imagery, the medium appropriate for conjecture.
Considerations like these go far to relieve the perplexity with which Jesus' confident proclamation of the transcendent Kingdom of God as close at hand is apt to oppress our Christian faith. They allow us to do more than distinguish in that proclamation, as has already been done above, between what for Jesus was primary, namely, the advent of an era of spiritual blessedness, and what was secondary, namely, the sympathetic regeneration of nature. They allow us to combine with this distinction between what was of primary and what was of secondary interest to Jesus a distinction between what was essentially content of intuition or revelation and what was an intrinsically conjectural interpretation of that essential content. In saying this I do not mean to suggest that Jesus Himself consciously rated as a mere conjecture His own expectation that in winning for His contemporaries the New Covenant, He would also be ushering in the apocalyptic "age to come." I suggest only that, unself-consciously, His hold upon the two aspects of His hope would be different. He would hold the one with a grasp for which disappointment would have meant defeat and stultification, while disappointment of the other would bring only education and further enlightenment. And this would be the case simply because, in the mind of Jesus, the apocalyptic element was genuinely apocalyptical, and was, therefore, instinctively a way of expressing that which, no matter how confidently cherished, was essentially conjectural. Accordingly, we need have no timidity about admitting how largely an apocalyptical strain of thought contributed to determine the form in which Jesus expressed to Himself the blessing which He longed to see won for His own generation, and to the winning of which He came to know Himself ordained and set apart. We need not fear to recognize that what He looked to obtain for His contemporaries was not only a New Covenant, but also renewed heavens and a renewed earth. For if in this there was an undue foreshortening of His time-perspective, it was the perspective of His imaginative thought that was foreshortened. What He apprehended with the assured objectivity of direct spiritual vision He perceived in undistorted truth.
Not even the frankest recognition, however, of the apocalyptical setting in which Jesus envisaged the fulfilment of the promise of a New Covenant need blind us to the secondary place which this apocalyptical setting held in His thought and aspiration. It is no discovery of modern times that a change of heart is more important than a change of universe, and that without the former even the most ideal environment can constitute no paradise. Conceiving God habitually as the Heavenly Father, Jesus would instinctively feel that until His human children desisted from their wilfulness, that Father could not safely shower on them His gifts without reserve. From very early years, therefore, He would grow to regard as the only real obstacle to the advent of the "age to come " men's lack of that attitude toward God of confiding trust and eager loyalty which He called "faith," and so His conception of the kind of undertaking that would confront any supernaturally endowed Messiah would begin to differ notably from current ideas.
By careful analysis of Jesus' recorded utterances it has been shown, in what appears to be a conclusive manner, that one of the aspects under which, in later life, He regarded His approaching death was as a fulfilment of the great picture in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. It is not uncommon, however, to suppose that this synthesis of the conceptions of the Messiah and the suffering " Servant of Jehovah " was effected by Him only at an advanced period of His career. In a book published some years ago the present author himself subscribed to this idea, being impelled to such a hypothesis chiefly by inability otherwise to account for the note of keen disappointment, if not even of disillusionment; which becomes so distinctly audible as the tragedy thickens, and for the oppression under which the faith of Jesus appears at times to struggle at the prospect of the Cross. Any such view, however, has to reckon with the early point in Jesus' career at which Mark places the allusion to days when the bridegroom will be taken away (Mark ii. 20), an allusion which there is no independent critical warrant for post-dating. Nor is this hypothesis indispensable after all to an understanding of the note of disappointment and oppressed faith. For, even if it had been apparent to Jesus from the first that a moral and spiritual necessity required the Messiah to fill the rôle of the Suffering Servant and to accomplish His redeeming mission only at the cost of an ignominious death, still it need have appeared in no way inevitable before-hand that this death should be compassed at the instigation of the Jewish leaders and with the tacit consent of the mass of the people. In the unstable equilibrium of the relations between Rome and Palestine there was much that might conceivably give occasion for the precipitation on the Messiah of a tragic fate, in the guilt of which His own nation would have no direct share. It was, I suggest, Jesus' gradual realization that the immediate responsibility for His Divinely appointed death would lie at the door of His own people, wilfully sinning against light, that imparted to the mysterious martyrdom to which He had long dedicated Himself a new disconcertingness of horror. And in this progressive discovery may be found the secret also of the note of crushing disappointment or defeat. For, in so national an act of apostasy, Jesus saw what no religious patriot could witness without a breaking heart. In spite of this apostasy God's Kingdom would still come in that generation ; but because of this apostasy it would be a kingdom strangely different from that of prophetic vision. It would be a kingdom in which Israel as a nation could exercise no distinctive spiritual function, for as a nation she had now finally sacrificed her birthright by failing to recognize the time of her visitation,36 and had doomed herself to political extinction.
In the sense of catastrophe under which Jesus seems to have laboured as the exact nature of the coming crisis grew clearer, there is, therefore, nothing to preclude the possibility that from the first He had identified the Messiah with the Suffering Servant of Jehovah who was to win redemption for many through an unmerited death. But if we thus carry this identification right back to that early stage of His ministry to which the saying about the taking away of the bridegroom belongs, can we refuse to carry it back still further? May not Jesus have learned to identify the promised Messiah with the Suffering Servant, and to regard service as the foundation and badge of true kingship, even before He was led, by His baptismal vision, definitely to identify the Messiah with Himself? Is not this conception of the nature of the Messianic function one of those profoundly revolutionary principles for the discovery and assimilation of which the brief months of Jesus' public career leave no room, and the development of which must accordingly belong to His earlier unrecorded years ? At any rate, if there be truth in the fundamental hypothesis of the present chapter that it was from the spiritual that Jesus advanced to the apocalyptical, and that the renewed heavens and earth of His hope figured mainly as the material back-ground appropriate to the spiritual conditions of the New Covenant, the work of the coming Messiah must have appeared to Jesus from the very beginning as pre-eminently the task of redeeming men from unbelief and sin. And it is difficult to think that One who was so sensitive to the alienation of the men around Him from the Heavenly Father, and who steeped His mind so profoundly in all the greatest teaching of the Old Testament, could have failed of early realizing that any one who would win for that generation the fulfilment of promise must be the Suffering Servant as well as the supernatural Messiah.
Throughout the greater part of this chapter we have been venturesomely essaying to conjecture the path which the thought and aspiration of Jesus would follow during His unrecorded years of obscurity. To complete the main outlines of the picture only one touch is needed. The picture has shown us Jesus, by the very vitality of His faith, high-strung to prayer and expectancy. It has painted Him as cherishing a vision of the age of promise in which the material transfiguration of the universe served mainly as the imaginative background for an era of new spiritual privilege.
It has credited Him with the foresight that no Messiah could prevail to establish an age of promise so spiritually perfect as this, unless He fulfilled the rôle of the Suffering Servant of Jehovah. And the quiet years in which these conceptions were forming have not been set by our picture in an atmosphere of unpractical detachment or passive contemplation. We have envisaged Jesus as oppressed, both in His love of God and in His human affections, by the solitariness of His own experience of free fellowship with the Heavenly Father, by the barrier which seemed to hold at a distance from His Father every soul that it had been His lot to meet and know. This has led us to realize that Jesus' prayers for the advent of the age of promise would have concrete reference to the sorrows and sins and spiritual incompleteness of the men and women around Him. We have thought it not impossible that, in face of this universal need and His Father's longing to satisfy this need, meditation on His own uniqueness of religious privilege may have stirred in Jesus some pre-monition that He had so freely received in order that He might freely give, that in Him God was preparing a vessel which He might presently use to win for that generation the promised New Covenant, a Son whom He might presently anoint as Messiah to His own age. Do these rough outlines serve to make our picture a completed sketch? May our imagination now venture, without further preparation, to run forward to that day of vision when to the soul of Jesus, longing to see won for His fellows the age of promise, stirred to supreme expectancy by the Baptist's words of urgency, and self-dedicated to whatever commission His Father might lay upon Him, there came from heaven the revelation that the Messiah and Suffering Servant was indeed to be none other than Himself?
No, our picture of Jesus before His baptism needs one other line if it is to help us to seize an aspect of the occurrence by the Jordan's bank which for our purpose it is especially important not to miss. But, unlike many of the other lines of our drawing, the line needed to complete our sketch touches off a feature which is more than conjectural. That the apocalyptical aspects of the age of promise for which Jesus longed and prayed were for Him, as we have pictured them, only secondary and inferential, is at best a hypothesis of our own, no matter how well grounded ; but it is more than a hypothesis that those aspects were an actual element in Jesus' view of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom included, as part of its content, a transformation of the material universe, and its establishment was therefore a supernatural undertaking. We must not let this fact slip from our memory if we do not want to render quite unreal our conjectural picture of the kind of Messiah that Jesus must have learned to expect. If the Messiah for whom He looked was to fulfil the rôle of the Suffering Servant of Jehovah, and must have been in that respect unlike the "Son of Man" of previous apocalyptical imagination, he must nevertheless have resembled this apocalyptical " Son of Man" in being a supernatural figure, for he had a supernatural cosmic achievement to accomplish. This characteristic of the expected Messiah must have tended to exclude from Jesus' thought before His baptism any conjecture that He Himself was to be the Messianic "Son of Man," exactly as, subsequently, it stood in the way of any popular recognition of Him in that light. If, then, in spite of this obstacle, the pressure of all the conditions which we have been analyzing in this chapter was sufficient to stir in Him a premonition that the call to be God's Messiah might one day fall upon Himself, He would at least anticipate that with the call there would come a transmutation of His human nature, fitting Him for so supernatural a vocation.
Now, the outstanding feature of the revelation by which Jesus received certainty of Messianic vocation was that it falsified this anticipation. He found Himself commissioned to a super-natural achievement without any obvious transmutation of His natural constitution into something supernatural. In all other respects, if we may trust our very conjectural reconstruction of the outlook to which the quiet years of obscurity had led Him, the call which came to Jesus at His baptism was simply a ratification of the whole trend of His thought about the Heavenly Father and of His impassioned solicitude on men's behalf. But, whether our reconstruction be correct or whether it be mistaken, in any case there came to Jesus by revelation at His baptism the startling discovery that for a superhuman achievement God had chosen a human agent, that for a transcendent task God had commissioned One who was not conscious in Himself of anything unique except an utterness of self-surrender and a completeness of filial fellowship with the Father in heaven.37 God had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, the commonplace things to effect the transcendent. " The last days" had dawned, but, except for faith, they seemed exactly like other days. The Messiah had appeared, but to the eye of sense He was inconspicuous. In this lay "the mystery of the Kingdom." In this, too, lies the " mystery," or communicable secret, of Christian miracle-working. For only that man may dare, without presumption, to requisition the supernatural aid of God, who knows himself Divinely summoned to achieve what by merely natural means he cannot possibly accomplish. The call to which the wondering faith of Jesus responded on that day by the bank of Jordan was a call to achieve the impossible. Should we marvel, then, at the ringing passion with which He cried, at a later date, " All things are possible to him that believeth " ?
( 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