The Jesus of History by T. R. Glover

Contributed by Jonathon Love THE JESUS OF HISTORY FOREWORD I regard it as a high privilege to be associated with this volume. Many who know and value Mr Glover’s work on The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire must have wistfully desired to secure from his graphic pen just such a book as
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Contributed by Jonathon Love



I regard it as a high privilege to be associated with this volume. Many who know and value Mr Glover’s work on The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire must have wistfully desired to secure from his graphic pen just such a book as is here given to the world. He possesses the rare power of reverently handling familiar truths or facts in such manner as to make them seem to be almost new. There are few gifts more precious than this at a time when our familiarity with the greatest and most sacred of all narratives is a chief hindrance to our ready appreciation of its living power. I believe that no one will read Mr Glover’s chapters, and especially his description of the parable-teaching given by our Lord, without a sense of having been introduced to a whole series of fresh and fruitful thoughts. He has expanded for us, with the force, the clearness, and the power of vivid illustration which we have learned to expect from him, the meaning of a sentence in the earlier volume I have alluded to, where he insists that, “Jesus of Nazareth does stand in the centre of human history, that He has brought God and man into a new relation, that He is the present concern of every one of us and that there is more in Him than we have yet accounted for.”[1]

In accordance with its title, the single theme of the book is “The Jesus of History,” but the student or exponent of dogmatic theology will find abundant material in its pages.

I commend it confidently, both to single students and to those who nowadays, in happily increasing numbers, meet together for common study; and I congratulate those who belong to the Student Christian Movement upon this notable addition to the books published in connection with their far-reaching work.

Advent Sunday, 1916


This book has grown out of lectures upon the historical Jesus given in a good many cities of India during the winter 1915-16. Recast and developed, the lectures were taken down in shorthand in Calcutta; they were revised in Madras; and most of them were wholly re-written, where and when in six following months leisure was available, in places so far apart as Colombo, Maymyo, Rangoon, Kodaikanal, Simla, and Poona. The reader will not expect a heavy apparatus of references to books which were generally out of reach.

Here and there are incorporated passages (rehandled) from articles that have appeared in The Constructive Quarterly, The Nation, The Expositor, and elsewhere.

Those who themselves have tried to draw the likeness attempted in this book will best understand, and perhaps most readily forgive, failures and mistakes, or even worse, in my drawing. The aim of the book, as of the lectures, is, after all, not to achieve a final presentment of the historical Jesus, but to suggest lines of study that will deepen our interest in him and our love of him.

T. R. G.
POONA, August 1916



Modern study of religion
Historicity of Jesus
The gospels as historical sources Canons for the study of a historical figure A caution against antiquarianism here

References in Gospels
Utilisation of the parables to reconstruct the domestic life Nature. The city. The talk of the market

Words and looks, as recorded in the gospels Playfulness of speech
Movements of feeling
Habits of thought: e.g. Quickness. Feeling for fact. Sympathy. Imagination
His use of the Old Testament

Hardness of the human life in those times Uncertainness as to God’s plans for the nation–specially as to His purposes for the Messiah Uncertainty as to the immortality of the soul, and its destinies Re-action of all this upon life
To induce people to try to re-think God To secure the re-thinking of life from its foundations in view of the new knowledge
His personality, and his genius for friendship The disciples–the type he prefers
Intimacy, the real secret of his method His ways of speech
His seriousness
The transformation of the disciples

The Nearness of God
God’s knowledge and power
God’s throne
Jesus emphasizes mostly God’s interest in the individual–the love of God
The discovery of God
Parables of the treasure finder and the pearl merchant Faith in God
Life on the basis of God

Jesus’ sympathy with men and their troubles His feelings for the suffering and distressed His feeling for women and children
His emphasis on tenderness and forgiveness The characteristics which he values in men The value of the individual soul
Jesus and the wasted life
Zacchaeus. The woman with the alabaster box. The penitent thief

The problem of sin
John the Baptist on sin
Jesus’ psychology of sin more serious The outstanding types of sin which, according to Jesus, involve for a man the utmost risk: (a) Want of tenderness
(b) The impure imagination
(c) Indifference to truth
(d) Indecision
Jesus’ view of sin as deduced from this teaching Implication of a serious view of redemption

What the cross meant to him
The call for followers
His announcement of purpose in his life and death What he means by redemption
FACTORS IN HIS CHOICE OF THE CROSS His sense of human need
His realization of God
His recognition of his own relation to God His prayer life
The Resurrection
The new life of the disciples
The taking away of the sin of the world RE-EXAMINATION OF HIS CHOICE OF THE CROSS As it bears on the problem of pain
and of sin
and on God
How a man is to understand Jesus Christ

One rule of many races
General peace and free intercourse the world over Fusion of cultures, traditions, religions “The marriage of East and West”
(1) Its strength:
in its ancient tradition
in its splendour of art, architecture and ceremony in its oracles, healings and theophanies in its adaptability in absorbing all cults and creeds (2) Its weakness:
No deep sense of truth
No association with morality
The fear of the grave
(3) Its defence:
Plutarch–the Stoics–Neo-Platonism–the Eclectics THE VICTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
(1) Its characteristics
(2) Persecuted because it refused to compromise (3) The Christian “out-lived” the pagan “out died” him
“out-thought him”

The impulse to determine who he is, and his relation to God The records of Christian experience
The Study of the personality of Jesus Christ (a) The Gospels
(b) Christological theory a guide to experience (c) The new experience of the Reformation period Knowledge gained by the experiment comes before explanation JESUS TO BE KNOWN BY WHAT HE DOES
The forgiveness of sin, and the theories to explain it Is a Theology of Redemption possible which shall not be mainly metaphor or simile?
The approach is to be “a posterioria” In fact, God and man are only known to us in and by Jesus Only in Christ is the love of God as taught in N.T. tenable To know Jesus in what he can do, is antecedent to theory about him

Suggestions for study circle discussions




If one thing more than another marks modern thought, it is a new insistence on fact. In every sphere of study there is a growing emphasis on verification. Where a generation ago a case seemed to be closed, to-day in the light of new facts it is reopened. Matters that to our grandfathers were trivialities, to be summarily dismissed, are seriously studied. Again and again we find the most fruitful avenues opened to us by questions that another age might have laughed out of a hearing; to-day they suggest investigation of facts insufficiently known, and of the difficult connexions between them. In psychology and in medicine the results of this new tendency are evident in all sorts of ways–new methods in the treatment of the sick, new inquiries as to the origin of diseases and the possibilities of their prevention, attempts to get at the relations between the soul and body, and a very new open-mindedness as to the spiritual nature and its working and experiences. In other fields of learning it is the same.

To the modern student of man and his history the old easy way of excluding religion as an absurdity, the light prediction of its speedy, or at least its eventual, disappearance from the field of human life, and other dogmatisms of the like kind, are almost unintelligible. We realize that religion in some form is a natural working of the human spirit, and, whatever place we give to religion in the conduct of our own lives, as students of history we reckon with the religious instinct as a factor of the highest import, and we give to religious systems and organizations–above all, to religious teachers and leaders–a more sympathetic and a profounder study. Carlyle’s lecture on Muhammad, in his course on “Heroes and Hero Worship,” may be taken as a landmark for English people in this new treatment history.

The Christian Church, whether we like it or not, has been a force of unparalleled power in human affairs; and prophecies that it will no longer be so, and allegations that by now it has ceased to be so, are not much made by cautious thinkers. There is evidence that the influence of the Christian Church, so far from ebbing, is rising–evidence more obvious when we reflect that the influence of such a movement is not to be quickly guessed from the number of its actual adherents. A century and a quarter of Christian missions in India have resulted in so many converts–a million and a quarter is no slight outcome; but that is a small part of the story. All over India the old religious systems are being subjected to a new study by their own adherents; their weak points are being felt; there are reform movements, new apologetics, compromises, defences–all sorts of indications of ferment and transition. There can be little question that while many things go to the making of an age, the prime impulse to all this intellectual, religious, and moral upheaval was the faith of Christian missionaries that Jesus Christ would bring about what we actually see. They believed–and they were laughed at for their belief–that Jesus Christ was still a real power, permanent and destined to hold a larger place in the affairs of men; and we see that they were right. Jesus remains the very heart and soul of the Christian movement, still controlling men, still capturing men–against their wills very often–changing men’s lives and using them for ends they never dreamed of. So much is plain to the candid observer, whatever the explanation.

We find further, another fact of even more significance to the historian who will treat human experience with seriousness and sympathy. The cynical view that delusion and error in a real world have peculiar power in human affairs, may be dismissed; no serious student of history could hold it.

For those who believe, as we all do at heart, that the world is rational, that real effects follow real causes, and conversely that behind great movements lie great forces, the fact must weigh enormously that wherever the Christian Church, or a section of it, or a single Christian, has put upon Jesus Christ a higher emphasis–above all where everything has been centred in Jesus Christ–there has been an increase of power for Church, or community, or man. Where new value has been found in Jesus Christ, the Church has risen in power, in energy, in appeal, in victory.

Paul of Tarsus progressively found more in Christ, expected more of him, trusted him more; and his faith was justified. If Paul was wrong, how did he capture the Christian Church for his ideas? If he was wrong, how is it that when Luther caught his meaning, re-interpreted him and laid the same emphasis on Jesus Christ with his “Nos nihil sumus, Christus solus est omnia”[2], once more the hearts of men were won by the higher doctrine of Christ’s person and power, and a new era followed the new emphasis? How is it that, when John Wesley made the same discovery, and once more staked all on faith in Christ, again the Church felt the pulse of new life?

On the other hand, where through a nebulous philosophy men have minimized Jesus, or where, through some weakness of the human mind, they have sought the aid of others and relegated Jesus Christ to a more distant, even if a higher, sphere–where, in short, Christ is not the living centre of everything, the value of the Church has declined, its life has waned. That, to my own mind, is the most striking and outstanding fact in history. There must be a real explanation of a thing so signal in a rational universe.

The explanation in most human affairs comes after the recognition of the fact. There our great fact stands of the significance of Jesus Christ–a more wonderful thing as we study it more. We may fail to explain it, but we must recognize it. One of the weaknesses of the Church to-day is–put bluntly–that Christians are not making enough of Jesus Christ.

We find again that, where Jesus Christ is most real, and means most, there we are apt to see the human mind reach a fuller freedom and achieve more. There is a higher civilization, a greater emphasis on the value of human life and character, and a stronger endeavour for the utmost development of all human material, if we may so call the souls and faculties of men. Why should there be this correspondence between Jesus of Nazareth and human life? It is best brought out, when we realize what he has made of Christian society, and contrast it with what the various religions have left or produced in other regions–the atrophy of human nature.

In fine, there is no figure in human history that signifies more. Men may love him or hate him, but they do it intensely. If he was only what some say, he ought to be a mere figure of antiquity by now. But he is more than that; Jesus is not a dead issue; he has to be reckoned with still; and men who are to treat mankind seriously, must make the intellectual effort to understand the man on whom has been centred more of the interest and the passion of the most serious and the best of mankind than on any other. The real secret is that human nature is deeply and intensely spiritual, and that Jesus satisfies it at its most spiritual point.

The object before us in these pages is the attempt to know Jesus, if we can, in a more intimate and intelligent way than we have done–at least, to put before our minds the great problem, Who is this Jesus Christ? and to try to answer it.

One answer to this question is that Jesus was nothing, never was anything, but a myth developed for religious purposes; that he never lived at all. This view reappears from time to time, but so far it has not appealed to any who take a serious interest in history. No historian of the least repute has committed himself to the theory. Desperate attempts have been made to discredit the Christian writers of the first two centuries; it has been emphasized that Jesus is not mentioned in secular writers of the period, and the passage in Tacitus (“Annals”, XV:44) has been explained away as a Christian interpolation, or, more gaily, by reviving the wild notion that Poggio Bracciolini forged the whole of the “Annals”. But such trifling with history and literature does not serve. No scholar accepts the theory about Poggio–and yet if the passage about Christ is to be got rid of, this is the better way of the two; for there is nothing to countenance the view that the chapter is interpolated, or to explain when or by whom it was done–the wish is father to the thought. Christians are twice mentioned by Suetonius in dealing with Emperors of the first century, though in one passage the reading “Chrestus” for “Christus” has suggested to some scholars that another man is meant; the confusion was a natural one and is instanced elsewhere, but we need not press the matter. The argument from silence is generally recognized as an uncertain one. Sir James Melville, living at the Court of Mary, Queen of Scots, does not, I learn, mention John Knox–“whom he could not have failed to mention if Knox had really existed and played the part assigned to him by his partisans,” and so forth. It might be as possible and as reasonable to prove that the Brahmo Samaj never existed, by demonstrating four hundred years hence–or two thousand–that it is not mentioned in In Memoriam, nor in The Ring and the Book, nor in George Meredith’s, novels, nor (more strangely) in any of Mr. Kipling’s surviving works, which definitely deal with India. None of these writers, it may be replied, had any concern to mention the Brahmo Samaj. And when one surveys the Greek and Roman writers of the first century A.D. which of them had any concern to refer to Jesus and his disciples, beyond the historians who do? Indeed, the difficulty is to understand why some of these men should have written at all; harder still, why others should have wanted to read their poems and orations and commonplace books. One argument, advanced in India a few years ago, against the historical value of the Gospels may be revived by way of illustration. Would not Virgil and Horace, it was asked, have taken notice of the massacre at Bethlehem, if it was historical? Would they not? it was replied, when they both had died years before its traditional date.

But the distinction between Christian and secular writers is not one that will weigh much with a serious historian. Until we have reason to distinguish between book and book, the evidence must be treated on exactly the same principles. To say abruptly that, because Luke was a Christian and Suetonius a pagan, Luke is not worthy of the credence given to Suetonius, is a line of approach that will most commend itself to those who have read neither author. To gain a real knowledge of historical truth, the historian’s methods must be slower and more cautious, he must know his author intimately–his habits of mind, his turns of style, his preferences, his gifts for seeing the real issue–and always the background, and the ways of thinking that prevail in the background. An ancient writer is not necessarily negligible because he records, and perhaps believes, miracles or marvels or omens which a modern would never notice. It is bad criticism that has made a popular legend of the unreliable character of Herodotus. As our knowledge of antiquity grows, and we become able to correct our early impressions, the credit of Herodotus rises steadily, and to-day those who study him most closely have the highest opinion of him.

We may, then, without prejudice, take the evidence of Paul of Tarsus on the historicity of Jesus, and examine it. If we are challenged as to the genuineness of Paul’s epistles, let us tell our questioner to read them. Novels have been written in the form of correspondence; but Paul’s letters do not tell us all that a novelist or a forger would–there are endless gaps, needless references to unknown persons (needless to us, or to anybody apart from the people themselves), constant occupation with questions which we can only dimly discover from Paul’s answers. The letters are genuine letters–written for the occasion to particular people, and not meant for us. The stamp of genuineness is on them–of life, real life. The German scholar, Norden, in his Kunstprosa, says there is much in Paul that he does not understand, but he catches in him again after three hundred years that note of life that marks the great literature of Greece. That is not easily forged. Luther and Erasmus were right when they said–each of them has said it, however it happened–that Paul “spoke pure flame.” The letters, and the theology and its influence, establish at once Paul’s claim to be a historical character. We may then ask, how a man of his ability failed to observe that a non-historical Jesus, a pure figment, was being palmed off on him–on a contemporary, it should be marked–and by a combination of Jesus’ own disciples with earlier friends of Paul, who were trying to exterminate them. Paul knew priests and Pharisees; he knew James and John and Peter; and he never detected that they were in collusion, yes, and to the point of martyring Stephen–to impose on him and on the world a non-historical Jesus. To such straits are we brought, if Jesus never existed. History becomes pure nonsense, and knowledge of historical fact impossible; and, it may be noted, all knowledge is abolished if history is beyond reach.

But we are not dependent on books for our evidence of the historicity of Jesus. The whole story of the Church implies him. He is inwrought in every feature of its being. Every great religious movement, of which we know, has depended on a personal impulse, and has behind it some real, living and inspiring personality. It is true that at a comparatively late stage of Hinduism a personal devotion to Shri Krishna grew up, just as in the hour of decline of the old Mediterranean paganism we find Julian the Apostate using a devotional language to Athena at Athens that would have astonished the contemporaries of Pericles. But Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad stand on a very different footing from Krishna and Athena, even if we concede the view of some scholars that Krishna was once a man, and the contention of Euhemerus, a pre-Christian Greek, that all the gods had once been human. If we posit that Jesus did not exist, we shall be involved other difficulties as to the story of the Church. Mr. F. C. Conybeare, an Oxford scholar avowedly not in allegiance to the Christian Church, has characterized some of the reconstructions made by contemporary anti-Christian writers as more miraculous than the history they are trying to correct.

We come now to the Gospels; and in what follows, and throughout the book, we shall confine ourselves the first three Gospels. Great as has been, and must be, the influence of the Fourth Gospel, in the present stage of historical criticism it will serve our purpose best to postpone the use of a source which we do not fully understand. The exact relations of history and interpretation in the Fourth Gospel–the methods and historical outlook of the writer–cannot yet be said to be determined. “Only those who have merely trifled with the problems it suggests are likely to speak dogmatically upon the subject.”[3] This is not to abandon the Fourth Gospel; for it is a document which we could not do without in early Church History, and which has vindicated its place in the devotional life in every Christian generation. But, for the present, the first Three Gospels will be our chief sources.

The Gospels have, of course, been attacked again and again. Sober criticism has raised the question as to whether here and there traces may be found of the touch of a later hand–for example, were there two asses or one, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem? has the baptismal formula at the end of Matthew been adjusted to the creed of Nicaea? In the following pages the attempt will be made to base what is said not on isolated texts, which may–and of course may not–have been touched, but on the general tenor of the books. A single episode or phrase may suffer change from a copyist’s hand, from inadvertence or from theological predilection. The character of the Personality set forth in the Gospels is less susceptible of alteration.

This point is at once of importance, for the suggestion has been made that we cannot be sure of any particular statement, episode, incident or saying in the Gospels–taken by itself. Let us for the moment imagine a more sweeping theory still–that no single episode incident or saying of Jesus in the Gospels is authentic at all. What follows? The great historian, E. A. Freeman of Oxford, once said that a false anecdote may be good history; it may be sound evidence for character, for, to obtain currency, a false anecdote has also to true; it must be, in our proverbial phrase, “if not true, well invented.” Even if exaggeration and humour contribute to give it a twist, the essence of parody is that it parodies–it must conform to the original even where it leaves it. A good story-teller will hardly tell the same story of Mr. Roosevelt and the Archbishop of Canterbury–unless it happens to be true, and then he will be cautious. “Truth,” to quote another proverb, “is stranger than fiction”; because fiction has to go warily to be probable, and must be, more or less, conventional. The story a man invents about another has to be true in some recognizable way to character–as a little experiment in this direction will show. The inventor of a story must have the gift of the caricaturist and of the bestower of nicknames; he must have a shrewd eye for the real features of his victim. Jesus, then, was a historical person; and about him we have a mass of stories in the Gospels, which our theory for the moment asks us to say are all false; but they have a certain unity of tone, and they agree in pointing to a character of a certain type, and the general aspects and broad outlines of that character they make abundantly clear. Even on such a hypothesis we can know something of the character of Jesus. But the hypothesis is gratuitous, and absurd, as the paragraphs that follow may help to show. The Gospels are essentially true and reliable records of a historical person.

A survey of some of the outstanding features of the Gospels should do something to assure their reader of their historical value. But there is a necessary caution to be given at this moment. When Aristotle discusses happiness, he adds a curious limitation–“as the man of sense would define.” He postulates a certain intelligence of the matter in hand. Similarly Longinus, the greatest of ancient critics, says that in literature sure judgement is the outcome of long experience. In matters of historical and literary criticism, a certain instinct is needed, conscious or unconscious, perhaps more often the latter, which without a serious interest and a long experience no man is likely to have.

The Gospels are not properly biographies; they consist of collections of reminiscences–memories and fragments that have survived for years, and sometimes the fragment is little more than a phrase. Such and such were the circumstances, and Jesus spoke–a story that may occupy four or five verses, or less. Something happened, Jesus said or did something that impressed his friends, and they could never forget it. The story, as such impressions do, keeps its sharp edges. Date and perhaps even place may be forgotten, but the look and the tone of the speaker are indelible memories. In the experience of every man there are such moments, and the reminiscences can be trusted. The Gospels are almost avowedly not first-hand. Peter is said to be behind Mark; Mark and at least one other are behind Matthew and Luke. Luke in his preface explains his methods. They are collectors and transmitters; and the indications–are that they did their work very faithfully. There is a simplicity and a plainness about the stories in the Gospels, which further guarantees them. It is remarkable how little of the adjective there is–no compliment, no eulogy, no heroic touches, no sympathetic turn of phrase, no great passages of encomium or commendation. It is often said about the Greek historian, Thucydides, that, among his many intellectual judgements, he never offers a criticism of any act that implies moral approbation or disapprobation; that he says nothing to show that he had feelings or that he cared about questions of right and wrong. Page after page of Thucydides will make the reader tingle with pity or indignation; there is hardly in literature so tragic a story as the Syracusan expedition–and the writer did not feel! Is it not the sternest and deepest feeling, after all, when a man will not “unpack his heart with words”? Something of this kind we find in the Gospels. There is not a word of condemnation for Herod or Pilate, for priest or Pharisee; not a touch of sympathy as the nails are driven through those hands; a blunt phrase about the soldiers, “And sitting down they watched him there” (Matt. 26:36)–that is all. (From a literary point of view, what a triumph of awful, quiet objectivity! and they had no such aim.) Luke indeed has one slight touch that might be called irony[4]–“And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:25)–and yet the irony is in the story itself. “Why callest thou me good?” So it is recorded that Jesus once answered a compliment (Matt. 19:17); and it looks as if the mood had passed over to his intimates, and from them to their friends who wrote the Gospels. He meant too much for them to seek the facile relief of praise. The words of praise die away, yes, and the words of affection too; and their silence and self-restraint are in themselves evidence of their truth; and more winning than words could have been.

Here and there the Gospels keep a phrase actually used by Jesus, and in his native Aramaic speech. The Greek was not apt to use or quote foreign phrases–unlike the Englishman who “has been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps.” Why, then, do the Evangelists, writing for Greek readers, keep the Aramaic sentences? It looks like a human instinct that made Peter–if, as we are told, he had some part in the origination of Mark’s Gospel–and the rest wish to keep the very words and tones of their Master, as most of us would wish to keep the accents and phrases of those we love. Was there no satisfaction to the people who had lived with Jesus, when they read in Mark the very syllables they had heard him use, and caught his great accents again? Is there not for Christians in every age a joy and an inspiration in knowing the very sounds his lips framed? The first word that his mother taught him survives in Abba (Father)–something of his own speech to let us begin at the beginning; something, again, that takes us to the very heart of him at the end, in his cry: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani (Mark 15:34). Is it not true that we come nearer to him in that cry in the language strange to us, but his own? Would not the story, again, be poorer without the little tender phrase that he used to the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:41).

From time to time we find in the Gospels matters for which the writers and those behind them have felt that some apology or at least some explanation was needed. His friendship for sinners was a taunt against him in his lifetime; so was his inattention to the Sabbath (Mark 2:24, 3:2), and the details of ceremonial washing (Mark 7:1-5). The faithful record of these is a sound indication both of the date[5] and of the truth of the Gospels. But these were not all. Celsus, in 178 A.D., in his True Word, mocked at Jesus because of the cry upon the cross; he reminded Christians that many and many a worthless knave had endured in brave silence, and their Great Man cried out. It was from the Gospels that his knowledge came (Mark 15:37). Even during his lifetime the Gospels reveal much about Jesus that in contemporary opinion would degrade him–sighs and tears and fatigue, liability to emotion and to pain, friendship with women.

With these revelations of character we may group passages where the Gospels tell of Jesus surprising or shocking his disciples–startling them by some act or some opinion, for which they were not prepared, or which was contrary to common belief or practice–passages, too, where he blames or criticizes them for conventionality or unintelligence.

It has been remarked that the frequency and fidelity of Jesus’ own allusions to country life, his illustrations from bird and beast and flower, and the work of the farm, are evidence for the genuineness of the tradition. Early Christianity, as we see already in the Acts of the Apostles, was prevailingly urban. Paul aimed at the great centres of population, where men gathered and from which ideas spread. The language of Paul in his epistles, the sermons inserted by Luke in the Acts, writings that survive of early Christians, are all in marked contrast to the speech of Jesus in this matter of country life. When we recall the practice of ancient historians of composing speeches for insertion in their narratives, and weigh the suggestion that the sermons in the Acts may conceivably owe much to the free rehandling of Luke or may even be his own compositions, there is a fresh significance in his marked abstention from any such treatment of the words of Jesus. It means that we may be secure in using them as genuine and untouched reproductions of what he said and thought.

This leads us to another point. The central figure of the Gospels must impress every attentive reader as at least a man of marked personality. He has his own attitude to life, his own views of God and man and all else, and his own language, as we shall see in the pages that follow. So much his own are all these things that it is hard to imagine the possibility of his being a mere literary creation, even if we could concede a joint literary creation by several authors writing independent works. Indeed, when we reflect on the character of the Gospels, their origin and composition, and then consider the sharp, strong outlines of the personality depicted, we shall be apt to feel his claim to historicity to be stronger than we supposed.

Finally, two points may be mentioned. The Church from the very start accepted the Gospels. Two of them were written by men in Paul’s own personal circle (Philemon 24; Col. 4:10, 14). All found early acceptance and wide use,[6] and after a century we find Irenaeus maintaining that four Gospels are necessary, and are necessarily all–there are four points of the compass, seasons and so forth; therefore it is appropriate that there are four Gospels. The argument is not very convincing; but that such an argument was possible is evidence to the position of the Gospels as we have them. We must remember the solidarity of that early Church. The constituency, for which the Gospels were written, was steeped in the tradition of Jesus’ life, and the Christians accepted the Gospels, as embodying what they knew; and there were still survivors from the first days of the Gospel. When Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published, the great painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, a lifelong friend of Johnson, said it might be depended upon as if delivered upon oath; Burke too had a high opinion of the book. In the same way the Gospels come recommended to us by those who knew Jesus, though, it is true, we do not know their names.

The Gospels do not tell us all that Christians thought of Jesus, but they imply more than they say. The writers limited themselves. That Luke, for years a friend of Paul’s, so generally kept his great friend’s theology, above all his Christology, out of his Gospel, is significant. It does not mean divergence of view. More reasonably we may conclude something else: he held to his literary and other authorities, and he was content; for he knew to what the historical Jesus brings men–to new life and larger views, to a series of new estimates of Jesus himself. He left it there. In what follows, we must not forget in our study that behind the Gospels, simple and objective as they are, is the larger experience of the ever-working Christ.

There are three canons which may be laid down for the study of any human character, whether of the past or of to-day. They are so simple that it may hardly seem worth while to have stated them; yet they are not always very easy to apply. Without them the acutest critic will fail to give any sound account of a human character.

First of all, give the man’s words his own meaning. Make sure that every term he uses has the full value he intends it to carry, connotes all he wishes it to cover, and has the full emotional power and suggestion that it has for himself. Two quite simple illustrations may serve. The English-born clergyman in Canada who spoke of a meeting of his congregation as a “homely gathering” did not produce quite the effect he intended; “home-like” is one thing in Canada, “homely” quite another, and the people laughed at the slip–they knew, what he did not, that “homely” meant hard-featured and ugly. My other illustration will take us towards the second canon. I remember, years ago, a working-man of my own city talking a swift, impulsive Socialism to me. He was young and something of a poet. He got in return the obvious common sense that would be expected of a mid-Victorian, middle-aged and middle-class. And then he began to talk of hunger–the hunger that haunted whole streets in our city, where they had indeed something to eat every day, but never quite enough, and the children grew up so–the hunger that he had experienced himself, for I knew his story. With his eyes fixed on me, he brought home to me by the quiet intensity of his speech–whether he knew what he effected or not–that he and I gave hunger different senses. He gave the word for me a new meaning, with the glimpse he gave me of his experience. Since then I have always felt, when men fling theories out like his–schemes, too, like his–wild and impracticable: “Ah, yes! what is at the heart of it all? What but this awful experience which they have known and you have not–the sight of your own folk hungering, life and faculty wasted for want of mere food, and children growing up atrophied from the cradle”? It is not easy to dissociate the language and the terms of others from the meaning one gives to them oneself; it means intellectual effort and intellectual discipline, a training of a strenuous kind in sympathy and tenderness; but if we are to be fair, it must be done. And the rule applies to Jesus also. Have we given his meaning to his term–force, value, emotion, and suggestion? In a later chapter we shall have to concentrate on one term of his–God–and try to discover what he intends that term to convey.

The second canon is: Make sure of the experience behind the thought. How does a man come to think and feel as he does? That is the question antecedent to any real criticism. What is it that has led him to such a view? It is more important for us to determine that, than to decide at once whether we think him right or wrong. Again and again the quiet and sympathetic study of what a man has been through will modify our judgement upon his conclusions; it will often change our own conclusions, or even our way of thinking. We have, then, to ask ourselves, What is the experience that leads Jesus to speak as he does, to think as he does? In his case, as in every other, the central and crucial question is, What is his experience of God? In other words, What has he found in God? what relations has he with God? What does he expect of God? What is God to him? Such questions, if we are candid and not too quick in answering, will take us a long way. It was once said of a man, busy with some labour problem, that he was “working it out in theory, unclouded by a single fact.” Is it not fair to say that many of our current judgements upon Jesus Christ are no better founded? Can we say that we have any real, sure, and intimate knowledge of his experience of God? The old commentator, Bengel, wrote at the beginning of his book that a man, who is setting out to interpret Scripture, has to ask “by what right” he does it. What is our right to an opinion on Jesus Christ?

The third canon will be: Ask of what type and of what dimensions the nature must be, that is capable of that experience and of that language. One of the commonest sources of bad criticism is the emphasis on weak points. The really important thing in criticism is to understand the triumphs of the poet or painter, let us say, whom we are studying. How came he to achieve poem or picture, so profound and so true? In what does he differ from other men, that he should do work so fundamental and so eternal? Lamb’s punning jest at Wordsworth–that Wordsworth was saying he could have written Hamlet, if he had had the mind–puts the matter directly. What is the mind that can do such things? The historian will have to ask himself a similar question about Jesus.

Here we reach a point where caution is necessary. Will the Jesus we draw be an antiquary’s Jesus–an archaic figure, simple and lovable perhaps, but quaint and old-world–in blunt language, outgrown? A Galilean peasant, dressed in the garb of his day and place, his mind fitted out with the current ideas of his contemporaries, elevated, it may be, but not essentially changed? A dreamer, with the clouds of the visionaries and apocalyptists ever in his head? When we look at the ancient world, the great men are not archaic figures. Matthew Arnold found in Homer something of the clearness and shrewdness of Voltaire. There is thing archaic about Plato or Virgil or Paul–to keep abreast of their thinking is no easy task for the strongest of our brains, so modern, eternal, and original they are. They have shaped the thinking of the world and are still shaping it. How much more Jesus of Nazareth! When we make our picture of him, does it suggest the man who has stirred mankind to its depths, set the world on fire (Luke 12:49), and played an infinitely larger part in all the affairs of men than any man we know of in history? Is it a great figure? Does our emphasis fall on the great features of that nature–are they within our vision, and in our drawing? Does our explanation of him really explain him, or leave him more a riddle? What do we make of his originality? Is it in our picture? What was it in him that changed Peter and James and John and the rest from companions into worshippers, that in every age has captured and controlled the best, the deepest, and tenderest of men? Are we afraid that our picture will be too modern, too little Jewish? These are not the real dangers. Again, and again our danger is that we under-estimate the great men of our race, and we always lose by so doing. That we should over-estimate Jesus is not a real risk; the story of the Church shows that the danger has always been the other way. But not to under-estimate such a figure is hard. To see him as he is, calls for all we have of intellect, of tenderness, of love, and of greatness. It is worth while to try to understand him even if we fail. God, said St. Bernard, is never sought in vain, even when we do not find Him. Jesus Christ transcends our categories and classification; we never exhaust him; and one element of Christian happiness is that there is always more in him than we supposed.



It has been remarked as an odd thing by some readers that the Gospels tell us so little of the childhood of Jesus. It must be remembered, however, that they are not really biographies, even of the ancient order–still less of that modern kind, in which the main concern is a tracing of the psychological development of the man. Plutarch, the prince of ancient biographers, put fact and eulogy together, cited characteristic sayings or doings of his hero, quoted contemporary judgements, and wove the whole into a charming narrative, good to read, pleasant to remember, perhaps not without use as a lesson in conventional morality; but with little real historical criticism in it, and as little, or less, attempt at any effective reconstruction of a character. His biography of Pericles illustrates his method and his defects.

The writers of the Gospels did not altogether propose biography as their object either in the ancient or the modern style. They left out–perhaps because it did not survive–much about the life of Jesus that we should like to know. The treatment of Mark by Matthew shows a certain matter-of-fact habit, which explains the obvious want of interest in aspects of the life and mind of Jesus that would to a modern be fascinating. They are dealing with the earthly life of the Son of God–and they deal with it with a faithfulness to tradition and reminiscence, which is, when we really consider it, quite surprising. But it is the heavenward side of the Master that mattered to them most, and it is perhaps not a mere random guess that they were not in any case so aware of the interest of childhood and of children as Jesus was. Matthew and Luke record the miraculous birth, and each adds a story, that has never failed to fascinate men, of the Magi or the Shepherds who came to the manger cradle. Luke gives one episode of Jesus’ childhood. That is all.

The writers of the Apocryphal Gospels did their best to fill the gap by inventing or developing stories, pretty, silly, or repellent, which only show how little they understood the original Gospels or the character of Jesus.

But when we turn to the parables of Jesus, and ask ourselves how they came to be what they are, by what process of mind he framed them, and where he found the experience from which one and another of them spring, it is at once clear that a number of them are stories of domestic life, and the question suggests itself, Why should he have gone afield for what he found at home? If we know that he grew up in the ordinary circle of a home, and then find him drawing familiar illustrations from the common scenes of home, the inference is easy that he is going back to the remembered daily round of his own boyhood.

In stray hints the Gospels give us a little of the framework of that boyhood in Nazareth. The elder Joseph early disappears from the story, and we find a reference to four brothers and several sisters. “Is not this the carpenter?” people at Nazareth asked, “the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph, and of Judah and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3); Matthew adds a word that may or may not be significant “his sisters are they not all with us?” (Matt. 13:56). In ancient times a particular view of the Incarnation, linked with other contemporary views of celibacy and the baseness of matter, led men to discover or invent the possibility that these brothers and sisters were either the children of Joseph by a former wife, or the cousins of Jesus on his mother’s side.[7] That cousins in some parts of the world actually are confused in common speech with brothers may be admitted; but to the ordinary Greek reader “brothers” meant brothers, and “cousins” something different. No one, not starting with the theories of St. Jerome, let us say, on marriage and matter and the decencies of the Incarnation, would ever dream from the Greek narrative of the episode of the critical neighbours at Nazareth, who will not accept Jesus as a prophet because they know his family–a delightfully natural and absurd reason, with history written plain on the face of it–that Jesus had no brothers, only cousins or half-brothers at best. When History gives us brothers, and Dogma says they must be cousins–in any other case the decision of the historian would be clear, and so it is here.

We have then a household–a widow with five sons and at least two, or very likely more, daughters. Jesus is admittedly her eldest son, and is bred to be a carpenter; and a carpenter he undoubtedly was up to, we are told, about thirty years of age (Luke 3:23). The dates of his birth and death are not quite precisely determined, and people have fancied he may have been rather older at the beginning of his ministry. For our purposes it is not of much importance. The more relevant question for us is: How came he to wait till he was at least about thirty years old before he began to teach in public? One suggested answer finds the impulse, or starting-point, of his ministry in the appearance of John the Baptist. It is a simpler inference from such data as we have that the claims of a widowed mother with six or seven younger children, a poor woman with a carpenter’s little brood to bring up, may have had something to do with his delay. In any case, the parables give us pictures of the undeniable activities of the household.

A group of parables and other allusions illustrate the life of woman as Jesus saw it in his mother’s house. He pictures two women grinding together at the mill (Luke 17:35), and then the heating of the oven (Matt. 6:30)–the mud oven, not unlike the “field ovens” used for a while by the English army in France in 1915, and heated by the burning of wood inside it, kindled with “the grass of the field.” Meanwhile the leaven is at work in the meal where the woman hid it (Matt. 13:33), and her son sits by and watches the heaving, panting mass–the bubbles rising and bursting, the fall of the level, and the rising of other bubbles to burst in their turn–all bubbles. Later on, the picture came back to him–it was like the Kingdom of God–“all bubbles!” said the disappointed, but he saw more clearly. The bubbles are broken by the force of the active life at work beneath–life, not death, is the story. The Kingdom of God is life; the leaven is of more account than any number of bubbles. And we may link all these parables from bread–making with what he says of the little boy asking for bread (Matt. 7:9)–the mother fired the oven and set the leaven in the meal long before the child was hungry; she looked ahead and the bread was ready. Is not this written also in the teaching of Jesus–“your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:32)? God, he holds, is as little taken aback by his children’s needs as Mary was by hers, and the little boys did not did not confine their demands to bread–they wanted eggs and fish as well (Matt. 7:10; Luke 11:11, 12; and cf. John 6:9)–there was no end to their healthy appetites. It is significant that he mentions the price of the cheapest flesh food used by peasants (Luke 12:6). They also wanted clothes, and wore them as hard as boys do. The time would come when new clothes were needed; but why could not the old ones be patched, and passed down yet another stage? And his mother would smile–and perhaps she asked him to try for himself to see why; and he learnt by experiment that old clothes cannot be patched beyond a certain point, and later on he remembered the fact, and quoted it with telling effect (Mark 2:21). He pictures little houses (Luke 11:5-7) and how they are swept (Luke 11:25)–especially when a coin has rolled away, into a dusty corner or under something (Luke 15:8); and candles, and bushels (Matt. 5:15), and beds, and moth, and rust (Matt. 6:19) and all sorts of things that make the common round of life, come into his talk, as naturally as they did into his life.

The carpenter’s shop, we may suppose, was close to the house–a shop where men might count on good work and honest work; and what memories must have gathered round it! Is it fanciful to suggest that what the churches have always been saying, about “Coming to Jesus,” began to be said in a natural and spontaneous way in that shop? Those little brothers and sisters did not always agree, and tempers would now and then grow very warm among them (cf. Luke 7:39). And then the big brother came and fetched them away from the little house to the shop, and set one of them to pick up nails, and the other to sweep up shavings–to help the carpenter. They helped him. Like small boys, when they help, they got in his road at every turn. But somehow they slipped back to a jolly frame of mind. The big brother told them stories, and they came back different people. I can picture a day when there was a woman in the little house, weary and heavy-laden, and the door opened, and a cheery, pleasant face looked in, and said, “Won’t you come and talk to me?” And she came and talked with him and life became a different thing for her. Are these pictures fanciful–mere imagination? Are we to think that all the tenderness of Jesus came to him by a miracle when he was thirty years of age? Must we not think it was all growing up in that house and in that shop? Or did he never tell a story–he who tells them so charmingly–till he wanted parables? We have to note, at the same time, some elements of criticism of the elder brother in the family attitude, some defect of sympathy and failure to understand him, even if kindness prompted their action in later days (Mark 3:21, 31).

Nazareth lies in a basin among hills, from the rim of which can be seen to the southward the historic plain of Esdraelon, and eastward the Jordan valley and the hills of Gilead, and westward the Mediterranean. On great roads, north and south of the town’s girdle of hills, passed to and fro the many-coloured traffic between Egypt and Mesopotamia and the Orient. Traders, pilgrims, Herods–“the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” (Matt. 6:8)–all within reach, and travelling no faster as a rule than the camel cared to go–they formed a panorama of life for a thoughtful and imaginative boy. More than one allusion to king’s clothes comes in his recorded teaching (Matt. 6:29, 11:8), and it was here that he saw them–and noticed them and remembered. One is struck with the amount of that unconscious assimilation of experience which we find in his words, and which is in itself an index to his nature. We are not expressly told that he sought the sights that the road afforded; but it would be hard to believe that a bright, quick boy, with genius in him, with poetry in him, with feeling for the real and for life, never went down on to that road, never walked alongside of the caravans and took note of the strange people “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (Luke 13:29)–Nubians, Egyptians, Romans, Gauls, Britons, and Orientals.[8] In the one anecdote that survives of his boyhood, we find men “astonished at his understanding” (Luke 2:47), his gift for putting questions, and his comments on the answers; and all life through he had a genius for friendship.

When we consider how Jesus handles Nature and her wilder children in his parables, another point attracts attention. Men vary a great deal in this. To take two of the Old Testament prophets, we find a marked difference here between Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Ezekiel “puts forth a riddle and speaks a parable” about an eagle–a frankly heraldic eagle, that plants a tree-top in a city of merchants (Ezek. 17:2-5). Jeremiah is obviously country-bred. He might have been surprised, if he had been told how often he illustrates his thought from bird and beast and country life–and always with a certain life-like precision and a perfectly clear sympathy.

In the Gospels we find again the same faithfulness to living nature, another country-bred boy with the same love for bird and beast and the wild, open countryside.

The Earth
And common face of Nature spake to me Rememberable things.[9]

Nature is enough for Jesus as for Jeremiah; she needs no remodelling, no heraldic paints–“long pinions of divers colours”–she will do as she is; she is just splendid and lovable and true as God made her; and she slides into his mind whenever he is deeply moved. Think of all the parables he draws from Nature–the similes, metaphors, and illustrations; every one of them will bear examination, and means more the nearer we look into it, and the better we know the living thing behind. The eagle, in Jesus’ sentence, plants no trees, but it has the living bird’s instinct for carrion; the ancient Greek historian and Lord Roberts at Delhi in 1858 remarked that “wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luke 17:37). In India that year, it was said, they gathered from all over to Delhi. What brought them? Instinct, we say; and we find Jesus, in that rather dark sentence, suggesting somehow that there is an instinct which knows “where.” And sheep and cows and asses, and hens and sparrows, and red sunsets, fill men’s reminiscences of his talk; and we may safely conclude that, when allusions are so many in fragments of conversation preserved as these are, the man’s speech and mind were attuned to the love of bird and beast.

Is there another teacher of those times who is at all so sure that God loves bird and flower? The Greek poet Meleager of Gadara–not so very far removed from Jesus in space of time–has a good deal to say about flowers, but not at all in the same sense as Jesus, not with any feeling such as his for the immortal hand and eye that planned their symmetry, and their colours and sweetness. St. Paul is conspicuously a man of the town–“a citizen of no mean city” (Acts 21:39), and he dismisses the animals abruptly (1 Cor. 9:9); he has hardly an allusion to the familiar and homely aspects of Nature, so frequent and so pleasant in the speech of Jesus. He finds Nature, if not quite “red in tooth and claw”, yet groaning together, subject to vanity, in bondage to corruption, travailing in pain, looking forward in a sort of desperate hope to a freedom not yet realized (Rom. 8:19-24). Nature is far less tragic for Jesus, far happier–perhaps because he knew nature on closer terms of intimacy; Nature, as he portrays things, is in nearer touch with the Heavenly Father than we should guess from Paul[10], and there is no hint in his recorded words that he held the ground to be under a curse. If we are to use abstract terms and philosophize his thought a little, we may agree that the four facts Jesus notes in Nature are its mystery, its regularity, its impartiality, and its peacefulness[11]. What he finds in Nature is not unlike what Wordsworth also finds–

A Power
That is the visible quality and shape And image of right reason; that matures Her processes by steadfast laws; gives birth To no impatient or fallacious hopes,
No heat of passion or excessive zeal, No vain conceits; provokes to no quick turns Of self-applauding intellect; but trains To meekness, and exalts by humble faith; Holds up before the mind intoxicate
With present objects, and the busy dance Of things that pass away, a temperate show Of objects that endure?[12]

This is not a passage that one could imagine the historical Jesus speaking, or, still less, writing; but the essential ideas chime in with his observation and his attitude “for the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear” (Mark 4:28). Man can count safely on earth’s co-operation. From it all, and in it all, Jesus read deep into God’s mind and methods.

It has often been remarked how apt Jesus was to go away to pray alone in the desert or on the hillside, in the night or the early dawn–probably no new habit induced by the crowded days of his ministry, but an old way of his from youth. The full house, perhaps, would prompt it, apart from what he found in the open. St. Augustine, in a very appealing confession, tells us how his prayers may be disturbed if he catch sight of a lizard snapping up flies on the wall of his room (Conf., 10:35, 57). The bird flying to her nest, the fox creeping to his hole (Luke 9:58)–did these break into the prayers of Jesus–and with what effect? Was it in such hours that he learnt his deepest lessons from the birds and the lilies of the field? Why not? As he sat out in the wild under the open sky, did the stars never speak to him, as to Hebrew psalmist and Roman Virgil?

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers. The moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Psalm 8:3-4.)

It is a question men have to meet and face; and if we can trust Matthew’s statement, an utterance of his in later years called out by the sneer of a Pharisee, shows how he had made the old poet’s answer his own:–

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise (Matt. 21:16).

If this were a solitary utterance of his thought upon Nature, it might be ranked with one or two pointed citations he made of the letter of the Old Testament; but it is safe, perhaps, to take it as one of many indications of his communion with God in Nature. The wind blowing in the night where it listed–must we authenticate every verse of the Fourth Gospel before we believe that he listened to it also and caught something? At any rate, in later years, when his friends are over-driven and weary, quiet and open-air in a desert place are what he prescribes for them and wishes to share with them–surely a hint of old experience (Mark 6:31).

But now let us turn back to Nazareth, for, as the Gospel reminds us, there he grew up. “The city teaches the man,” said the old Greek poet Simonides; and it does, as we see, and more than we sometimes realize. Jesus grew up in an Oriental town, in the middle of its life–a town with poor houses, bad smells, and worse stories, tragedies of widow and prodigal son, of unjust judge and grasping publican–yes, and comedies too. We know at once from general knowledge of Jewish life and custom, and from the recorded fact that he read the Scriptures, that he went to school; and we could guess, fairly safely, that he played with his school-fellows, even if he had not told us what the games were at which they played:–

At weddings and at funerals,
As if his life’s vocation
Were endless imitation.

Sometimes the children were sulky and would not play (Luke 7:32). How strange, and how delightful, that the great Gospel, full of God’s word for mankind, should have a little corner in it for such reminiscences of children’s games! We cannot suppose that he had access to many books, but he knew the Old Testament, well and familiarly–better and more aptly than some people expected. Traces of other books have been found in his teaching, not many and some of them doubtful. Generally one would conclude that, apart from the Old Testament, his education was not very bookish–he found it in home and shop, in the desert, on the road, and in the market-place.

It is interesting to gather from the Gospel what Jesus says of the talk of men, and it is surprising to find how much it is, till we realize how very much in ancient times the city was the education, and the market-place the school, where some of the most abiding lessons were learnt. Is it not so still in the East? Here was a boy, however, who watched men and their words more closely than they guessed, on whose ears words fell, not as old coinages, but as new minting, with the marks of thought still rough and bright on them–indexes to the speaker.

Proverbs of the market every people has of its own. “It is nought, it is nought, saith the buyer, but, after he is gone his way, then he boasteth.” And the seller has all the variants of caveat emptor ready to retort. In antiquity, and in the East to-day, apart from machine-made things, we find the same uncertainty in most transactions as to the value of the article, the same eagerness of both seller and buyer to get at the supposed special knowledge of the other, and the same preliminary skirmish of proposal, protest, offer, refusal, and oath. Jesus stands by the stall, watching some small sale with the bright, earnest eyes which we find so often in the Gospels. The buyer swears “on his head” that he will not give more than so much; then, “by the altar” he won’t get the thing. “By the earth” it isn’t worth it; “by the heaven” the seller gave that for it. So the battle rages, and at last the bargain is struck. The buyer raises his price; the seller takes less than he gave for the thing; neither has believed the other, but each, as the keen eyes of the onlooker see, feels he has over-reached the other. Heaven has been invoked–and what is Heaven? As the words fell on the listener’s ears, he saw the throne of God, and on it One before whose face Heaven itself and earth will flee away–and be brought back again for judgement. And by Heaven, and by Him who sits on the Throne, men will swear falsely for an “anna” or two. How can they? It is because “nothings grow something”; the words make a mist about the thing. In later days Jesus told his followers to swear not at all–to stick to Yes and No.

Then a leader in the religious world passes, and the loiterers have a new interest for the moment. “Rabbi, Rabbi,” they say, and the great man moves onward, obviously pleased with the greeting in the marketplace (Matt. 23:7). As soon as he is out of hearing, it is no longer “Rabbi” he is called; talk turns to another tune. How little the fine word meant! How lightly the title was given! Worse still, the title will stand between a man and the facts of life. Some will use it to deceive him; others, impressed by it, are silent in his presence; one way and another, the facts are kept from him. Seeing, he sees not, and he comes to live in an unreal world. How many men to-day will say what they really think before a man in clerical dress, or a dignitary however trivial? “Be not ye called ‘Rabbi,'” was the counsel Jesus gave to his followers, and he would accept neither “Rabbi,” nor “Good Master,” nor any other title till he saw how much it meant. “Master!” they said, “we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man; for thou regardest not the person of men” (Matt. 22:16). But as the evangelist continues, Jesus “perceived their wickedness”–he had heard such things before and was not trapped. “Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:10)–strange to think of the quiet figure, riding in the midst of the excited crowd, open-eyed and undeceived in his hour of “triumph”–as little perturbed, too, when his name is cast out as evil. How little men’s praise and their blame matter, when your eyes are fixed on God–when you have Him and His facts to be your inspiration! On the other hand, when you have not contact with God, how much men’s talk counts, and how easy it is to lose all sense of fact!

By and by the talk veers round to what Pilate had done one to the Galileans–if the dates fit, or if for the moment we can make them fit, or anticipate once for all, and be done with the bazaar talk which never stopped. Pilate had killed the Galileans when they went up to Jerusalem–yes! mingled their own blood, you might say, with the blood of their sacrifices (Luke 13:1). What would he do next? There was no telling. What was needed–some time–it was bound to come–and the voice sank–a Theudas, or a Judas again (Acts 5:36, 37)–it would not be surprising. … There were no newspapers, no approved and reliable sources of news such as we boast to have from our governments and millionaires; all was rumour, bazaar talk–“Lo! here!” and “Lo! there!” (Mark 13:21). “Prohibiti sermones ideoque plures”, said Tacitus of Rome–rumours were forbidden, so there were more of them. The Messiah _must_ come some time, said one man who might be a friend of the Zealots. In any case, reflected another, those Galileans had probably angered Heaven and got their deserts; ill luck like that could hardly come by accident; think of the tower that fell at Siloam–anybody could see there was a judgement in it. Might it not be said that God had discredited John the Baptist, now his head was taken off? So men speculated (cf. John 9:2). Jesus saw through all this, and was radiantly clear about it.

So they chattered, and he heard. Then the talk took another turn, and tales were told–bad eyes flashed and lips smacked, as one story-teller eclipsed the other in the familiar vein. The Arabian Nights are tales of the crowd, it is said, rather than literature in their origin, and will give clues enough to what might be told. Jesus heard, and he saw what it meant; and afterwards he told his friends: “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders … foolishness; all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23). The evil thought takes shape to find utterance, and gains thereby a new vitality, a new power for evil, and may haunt both speaker and listener for ever with its defiling memory.

By and by he intervened and spoke himself. Every one was shocked, and said, “Blasphemy!” They were not used to think of God as he did, and it seemed improper.

Then the whole question of human speech rises for him. What did they mean by their words? What could their minds be like? God dragged in and flung about like a counter, in a game of barter–but if you speak real meaning about God it is blasphemy. “Rabbi, Rabbi” to the great man’s face–he turns his back–and his name is smirched for ever by a witty improvisation. Why? Why should men do such things? The magic in the idle tale–ten minutes, and the memory is stained for ever with what not one of them would forget, however he might wish to try to forget. The words are loose and idle, careless, flung out without purpose but to pass the moment–and they live for ever and work mischief. How can they be so light and yet have such power?

Later on he told his friends what he had seen in this matter of words. They come from within, and the speaker’s whole personality, false or true, is behind what he says–the good or bad treasure of his heart. There are no grapes growing on the bramble bush. No wonder that of every idle word men shall give account on the day of Judgement (Matt. 12:36). The idle word–the word unstudied–comes straight from the inmost man, the spontaneous overflow from the spirit within, natural and inevitable, proof of his quality; and they react with the life that brought them forth.[13]

So he grows up–in a real world and among real people. He goes to school with the boys of his own age, and lives at home with mother and brothers and sisters. He reads the Old Testament, and forms a habit of going to the Synagogue (Luke 4:16). All points to a home where religion was real. The first word he learnt to say was probably “Abba”, and it struck the keynote of his thoughts. But he knew the world without as well,–turned on to it early the keen eyes that saw all, and he recognized what he saw. Knowledge of men, but without cynicism, a loving heart still in spite of his freedom from illusions–these are among the gifts that his environment gave him, or failed to take away from him.



It is a commonplace with those who take literature seriously that what is to reach the heart must come from the heart; and the maxim may be applied conversely–that what has reached a heart has come from a heart–that what continues to reach the heart, among strange peoples, in distant lands, after long ages, has come from a heart of no common make. The Anglo-Saxon boy is at home in the Odyssey; and when he is a man–if he has the luck to be guided into classical paths–he finds himself in the Aeneid; and from this certain things are deduced about the makers of those poems–that they knew life, looked on it with bright, keen eyes, loved it, and lived it over again as they shaped it into verse.

When we turn to the first three Gospels, we find the same thing. Here are books with a more worldwide range than Homer or Virgil, translated again and again from the first century of their existence on to the latest–and then more than ever–into all sorts of tongues, to reach men all over the globe; and that purpose they have achieved. They have done it not so much for the literary graces of the translators or even of the original authors, though in one case these are more considerable than is sometimes allowed. That the Gospels owe their appeal to the recorded sayings and doings of our Lord, is our natural way of putting it to-day; but if for “our Lord” we put a plainer description, more congenial to the day in which the Gospels were written, we shall be in a better position to realize the significance of the worldwide appeal of his words. Thus and thus, then, spoke a mere provincial, a Jew who, though far less conspicuous and interesting, came from the region of Meleager and Philodemos–not from their town of Gadara, nor possibly from their district, but from some place not so very far away.

It was not to be expected that he should win the hearts of men as he did. He had not the Greek culture of the two Gadarenes. Celsus even found his style of speech rather vulgar. But he has, as a matter of common knowledge–so common as hardly to be noted–won the hearts of men in every race and every land. The fact is familiar, but we have as historians and critics to look for the explanation. What has been his appeal? And what the heart and nature, from which came this incredible power and reach of appeal? “Out of the abundance (the overflow) of the heart the mouth speaketh,” he said. (Matt. 12:34). This he amplified, as we have seen, by his insistence on the weight of every idle word (Matt. 12:36)–the unstudied and spontaneous expression or ejaculation–the reflex, in modern phrase–which gives the real clue to the man’s inner nature and deeper mind, which “justifies” him, therefore, or “condemns” him (Matt. 12:37). The overflow of the heart, he holds, shows more decisively than anything else the quality of the spring in its depths.

Here is a suggestion which we find true in ordinary life as well as in the study of literature. If we turn it back upon its author, he at least will not complain, and we shall perhaps gain a new sense of his significance by approaching him at a new angle, from an outlook not perhaps much frequented. How did he come to speak in this manner, to say this and that? To what feeling or thought, to what attitude to life, is this or the other saying due? If he, too, spoke “out of the overflow of his heart”–and we can believe it when we think of the freshness and spontaneity with which he spoke–of what nature and of what depth was that heart?

We can very well believe that much in his speech that was unforgettable to others, he forgot himself. They remembered, they could not help remembering, what he said; but he–no! he said it and moved on, keeping no register of his sayings; and so much the more natural and characteristic they are. Nor would he, like smaller people, be very careful of the form and turn of his speech; it was never set. Certainly he gave his followers the rule not to study their language (Mark 13:11). Whether or no he had consciously thought it all out; we can see the value of his rule, and how it fits in with his way of life and safeguards it. Under such a rule speech will not be stereotyped; no set form of words will impose itself on the free movement of thought, the mind can and will move of itself unhampered; and when the mind keeps and develops such freedom of movement, it commonly breaks new ground and handles new things. Not to be careful of our speech means for most of us slovenly thinking; but when a man thinks in earnest and takes truth seriously, when he speaks with his eye on his object, his language will not be slovenly, his instinct for fact will keep his speech pure and true. This is what we find in the sayings of Jesus; there is form, but living form, the freedom and grace which the clear mind and the friendly eye communicate insensibly and inimitably to language.

Our task in this chapter is primarily a historical one. From the words of Jesus we have to work back to the type of mind from which they come. There is always danger in such a task. We may forget the wide and living variety of the mind we study; our own minds may not be large enough, nor tender enough, not various, quick and sympathetic in such a degree as to apprehend what we find, to see what it means, and to relate it to itself, detail to whole. How much greater the danger here! While we analyse, we have to remember that the most correct analysis of features or characteristics may easily fail to give us a true idea of the face or the character which we analyse. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. The face and the character have an “integrity,” a wholeness. The detail may be of immense value to us, studied as detail; but for the true view the detail, familiar as it may be to us, and dear to us, must be sunk in the general view. Especially is this true of great characters. The “reconstruction of a personality”–to borrow a phrase from some psychologists–is a very difficult matter, even when we are masters of our detail. There is a proportion, a perspective, a balance, a poise about a character–my terms may involve some mixture of metaphors, but if the mixture brings out the complexity and difficulty of our task, it will be justified. Above all there is life, and as a life deepens and widens, it grows complex, unintelligible, and wonderful. It is more so than ever in the case of Jesus. Yet we have to grapple with this great task, if we are to know him, even if here as elsewhere we realize quickly that the beginning of real knowledge is when we grasp how much we do not know, how much there is to know. Attempted in this spirit, a study of the mind of Jesus and his characteristics should help us forward to some further intimacy with him.

The Gospels do not, like some biographies ancient and modern, give a place to the physical characteristics of Jesus. Suetonius in a very short sketch adds the personal aspect of the poet Horace, who, it is true, had led the way by such allusions (Epist. i. 4, 15-16), and tells us how Augustus said he was “a squat little pot” (sessilis obba). The “Acts of Thekla” in a similar way describe St. Paul’s short figure with its suggestion of quickness. But the only personal traits of this sort that I recall in the New Testament are the eyes of Jesus and Paul’s way of stretching out a hand when he spoke. In view of this reticence, it is rather remarkable how often the Gospels refer to Jesus “looking.” He “looked round about on” the people in the Synagogue, and then–with some suggestion of a pause and silence while he looked, “he saith unto the man” (Mark 3:5). When Peter deprecated the Cross, we find the same; “when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter” (Mark 8:33). When the rich young ruler came so impulsively to him to ask him about eternal life, Jesus, “looking upon him, loved him”–and we touch there a certain reminiscence of eye-witnesses (Mark 10:21). There are other references of the same kind in the narratives–the look seems to come into the story naturally, without the writers noticing it. There must have been much else as familiar to his friends and companions. They must have known him as we know our friends–the inflections of his voice, his characteristic movements, the hang of his clothes, his step in the dark, and all such things. Did he speak quickly or slowly? or move his hand when he spoke? The teaching posture of Buddha’s hand is stereotyped in his images. We are not told such things about Jesus, and guessing does not take us very far. Yet a stanza in one of the elegies written on the death of Sir Philip Sidney may be taken as a far-away likeness of a greater and more wonderful figure–and not lead us very far astray:–

A sweet, attractive kind of grace;
The full assurance given by looks; Perpetual comfort in a face;
The lineaments of Gospel books.

If we are not explicitly told of such things by the evangelists, they are easily felt in the story. The “paradoxes,” as we call them–a rather dull name for them–surely point to a face alive with intellect and gaiety. The way in which, for instance, the leper approaches him, implies the man’s eyes fixed in close study on Jesus’ face, and finding nothing there to check him and everything to bring him nearer (Mark 1:41). When Mark tells us that he greeted the Syro-Phoenician woman’s sally about the little dogs eating the children’s crumbs under the table with the reply, “For the sake of this saying of yours …,” we must assume some change of expression on such a face as that of Jesus (Mark 7:29).

We read again and again of the interest men and women found in his preaching and teaching–how they hung on him to hear him, how they came in crowds, how on one occasion they drove him into a boat for a pulpit. It is only familiarity that has blinded us to the “charm” they found in his speech–“they marvelled at his words of charm” (Luke 4:22)–to the gaiety and playfulness that light up his lessons. For instance, there is a little-noticed phrase, that grows very delightful as we study it, in his words to the seventy disciples–“Into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace to this house (the common “salaam” of the East); and if a son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it; if not, your “salaam” will come back to _you_” (Luke 10:6). “A son of peace”–not _the_ son of peace–what a beautiful expression; what a beautiful idea too, that the unheeded Peace! comes back and blesses the heart that wished it, as if courteous and kind words never went unrewarded! Think again of “Solomon in all his glory” (Matt. 6:29)–before the phrase was hackneyed by common quotation. Do not such words reveal nature?

A more elaborate and more amusing episode is that of the Pharisee’s drinking operations. We are shown the man polishing his cup, elaborately and carefully; for he lays great importance on the cleanness of his cup; but he forgets to clean the inside. Most people drink from the inside, but the Pharisee forgot it, dirty as it was, and left it untouched. Then he sets about straining what he is going to drink–another elaborate process; he holds a piece of muslin over the cup and pours with care; he pauses–he sees a mosquito; he has caught it in time and flicks it away; he is safe and he will not swallow it. And then, adds Jesus, he swallowed a camel. How many of us have ever pictured the process, and the series of sensations, as the long hairy neck slid down the throat of the Pharisee–all that amplitude of loose-hung anatomy–the hump–two humps–both of them slid down–and he never noticed–and the legs–all of them–with whole outfit of knees and big padded feet. The Pharisee swallowed a camel–and never noticed it (Matt. 23:24, 25). It is the mixture of sheer realism with absurdity that makes the irony and gives it its force. Did no one smile as the story was told? Did no one see the scene pictured with his own mind’s eye–no one grasp the humour and the irony with delight? Could any one, on the other hand, forget it? A modern teacher would have said, in our jargon, that the Pharisee had no sense of proportion–and no one would have thought the remark worth remembering. But Jesus’ treatment of the subject reveals his own mind in quite a number of aspects.

When he bade turn the other cheek–that sentence which Celsus found so vulgar–did no one smile, then, at the idea of anybody ever dreaming of such an act (Matt. 5:39)? Nor at the picture of the kind brother taking a mote from his brother’s eye, with a whole baulk of timber in his own (Matt. 7:5)? Nor at the suggestion of doing two miles of forced labour when only one was demanded (Matt. 5:41)? Nor when he suggested that anxiety about food and clothing was a mark of the Gentiles (Matt. 6:32)? Did none of his disciples mark a touch of irony when he said that among the Gentile dynasties the kings who exercise authority are called “Benefactors” (Luke 22:25)? It was true; Euergetes is a well-known kingly title, but the explanation that it was the reward for strenuous use of monarchic authority was new. Are we to think his face gave no sign of what he was doing? Was there no smile?

We are told by his biographer that Marcus Aurelius had a face that never changed–for joy or sorrow, “being an adherent,” he adds, “of the Stoic philosophy.” The pose of superiority to emotion was not uncommonly held in those times to be the mark of a sage–Horace’s “nil admirari”. The writers of the Gospels do not conceal that Jesus had feelings, and expressed them. We read how he “rejoiced in spirit” (Luke 10:21)–how he “sighed” (Mark 7:34) and “sighed deeply” (Mark 8:12)–how his look showed “anger” (Mark 3:5). They tell us of his indignant utterances (Matt. 23:14; Mark 11:17)–of his quick sensitiveness to a purposeful touch (Mark 5:30)–of his fatigue (Mark 7:24; Luke 8:23)–of his instant response, as we have just seen, to contact with such interesting spirits as the Syro-Phoenician woman and the rich young ruler. Above all, we find him again and again “moved with compassion.” We saw the leper approach him, with eyes fixed on the face of Jesus. The man’s appeal–“If thou wilt thou canst make me clean”–his misery moves Jesus; he reaches out his hand, and, with no thought for contagion or danger, he touches the leper–so deep was the wave of pity that swept through him–and he heals the man (Mark 1:40-42). It would almost seem as if the touching impressed the spectators as much as the healing. Compassion is an old-fashioned word, and sympathy has a wide range of suggestions, some of them by now a little cold; we have to realize, if we can, how deeply and genuinely Jesus felt with men, how keen his feeling was for their suffering and for their hunger, and at the same moment reflect how strong and solid a nature it is that is so profoundly moved. Again, when we read of his happy way in dealing with children, are we to draw no inference as to his face, and what it told the children? Finally, on this part of our subject, we are given glimpses of his dark hours. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of his “offering up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” and “learning obedience by the things that he suffered” (Heb. 5:7, 8), and Luke, perhaps dealing with the same occasion, says he was “in agony” (Luke 22:44), a strong phrase from a man of medical training. Luke again, with the other evangelists, refers to the temptations of Jesus, and in a later passage records the poignant and revealing sentence–“Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations” (Luke 22:28). Finally, there is the last cry upon the Cross (Mark 15:37). So frankly, and yet so unobtrusively, they lay bare his soul, as far as they saw it.

From what is given us it is possible to go further and see something of his habits of mind. His thought will occupy us in later chapters; here we are concerned rather with the way in which his mind moves, and the characteristics of his thinking.

First of all, we note a certain swiftness, a quick realization of a situation, a character, or the meaning of a word. Men try to trap him with a question, and he instantly “recognizes their trickery” (Luke 20:23). When they ask for a sign, he is as quick to see what they have in mind (Mark 8:11-13). He catches the word whispered to Jairus–half hears, half divines it, in an instant (Mark 5:36). He is surprised at slowness of mind in other men (Matt. 15:16; Mark 8:21). And in other things he is as quick–he sees “the kingdoms of this world in a moment of time” (Luke 4:5); he beholds “Satan fallen (aorist participle) from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18)–two very striking passages, which illuminate his mind for us in a very important phase of it. We ought to have been able to guess without them that he saw things instantly and in a flash–that they stood out for him in outline and colour and movement there and then. That is plain in the parables from nature, and here it is confirmed. Is there in all his parables a blurred picture, the edges dim or the focus wrong? The tone of the parables is due largely to this gift of visualizing, to use an ugly modern word, and of doing it with swiftness and precision.

Several things combine to make this faculty, or at least go along with it–a combination not very common even among men of genius–an unusual sense of fact, a very keen and vivid sympathy, and a gift of bringing imagination to bear on the fact in the moment of its discovery, and afterwards in his treatment of the fact.

On his sense of fact we have touched before, in dealing with his close observation of Nature. It is an observation that needs no note-book, that is hardly conscious of itself. There is, as we know, a happy type of person who sees almost without looking, certainly without noticing–and sees aright too. The temperament is described by Wordsworth in the opening books of “The Prelude”. The poet type seems to lose so much and yet constantly surprises us by what it has captured, and sometimes hardly itself realizes how much has been done. The gains are not registered, but they are real and they are never lost, and come flashing out all unexpectedly when the note is struck that calls them. So one feels it was with Jesus’ intimate knowledge of Nature–it is not the knowledge of botanist or naturalist, but that of the inmate and the companion, who by long intimacy comes to know far more than he dreams. “Wise master mariners,” wrote the Greek poet, Pindar, long before, “know the wind that shall blow on the third day, and are not wrecked for headlong greed of gain.” They know the weather, as we say, by instinct; and instinct is the outcome of intimacy, of observation accurate but sub-conscious.

It chimes in with this instinct for fact, that Jesus should lay so much emphasis on truth of word and truth of thought. Any hypocrisy is a leaven (Matt. 16:19; Luke 12:1); any system of two standards of truth spoils the mind (Matt. 5:33-37). The divided mind fails because it is not for one thing or the other. If it is impossible to serve God and mammon, truth and God go together in one allegiance; and a non-Theocentric element in a man’s thought will be fatal sooner or later to any aptitude he has by nature for God and truth.

We find this illustrated in Jesus’ own case. At the heart of his instinct for fact is his instinct for God. He goes to the permanent and eternal at once in his quest of fact, because his instinct for God is so sure and so compelling. Bishop Phillips Brooks noted in Jesus’ conversation “a constant progress from the arbitrary and special to the essential and universal forms of thought,” “a true freedom from fastidiousness,” “a singular largeness” in his intellectual life. The small question is answered in the larger–“the life is more than meat and the body is more than raiment” (Luke 12:23). When he is challenged on divorce, he goes past Moses to God (Matt. 19:4)–“He which made them at the beginning made them male and female.” Every question is settled for him by reference to God, and to God’s principles of action and to God’s laws and commands; and God, as we shall see in a later chapter, is not for him a conception borrowed from others, a quotation from a book. God is real, living, and personal; and all his teaching is directed to drive his disciples into the real; he insists on the open mind, the study of fact, the fresh, keen eye turned on the actual doings of God.

When life and thought have such a centre, a simplicity and an integrity follow beyond what we might readily guess. “When thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light, … if thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light” (Luke 11:34-36). It is this fullness of light that we find in Jesus; and as the light plays on one object and another, how clear and simple everything grows! All round about him was subtlety, cleverness, fastidiousness. His speech is lucid, drives straight to the centre, to the principle, and is intelligible. We may not see how far his word carries us, but it is abundantly plain that simple and straightforward people do understand Jesus–not all at once, but sufficiently for the moment, and with a sense that there is more beyond. His thought is uncomplicated by distinctions due to tradition and its accidents. His whole attitude to life is simple–he has no taboos; he comes “eating and drinking” (Matt. 11:19); and he told his followers, when he sent them out to preach, to eat what they were given (Luke 10:7); “give alms,” he says, “of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Luke 11:41). If God gives the food, it will probably be clean; and the old taboos will be mere tradition of men. He is not interested in what men call “signs,” in the exceptional thing; the ordinary suffices when one sees God in it. One of Jesus’ great lessons is to get men to look for God in the commonplace things of which God makes so many, as if Abraham Lincoln were right and God did make so many common people, because he likes them best. The commonest flowers–God thinks them out, says Jesus, and takes care of them (Matt. 6:28-30). Hence there is little need of special machinery for contact with God–priesthoods, trances, visions, or mystical states–abnormal means for contact with the normal. When Jesus speaks of the very highest and holiest things, he is as simple and natural as when he is making a table in the carpenter-shop. Sense and sanity are the marks of his religion.

“Sense of fact” is a phrase which does not exclude–perhaps it even suggests–some hint of dullness. The matter-of-fact people are valuable in their way, but rarely illuminative, and it is because they lack the imagination that means sympathy. Now in Jesus’ case there is a quickness and vividness of sympathy–he likes the birds and flowers and beasts he uses as illustrations. They are not the “natural objects” with which dull people try to brighten their pages and discourses. They are happy living things that come to his mind, as it were, of themselves, because, shall we say? they know they will be welcome there; and they are welcome. His pity and sympathy are unlike ours in having so much more intelligence and fellow-feeling in them. He understands men and women, as his gift of bright and winning speech shows. After all, as Carlyle has pointed out in many places, it is this gift of tenderness and understanding, of sympathy, that gives the measure of our intellects.[14] It is the faculty by which men touch fact and master it. It is the want of it that makes so many clever and ingenious people so futile and distressing.

The sense of fact and the gift for sympathy and the foundations, so to speak, of the imagination which gives their quality to the stories and pictures of Jesus. He thinks in pictures, as it were; they fill his speech, and every one of them is alive and real. Think, for example, of the Light of the world (Matt. 5:14), the strait gate and the narrow way (Matt. 7:14), the pictures of the bridegroom (Mark 2:19), sower (Matt. 13:3), pearl merchant (Matt. 13:45), and the men with the net (Matt. 13:47), the sheep among the wolves (Matt. 10:16), the woman sweeping the house (Luke 15:8), the debtor going to prison accompanied by his creditor and the officer with the judge’s warrant (Luke 12:58), the shepherd separating his sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32), the children playing in the market-place pretending to pipe or to mourn (Luke 7:32), the fall of the house (Matt. 7:27)–or the ironical pictures of the blind leading the blind straight for the ditch (Matt. 15:14), the vintagers taking their baskets to the bramble bushes (Matt. 7:16), the candle burning away brightly under the bushel (Matt. 5:15; Luke 11:33), the offering of pearls to the pigs (Matt. 7:6)–or his descriptions of what lay before himself as a cup and a baptism (Mark 10:38), and of his task as the setting fire to the world (Luke 12:49). There is a truthfulness and a living energy about all these pictures–not least about those touched with irony.

There are, however, pictures less realistic and more imaginative–one or two of them, in the language of the fireside, quite “creepy.” Here is a house–a neat, trim little house–and for the English reader there is of course a garden or a field round it, and a wood beyond. Out of the wood comes something–stealthily creeping up towards the house–something not easy to make out, but weary and travel-stained and dusty–and evil. A strange feeling comes over one as one watches–it is evil, one is certain of it. Nearer and nearer to the house it creeps–it is by the window–it rises to look in, and one shudders to think of those inside who suddenly see _that_ looking at them through the window. But there is no one there. Fatigue changes to triumph; caution is dropped; it goes and returns with seven worse than itself, and the last state of the place is worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26). Is this leaving the real? One critic will say it is, “No,” says another man, in a graver tone and speaking slowly, “it’s real enough; it’s my story.” But have we left the text too far? Then let us try another passage. Here is a funeral procession, a bier with a dead man laid out on it, “wrapped in a linen cloth” (Matt. 27:59), “bound hand and foot with grave-clothes” (John 11:44)–a common enough sight in the East; but who are they who are carrying him–those silent, awful figures, bound like him hand and foot, and wound with the same linen cloth, moving swiftly and steadily along with their burden? It is the dead burying the dead (Luke 9:60). Add to these the account of the three Temptations–stories in picture, which must come from Jesus himself, and illustrate another side of his experience. For to the mind that sees and thinks in pictures, temptation comes in pictures which the mind makes for itself, or has presented to it and at once lights up–pictures horrible and once seen hard to forget and to escape. No wonder he warns men against the pictures they paint themselves in their minds (Matt. 5:28; cf. Chapter VII, p. 154). Add also the other pictures of Satan fallen (Luke 10:18) and Satan pushing into God’s presence with a demand for the disciples (Luke 22:31). Are we to call these “visions”–the word is ambiguous–or are they imaginative presentments of evil, as it thrusts itself on the soul, with all its allurements and all its ugliness? “Visions” in the sense that is associated with trance, we shall hardly call them. They are pictures showing his gift of imagination.

Lastly, on this part of our subject, let us remind ourselves of the many parables and pictures and sayings which put God himself before us. Here is the bird’s nest, and one little sparrow fallen to the ground–and God is there and he takes notice of it; he misses the little bird from the brood (Matt. 10:29; cf. Luke 12:6). Here again is quite another scene–the rich and middle-aged man, who has prospered in everything and is just completing his plans to retire from business, when he feels a tap on his shoulder and hears a voice speaking to him, and he turns and is face to face with God (Luke 12:20). And there are all the other stories of God’s goodness and kindness and care; is not the very phrase “Our Father in heaven” a picture in itself, if we can manage to give the word the value which Jesus meant it to carry? When one studies the teaching of Jesus, and concentrates on what he draws us of God, God somehow becomes real and delightful, in a most wonderful way.

With all these faculties brought to bear on all he thinks, and lucent in all he says, there is little wonder that men recognized another note in Jesus from that familiar in their usual teachers. Rabbi Eliezer of those times was praised as “a well-trough that loses not a drop of water.” We all know that type of teacher–the tank-mind, full, no doubt, supplied by pipes, and ministering its gifts by pipe and tap, regulated, tiresome, and dead. “The water that I shall give him,” days Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (John 4:14), “shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The water metaphors of the New Testament are not of trough and tank. Jesus taught men–not from a reservoir of quotations, like a scribe or a Rabbi, “but as possessed of authority himself” (Matt. 7:29). Who gave him that authority? asked the priests (Matt. 21:23)? Who authorizes the living man to live? “All things are delivered unto me of my Father” (Matt. 11:27). “My words shall not pass away” (Mark 13:31).

He has proved right; his words have not passed away. The great “Son of Fact,” he went to fact, drove his disciples to fact, and (in the striking phrase of Cromwell) “spoke _things_.” And we can see in the record again and again the traces of the mental habits and the natural language of one who habitually based himself on experience and on fact. Critics remark on his method of using the Old Testament and contrast it with contemporary ways. St. Paul, for instance, in the passage where he weighs the readings “seeds” and “seed” (Gal. 3:16), is plainly racking language to the destruction of its real sense; no one ever would have written “seeds” in that connexion; but in the style of the day he forces a singular into an utterly non-natural significance. St. Matthew in his first two chapters proves the events, which he describes, to have been prophesied by citing Old Testament passages–two of which conspicuously refer to entirely different matters, and do not mean at all what he suggests (Matt. 2:15, 23). The Hebrew with the Old Testament, like the Greek of those days with Homer, made what play he pleased; if the words fitted his fancy, he took them regardless of connexion or real meaning; if he was pressed for a defence, he would take refuge in allegory. A fashion was set for the Church which bore bad fruit. The Old Testament was emptied of meaning to fortify the Christian faith with “proof texts.” When Jesus quotes the Old Testament, it is for other ends and with a clear, incisive sense of the prophet’s meaning. “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13 and 12:7, quoting Hosea 6:6). He not merely quotes Hosea, but it is plain that he has got at the very heart of the man and his message. Similarly when he reads Isaiah in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:17), he lays hold of a great passage and brings out with emphasis its value and its promise. He touches the real, and no lapse of time makes his quotations look odd or quaint. When he is asked which is the first commandment of all, he at once, with what a modern writer calls “a brilliant flash of the highest genius,” links a text in Deuteronomy with one in Leviticus–“Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Deut. 6:4-5), and, he adds, “the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Levit. 19:18; Mark 12:29-31). Thus his instinct for God and his instinct for the essential carry him to the very centre and acme of Moses’ law. At the same time he can use the Old Testament in an efficient way for dialectic, when an “argumentum ad hominem” best meets the case (Mark 7:6; Luke 20:37, 44).

Going to fact directly and reading his Bible on his own account, he is the great pioneer of the Christian habit of mind. He is not idly called the Captain by the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 2:10, 12:2). Authority and tradition only too readily assume control of human life; but a mind like that of Jesus, like that which he gave to his followers, will never be bound by authority and tradition. Moses is very well, but if God has higher ideas of marriage–what then? The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2), but that does not make them equal to Moses; still less does it make their traditions of more importance than God’s commandments (Mark 7:1-13). The Sabbath itself “was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Where the habit of mind is thus set to fact, and life is based on God, on God’s will and God’s doings, it is not surprising that in the daily round there should be noted “sanity, reserve, composure, and steadiness.” It may seem to be descending to a lower plane, but it is worthwhile to look for a moment at the sheer sense which Jesus can bring to bear on a situation. The Sabbath–is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Well, if a man’s one sheep is in a pit on the Sabbath, what will he do? (Matt. 12:11), or will he refrain from leading his ox to the water on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15)? Such questions bring a theological problem into the atmosphere of sense–and it is better solved there. He is interrupted by a demand that he arbitrate between a man and his brother; and his reply is virtually, Does your brother accept your choice of an arbitrator? (Luke 12:14)–and that matter is finished. “Are there few that be saved?” asks some one in vague speculation, and he gets a practical answer addressed to himself (Luke 13:23). Even in matters of ordinary manners and good taste, he offers a shrewd rule (Luke 14:8). Luke records also two or three instances of perfectly banal talk and ejaculation addressed to him–the bazaar talk of the Galilean murders (Luke 13:1)–the pious if rather obvious remark of some man about feasting in the Kingdom of God (Luke 14:15)–and the woman’s homey congratulation of Mary on her son (Luke 11:27). In each case he gets away to something serious.

Above all, we must recognize the power which every one felt in him. Even Herod, judging by rumour, counts him greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 14:2). The very malignity of his enemies is a confession of their recognition that they are dealing with some one who is great. Men remarked his sedative and controlling influence over the disordered mind (Mark 1:27). He is not to be trapped in his talk, to be cajoled or flattered. There is greatness in his language–in his reference of everything to great principles and to God; greatness in his freedom from ambition, in his contempt of advertisement and popularity, in his appeal to the best in men, in his belief in men, in his power of winning and keeping friends, in his gift for making great men out of petty. In all this we are not stepping outside the Gospels nor borrowing from what he has done in nineteen centuries. In Galilee and in Jerusalem men felt his power. And finally, what of his calm, his sanity, his dignity, in the hour of betrayal, in the so-called trials, before the priests, before Pilate, on the Cross? The Pharisees, said Tertullian, ought to have recognized who Christ was by his patience.



It was as a teacher that Jesus of Nazareth first began to gather disciples round him. But to understand the work of the Teacher, we must have some general impression of the world to which he came. The background will help us understand what had to be done, and what it was he meant to do.

Bishop Gore, in a book recently published, suggested that the belief that God is Love is not axiomatic. Many of us take it for granted, as the point at which religion naturally begins; but, as he emphasized, it is not an obvious truth; it is something of which we have to be convinced, something that has to be made good to men. Unless we bear this in mind, we shall miss a great deal of what Jesus has really done, by assuming that he was not needed to do it.

“Out of a darker world than ours came this new spring.” We must look at the world as it was, when Jesus came. In a later chapter we shall have to consider more fully the religions of the Roman world. One or two points may be anticipated. First of all, we have to realize what a hard world it was. Men and women are harder than we sometimes think, and the natural hardness to which the human heart grows of itself, needed more correction than it had in those days.

Among the many papyrus documents that have been found in late years in Egypt–documents that have pictured for us the life of Egypt, and have recorded for us also the language of the New Testament in a most illuminative way–there is one that illustrates only too aptly the unconscious hardness of the times. It is a letter–no literary letter, no letter that any one would ordinarily have thought of keeping; it has survived by accident. It was written by an Egyptian Greek to his wife. She lived somewhere up the country, and he had gone to Alexandria. She had been expecting a baby when he left, and he wrote a rough, but not an unkind, letter to her. He writes: “Hilarion to Alis . . . greetings…. Know that we are still even now in Alexandria. Do not fidget, if, at the general return, I stay in Alexandria. I pray and beseech you, take care of the little child, and as soon as we have our wages, I will send you up something. If you are delivered, if it was a male, let it live; if it was a female, cast it out . . . . How can I forget you? So don’t fidget.”[15]

The letter is not an unkind one; it is sympathetic, masculine, direct, and friendly. And then it ends with the suggestion, inconceivable to us to-day, that if the baby is a girl, it need not be kept. It can be put out either on the land or in the river, left to kite or crocodile. The evidence of satirists is generally to be discounted, because they tend to emphasize the exceptional; and it is not the exceptional thing that gives the character of an age, or of a man. It is the kind of thing that we take for granted and assume to be normal that shows our character or gives the note of the day; and what we omit to notice may be as revealing.

In the plays of the Athenian comic poets of the third and fourth centuries B.C. we find, to wearisomeness, one recurring plot. The heroine turns out to be, not just a common girl, but the daughter of the best family in Athens, exposed when she was a baby. When Plato sketched his ideal constitution, in addition to the mating of suitable pairs to be decided by government, he added that, if the offspring were not good enough, it should be put away where it would not be found again. Aristotle allowed the same practice. The most cultured race on earth freely exposed its infants; and this letter of Hilarion to Alis–a dated letter by the way, of September or October in the year 1 A.D.–makes it clear that the practice of exposure of children still prevailed; and there is other evidence which need not now detain us. It is a hard world, where kind people or good people can think of such things as ordinary and natural.

Evidence of the character of an age is given by the treatment of criminals; and that age was characterized by crucifixion. They would take a human being, spread him out on a cross on the ground, drive nails through his hands and feet; and then the cross was raised–the agony of the victim during the movement is not to be imagined. It was made fast; and there the victim hung, suspended between heaven and earth, to live or die at his leisure. By and by crows would gather round him. “I have been good,” said the slave. “Then you have your reward,” says the Latin poet, “you will not feed the crows on the cross.”[16] There is a very striking phrase in St. Matthew: “And sitting down they watched him there” (Matt. 27:36). The soldiers nailed three men to crosses, and sat down beneath them to dice for their clothes. Our tolerances, like our utterances, come out of the abundance of the heart, and stamp us for what we are.

We cannot easily realize all that slavery meant. When we read in the Fourth Gospel that “the Lamb of God taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), that was written before Jesus Christ had abolished slavery; for, we remember, it was done by his people