Page images
[ocr errors]

gift, this new soul, that shall one day be great in the sight of the LORD ? Not heralded with minute guns, and papal blessings by electric telegraph, do God's messengers and saviours come into the world. Around every one of us there has hovered, almost before we could be said to have any individuality to be loved for its own sake, gushing tenderness, anxious, toilsome care, which, like sunshine, has developed the young germ of a soul within us. What things have been hidden in one heart for each of us--what hopes, fears, self-sacrifice, known to no other human being ! " Happy that man,” says Goethe, “whose own mother has made every woman venerable to him!”

It is remarkable, I think, that we know so little of the childhood of Jesus. We just gather that his parents went abroad

soon after his birth, then on their return lived at Nazareth, and after that at Capernaum, on the borders of the beautiful lake of Galilee. “We can well believe that a softening influence from the grand scenes around him must have bathed and quickened his soul. Besides these, he heard continually in the synagogue, as he grew up, stray şayings of David and Isaiah, the old Bible stories that we loved in our childhood, the solemn psalm, and joyful prophecy of that new era of which he was the harbinger. Then he had, too, no doubt, the friendship of his cousin John-who, you remember, was some few months his senior-of whom he afterwards spoke with such enthusiasm. He grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.” I am glad to be relieved of all those stories of precocious genius and piety that are told of modern children. There are some foolish anecdotes in the spurious Gospels, with which I need not weary you ; but the only authentic story of his childhood finds him at the age of twelve. When he was first taken to the metropolis, you recollect how he strayed back to gaze in awe at that temple which was to crumble to pieces as his colossal grandeur rose before the world, to gratify his thirst for knowledge by more converse with old and wiser men. That is all we have; but how much in that one glimpse ! In all probability he worked at his father's trade ; for the Jews had a saying, that he who does not bring up his son to work, brings him up to be a thief. At any rate, it is notable that from twelve to thirty there is an entire blank in the narrative. At least this was not one of those young men

who have souls above the common duties and the primal relations of life, who rudely break through all the modesty of youth, all the ties of friendship and family, that they may be full-blown poets, preachers, statesmen, at nineteen, How much of real and generous sap have we seen thus developed into unseasonable blossom, only to be nipped by the rebellion of the bodily frame, or by the chill indifference of the world. Not so with JESUS. For eighteen years after that scene in the temple we hear of no public appearance of his. It seems to be about the end of this period that we read of his being “led away into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” All the passions of youth, all the fascinations that hover around every gigantic intellect, all the allurements of ambition, were looked sternly in the face, and cast for ever behind him. Here it was, I cannot but think, that the first impulse to a more public course was developed into a resolve. His cousin, you remember, had some time before taken to the work of a home missionary, and was going about telling men everywhere, in rough passionate words, in courts and deserts, in cities and plains, to amend their lives. By him Jesus was solemnly set apart for the like work. And when John's brief course ended in that terrible martyrdom, we can conceive what a new passionate longing must have sprung up in the mind of the younger and greater one. We can fancy him saying—“I care not what becomes of me; they may kill me, as they did John: let me only speak a few eternal truths, Aling a spotless and Godlike life into this huge torrent of worldliness, and plant a noble impulse here and there in a few susceptible hearts !". It is a solemn thought to some of us just about the same period of life, that this, the most gigantic lifework ever achieved on the earth, was condensed into the period between thirty and three-and-thirty; or even, as some read the history, into one single year. And what machinery was there at hand for the building of this great temple, within which generation after generation was to worship? I need not say there were no armies, no civil authority, no political movement, to aid the new truth. But, what is more to the point, Jesus never founded a school, never wrote a book, never undertook any systematic course of teaching at all. One sermon he preached, as far as we know, in a regular place of worship. A few times he addressed great crowds that were thirsting for some better teaching than they got in the synagogues. In the latter

part of his time, especially when there were great gather> ings in the metropolis, he would get around him those who

cared to listen, and open that fathomless treasury of truth that was in him. But it is instructive to any of us who aim to be public teachers, that his best sermons were preached to a congregation of twelve. The first thing he did was to draw round him a few of the most open, devout natures he could find, and induce them to associate themselves with him ; to travel about, sometimes living by their own toil as fishermen, sometimes, probably, on the hospitality of friends ; casting off as many ties as possible, that they might be free to spread the new and glorious truths that were burning within them. In this small circle his deepest, warmest hopes and thoughts found vent. JESUS was no dilettante in ideas, who got together fine sayings as men collect old china, and try to get credit for being the possessors. Still less was he a trader in ideas, who tried to coin the great things of God into a little petty profit. The Divine wealth that was in him overflowed, so as to fill all whom he could reach, each in their measure. He had not read the tract on “Reserve in communicating Religious Knowledge.” If by this you mean that we must speak in a language which is understood by the people we want to reach, that would seem not to require much argument. I only wish our friends who deal so extensively in the "ations" and “ologies” would reserve them all for an indefinite time. I wish there were a new canon to prevent their afflicting us fifty-two beautiful Sunday mornings in the year with foreign phrases (not one of which, by the way, was ever used by JESUS himself), until every child that hears them was familiar, so to speak, with the person of JESUS, and had formed some notion to himself of how he must have moved and spoken, and been loved and wondered at by the living men and women around him. This great theme will afford scope for new and ever new discoveries. And when we have some tolerably vivid notion of what Jesus was, who shall then forbid us to speculate, always reverently and lovingly, on the place of Jesus in history, on the channels through which his influence has come down to us ?

But it seems to me an insult to the human heart and

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

intellect to say, as some have said of these poor Essays"I agree with a great deal that is here written, but I fear the consequences of unsettling the faith of unleamed or young persons.” In the first place, if there are to be no books but such as can be understood by everybody, and are to be adapted to everybody, our libraries will be limited. There are many people whom I would dissuade from reading the “Essays and Reviews,” for the reasons I have been insisting on ; but I do not see in this any reason why you and I should not get help, if we desire to venture into the region of constructive theology, from these sources. Again when we assume that new truth-I am now dealing with those who fear what they own to be true in the book-may clash with the truth as it is in the Shorter Catechism, we assume that the former teaching was imperfect, and that the latter may perhaps lead us beyond the stage in which every possible hope of enlightenment was enclosed within the covers of our breviary or our catechism. But what I want you to notice is, that JESUS never showed the slightest fear of “unsettling people's views.” Once he met poor open-hearted woman by the roadside, who, directly she found a teacher who seemed to have some life in him, begged him to settle the question that was most discussed among her neighbours-“Ought we to worship at Jerusalem, or in Mount Gerizim”-in the Established Church, or among these dissenters and heretics, as the clergy call them? Jesus answers--“Here, there, or nowhere ; neither in this mountain, for at Jerusalem.” It was not in an essay or a university sermon, but to this plain poor woman that great utterance was vouchsafed—“GOD is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Again, a young man, a magistrate, came to him one evening for quiet talk about the great thoughts that were brooding, so to speak, over the land. Did JEsus tell Nicodemus to go to the synagogue twice-a-day instead of once? to keep up a hysterical, self-centred attempt to fix his thoughts on the daily sacrifice? Instead of this, he said—“Young man, I tell you, what you and the people about you want, is a change from the very roots of your life-a new birth, new relations to God, new relations to your fellows, new aims in life, new hopes in the future." Such a wealth of thought and of heart there was in him, be had no need to scrape together a number of clever things


to put into his sermons. His own private meditations were the soul of all his talk, instead of all his thought centering round a discourse, to be delivered to a prepared and applauding audience. His talk was redolent of the streets and the fields ; he spoke of things that interested him then and there, just as they struck him—the secret of all effective speaking, public or private. Sometimes these musings over truth and destiny, over his own relation to this world, which, as lie said, “had not known the FATHER,” and was perishing for Fant of the knowledge--these musings grew too passionate for utterance, and we read of his going out “a great while before day” to meditate and to pray. But generally he loved the society of those who were most like himself in thought and purpose. Sometimes only to two or three of the best of these could he confide all his forebodings and longings. I like to dwell on the human side of that Transfiguration scene.

You remember, that, walking out on those old hills near Jerusalem, with tliose three friends, he got so excited by talk about the martyrdom that was approaching, about the world's wants and the world's future, that they said he was transfigured—that a new unusual halo was around him, and the familiar form and face had assumed a freshi glory, by communion with those forerunners of his in ages past. Ordinarily, however, his was a contemplative life. He would spend the day in the city, watching the busy haunts of men

-pointing out to those near him the deep moral that lies underneath the common life of men. Then, of an evening he would walk out to his favourite hill, the Mount of Olives, and down to that village at the foot of it, where there was a family of plain but noble young people, always ready to pour out on him tender, womanly care, to stretch out the hand of affectionate welcome. With them, and with the friends who gathered round him, he loved to spend his evenings. Then in the morning, back again to the great city, watching men's manners, their trade, family life, and especially their worship, and the poor substitute they had for teaching. Sometimes, with groups of people in the outer court of the temple, he would converse about "the kingdom of Heaven,” about the new era that was dawning, the dissatisfaction that was felt with the common teaching, the longing for something better. And when he travelled between this home of his at Bethany and his

« PreviousContinue »