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BY LEO ARD WOOLSEY BACO
What manner of man is this ? — Matt. viii. 27. This is a sort of question ^vliich is very much asked in the gospels, and very much oftener asked than answered. On this occasion, it was asked by the fishermen in the boat wdth the Lord, as he crossed the stormy little lake of Galilee, and as they saw him make the sea a calm so that the waves of it were still. At another time, it was asked by scribes and learned men, partly amazed and partly shocked that he had said to a paralytic man, " Son, be of good cheer ; thy sins are forgiven thee." " Who is this," they asked, " that speaketh blasphemies?" On the Palm Sunday, w'hen the strange procession came marching and shouting down the mountain to escort him into the temple, " the whole city w^as moved " to ask the question " Who is this ? " Sometimes he squarely put the question himself He perplexed the learned theologians of the temple by asking them, " What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he ? " He demanded of his disciples, " W^lio do men say that I, the Son of man, am ? " And then, " Who say ye that I am ? " He puts the question, but he rarely answers it. John the Baptist sends to him from his prison, wondering at the long delay of the coming kingdom, with a tone of something almost like despair in his message, asking, "Art thou he that should come ? " But even then the Master ansAvers never a word, but goes forward with his works of grace and might, and bids the messengers " go tell John what you have seen." He does not seem even to wish others to answer for him. 58
man's question about CHRIST. 59 When men know him not, the evil spirits know and fear, saying, " We know thee who thou art ; " but he will none of their
testimony ; he rebukes them into silence, and will not suffer them to say that they know him. And when at last the foremost of his disciples attains to an answer to this question, the Master strictly charges his disciples that they tell no man that thing. As if, perhaps, he preferred that men should keep on questioning until with much asking they should receive, and seeking they should find, and knocking it should be opened to them ; rather than they should be spared the pains and trial of the quest a)id come to the results without going through the processes. And this method of Christ himself is the method of the ew Testament. It begins with a genealogical table, on the first page of Matthew, and goes forward through all the first three gospels with the facts of a marvelous biography which set us wondering and questioning at every page. ot till the church has well learned Christ thus, from hearing the plain facts of the story, docs that later gospel of John come to the church declaring w^onderful mysteries of godliness, but even then answering not so many questions as it raises for us to answer — or not to answer, as the case may be. It would seem as if the Bible was meant to give us theology in the method in which the creation gives us science — throwing down before us facts in bewildering profusion, and questions that task our utmost powers, and bidding us arrange, classify, theorize, inquire and conclude. Certainly it does invite us, with great welcome, to study into these things into which angels desire to look. But ccTtuinly, also, it does not make our salvation or our acceptli^ce with God to turn on the success of our theologizing. We fiud in these Scriptures (which are in nothing more wonderful 51 nd more divine than in the things which they do not contain) no plan of salvation by scholarship, nor of salvation by logic, nor of salvation by orthodoxy, but a plain Avay of salvation by faith. Take the little gospel of Mark. It is a whole gospeL
60 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHRIST. It was originally meant to stand alone. It is able to make
wise to salvation. But there is not much doctrine in it. In fact, there is not much of anything in it besides a Saviour, — his life and death and resurrection. And we are given to understand that it is safe to trust all our anxieties to him, who caretli for us ; and that the man who trusteth in him shall never be confounded. Of course to one who has thus trusted in him, knoAving him and loving him from the story of his holy and blessed life, the further study of the question " AVhat manner of man is this?" becomes thenceforward one of the most profoundly important and interesting questions that can possibly occupy the thoughts. But thenceforward, also, it can not be a life-and-death question. The question of life or death is settled. I know enough of this mighty and gracious one to take him for my teacher, the guide of my conduct, the keeper of my conscience, the forgiver of my sins, my Saviour to eternal life ; and what he has offered and undertaken to do, I have confidence in him that somehow he will perform. That is the vital question, and that is settled. And now to these other questions, as they come up, let me address myself with profoundest interest indeed, but without anxiety. It is not a dangerous thing for one who has read this story of Jesus and learned to love him with the affection and gratitude of a disciple, to go on and study the deep things concerning his person and character and the method of liis saving work. It is quite safe ; and you are safe. Let no man frighten you from the perfect calmness of your delightful study. There are many Christians so unfortunate as to have been brought up to believe those shocking and unchristian statements of the "Athanasian Creed " that " whosoever will be saved it is necessary above all things that he believe," a certain code of scholastic propositions concerning the person of Christ and the Trinity, " which things if a man believe not, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." One who believes this unscriptural and immoral heresy thereby becomes almost incapable of intelligently believing anything besides. He has forbidden
MA ^S QUESTIO ABOUT CHRIST. 61 himself to inquire candidly, under peril of damnation ; and
where a man cannot candidly inquire, he cannot solidly and intelligently believe. He can make believe. Take this way of Christ and of the Gospels : to begin with plain facts — wonderful facts, but simple and intelligible in themselves — and with asking questions ; and contrast this way with the way which theology has commonly followed, and see how much the foolisluiess of God is wiser than man. For the way of theology has too often been to begin at the other end, with enunciating its dogma, and then to hunt through the Bible for proof-texts with which to support it. It has been in the habit of making mpuch of the epistles, and little of the gospels — much of doctrines about Christ, and little of Christ's own teaching, and of the living Christ himself, who is greater than his teaching. It has been a most noble advance that the church of our century has made in the knowledge of Christ, since the time when it began to study, according to the method of the Scriptures, to know Christ himself, instead of knowing things about Christ, And we owe this progress to the attacks of heretics and infidels. If it had not been for the powerful and learned labors with which such scholars as Paulus and Strauss in Germany and Renan in France have attacked the gospel history and attempted to discredit the very facts of the life and death of Christ, the church might have been busy to this day, as it was busy fifty years ago and less, pettifogging the old, unfruitful controversies about election and decrees, and theories of atonement, and questions relating to moral government and free-will. It was not by any wisdom of ours, but by stress of this attack upon the credibility of the gospel history, that we were lifted out of the old rut, and turned into that study of the four gospels themselves, and of the life of Jesus Christ among men, which is the characteristic of the Christian scholarship of the present generation. There is nothing so characteristic of our Christian literature in this
62 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHRIST,
generation as that it dwells upon this theme — the person of Jesus of azareth. What countless multitudes of volumes on this subject are yearly crowding more and more the shelves of our libraries! — and this whole department of literature, now so vastly voluminous, is, w^e might say, the growth of these last fifty years. It is the fruit of the return* of the church to the method of the Bible, by which, taking the story of the facts of the birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus of azareth, and asking What manner of man is this ? — it rises, so fkr as it is able, from the contemplation of this simple history to the understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge. This is th« method by which the church first learned of the glory of its Saviour's person. And if there be among you any mind that has been stirred up, in the agitation of prevailing controversies and inquiries, to question the habitual or traditionary conceptions of this august person, on which the whole superstructure of the scheme of Christian doctrine has been builded up, — this is the method to which I would bring him back, I would not enunciate to him the statements of orthodox opinion, and bid him take those and read the four gospels in the light of them, and see w^hether he does not find them confirmed thereby. What confidence is a really candid inquirer likely to feel in the result of inquiries so entered upon with a foregone conclusion in the right hand. I would rather he should begin with that chapter of proper names at the beginning of Matthew, and go through the four biographies again as if they were a fresh book ; and at the end of it all, put to himself again the old question. What manner of man is this? And if the answer does not readily come, let him read again, and ask again. And if a life-time should be spent in such questioning as this, without reaching a hypothesis that will include all the marvelous facts, it will be a life-time nobly spent. What companionship is this to which the soul is thus addicted I What likeness to the mind of Christ must needs o:ro\v in that
man's question about CHRIST. 63
mind that converses long and lovingly with the life and words and works of Christ ! How much to be preferred, the suspense of such a doubter, to the easy-going confidence of one who taking everything for granted, linds no need for ardent and constant contemplation of the mystery of godliness, with' out controversy great, and who having " never doubted, never half believed ! " Be assured, the questionings that bring you and keep you in this personal acquaintance with the Christ of the four gospels are fruitful questionings, indeed. In such society as this My weary soul would rest ; The mind that dwells where Jesus is Must be forever blest. ow in the course of your studies into the documents of Christ's life (and these are very few and small — these four little pamphlets constitute the whole of them), it is safe to take one thing for granted : It will be with you as with every cue who has gone before you in this study, with the exception of some exceptionally coarse minds who have entered upon their work with undisguised malignity of purpose.. Setting aside all theological prepossessions, you will be impressed with the beauty and dignity of the life which passes before you in this fourfold picture. It is with a studiously dispassionate pen that one has attempted briefly to sum up the impressions which the story of Jesus makes on those who have read it without accepting the Christian doctrine of his person.^ They " see in Jesus a unique and sinless personality, one with whom no other human being can be even distantly compared. . . . He taught but three years, and not continuously even during them. He accepted the most ordinary customs of the teachers of his day. He wore no broad phylacteries like the Pharisees ; he was not emaciated with asceticism like the Essenes ; he preached the kingdom of God, not as John had done, between * Canon Farrar, s. v. Jesus. Encyc. Brit. Xinth edition.
64 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHRIST. the gloomy precipices of the wilderness, but from the homely platform of the synagogue. . . . He appeared before the people not in the hairy mantle of a prophet, but in the ordinary dress of a Jewish man. . . . He came eating and drinking. He had no human learning ; his rank was that of a village carpenter ; he checked all political excitement ; he directed that respect should be paid to all the recognized rulers, whether heathen or Jewish, and even to the religious teachers of the nation ; he was obedient to the Mosaic law ; his followers were unlearned and ignorant men chosen from the humblest of the people. Yet he has, as a simple matter of fact, altered the w hole current of the stream of history ; he closed all the history of the past, and inaugurated all the history of the future ; and all the most brilliant and civilized nations of the world worship him as God." The greatest minds, unprejudiced or filled with hostile prejudice, have given concordant testimony. " Kant testifies to his ideal perfection. Hegel saw in him the union of the human and the divine." " Spinoza spoke of him as the truest symbol of heavenly wisdom. The beauty and grandeur of his life overawed even the flippant soul of Voltaire. Between him and whoever else in the world, said apoleon I. at St. Helena, there is no possible term of comparison. If the life and death of Socrates are those of a sage, said Kousseau, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God. He is, says Strauss, the highest object we can possibly imagine with respect to religion, the being without whose presence in the mind perfect piety is impossible. The Christ of the Gospels, says Kenan, is the most beautiful incarnation of God in the most beautiful of forms. His beauty is eternal. His reign will never end. John Stuart Mill spoke of him as a man charged with a special, express and unique commission from God to lead mankind to truth and virtue." When we find such singular accordance among men so "widely differing, extorted, as one might say, by mere power
of the subject of which they speak, in spite of hostile feeling
MA^''S QUESTIO ABOUT CHRIST. 65 and a disposition even scornfully critical, it may safely be presumed that the same traits will make a like impression on yourself. You will find in the story of the gospels, as others have before you, the traits of a man of exceptional and wonderful endowments of intellect, of heroic courage, of dauntless tenacity of principle and purpose, and of a dignity and stainless purity of character and an impassioned love of righteousness which cause him to be thus reckoned incomparable among the human race ; at the same time, a man of singular humility and modest forgetfulness of self, who, endowed with every faculty for great achievement, seemed to have escaped " the last infirmity of noble minds," and to be without ambition to achieve anything that the world calls great : who accomplished no stroke of battle or of state, put in operation no organized society, constructed no philosophical or ethical system, left no writing behind him, whom nevertheless subsequent ages and distant nations and races have crowned wdth that honor which he never sought, accounting his teaching the last authority in ethics, theology and law, his person to be an object worthy of the highest reverence, and the epoch of his birth as the Golden Milestone from which to measure in either direction the paths of history ; a man W'ho was, withal, poor, despised and a suflferer, and yet in poverty and suffering most sublime, and in his malefactor's death glorious beyond the power of envy, prejudice and unbelief to behold undazzled ; — whose grandeur of intellect, dignity of character, and religious elevation of soul are nevertheless to men's eyes so outshone by his attributes of love and gentleness, wider than the earth and stronger than death, that the former are forgotten in the latter. And yet remember, while you gaze and wonder and admire, that this is not the object of your present study ; that you have opened this volume of the gospels with great and earnest
questions that demand an answer. Have a care lest the inquiries which you send out be like those soldiers sent to 5
66 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHRIST. apprehend Jesus, who before the glory and dignity of his presence go backward and fall to the ground, and have no report to bring back to those that sent them but this : ever man spake like this man. Our duty is inquiry, not eulogy. And if we are faithful in this duty, be assured that here and there, in the miraculously simple and truthful histories from which our conceptions of the character of Christ are drawn, we shall recognize some facts which, to our candid reading, do not seem naturally to fall into harmony Avith these large general conceptions ; — exceptional facts, which make us feel that the })erson in whom they are found is thus far an unsolved enigma to us, until we are able to discover (if ever we shall discover it) some larger conception of his character and person which ehall include these with the rest. These are the things which will cost us thought and study as we read, taking the four gosj^els into our hand as if they were a fresh book speaking to us of the life of one of whom . we had not known before : — the things in the life of Jesus of azareth which are perplexing or inexplicable on any theory of his human character which we are able to frame. These things must be fairly met and considered if we would deal justly by ourselves. We may not leave the difficult facts out of view. We may not strain and garble them into compliance with a preconceived theory. We may not indolently call them " mysterious " and so leave them. We need to know the real Jesus, and not a tradition, or a doctrine, or an imagination. And when we have gathered the facts we are driven by the necessary instinct of the mind to frame them together. We read the story of Washington, and in the midst of that great,
calm, religious career, we come upon an authentic scene of profane violence which startles and pains us. We do not say, " This is contrary to our conception of Washington — we must suppress it." We frame it into our conception of him, and say, " This was a man not constitutionally impassive, but of mighty
man's question about CHRIST. 67 passions which sometimes broke through his strong habitual self-control." We see him inexorably stern commanding the execution of an amiable young man, and we do not say " he was an inconsequent, incongruous mixture, half humane and half cruel ; " we are at no loss to find a principle in his life which reconciles these contradictions. We deal on this principle not only with living and historic, but even with fictitious characters. How many volumes have been written by inquirers after the unity of Hamlet's character, or Faust's ? And is it to be expected that the laws of our intellectual activity are to be suspended when w^e come to the study of the gospels ? But our only study for this evening is as to ways and methods, not as to results. We part, you and I, as we gathered here, face to face with a great question — " What manner of man is this ? " But let me not afiect to think it doubtful in what direction this inquiry, diligently pursued, will lead you. I will not predict it in the terms of any scholastic formula or phrase of historic orthodoxy. o man can tell for you w^hat form of statement the truth will take in your mind as you dwell in contemplation on the holy and reverend form of him who is the Truth. But it must be that as you continue gazing upon the glory of his countenance, you shall by and by begin to recognize that beholding it you have beheld a more than human glory — the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, of him who is full of grace and truth.
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