« السابقةمتابعة »
The winter solstice, when the sun returns toward the North, bringing back the spring, seemed a fitting syinbol of the birth of the Sun of Righteousness. But that the 25th of December is really the anniversary of our Lord's birth few persons in any age would have cared to contend. The day of the crucifixion is equally uncertain ; and, as a necessary consequence, those of the Resurrection, Ascension, and the Pentecost, are so likewise. If, indeed, we could decide the date of the year, it would be easy to calculate the day of the month on which the passover would happen; but our ignorance of the one involves ignorance of the other.
A little reflection will show that these omissions were not accidental. The dates of the birth, death, and most important events in the life of his hero, are among the first things which every biographer is careful to fix. Let the reader call to mind all the memoirs of illustrious persons he has ever perused, and try to recollect a single instance in which dates are not given. If one of the evangelists had by accident neglected to give the particulars in question, is it within the limits of probability that four would have done so by a similar oversight? Add to this the fact that the writers were Jews, accustomed to observe the recurring anniversaries of their ritual with the utmost exactness. In the sacred writings handed down to them they found examples of the minutest accuracy in recording dates. Very many books in the Old Testament contain a summary of the chronology of the period. The great facts upon which Judaism was founded are carefully recorded and dated (Ex. xii. 40, 41; xiii. 4; Lev. xxii. 4; &c., &c.). Is it likely that, in recording an event which was destined, as they knew, to supersede all these, four writers would accidentally omit all mention of the time of its occurrence ? One of them, moreover (Luke), announces his intention to furnish an exact and orderly statement of these events, supplementing the omissions of those who had gone before him, and he especially claims to have “a perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (Luke i. 4). Yet he only indicates the period in the vaguest possible manner.
As these omissions could not arise from accident and oversight, so neither can they be accounted for on the supposition of ignorance; for, not to speak of the fact of inspiration, the family and temple records would supply abundant information. The care with which the Jews recorded the genealogies of their families, insomuch that the obscurest Israelite could trace his pedigree up to "father Abraham,” renders simply incredible that no record should have been kept of the birth of this child, who was of “the lineage of David," and in whom both the male and female sides of the royal line meet. That at least two such records of his birth and lineage did exist, and were consulted by the evangelists, we have evidence in the twofold genealogy of Matthew and Luke, quoted from them. If neither accident nor ignorance can account for the omission, still less can the supposition of forgery and imposture. For one of the very first things which every forger does, in order to give an air of reality and historical accuracy to his narrative, is to pay minute and scrupulous attention to dates. The only remaining supposition to account for these omissions is that they were designed. What that design was we will ask hereafter.
2. Another large elass of facts which we should expect to find, and do not, consists of the events of our Lord's early life. We have the record of his birth, and then for thirty years he disappears from view, until the time of his“ showing unto Israel.” Who has not longed to raise the veil which conceals the infancy of the divine child! Who but has striven to make imagination supply the place of historical detail, and to picture to himself how that wondrous infancy, and youth, and manhood, flowed away in the secluded Galilean village ! Thirty years pass in the life of the Son of God upon earth, and leave no record or trace behind them! A single incident is recorded by Luke, referring to a special and extraordinary occasion, in which he seemed for the time to anticipate the great work upon which he was to enter nearly twenty years later; but of his ordinary life no vestige remains. We may be abundantly sure, even if we were not expressly told, that "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart," and that “his mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke ii. 19, 51); that the disciples, and especially that disciple whom Jesus loved," who“ took her to his own home,” would converse with “the mother of the Lord” about these things, we may believe with equal certainty. Every detail would be eagerly inquired into and fondly remembered. The curiosity which they themselves felt, they would be no less desirous to gratify in others. How universal the desire was to learn something of the early life of our Lord, and how general the expectation that it would be recorded, was proved by the numerous spurious and apocryphal gospels of the infancy which have come down to us. Many of these seem to have come into existence at a very early period. They are filled with wild and absurd legends, in which it is impossible to discover even a germ of historical truth.* With the solitary exception of the journey to Jerusalem, recorded by Luke, we have not the faintest trace of how the intervening years were spent, between the return from Egypt and the baptism in the Jordan.
Closely akin to this omission of any reference to the early life of our Lord is the absence of any allusion to his personal appearance. Here
* The very absurdity of these narratives makes them valuable, as illustrative of the truth of the gospel history. We see in them to what wild excesses the craving for the miraculous and the marvellous leads men who begin to forge or imagine a life of Christ. In the various Apocryphal gospels we have a constant and purposeless extravagance of miracles which strikingly contrasts with the sober narratives and economy in miraculous manifestations of the genuine gospels. They represent the infant Jesus as exercising his omnipotence on the most trivial occasions. He gives life to birds which he had fashioned out of mud in his sports; he kills with a word a companion who had offended him, and restores him to life at the intercession of his parents ; he carries water in his apron ; when in the temple with the doctors he explains the whole science of astronomy as then understood, "the number of heavenly bodies, their triangular, square, and sextile aspects, their progressive and retrograde motion, their several prognostications, and other things which the reason of man had never discovered;" to another of the doctors in the temple he is represented as having described the whole physics and metaphysics of the human body, “ things which were above and below the power of nature," insomuch that “that philosopher arose and worshipped the Lord Jesus," and said, “Oh, Lord Jesus, from henceforth I will be thy disciple and servant." One of the Apocryphal gospels of the infancy represents Joseph as being a very clumsy carpenter, but the most misshapen vessels at once assumed their proper form as Jesus stretched his hand over them; the narrative proceeds
“On a certain time the King of Jerusalem sent for him, and said, 'I would have thee make me a throne of the size of the place in which I commonly sit.' Joseph began the work, and remained two years before he finished it. But when he came to fix it in its place, it wanted two spans of the measure on each side. Which when the King saw he was very angry; and Joseph, afraid of the King's anger, went supperless to bed, eating nothing. Then the Lord Jesus asked him what he was afraid of. Joseph told him. Jesus replied, 'Fear nothing, be not cast down ; lay hold of the throne on one side, and I will lay hold of the other.' And when Joseph had done as he was told, the throne obeyed, and was drawn out to the proper dimensions of the place."
It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast than that between such absurd legends as these, and the simple narratives of the gospel history.
again we feel a natural, but a vain curiosity " to know Christ after the flesh," many professed representations of the man Christ Jesus” exist; but the glaring falsity of all the descriptions of His person is evident on the face of them. The letters of Lentulus and Pontius Pilate, the Constantinopolitan gem, and the napkin of Veronica, are manifest forgeries, though some of them are of early date. And we remain without the slightest hint to guide us in our endeavours to portray the physical characteristics of Him whose“ visage was more marred than any man's, and his form than the sons of men."
Similar in kind, though somewhat less obvious and striking, is the vague and indeterminate manner in which the localities connected with the life of our Lord are indicated. Where was Calvary? Where the sepulchre in the garden ? Where the stable in which the divine child was born ? Where the house at Nazareth beneath whose lowly roof he condescended to dwell ? For fifteen hundred years tradition has pointed to various spots as having been rendered sacred by these great events, and pilgrims from the ends of the earth have been flocking to them. But of the great majority of these, it will suffice to say, that they are without evidence, either in Scripture, or in secular history. The churches which profess to stand over the places of the Crucifixion, the Sepulchre, or the Ascension of our Lord, are almost universally regarded as possessing merely imaginary claims to those honours. Scarcely a single site can be certainly identified as that of the event to which it is dedicated. The place, like the time, is only marked out by general and unprecise phrases, such as Jerusalem, Nazareth, or Galilee.
It is usual to account for these omissions by quoting the words at the close of John's Gospel : “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books which should be written.” These words imply the truth of what we have been insisting on, namely, that an immense number of facts were known to the evangelists which they did not record ; it supplies, too, one reason for the omission—the desire to keep the narrative within such limits that it could be easily used, and serve rather as a manual for the Christian life than as a huge tome for the cloister. But it does not explain the fact we have been considering. For the four evangelists, for the most part, omit and record precisely the same things, and impose upon themselves precisely the same restrictions. Many of the miracles, discourses, and events in our Lord's life are recorded in three or four of the gospels. admitted that in most instances each contributes some slight additional incident which was omitted by the others ; still, if had been left with us to decide, we should unhesitatingly have said, “Let us have one or, at most, two narratives of the same event, and let the space thus saved be devoted to recording some portion of the earlier history of the Saviour, which otherwise we must lose irretrievably."
3. The omissions already dwelt upon are remarkable, whatever view we take of the gospel history. But there is another large class of omissions which solicit the consideration only of the believer in its inspiration. We hold strongly, as a fundamental article of the faith, that the Divine Speaker whose words are recorded, and the Omniscient Spirit under
whose directing influence the evangelists wrote, distinctly foreknew
the whole history of the church, and the use which would be made of every portion of the record. Under this conviction one is constrained reverently to ask why an explanatory clause was not thrown in here and
there to guard
important passages against the abuse and perversion to which hereafter they would be subject. There are few heresies which have not the apparent support of some text or another. Probably no unscriptural practice has less seeming countenance from Scripture than that of infant baptism. A word or two would have sufficed to guard from misconception the few passages which are deemed favourable to it, and to prevent the introduction of a usage which has worked injuriously in so many ways. Two or three passages, taken as they stand, seem strongly to favour the doctrine of Transubstantiation. We can hardly wonder that persons who have been brought up in the papal church should cling to the literal interpretation of such texts as, “ This is my body," “ He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." We can see the true and spiritual meaning of such passages, and may not need an interpreting clause. But in a spirit of humble, devout inquiry, not of impertinent curiosity, we may ask why He who spoke them and who foreknew the misuse which would be made of his words, did not modify or explain them, or throw the sentence into some other form less open to abuse.
It would be easy to multiply cases like the foregoing. We have not attempted to exhaust the illustrations of our statement, that the histories of the New Testament do contain many designed and intentional omissions. Our aim has rather been to select a few instances, out of many, in order to suggest thought and investigation. We hope to return to the subject next month and offer some suggestions as to the meaning of these omissions.
(To be continued.)
EARLY METHODISM. Having in a former article endeavoured to estimate the amount and value of the success which attended the labours of the Wesleys and their coadjutors, it may be both interesting and profitable to inquire into the causes which led to it. Of course we are not only ready but eager to ascribe all spiritual prosperity to the agency of the Divine Spirit. The men themselves would have been the first to disclaim any idea of personal merit and to render all praise to the spirit and providence of God. But, admitting this to the full, it is yet worth while to note those characteristics in the human agents of this great work which contributed to their success. We observe the following things in them of a nature strongly auxiliary to the prosperous prosecution of their great enterprise.
(1.) A healthy vigorous body. We once heard an eminent teacher, in a public address, state his idea of the right order in which education should be conducted. “We should train,” he said, “1st. The body; 2nd. The moral and religious affections ; 3rd. The intellectual powers." The body is so linked by mysterious sympathies to the soul that it is every way at our peril to neglect its health. Dyspepsia is a deadly enemy to power of any kind. The early Wesleyans were rarely dyspeptic. Many of these were men taken from the field and from the forge, whose frames were knit into strong muscular vigour by the nature of their early occupation, and consequently fitted for rough and hard work, and they did not require shawls, mufflers, or great coats on a cold night after preaching. They did not know much about bronchitis, or “the ministerial sore throat,” or relaxation of the uvula. Dr. Adam Clarke evidently laid the foundation of that iron constitution by means of which he accomplished his herculean works, in great part in the early labours of the farm and its congenial pursuits. The future commentator on the Bible, and great Oriental scholar, might be seen, when a lad, taking care of his father's cows, helping at sheep-shearing and the plough ; and so great a hand at peatcutting that he could keep two persons employed in piling and carrying the fuel as fast as he digged it. Dr. Etheridge tells us," he was not a little proud of the strength of hand with which he sent the wheat-seed broad cast over the furrowed soil. Amongst the exercises to which he was addicted, horsemanship also afforded him a vast delight. He would sometimes ride down to the shore, and, plunging with the animal through the surf, breast the waves with a long swim outwards.” In this exercise, however, on that rough north Irish coast where his youth was spent, he nearly lost his life, as also on another occasion when swimming alone at considerable distance from the shore. The neighbourhood also of the sea afforded him and his father the profitable pursuits of the fisherman, so that often, and especially in the salmon season, the table at home smoked with the produce of their healthy and invigorating recreations. All this was an admirable preparatory process for the work of the ministry, especially when one had in that work “ to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Great moderation in eating, drinking, and sleeping, distinguished the Wesleys and their early followers. Their general conduct was at the greatest distance from softness or effeminacy. Preaching was common in the circuits at five in the morning. One eccentric, but popular, preacher used to refresh his spirits for that early service by taking a daily bath, feeling not the least objection to plunge into the floating ice of a Yorkshire river amidst the bracing gales of a keen north-easter. The very thought of such exercise is enough to make the more luxurious of our modern divines, in their warm studies, long morning-gowns and embroidered slippers, shrink like the plants in a conservatory when a slide has been inadvertently left open in a frosty night.
This rigorous discipline was abundantly useful, not only to drive away nervous complaints, but to aid their spiritual and moral strength. Account for it as we may, self-denial is a great auxiliary to moral and spiritual power. It is said of Wordsworth, that Plutarch's Lives was a favourite work with him because of the fine bracing, moral effect the examples of the grand heroes of antiquity had upon his mind, nearly all of whom were exceedingly abstemious men, as was Wordsworth himself. Quaintly, but truly, does Pulsford, in his “Quiet Hours” (p. 80), write, “Deep earnest thoughts have often stirred in me on bodily abstinence, as the condition of helping the spirit through the straight gate of opposing animalism. Finding that deep and holy spiritbreathing was suspended during bodily enjoyments godly souls have often interdicted the gratifications of the flesh, in order to help their spirits in the God-ward direction.” We are no advocates of austere asceticism ; but in these luxurious days we think that good men-especially preachers-would find it a source of strength to attend carefully to the practice of Paul, who could say, “I keep my body under,” using, to express his meaning, the strong and expressive Greek word, únwndw, signifying, “I strike under the eye, so as to beat black and blue."
(2.) The early Wesleyan preachers were men profoundly in earnest. In those days there was nothing of the snug and comfortable to lure unworthy men into the ministry. They worked hard, were often roughly handled, and the important articles of board and lodging were generally coarse and deficient. One poor brother narrates how he spent most of one stormy night in moving