THE HOPE OF THE GOSPEL
SALVATION FROM SIN
THE REMISSION OF SINS
JESUS IN THE WORLD
JESUS AND HIS FELLOW TOWNSMEN
THE HEIRS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
SORROW THE PLEDGE OF JOY
THE REWARD OF OBEDIENCE
THE YOKE OF JESUS
THE SALT AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
THE RIGHT HAND AND THE LEFT
THE HOPE OF THE UNIVERSE
SALVATION FROM SIN.
—and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins.—Matthew i. 21.
I would help some to understand what Jesus came from the home of our Father to be to us and do for us. Everything in the world is more or less misunderstood at first: we have to learn what it is, and come at length to see that it must be so, that it could not be otherwise. Then we know it; and we never know a thing really until we know it thus.
I presume there is scarce a human being who, resolved to speak openly, would not confess to having something that plagued him, something from which he would gladly be free, something rendering it impossible for him, at the moment, to regard life as an altogether good thing. Most men, I presume, imagine that, free of such and such things antagonistic, life would be an unmingled satisfaction, worthy of being prolonged indefinitely. The causes of their discomfort are of all kinds, and the degrees of it reach from simple uneasiness to a misery such as makes annihilation the highest hope of the sufferer who can persuade himself of its possibility. Perhaps the greater part of the energy of this world's life goes forth in the endeavour to rid itself of discomfort. Some, to escape it, leave their natural surroundings behind them, and with strong and continuous effort keep rising in the social scale, to discover at every new ascent fresh trouble, as they think, awaiting them, whereas in truth they have brought the trouble with them. Others, making haste to be rich, are slow to find out that the poverty of their souls, none the less that their purses are filling, will yet keep them unhappy. Some court endless change, nor know that on themselves the change must pass that will set them free. Others expand their souls with knowledge, only to find that content will not dwell in the great house they have built. To number the varieties of human endeavour to escape discomfort would be to enumerate all the modes of such life as does not know how to live. All seek the thing whose defect appears the cause of their misery, and is but the variable occasion of it, the cause of the shape it takes, not of the misery itself; for, when one apparent cause is removed, another at once succeeds. The real cause of his trouble is a something the man has not perhaps recognized as even existent; in any case he is not yet acquainted with its true nature.
However absurd the statement may appear to one who has not yet discovered the fact for himself, the cause of every man's discomfort is evil, moral evil—first of all, evil in himself, his own sin, his own wrongness, his own unrightness; and then, evil in those he loves: with this latter I have not now to deal; the only way to get rid of it, is for the man to get rid of his own sin. No special sin may be recognizable as having caused this or that special physical discomfort—which may indeed have originated with some ancestor; but evil in ourselves is the cause of its continuance, the source of its necessity, and the preventive of that patience which would soon take from it, or at least blunt its sting. The evil is essentially unnecessary, and passes with the attainment of the object for which it is permitted—namely, the development of pure will in man; the suffering also is essentially unnecessary, but while the evil lasts, the suffering, whether consequent or merely concomitant, is absolutely necessary. Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business—namely, his own character and conduct. Were it possible—an absurd supposition—that the world should thus be righted from the outside, it would yet be impossible for the man who had contributed to the work, remaining what he was, ever to enjoy the perfection of the result; himself not in tune with the organ he had tuned, he must imagine it still a distracted, jarring instrument. The philanthropist who regards the wrong as in the race, forgetting that the race is made up of conscious and wrong individuals, forgets also that wrong is always generated in and done by an individual; that the wrongness exists in the individual, and by him is passed over, as tendency, to the race; and that no evil can be cured in the race, except by its being cured in its individuals: tendency is not absolute evil; it is there that it may be resisted, not yielded to. There is no way of making three men right but by making right each one of the three; but a cure in one man who repents and turns, is a beginning of the cure of the whole human race.
Even if a man's suffering be a far inheritance, for the curing of which by faith and obedience this life would not be sufficiently long, faith and obedience will yet render it endurable to the man, and overflow in help to his fellow-sufferers. The groaning body, wrapt in the garment of hope, will, with outstretched neck, look for its redemption, and endure.
The one cure for any organism, is to be set right—to have all its parts brought into harmony with each other; the one comfort is to know this cure in process. Rightness alone is cure. The return of the organism to its true self, is its only possible ease. To free a man from suffering, he must be set right, put in health; and the health at the root of man's being, his rightness, is to be free from wrongness, that is, from sin. A man is right when there is no wrong in him. The wrong, the evil is in him; he must be set free from it. I do not mean set free from the sins he has done: that will follow; I mean the sins he is doing, or is capable of doing; the sins in his being which spoil his nature—the wrongness in him—the evil he consents to; the sin he is, which makes him do the sin he does.
To save a man from his sins, is to say to him, in sense perfect and eternal, 'Rise up and walk. Be at liberty in thy essential being. Be free as the son of God is free.' To do this for us, Jesus was born, and remains born to all the ages. When misery drives a man to call out to the source of his life,—and I take the increasing outcry against existence as a sign of the growth of the race toward a sense of the need of regeneration—the answer, I think, will come in a quickening of his conscience. This earnest of the promised deliverance may not, in all probability will not be what the man desires; he will want only to be rid of his suffering; but that he cannot have, save in being delivered from its essential root, a thing infinitely worse than any suffering it can produce. If he will not have that deliverance, he must keep his suffering. Through chastisement he will take at last the only way that leads into the liberty of that which is and must be. There can be no deliverance but to come out of his evil dream into the glory of God.
It is true that Jesus came, in delivering us from our sins, to deliver us also from the painful consequences of our sins. But these consequences exist by the one law of the universe, the true will of the Perfect. That broken, that disobeyed by the creature, disorganization renders suffering inevitable; it is the natural consequence of the unnatural—and, in the perfection of God's creation, the result is curative of the cause; the pain at least tends to the healing of the breach. The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of their sins while yet those sins remained: that would be to cast out of window the medicine of cure while yet the man lay sick; to go dead against the very laws of being. Yet men, loving their sins, and feeling nothing of their dread hatefulness, have, consistently with their low condition, constantly taken this word concerning the Lord to mean that he came to save them from the punishment of their sins. The idea—the miserable fancy rather—has terribly corrupted the preaching of the gospel. The message of the good news has not been truly delivered. Unable to believe in the forgiveness of their Father in heaven, imagining him not at liberty to forgive, or incapable of forgiving forthright; not really believing him God our Saviour, but a God bound, either in his own nature or by a law above him and compulsory upon him, to exact some recompense or satisfaction for sin, a multitude of teaching men have taught their fellows that Jesus came to bear our punishment and save us from hell. They have represented a result as the object of his mission—the said result nowise to be desired by true man save as consequent on the gain of his object. The mission of Jesus was from the same source and with the same object as the punishment of our sins. He came to work along with our punishment. He came to side with it, and set us free from our sins. No man is safe from hell until he is free from his sins; but a man to whom his sins, that is the evil things in him, are a burden, while he may indeed sometimes feel as if he were in hell, will soon have forgotten that ever he had any other hell to think of than that of his sinful condition. For to him his sins are hell; he would go to the other hell to be free of them; free of them, hell itself would be endurable to him. For hell is God's and not the devil's. Hell is on the side of God and man, to free the child of God from the corruption of death. Not one soul will ever be redeemed from hell but by being saved from his sins, from the evil in him. If hell be needful to save him, hell will blaze, and the worm will writhe and bite, until he takes refuge in the will of the Father. 'Salvation from hell, is salvation as conceived by such to whom hell and not evil is the terror.' But if even for dread of hell a poor soul seek the Father, he will be heard of him in his terror, and, taught of him to seek the immeasurably greater gift, will in the greater receive the less.
There is another important misapprehension of the words of the messengers of the good tidings—that they threaten us with punishment because of the sins we have committed, whereas their message is of forgiveness, not of vengeance; of deliverance, not of evil to come. Not for anything he has committed do they threaten a man with the outer darkness. Not for any or all of his sins that are past shall a man be condemned; not for the worst of them needs he dread remaining unforgiven. The sin he dwells in, the sin he will not come out of, is the sole ruin of a man. His present, his live sins—those pervading his thoughts and ruling his conduct; the sins he keeps doing, and will not give up; the sins he is called to abandon, and clings to; the same sins which are the cause of his misery, though he may not know it—these are they for which he is even now condemned. It is true the memory of the wrongs we have done is, or will become very bitter; but not for those is condemnation; and if that in our character which made them possible were abolished, remorse would lose its worst bitterness in the hope of future amends. 'This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.'
It is the indwelling badness, ready to produce bad actions, that we need to be delivered from. Against this badness if a man will not strive, he is left to commit evil and reap the consequences. To be saved from these consequences, would be no deliverance; it would be an immediate, ever deepening damnation. It is the evil in our being—no essential part of it, thank God!—the miserable fact that the very child of God does not care for his father and will not obey him, causing us to desire wrongly, act wrongly, or, where we try not to act wrongly, yet making it impossible for us not to feel wrongly—this is what he came to deliver us from;—not the things we have done, but the possibility of doing such things any more. With the departure of this possibility, and with the hope of confession hereafter to those we have wronged, will depart also the power over us of the evil things we have done, and so we shall be saved from them also. The bad that lives in us, our evil judgments, our unjust desires, our hate and pride and envy and greed and self-satisfaction—these are the souls of our sins, our live sins, more terrible than the bodies of our sins, namely the deeds we do, inasmuch as they not only produce these loathsome things, but make us loathsome as they. Our wrong deeds are our dead works; our evil thoughts are our live sins. These, the essential opposites of faith and love, the sins that dwell and work in us, are the sins from which Jesus came to deliver us. When we turn against them and refuse to obey them, they rise in fierce insistence, but the same moment begin to die. We are then on the Lord's side, as he has always been on ours, and he begins to deliver us from them.
Anything in you, which, in your own child, would make you feel him not so pleasant as you would have him, is something wrong. This may mean much to one, little or nothing to another. Things in a child which to one parent would not seem worth minding, would fill another with horror. After his moral development, where the one parent would smile, the other would look aghast, perceiving both the present evil, and the serpent-brood to follow. But as the love of him who is love, transcends ours as the heavens are higher than the earth, so must he desire in his child infinitely more than the most jealous love of the best mother can desire in hers. He would have him rid of all discontent, all fear, all grudging, all bitterness in word or thought, all gauging and measuring of his own with a different rod from that he would apply to another's. He will have no curling of the lip; no indifference in him to the man whose service in any form he uses; no desire to excel another, no contentment at gaining by his loss. He will not have him receive the smallest service without gratitude; would not hear from him a tone to jar the heart of another, a word to make it ache, be the ache ever so transient. From such, as from all other sins, Jesus was born to deliver us; not, primarily, or by itself, from the punishment of any of them. When all are gone, the holy punishment will have departed also. He came to make us good, and therein blessed children.
One master-sin is at the root of all the rest. It is no individual action, or anything that comes of mood, or passion; it is the non-recognition by the man, and consequent inactivity in him, of the highest of all relations, that relation which is the root and first essential condition of every other true relation of or in the human soul. It is the absence in the man of harmony with the being whose thought is the man's existence, whose word is the man's power of thought. It is true that, being thus his offspring, God, as St Paul affirms, cannot be far from any one of us: were we not in closest contact of creating and created, we could not exist; as we have in us no power to be, so have we none to continue being; but there is a closer contact still, as absolutely necessary to our well-being and highest existence, as the other to our being at all, to the mere capacity of faring well or ill. For the highest creation of God in man is his will, and until the highest in man meets the highest in God, their true relation is not yet a spiritual fact. The flower lies in the root, but the root is not the flower. The relation exists, but while one of the parties neither knows, loves, nor acts upon it, the relation is, as it were, yet unborn. The highest in man is neither his intellect nor his imagination nor his reason; all are inferior to his will, and indeed, in a grand way, dependent upon it: his will must meet God's—a will distinct from God's, else were no harmony possible between them. Not the less, therefore, but the more, is all God's. For God creates in the man the power to will His will. It may cost God a suffering man can never know, to bring the man to the point at which he will will His will; but when he is brought to that point, and declares for the truth, that is, for the will of God, he becomes one with God, and the end of God in the man's creation, the end for which Jesus was born and died, is gained. The man is saved from his sins, and the universe flowers yet again in his redemption. But I would not be supposed, from what I have said, to imagine the Lord without sympathy for the sorrows and pains which reveal what sin is, and by means of which he would make men sick of sin. With everything human he sympathizes. Evil is not human; it is the defect and opposite of the human; but the suffering that follows it is human, belonging of necessity to the human that has sinned: while it is by cause of sin, suffering is for the sinner, that he may be delivered from his sin. Jesus is in himself aware of every human pain. He feels it also. In him too it is pain. With the energy of tenderest love he wills his brothers and sisters free, that he may fill them to overflowing with that essential thing, joy. For that they were indeed created. But the moment they exist, truth becomes the first thing, not happiness; and he must make them true. Were it possible, however, for pain to continue after evil was gone, he would never rest while one ache was yet in the world. Perfect in sympathy, he feels in himself, I say, the tortured presence of every nerve that lacks its repose. The man may recognize the evil in him only as pain; he may know little and care nothing about his sins; yet is the Lord sorry for his pain. He cries aloud, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' He does not say, 'Come unto me, all ye that feel the burden of your sins;' he opens his arms to all weary enough to come to him in the poorest hope of rest. Right gladly would he free them from their misery—but he knows only one way: he will teach them to be like himself, meek and lowly, bearing with gladness the yoke of his father's will. This is the one, the only right, the only possible way of freeing them from their sins, the cause of their unrest. With them the weariness comes first; with him the sins: there is but one cure for both—the will of the Father. That which is his joy will be their deliverance! He might indeed, it may be, take from them the human, send them down to some lower stage of being, and so free them from suffering—but that must be either a descent toward annihilation, or a fresh beginning to grow up again toward the region of suffering they have left; for that which is not growing must at length die out of creation. The disobedient and selfish would fain in the hell of their hearts possess the liberty and gladness that belong to purity and love, but they cannot have them; they are weary and heavy-laden, both with what they are, and because of what they were made for but are not. The Lord knows what they need; they know only what they want. They want ease; he knows they need purity. Their very existence is an evil, of which, but for his resolve to purify them, their maker must rid his universe. How can he keep in his sight a foul presence? Must the creator send forth his virtue to hold alive a thing that will be evil—a thing that ought not to be, that has no claim but to cease? The Lord himself would not live save with an existence absolutely good.
It may be my reader will desire me to say how the Lord will deliver him from his sins. That is like the lawyer's 'Who is my neighbour?' The spirit of such a mode of receiving the offer of the Lord's deliverance, is the root of all the horrors of a corrupt theology, so acceptable to those who love weak and beggarly hornbooks of religion. Such questions spring from the passion for the fruit of the tree of knowledge, not the fruit of the tree of life. Men would understand: they do not care to obey,—understand where it is impossible they should understand save by obeying. They would search into the work of the Lord instead of doing their part in it—thus making it impossible both for the Lord to go on with his work, and for themselves to become capable of seeing and understanding what he does. Instead of immediately obeying the Lord of life, the one condition upon which he can help them, and in itself the beginning of their deliverance, they set themselves to question their unenlightened intellects as to his plans for their deliverance—and not merely how he means to effect it, but how he can be able to effect it. They would bind their Samson until they have scanned his limbs and thews. Incapable of understanding the first motions of freedom in themselves, they proceed to interpret the riches of his divine soul in terms of their own beggarly notions, to paraphrase his glorious verse into their own paltry commercial prose; and then, in the growing presumption of imagined success, to insist upon their neighbours' acceptance of their distorted shadows of 'the plan of salvation' as the truth of him in whom is no darkness, and the one condition of their acceptance with him. They delay setting their foot on the stair which alone can lead them to the house of wisdom, until they shall have determined the material and mode of its construction. For the sake of knowing, they postpone that which alone can enable them to know, and substitute for the true understanding which lies beyond, a false persuasion that they already understand. They will not accept, that is, act upon, their highest privilege, that of obeying the Son of God. It is on them that do his will, that the day dawns; to them the day-star arises in their hearts. Obedience is the soul of knowledge.
By obedience, I intend no kind of obedience to man, or submission to authority claimed by man or community of men. I mean obedience to the will of the Father, however revealed in our conscience.
God forbid I should seem to despise understanding. The New Testament is full of urgings to understand. Our whole life, to be life at all, must be a growth in understanding. What I cry out upon is the misunderstanding that comes of man's endeavour to understand while not obeying. Upon obedience our energy must be spent; understanding will follow. Not anxious to know our duty, or knowing it and not doing it, how shall we understand that which only a true heart and a clean soul can ever understand? The power in us that would understand were it free, lies in the bonds of imperfection and impurity, and is therefore incapable of judging the divine. It cannot see the truth. If it could see it, it would not know it, and would not have it. Until a man begins to obey, the light that is in him is darkness.
Any honest soul may understand this much, however—for it is a thing we may of ourselves judge to be right—that the Lord cannot save a man from his sins while he holds to his sins. An omnipotence that could do and not do the same thing at the same moment, were an idea too absurd for mockery; an omnipotence that could at once make a man a free man, and leave him a self-degraded slave—make him the very likeness of God, and good only because he could not help being good, would be an idea of the same character—equally absurd, equally self-contradictory.
But the Lord is not unreasonable; he requires no high motives where such could not yet exist. He does not say, 'You must be sorry for your sins, or you need not come to me:' to be sorry for his sins a man must love God and man, and love is the very thing that has to be developed in him. It is but common sense that a man, longing to be freed from suffering, or made able to bear it, should betake himself to the Power by whom he is. Equally is it common sense that, if a man would be delivered from the evil in him, he must himself begin to cast it out, himself begin to disobey it, and work righteousness. As much as either is it common sense that a man should look for and expect the help of his Father in the endeavour. Alone, he might labour to all eternity and not succeed. He who has not made himself, cannot set himself right without him who made him. But his maker is in him, and is his strength. The man, however, who, instead of doing what he is told, broods speculating on the metaphysics of him who calls him to his work, stands leaning his back against the door by which the Lord would enter to help him. The moment he sets about putting straight the thing that is crooked—I mean doing right where he has been doing wrong, he withdraws from the entrance, gives way for the Master to come in. He cannot make himself pure, but he can leave that which is impure; he can spread out the 'defiled, discoloured web' of his life before the bleaching sun of righteousness; he cannot save himself, but he can let the Lord save him. The struggle of his weakness is as essential to the coming victory as the strength of Him who resisted unto death, striving against sin.
The sum of the whole matter is this:—The Son has come from the Father to set the children free from their sins; the children must hear and obey him, that he may send forth judgment unto victory.
Son of our Father, help us to do what thou sayest, and so with thee die unto sin, that we may rise to the sonship for which we were created. Help us to repent even to the sending away of our sins.
THE REMISSION OF SINS.
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.—Mark i. 4.
God and man must combine for salvation from sin, and the same word, here and elsewhere translated remission, seems to be employed in the New Testament for the share of either in the great deliverance.
But first let me say something concerning the word here and everywhere translated repentance. I would not even suggest a mistranslation; but the idea intended by the word has been so misunderstood and therefore mistaught, that it requires some consideration of the word itself to get at a right recognition of the moral fact it represents.
The Greek word then, of which the word repentance is the accepted synonym and fundamentally the accurate rendering, is made up of two words, the conjoint meaning of which is, a change of mind or thought. There is in it no intent of, or hint at sorrow or shame, or any other of the mental conditions that, not unfrequently accompanying repentance, have been taken for essential parts of it, sometimes for its very essence. Here, the last of the prophets, or the evangelist who records his doings, qualifies the word, as if he held it insufficient in itself to convey the Baptist's meaning, with the three words that follow it—[Greek: eis aPhesin amartion:—kaerusson Baptisma metauoias eis aphesin amartion]—'preaching a baptism of repentance—unto a sending away of sins'. I do not say the phrase [Greek: aphesis amartion] never means forgiveness, one form at least of God's sending away of sins; neither do I say that the taking of the phrase to mean repentance for the remission of sins, namely, repentance in order to obtain the pardon of God, involves any inconsistency; but I say that the word [Greek: eis] rather unto than for; that the word [Greek: aphesis], translated remission, means, fundamentally, a sending away, a dismissal; and that the writer seems to use the added phrase to make certain what he means by repentance; a repentance, namely, that reaches to the sending away, or abjurement of sins. I do not think a change of mind unto the remission or pardon of sin would be nearly so logical a phrase as a change of mind unto the dismission of sinning. The revised version refuses the word for and chooses unto, though it retains remission, which word, now, conveys no meaning except the forgiveness of God. I think that here the same word is used for man's dismission of his sins, as is elsewhere used for God's dismission or remission of them. In both uses, it is a sending away of sins, with the difference of meaning that comes from the differing sources of the action. Both God and man send away sins, but in the one case God sends away the sins of the man, and in the other the man sends away his own sins. I do not enter into the question whether God's aphesis may or may not mean as well the sending of his sins out of a man, as the pardon of them; whether it may not sometimes mean dismission, and sometimes remission: I am sure the one deed cannot be separated from the other.
That the phrase here intends repentance unto the ceasing from sin, the giving up of what is wrong, I will try to show at least probable.
In the first place, the user of the phrase either defines the change of mind he means as one that has for its object the pardon of God, or as one that reaches to a new life: the latter seems to me the more natural interpretation by far. The kind and scope of the repentance or change, and not any end to be gained by it, appears intended. The change must be one of will and conduct—a radical change of life on the part of the man: he must repent—that is, change his mind—not to a different opinion, not even to a mere betterment of his conduct—not to anything less than a sending away of his sins. This interpretation of the preaching of the Baptist seems to me, I repeat, the more direct, the fuller of meaning, the more logical.
Next, in St Matthew's gospel, the Baptist's buttressing argument, or imminent motive for the change he is pressing upon the people is, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand: 'Because the king of heaven is coming, you must give up your sinning.' The same argument for immediate action lies in his quotation from Isaiah,—'Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.' The only true, the only possible preparation for the coming Lord, is to cease from doing evil, and begin to do well—to send away sin. They must cleanse, not the streets of their cities, not their houses or their garments or even their persons, but their hearts and their doings. It is true the Baptist did not see that the kingdom coming was not of this world, but of the higher world in the hearts of men; it is true that his faith failed him in his imprisonment, because he heard of no martial movement on the part of the Lord, no assertion of his sovereignty, no convincing show of his power; but he did see plainly that righteousness was essential to the kingdom of heaven. That he did not yet perceive that righteousness is the kingdom of heaven; that he did not see that the Lord was already initiating his kingdom by sending away sin out of the hearts of his people, is not wonderful. The Lord's answer to his fore-runner's message of doubt, was to send his messenger back an eye-witness of what he was doing, so to wake or clarify in him the perception that his kingdom was not of this world—that he dealt with other means to another end than John had yet recognized as his mission or object; for obedient love in the heart of the poorest he healed or persuaded, was his kingdom come.
Again, observe that, when the Pharisees came to John, he said to them, 'Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:' is not this the same as, 'Repent unto the sending away of your sins'?
Note also, that, when the multitudes came to the prophet, and all, with the classes most obnoxious to the rest, the publicans and the soldiers, asked what he would have them do—thus plainly recognizing that something was required of them—his instruction was throughout in the same direction: they must send away their sins; and each must begin with the fault that lay next him. The kingdom of heaven was at hand: they must prepare the way of the Lord by beginning to do as must be done in his kingdom.
They could not rid themselves of their sins, but they could set about sending them away; they could quarrel with them, and proceed to turn them out of the house: the Lord was on his way to do his part in their final banishment. Those who had repented to the sending away of their sins, he would baptize with a holy power to send them away indeed. The operant will to get rid of them would be baptized with a fire that should burn them up. When a man breaks with his sins, then the wind of the Lord's fan will blow them away, the fire of the Lord's heart will consume them.
I think, then, that the part of the repentant man, and not the part of God, in the sending away of sins, is intended here. It is the man's one preparation for receiving the power to overcome them, the baptism of fire.
Not seldom, what comes in the name of the gospel of Jesus Christ, must seem, even to one not far from the kingdom of heaven, no good news at all. It does not draw him; it wakes in him not a single hope. He has no desire after what it offers him as redemption. The God it gives him news of, is not one to whom he would draw nearer. But when such a man comes to see that the very God must be his Life, the heart of his consciousness; when he perceives that, rousing himself to put from him what is evil, and do the duty that lies at his door, he may fearlessly claim the help of him who 'loved him into being,' then his will immediately sides with his conscience; he begins to try to be; and—first thing toward being—to rid himself of what is antagonistic to all being, namely wrong. Multitudes will not even approach the appalling task, the labour and pain of being. God is doing his part, is undergoing the mighty toil of an age-long creation, endowing men with power to be; but few as yet are those who take up their part, who respond to the call of God, who will to be, who put forth a divine effort after real existence. To the many, the spirit of the prophet cries, 'Turn ye, and change your way! The kingdom of heaven is near you. Let your king possess his own. Let God throne himself in you, that his liberty be your life, and you free men. That he may enter, clear the house for him. Send away the bad things out of it. Depart from evil, and do good. The duty that lieth at thy door, do it, be it great or small.'
For indeed in this region there is no great or small. 'Be content with your wages,' said the Baptist to the soldiers. To many people now, the word would be, 'Rule your temper;' or, 'Be courteous to all;' or, 'Let each hold the other better than himself;' or, 'Be just to your neighbour that you may love him.' To make straight in the desert a highway for our God, we must bestir ourselves in the very spot of the desert on which we stand; we must cast far from us our evil thing that blocks the way of his chariot-wheels. If we do not, never will those wheels roll through our streets; never will our desert blossom with his roses.
The message of John to his countrymen, was then, and is yet, the one message to the world:—'Send away your sins, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' Some of us—I cannot say all, for I do not know—who have already repented, who have long ago begun to send away our sins, need fresh repentance every day—how many times a day, God only knows. We are so ready to get upon some path that seems to run parallel with the narrow way, and then take no note of its divergence! What is there for us when we discover that we are out of the way, but to bethink ourselves and turn? By those 'who need no repentance,' the Lord may have meant such as had repented perfectly, had sent away all their sins, and were now with him in his Father's house; also such as have never sinned, and such as no longer turn aside for any temptation.
We shall now, perhaps, be able to understand the relation of the Lord himself to the baptism of John.
He came to John to be baptized; and most would say John's baptism was of repentance for the remission or pardon of sins. But the Lord could not be baptized for the remission of sins, for he had never done a selfish, an untrue, or an unfair thing. He had never wronged his Father, any more than ever his Father had wronged him. Happy, happy Son and Father, who had never either done the other wrong, in thought, word, or deed! As little had he wronged brother or sister. He needed no forgiveness; there was nothing to forgive. No more could he be baptized for repentance: in him repentance would have been to turn to evil! Where then was the propriety of his coming to be baptized by John, and insisting on being by him baptized? It must lie elsewhere.
If we take the words of John to mean 'the baptism of repentance unto the sending away of sins;' and if we bear in mind that in his case repentance could not be, inasmuch as what repentance is necessary to bring about in man, was already existent in Jesus; then, altering the words to fit the case, and saying, 'the baptism of willed devotion to the sending away of sin,' we shall see at once how the baptism of Jesus was a thing right and fit.
That he had no sin to repent of, was not because he was so constituted that he could not sin if he would; it was because, of his own will and judgment, he sent sin away from him—sent it from him with the full choice and energy of his nature. God knows good and evil, and, blessed be his name, chooses good. Never will his righteous anger make him unfair to us, make him forget that we are dust. Like him, his son also chose good, and in that choice resisted all temptation to help his fellows otherwise than as their and his father would. Instead of crushing the power of evil by divine force; instead of compelling justice and destroying the wicked; instead of making peace on the earth by the rule of a perfect prince; instead of gathering the children of Jerusalem under his wings whether they would or not, and saving them from the horrors that anguished his prophetic soul—he let evil work its will while it lived; he contented himself with the slow unencouraging ways of help essential; making men good; casting out, not merely controlling Satan; carrying to their perfect issue on earth the old primeval principles because of which the Father honoured him: 'Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.' To love righteousness is to make it grow, not to avenge it; and to win for righteousness the true victory, he, as well as his brethren, had to send away evil. Throughout his life on earth, he resisted every impulse to work more rapidly for a lower good,—strong perhaps when he saw old age and innocence and righteousness trodden under foot. What but this gives any worth of reality to the temptation in the wilderness, to the devil's departing from him for a season, to his coming again to experience a like failure? Ever and ever, in the whole attitude of his being, in his heart always lifted up, in his unfailing readiness to pull with the Father's yoke, he was repelling, driving away sin—away from himself, and, as Lord of men, and their saviour, away from others also, bringing them to abjure it like himself. No man, least of all any lord of men, can be good without willing to be good, without setting himself against evil, without sending away sin. Other men have to send it away out of them; the Lord had to send it away from before him, that it should not enter into him. Therefore is the stand against sin common to the captain of salvation and the soldiers under him.
What did Jesus come into the world to do? The will of God in saving his people from their sins—not from the punishment of their sins, that blessed aid to repentance, but from their sins themselves, the paltry as well as the heinous, the venial as well as the loathsome. His whole work was and is to send away sin—to banish it from the earth, yea, to cast it into the abyss of non-existence behind the back of God. His was the holy war; he came carrying it into our world; he resisted unto blood; the soldiers that followed him he taught and trained to resist also unto blood, striving against sin; so he became the captain of their salvation, and they, freed themselves, fought and suffered for others. This was the task to which he was baptized; this is yet his enduring labour. 'This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many unto the sending away of sins.' What was the new covenant? 'I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant which they brake, but this: I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people.'
John baptized unto repentance because those to whom he was sent had to repent. They must bethink themselves, and send away the sin that was in them. But had there been a man, aware of no sin in him, but aware that life would be no life were not sin kept out of him, that man would have been right in receiving the baptism of John unto the continuous dismission of the sin ever wanting to enter in at his door. The object of the baptism was the sending away of sin; its object was repentance only where necessary to, only as introducing, as resulting in that. He to whom John was not sent, He whom he did not call, He who needed no repentance, was baptized for the same object, to the same conflict for the same end—the banishment of sin from the dominions of his father—and that first by his own sternest repudiation of it in himself. Thence came his victory in the wilderness: he would have his fathers way, not his own. Could he be less fitted to receive the baptism of John, that the object of it was no new thing with him, who had been about it from the beginning, yea, from all eternity? We shall be about it, I presume, to all eternity.
Such, then, as were baptized by John, were initiated into the company of those whose work was to send sin out of the world, and first, by sending it out of themselves, by having done with it. Their earliest endeavour in this direction would, as I have said, open the door for that help to enter without which a man could never succeed in the divinely arduous task—could not, because the region in which the work has to be wrought lies in the very roots of his own being, where, knowing nothing of the secrets of his essential existence, he can immediately do nothing, where the maker of him alone is potent, alone is consciously present. The change that must pass in him more than equals a new creation, inasmuch as it is a higher creation. But its necessity is involved in the former creation; and thence we have a right to ask help of our creator, for he requires of us what he has created us unable to effect without him. Nay, nay!—could we do anything without him, it were a thing to leave undone. Blessed fact that he hath made us so near him! that the scale of our being is so large, that we are completed only by his presence in it! that we are not men without him! that we can be one with our self-existent creator! that we are not cut off from the original Infinite! that in him we must share infinitude, or be enslaved by the finite! The very patent of our royalty is, that not for a moment can we live our true life without the eternal life present in and with our spirits. Without him at our unknown root, we cease to be. True, a dog cannot live without the presence of God; but I presume a dog may live a good dog-life without knowing the presence of his origin: man is dead if he know not the Power which is his cause, his deepest selfing self; the Presence which is not himself, and is nearer to him than himself; which is infinitely more himself, more his very being, than he is himself. The being of which we are conscious, is not our full self; the extent of our consciousness of our self is no measure of our self; our consciousness is infinitely less than we; while God is more necessary even to that poor consciousness of self than our self-consciousness is necessary to our humanity. Until a man become the power of his own existence, become his own God, the sole thing necessary to his existing is the will of God; for the well-being and perfecting of that existence, the sole thing necessary is, that the man should know his maker present in him. All that the children want is their Father.
The one true end of all speech concerning holy things is—the persuading of the individual man to cease to do evil, to set himself to do well, to look to the lord of his life to be on his side in the new struggle. Supposing the suggestions I have made correct, I do not care that my reader should understand them, except it be to turn against the evil in him, and begin to cast it out. If this be not the result, it is of no smallest consequence whether he agree with my interpretation or not. If he do thus repent, it is of equally little consequence; for, setting himself to do the truth, he is on the way to know all things. Real knowledge has begun to grow possible for him.
I am not sure what the Lord means in the words, 'Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.' Baptism could not be the fulfilling of all righteousness! Perhaps he means, 'We must, by a full act of the will, give ourselves altogether to righteousness. We must make it the business of our lives to send away sin, and do the will of the Father. That is my work as much as the work of any man who must repent ere he can begin. I will not be left out when you call men to be pure as our father is pure.'
To be certain whom he intends by us might perhaps help us to see his meaning. Does he intend all of us men? Does he intend 'my father and me'? Or does he intend 'you and me, John'? If the saying mean what I have suggested, then the us would apply to all that have the knowledge of good and evil. 'Every being that can, must devote himself to righteousness. To be right is no adjunct of completeness; it is the ground and foundation of existence.' But perhaps it was a lesson for John himself, who, mighty preacher of righteousness as he was, did not yet count it the all of life. I cannot tell.
Note that when the Lord began his teaching, he employed, neither using nor inculcating any rite, the same words as John,—'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
That kingdom had been at hand all his infancy, boyhood, and young manhood: he was in the world with his father in his heart: that was the kingdom of heaven. Lonely man on the hillside, or boy the cynosure of doctor-eyes, his father was everything to him:—'Wist ye not that I must be in my father's things?'
JESUS IN THE WORLD.
'Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.' And he said unto them, 'How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my father's business?' And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.—Luke ii. 48-50.
Was that his saying? Why did they not understand it? Do we understand it? What did his saying mean? The Greek is not absolutely clear. Whether the Syriac words he used were more precise, who in this world can tell? But had we heard his very words, we too, with his father and mother, would have failed to understand them. Must we fail still?
It will show at once where our initial difficulty lies, if I give the latter half of the saying as presented in the revised English version: its departure from the authorized reveals the point of obscurity:—'Wist ye not that I must be in my father's house?' His parents had his exact words, yet did not understand. We have not his exact words, and are in doubt as to what the Greek translation of them means.
If the authorized translation be true to the intent of the Greek, and therefore to that of the Syriac, how could his parents, knowing him as they did from all that had been spoken before concerning him, from all they had seen in him, from the ponderings in Mary's own heart, and from the precious thoughts she and Joseph cherished concerning him, have failed to understand him when he said that wherever he was, he must be about his father's business? On the other hand, supposing them to know and feel that he must be about his father's business, would that have been reason sufficient, in view of the degree of spiritual development to which they had attained, for the Lord's expecting them not to be anxious about him when they had lost him? Thousands on thousands who trust God for their friends in things spiritual, do not trust him for them in regard of their mere health or material well-being. His parents knew how prophets had always been treated in the land; or if they did not think in that direction, there were many dangers to which a boy like him would seem exposed, to rouse an anxiety that could be met only by a faith equal to saying, 'Whatever has happened to him, death itself, it can be no evil to one who is about his father's business;' and such a faith I think the Lord could not yet have expected of them. That what the world counts misfortune might befall him on his father's business, would have been recognized by him, I think, as reason for their parental anxiety—so long as they had not learned God—that he is what he is—the thing the Lord had come to teach his father's men and women. His words seem rather to imply that there was no need to be anxious about his personal safety. Fear of some accident to him seems to have been the cause of their trouble; and he did not mean, I think, that they ought not to mind if he died doing his father's will, but that he was in no danger as regarded accident or misfortune. This will appear more plainly as we proceed. So much for the authorized version.
Let us now take the translation given us by the Revisers:—'Wist ye not that I must be in my father's house?'
Are they authorized in translating the Greek thus? I know no justification for it, but am not learned enough to say they have none. That the Syriac has it so, is of little weight; seeing it is no original Syriac, but retranslation. If he did say 'my father's house', could he have meant the temple and his parents not have known what he meant? And why should he have taken it for granted they would know, or judge that they ought to have known, that he was there? So little did the temple suggest itself to them, that either it was the last place in which they sought him, or they had been there before, and had not found him. If he meant that they might have known this without being told, why was it that, even when he set the thing before them, they did not understand him? I do not believe he meant the temple; I do not think he said or meant 'in my fathers house'.
What then makes those who give us this translation, prefer it to the phrase in the authorized version, 'about my Father's business'?
One or other of two causes—most likely both together: an ecclesiastical fancy, and the mere fact that he was found in the temple. A mind ecclesiastical will presume the temple the fittest, therefore most likely place, for the Son of God to betake himself to, but such a mind would not be the first to reflect that the temple was a place where the Father was worshipped neither in spirit nor in truth—a place built by one of the vilest rulers of this world, less fit than many another spot for the special presence of him of whom the prophet bears witness: 'Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.' Jesus himself, with the same breath in which once he called it his father's house, called it a den of thieves. His expulsion from it of the buyers and sellers, was the first waft of the fan with which he was come to purge his father's dominions. Nothing could ever cleanse that house; his fanning rose to a tempest, and swept it out of his father's world.
For the second possible cause of the change from business to temple—the mere fact that he was found in the temple, can hardly be a reason for his expecting his parents to know that he was there; and if it witnessed to some way of thought or habit of his with which they were acquainted, it is, I repeat, difficult to see why the parents should fail to perceive what the interpreters have found so easily. But the parents looked for a larger meaning in the words of such a son—whose meaning at the same time was too large for them to find.
When, according to the Greek, the Lord, on the occasion already alluded to, says 'my father's house,' he says it plainly; he uses the word house: here he does not.
Let us see what lies in the Greek to guide us to the thought in the mind of the Lord when he thus reasoned with the apprehensions of his father and mother. The Greek, taken literally, says, 'Wist ye not that I must be in the——of my father?' The authorized version supplies business; the revised, house. There is no noun in the Greek, and the article 'the' is in the plural. To translate it as literally as it can be translated, making of it an English sentence, the saying stands, 'Wist ye not that I must be in the things of my father?' The plural article implies the English things; and the question is then, What things does he mean? The word might mean affairs or business; but why the plural article should be contracted to mean house, I do not know. In a great wide sense, no doubt, the word house might be used, as I am about to show, but surely not as meaning the temple.
He was arguing for confidence in God on the part of his parents, not for a knowledge of his whereabout. The same thing that made them anxious concerning him, prevented them from understanding his words—lack, namely, of faith in the Father. This, the one thing he came into the world to teach men, those words were meant to teach his parents. They are spirit and life, involving the one principle by which men shall live. They hold the same core as his words to his disciples in the storm, 'Oh ye of little faith!' Let us look more closely at them.
'Why did you look for me? Did you not know that I must be among my father's things?' What are we to understand by 'my father's things'? The translation given in the authorized version is, I think, as to the words themselves, a thoroughly justifiable one: 'I must be about my father's business,' or 'my father's affairs'; I refuse it for no other reason than that it does not fit the logic of the narrative, as does the word things, which besides opens to us a door of large and joyous prospect. Of course he was about his father's business, and they might know it and yet be anxious about him, not having a perfect faith in that father. But, as I have said already, it was not anxiety as to what might befall him because of doing the will of the Father; he might well seem to them as yet too young for danger from that source; it was but the vague perils of life beyond their sight that appalled them; theirs was just the uneasiness that possesses every parent whose child is missing; and if they, like him, had trusted in their father, they would have known what their son now meant when he said that he was in the midst of his father's things—namely, that the very things from which they dreaded evil accident, were his own home-surroundings; that he was not doing the Father's business in a foreign country, but in the Father's own house. Understood as meaning the world, or the universe, the phrase, 'my father's house,' would be a better translation than the authorized; understood as meaning the poor, miserable, God-forsaken temple—no more the house of God than a dead body is the house of a man—it is immeasurably inferior.
It seems to me, I say, that the Lord meant to remind them, or rather to make them feel, for they had not yet learned the fact, that he was never away from home, could not be lost, as they had thought him; that he was in his father's house all the time, where no hurt could come to him. 'The things' about him were the furniture and utensils of his home; he knew them all and how to use them. 'I must be among my father's belongings.' The world was his home because his father's house. He was not a stranger who did not know his way about in it. He was no lost child, but with his father all the time.
Here we find one main thing wherein the Lord differs from us: we are not at home in this great universe, our father's house. We ought to be, and one day we shall be, but we are not yet. This reveals Jesus more than man, by revealing him more man than we. We are not complete men, we are not anything near it, and are therefore out of harmony, more or less, with everything in the house of our birth and habitation. Always struggling to make our home in the world, we have not yet succeeded. We are not at home in it, because we are not at home with the lord of the house, the father of the family, not one with our elder brother who is his right hand. It is only the son, the daughter, that abideth ever in the house. When we are true children, if not the world, then the universe will be our home, felt and known as such, the house we are satisfied with, and would not change. Hence, until then, the hard struggle, the constant strife we hold with Nature—as we call the things of our father; a strife invaluable for our development, at the same time manifesting us not yet men enough to be lords of the house built for us to live in. We cannot govern or command in it as did the Lord, because we are not at one with his father, therefore neither in harmony with his things, nor rulers over them. Our best power in regard to them is but to find out wonderful facts concerning them and their relations, and turn these facts to our uses on systems of our own. For we discover what we seem to discover, by working inward from without, while he works outward from within; and we shall never understand the world, until we see it in the direction in which he works making it—namely from within outward. This of course we cannot do until we are one with him. In the meantime, so much are both we and his things his, that we can err concerning them only as he has made it possible for us to err; we can wander only in the direction of the truth—if but to find that we can find nothing.
Think for a moment how Jesus was at home among the things of his father. It seems to me, I repeat, a spiritless explanation of his words—that the temple was the place where naturally he was at home. Does he make the least lamentation over the temple? It is Jerusalem he weeps over—the men of Jerusalem, the killers, the stoners. What was his place of prayer? Not the temple, but the mountain-top. Where does he find symbols whereby to speak of what goes on in the mind and before the face of his father in heaven? Not in the temple; not in its rites; not on its altars; not in its holy of holies; he finds them in the world and its lovely-lowly facts; on the roadside, in the field, in the vineyard, in the garden, in the house; in the family, and the commonest of its affairs—the lighting of the lamp, the leavening of the meal, the neighbour's borrowing, the losing of the coin, the straying of the sheep. Even in the unlovely facts also of the world which he turns to holy use, such as the unjust judge, the false steward, the faithless labourers, he ignores the temple. See how he drives the devils from the souls and bodies of men, as we the wolves from our sheepfolds! how before him the diseases, scaly and spotted, hurry and flee! The world has for him no chamber of terror. He walks to the door of the sepulchre, the sealed cellar of his father's house, and calls forth its four days dead. He rebukes the mourners, he stays the funeral, and gives back the departed children to their parents' arms. The roughest of its servants do not make him wince; none of them are so arrogant as to disobey his word; he falls asleep in the midst of the storm that threatens to swallow his boat. Hear how, on that same occasion, he rebukes his disciples! The children to tremble at a gust of wind in the house! God's little ones afraid of a storm! Hear him tell the watery floor to be still, and no longer toss his brothers! see the watery floor obey him and grow still! See how the wandering creatures under it come at his call! See him leave his mountain-closet, and go walking over its heaving surface to the help of his men of little faith! See how the world's water turns to wine! how its bread grows more bread at his word! See how he goes from the house for a while, and returning with fresh power, takes what shape he pleases, walks through its closed doors, and goes up and down its invisible stairs!
All his life he was among his father's things, either in heaven or in the world—not then only when they found him in the temple at Jerusalem. He is still among his father's things, everywhere about in the world, everywhere throughout the wide universe. Whatever he laid aside to come to us, to whatever limitations, for our sake, he stooped his regal head, he dealt with the things about him in such lordly, childlike manner as made it clear they were not strange to him, but the things of his father. He claimed none of them as his own, would not have had one of them his except through his father. Only as his father's could he enjoy them;—only as coming forth from the Father, and full of the Father's thought and nature, had they to him any existence. That the things were his fathers, made them precious things to him. He had no care for having, as men count having. All his having was in the Father. I wonder if he ever put anything in his pocket: I doubt if he had one. Did he ever say, 'This is mine, not yours'? Did he not say, 'All things are mine, therefore they are yours'? Oh for his liberty among the things of the Father! Only by knowing them the things of our Father, can we escape enslaving ourselves to them. Through the false, the infernal idea of having, of possessing them, we make them our tyrants, make the relation between them and us an evil thing. The world was a blessed place to Jesus, because everything in it was his father's. What pain must it not have been to him, to see his brothers so vilely misuse the Father's house by grasping, each for himself, at the family things! If the knowledge that a spot in the landscape retains in it some pollution, suffices to disturb our pleasure in the whole, how must it not have been with him, how must it not be with him now, in regard to the disfigurements and defilements caused by the greed of men, by their haste to be rich, in his father's lovely house!
Whoever is able to understand Wordsworth, or Henry Vaughan, when either speaks of the glorious insights of his childhood, will be able to imagine a little how Jesus must, in his eternal childhood, regard the world.
Hear what Wordsworth says:—
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy, But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy; The Youth, who daily farther from the east Must travel, still is Nature's Priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended; At length the Man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day.
Hear what Henry Vaughan says:—
Happy those early dayes, when I Shin'd in my angell-infancy! Before I understood this place Appointed for my second race, Or taught my soul to fancy ought But a white, celestiall thought; When yet I had not walkt above A mile or two, from my first love, And looking back—at that short space— Could see a glimpse of His bright-face; When on some gilded cloud, or flowre My gazing soul would dwell an houre, And in those weaker glories spy Some shadows of eternity; Before I taught my tongue to wound My conscience with a sinfull sound, Or had the black art to dispence A sev'rall sinne to ev'ry sence, But felt through all this fleshly dresse Bright shootes of everlastingnesse. O how I long to travell back, And tread again that ancient track! That I might once more reach that plaine, Where first I left my glorious traine; From whence th' inlightned spirit sees That shady City of palme trees.
Whoever has thus gazed on flower or cloud; whoever can recall poorest memory of the trail of glory that hung about his childhood, must have some faint idea how his father's house and the things in it always looked, and must still look to the Lord. With him there is no fading into the light of common day. He has never lost his childhood, the very essence of childhood being nearness to the Father and the outgoing of his creative love; whence, with that insight of his eternal childhood of which the insight of the little ones here is a fainter repetition, he must see everything as the Father means it. The child sees things as the Father means him to see them, as he thought of them when he uttered them. For God is not only the father of the child, but of the childhood that constitutes him a child, therefore the childness is of the divine nature. The child may not indeed be capable of looking into the father's method, but he can in a measure understand his work, has therefore free entrance to his study and workshop both, and is welcome to find out what he can, with fullest liberty to ask him questions. There are men too, who, at their best, see, in their lower measure, things as they are—as God sees them always. Jesus saw things just as his father saw them in his creative imagination, when willing them out to the eyes of his children. But if he could always see the things of his father even as some men and more children see them at times, he might well feel almost at home among them. He could not cease to admire, cease to love them. I say love, because the life in them, the presence of the creative one, would ever be plain to him. In the Perfect, would familiarity ever destroy wonder at things essentially wonderful because essentially divine? To cease to wonder is to fall plumb-down from the childlike to the commonplace—the most undivine of all moods intellectual. Our nature can never be at home among things that are not wonderful to us.
Could we see things always as we have sometimes seen them—and as one day we must always see them, only far better—should we ever know dullness? Greatly as we might enjoy all forms of art, much as we might learn through the eyes and thoughts of other men, should we fly to these for deliverance from ennui, from any haunting discomfort? Should we not just open our own child-eyes, look upon the things themselves, and be consoled?
Jesus, then, would have his parents understand that he was in his father's world among his father's things, where was nothing to hurt him; he knew them all, was in the secret of them all, could use and order them as did his father. To this same I think all we humans are destined to rise. Though so many of us now are ignorant what kind of home we need, what a home we are capable of having, we too shall inherit the earth with the Son eternal, doing with it as we would—willing with the will of the Father. To such a home as we now inhabit, only perfected, and perfectly beheld, we are travelling—never to reach it save by the obedience that makes us the children, therefore the heirs of God. And, thank God! there the father does not die that the children may inherit; for, bliss of heaven! we inherit with the Father.
All the dangers of Jesus came from the priests, and the learned in the traditional law, whom his parents had not yet begun to fear on his behalf. They feared the dangers of the rugged way, the thieves and robbers of the hill-road. For the scribes and the pharisees, the priests and the rulers—they would be the first to acknowledge their Messiah, their king! Little they imagined, when they found him where he ought to have been safest had it been indeed his father's house, that there he sat amid lions—the great doctors of the temple! He could rule all the things in his father's house, but not the men of religion, the men of the temple, who called his father their Father. True, he might have compelled them with a word, withered them by a glance, with a finger-touch made them grovel at his feet; but such supremacy over his brothers the Lord of life despised. He must rule them as his father ruled himself; he would have them know themselves of the same family with himself; have them at home among the things of God, caring for the things he cared for, loving and hating as he and his father loved and hated, ruling themselves by the essential laws of being. Because they would not be such, he let them do to him as they would, that he might get at their hearts by some unknown unguarded door in their diviner part. 'I will be God among you; I will be myself to you.—You will not have me? Then do to me as you will. The created shall have power over him through whom they were created, that they may be compelled to know him and his father. They shall look on him whom they have pierced.'
His parents found him in the temple; they never really found him until he entered the true temple—their own adoring hearts. The temple that knows not its builder, is no temple; in it dwells no divinity. But at length he comes to his own, and his own receive him;—comes to them in the might of his mission to preach good tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance, and sight, and liberty, and the Lord's own good time.
JESUS AND HIS FELLOW TOWNSMEN.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 'The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.' And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, 'This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.'—Luke iv. 14-21.
The Lord's sermon upon the mount seems such an enlargement of these words of the prophet as might, but for the refusal of the men of Nazareth to listen to him, have followed his reading of them here recorded. That, as given by the evangelist, they correspond to neither of the differing originals of the English and Greek versions, ought to be enough in itself to do away with the spiritually vulgar notion of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.
The point at which the Lord stops in his reading, is suggestive: he closes the book, leaving the words 'and the day of vengeance of our God,' or, as in the Septuagint, 'the day of recompense,' unread: God's vengeance is as holy a thing as his love, yea, is love, for God is love and God is not vengeance; but, apparently, the Lord would not give the word a place in his announcement of his mission: his hearers would not recognize it as a form of the Father's love, but as vengeance on their enemies, not vengeance on the selfishness of those who would not be their brother's keeper.
He had not begun with Nazareth, neither with Galilee. 'A prophet has no honour in his own country,' he said, and began to teach where it was more likely he would be heard. It is true that he wrought his first miracle in Cana, but that was at his mother's request, not of his own intent, and he did not begin his teaching there. He went first to Jerusalem, there cast out the buyers and sellers from the temple, and did other notable things alluded to by St John; then went back to Galilee, where, having seen the things he did in Jerusalem, his former neighbours were now prepared to listen to him. Of these the Nazarenes, to whom the sight of him was more familiar, retained the most prejudice against him: he belonged to their very city! they had known him from a child!—and low indeed are they in whom familiarity with the high and true breeds contempt! they are judged already. Yet such was the fame of the new prophet, that even they were willing to hear in the synagogue what he had to say to them—thence to determine for themselves what claim he had to an honourable reception. But the eye of their judgment was not single, therefore was their body full of darkness. Should Nazareth indeed prove, to their self-glorifying satisfaction, the city of the great Prophet, they were more than ready to grasp at the renown of having produced him: he was indeed the great Prophet, and within a few minutes they would have slain him for the honour of Israel. In the ignoble even the love of their country partakes largely of the ignoble.
There was a shadow of the hateless vengeance of God in the expulsion of the dishonest dealers from the temple with which the Lord initiated his mission: that was his first parable to Jerusalem; to Nazareth he comes with the sweetest words of the prophet of hope in his mouth—good tidings of great joy—of healing and sight and liberty; followed by the godlike announcement, that what the prophet had promised he was come to fulfil. His heart, his eyes, his lips, his hands—his whole body is full of gifts for men, and that day was that scripture fulfilled in their ears. The prophecy had gone before that he should save his people from their sins; he brings an announcement they will better understand: he is come, he says, to deliver men from sorrow and pain, ignorance and oppression, everything that makes life hard and unfriendly. What a gracious speech, what a daring pledge to a world whelmed in tyranny and wrong! To the women of it, I imagine, it sounded the sweetest, in them woke the highest hopes. They had scarce had a hearing when the Lord came; and thereupon things began to mend with them, and are mending still, for the Lord is at work, and will be. He is the refuge of the oppressed. By its very woes, as by bitterest medicine, he is setting the world free from sin and woe. This very hour he is curing its disease, the symptoms of which are so varied and so painful; working none the less faithfully that the sick, taking the symptoms for the disease, cry out against the incompetence of their physician. 'What power can heal the broken-hearted?' they cry. And indeed it takes a God to do it, but the God is here! In yet better words than those of the prophet, spoken straight from his own heart, he cries: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' He calls to him every heart knowing its own bitterness, speaks to the troubled consciousness of every child of the Father. He is come to free us from everything that makes life less than bliss essential. No other could be a gospel worthy of the God of men.
Every one will, I presume, confess to more or less misery. Its apparent source may be this or that; its real source is, to use a poor figure, a dislocation of the juncture between the created and the creating life. This primal evil is the parent of evils unnumbered, hence of miseries multitudinous, under the weight of which the arrogant man cries out against life, and goes on to misuse it, while the child looks around for help—and who shall help him but his father! The Father is with him all the time, but it may be long ere the child knows himself in his arms. His heart may be long troubled as well as his outer life. The dank mists of doubtful thought may close around his way, and hide from him the Light of the world! cold winds from the desert of foiled endeavour may sorely buffet and for a time baffle his hope; but every now and then the blue pledge of a great sky will break through the clouds over his head; and a faint aurora will walk his darkest East. Gradually he grows more capable of imagining a world in which every good thing thinkable may be a fact. Best of all, the story of him who is himself the good news, the gospel of God, becomes not only more and more believable to his heart, but more and more ministrant to his life of conflict, and his assurance of a living father who hears when his children cry. The gospel according to this or that expounder of it, may repel him unspeakably; the gospel according to Jesus Christ, attracts him supremely, and ever holds where it has drawn him. To the priest, the scribe, the elder, exclaiming against his self-sufficiency in refusing what they teach, he answers, 'It is life or death to me. Your gospel I cannot take. To believe as you would have me believe, would be to lose my God. Your God is no God to me. I do not desire him. I would rather die the death than believe in such a God. In the name of the true God, I cast your gospel from me; it is no gospel, and to believe it would be to wrong him in whom alone lies my hope.'
'But to believe in such a man,' he might go on to say, 'with such a message, as I read of in the New Testament, is life from the dead. I have yielded myself, to live no more in the idea of self, but with the life of God. To him I commit the creature he has made, that he may live in it, and work out its life—develop it according to the idea of it in his own creating mind. I fall in with his ways for me. I believe in him. I trust him. I try to obey him. I look to be rendered capable of and receive a pure vision of his will, freedom from the prison-house of my limitation, from the bondage of a finite existence. For the finite that dwells in the infinite and in which the infinite dwells, is finite no longer. Those who are thus children indeed, are little Gods, the divine brood of the infinite Father. No mere promise of deliverance from the consequences of sin, would be any gospel to me. Less than the liberty of a holy heart, less than the freedom of the Lord himself, will never satisfy one human soul. Father, set me free in the glory of thy will, so that I will only as thou willest. Thy will be at once thy perfection and mine. Thou alone art deliverance—absolute safety from every cause and kind of trouble that ever existed, anywhere now exists, or ever can exist in thy universe.'
But the people of the Lord's town, to whom he read, appropriating them, the gracious words of the prophet, were of the wise and prudent of their day. With one and the same breath, they seem to cry, 'These things are good, it is true, but they must come after our way. We must have the promise to our fathers fulfilled—that we shall rule the world, the chosen of God, the children of Abraham and Israel. We want to be a free people, manage our own affairs, live in plenty, and do as we please. Liberty alone can ever cure the woes of which you speak. We do not need to be better; we are well enough. Give us riches and honour, and keep us content with ourselves, that we may be satisfied with our own likeness, and thou shalt be the Messiah.' Never, perhaps, would such be men's spoken words, but the prevailing condition of their minds might often well take form in such speech. Whereon will they ground their complaint should God give them their hearts' desire? When that desire given closes in upon them with a torturing sense of slavery; when they find that what they have imagined their own will, was but a suggestion they knew not whence; when they discover that life is not good, yet they cannot die; will they not then turn and entreat their maker to save them after his own fashion?
Let us try to understand the brief, elliptical narrative of what took place in the synagogue of Nazareth on the occasion of our Lord's announcement of his mission.
'This day,' said Jesus, 'is this scripture fulfilled in your ears;' and went on with his divine talk. We shall yet know, I trust, what 'the gracious words' were 'which proceeded out of his mouth': surely some who heard them, still remember them, for 'all bare him witness, and wondered at' them! How did they bear him witness? Surely not alone by the intensity of their wondering gaze! Must not the narrator mean that their hearts bore witness to the power of his presence, that they felt the appeal of his soul to theirs, that they said in themselves, 'Never man spake like this man'? Must not the light of truth in his face, beheld of such even as knew not the truth, have lifted their souls up truthward? Was it not the something true, common to all hearts, that bore the wondering witness to the graciousness of his words? Had not those words found a way to the pure human, that is, the divine in the men? Was it not therefore that they were drawn to him—all but ready to accept him?—on their own terms, alas, not his! For a moment he seemed to them a true messenger, but truth in him was not truth to them: had he been what they took him for, he would have been no saviour. They were, however, though partly by mistake, well disposed toward him, and it was with a growing sense of being honoured by his relation to them, and the property they had in him, that they said, 'Is not this Joseph's son?'
But the Lord knew what was in their hearts; he knew the false notion with which they were almost ready to declare for him; he knew also the final proof to which they were in their wisdom and prudence about to subject him. He did not look likely to be a prophet, seeing he had grown up among them, and had never shown any credentials: they had a right to proof positive! They had heard of wonderful things he had done in other places: why had they not first of all been done in their sight? Who had a claim equal to theirs? who so capable as they to pronounce judgment on his mission whether false or true: had they not known him from childhood? His words were gracious, but words were nothing: he must do something—something wonderful! Without such conclusive, satisfying proof, Nazareth at least would never acknowledge him!
They were quite ready for the honour of having any true prophet, such as it seemed not impossible the son of Joseph might turn out to be, recognized as their towns-man, one of their own people: if he were such, theirs was the credit of having produced him! Then indeed they were ready to bear witness to him, take his part, adopt his cause, and before the world stand up for him! As to his being the Messiah, that was merest absurdity: did they not all know his father, the carpenter? He might, however, be the prophet whom so many of the best in the nation were at the moment expecting! Let him do something wonderful!
They were not a gracious people, or a good. The Lord saw their thought, and it was far from being to his mind. He desired no such reception as they were at present equal to giving a prophet. His mighty works were not meant for such as they—to convince them of what they were incapable of understanding or welcoming! Those who would not believe without signs and wonders, could never believe worthily with any number of them, and none should be given them! His mighty works were to rouse the love, and strengthen the faith of the meek and lowly in heart, of such as were ready to come to the light, and show that they were of the light. He knew how poor the meaning the Nazarenes put on the words he had read; what low expectations they had of the Messiah when most they longed for his coming. They did not hear the prophet while he read the prophet! At sight of a few poor little wonders, nothing to him, to them sufficient to prove him such a Messiah as they looked for, they would burst into loud acclaim, and rush to their arms, eager, his officers and soldiers, to open the one triumphant campaign against the accursed Romans, and sweep them beyond the borders of their sacred country. Their Messiah would make of their nation the redeemed of the Lord, themselves the favourites of his court, and the tyrants of the world! Salvation from their sins was not in their hearts, not in their imaginations, not at all in their thoughts. They had heard him read his commission to heal the broken-hearted; they would rush to break hearts in his name. The Lord knew them, and their vain expectations. He would have no such followers—no followers on false conceptions—no followers whom wonders would delight but nowise better! The Nazarenes were not yet of the sort that needed but one change to be his people. He had come to give them help; until they accepted his, they could have none to give him.
The Lord never did mighty work in proof of his mission; to help a growing faith in himself and his father, he would do anything! He healed those whom healing would deeper heal—those in whom suffering had so far done its work, that its removal also would carry it on. To the Nazarenes he would not manifest his power; they were not in a condition to get good from such manifestation: it would but confirm their present arrogance and ambition. Wonderful works can only nourish a faith already existent; to him who believes without it, a miracle may be granted. It was the Israelite indeed, whom the Lord met with miracle: 'Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.' Those who laughed him to scorn were not allowed to look on the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus. Peter, when he would walk on the water, had both permission and power given him to do so. The widow received the prophet, and was fed; the Syrian went to the prophet, and was cured. In Nazareth, because of unbelief, the Lord could only lay his hands on a few sick folk; in the rest was none of that leaning toward the truth, which alone can make room for the help of a miracle. This they soon made manifest.
The Lord saw them on the point of challenging a display of his power, and anticipated the challenge with a refusal.
For the better understanding of his words, let me presume to paraphrase them: 'I know you will apply to me the proverb, Physician, heal thyself, requiring me to prove what is said of me in Capernaum, by doing the same here; but there is another proverb, No prophet is accepted in his own country. Unaccepted I do nothing wonderful. In the great famine, Elijah was sent to no widow of the many in Israel, but to a Sidonian; and Elisha cured no leper of the many in Israel, but Naaman the Syrian. There are those fit to see signs and wonders; they are not always the kin of the prophet.'
The Nazarenes heard with indignation. Their wonder at his gracious words was changed to bitterest wrath. The very beams of their ugly religion were party-spirit, exclusiveness, and pride in the fancied favour of God for them only of all the nations: to hint at the possibility of a revelation of the glory of God to a stranger; far more, to hint that a stranger might be fitter to receive such a revelation than a Jew, was an offence reaching to the worst insult; and it was cast in their teeth by a common man of their own city! 'Thou art but a well-known carpenter's son, and dost thou teach us! Darest thou imply a divine preference for Capernaum over Nazareth?' In bad odour with the rest of their countrymen, they were the prouder of themselves.
The whole synagogue, observe, rose in a fury. Such a fellow a prophet! He was worse than the worst of Gentiles! he was a false Jew! a traitor to his God! a friend of the idol-worshipping Romans! Away with him! His townsmen led the van in his rejection by his own. The men of Nazareth would have forestalled his crucifixion by them of Jerusalem. What! a Sidonian woman fitter to receive the prophet than any Jewess! a heathen worthier to be kept alive by miracle in time of famine, than a worshipper of the true God! a leper of Damascus less displeasing to God than the lepers of his chosen race! It was no longer condescending approval that shone in their eyes. He a prophet! They had seen through him! Soon had they found him out! The moment he perceived it useless to pose for a prophet with them, who had all along known the breed of him, he had turned to insult them! He dared not attempt in his own city the deceptions with which, by the help of Satan, he had made such a grand show, and fooled the idiots of Capernaum! He saw they knew him too well, were too wide-awake to be cozened by him, and to avoid their expected challenge, fell to reviling the holy nation. Let him take the consequences! To the brow of the hill with him!
How could there be any miracle for such! They were well satisfied with themselves, and
Nothing almost sees miracles But misery.
Need and the upward look, the mood ready to believe when and where it can, the embryonic faith, is dear to Him whose love would have us trust him. Let any man seek him—not in curious inquiry whether the story of him may be true or cannot be true—in humble readiness to accept him altogether if only he can, and he shall find him; we shall not fail of help to believe because we doubt. But if the questioner be such that the dispersion of his doubt would but leave him in disobedience, the Power of truth has no care to effect his conviction. Why cast out a devil that the man may the better do the work of the devil? The childlike doubt will, as it softens and yields, minister nourishment with all that was good in it to the faith-germ at its heart; the wise and prudent unbelief will be left to develop its own misery. The Lord could easily have satisfied the Nazarenes that he was the Messiah: they would but have hardened into the nucleus of an army for the subjugation of the world. To a warfare with their own sins, to the subjugation of their doing and desiring to the will of the great Father, all the miracles in his power would never have persuaded them. A true convincement is not possible to hearts and minds like theirs. Not only is it impossible for a low man to believe a thousandth part of what a noble man can, but a low man cannot believe anything as a noble man believes it. The men of Nazareth could have believed in Jesus as their saviour from the Romans; as their saviour from their sins they could not believe in him, for they loved their sins. The king of heaven came to offer them a share in his kingdom; but they were not poor in spirit, and the kingdom of heaven was not for them. Gladly would they have inherited the earth; but they were not meek, and the earth was for the lowly children of the perfect Father.
THE HEIRS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' ...'Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.'—Matthew v. 2, 3, 5.
The words of the Lord are the seed sown by the sower. Into our hearts they must fall that they may grow. Meditation and prayer must water them, and obedience keep them in the sunlight. Thus will they bear fruit for the Lord's gathering.
Those of his disciples, that is, obedient hearers, who had any experience in trying to live, would, in part, at once understand them; but as they obeyed and pondered, the meaning of them would keep growing. This we see in the writings of the apostles. It will be so with us also, who need to understand everything he said neither more nor less than they to whom first he spoke; while our obligation to understand is far greater than theirs at the time, inasmuch as we have had nearly two thousand years' experience of the continued coming of the kingdom he then preached: it is not yet come; it has been all the time, and is now, drawing slowly nearer.
The sermon on the mount, as it is commonly called, seems the Lord's first free utterance, in the presence of any large assembly, of the good news of the kingdom. He had been teaching his disciples and messengers; and had already brought the glad tidings that his father was their father, to many besides—to Nathanael for one, to Nicodemus, to the woman of Samaria, to every one he had cured, every one whose cry for help he had heard: his epiphany was a gradual thing, beginning, where it continues, with the individual. It is impossible even to guess at what number may have heard him on this occasion: he seems to have gone up the mount because of the crowd—to secure a somewhat opener position whence he could better speak; and thither followed him those who desired to be taught of him, accompanied doubtless by not a few in whom curiosity was the chief motive. Disciple or gazer, he addressed the individuality of every one that had ears to hear. Peter and Andrew, James and John, are all we know as his recognized disciples, followers, and companions, at the time; but, while his words were addressed to such as had come to him desiring to learn of him, the things he uttered were eternal truths, life in which was essential for every one of his father's children, therefore they were for all: he who heard to obey, was his disciple.
How different, at the first sound of it, must the good news have been from the news anxiously expected by those who waited for the Messiah! Even the Baptist in prison lay listening after something of quite another sort. The Lord had to send him a message, by eye-witnesses of his doings, to remind him that God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, or his ways as our ways—that the design of God is other and better than the expectation of men. His summary of the gifts he was giving to men, culminated with the preaching of the good news to the poor. If John had known these his doings before, he had not recognized them as belonging to the Lord's special mission: the Lord tells him it is not enough to have accepted him as the Messiah; he must recognize his doings as the work he had come into the world to do, and as in their nature so divine as to be the very business of the Son of God in whom the Father was well pleased.
Wherein then consisted the goodness of the news which he opened his mouth to give them? What was in the news to make the poor glad? Why was his arrival with such words in his heart and mouth, the coming of the kingdom?
All good news from heaven, is of truth—essential truth, involving duty, and giving and promising help to the performance of it. There can be no good news for us men, except of uplifting love, and no one can be lifted up who will not rise. If God himself sought to raise his little ones without their consenting effort, they would drop from his foiled endeavour. He will carry us in his arms till we are able to walk; he will carry us in his arms when we are weary with walking; he will not carry us if we will not walk.
Very different are the good news Jesus brings us from certain prevalent representations of the gospel, founded on the pagan notion that suffering is an offset for sin, and culminating in the vile assertion that the suffering of an innocent man, just because he is innocent, yea perfect, is a satisfaction to the holy Father for the evil deeds of his children. As a theory concerning the atonement nothing could be worse, either intellectually, morally, or spiritually; announced as the gospel itself, as the good news of the kingdom of heaven, the idea is monstrous as any Chinese dragon. Such a so-called gospel is no gospel, however accepted as God sent by good men of a certain development. It is evil news, dwarfing, enslaving, maddening—news to the child-heart of the dreariest damnation. Doubtless some elements of the gospel are mixed up with it on most occasions of its announcement; none the more is it the message received from him. It can be good news only to such as are prudently willing to be delivered from a God they fear, but unable to accept the gospel of a perfect God, in whom to trust perfectly.