The Jesus of History
T. R. Glover

Part 1 out of 4

Contributed by Jonathon Love



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

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

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

Advent Sunday, 1916


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

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

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

T. R. G.
POONA, August 1916



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggestions for study circle discussions




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to Full Books