Whatever else many of us believe as to Jesus the Saviour, all men believe in his thorough humanity. The orthodox world has often failed to make full practical recognition of his humanity, through an exclusive attention to other views of his person and work; and the modern historical spirit has been a benefactor to orthodoxy by bringing out his human character and life as a vivid reality. Jesus of Nazareth, the Founder of Christianity, stands before us to-day as one of the definite personages of human history. The leading facts of his career, the chief peculiarities of his teaching, the distinctive traits of his character, are now really beyond dispute. And the excellence of his character, its high and peerless excellence, is now recognized not only by Christians of every type and by many Jews, but by persons holding almost every form of unbelief. Time was, even in the modern centuries, when some men of talents and culture reviled him as an impostor or a fanatic, as did some of the blinded Jews who were his contemporaries. But there is hardly a man in all the world who would speak thus to-day. Even persons who allow themselves to ridicule the Bible, and the God whom it describes, are unwilling now to speak lightly of Jesus; and if in some rare cases a man attempts to hint possible and slight defect, he seems to do so with reluctance, and turns quickly away to join the chorus of eulogy. Robert Browning, in a letter published since his death, cites several utterances of men of genius as to the Christian faith, and among them one from Charles Lamb. "In a gay fancy with some friends, as to how he and they would feel if the greatest of the dead were to appear suddenly in flesh and blood once more— on the final suggestion, 'And if Christ entered this room?' he changed his manner at once and stuttered out, as his manner was when moved, 'You see, if Shakespeare entered we should all rise; if he appeared, we must kneel.' " Such reverence is not a mere result of Christian education, of Christian literature and art and usages; it will be felt by any person of susceptible nature who will thoughtfully read one of the gospels at a single sitting, and alone with his beating heart and his God.
Of a character thus unique, unparalleled, universally reverenced, how can we attempt a portraiture? The effort is fore-doomed to failure. It must be disappointing to taste and unsatisfying to devotion. No painter among all the great names has made a picture of Jesus which a loving reader of the gospels can feel to be adequate. How can we depict his character in words? But if one undertakes the task, of all things he must beware of high-wrought expressions. The most inadequate language is less unworthy of Jesus than inflated language. And it may contribute towards the design of these lectures if we attempt, in sheer simplicity, to bring before our minds the circumstances of his self-manifestation, and the more easily apprehended traits of his character. The present sketch has been wrought out from the gospels themselves, with suggestions afterwards welcomed from several recent writings. For the present we must leave almost entirely out of view the Saviour's beautiful teachings and glorious works, which are to be considered on other occasions.
Notice first the external conditions of his life. We all know that he was reared in a small and obscure village, whose inhabitants were rude and violent, and had an ill-name among their neighbors. Not once nor twice only have the world's wisest and greatest, the world's teachers and rulers, sprung from some petty village or country neighborhood. We know that Jesus was reared in poverty, and was himself a mechanic, a worker in wood. Justin Martyr, who lived a hundred years later in the same region, states the tradition that he made ploughs and ox-yokes. It ought to be clearly brought out in our time that the Founder of Christianity spent his early life as what we call a working-man. Yet remember that from boyhood he went at least once a year, and probably oftener, to the great city of Jerusalem, making the journey amid scenes of varied natural beauty and all manner of sacred associations, to mingle with vast crowds from every district of the Holy Land and from many a distant country, and to take part in impressive religious ceremonies, to join in chanting the sweet Psalms of David, and listen long to the fervent reading of ancient record and high prophetic instruction and exhortation. It is difficult to estimate the benefits that would be derived by a highly impressible youthful nature during the whole period between the age of twelve and that of thirty, from such journeys and weeks of abiding in the Holy City.
During his public ministry he had no home, and spent most of his time in travelling, on foot, busy with public and private teaching, and sustained by the hospitality of friends and sometimes of strangers, or by money contributed by generous women for the support of himself and his followers. Yet observe that he did not do this as meritorious asceticism, but simply from a desire to spend his whole time in doing good, throughout a ministry which he foresaw must be short. Even among ourselves there are men so devoted to science or art, to authorship or teaching or religious ministrations, that they often share the feeling of the great scientific man who said, "I haven't time to make money." This early life was very different from that of Sakhya Muni, the Founder of Buddhism, who is represented as the son of a wealthy king, dwelling for years in a home of luxury, and leaving it to become an ascetic. Jesus showed no tinge of asceticism. John the forerunner made his life an object lesson to a luxurious age, as Elijah had done long before, by dwelling for years among the wild hills, with the garb and the food of the poorest. But it was quite otherwise with Jesus. He wore good clothing, for we read of a tunic woven without seam, which at that day must have been a costly garment. He spent days at a wedding feast, which the forerunner would probably not have consented to attend. He accepted invitations from the rich, and conformed to social usage by reclining on a couch beside the table in the luxurious Persian fashion; and, as he himself expressly mentions, ate and drank what others did, though it exposed him even then to misconception and unkind remark. Jesus touched life at many points, yet it was mainly and essentially the life of the poor. The profound literary and artistic interest now felt in the life of the poor, as dealing with what is "common to man," ought to awaken sympathy with the Beginnings of Christianity.
Quietly pursuing the healthy duties of an humble calling, profoundly pondering from boyhood the prophetic writings, Jesus patiently waited till the time came for him to appear and act. The earliest period at which a man was then supposed to be mature enough for highly responsible functions was something like the age of thirty. At that age the Saviour came forth without delay, and after a ministry of not more than three or four years he left the earth. He taught and died a young man. To all the other great achievements of young men must be added this incomparable fact, that a young man gave us Christianity.
Consider next the personal religious life of Jesus. It is remarkable how often we find mention of his praying. The innocent and holy One gave frequent recognition of dependence on God, which is one of the chief elements of religious feeling and conviction. If any human being was ever able to stand alone in the universe, without leaning on God, it might have been true of him. Not the guilty alone, nor the perilously weak, have occasion to lift the heart in prayer. Jesus habitually and lovingly prayed. Nor did he merely keep up the habit of stated devotion, but he made special prayer upon various recorded occasions. At his baptism we are told that he was praying, and also on the Mount of Transfiguration. He spent a night in prayer when about to select the Twelve. They were to be the companions of his remaining life, and the responsible messengers of his teaching after that life should be ended. The selection was therefore immensely important, and he made it after protracted and special prayer. When the fanatical multitude of five thousand vehemently declared that they would make him king even against his will, and all his patient spiritual instructions seemed to have gone for nothing, he bade them depart and went up into the mountain to pray. Thrice in Gethsemane he withdrew to agonize in prayer, and his last words on the cross were words of prayer. Strange that heedless, bustling, self-sufficient humanity does not see its own folly when contemplating that life of prayer.
Remarkable familiarity with the sacred writings appears already in the glimpse we catch of Jesus at the age of twelve years, and comes out in his constant use of Scripture for argument and instruction throughout his ministry. He also used it for his personal support in times of special trial. In the strange and wonderful scene of manifested temptation, he three times quotes the book of Deuteronomy as an answer to the tempter, and on the cross three times quotes the Psalms.
Jesus habitually attended upon public worship in the synagogues. He must have been often pained or repelled by wrong explanations of the sacred writings, by the repetition of foolish traditions, by unwise counsel and exhortation, but we are expressly told that it was "his custom" to go into the synagogue. How little did the men who spoke imagine the thoughts revolving in the mind of a quiet youth in the assembly; even as we now little know the slowly-developing wisdom, the latent potencies of some student to whom we lecture, some child to whom we preach. Jesus also went regularly, as we have already seen, to the great religious festivals at the temple.
From the means contributed to the support of himself and his followers he was accustomed to give something to the poor. Thus when Judas went out from the last paschal supper, after the Master had said, "What thou doest, do quickly," some of the disciples thought it meant that he should give to the poor. The Saviour once declared that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." In spiritual things he and his apostles were constantly the givers; but even in temporal things, where it was their part to receive, they must not be denied some share in the higher happiness of giving.
In every way Jesus radiated forth an atmosphere of goodness; he presented the beauty of holiness in living incarnation. We can see that to be near him often awakened in men the feeling that God was near. It is so now. Many shrink from reading the gospels attentively because getting near to Jesus makes holiness seem so real, and renders their own sinfulness a matter of painful consciousness.
Yet this great Teacher of spiritual truth, and model of public worship and private devotion, was constantly manifesting a deep interest in Nature, and in the outward life of men. He watched the dark, violet-colored lily of Galilee, recalling the purple robes of Solomon in all his glory, and the minute mustard-seed which grew into so large a plant. He saw with interest the little sparrow flying or falling to the ground, and the eagles swooping down from a distance upon their proper food. He loved retirement to some mountain top. In the last summer of the Galilean ministry he kept withdrawing from Capernaum, in the deep and heated caldron of the Lake of Galilee, far below the level of the Mediterranean, to mountain regions in every direction. No one can climb the high hill west of Nazareth without fancying that often, when the day's work was done, the young carpenter climbed to that summit, gazing with delight upon the blue Mediterranean, then in another direction upon the snow-clad range of Mount Lebanon, and far and wide over the Holy Land.
He was also a close observer of ordinary human pursuits. He drew illustration in his teaching from patching clothes, and bottling wine, and sowing wheat, and reaping when the stalks were white for the harvest, and from boys at play. Some great painter ought to have given us that scene, children sitting in the market-place engaged in their sports, while Jesus stood by and looked with kindly face upon them. He dearly loved little children, and they for their part would leap from their mothers' arms into his arms. He was deeply interested in human enjoyments. He not only attended the wedding feast at Cana, but practically ministered to the gratification of the guests and aided the bridegroom in hospitality. When reclining at the tables of the rich, at feasts made in his honor, he was not silent nor severe, but conversed with the company, and introduced religious lessons suggested by the circumstances. It is indeed remarkable, as some one has observed, how many of his most striking sayings are literally "table-talk."
Look now at the private relations of Jesus, concerning which we are not without interesting points of information. As a child of twelve years, on his first visit to Jerusalem, he was found in one of the theological colleges, sitting in the midst of the rabbinical professors, listening intently and eagerly questioning; and all present were amazed, not simply at his questions, for many a child asks wonderful questions, but "at his understanding and his answers." He expressed surprise that Joseph and Mary should not know where to find him, for of course he ought to be in his Father's house, at the temple. He really was, in some respects, what many boys imagine they are, wiser than his parents; and yet, as an obedient child, he left that scene of delightful studies and went back with them to Nazareth, and was subject unto them. This filial subjection doubtless continued until his public ministry began. At the wedding of Cana he intimated to his mother that she must not now seek to control his actions. The language employed is not unkind, as some think it in our version. F.or the term "woman" was also employed by him when speaking to her upon the cross; and the phrase rendered "what have I to do with thee?" means rather, what have we in common?—a not unkind suggestion that he had now entered upon duties which she must not attempt to control. One of the well-known Latin hymns of the great medieval period gives a most pathetic picture of the mother of Jesus standing sad and tearful beside his cross. The Saviour was dying, a young man; and beholding his widowed mother, he felt, amid all his strange sufferings, the loving impulse with which every young man can sympathize, to make some provision for her earthly future. He had a faithful friend standing by, the friend of his bosom, known among all the rest as one peculiarly loved. This friend was not destitute, but had a home of his own; and to him the dying Teacher commended his mother, that henceforth they should be mother and son. The simple words possess for all earth's sons and all earth's mothers an unspeakable pathos.
We have just been reminded that certain of his followers appear as in a peculiar sense the friends of Jesus. So it is expressly stated that "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." We can see that the Twelve and some other friends were familiar with him, freely offering counsel and even making complaint. The ardent Peter, when told more than six months in advance that the Master was going to Jerusalem and would there be crucified, eagerly remonstrated: "Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall never be unto thee." When the loving family at Bethany first appear in the history Martha says, "Lord, carest thou not that my sister hath left me to serve alone? "implying that he ought to care. When he heard of Lazarus' sickness, and after two days' delay proposed a return to Judea, the disciples objected, saying that the Jews in Jerusalem had recently sought to stone him, and it was imprudent to go thither again. When he arrived at Bethany, and the two sisters met him separately, each of them said in a complaining tone, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." These expressions show that he admitted his friends to the closest intimacy. Great as was the reverence awakened by his character and teachings and works, they did not exclude the familiarity of friendship. And we ought to note how exactly Jesus suited himself to the disposition of his friends; as for example on meeting the sorrowing sisters at Bethany, he reasoned with the active and energetic Martha, and with the gentle, contemplative Mary he wept in silent sympathy. At the crisis of agony in Gethsemane he wished to have near him the three most cherished friends among his followers; as any one in a season of great suffering desires to be much alone, and yet to have dear friends close by.
This great instructor of mankind was a notable Teacher of teachers. The twelve disciples were subjected to a very careful and protracted training. We can discern the successive stages. He first called one and another to come and follow him. After some months, he carefully selected twelve of these, to be his special companions, and in the coming time his messengers and representatives. At the time of this choice he addressed to them and the multitude the wonderful discourse called the Sermon on the Mount, which was peculiarly fitted to open up before them the true nature of the Messianic reign, and the relation of his teachings to the law of Moses and its current interpretations. For a long time the Twelve followed him about, hearing all his instructions to public assemblies or in the homes they visited, and encouraged to question him freely in private. At length he sent them out on a temporary mission in Galilee, to practise their appointed task of religious instruction. After their return he spent six months almost wholly in seclusion, in districts outside of Galilee, evidently devoting his time mainly to careful instruction of the Twelve, and at length beginning to tell them in confidence how differently his ministry would end from their expectations concerning the Messiah. Observe that although much of his teaching was private, and some things concerning the foreseen end of his ministry were to be temporarily kept to themselves, there was yet nothing here of that esoteric teaching which some ancient philosophers practised, directing that certain truths should be kept always confined to an inner circle. Jesus expressly told his disciples that what they heard in the ear they were ultimately to proclaim upon the housetops, and carry to all the nations.
The Great Teacher showed in a high degree that patience upon which all good teaching makes large demands. Yet we know of one occasion on which he was much displeased with the Twelve. He had been giving instruction on the important subject of divorce, and in the house the disciples were questioning him further. Just then some mothers brought to him little children for his blessing, as the," were wont to do with a revered rabbi. The disciples were unwilling that this should interrupt the instructions they were seeking on so important a practical question, and so they rebuked the mothers. "But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation," at their repulsing those in whom he felt so deep an interest, and from whom, as examples of docility and loving trustfulness, they themselves had so much to learn. We have seen that the reverence of his friends did not prevent familiarity, and we must add that their familiarity did not diminish reverence. As the end drew on, though it was an end which involved apparent failure and multiplied ignominy, both friend and foe manifest an awe that ever grows upon them, and cannot be shaken off.
We may next notice that Jesus treated the public authorities with deference and due subjection. He said to Peter that there were reasons why he might have claimed exemption from paying the annual half-shekel for the support of the temple; and yet directed him to pay for them both. He told the disciples and the multitudes to do what the scribes bade them, because they sat on Moses' seat, were recognized interpreters of the law, but not to imitate their conduct. By a skilful and promising plot, representatives of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, or supporters of the Herod dynasty, approached him together one day, with honeyed words of flattery, asking, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not ?" They wished an answer, yes or no, and thought they were presenting a perfect dilemma. If he had said yes, the Pharisees would have gone out among the Jews, many of whom were very reluctant to recognize the Eoman rule, and especially to pay the Roman, tribute, and would have diligently used against him the offensive statement that it was proper to pay tribute to Caesar. If he had said no, the Herodians would have gone to the Eonian authorities, and charged him with encouraging the people to refuse payment of tribute, a point on which the Romans were very sensitive. It really seemed a hopeless dilemma. But he cut through the midst of it by pointing out a distinction between civil and religious duties, of which they had never thought, and which to our modern world, after being long obscured, has again become clear and cardinal, "to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, to God the things that are God's."
He was indeed teaching ideas that would ultimately transform society; yet he was no violent and revolutionary reformer, but quietly respected the existing authorities. At Gethsemane, he did not simply yield to force, he surrendered to representatives of the high priest, accompanied by Roman soldiers. Jesus never plunged into politics, but directly concerned himself with spiritual ideas and influences. By this course he has actually done more for civilization than could possibly have resulted had he fallen in with the common Jewish expectation and become a civil ruler. The indirect influence of his unworldly and spiritual reign is helpful to all the highest interests of humanity. Still, he could not fail to be deeply moved by the civil and social, as well as the religious condition of the chosen people. And when he wept over the foreseen destruction of Jerusalem, it was doubtless the grief of a patriot as well as of a Saviour.
In considering the association of Jesus with the people at large, we are struck at once with the fact that though pure and sinless, he did not shrink from contact with the most sinful and the most despised. He was in this respect the very opposite of the Pharisees. Their name signifies separatists. Fundamental in their conception of a pious life was the idea of scrupulously avoiding any social intercourse, or even the slightest contact, with persons who habitually violated the ceremonial law, as well as with those guilty of gross immorality. This was the idea of personal purity materialized, and pushed to an utter extreme. Accordingly, the Pharisees found it hard to believe that one could be a prophet, a teacher come from God, who would consent to eat at the table of a publican, or would allow his feet to be washed with the tears of a fallen woman. Jesus often found it necessary to explain and vindicate his course in this respect; and it was for this purpose that on one occasion he gave the three beautiful parables which tell of joy at the recovery of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. Contact with vile people is proper or improper according to our aim and the probable results. It must be avoided or carefully limited, if of such a character as would probably assimilate us to them. But the thoughtful and consistent followers of Jesus have been moved by his example and teachings to far more of kindly effort to redeem the vile than ever existed in the world beyond the influence of Christianity; and to do still more in this direction would only be acting according to his spirit. Jeremy Taylor has said that Jesus moved among the despised of humanity like sunshine, which falls among foul things without being itself defiled. To imitate this in our measure must be an attainment full of blessedness for us and rich in blessing to others. Jesus was very weary with months of earnest teaching as he sat that day beside Jacob's well; yet he aroused himself to speak most kindly with one who came to draw water, and that a woman who was living sinfully with a man not her husband. His conversation with her is a suggestive model of skill in the introduction of religion into private conversation—one of the finest of all accomplishments for Christian men and women. The delicate tact with which he aroused her conscience, and thus turned her thoughts away from the mere satisfaction of bodily thirst to the water of eternal life, is among the most wonderful touches in his consummate teaching.
Jesus was not only friendly to the poor, but he evidently counted largely, from beginning to end, on their reception of his influence and their support of his movement. He has been called "the poor man's philosopher; the first and only one that had ever appeared." He expected, and found, the chief results of his ministry among the poor, the masses of mankind. Even ignorance may not be so great a hindrance to the sympathetic reception of moral and spiritual truth as a sophisticated culture, and a selfish contentment with existing social and moral conditions. No religious movement can have large and blessed results which does not adapt itself to the poor. No Christians are worthy to bear the name of their Master, who do not, like him, delight in preaching the gospel to the poor, and in ministering to their needs. Yet Jesus was no partisan of the poor. He also mingled freely with the rich, entering with equal freedom and equal sympathy, as his ministers should strive to do, into the lowliest and the loftiest homes.
We ought to notice how he dealt with hypocrites, and with the fanatical multitudes. Again and again he withdrew from the fanatical excitement of great crowds who thought themselves his followers, so as to leave time for such feelings to subside. Sober men of the world are at times specially disgusted with certain fanatics they hear of, and tempted to regard all apparently earnest piety as mere fanaticism . They ought to observe how carefully the Founder of Christianity repressed everything of the kind. The worst hypocrites were among men. of high station or influence. These hypocrites Jesus rebuked many times, and in burning words of righteous indignation. Some have thought these words out of harmony with his characteristic gentleness and love. But it is right to abhor and hate all forms of vile wickedness, however we may pity the humanity that lies behind them. Many of his contemporaries imagined that the prophet of Nazareth must be one of the grand old prophets come to life again. And it is noteworthy, as a recent writer remarks, that some thought he was Jeremiah, the tender and pathetic, while others thought he was Elijah, bold and stern in rebuking. May we not suppose that these had only observed different manifestations of a many-sided character? Or rather, that like God his Father, the compassionate love of Jesus towards human weakness was but another aspect of the same essential character which showed itself in burning indignation towards human wickedness?
Having thus gone over the principal relations which Jesus sustained in his private and public life, noticing how in each of these his character was manifested, we may now come nearer to certain personal traits that appear throughout the history.
The humility of Jesus stood in striking contrast to rabbinical and Pharisaic pride. Men often greatly wondered at his words and actions, his wisdom and power; they compared him to the most celebrated prophets, they expected him to become a more splendid king than David or Solomon; but he was gentle and humble. Moreover, he himself made the most extraordinary claims. "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory; and before him shall be gathered all the nations." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." "No one knoweth the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him." Yet in immediate connection with this great claim he said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." It was indeed Jesus who caused humility to be classed among the virtues. The Greek word thus translated had in Greek literature almost always a bad sense, at best sometimes denoting modesty, the absence of arrogance; the Latin word which we borrow made no approach to a good sense; Christianity gives to humility a notable position among virtues and graces. Yet, as if to correct the natural tendency to misapprehension in regard to this virtue, the Saviour was always eminently self-respecting, and spoke and acted with a personal dignity which even his enemies could not but recognize. When questioned by Annas, the ex-high priest, about his teaching, Jesus answered him, "I have spoken openly to the world; I ever taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and in secret spake I nothing. Why askest thou me? Ask them that have heard me, what I spake unto them." To this dignified answer corresponds his dignified silence when brought before the Sanhedrin. He knew that his condemnation was a foregone conclusion. He had resolved to go straight forward to the crucifixion which awaited him. He would not condescend to answer, save when it became proper to make the decisive avowal of Messiahship. Before Pilate, who was himself a prisoner to his own previous acts of wrong-doing, and had no courage to decide according to his own sense of right, Jesus speaks with dignified compassion and quiet superiority. However hard most of us may find it to combine humility with personal dignity, yet in the Christian theory and in the Christian Exemplar they blend in perfect harmony.
The readiness of Jesus to forgive was often manifested. Remember his lamentation over Jerusalem: "How often would I have gathered thy children together, but ye would not." Remember how he warned Peter that headstrong self-reliance would lead him that very night into shameful and repeated denial of his Master, and yet how soon afterwards he appeared separately to the fallen but repentant disciple, forgiving and encouraging him. For the Roman soldiers who were fastening him to the cross with cruel pangs, he prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Yet observe in these very words the intimation that if they had known what they were doing, he might not have asked that they should be forgiven. So he said in substance to Pilate, "The high priest's sin is greater than thine." Here then is no weak forgiveness of everybody for everything, penitent or impenitent, such as some people imagine to be set forth in the teachings and the example of the Founder of Christianity.
It is evident that his nature was exceedingly sensitive. On one occasion, when the Pharisees showed their hostility and determination not to be convinced, we are told that "he sighed deeply in his spirit." When predicting some months in advance his dread baptism of suffering he added, "and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." Once when apparently quite out of heart with the unbelief of his disciples and the multitude, he said, "0 faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you?" A few days before the crucifixion, after predicting his speedy death, he broke out, "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name." No one who ever read or heard the sacred story can forget how in Gethsemane three times over he said, "If it be possible"; how on the cross he cried with a loud voice, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" Certainly these are impressive proofs that his nature was exquisitely sensitive. And yet how patient he was! True patience is a very different thing from insensibility. Only one who feels sensitively can be nobly patient. In general Jesus showed great calmness. And an occasional utterance of grief and pain only sets that habitual calmness in a clearer light. The world has dwelt not too much but too exclusively on the gentle and patient traits of the Saviour's character; and we do well to remind ourselves that he also exhibited the keenest sensibility, along with the loftiest moral courage, the noblest strength of character. An English writer has produced a little volume entitled "The Manliness of Christ"; and though the term may strike us as inadequate, if not incongruous, yet it helps to impress an important element in the Saviour's character; for people are ever inclined to fall back upon the notion that goodness, innocence, patience, purity belong to feeble characters, when the fact is far otherwise.
"How beauteous were the marks divine,
That in thy meekness used to shine,
That lit thy lonely pathway, trod
In wondrous love, O Son of God!
"Oh, who like thee, so calm, so bright,
So pure, so made to live in light?
Oh, who like thee did ever go
So patient through a world of woe.
"Oh, who like thee so meekly bore
The scorn, the scoffs of men, before?
So meek, forgiving, godlike, high,
So glorious in humility?
"Even death, which sets the prisoner free,
Was pang, and scoff, and scorn to thee;
Yet love through all thy torture glowed,
And mercy with thy life-blood flowed.
"Oh, in thy light be mine to go,
Illuming all my way of woe!
And give me ever on the road
To trace thy footsteps, Son of God.
With all its difficulties and sorrows, Jesus delighted in his work. He loved to do good, even when it appeared to be on the smallest scale. The disciples had left him worn and weary beside Jacob's well, and on their return found him alert, with beaming eyes and cheerful voice. They wondered whether any one had brought him food in their absence, and at first knew not the meaning when he said, "I have food to eat that ye know not of. My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and to accomplish his work." He had found an opportunity to do good, and the suggestion of other possibilities in those whom this poor woman might influence. Again and again we see him shaking off weariness, arousing himself with interest and delight, when there was any opening for usefulness. In the highest degree he possessed and exhibited what has been called "an enthusiasm of humanity." He loved men, and was glad to do them good. He loved God, and it was a joy to do him honor.
At various turning-points of his ministry, we find the Saviour exercising a remarkable prudence. He knows what will be the consequences of a collision with the Jewish authorities, and wishes to delay the crisis until there has been time to develop his teachings and present them in every quarter of the Holy Land, and to train his chosen disciples. Accordingly, during his early ministry in Judea, when he knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was now making more disciples than his forerunner, he at once left Judea and retired to Galilee. Towards the latter part of the ministry in Galilee he kept withdrawing into surrounding districts, to avoid further exciting the alarm of Herod the tetrarch, and further kindling the fanaticism of the common people, who were bent on making him king, and might by their excited talk have drawn upon him the jealousy of the Roman rulers. Again and again, at Nazareth and at Jerusalem, when some angry crowd were about to inflict upon him mob violence, he quietly went away. When the high priest and the Sanhedrin heard what had happened to Lazarus in Bethany, and deliberately plotted the death of Jesus, he left Jerusalem and returned no more till the final passover. And when his "hour was come," the quiet boldness with which he moved forward was but the same moral courage which he had repeatedly shown in prudently withdrawing. However men may stigmatize or ridicule prudence, it often requires and manifests the highest courage. Remember too that his prudence was united with transparent sincerity. We can clearly see combined in him, what he bade his disciples cultivate, the prudence of the serpent and the simplicity of the dove.
And now the most remarkable thing about this strong, sensitive, richly developed, beautifully symmetrical character, the wonderful thing which can be said of him alone among all the good and noble of human history is this : his character stands out as faultless, perfect. So thoroughly symmetrical is this character in all its proportions that the careless observer does not realize to what an extent it is at the same time great and strong. Yet as it grows to our thoughtful contemplation, grows exalted and sublime, it is so harmonious as still to appear simple and winning. Can it indeed be that in this world of ours, in this our human nature, there has been a character really and absolutely perfect? Men who do not believe in the Saviour's divine mission and personal claims have been naturally slow to admit that he was perfect; and some of them have keenly searched among all the abounding details of his action and speech for some ground of fault-finding. All that I know of as said in this direction at the present day would be the following points. Theodore Parker suggested that his driving out the money-changers from the temple, with uplifted scourge, shows unseemly anger and violence. But to ordinary sober, judgment it is plain that the anger was seemly enough and richly deserved; while the uplifted scourge was but a symbol of authority and reminder of ill-desert, like many an object-lesson taught by the old prophets. Some have complained that he pronounced a curse upon a fig-tree which by its leaves made pretence of having also fruit. But this withered fig-tree has stood as another object-lesson to all the ages, full of instruction; and there is not the slightest indication or reason to suppose that the curse was pronounced from any wrong personal feeling. Francis William Newman, skeptical brother of the great cardinal, censured the Saviour for quietly yielding himself to death when he could so easily have avoided it. But this reproach was accepted beforehand, for Jesus declared that like a good shepherd, he voluntarily laid down his life for the sheep. A well-known American lecturer against the Bible once almost found fault with Jesus for something or other, but I really do not even remember what it was. It seems idle to discuss, and almost useless to mention, such points as these; but the fact that perverse ingenuity can indicate no semblance of fault in Jesus that will bear the simplest inquiry, only brings us back to the conclusion already reached, that he stands out before us as really faultless and perfect. During his ministry, the Jewish rulers repeatedly charged him with deceiving the people, but at the trial before the Sanhedrin, they could adduce nothing but silly and contradictory perversions of what he had said, and they finally condemned him only upon his own avowal that he was the Messiah, which the high priest declared to be in itself an act of blasphemy. Before all history, Jesus of Nazareth stands as sinless, even as he himself one day said in the temple court, "Which of you convicteth me of sin? "It might indeed be suggested that the evangelists have only carried unusually far the tendency of biographers to keep faults in the background. But read, and you see that they freely record varied accusations made against him, and often without stopping to reply; while they relate his profoundest sayings and most astonishing actions with such simplicity and quietness of tone as to constitute a unique literary phenomenon.
Yet this perfect character stands before us as inviting imitation. Its outward conditions do not withdraw him from our sympathy and make imitation seem difficult, for he did not live as a king, or as a retired student, or a recluse ascetic. His example is not like a copy set with intricate flourishes, but in clear and simple lines, perfectly beautiful, but not discouraging the effort to imitate. Of him alone among all ethical teachers can it be said that to imitate his example and to obey his precepts would amount to precisely the same thing. It is a remarkable statement which John Stuart Mill, trained from childhood to disbelief of the Bible, makes in one of his posthumous "Essays on Religion," that it would not even now "be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life."
The German scholar Rothe is quoted as saying in his work on Ethics, "I know no other ground on which I could anchor my whole being, and particularly my speculations, except that historical phenomenon, Jesus Christ. He is to me the unimpeachable Holy of Holies of humanity, .... and a sun-rising in history whence has come the light by which we see the world."
How strongly attractive, to all who will dwell upon it thoughtfully, is the personality of Jesus the Saviour. All around us are children who as they study the Sunday School lessons from the gospels, feel their tender hearts drawn out to love Jesus, to confide in him, to follow him though unseen. And for us all, however mature and instructed, it wouldassuredly be the best fruit of the historical spirit, the summit of true philosophy, the crown of all culture, to read afresh these gospel records with the simplicity of a little child, and learn to lore and confide in Jesus.
—Jesus of Nazareth