You are here

Chapter 4: The Religious Personality Interpreted by Himself

A. THE TEACHING AND THE PERSON

THE character and teaching of Jesus are so mutually elucidative that neither can be construed in isolation from the other. He could not have spoken as He did unless He had been what He was, nor being what He was could He have continued dumb. Their congruity is so complete and reciprocal that the character becomes more credible through the word and the word more potent through the character. It was insight into their connexion and organic unity that made the Evangelists so carefully incorporate the Logia and the history; they meant us to read them together even as they themselves did, and interpret the words through the acts, the acts through the words, and both through the person. Psychology as a science is young, but as an art is old; and it is an art without which no one can be eminent either as biographer or as historian. For it signifies the faculty that sees in character the reason of conduct and speech, and reads speech and conduct as the expression and counterpart of character. History and the drama are both alike children of the imagination; and the more constructive the imagination the more perfect will its products be. The dramatist sees a character, and through it and for its embodiment he conceives a history, in order that he may enable others to see what he has seen. The historian by a study of words and acts gets to know the men who constitute his history, and then he writes it in order that, by placing the events he narrates, as well as the ideas and motives he describes, in relation to their causes in the men he knows, he may make the moment it covers an intelligible, if not a consistent and rational, whole. Hence where documents and occurrences, literature and history are so indissolubly interwoven as they are in the Synoptic Gospels, the critic needs both historical imagination and philological knowledge. Without the former he cannot turn the latter to any real account. The Jesus of criticism easily becomes even more unhistorical and inconceivable than the Jesus of dogma, without coherence, without reality, too shadowy to be grasped, too subjective to be a real person in history. Hence it may be well if we substitute for the critical the psychological method and attempt to construe Jesus from within, i.e. look at His acts and achievements through His consciousness.

§ I. The Teaching and its External characteristics

1. We are of course here concerned with Jesus under a special category, as the Founder of a religion; and what we have to discover is not simply what the Evangelists thought and meant us to think, but still more whether He Himself had any consciousness of the work He was doing, or was to cause to be done. And at the very outset we may be surprised at what may seem a serious paradox. While there is in no religion any proper parallel to the claims made by His church on behalf of His person, there are yet in most of the historical faiths parallels to His most characteristic sayings. But this can only surprise those who forget the catholicity of His manhood. What used to be known as the consensus gentium, or the agreement of all peoples and religions in certain beliefs, was held to be a cogent witness to the truth of these beliefs; and so it is but natural that He who is conceived as if He were universal Man should in a language understood of all men express ideas implicit in all. That Christ's teaching as to peace, humility, and forgiveness should be anticipated by the Tao-teh King as well as by certain Jewish Rabbis, or that the Confucian classics should contain His Golden Rule, even though it be in a negative form, ought to be no more extraordinary than that the belief in Deity should be common to all religions. That the Dhammapada should contain precepts on self-denial, renunciation, discipleship, and the service of one's neighbour, or that the Bhagavad-Gita should speak of God's indwelling in the soul and the soul's thirst for God, in terms not unworthy of Jesus, is no more wonderful than that similar ethical ideas should have been incorporated in dissimilar natural religions. That Plato should have written of truth and beauty, Paul of charity, and John of love with a sublimity and a tenderness that would have become the Master, is what is to be expected of the soul that in its serener and saner moments knows itself to be the son of God. The fact, then, that the human spirit in its most exalted moods has uttered thoughts akin to His ought not to make us disesteem the truths the man in Him speaks to the man in us, but rather to esteem them the more highly. This consonance of His mind with the ideal in ours has its counterpart in the agreement of thought and being, speech and character, idea and reality in Himself; and these two harmonies signify that He possesses veracity of nature in its completest and most excellent form, realization of the idea of humanity and obedience to its truth.

2. As to its external characteristics, the teaching is so small in quantity, that sifted from the narrative in which it is embedded it could be written on a few sheets of paper and read in an hour. It was the product of a ministry so brief as to be confined within a period more fitly reckoned by months than by years. It is without elaboration, so much so that Pascal was justified in saying, that Jesus said the deepest things so spontaneously and simply that it almost looked as if He did it without pre-meditation. He was so careless as to its preservation that He never wrote anything Himself, on commanded anything to be written, or selected any disciple because of his facility with the pen. His words are in the strictest sense spoken words cast into the air like seeds which the vagrant winds are free to carry whithersoever they list. And His teaching makes no claim to respect as literature, is without pomp of diction, elegance, preciosity, classicism, or any quality of style which betokens the influence of academy or school. He was but a rustic teacher, uneducated even to the unlettered men of Galilee, speaking on the hillside or by the seashore, on the village green or in some squalid synagogue, on the highway thronged by pilgrims or in the city where the reign of passion would not allow the people to hear with reason. And the men he addressed were even more rustic than Himself, sons of the soil and of the lake, whose speech was a dialect which the scholar had not touched or the man of letters polished. And the forms His discourses took were as simple as His language and His audience:—the parable which the Oriental finds so natural, so easily uses and so well understands; the quaintly humble tale which speaks to his imagination more clearly than the most luminous argument; the proverb which invites endless explanation and application; the sharp question or the unexpected retort which grew out of His controversies with the Pharisees and priests, or His discussions with His disciples; the reflection on nature and man, on the wayside incident, or the event in sacred history; the overheard meditation, where the soul is surprised out of the deep secret it thinks it speaks to God alone. Yet in all its forms His speech is living, swift and moving, condensed and pregnant, charged with the thought that cannot be shut up in the closet but must live in the minds and on the lips of men.

But His discourses have so marvellous a hold on reality that their place, their time, and their whole social environment may be seen reflected as in a mirror. Nature is there as she lies under the clear Syrian sky. The lily blooms in a beauty that Solomon in all his glory fails to rival, while the great trees spread their branches in the radiant air, the birds build their nests in them, feed their young, and are fed by the heavenly Father. The vines tended by the vinedresser grow on the hillsides; the fig-tree blossoms on the plain, and speaks now of the summer which may tarry long yet so surely comes, and now, laden with figs, of realized hopes, or, again, bearing nothing but leaves, of unfulfilled promises. The yoked oxen plough the fields; in the furrows they have made the sower walks casting his seed into the prepared ground; while later the corn, white unto the harvest, covers the dark earth, and men as they watch it ripening pluck the golden ears and rub them in their hands. The lake, like a living eye, looks out on the landscape, and the heavens, whether in sunlight or in starlight, look down into the lake, which now rises tossed and angry at the stroke of the sudden tempest, and now lies placid and fair inviting men to come and listen while He speaks by its brink. And man is there as well as nature. The fishermen, to His eye potential apostles, to other eyes but ignorant and unlearned men, sit in the shadow of their boats mending their nets, or fare forth upon the lake and cast them into the sea, drawing them in here empty, and there so full that they break with their burden, or, again, leaving them behind in despair of their own lives endangered by some furious squall. Women toil and spin and grind at the mill, draw water from the well, seek health of the physicians, sin in the city, or minister in the home, where sisters are jealous and differ from difference of temper, where the housewife lights the lamp, sweeps the house, rejoices or sorrows with her neighbours, and delights to call them in to share her own happiness and celebrate it with a feast. There is nowhere so fine or so pure a picture of eternal womanliness, the nature that is so swift to see, so keen to feel, so shameless in its sinning, so splendid in its penitence, so quick in its gratitude, so ungrudging in its service, and so absolute in its devotion. Infants come in their mother's arms to be blessed and to be pointed out as types of life within the kingdom. Children play in the market place, making games for their amusement out of the serious business of their elders; they sleep with the father in the bedchamber, or they sit at table, eat, and are filled while the hungry dogs watch for the crumbs. Brothers differ over their inheritance; sons are by their expectations made suspicious of their father, the rectitudinous fearing he may prove indulgent to the profligate; while fathers think that sons dear to them will be as dear to their neighbours and dependents. In the city the poor and maimed, the blind and lame, are crowded together; in the market place where the children play the weary labourer stands waiting to be hired, and often waits in vain. The rich men live in stately houses, are clothed in purple and fine linen. “and fare sumptuously every day”; while servants wait at their tables, and guests come by invitation, each at once clad in fit raiment and expected to know his proper place. There are slaves that may be beaten, and to them the foreman is harsher than the master; and there are workmen who may be paid, and they are easily discontented with their wages. On the bench there sits a judge of a genuinely oriental type, terrible to the poor and the weak, for he neither “fears God nor regards man.” On the road from the capital to the provinces priests travel absorbed in a pride that will not allow them to notice the man who has fallen among thieves. At the street corner the Pharisee carries himself disdainfully before men; in the temple he boasts his almsgiving and fasting, and bears himself proudly before God, while the publican tries to stand hidden from hard and curious eyes, and does not dare to look up into the face of heaven. The representative of Caesar lives and acts like a Roman; the people hate him and fear him; the sects discuss, academically, questions concerning the tribute money, which their scrupulous consciences would fain refuse to pay, though they are not strong enough to withstand prudence prompted by compulsion. The whole Jewish world is there, a compact, coherent, living world, which we can re-articulate, re-vivify, and visualize, even though the magic mirror in which we behold it is the teaching which reveals the kingdom of Heaven.

3. But these characteristics though we have named them external have yet an intrinsic significance.

i. They have for the evangelical history a positive critical and constructive value. Where the world which surrounds a man is marked by so much actuality he himself can hardly have been a shadow. The mythical imagination clothes the figures it idealizes in forms supplied by its own experience, i.e. its hero, though his attributes may be those of more ancient men, is placed in a world which is neither his nor theirs, but that of the men who write their mythological dreams. Hence it is certain to be a world full of anachronisms, incredible through the inconsistencies and mistakes of its makers. But the teaching of Jesus lives and moves and is evolved in a consistent and actual world. The men around Him are real, belong to their own time and state, and to no other; we can mingle with them, think as they thought, hear as they heard, tell their province from their features, their class by their manners, their race and rank by their tongues. The critic loves to test a document by the conditions of its time, or the authenticity of an obscure history by the public events with which it synchronizes. But here he has few sources that he can freely use. The Syrian province was too remote from Rome to excite much interest there; Roman writers were few; of all her pro-consuls and soldiers but one had the splendid good fortune to call a Tacitus son-in-law. The Jewish references to Jesus, Talmudic or Hellenistic, are either too late and polemical, or of too uncertain authenticity or date to be used as fixed standards of judgment. As a matter of fact, it is from Christian sources that we derive the fullest and most trustworthy knowledge of the events, the acts, and the persons that bring Jesus into relation with the written history of the time; but this does not mean that we are without sufficient tests of authenticity. Far more even than in Josephus, or the Jewish apocryphal literature, or the Roman publicists and historians, can we find within the Gospels themselves the material which constructive criticism can wisely trust and safely use. They do not so much narrate a personal history as incorporate a whole society; though they do it without intention and without design, yet they do it so completely that we may search ancient literature, not excluding the history of Thucydides, or the political treatises of Aristotle, without finding anything so exhaustively done. And the society they describe is so real, the men who constitute it so actual and all so group themselves round the central figure that their actuality becomes a guarantee of His.1 It is not thus that either conscious or unconscious invention works. If fiction or idealization steals into the portrait of the hero, it cannot be excluded from the environment. The background and the figure in the front must be adjusted to each other, and where nature has so supplied the scene we may be sure that art has not been the maker of the person.

ii. But if Jesus becomes as actual as the society in which He moved, then it is evident that He cannot be conceived as a detached or separated being who lived in an abstract or ideal state. His humanity becomes as real as ours; He enters into our common lot, bears our name, feels our pains, knows our weakness and our greatness. He has fallen under the charm and the tyranny of Nature, has experienced the fascination and vexation of home, has felt on him the thousand plastic hands of society, and has known how much it can do to mould man and how little he can do to change it. All man has is His, and He has what is man's. The actual things of time are not to Him dreams or shadows in the imagination, but realities, matters of experience which have entered into His soul as deeply as into ours. The Jesus who teaches in the Gospels is to the Evangelists the most actual being in the scene they describe.

iii. The teaching of Jesus, though embedded in a world of such severe actuality, is not made by it local or provincial; on the contrary, what we may call its timeless and placeless note seems only the more accentuated by its narrow medium. The social conditions amid which it was born, and the language in which it was delivered, do not stamp it with their racial character and limitations. The sacred books of the religions are, as a rule, preserved in sacred tongues; while translation diminishes their significance for the scholar, it tends to destroy their sanctity for the people. The Chinese classics must be written in the language and with the signs the Chinaman knows if they are to possess for him any literary and religious worth; done into English they have become books to inform the western man, and have ceased to be authorities for the native mind. The Sanskrit of the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, of the Epics and the Philosophies, is sacred to the Hindu people; to know it is to hold the key of wisdom and of truth; to discover it required all the tact and patience and courage of noted European scholars. Hebrew is the tongue in which the Jew praises God, and without it his soul would be deprived of the speech which is to him his religion. The Koran made the Arabic in which it was written classical; the dialect of the prophet became the standard of art and elegance. But the words of Jesus do not constitute a sacred language; we do not possess His teaching in the tongue He knew and employed. It came to us in a translation, and has lived in translations ever since, multiplying itself endlessly without ever seeming to lose its vital energy. And this means that it has the marvellous faculty of being at home everywhere, intelligible in every speech, comprehensible to every mind without country or time, because so akin to universal man. And it is more than curious that the teaching of which this can be said is so marked by the actualities of the hour and the place of its birth.

iv. But what is still more of a paradox is the substance and scope of the teaching which appears in this narrow and local and sordid medium. We may call it the sovereign idealism of the world; and this would be the sober truth, yet not the whole truth. It would also be true to say, though compared with the whole it means little when said, that Jesus dignified and enlarged whatever He touched, and He touched all man's deepest beliefs, his most regulative and commanding ideals. God He translated into Father, and made man conceive the Being he most dreaded as the Being who most loved him and whom he must love. Man He interpretated by son, raised him to a majesty before which the accidents of birth and state were humbled when they thought themselves noble, and ennobled when they knew themselves mean; and set him as a being of infinite worth face to face with the infinite God. Duty he lifted from the dust into which it had fallen, and turned it into the obligation to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect Love He purified from passion, and qualified it to be the bond which bound man to God, united man to man, organized life into a body of obedience and a realm of reciprocal service. On the basis of love to God and man He built up a kingdom, out of which the wicked in His wickedness was excluded, but into which the most wicked could by conversion enter and become the most holy. In this kingdom all men were to be brothers and all sons of God; their worship of Him was to be a service of love expressed in obedience and realized within the community of saints. Instead of outside rules an internal law was to reign; men were to live in the Spirit and speak in the truth, governed by a love which would not allow any one to exult in another's evil or rejoice in another's pain, but which moved all to a universal beneficence. It was a new idea of God, of man, of religion, each of these singly, all of them together, and all conceived as man's and not as limited to any elect race or conditioned by any sacred class. It was wonderful that a universal idealism so immense and mighty should have so lowly an origin, and come to be in a world so prejudiced, pragmatical and divided.

v. The influence exercised by this teaching stands in significant contrast alike to its origin, to its quantity, and to its literary quality. While it did not begin to be as literature, it has done more to create learning and letters than all the sacred books of the world. More scholars are employed on it than on the literatures of Greece and Rome, while speculation, poetry, and everything that can be termed imagination in modern men have owed to it exaltation and inspiration. The art and civilization of Europe are its creation; it has this significant distinction, which it shares with the words of no other teacher known in the West—men study it as an ideal of life, which they personally, and the State collectively, are bound to realize. The most serious reproach to a Christian man or society is to have failed to obey the law of Christ. And the teaching is conceived to have authority because the Teacher is believed to live; its power to govern and to bind reposes on the idea of His personal sovereignty. But the external characteristics so regarded and construed, cease to be external and become invested with high critical significance; for they show that the teaching can be as little explained by the origin, the distribution, and the use of the Logia as the reason which is man can be explained by the anatomy of his body. Anatomy is a real science, but it is not a complete anthropology; were it to claim to be such, it would only become ridiculous; and the criticism which handles documents would earn a similar epithet if it were to speak as a sufficient philosophy of the Christian religion.

§ II. How Jesus Conceives and Describes Himself

From this discussion of the teaching in its external characteristics we must now pass to what is indeed the main question it raises: How did Jesus conceive Himself and His special function in religion? One thing is certain: the teaching by itself could not have created Christianity or achieved universal significance. It does not cover the whole of life, whether individual or collective, nor does it even profess to deal with some of man's gravest problems, intellectual, ethical, and religious. There have been crises in every State, nay, in every real personal history, where, if it had been the only guide, it would have to be described as “the light that failed.” But the programme of the religion lies in the person of the Founder rather than in His words, in what He was more than in what He said. This may seem an anomaly, especially to an age accustomed to think that it believes “the truth for the truth's sake”; but it is natural that words conceived as the vehicle and mirror of a transcendental personality should become to the reason symbolical of all the mysteries and all the authorities that meet in Him. Still, if this be so, the function we assign to His person must not be inconsistent with His idea of Himself, with the nature of things, or the course of history. Hence what here concerns us is His idea of Himself and the part this idea played in the creation of the Christian religion.

1. And at the outset we have a most significant thing to note, the comparative reserve or even reticence touching Himself which He maintains during His earlier ministry. He is clear and emphatic enough when He speaks to His disciples of God, or the kingdom and its laws; but concerning Himself He speaks not so much in parables as darkly and suggestively. He appears to have desired that their conception of Him should be of their own forming rather than of His communicating, a belief reached through the exercise of their own reason and not simply received on His authority. His method was to proceed through familiarity to supremacy, not through sovereignty to dominion. If the discipleship had been formed on the basis of His divine pre-eminence, it would have had no reality, for He would never have got near the men, and they would never have come near to Him; aloofness would have marked His way and they would have walked as if divided from Him by an impassable gulf. And so it was as a man of whom they could learn, addressing men who would learn of Him that He called them. And He forced nothing, stimulated but did not supersede the action of their own minds; and when He asked His great question, “Whom say ye that I am?”2 it was as if He had inquired, “What conclusion have you as reasonable men been compelled to draw from the things which you have seen and heard?” This method of Jesus explains two things: (α) the relative lateness of the period at which He invited the confession. It was the issue of a lengthened process in slow and simple minds, and to have hurried the process would have been to spoil the issue. (β) The immediate and consequent emergence of a new type of teaching, which may be described as more concerned with Himself than the old, and especially with the work required of Him as the Founder of the kingdom of God.

2. But though we must recognize, because of the reasons that prompted it, this early reserve as to the interpretation of His person, yet we must also emphasize the fact that from the beginning He made on His own behalf the very highest claims. Over against the five negative and limitative passages which, according to Schmiedel, constitute “the foundation pillars for a truly scientific Life of Jesus,”3 I would place as more entitled to this character the following authentic and characteristic texts:

i. He fulfils the law and the prophets.4 The terms “law” and “prophets” denote what we should term the Old Testament, the collective revelation to Israel. This Jesus has come to “fulfil,” i.e. to realize its idea, to actualize its dream, to accomplish what it tried but failed to achieve. He who so speaks conceives Himself as more than the law, as greater than all the prophets, and so He does not explain as the scribes,5 but proclaims as a new ethical authority a new law6 and a higher prophecy.7

ii. He comes “to call not the righteous but sinners, to repentance.”8 This idea receives fuller and even finer expression in words we owe to Matthew:9 “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The consciousness of sufficiency for the saving of the lost was never more beautifully expressed: it has sounded through the ages as an appeal more irresistible than any command.

iii. The command which He addressed to the disciples, “Come ye after Me,”10 or, more briefly and emphatically, “Follow Me.”11 And some interesting contexts show the absolute authority implied in this command. Thus the scribe who professes himself willing to follow Jesus “whithersoever Thou goest,” pleads, when he hears of the homelessness involved in obedience, to be allowed to “go and bury my father”; but the imperative words, pitiless to the pretence of affection, are spoken: “Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”12 Again, the young ruler, who has inherited “great possessions” and wishes to inherit “eternal life,” asks what he is to do, and is told: “Go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and come, follow Me.”13 Jesus will brook no rival; the thing man loves most he must surrender if he would obey. Finally, He states the terms of discipleship: the men who would follow Him must deny themselves and take up the cross,14 for only so can the soul be saved; and though a man may gain the world, yet if he lose his own soul he will suffer infinite loss.

iv. He affirms in His charge to the twelve15 His personal sovereignty in the most impressive forms and phrases. They are to be persecuted for His sake; but if they endure, He will confess them before the Father; to lose their life for His sake is to find it; to do the meanest service in His name is to win an everlasting reward.

v. And His pre-eminence towards man is reflected in His uniqueness towards God. He is the Son, all things have been delivered unto Him of the Father; as the Son the Father alone knoweth Him, and He alone knoweth the Father, and without His action as revealer the Father cannot be known.16

These texts form an ascending series; they begin with His relation to the past; the old religion He at once supersedes and fulfils; the person to whom its precepts and promises, its offices and institutions pointed, and in whom they ended, is greater than they. Then He defines His relation to the old mankind: His primary function is to save the lost; and this is followed by His attitude to the new mankind whom He calls, commands, and binds to Himself by an affection which grudges no sacrifice and is equal to any service. And these claims represent a sovereignty which only a singular and pre-eminently privileged relation to the Father could justify. These are claims that become the founder of a religion, and, admitted or acknowledged, they almost explain its founding. But claims which are to rule the mind and the conscience must have as their ultimate basis not a spoken word, but an idea which appeals to the reason and satisfies the reason to which it appeals. Hence Jesus in asking, “Whom say ye that I am?” consciously confesses that His religion will be as His person is conceived to be. And so the essence or heart of the later or higher teaching may be described as the creation of the Christian religion by the interpretation of the Christ

§ III. The Person and the Passion

1. But at this point there comes a most extraordinary and unexpected development in the teaching. Coincident with the new emphasis on His person is the new thought of His passion. No one could be less fitly described as “the Man of Sorrows “than the Jesus of the “Galilean springtime.” The idea embodied in Holman Hunt's The Shadow of the Cross is false to nature and to history, for Christ's was too fine a spirit to make out of its own sorrow a shade in which those who looked to Him for love should sit cold and fearful; and we may reasonably infer that before the evil days came His customary mood would be the exaltation born of the splendid ideal He was to realize. The morning of His ministry was a golden dawn; in His early I parables the sunny side of life so greets us that we may almost see the smile upon His face answering the smile upon the face of Nature. His spirit is bright, His words are serious without being sad, weighted with the ideas of God, and duty, and humanity, but not burdened with the agony or wet as with the sweat of Gethsemane. Yet even then He had thoughts that prophesied the passion. They were native to Him, not given or forced upon Him from without. Experience was indeed to Him, as to us, a teacher; and is He “learned obedience by the things which He suffered,” so, apart from the same things, He could not have known His meaning and His mission. But these were conditions rather than sources of knowledge. The notion of a suffering Messiah filled a small place, if, indeed, it filled any place at all, in contemporary Jewish thought, but He could not study ancient prophecy without finding such a Messiah there. History showed that the very people who built the sepulchres of the dead prophets had refused to hear or even to endure them while they lived; and John the Baptist, slain by a foolish king to gratify the malice of a wicked woman, stood before Him as evidence of continuity in history. And as He preached the Kingdom He found that those who seemed or claimed to be its constituted guardians were His most inveterate foes; the scribe waited to catch Him in His talk; the Pharisee watched to charge His good with being evil; the priests resisted Him in the temple, which they had made into a mart for merchandise. Opposition confronted Him at every moment and in every point; His idea of God's righteousness as distinguished from the law's was made to appear a grave heresy; His friendship for sinners was represented as affection for sin; His very acts of beneficence were explained as works of the devil, and His doctrine of the kingdom was handled as if it signified a reign of lawlessness. Such experiences could create only one feeling, that the enmity His ministry encountered must ultimately fall upon His person; and as He could not surrender His mission He must be prepared to surrender His life. Hence there emerges a double consciousness attended by conflicting emotions which now exalt and now depress Him. He sees the I necessity of His death, and does not seek to escape from it; but from the forces which work it and the form in which it comes He shrinks with horror and alarm. He perceives its functions and issues, and He rejoices to give His life a ransom for many; but, as His life is taken as well as given, He suffers agony because of those who take it, event while He feels in the act of surrender joy at doing His Father's will. As a result, those elements of the sacrifice and death which appear as the first and most essential to us, appeared as the last and most incidental to Him. Yet to those who can follow and interpret His thought, the new Passion is but the old sovereignty seen through its issue, or in the method of its achievement

2. The new development in His teaching occurs, then, at the moment when the disciples had come to conceive Him as the Christ; and it is of Himself as the now confessed Messiah, with distinct reference to the idea in their minds, that He speaks. The terminology He employs constitutes a sort of symbolism. According to Mark17 and Luke,18 the name He uses to denote Himself as the victim is “the Son of Man.” Whence this name may have come does not specially concern us; but what does, is that He uses it to denote the person who had been termed “the Christ.” The words of Peter, both before and after, show that the disciples understood Jesus to mean by “the Son of Man” Himself. It is so unusual for any one to speak of himself in the third person, that it has been argued that the name is not historical but apocalyptic in its associations, and denotes not Jesus, but another—a symbolical being. But the idiom is not peculiar to this name; in certain most authentic texts Jesus speaks of Himself as “the Son,”19 and without this form of words it is impossible to see how He could have expressed His idea. The subject at certain supreme moments becomes an object to Himself; He is more than a unit, He is a whole; more than an individual, He is a race; more than an atom, He is a world. Any one who has studied Fichte's use of the term “Ego” ought to have no difficulty in understanding Jesus' usage of the third as I well as of the first person. “The Son of Man” is the universal form under which He conceives and denotes the specific Jewish notion of the Messiah. What the one term signified for a single people, the other signified for collective man; yet with a difference,—it was the Messiah conceived as the suffering Servant of God; the hope of the people become completely one with the people, afflicted in all their afflictions, redeeming them by death. As, then, the subject—“the Christ,” as the disciples had named Him; “the Son of Man,” as He had named Himself—is a representative person, so are those who are to be concerned in His death: “the elders, chief priests, and scribes” are symbolical of Israel acting in a collective and solemn manner. “The elders” are Israel as a State; “the chief priests” are Israel as a Church; “the scribes” are Israel as possessed of the oracles of God. When they are conceived as working together, their action is conceived as Israel's, the work of a civil, sacerdotal, and religious body corporate. These contrasted titles then—“the Christ,” or “the Son of Man,” on the one hand, and “the elders, chief priests, and scribes” on the other—can only mean that the acts in which they were to be respectively engaged, bearing, suffering, and enduring, causing and inflicting, death, have a more than mere personal significance; they realize the ends for which the Messiah stood by means of the ideas for which Israel was the symbol. Thus Jesus conceives His death as in form a sacrifice, a means for the reconciliation of man to God, though a sacrifice may have been the last thing it was intended to be by the men who effected it. And the rebuke to Peter shows how necessary Jesus thought this view of His death was. His words are remarkable: “Get thee behind me, Satan! for thou mindest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”20 It is hardly possible to avoid the inference that there is here a reminiscence of the temptation. Jesus feels as if the tempter, disguised as Peter, was once more showing Him “all the kingdoms of the world “;21
  • 1.

    Ante, pp. 328–329.

  • 2.

    Mark viii. 27–29; Matt. xvi. 15–16; Luke ix. 18–20.

  • 3.

    Ante, p. 303.

  • 4.

    Matt. v. 17–18.

  • 5.

    Mark i. 22; Matt. vii. 27.

  • 6.

    Matt. v. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44.

  • 7.

    Matt. xi. 9–11; Luke vii. 26–8.

  • 8.

    Mark ii. 17; Luke xix. 10.

  • 9.

    xi. 28.

  • 10.

    iv. 19.

  • 11.

    xi. 9.

  • 12.

    Matt. viii. 18–22; Luke ix. 57–60.

  • 13.

    Mark x. 17–22.

  • 14.

    Mark viii. 34–37.

  • 15.

    Matt. x. 16–42.

  • 16.

    Matt. xi. 25–27.

  • 17.

    Mark viii. 31–32.

  • 18.

    Luke ix. 20 22.

  • 19.

    Luke x. 17–20; Matt xi. 27; Mark xiii. 32.

  • 20.

    Matt. xvi. 21–23.

  • 21.

    21 Matt. iv. 10.

and He once more resists him and casts him out.

Here, then, we have the culminating idea as to Himself and His function; yet it is an idea so extraordinary and unusual, while so distinctive of the religion, that we must attempt to understand it as it rises in His consciousness and is expressed in His teaching. It is so seldom that we have the opportunity of discovering the sources of a potent belief and analyzing its primary form and primitive elements, that one must not be neglected when it offers; and we must here the more jealously use the opportunity that we can compare the present with the later forms and examine its action as a factor in the making and in the continuance of the religion. Our immediate purpose, however, is to find out what the idea signified to Jesus Christ; its worth for the religion belongs to a later stage in the discussion.