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name of Jesus?1 And yet these eminent spiritualists are rejected in favour of practical moralists, whose merits, according to a later discourse (chapter xxv.), shall be recognised on the day of judgment, in the philanthropy which feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, shelters the homeless, and visits the sick ; in other words, Jesus borrows his ideas of future retribution from the Egyptian · Book of the Dead, written at least two thousand years before the Christian era. How marvellous that, in the face of so explicit a declaration, a Christianity of dogma should have succeeded a Christianity of ethics, and that, but a few generations after the death of Jesus, his followers should have adopted saving creeds instead of saving virtues !
Jesus addressed men and women on the Mount who, probably, never had another opportunity of listening to his words. On him, therefore, rested the responsibility of clearly defining all that is needful for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. That all consisted of nothing more than simple trust in divine beneficence, and the practice of human virtues, engraved on the ancient monuments of Egypt, centuries before Moses is said to have tortured its inhabitants with appalling plagues. The auditors of Jesus heard nothing of the Fall of man, the necessity for atonement, the regeneration of baptism, the dogma of the Trinity, or the mysterious influence of the Holy Ghost. If it is indeed true that salvation depends on faith in dogmatic creeds, whether Apostolic, Nicene, or Athanasian, many hearers of the Sermon on the Mount will doubtless rise
in the Day of Judgment against Jesus of Nazareth, to denounce the fatal silence which left them in ignorance of the ecclesiastical rites and theological mysteries indispensable to candidates for the Kingdom of Heaven.
1 Matt. vii. 21-23.
What, therefore, are our conclusions respecting the Sermon on the Mount? A marvellous discourse from the lips of a Galilean peasant, but disclosing no trace of the originality indispensable to divine revelation. The student of the Apocrypha will find many of the ideas of Jesus scattered through the pages of 2 Esdras, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus; and he who carefully and dispassionately reads the • Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius,' drawn, not from Christianity, but from Grecian and Roman philosophy, will find all which is most excellent in the Sermon on the Mount, based on the principle of duty towards God and man, even unto death, without one thought of reward here or hereafter.
HAVING formed our ideal of Jesus as a great Teacher from the Sermon on the Mount, we participate in the surprise and disappointment of his disciples, as we see him forsaking the original form and substance of his teaching, to borrow Rabbinical parables from the educational system of men whom he had denounced as blind leaders of the blind. The multitude had found in his simple and straightforward discourses an impressive authority foreign to the style of merely conventional teachers, and yet he imperilled the moral power of direct and definite statement to imitate the enigmatical teaching of his hated rivals.
A vague impression exists in our time that Hebrew parables were judiciously adopted for the instruction of ignorant simpletons ; but this view is not sustained by contemporary opinion in the age of Jesus. The author of Ecclesiasticus," writing B.C. 200, assures us that parables were not intended for labourers, agric ulturists, or mechanics, but for men of refined taste and learned leisure. Great Hebrew masters, preceding and contemporary with Jesus, addressed their parables, not to the ignorant multitude, but to the youthful pupils who—as Saul of Tarsus-sat at the feet of a Hillel, a
Shammai, or a Gamaliel, not to listen to the eloquence of great convictions, but to the casuistical subtleties of men honestly endeavouring to reconcile the faith of Judah with the Rationalism of Greece.
This mode of teaching—examples of which abound in Mishnical and Talmudical literature—is obviously the very reverse of that adopted in the Sermon on the Mount. What, therefore, caused so mysterious and unsatisfactory a change in the policy of Jesus ? A clear and definite reply is furnished by the Evangelist. He had fallen under the dominion of the national
On his disciples inquiring why he had addressed the multitude in parables, Jesus referred them to the following passage in Isaiah :1. And he [Jehovah] said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes ; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.' The Evangelist furthermore removes all doubt as to the subjection of Jesus to prophetic fatality, by informing us that he refused to instruct in any other form than parables, because the Psalmist had written, “I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old.' 2
A beneficent Father and a free kingdom of heaven were, therefore, illusory dreams. The words of Isaiah, spoken without any reference to the age of Jesus, now fettered his judgment, controlled his actions, annulled the Sermon on the Mount, and involved the kingdom of
Ohap. vi. 9, 10.
2 Matt. xüi. 35,
heaven in mysteries hidden from all but the chosen few, gifted with supernatural knowledge of the precious secrets. 1
We have seen from the parable of Lazarus and Dives that Jesus did not possess the critical acumen indispensable to the nice adjustment of analogous conditions disclosed in the fables of an Æsop. Rabbinical parables were, therefore, foreign to the genius of Jesus ; and those recorded in the Gospels have only sustained a traditional character for wisdom through the reverential awe of divinity which has silenced the voice of rational criticism. Let us, therefore, consider some of the parables accepted for centuries as masterpieces of sagacity.
Behold, a sower went forth to sow : and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them ; some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth, and when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away; and some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and choked them; but others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold
Although the disciples were supposed to possess intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus explained to them the esoteric meaning of the parable. The sower was the Son of Man, the seed was his teaching, and the various descriptions of ground represented the moral condition of his auditors. Now,
1 Matt. xii. 16, 17.
2 Matt. xiii. 3-9.