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The Life and
a continuous narrative collated
With an introduction by The Very Bev. Frederick W. Farrar, D.D.
Dean of Canterbury Cathedral
“THE LIFE AND TEACHING OF
DEAN STANLEY tells the story that, on one occasion, when he visited the great German scholar and theologian Heinrich von Ewald, a little New Testament which was lying on the table happened to fall to the ground. Ewald, who was then regarded by many narrow and ignorant persons as a terrible heretic, stooped and picked it up, and as he laid it back on the table exclaimed, with a glow of indescribable enthusiasm, “In this little book is contained all the best wisdom of the world.” True of the New Testament as a whole, Ewald's remark would be yet more immediately true of the record of the Life and Teaching of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as contained in the Four Gospels. These Gospels depict the one perfect example, furnish the one infallible guide, for the sons of men. They are the unmingled wellspring of religion pure and undefiled. In the following pages the reader will find the pure and unadulterated Gospel, for they consist simply of an arrangement of the fourfold narrative of the Evangelists, in which special prominence is given to the actual words of Christ.
Let us speak first of the Life of Christ as set forth to us in the Four Gospels. They are the sole source of our knowledge. There are many apocryphal gospels, and they are full of interest as illustrative of the views of early Christians; but they do not add a single trustworthy fact to those recorded by the Evangelists. Nay, taken as a whole, they are little more than imaginative romances, and in every particular they are quite immeasurably inferior to the Four Gospels of our Canon. They do not elevate but dwarf, they do not brighten but only dim and blur, the figure of the living Christ. This is specially true of the various gospels of the Infancy. Most of the anecdotes they tell are not only impossible but repellent. They try to weave a garland round the brows of the Child Christ; but we instantly see that it is an ugly and disfiguring wreath of flowers, which are always artificial and sometimes poisonous. It is a memorable testimony to the truth of the Gospels, that in comparison with these inventions they are as sunlight to darkness; and it is one of numberless incidental proofs of the Divine supremacy of Christ, that the moment human invention endeavours to supplement the true narrative of His years on earth, its only tendency is to lower and degrade.
It is the same with the records of Christ's Teaching. There were current in the early Church many unrecorded sayings of Christ, known as Agrapha Dogmata, which are found in Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and other early Fathers. To these Logia, or "sayings," belong those recorded in the little fragment of papyrus found last year in the grave-mounds of Oxyrrhyncus. There is only one saying of Christ's unrecorded in the Gospels on the genuineness of which we may rely with absolute certainty. It is the one mentioned by St. Paul in Acts xx. 35: “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." Of all the other Logia, at least twenty in number, some are only variations and illustrations of His words as recorded in the Canon, while others are often enigmatical and always of most dubious authenticity. Invention could as little add to Christ's teaching as it could enrich the annals of His life.
Let us speak first of the Life of our Saviour; then of His Teaching.