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JESUS THE SUPREME WITNESS AND EXAM
PLE OF INSPIRATION.
HISTORICAL investigation is founded on monuments and documents. The monuments of Jesus Christ are, primarily, His people in all the ages; they are His witnesses, they are the cities set on hills. The documents of Jesus are, primarily, the gospels and the other writings of the New Testament. And according to the strictest law of historical criticism, the ultimate decision as to the character and import of documents rests, not upon the fine mold of mere criticism of words, not upon rightful conception of historical relations, however useful these may be, but upon the firm bed-rock of the character of the witness testifying in the documents. This character, it honest, intelligent, thoroughly informed, disinterested, faithful, finds its echo in man, who can recognize and be attracted by noble character, however far from it he may know himself to be.
In all ages there has risen before men, as they have read and reread the gospels, the character of Jesus. This character is not found more in one part than in another of the gospels. But as the vapor, with healing on its wings, rises from every part of the ocean and forms the clonds, bringing life and refreshing to the earth and man, so, from the words, the acts, the incidents of daily life, all the minutiæ of artless narrative, as well as from the doctrines taught, from the doctrine of simplicity and love, illustrated by the infant taken in His arms, to the doctrine of infinite, eternal power and Godhood, from each and every part of the gospels there arises a character, stamped with the traits of honesty and intelligence, of high principle and goodness, of fortitude and love.
This character, which is the effulgence of the gospels, and the impress of their substance, is not the result of the cunning art of a tax-gatherer, two fishermen, and a physician. The evangelists frequently remind us that they did not understand this character. They were slow to appreciate it. They simply tell in unadorned language what they saw and heard, or learned by testimonies they could not doubt. They stand as far below this character revealed in their writings, as when, “over against Bethany,” “ while He blessed them, He parted from them, and was carried up into heaven," they stood “looking steadfastly into heaven as He went.” The evangelists show every mark of the spirit of their age; but only the extreme school, who deny the supernatural, deny to Jesus what every one else sees in Him, absolute freedom from the spirit of His age. This character was not, as it could not be, the art of men whom their contemporaries styled “unlearned and ignorant," nor could it be the device of fraud or enthusiasm. Under the supreme law of historic criticism, as well as according to the consciousness of men in
clime, of every color, this character becomes, as it ever has been and will be, the highest proof and plainest seal of the gospels that reveal it.
This character is marked in all its lineaments with honesty, that is, with "fairness and straightforwardness of thonght, speech, act, purpose.” However men bave interpreted His acts or words, and differed from them, the centuries have been free from the accusation of insincerity or unfairness or dishonesty in Jesus. He was sincere in His convictions, and proved His sincerity against the appeals of friends, and the last resort of foes. This
honesty shone out in the native, imperturbable dignity of His bearing; it was both a principle and a habit. And 1,809 years of criticism have failed to find the flaw which proved that at any moment He was derelict to the principles of the purest, loftiest morality. But there seems to be, on the part of a few, at the present day, a tendency to deny to Jesus the highest powers of mind. He is said to be of uncompromising honesty, our Master in the practical religions life; but as to the evidences in Jesus of those powers of mind which deal with the highest forms of knowledge-that is, what we style intellect, as distinguished from intelligence and understanding—we are told that the learning of this day has shown that He did not possess them. Let us consider this denial for a moment.
What is the highest realm of mind? Is it not that where the mind grasps and deals with ultimate principles of the material world, or of the world of intellect, affections, will? If we find a writer that has made even one ultimate principle his theme, and upon that theme has given to the world some advance of sound thought, we praise him as a master among men.
Look back over the history of man : how few have been the men who have advanced the thought of the world on any single great principle, and how slight has been the advance made by any single mind. But grant that many minds may think freshly and truly upon ultimate principles, and that the conscious purpose of this thinking is the highest known, the glory of God and the benefit of man, what is the final complex, the concrete result of such thinking, on which man has set his seal as the utmost reach of human powers? Is it not the embodiment of the simplest, ultimate principles in the noblest characters ? Shakespeare remains one of the few master-minds of all the centuries. Plato's thinking, in most concrete form, is embodied in his conception of the character to which he has given the name of Soc
rates. Yet in these, and the few other world-ınasters of thought, we look in vain for the drawing of a perfect character. Was it the defect of their thought, or the incongruity of putting a perfect character into a world so full of all that is contrary to it, that has resulted in the imperfections of their creations? There is no evidence that Plato or Shakespeare ever imagined a perfect character. And the difficulty of making a perfect character at home in the world, was clearly perceived by both.
This overmastering reach of mind is patent in Jesus Christ. That perfect character, which is the last analysis and synthesis of the gospels, to which the writers give their testimony, but in which they had no part; that character, simple, pellucid, without a flaw, itself the home and exhibition of every ultimate principle, recognizable by the human mind—that character, in its principles, its acts, its purposes, was “the clear conception, the permanent realized ideal of Jesus, and of Him only.” That character was wholly unknown to the world before, and, hence, like every advance of thought which covdemns the hoary inherited errors of the present, the mistakes and misconceptions and fond ideals of friends or foes, it was misunderstood and doubted by His dearest friends, and by His foes it was gibbeted on Calvary for the scorn of the world.
Granted the possibility of the conception of a perfect character, an ideal never lost, there is still a difficulty no human mind has ever even attempted to overcome, that is, to exhibit such a character radiant in the smallest acts of daily life, in the homeliest duties, in the lowliest condescension and ministry of deed and doctrine; and to bear it successfully through the scoff of the worldling, the keenest antagonism of the refined dialectics of the self-righteous, through the misunderstandings and betrayal by friends, the awful sufferings of a prolonged death in full
sight of men. Yet this is just what Jesus has done in His own life, not in the less difficult task of portraying that life in another. The conception of this character was that of Jesus alone. This conception in all its minutiæ and in its entirety was ever before Him, so that there is no discordant trait, and He was this character in this very world, in which no human brain has ever before or since even attempted to introduce a perfect character. If the universal canon of human judgment as to the possession of the highest powers of intellect, the capacity for the highest forms of knowledge, the analytic and synthetic powers in the utmost stretch of their capacity,—if this canon is of avail, then Jesus must be credited with the possession of mental powers beyond any other being who ever lived on this earth.
It is now rather the fashion in some circles to compare Jesus with Sakia-Mouni, Confucius, Mahomet, to the advantage of these last. Let any one compare Jesus' conception of His character with the conceptions of character by other men, and, by all the laws of intellect, Jesus moves above them as far as the sun above its reflex on the wavelet.
The critical school of the present day that denies to Jesus anything but a "restricted intellectual outfit and outlook," affirms that His views were totally at variance with the teachings of the Old Testament rightly understood. Suppose we grant this for the moment. Then we must say that His plan for the good of mankind was wholly His own.
This Man of thorough honesty of principle and life, of mental power beyond all others, who alone held the conception of a perfect life and alone realized it, this One had a definite plan before Him.
History is full of the names of leaders of men, warriors, statesmen, philantlıropists. Their names have come down