« ÎnapoiContinuați »
his Book of Martyrs,' of 'one Greenwood,' who, as a perjured person and a great persecutor, had been struck dead by the hand of God, and the use made of it by a preacher, as an illustration of divine justice in a sermon that he preached in the hearing of Greenwood himself, who, by his living presence, offered a convincing practical refutation of its truth, has been preserved for us in a legal decision.”
Our Gospels, then, with this yawning gulf of seventy or one hundred years between the events (whatever they were) and the records (such as they are), do not, it must be admitted, supply reliable testimony for the truth of even the most commonplace statement, unless otherwise supported, say by intrinsic evidence. The most conservative person would be ready to admit this in any case where religious beliefs were not involved. We met, for instance, with the following in reading Professor Aytoun's “ Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers." He says in the Appendix, to justify his disbelief of Wodrow's statements respecting Grahame of Claverhouse (written thirty-six years after the events), “tradition, of course, is against me, but when I find no articulate voice uttered by tradition until after the expiry of thirty years, I am not disposed to give much weight to it as an accessory, far less to accept it as reasonable evidence.” And on the next page he remarks, “ vulgar credulity owns no limits, and the lapse of thirty years is sufficient to account for the currency of the grossest fable.” Need we point the application ?
Charles Kingsley has given us sufficient reasons why we should believe none of the monkish accounts of the miracles and visions of his Hermits, though there is as much evidence in favour of them “as there is with most men of the existence of China." Yet he believed in those recorded in the New Testament. He shall tell us why. Because, he says, “the apostles and evangelists were sane men; men in their right minds, wise, calm, conducting themselves (save in the matter of committing sins) like other human beings. . . . The calm, the simplicity, the brevity, the true grandeur of the . . . style of the apostles and evangelists . is sufficient evidence of their healthy-mindedness and their trustworthiness" (“ The Hermits,” p. 313).
Then taking leave of the external evidence-immeasurably insufficient-we come (if we are still asking, “Where may we obtain reliable information concerning Jesus of Nazareth ? ") to the internal warrants for believing. It can only be answered, “ Try the Gospels.” They ought not, it is true, to be relied on as trustworthy evidence for the marvellous, if the events of that character cannot otherwise be proved credible. Yet the internal evidence may be such as to make it almost certain what the main characteristics of Jesus' life and teaching were ; and as for single details, each will be, in its degree, probably true in proportion as it harmonizes with the whole, and as it fitly supplies any perceptible gap. If the abnormal portions of the narrative seem to be mere excrescences, they must be pared away; if, on the contrary, the natural life and teaching of Jesus cannot be separated from these elements, it will remain to be ascertained why ; we must ask whether this inseparability arises from the strength or weakness of the internal evidence. In the latter case, we may have to conclude all alike dim and uncertain ; in the former, we may be constrained to accept the supernatural, notwithstanding its lack of external support.
To the Gospels, then, let us come, and see whether their narratives are—in respect of the main features of Jesus' life and teaching-consistent with each other ; whether each Gospel is, in all important particulars, consistent with itself and with the others.
This harmony, or the want thereof, must be specially noticed in respect to the corner-stone, the great central doctrine, and, indeed, entire foundation of Christianity, viz. that Jesus was the Christ predicted by Hebrew seers. We have seen that, from the defective nature of the evidence for the “mighty works recorded in the Gospels, they cannot be used in support of this doctrine, nor do the Gospels supply proof of the resurrection of Jesus ; which resurrection is represented in the New Testament as the sufficient proof of his Christhood. If, however, the other evidence for the resurrection to which we have alluded should prove its reality, and if from that and other considerations the Messiahship of Jesus should be held to be established, then we apprehend the otherwise incredible accounts of healing leprosy, feeding thousands with a few viands, etc., etc., would become credible, and many of them even probable.
We shall, then, have to fix our attention especially on the claim made by Jesus to divine authority, with a view to ascertain the nature of this claim, and what it implied. On this point the third Gospel is in accord with the first and second, but being confessedly nonapostolic, it can scarcely add to their authority. We shall therefore confine ourselves almost exclusively to the first two and the fourth, in order somewhat to limit the area of research ; and, in respect to the first two, shall consider only that portion of the life of Jesus common to both, which is, in fact, only his public life, since Mark commences, not with the birth of Jesus, but with the preaching of the Baptist. And of Matthew Mr. Sanday says, “The first two chapters clearly belong to a different stock of materials from the rest of the Gospel." *
Coming, then, to the Gospels for information respecting Jesus, we intend giving, first, a brief outline of his life according to those attributed respectively to Matthew and Mark; and secondly, for comparison therewith, an outline still more brief of the life according to the fourth Gospel.
* “Gospels in the Second Century,” p. 153.
At the time immediately preceding the public appearance of Jesus, the Jews of Palestine, and those inhabitants of its northern province of Galilee who professed the Jewish religion, together with their fellow-religionists in various parts of the Roman empire, believed themselves the peculiar people of God, in exclusive possession of his law, given in awful solemnity, detailing their duties both to himself and to each other, and also to the outer world ; and that they were the inheritors of "great and precious promises,” the fulfilment of which, though long deferred, was now to be looked for.
They believed that in ancient days God sought to rule their ancestors by messages given through prophets, declaring his will to king and people; and that the kings reigned by right divine, as Jehovah's anointed, to execute his commands.
Of their kings they deemed David the greatest (as, indeed, he was the most celebrated), and, with two or three glaring exceptions, the one after God's own