Page images





was at once to assume a higher function, to administer more powerful and influential baptism. This has always appeared to me one of the most striking incidental arguments for the truth of the Evangelic narrative, and consequently of the Christian faith. The recognition. appears to have been instant and immediate. Hitherto, the Baptist had insisted on the purification of all who had assembled around him; and, with the commanding dignity of a Heaven-commissioned teacher, had rebuked, without distinction, the sins of all classes and all sects. In Jesus alone, by his refusal to baptize him, he acknowledges the immaculate purity, while his deference assumes the tone of homage, almost of adoration.

Jesus, however, perhaps to do honour to a rite which was hereafter to be that of initiation into the Baptism of new religion, insists on submitting to the usual Jesus. ablution. As he went up out of the water, which wound below in its deep channel, and was ascending the shelving shore, a light shone around with the rapid and undulating motion of a dove, typifying the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Son of Man; and a voice was heard from heaven, which recognised him as the Son of God, well pleasing to the Almighty Father of the Universe. This light could scarcely have been seen, or the voice heard, by more than the Baptist and the Son of

b Strauss (i. 396) argues that this concession of the higher place by the ascetic John (and asceticism, he justly observes, is the most stern and unyielding principle in the human character) is so contrary to the principles of human nature, and to all historical precedent, that the whole must be fictitious; a singular canon, that every thing extraordinary and unprecedented

in history must be untrue. I suspect the common phrase, "truth is strange

stranger than fiction," to be founded on deeper knowledge of human nature, and of the events of the world.

The more distinct declarations of inferiority contained in several passages are supposed by most harmonists of the Gospels to have been made after the baptism of Jesus.




Book I.

Mary himself, as no immediate sensation appears to have been excited among the multitudes, such as must have followed this public and miraculous proclamation of his sacred character; and at a subsequent period, Jesus seems to have appeared among the followers of John, unrecognised, or at least unhonoured, until He was pointed out by the Baptist, and announced as having been proclaimed from Heaven at his baptism. The calmness and comparatively unimposing peacefulness of this scene, which may be described as the inauguration of this "greater than Moses," in his office as founder of a new religion, is strikingly contrasted with the terrific tempests and convulsions of nature at the delivery of the Law on Sinai, and harmonises with the general tone and character of the new faith. The image of the Dove, the universal symbol of innocence and peace, even if purely illustrative, is beautifully in keeping with the gentler character of the whole transaction.


The Temptation of Jesus is the next event in the Temptation history of his life; and here, at the opening, of Jesus. as it were, of his career, appears shadowed out the sort of complex character under which Christianity

This appears from John i. 32. Neander (Leben Jesu, p. 69) represents it as a symbolic vision.

It may be well to observe that this explanation of voices from heaven, as a mental perception, not as real arti-| culate sounds but as inward impressions, is by no means modern, or what passes under the unpopular name of rationalism. There is a very full and remarkable passage in Origen cont. Celsum, i. 48, on this point. He is speaking of the offence which may be given to the simple, who from their great simplicity are ready on every

[ocr errors]

occasion to shake the world, and cleave the compact firmament of heaven. Κἂν προσκόπτῃ τὸ τοιοῦτον τοῖς ἁπλουστέροις, οἵ διὰ πολλὴν ἁπλότητα κινοῦσι τὸν κόσμον, σχίζοντες τὸ τηλικοῦτον σῶμα ἡνῶμενον τοῦ πάντος οὐρανοῦ. See likewise in Suicer's Thesaur., voc. Þúvn, the passages from St. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa.

e Ennius apud Cic. de Div. i. 48 Tibull. i. 8, 9.

f Matt. iv. 1, 11; Mark iv. 12, 13; Luke iv. 1-13.

[ocr errors]




represents its Divine Author, as a kind of federal representative of mankind. On the interpretation of no incident in the Gospels, do those who insist on the literal acceptation of the Evangelists' language, and those who consider that, even in the New Testament, much allowance is to be made for the essentially allegoric character of Oriental narrative, depart so far asunder. While the former receive the whole as a real scene, the latter suppose that the truth lies deeper; and that some, not less real, though less preternatural transaction, is related, either from some secret motive, or, according to the genius of Eastern narrative, in this figurative style. As pretending to discover historical facts of much importance in the life of Christ, the latter exposition demands our examination. The Temptation, according to one view, is a parabolic description of an actual event; according to another, of a kind of inward mental trial, which continued during the public career of Jesus. In the first theory, the Tempter was nothing less than the high priest, or one of the Sanhedrin, delegated by their authority to discover the real pretensions of Jesus. Having received intelligence of the testimony borne to Jesus by John, this person was directed to follow him into the wilderness, where he first demanded,

[blocks in formation]



Book I.

as the price of his acknowledgment by the public authorities, some display of miraculous power, such as should enable him, like Moses, to support the life of man by a preternatural supply of food in the wilderness. He then held out to him the splendid prospects of aggrandisement, if he should boldly place himself, as a divinely commissioned leader, at the head of the nation; and even led him in person to the pinnacle of the Temple, and commanded him to cast himself down, as the condition, if he should be miraculously preserved, of his formal recognition by the Sanhedrin. To this view, ingenious as it is, some obvious objections occur; -the precise date apparently assigned to the transaction by the Evangelists, and the improbability that, at so early a period, he would be thought of so much importance by the ruling powers; the difficulty of supposing that, even if there might be prudential motives to induce St. Matthew, writing in Judæa, to disguise, under this allegoric veil, so remarkable an event in the history of Christ, St. Luke, influenced by no such motives, would adopt the same course. Though, indeed, it may be replied, that if the transaction had once assumed, it would be likely to retain, its parabolic dress; still, it must seem extraordinary that no clearer notice of so wonderful a circumstance should transpire in any of the Christian records. Nor does it appear easily reconcileable with the cautious distance at which the authorities appear to have watched the conduct of Jesus, thus, as it were, at once to have committed themselves, and almost placed themselves within his power.

The second theory is embarrassed with fewer of these difficulties, though it is liable to the same objection, as to the precise date apparently assigned to the incident. According to this view, at one particular period of his




life, or at several times, the earthly and temporal thoughts, thus parabolically described as a personal contest with the Principle of Evil, passed through the mind of Jesus, and arrayed before him the image constantly present to the minds of his countrymen, that of the author of a new temporal theocracy. For so completely were the suggestions in unison with the popular expectation, that ambition, if it had taken a human or a worldly turn, might have urged precisely such displays of supernatural power as are represented in the temptations of Jesus. On no two points, probably, would the Jews have so entirely coincided, as in expecting the Messiah to assume his title and dignity, before the view of the whole people, and in the most public and imposing manner; such, for instance, as, springing from the highest point of the Temple, to have appeared floating in the air, or preternaturally poised upon the unyielding element; any miraculous act, in short, of a totally opposite character to those more private, more humane, and, if we may so speak, more unassuming signs, to which he himself appealed as the evidences of his mission. To be the lord of all the kingdoms, at least of Palestine, if not of the whole world, was, according to the same popular belief, the admitted right of the Messiah. If then, as the history implies, the Saviour was tried by the intrusion of worldly thoughts, whether according to the common literal interpretation, actually urged by the Principle of Evil, in his proper person, or, according to this more modified interpretation of the passage, suggested to his mind, such was the natural turn which they might have taken.

But, however interpreted, the moral purport of the scene remains the same the intimation that the strongest and most lively impressions were made upon

« PreviousContinue »