Page images


their claims on ever louder, yet eternity surrounds us even in the garb of time, and its demands are the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

One man alone, Paul, maintains the demand of Jesus in its sublimity, and even he not quite uniformly. In the early Church the new law' at once secures a footing.

Paul's Gentile Church fell in like manner under the sway of the religion of law. A new Church—the Christian—took the place of the Jewish, and its claims are mostly the same: external, ceremonial, legal, and theological. Jesus' words condemn His own Church down to the present day.




WHOEVER, refusing to be led astray by words, surveys the short history of early Christianity, cannot fail to be struck before long by a curious observation. All high-sounding words such as redemption, atonement, justification, the new birth, and the receiving of the spirit, are wanting in the early Gospels, and yet every reader feels that those that were about Jesus were raised to a state of peculiar happiness. On the other hand, the greater the frequency of these theological expressions in the later writings, the further does the actual fact of redemption, as of something experienced and imparted to us to-day, recede into the background. Even St Paul, who himself was certainly to be counted amongst the redeemed, set up general theories about redemption, which were more than once contradicted by experience in his own congregations. Talk, especially theological talk, about redemption, stands frequently, if not always, in the inverse ratio to the actual experience thereof.

We must speak of Jesus as Redeemer, because His


activity is not exhausted in the promise that He gave and the demand that He made, nay, more, in describing these we have not even mentioned that which was highest and best in the work of Jesus. He did not merely set up a goal for men and point out the direction thither, but He helped them Himself on the road. And this in ways so manifold as completely to outdistance the poverty of the dogmatic conceptions.

In the Gospels, Jesus appears before us first of all as the physician of men's bodies, as the redeemer of the sick and suffering. However great the number of miraculous narratives that we set on one side as exaggerations or inventions of a later age, a nucleus of solid fact remains with which we have to deal. Jesus possessed a healing power, strictly limited, it is true, by unbelief, but capable of producing the very greatest physical and psychical changes wherever He encountered faith. This power operated especially in the case of mental diseases, but was by no means confined to them. Now even though here, too, we see Jesus completely dominated by the conceptions of His time, and in part even not scorning to make use of its remedies, we can yet feel the moral grandeur of His character, and the boundless sympathy with every form of distress through all the outer folds of magic. He is a wonder-worker, but how infinitely exalted He appears when compared with any other worker of wonders. In the time of His enthusiasm Jesus explained this · Redemption' as the beginning of the kingdom of God. On another occasion He places Himself on a line with the Jewish exorcists, and once again He expresses doubts as to the persistence of this driving out of demons. Jesus





confines Himself strictly within the limits of miracles of beneficence; every request to perform a miracle for mere display, as a sign, He refuses with an emphatic

Towards the end of His ministry an almost entire cessation of His miraculous activity is to be noticed. Yet He bequeathed His powers to the apostles if they made use of His name. The whole of the Redemption

Redemption' was naturally of a transitory character. The evangelists assigned so important a place to it because of its value from an apologetic point of view. But there is no doubt that this side of Jesus' work as Redeemer was a very great religious consolation to those that experienced it. And it is an essential feature in the picture of Jesus that hunger, sickness and suffering moved Him to help scarcely less than mental trouble and distress.

Closely connected with the healing of the sick is the restitution of the alienated, the publicans and sinners. The Pharisees outlawed these people : Jesus loved them. His great compassion for the common people was especially directed towards this class. And that gained for Him the names, given in derision and mockery, of “glutton and winebibber, friend of tax-gatherers and godless people.” He ate and He drank with them; He sought shelter with them. He called one of them out of the tax-office to be His partner in His work as missionary. One can scarcely conceive the strange character of this Home Mission work' of Jesus. For Jesus brought these alienated classes back, not to any church party, but to God. It is probable, too, that when He preached to them He spoke little of sin and of repentance, but He entered sympathetically into their daily


life, and He showed them that God was to be sought, not outside of it, but within it. Then at times He would call forth such striking decisions as that of Zacchaeus. He Himself preferred this company to that of the very pious. He felt there a touch of sincerity and simplicity and humanity, which are only rarely to be met with amongst . religious people.' Jesus did not say that the publicans and sinners were ‘sick, but merely that they were in need of His love. Some of His greatest sayings, perhaps even the parable of the prodigal son, arose from His defence of His intercourse with them. His Home Mission' won for the new religion

· its most valuable adherents, because they were theologically the least corrupted. But it was attended by consequences which were hostile to the Church. For this love finally embraced even Samaritans and heathen, and leapt the bounds of any and every ecclesiastical system. As soon as the new Church was formed, therefore, it again applied the Pharisaic measure to the publicans and heathen, so in St Matt. xviii. 17, the unrepentant is to be treated as you would treat a heathen and a tax-gatherer.

Furthermore, Jesus 'redeemed' His listeners from the theologians, and that had consequences that reached still further. The Jewish religion was decaying, above all, because of the fact that instead of the prophets as mediators between God and man, stood the Scribes, their exact opposite. As the whole of the religion was founded upon the sacred book, and this was written in a dead language and stood in need of explanation, the interpreters of the book came to be looked upon as

the sole revealers


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »