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The Church of the first age, which saw in Jesus the Christ, was bound to apply to Him the prophecies concerning Christ, or generally considered as such, and also the facts relative to servants of Jehovah, considered as prototypes of the true Messiah. Thus, according to a story in the first Gospel, Eastern Magi are said to have visited the infant Jesus. In the oracle of Balaam, “there shall come Star out of Jacob,” Rabbinical exegesis saw a Messianic prophecy: thanks to astrology, which prevailed among the Jews as well as elsewhere in antiquity, men soon began to believe that a star would announce the advent of the Sent of Jehovah. This is how the story of the Magi originated. In like manner the presents they are said to have brought are a reminiscence of Isaiah Ix. 6, which speaks of distant kings bringing gold and incense to the Holy City. The massacre at Bethlehem is an adaptation to the life of Jesus of the events connected with the birth of Moses. Moses, with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, on Mount Sinai, correspond to Jesus and His three disciples on the mount of transfiguration : as Moses was transfigured, so was Jesus ; in both cases a cloud covers the mount and the voice of Jehovah is heard. What conclusion can be drawn but that the Gospels are not historical, but a vast myth, richly diversified, inspired by ancient legends and by the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah.
Whatever opinion we may hold as to the real value of this theory, there can be but one opinion of the marvellous lucidity and erudition with which its author presents it. Very few works of historical criticism leave upon us the same impression of power that this does of the young Tübingen tutor. That which results from it, however, is not a life of Jesus. In place of the historical Christ, who has disappeared in the haze of legend, there rises a personified abstraction, the God-man, or rather deified humanity. The history of Christ represents, in a poetical guise, the evolution of humanity. The writer, under the influence of Hegelian philosophy, would have us rise from the legend that reveals to the idea itself: to reverse the process of Christianity, which has attributed to an individual what is true only of mankind in its totality. The book is vitiated by its Hegelian premises, and ceases to be a historical work; it is rather a speculative construction governed by à priori principles to which facts have to be confirmed. This fundamental error leads on to another. The work of an historian is, first, to gather as complete a body of information as possible, then to sift it and classify it, and afterwards to form it into an accurate and vivid narrative. He cannot be too careful in seeing that he has trustworthy materials to go upon. Now, in the work of Strauss, this part of the historian's duties is executed in the most flimsy manner. There is no serious criticism of the documents relative to the life of Jesus. The slightest variations are taken to reveal and prove the legendary character of the materials. No doubt Strauss grants at all times the fact that Jesus really lived, but this is almost the whole result of his criticism. After having, as far as possible, replaced, as it seems to us, the living landscape by a bank of mist, he does not condescend to tell us what he himself regards as still remaining. What did Jesus of Nazareth accomplish ? What are we to think of His character and life? What place does He occupy in religious history, and in the general history of humanity? These questions, so simple and necessary, seem to be ignored by Strauss. He does not detach the legendary matter from the historical, and he leaves us with the impression that the greatest transformation which has been wrought upon the world is like a splendid edifice of stone resting upon a cloud. The Church remains an effect without a cause.
Let us, however, do Strauss full justice. If, as a whole, his work has rapidly become obsolete, it has, nevertheless, had a powerful and wholesome influence. Before it the sources of the life of Jesus had never been seriously tested. Supernaturalism had accepted them as indisputable, and had drawn from them artificial " harmonies,” accompanied by apologetic dissertations of a servile and somewhat worthless character. The pitiless criticism of Strauss overturned these elaborate and fragile structures. To this direct service is added another. The commotion had been too deep, the feelings excited too keen, for it henceforth to escape notice that the life of Christ was the essential question. From this great and fruitful efforts have resulted. The books of Strauss have descended with him, if indeed they did not go before him into the tomb, but the impulse they gave survives them.
It was in 1863 that Ernest Renan published his Life of Jesus. Some had looked forward to its appearance with alarm, others with a kind of prophetic joy; but both classes of readers were somewhat disappointed. No doubt the book produced a great sensation, but, none the less, each one felt that the powerful work, feared or hoped for, had not come.
It opens with a rapid study of the sources from which it is drawn. Matthew and Mark are arrangements of earlier collections. Luke is a more regularly constructed work. As for John, his narrative is by far the best: certain minute details in it reveal the old man relating his reminiscences, but the discourses it attributes to Jesus cannot be His, though certainly containing some of His sayings—they are more likely to be the interpolations of a disciple of John, who thus became, as it were, the Plato at second hand of the Christian Socrates.
Renan eliminates the supernatural element from the record, and endeavours to construct from the materials which have come down to us a logical and consistent narrative—a biography in which the probable may be taken for the true. According to him, it would run somewhat as follows. Born at Nazareth, in Galilee, Jesus, a simple child of the people, but an incomparable religious genius, grew up far from the withering scholasticism of His time, by the light of nature and of prophecy, those two Divine revelations. He thus came to conceive of worship without a priesthood; of a religion which was summed up in an affirmation of the Divine Fatherhood, and of moral perfection as consisting in inward purity and love even for one's enemies. After some hesitation He began to preach these truths. Capernaum was His centre of operations : it was there that He revealed to an astonished and delighted Galilee His wonderful gift of parabolic teaching. He preaches a communism rendered more attractive by millenarian dreams, and gathered about Him“
a joyous band” of disciples. After the martyrdom of the Baptist in the year 30, He begins definite work in Jerusalem, which He had already occasionally visited. But like Luther at Rome, He loses His simple faith in the regeneration of Judaism. His first conceptions are transfigured, and He affirms His Messiahship, and claims the titles of Son of God and Son of Man. Yet He Himself never claimed to be a Divine being. This claim was put forward by the enthusiasm of His disciples, with His connivance. Nor was this indirect deception all. His age sought after the marvellous: so He became a wonder-worker. Only, since it was against His will that He did so, sensible and sympathetic souls will not be too hard upon Him in judging His conduct.
But His illusions were soon dispelled. Crushed by the hard and cold hand of reality, He began to announce “ with audacity” that the end of the world was imminent. His moral and spiritual equilibrium was overthrown; and He soon came
1 It is with sorrow that we observe the death of this brilliant and erudite scholar. Often as he has provoked unfavourable criticism by his sallies, it will doubtless seem to many that the world is somewhat the poorer for the loss of his exquisite literary gifts and irrepressible vivacity.-J. W.
to make His “ kingdom of God" a Moloch that was the enemy of natural life. By an inevitable consequence, official Judaism manifested an increasing hostility to Him, which still further reacted upon Him. And so, at the Feast of Tabernacles, in the year 32, the amiable teacher showed Himself embittered: the Rabbi, whose humility had been His great charm, set Himself with tedious persistency to confound His enemies by the force of subtilty or by the thunders of His eloquence. This was the beginning of the end. The resurrection of Lazarus, a fact difficult to determine, but which one may suspect to have been a contrivance of the disciples, which the Master was weak enough to assist in, hastened the march of events. The death of Jesus was resolved upon. Without recoiling from it, but not without regretting it, He recognized His position, and accepted it, as in accordance with His Father's will. Gethsemane, a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the scene of the last struggle and of final victory, was the scene also of His arrest. He was crucified on Golgotha, an eminence on the north-west of Jerusalem. All seemed ended with His last sigh. In reality all began a few hours later. A sickly, excitable woman, Mary of Magdala, stirred up the latent enthusiasm of the disciples, by declaring that she had seen the Master risen from the dead. The Church was founded, the future of Christianity assured. “O divine power of love! sacred moments, in which the affection of a hysterical woman (d'une hallucinée) gives to the world a God risen from the grave!"
Renan has wished to write the life of Jesus, but the manner in which he carries out his design is unworthy of a historian. Like a child who uses a set of dominoes to make fanciful patterns out of them, he mixes up texts to arrange them according to his preconceived ideas, which, strange to say, he admits he has borrowed from the life of Mahomet. St. Luke, for example, gives the parable of the rich man and Lazarus as spoken at the close of Christ's ministry. Renan takes it as a glorification of poverty, and says it must belong to the early Galilean period. Similarly with the story of the young ruler. The beatitude addressed to the persecuted (Matt. v. 10-12) is torn out of its connection, and in violation of the evident unity of the part of the discourse in which it is found, is relegated to the last period—that of conflict and disappointment. This arbitrary, fantastical procedure directly violates historical method.
And yet this semi-romance- --we cannot call it a history--of Jesus of Nazareth proceeds from a high appreciation of the extraordinary personality of the Founder of Christianity. Unfortunately we could scarcely conceive a greater failure than the portrait of Jesus, which he has attempted to draw. It is a moral monstrosity. On the one hand, Renan crowns Him with all the virtues and proclaims His unique glory. Jesus is in the spiritual domain “the acme of human greatness ”; He had " the highest knowledge of God”; “He has revealed the heaven of pure souls”; He has created “the eternal, absolute, true religion "; "all the ages will proclaim that among the sons of men there has not been a greater than He.” Yet, though the head of the statue is of gold, the feet are of clay. He who “created and exemplified absolute purity” is credited with the use of means to gain success, which even a very low-toned morality would condemn. The stain of fraud is upon His work. He pretends to perform miracles, though, of course, unable to do so; and takes part, perhaps regretfully, in the farce of the pretended resurrection of Lazarus—at the edge of the open grave “the greatest of the sons of men " consents to join with accomplices in the concoction of a lying wonder. Can it be possible? We repress our indignation at the suggestion, and simply say that, stripped of its ribbons and artificial flowers, and reduced to its constituent elements, the Jesus of Renan is an inconceivable personage.
Jesus has founded the eternal religion of humanity. He responds to our highest aspirations; by His immense moral superiority He rules over all races of mankind, over the most diverse kinds of characters, over all stages of civilization. His power has not waned with the flight of time. Now, the cause must correspond to the effect; there must be a consistency between the workman and his work. The Founder of the absolute religion could not have been as self-contradictory as Renan represents Him to have been. The weather-cock is not more the sport of the winds than the Jesus of Renan is of circumstances. At the beginning He wishes to found "a refined communism"; contact with reality shatters His dreams, and under the pressure of events He becomes & sombre fanatic”-a character directly the contrary of what He had been; and yet this wavering, pliant personality, ruled and moulded by events, was that of a man of “colossal proportions," who founded the true, final, and eternal religion !
This is not all. Jesus required humanity. He prescribed a love that pardons the greatest affronts. Yet for all that “He was Himself sometimes the aggressor.” He fastened on His enemies “ the Nessus-robe of ridicule”; “He transfixed them with His burning anger." How can He be distinguished from the hypocrites He speaks against, who say and do not? How can this Jesus, so great in His teaching, so inferior in His life, have been the initiator of a great and noble religious move. ment? According to Renan, the origin of Christianity remains unexplained.
That in which this celebrated writer is lacking is the moral sense. Does he accuse Jesus of duplicity? He acquits Him of blame with a smile. “ It is with humanity,” he says, " that we must find fault; it wishes to be deceived.” To put it plainly: All means which succeed are justifiable; success and virtue are inter. changeable terms; evil in its essence is a kind of bungling. This defect of moral sense explains the whole failure of the attempt to write the life of Jesus. It has given us a grotesque and repellent caricature instead of a portrait. It could not be other. wise. To understand Jesus we must be in sympathy with Him, and this can only come from union with Him.
(To be concluded.)
SUNDAY IN CHURCH.
THE MORNING LESSONS.
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER
and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O King. But if not.
we will not serve thy gods, &c.--Dan. iii. 17, 18. THREE human souls were in great peril ; not of their life only, which was much, but of their integrity, which was more. They were under the strongest possible temptation to do that which would have been an act of utter unfaithfulness to God, and which would have cost them their own self-respect. Had they
yielded to the royal threat, they would have done that for which they could never have forgiven themselves. It would have been a deed of recreancy and of shame. It is not often that such crises come to us.
But we have need to be prepared for them. The supreme hour of trial may arrive at any moment. As suddenly and unexpectedly as were these three Jews, we may be challenged to choose between fidelity and suffering on the one hand and disloyalty and disgrace upon the other hand. And it is not only for great occasions that we should be prepared. Again and again will occur to us the opportunity
for courageous constancy, the temptation to unwortlıy concession or to the submission that would end in shame. Where shall we find our defence ?
I. IN ABSOLUTE CONVICTION. “ The God whom we serve is able to deliver us," said these dissenting Jews. There was no doubt about that. They remembered what Jehovah had done in the past, what deliverances He had wrought; and in answer to the king's incredulity, they replied with the abso. lute conviction of the Divine power to save. It is almost everything to us to have a deep sense of some great spiritual certainties. When evils hang over our head, when our prospects are threatened, when health, or liberty, or life is at stake, it is much indeed to stand upon the rock of some solid certitudes. God is near to us; He is observing us, and is awaiting our constancy with Divine interest and acceptance ; He will reward filelity with His loving favour ; He will not allow the worst to happen, except it be right and well that it should happen ; Christ will sympathize with us if we suffer, and go down with us into the deepest waters into which we may descend. Man cannot do more than a limited measure of harm even though he should do his utmost; he may injure ours, but he cannot spoil or slay us: we ourselves, in the truest sense, are above his reach. If God be for us, we can afford to have the world against us (Matt. x. 28 ; Rom. viii. 31). It is a strong rampart in the day of assault to have some impregnable convictions such as these within our souls.
II. A STRONG HOPE. " And He will deliver us out of thine hand .... but if not”: in other words, we have a prevailing hope that our God will exert His power on our behalf. Their state of mind was this : they knew that God was with them, and was for them, that He was mindful of their prayer and of their trust ; that was certain. They could not be sure whether He would justify their faith by a miraculous intervention on their behalf, or by imparting Divine grace to enable them to bear martyr-witness to the truth. God might answer them by sustaining their spirit in suffering and in death, or He might do so by delivering them from the power of the enemy. Their strong hope was that He would thus deliver them. It is open to us to act and to feel thus. We are in
serious danger of financial disaster, or of being attacked by disease, or of losing reputation, or of severe bereavement, or of grievous disappointment, or of social or professional failure. We ask for deliverance. It is not for us to prescribe to the Lord of our life how He shall interpose for us ; whether by delivering us “out of the hand ” of our enemy, or by making His grace so to abound unto us that in the very midst of our trial we have a contented and even cheerful spirit. But we have a right to a strong hope that God will remove from us that from which it is natural to shrink, that He will give to us that which it is natural and right to desire. say to ourselves, “God will give us our desire, but if not”.
'--we may cherish not presumptuous confidence, but a sustaining hope.
III. AN UNWAVERING RESOLVE:
"We will not serve thy gods,” &c. Even if their hope of bodily deliverance were not granted, they would retire to the spiritual certainties on which they built, they would fixedly determine not to belie their convictions, not to offend their God, not to desert the truth, not to fail their fellow-countrymen and their coreligionists in the hour of trial. To the proud threat of the imperious and all-confident monarch they opposed the immovable resolution of upright souls that believed in God : their resolution was unqualified, unenfeebled by the shadow of a doubt, invincible. Let the young go forth to the conflict of life in this devout, this heroic spirit, and to them also shall come the victory and the
Let them be resolved that, come what may, though they should pay the penalty of loneliness, or poverty, or obscurity, or early death, nothing shall induce them to leave the path of virtue, to forfeit their self-respect, to enter upon a course which ends in shame and spiritual death; that nothing shall keep them from the pursuit and practice of piety, purity, and holy service. Let them make this resolve in the strength of Christ ; let them continually renew it in His conscious presence and unto Him ; then will they “ follow in the train ” of the martyrs and heroes who have gone before them.
And while their name is not written on the page of sacred history, as is that of these Hebrew saints, that name will be written in the book of life, and they will bear their witness to the truth of God even as did the Highest of all (John xviii. 37).