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THESE NARRATIVES, UNSTUDIED.
no secret is made of their names. Of this, the intemperate zeal of the sons of Zebedee on one occasion, and their ambition and secular views on another, the incredu lity of Thomas, the presumption of Peter, and his lamentable defection in the denial of his Master, not to mention the prejudices and dulness of them all, are eminent examples. These particulars are all related with the same undisguised plainness which they use in relating the crimes of adversaries, and with as little endeavour to extenuate the former, as to exaggerate the latter."
And yet, after all, there is nothing studied in the style of these narrations, no appearance of care or pains taken to suppress one name, or introduce another. There is throughout an impressive forgetfulness of effect. It is common to speak of the authors of the four Gospels, as witnesses. But the idea of a witness conveys the impression of one speaking guardedly, as upon his oath, and as in the presence of individuals ready to crossexamine, and to doubt. But there is no appearance of this kind about these historians. When the mind is fully impressed and completely filled with any truth, whether of opinion, sentiment or fact, we find it impossible to think that others cannot see things just as we see them. What is so obvious and present to us, we imagine must be equally so to all. This appears to have been the predominant feeling in the minds of the writers of the Christian narratives. To them, the reality of the facts they record, was as indisputable as that of the sun in heaven, and abidingly filled with this conviction, they
CONSISTENCY OF THE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED.
could not sympathise with the doubting, and the incredulous. They lived, and moved, and spoke, and wrote, with the truth of the things they relate filling and surrounding their minds like an atmosphere.
THE CONSISTENCY OF THE CHARACTERS ALLUDED TO IN THE
“I should have laid little stress upon the repetition of actions substantially alike, or of discourses containing many of the same expressions, because that is a species of resemblance, which would either belong to a true history, or might easily be imitated in a false one. Nor do I deny, that a dramatic writer is able to sustain propriety and distinction of character, through a great variety of separate incidents and situations. But the evangelists were not dramatic writers; nor possessed the talents of dramatic writers; nor will it, I believe, be suspected that they studied uniformity of character, or ever thought of any such thing in the person who was the subject of their histories. Such uniformity, if it exists, is on their part casual.”
In these histories there is one personage who holds the first place, and of whose words and acts and sufferings they are obviously sketches. There are other individuals
THE NARRATORS, WHOLLY UNCONSCIOUS
introduced more or less conspicuously. And they are as easily distinguishable as so many personal acquaint
Now it is the remarkable peculiarity of these writings that the vivid and consistent ideas which they give us of the persons whom they mention, are communicated without the least appearance of design, or even of consciousness on the part of the narrators. They do not seem to be in the slightest degree aware that they are enabling the reader to form clear conceptions of the personal characters of those of whom they speak. This is a characteristic of these writings, which admits of copious and striking illustrations, and which to my mind establishes their authority as true histories beyond all controversy. Their authors have related a number of incidents in the briefest and most sketchy manner, unaccompanied by comments, and with no special regard to any sort of order, even to the order of time. So true is this that there is hardly anything more difficult to determine than the precise period occupied by the events which they relate. And yet by means of these incidents, thus carelessly strung together, we come at distinct, harmonious ideas of the persons presented in the scene. In this respect, these narratives resemble those curious pictures that we sometimes see, which at first view appear to be nothing more than representations of landscapes, composed of trees, rocks and ruins. But on closer inspection, we discover that the objects depicted are so grouped as to form complete and symmetrical figures, in attitudes of life, grace, and
OF THE CONSISTENCY THEY PRESERVE.
motion. And this effect is so successful that although not obvious, yet when once perceived, it can hardly by any effort be lost sight of. Only in the case of these histories, the several forms of moral life resulting from the incidents related are, let me repeat, produced wholly without design. The writers betray no sort of suspicion of what they were doing.
That this harmony of character should have been the work of accident or cunning is entirely out of the question. Material objects, or the representations of material objects, may be so put together as to form momentary and chance resemblances of living forms and features. The fantastic combinations of the clouds of a summer sunset may present the rude appearance of a castle, a warrior, or some huge animal; and this only for a little while. But those occurrences must have an existence in truth whose keeping is so natural as to create in the most natural manner in our minds individual and complete and permanent ideas of intellectual and moral life. From a mere disjointed collection of falsehoods and fables such a result never could flow. They might be circumstantially, but they never could be morally and intellectually consistent.
Does it not constitute the chief miraculousness of the genius of Shakspeare, that adopting a form of composition, the Dramatic, which allows little or no room for the direct and elaborate delineation of character, he has been able somewhat in the way now referred to, to construct spiritual forms consistent with themselves and standing out individually before us, through the words they are
made to speak, and the scenes, acts, and sufferings in which they are represented as concerned. But even in the case of Shakspeare's creations, the moral consistency which renders them so wonderful is wrought out, not indeed with any apparent labour on the part of the artist, but only by means of numerous and diversified illustrations. The characters, which his genius creates and inspires, are made to do and to bear and to say much in order to their full unfolding. Whereas, in the New Testament histories, character is developed, as we shall see, by the briefest word and the slightest incident, and if they are fictions, then as works of genius, they leave the productions of Shakspeare as far behind as these excel all others.
Without farther preliminary remark, I proceed to illustrate my meaning by examples, the consideration of which will suggest appropriate reflections.
There are two females, Mary and Martha, mentioned three or four times very briefly in the course of these narratives. Once, as we read, Jesus “went to a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered with much serving, and came to him and said, • Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone, bid her therefore that she, help me.' And Jesus answered, and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful. And Mary hath chosen that good