« السابقةمتابعة »
on the other hand, not wishing Jesus to be regarded as a second Moses, or another lawgiver, just as deliberately makes the Master deliver this discourse on a plain."
In reproducing the teaching of Jesus, then, we must be on our guard. As a rule we need not pay much attention to the order of sequence observed in the Gospels. There are some few points as to which we may feel reasonably certain ; for example, that many sayings which belong to the closing rather than the opening period of the ministry of Jesus have been put too early by the Evangelists, and that his more gloomy utterances fit best into the later part of his career. Such points as these we shall try to keep in view, but for the rest shall generally take up the sayings of Jesus as opportunity occurs, without laying much stress on the order in which he uttered them. But first we must say a few words as to the general form and subject-matter, the spirit and contents of his teaching. We shall attempt to do so, adding illustrative examples, in this and the next three chapters.
Most of the specimens of the teaching of Jesus that we still possess are in the form of parables ; that is to say, fictitious but not impossible stories or images, generally suggested by the incidents and usages of daily life, and destined to illustrate some special truth. To understand them fully we must first of all get a clear conception of the image, or the supposed event itself: the study of antiquities is an invaluable aid to us here. Then we must lay all the stress on the points of comparison, in which the lesson is contained, without attending too much to what is merely incidental to the form of the parable. The moral stories or sketches of character, as they may be called, which are only found in Luke, form a separate class of themselves.
Now the question is, how it comes to pass that we have so many more specimens of this kind of preaching than of any other? Did Jesus usually teach in parables; 8 or is it simply that they were easier to remember and repeat than other forms of discourse? It may be urged that we have several specimens of the proverbial or epigrammatic style of teaching from his lips; that he showed a great love of throwing his sayings into the form of paradoxes; and that he must, from the nature of the case, have occasionally delivered long discourses or addresses, — but that all these forms of utterance were harder to remember than the parables, and have therefore oftener
i Luke vi. 17 2 See p. 13. 3 Mark iv. 33, 34 (Matthew xiij. 34, 35).
been lost. All this may be perfectly true, but still Jesus does seem to have chosen the parable as his most frequent mode of teaching. The reason is simple and obvious. He had a special talent for making parables. Not that he took a pride in it. Such small-minded vanity was utterly foreign to him. But the images presented themselves so naturally that he was never at a loss for them. And, besides, this mode of teaching had several special advantages in itself. It excited and retained the attention of the hearers, and was always listened to with fresh delight. The images thus imprinted on the imagination, together with the lessons they taught, fixed themselves without effort on the memory, and were passed from mouth to mouth. Last, not least, they stimulated independent thought. A parable like a riddle excites curiosity and challenges the esercise of ingenuity. The speaker's meaning might be sometimes more and sometimes less obvious, but it always had to be looked for, and so required some effort on the hearer's part.
The Gospels themselves give another reason. The disci ples ask Jesus privately what was the meaning of one of his parables, and also why he adopts this indirect method of teaching. He answers, “ It is granted to you to understand these new truths of the kingdom of God; but to the multitude I speak in parables that they may see and yet be blind, and may hear yet not understand.” Then he strongly emphasizes these last words by a quotation from Isaiah, in which the prophet represents the fruitlessness of his preaching as designed by Yahweh himself.? Now such a reason as this, taken literally, is essentially absurd. No man in his senses would undertake to teach the people with the express purpose of not being understood; and to say that Jesus used figurative language for fear people might understand him and then repent and be forgiven 8 would be a senseless slander. Nor is this what the Evangelists meant; but when they contemplated Israel's obstinate want of faith, they supposed that God must have foreordained the sad result, or else the words of Jesus would have met with more acceptance. There is, however a germ of truth in this view of the purpose of Jesus. He Cantot have intended to be fully understood at once by every one.
He must have known that some of the thoughts he uttered were so new, and in such direct conflict with the
1 Matthew xiji. 10-17 (Mark iv. 10-12; Luke viji. 9, 10).
Matthew xiii. 14, 15; compare Isaiah vi. 9, 10. See vol. ii. chap. xxiii. p 248. 8 Mark iv. 12.
traditions and prejudices of his people, that they could not possibly accept them all at once. Had he spoken without metaphor he would have shocked his hearers too deeply to convince thein. He was therefore obliged to be content for the present with shaking their fixed ideas and setting them to think. Nay, the only possible way of removing their religious prejudices was to enable them gradually to reach the meaning of his words, and so to understand the secrets of the kingdom of God by the exercise of their own powers; for when a parable had thoroughly enlisted their sympathies in some simple case in which their prejudices were not at work, they gradually perceived that they had been induced to accept some great principle which was at variance with many of the convictions they had hitherto cherished. And yet they always felt its truth as far as they understood it, and were too deeply committed in their sympathies to be able to draw back, as its full meaning slowly opened out before them; and when once a man has discovered the truth himself, that truth which no one else can make him see, he will readily relinquish all his cherished prejudices as misleading ; nay, he will do more! But let Jesus himself tell us what :
Once on a time a laborer was digging up his master's land when he happened to drive his spade or mattock a little deeper than usual, and struck upon something hard, that glittered as he drew up the spade. Then he dug down with a will, and threw the earth aside till his eyes were riveted by a great treasure gold and silver and precious things! It must have been buried there years, perhaps centuries ago, in time of war, and its owner had sunk into the grave without imparting his secret to any one.
The fortunate discoverer was beside himself with delight. He covered up his treasure again so that no one would suspect that any thing was there, hastened to the owner of the field, and asked him what he would sell it for. As soon as he knew the sum required, he went and sold every thing he had; sold the house and little plot of land on which perhaps his grandfather and great-grandfather had lived ; sold the furniture and the very tools he had learned to love as though they were living things; had but one thought, one purpose, to scrape together the required sum! At last he had it. He went to the farmer and bought the land. What were the sacrifices he had made to the treasure he had secured? 1 “But the man was shamefully dishonest,” you will say. Perhaps so. Indeed, there is no doubt abort it. But
1 Matthew xiii. 44
that is not the point of comparison. The story is only meant to bring out the man's eagerness to sacrifice every thing, without reserve and without hesitation, for the treasure he had found.
Here is another form of the same :
There was once a merchant who dealt in costly pearls (a travelling jeweller as we should express it) who longed to become famous in his trade. So he visited the pearl fisheries of the Persian Gulf and the Indian coasts in spring. Once on a time he entered a certain hut, and the fisherman to whom it belonged showed him a pearl so large, so clear, so perfectly rounded, that he had never seen its fellow. His eyes gleamed at the sight. What must he give for it? The fisher named his price. It may have been enormously high, but it was not dear. “Good ! Keep it for me, and let no one else have it.” The jeweller went out and hastened to dispose of all he had; pearls, precious stones, every thing! Did he not grieve over his loss? Nay, he never gave a thought to it. At last he had collected the required sum. He hastened to the fisher; he paid the money with a beating heart, and the splendid pearl was his own."
You see the meaning of these parables? One man, like the laborer, learns what the kingdom of heaven is without having ever thought of it or looked for it; while another, like the merchant, has been searching for truth and goodness for whole years, perhaps a lifetime, not knowing what a glorious discovery awaits him. But when once a man, by whatsoever means, has seen the surpassing glory of that kingilom, he is ready to sacrifice every thing without another thought, if he may but enter in. He will not only sacrifice his gold or his possessions, all earthly love or the esteem of men, if they draw his heart away from that kingdom, but he will in every case sacrifice himself and his religious prejudices, every thing he has loved hitherto, but now finds to be neither good nor true. But, remember, he must find the treasure or the pearl himself. No one can find it for him.
We have spoken of the style of teaching adopted by Jesus and the reasons which influenced him in choosing it, and we may naturally go on to ask whether he can fairly be called a popular teacher. If we mean by a popular teacher one who enables his hearers to follow him without effort, and to comprehend him easily and perfectly at once, then we must
1 Matthew xiii. 45, 46.
answer that Jesus was very far indeed from being one. What he had to say was drawn from the sacred depths of his own spiritual life, and the general mass of his hearers were utterly incapable of sounding the profundity and fully comprehending the scope of his words. Even his disciples and friends were generally unable to grasp his true meaning ; and there can have been but few whose yearning for salvation and longing for the truth enabled them to understand the Master. The superficiality that springs from prejudice and self-conceit was, and still is, an insuperable and, alas! too common obstacle; and it is not given to many, even now, to see into the soul of Jesus. But the privilege of being understood by every one is confined by its very nature to those who stand upon something like the same level as their hearers. True popularity is something very different from superficiality, and in this other and higher sense it may be said that few teachers have ever been so popular as Jesus. In the first place he was perfectly simple. His language is never florid. It bears no trace of the usual Oriental inflation, or the elaborate trivialities of the rabbis ; nor does he bury his teaching under a heap of traditional authorities, cited with a great display of learning. His calmness, his natural simplicity, his straightforward neglect of artificial adornments, and his transparent clearness command our admiration. Even when he threw his thoughts into the form of paradoxes, which he sometimes olid involuntarily, but often on purpose, it was not because he wished to be enigmatical, but simply to assist the perception of his hearers by bringing a powerful stimulus to bear upon their thoughts and feelings, and stamping his conception upon their minds by the incisive form into which he threw it. We shall meet with many illustrations of this fact as we go on, and may now confine ourselves, by way of example, to the warning based upon experience against spiritual sloth and degeneration : 6. To him that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has." ]
But to understand the secret of his popular power we must notice, above all, that his language moved exclusively in a sphere with which both he and his hearers were thoroughly familiar, or at least might and ought to have been so. This is true of the form of his teaching to begin with. It is considered one of the great merits of Homer, the prince of poets, that he never used an image or a comparison that was
1 Matthew xiii. 12 (Mark iv. 25; Luke viii. 18).