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THE CRY OF DISTRESS ON THE CROSS,
help to explain the agony of Jesus, and to put this part of his history in its true light—where it may be seen as a manifestation of the purest spiritual power, , and not an exposure of weakness. I do not, of course, pretend to give a full account of the deadly anguish which he endured. No one can do this fully, until he has entered deeply into the mind and spirit of Jesus, and learned to appreciate the great spiritual purpose of his life. I cannot fathom the depths of that agony. Great as it was, his piety was greater still, and secured its perfect victory.
There remains only one particular to be noticed in this connexion, and the remarks already made render it unnecessary to dwell upon it. I allude to the language ascribed to Jesus on the cross, “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The explanations usually given of this language, and by which it is attempted to avoid the impression that it was an exclamation of momentary agony and despair, seem to me forced and unnatural, altogether too refined for the physical condition in which Jesus was. I cannot but regard it as an ejaculation, wrung from him by the intense suffering of the moment. How does it enhance the beauty and pathos of the piety—the forgiveness, the filial affection which he manifested in that terrible hour, when we consider that these touching and noble qualities were evinced by one so acutely sensible of pain—of a temperament so susceptible, that, for a moment, he was overwhelmed by the frightful agonies of crucifixion.
But the circumstance that arrests my attention and impresses me most powerfully, is the artless and honest brevity with which the narrators have put this
THE NARRATORS BETRAY NO ILL WILL.
exclamation of pain and despair on record. Had they not been raised above every thought of embellishing the character of Christ, they never would have mentioned a circumstance of this kind, at least without some explanation.
As the narrators are thus free from any design to show off, and exaggerate the great subject of their narratives, so is it equally clear, on the other hand, that in the composition of these stories, they were unconscious of any angry or malignant feeling towards the opposers of Jesus. They betray no desire to excite the passions of the reader against those who persecuted him. This point has been happily illustrated by Dr. Campbell, in the Dissertations preliminary to his translation of the Four Gospels. The absence of all bitterness, in the minds of these historians, is shown by their indifference about the names of the enemies and persecutors of Jesus. It is remarkable, as Dr. Campbell has observed,* that the names of the High Priest and his coadjutor, of the Roman Procurator, of the Tetrarch of Galilee, and of the treacherous disciple, are all that are mentioned of the many who, no doubt, took an active part in the prosecution and death of Jesus. In regard to the first four, the omission of their names could have made no difference, for their offices were so public and eminent, that the official title was equivalent to the designation of the individual. And the part that Judas took was altogether too prominent and notorious, to admit the suppression of his name. “ Whereas of those Scribes and Pharisees, who bargained with Judas, of the men who apprehended * The Four Gospels, &c. by G. Campbell, D.D., Diss. 3, sec. 22.
THE NARRATORS BETRAY NO ILL WILL. 71 Jesus, of the officer who struck him, of those who afterwards spat upon him, buffeted, and mocked him, of those who were loudest in crying, “Away with him, crucify him-not this man, but Barabbas;' of those who supplied the multitude with the implements of their mockery, of those who upbraided him on the cross with his inability to save himself; or of the soldier who pierced his side with a spear, no name is given by any of the historians.” It may be said, that the names of these individuals were not known to them. It is very probable they were not. But had the narrators been acting the part of partizans, in the accounts they have left us, had they been conscious of any angry or vindictive feeling, they would have sought the names of those who made themselves prominent in these cruel and disgraceful acts. This reserve,
in regard to the names of those who were the chief instruments of the sufferings of Jesus, is the more observable, as the names of others, to whom no special part is attributed, are mentioned without hesitation. Thus Malchus, whose ear Peter wounded, and who was, immediately after, miraculously cured by Jesus, is named by John; but nothing further is told of him, than that he was present when our Lord was seized, and that he was a servant of the High Priest. Simon the Cyrenian, who carried the cross, is named by no fewer than three of the Evangelists ;* but we are also informed that in this
* There appears to have been a particular reason for mentioning this individual. He was the father of Alexander and Rufus, the latter of whom appears at a subsequent period to have been a Christian of some eminence at Rome. -See Rom. xvi. 13.
THEY RECORD THE NAMES
service he did not act voluntarily, but by compulsion. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are the only members of the Sanhedrim, except the High Priest, who are mentioned by name; but they were the only persons of that body who did not concur in condemning the Son of God, and who, though once fearful and secret disciples, assumed the resolution to display their affection, at times when no one else ventured openly to acknowledge him.
“Of the Scribes and Pharisees who watched our Lord, and on different occasions, dissembling esteem, assailed him with captious and ensnaring questions of those who openly ascribed his miracles to evil Spirits, called him a madman, a demoniac, and what they esteemed worse than either, a Samaritan, who accused him of associating with the profligate-of Sabbath-breaking—of intemperance and blasphemy, and of many others who put themselves in attitudes of opposition to Jesus, no names are ever mentioned, nor is the young, but opulent, magistrate named, who came to him with the question, What shall I do to inherit eternal life,' for, though there were some favourable symptoms in his case, yet as, by going away sorrowful, he betrayed a heart wedded to the world, the application did not terminate to his honour. But of Simon the Pharisee, who invited our Lord to his house, of Jairus, and Bartimeus, and Zaccheus, and Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, and some others, of whose faith, repentance, gratitude, love and piety, the most honourable testimony is given, a very different account is made.
“As to the disciples of Jesus, in recording their
OF FRIENDS, BUT NOT OF FOES.
73 faults, 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 incredulity 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 cross-examine, 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 could not sympathise with the