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CONSISTENCY OF THE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED.
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 FOUR GOSPELS.
“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.” -PALEY.
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 introduced more or less conspicuously. And they are as easily distinguishable as so many personal acquaintances. 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
CONSISTENCY OF THE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED. 75 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 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
CONSISTENCY OF THE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED.
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
MARY AND MARTHA.
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 part that shall not be taken away from her.” Again, these two sisters are mentioned more particularly in the account of the raising of Lazarus. They are introduced once more in the next chapter of John, where we are told that Mary came and poured very precious ointment upon Jesus, while he sat at meat.
Now, there is no attempt to describe the distinctive qualities of these two individuals. They occupy only a small place in the scene. They appear before us
MARY AND MARTHA.
78 but for a moment at a time, and they say and do but little. And yet they stand out with wonderful distinctness. Their images are not blended and intermixed. Their characteristic features are unveiled in the most incidental manner-by a word; a breath lifts the veil, and their faces once seen are never to be confounded.
From the first notice of them we gather that Martha was possessed of an active, matter-of-fact temperament, and that if not by age, by right of her peculiar character, she took the lead in household
She set herself immediately at work to provide an ample entertainment for her beloved guest, and had so little sympathy with Mary, so imperfect an appreciation of the real greatness of Jesus, so little of the sensibility which was so prominent in her sister, that she complained of Mary, and invoked the authority of Jesus, to obtain her sister's aid in her domestic labours. I pray the reader, now, to mark the beautiful correspondence of the other notices of the sisters with their characters thus incidentally developed.
When, upon the death of Lazarus, their brother, Jesus approached Bethany, the village where they dwelt, and the rumour of his coming preceded him, it was Martha that first heard it, and went forth to meet him. Mary sat still in the house. Martha, we may suppose, was engaged in the active concerns of the household. How naturally the report of the approach of Jesus came to her ears first ! Mary, with her greater tenderness of mind, was in a retired part of the house. The custom of the age and