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126 THE OPENING AND CLOSE OF THE HISTORY.
teresting because, all circumstances considered, they are precisely of the character we should expect. It was not for men before whose eyes, the impressive scenes of the manhood of Jesus had passed, to revert to the origin of this wonderful being with minds curious, critical and unbiassed. Accordingly, upon all the known principles of our nature, we should look for accounts like these. It is an impressive fact that, while the wonders of the life of Jesus stand out in broad day, dreams and visions preceded his advent, and dreams and visions followed his final disappearance, like clouds heralding the approach and following the departure of a great luminary. When all minds were filled with the exciting expectation of a heaven-sent Prophet and Prince, how natural was it that dreams of a startling and exalting character should be rumoured! And equally natural was it, after the wondrous spectacle had passed by, that such visions should occur as are found in the book of Acts. The state of feeling immediately preceding and following the appearance of him, whose coming was as with wind and fire from Heaven, attests the reality of his power and illustrates the mysteries of man's nature. The opening and the close of the New Testament history wonderfully accord with the truth of the great central facts. In the first we see the agitation of an extraordinary hope; in the last, of an unprecedented experience.
to his great baptism flocked,
With awe the regions round."-Milton.
ABOUT thirty years of the life of Jesus had passed away, when he appeared on the banks of the Jordan, there, by a solemn baptism, to express his high resolves and commence that divine career which was the fulfilment, the complete manifestation of righteousness. The notices we have of him before that period are, as we have seen, brief and imperfect. Where was he, and how was he employed during those thirty unknown years? I presume not to form the faintest conjecture concerning the childhood and youth, to which so wondrous a manhood succeeded.
One thought, however, occurs. Although so large a portion of his life was spent in retirement, yet, when he did publicly appear, as he manifested a divine force of character, we cannot suppose the long period of his seclusion to have elapsed without powerful influences on the souls of men. No loftier angel from heaven ever alighted on our earth; and he could not have sojourned so long in the abodes of men, however obscure, without becoming "a creative centre" of life. His unsurpassed knowledge of all that is deepest in man was, in great part intuitive, the light of God in his being, the Holy Spirit. Still his whole style of thinking and expression shows that he had been no unconcerned
JESUS, AN OBSERVER OF LIFE.
observer of Nature and Man. His illustrations were uniformly drawn from the most familiar sources. From the common earth on which he stood, what wells of truth did he cause to gush forth!
There is one passage upon which I would dwell for a moment, partly for its beauty, but principally because it shows that the Man of Nazareth cast no vacant glances around him—that there was no point, however lowly, in the vast spectacle of life, that did not attract his regards.
"To what," said he on a certain occasion, "shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-place, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, we have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He hath an evil spirit.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold a man gluttonous, and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners;' but wisdom is justified of her children.”
The children of those days, children-like, were wont in their plays to imitate the usages of their elders, and 'make believe'
“A wedding or a festival,
Nuptial occasions were celebrated with minstrelsy and dancing and gay processions. While at funerals it was the custom to employ certain women, whose business it was to attend at those seasons, and by a cunning imitation of all the outward signs of sorrow, such as beating the breast, and mournful cries, to produce sadness and tears in all beholders. The groups of children, imitating these customs in their plays in the market-places, had not escaped the eye of Jesus. He
THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS.
had looked upon the little imitators, and seen resemblances deeper than those which met the common observer. How naturally is the thought he expresses incorporated with these familiar circumstances and illustrated by them! What significance do they give to his meaning, which is, in effect, as if he had said, "There is nothing that will suit the men of this generation. Like wayward children, refusing to accede to the proposals of their playfellows, unwilling to play either a funeral or a wedding, they will listen neither to John nor to me. John came, austere, joining in no festivities, and immediately the cry is, "He is mad. He hath an evil spirit." I have come mingling with the world in its common walks and ways, and they denounce me as one given to wine and pleasure. Neither the mournful nor the joyous will please them. But the wisdom that was in John and my wisdom, the children of wisdom (i. e. the wise) will discern and justify."
But this is only one out of the many instances, of which the Gospels are full, that show how Jesus had lived among the scenes and interests of human life, seeing all and feeling for all. And, however retired his habits, we are persuaded that he must have mingled to some extent with men. If so, then the impressions of his own peerless spirit were made upon those with whom he associated. He must have been seen and felt to be no common person. We are told by Luke, and the account lacks no mark of correspondence' with what we elsewhere learn of Jesus, that, when only twelve years old, he went to Jerusalem with his parents in observance of one of the national festivals, and attracted the notice, and excited the wonder, of the teachers of the law and others about the Temple, by the intelligence of his questions and replies. We read that on that occasion, his parents set out upon their
THE APPEARANCE OF JOHN
return home without him, presuming that he was with some of the numerous company with whom they travelled, and feeling no anxiety on his account, until the second day of his disappearance; a striking proof of the confidence which, at that early age, he had inspired in his natural protectors. They returned to the city in search of him, and, upon visiting the Temple, found the extraordinary child surrounded there by the Scribes and learned men, and when they reproached him for the anxiety his absence had awakened, he replied, "know ye not that I must be about my Father's work?" words which show how early the consciousness of his destiny awoke in his bosom, while the place in which they found him, and the manner in which he was engaged, also show that he could not live among men without a marked and powerful influence. But, except this little incident, we have no direct evidence of the impression he must have made. We are naturally prompted to look for indirect traces of his existence in that hidden time. So few are they, that we conclude that the first thirty years of his life were spent in close, although not absolute, retirement.
The sudden appearance of John the Baptist may be regarded as an indirect attestation, not merely to the existence, but to the moral power of Jesus, previously to the period when he came forth publicly to lift up a world bowed down by ignorance and sin. That strange vision in the wilderness, that human form, clad in camel's hair, that voice, crying, Prepare ye the way of the Lord"-these were, in part, an indirect, unconcerted, embodyment of the irrepressible power which Jesus shortly afterwards put forth in diviner and more decisive ways. The fervid heart of the son of Zacharias caught a portion of its fire from his divine Kinsman.