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MARY AND MARTHA.
clear are the impressions we receive from them of the characters of the two sisters. Two or three-and as to any design on the part of the narrators,-random strokes, and the moral features of Martha and Mary are before us in all the freshness of nature. The outlines are complete, never running into each other, and formed not purposely, but by the combination of a few brief incidents. Let those believe who can, that the circumstances related from which we have this result, are matters of fiction and not of fact.
It will help us to estimate the characteristic of the New Testament histories, which I am now illustrating, to glance at the works of imagination abounding at the present day, and observe how striking is the contrast between them, and the writings under consideration, in this respect. There is no department of Literature in which human genius is so active and triumphant, as in the composition of fictitious narratives. Within a few years, through an alliance with history, an extraordinary revolution has been produced in this class of writings. The novelist nowadays prepares himself for his work by the acquisition of an extensive and familiar acquaintance with the customs, the opinions, the whole condition of the period at which he lays the scene of his story, and is thus enabled to throw over it an imposing air of truth. And yet, after all, how much pains do the most gifted,-does the great Northern Storyteller himself, take to impart to his readers distinct and consistent impressions of the characters in which he aims to awaken interest! How continually are we made to feel that incidents are either fabricated or coloured in order to bring out character, or else, for the sake of the story, occurrences are introduced which violate the consistency of the characters portrayed. I am reminded in this connexion by the force of the con
trast of the well-known romance of the Pirate.' If so familiar an illustration may be allowed, we have only to observe the care which the novelist has taken to discriminate the characters of Minna and Brenda, to perceive how immeasurably more striking is the brief scriptural representation of Mary and Martha. In the novel, every thing is done to assist the conceptions of the reader by a minute personal description of the two heroines, and they are thrown into circumstances calculated to bring out their respective peculiarities in the most prominent manner. Whereas in those rapid sketches of the New Testament, the incidents which so consistently and admirably unfold the characters of Mary and Martha are told with the utmost brevity, and if for the sake of showing off any one, it is with a view to the character of Christ. But natural even as such a design might be, it does not appear to have been entertained. The occurrences related, with all the light they throw upon the moral features of the individuals concerned, seemed to be mentioned for no reason but their simple truth. They had taken place. They were real and therefore they were related.
The character of Peter is developed in a similar way. Not the shadow of an attempt to describe him is visible. But we cannot take up these narratives at any passage where he is mentioned, without recognising him as readily as we recognise the countenance of a familiar friend.
For the sake of illustration, let me crave the attention of the reader, while I endeavour to revive an incident that occurred at the last Supper, mentioned in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Let us for a moment leave the world in which we live, and go back some eighteen hundred years into the past, and
enter Jerusalem, the capital of that nation, which, of all the nations of antiquity, was the only one that worshipped one God, using no similitudes-no idols.
It is the season of the Passover, a great national festival celebrating the ancient providence of Heaven. The city is crowded with Jews from all parts of Judea, and from remote regions. Its numerous dwellings are now occupied by friendly and family parties, observing the appointed ceremonies of the occasion, which consisted principally of a social entertainment, at which the mercies of God in times past were commemorated with appropriate forms. In a large upper room are assembled thirteen individuals from Galilee. Extraordinary circumstances, as their looks and tones indicate, have given a peculiar interest to the occasion. They have the air of men excited by strange events, and high but vague expectations. One among them is clearly shown to be their chief, by the deference which is paid him. They seem to regard him as a prince in disguise, a being of no common authority. He takes the principal place at the table, and as they also seat themselves, there is a struggle for precedence.* They are evidently jealous of one another; and a contention
*The strife at the last Supper is not mentioned by John. A notice of it is found in Luke. But even if there were no mention of it in any of the Gospels, we might infer that something of the kind took place from what is related. The words and actions of Jesus were almost always suggested by some passing incident. And I cannot but suppose that the striking lesson which he gave his disciples when he washed their feet, was prompted by some evidence, afforded at the moment by their conduct, of their need of it. The nature of the contention, which, I suppose, arose among them, also appears to be indicated by the very form of instruction which their master adopted—the performance of a menial service for them. In taking their places at the table, a dispute probably arose, and jealous looks were exchanged. And to show them how entirely out of place such feelings were, he performed for them the lowest office at a social entertainment. This view of the case seems to reveal the propriety and significance of the symbolical act, by which Jesus sought to convey a moral impression.
arises among them which shall be the first. They are inflamed by the prospect of the wealth and honours which he, whom they acknowledge as their master, is, as they conceive, shortly to distribute among them, and the desire of these worldly advantages then, as always, awakens feelings of animosity and ill-will. With these earthborn passions, however, the countenance of their Leader betrays no sympathy. A sublime purpose-a singular and mysterious destiny has thrown over his whole appe appearance an expression of unearthly greatness. There in that face, in wonderful harmony, the melancholy cast by the shadows of Suffering and Death is blended with a peace kindled by light from an invisible source. In the midst of the strife of his followers, which evidently pains him deeply, for it seems to show that all he had yet said and done, and it was not a little, had been of no avail,―he quietly rises from the table, lays aside his principal garments, takes a towel, pours water into a basin, and then kneels and begins to wash the feet of one of the company. Immediately the harsh sounds of discord are hushed. Silence reigns through the apartment. Every angry passion dies away-every angry glance is lost in the looks of questioning and amazement which the disciples exchange with one another. He goes from one to the other, washing their feet; and they, struck dumb with the awe which he habitually inspired, offer no resistance, until he comes to one who, unable to repress his feelings, shrinks back, exclaiming, "Lord! dost thou wash my feet?" The Master replies, "What I am doing thou dost not understand now, but thou shalt know shortly." "Thou shalt never wash my feet," rejoins his follower. "If I wash thee not," says Jesus, "thou hast no part with me." "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" cries the
disciple, accompanying the words, no doubt, with a movement full of expression.
The character of Jesus is not now our topic. Still I cannot avoid a brief allusion to the agreement of this passage with all that we elsewhere learn of him. How perfectly in character the method by which he sought to teach his friends to defer to one another! Since all that he had already said and done had failed to inspire them with a generous spirit, it would seem as if he adopted this method as a last resort, intending, we might almost think, to shock them by the attitude he assumed, the office he discharged, resolved to make an impression upon their minds never to be effaced. And then, too, how wisely and characteristically did he manage his resisting follower, melting him down with the words "if I wash thee not," i. e., if I do not cleanse thee, (to thy heart's core,) "thou hast no part with me." Thus he avoided an explanation of what he was about, until he had gone round and performed the same menial service for all, and so rendered the impression as strong as possible. "If," the disciple exclaims, in effect, "if thou put it on that ground—if my place in thine heart be in question, then wash me all over."
Who now requires to be informed that it was Peter with whom this short conversation took place? His speech bewrayeth him. As in the Hall of the High Priest's house, his accent proved him to be a Galilean, so all that he says and does shows him to be Peter, and no other. We discover here the same individual who a little while after, when Jesus told his disciples they could not follow him then, (through the rugged and bloody path by which he was to be perfected,) protested, "Lord! why cannot I follow thee now, I will lay down my life for thy sake," and yet, shortly after, upon