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JESUS, THE SON OF GOD.
of his Hebrew origin, his priestly descent, of his place, and his age, are very obvious. In this respect he stands with all other mortal men at the greatest distance below Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew in his garb and speech. But in all other respects, he had 'walked forth into universality,' unimpeded by local and temporary associations, by Jewish prejudices. His being dwelt and shone with divine, unborrowed light, in the sphere of Universal Truth and Rectitude and Love. His visible features, his voice, his speech, may have been the features, the voice, the speech, of a Jew. But his spirit, the central life of him, as it is revealed in his utterances and acts, was divine, heaven-born, the manifest offspring and Son of God.
"The visible heavens and earth sympathise with Jesus."—Nature.
"THEN Cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering, said unto him, suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized went up straightway out of the water; and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. And, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
It is of manifest importance that what we see, we should see clearly. We are not indeed to require, as an absolute condition of faith, that we should be able to see, or even to image distinctly to the mind, the thing in which we are to believe. Because there are things, which, from their very nature, do not admit of being pictured even to the imagination, such as God and one's own soul.* But when the matter proposed is confessedly an object of sense, a scene that addresses the eye, clear vision is supremely desirable. We may not ask to see those things which eye hath never seen * See Edinb. Rev. vol. 46, p. 339. English ed.
WHAT APPEARED AT THE BAPTISM?
and can never see. But of that which professes visibility, let us have the distinctest sight. Accordingly, it it necessary to a due faith in the Baptism of Jesus with its attendant circumstances as a Fact, that it should be distinctly represented to the mind. With this understanding, and a single desire to apprehend the actual state of the case, what it was that occurred on this occasion, let us examine the above account.
To the literal acceptation of the passage, which I have quoted from Matthew, and with which Mark and Luke agree in substance, a strong objection presents itself in the outset. If we suppose that the visible heavenly vault was actually opened, and that out of the abyss an apparition in the shape of a dove issued, and, descending in the way represented by the painters, alighted upon Jesus, then are we compelled in a manner to localise our idea of Heaven, and sanction is given to the belief that the peculiar residence of God is above. Now was it not the grand and steady aim of Jesus to teach us otherwise, to lead us to look for Heaven and for God not in space but in the spirit, here, within, in our own inmost being? His express language and the whole point of his teaching is, "Ye shall not say, Lo! here, or Lo! there, for the kingdom of God is within you." Can any one, who has caught the spirit of Christ in the humblest degree, avoid perceiving a want of consentaneousness between the account of the Baptism of Jesus, taken literally, and the eminently inward, spiritual, nature of his religion? The grand attestations to his authority are found in those words of his, full of spirit and of life,* and in those miracles which also were words, divine signs of invisible things, power, meekness, and love. Accordingly, the best com
* John, vi. 63.
A REAL DOVE ALIGHTED ON JESUS.
mentators, and many Christians with them, give up the idea of the actual appearance of a preternatural dove at the Baptism, and venture no further towards a distinct apprehension of the fact than to suppose that there was some luminous appearance, a formless body, (so to speak,) of light, that descended upon Jesus, resembling a dove, not in shape, but only in the manner of its motion. But to this interpretation there are decisive objections. It is directly contradicted by Luke, who states expressly that that which descended upon Jesus was like a dove "in bodily shape." Besides, although it apparently spiritualises the incident, it is still essentially material, and by its vagueness, loses more than it gains. While one observes that the light (or lightning, as some of the learned seem to consider it,) descended gently, slowly, like a dove, another remarks that it descended rapidly.*
Upon a thoughtful examination of this portion of the great history, I am inclined to believe that a real dove flew down and alighted upon the person, probably on the head, of Jesus. Whence it came, and how so extraordinary an incident happened to take place, are points of which there may be no specific solution. The simple fact is all that I am now anxious to settle. And that there was a dove actually there, seen to fly down and rest on our Saviour, the construction of the language, the manner in which it is mentioned, furnishes a strong reason for believing. The narrators do not say directly that a dove descended and rested on Jesus.
* Rosenmuller says that the "fulgor" was seen descending not suddenly but by degrees, as doves are wont, adding that the flying of a dove, especially when descending, "has in it something peculiar." And yet Kuinoel characterises the motion of a descending dove as "celeriter et leniter auram perstrepens."
GROUNDS OF THIS BELIEF.
The phrase, in the use of which they all concur, is, "the Holy Spirit descended like a dove," "in bodily shape," adds Luke. There are two things that lead to the idea that an actual dove was visible.
1. A dove is mentioned in all the accounts. Now if no dove were visible, and the writers meant only to say that something appeared, in some degree resembling a dove, there is a probability that in one or another of the narrations, the similitude would have been varied. The distinct mention of a dove in four different accounts without any variation, implies that the apparition was peculiarly, strikingly, to all appearances, like a dove, and like nothing else; and, therefore, there is room to suspect that it really was a dove. If a number of different relations of some remarkable appearance all united, in describing it as resembling a certain object, it certainly would be a fair, although not a decisive, inference that it was that object.
2. If we suppose that it actually was a dove that was seen, then the fact is described precisely as we should expect under the circumstances.
We must try, imperfect as the attempt will be, to enter into these circumstances. We are wont to read this passage all too coldly. We do not fully consider what a great occasion, what a moment it was, that is thus simply described, and the common idea of it is vague and superficial. We must concentrate our best strength upon this portion of the history, in order to see all that was going on there, visibly and invisibly, upon the banks of the time-honoured Jordan. That Person, who has just been baptised, and who is ascending out of the water, is one, the like of whom the world has never before seen, and whose name is destined to fill the earth, and to be foremost among the world's most sacred symbols. In him there is a