By Frank Morison
I suppose that most writers will confess to having hidden away somewhere in the secret recesses of their most private drawer the first rough draft of a book that, for one reason or another, will never see the light of day.
Usually it is Time -- that hoary offender -- who has placed his veto on the promised task. The rough outline is drawn up in a moment of enthusiasm and exalted vision; it is worked on for a time and then it is put aside to await that leisured "tomorrow" that so often never comes. Other and more pressing duties assert themselves; engagements and responsibilities multiply; and the treasured draft sinks farther and deeper into its ultimate hiding place. So the years go by, until one day the writer awakens to the knowledge that, whatever other achievements may be his, this particular book will never be written.
In the present case it was different.
It was not that the inspiration failed, or that the day of leisure never came. It was rather that when it did come the inspiration led in a new and unexpected direction. It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out. The point of entry was the same; it was the point of emergence that was different.
Let me try to explain briefly what I mean.
When, as a very young man, I first began seriously to study the life of Christ, I did so with a very definite feeling that, if I may so put it, His history rested on very insecure foundations.
If you will carry your mind back in imagination to the late nineties you will find in the prevailing intellectual attitude of that period the key to much of my thought. It is true that the absurd cult that denied even the historical existence of Jesus had ceased to carry weight. But the work of the higher critics -- particularly the German critics -- had succeeded in spreading a prevalent impression among students that the particular form in which the narrative of His life and death had come down to us was unreliable, and that one of the four records was nothing other than a brilliant apologetic written many years, and perhaps many decades, after the first generation had passed away.
Like most other young men deeply immersed in other things, I had no means of verifying or forming an independent judgment upon these statements, but the fact that almost every word of the Gospels was just then the subject of high wrangling and dispute did very largely color the thought of the time, and I suppose I could hardly escape its influence.
But there was one aspect of the subject that touched me closely. I had already begun to take a deep interest in physical science, and one did not have to go very far in those days to discover that scientific thought was obstinately and even dogmatically opposed to what are called the miraculous elements in the Gospels. Very often the few things the textual critics had left standing science proceeded to undermine. Personally I did not attach anything like the same weight to the conclusions of the textual critics that I did to this fundamental matter of the miraculous. It seemed to me that purely documentary criticism might be mistaken, but that the laws of the universe should go back on themselves in a quite arbitrary and inconsequential manner seemed very improbable. Had not Huxley himself declared in a peculiarly final way that "miracles do not happen," while Matthew Arnold, with his famous gospel of "Sweet Reasonableness," had spent a great deal of his time in trying to evolve a non-miraculous Christianity?
For the person of Jesus Christ Himself, however, I had a deep and even reverent regard. He seemed to me an almost legendary figure of purity and noble manhood. A coarse word with regard to Him, or the taking of His name lightly, stung me to the quick. I am only too conscious how far this attitude fell short of the full dogmatic position of Christianity. But it is an honest statement of how at least one young student felt in those early formative years when superficial things so often obscure the deeper and more permanent realities that lie behind.
It was about this time -- more for the sake of my own peace of mind than for publication -- that I conceived the idea of writing a short monograph on what seemed to me to be the supremely important and critical phase in the life of Christ -- the last seven days -- though later I came to see that the days immediately succeeding the Crucifixion were quite as crucial. The title I chose was "Jesus, the Last Phase," a conscious reminiscence of a famous historical study by Lord Rosebery.
I took the last seven days of the life of Jesus for three reasons:
1. This period seemed remarkably free from the miraculous element that on scientific grounds I held suspect.
2. All the Gospel writers devoted much space to this period, and, in the main, were strikingly in agreement.
3. The trial and execution of Jesus was a reverberating historical event, attested to indirectly by a thousand political consequences and by a vast literature that grew out of them.
It seemed to me that if I could come at the truth why this man died a cruel death at the hands of the Roman power, how He Himself regarded the matter, and especially how He behaved under the test, I should be very near to the true solution of the problem.
Such, briefly, was the purpose of the book I had planned. I wanted to take this last phase of the life of Jesus, with all its quick and pulsating drama, its sharp, clear-cut background of antiquity, and its tremendous psychological and human interest -- to strip it of its overgrowth of primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions, and to see this supremely great Person as He really was.
I need not stay to describe here how, fully ten years later, opportunity came to study the life of Christ as I had long wanted to study it, to investigate the origins of its literature, to some of the evidence at first hand, and to form my own judgment on the problem it presents. I will only say that it effected a revolution in my thought. Things emerged from old-world story that previously I should have thought impossible Slowly but very definitely the conviction grew the drama of those unforgettable weeks of human history stranger and deeper than it seemed. It was the strangeness of many notable things in the story that first arrested and held my interest. It was only later that the irresistible logic of their meaning came into view.
I want to try, in the remaining chapters of this book, to explain why that other venture never came to port, what were hidden rocks on which it foundered, and how I landed to me, an unexpected shore.