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The Character of Jesus: Part 5

By Horace Bushnell


      Let it be further noted, that Christ is here on an errand high enough to justify his appearing, and also of a nature to exclude any suspicion that he is going to overthrow the order of God's works. He declares that he has come out from God, to be a destroyer of sin, a regenerator of all things, a new moral creator of the world; thus to do a work that is, at once, the hope of all order, and the greatest of all miracles. He tells us, indeed, that he is come to set up the kingdom of God, and fulfill the highest ends of the divine goodness in the creation of the world itself; and the dignity of his work, certified by the dignity also of his character, sets all things in proportion, and commends him to our confidence in all the wonders he performs.

      Nor shall we apprehend in his miracles any disruption of law; for we shall see that he is executing that true system, above nature and more comprehensive, which is itself the basis of all stability, and contains the real import of all things. Dwelling from eternity in this higher system himself, and having it centered in his person, wheeling and subordinating thus all physical instruments, as doubtless he may, to serve those better ends in which all order lies, it will not be in us, when he comes forth from the Father, on the Father's errand, to forbid that he shall work in the prerogatives of the Father. Visibly not one of us, but a visitant who has come out from a realm of spiritual majesty, back of the sensuous orb on which our moth-eyes dwell as in congenial dimness and obscurity of light, what shall we think when we see diseases fly before him, and blindness letting fall the scales of obscured vision, and death retreating from its prey, but that the seeming disruption of our retributive state under sin, is made to let in mercy and order from above? For, if man has buried himself in sense, and married all sense to sin, which sin is itself the soul of all disorder, can it be to us a frightful thing that he lays his band upon the perverted casualties, and says, "thou art made whole?" If the bad empire, the bitter un-nature of our sin, is somewhere touched by his healing power, must we apprehend some fatal shock of disorder? If, by his miraculous force, some crevice is made in the senses, to let in the light of heaven's peace and order, must we tremble lest the scientific laws are shaken, and the scientific causes violated? Better is it to say--" This beginning of miracles did Jesus make in Galilee, and manifested forth his glory, and we believe in him." Glory breaks in through his incarnate person, to chase away the darkness In him, peace and order descend to rebuild the realm below, they have maintained above. Sin, the damned miracle and misery of the groaning creation, yields to the stronger miracle of Jesus and his works, and the great good minds of this and the upper worlds behold integrity and rest returning, and the peace of universal empire secure. Out of the disorder that was, rises order; out of chaos, beauty. Amen I Alleluia! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!

      At the same time, it must not be overlooked, that the account which is made of the Christian miracles, by the critics who deny them, is itself impossible. It is that they are myths, or legendary tales, that grew up out of the story-telling and marveling habit of the disciples of Christ, within the first thirty years after their Master's death. They were developed, in other words, in the lifetime of the eye-witnesses of Christ's ministry, and recorded by eye-witnesses themselves. We are also required to believe that four common men are able to preserve such a char. aster as that of Christ, while loading down the history thus, with so many mythical wonders that are the garb of their very grotesque and childish credulity! By what accident, then, we are compelled to ask, was an age of myths and fables able to develop and set forth the only conception of a perfect character ever known in our world? Were these four mythological dreamers, believing their own dreams and all others beside, the men to produce the perfect character of Jesus, and a system of teachings that transcend all other teachings ever given to the race? If there be a greater miracle, or a tax on human credulity more severe, we know not where it is. Nothing is so difficult, all human literature testifies, as to draw a character, and keep it in its living proportions. How much more to draw a perfect character, and not discolor it fatally by marks from the imperfection of the biographer. How is it, then, that four humble men, in an age of marvels and Rabbinical exaggerations, have done it--done what none, not even the wisest and greatest of mankind, have ever been able to do?

      So far, even Mr. Parker concedes the right of my argument. "Measure," he says, "the religious doctrine of Jesus by that of the time and place be lived in, or that of any time and any place. Yes, by the doctrine of eternal truth. Consider what a work his words and deeds have wrought in the world. Remember that the greatest minds have seen no farther, and added nothing to the doctrine of religion; that the richest hearts have felt no deeper, and added nothing to the sentiment of religion; have set no loftier aim, no truer method than his, of perfect love to God and man. Measure him by the shadow he has cast into the world--no, by the light he has shed upon it. Shall we be told such a man never lived? the whole story is a lie? Suppose that Plato and Newton never lived. But who did their wonders, and who thought their thought? It takes a Newton to forge a Newton. What man could have fabricated a Jesus? None but a Jesus." (9)

      Exactly so. And yet, in the middle of the very paragraph from which these words are gleaned, Mr. Parker says, "We can learn few facts about Jesus"; also, that in certain things--to wit, his miracles, we suppose--" Hercules was his equal, and Vishnu his superior." Few facts about Jesus! all the miracles recited of him, as destitute of credibility as the stories of Hercules and Vishnu! And yet these evangelists, retailing so many absurd fictions and so much childish gossip, have been able to give us a doctrine upon which the world has never advanced, a character so deep that the richest hearts have felt nothing deeper, and added nothing to the sentiment of it. They have done, that is, the difficult thing, and broken down under the easy! preserved, in the life and discourses of Jesus, what exceeds all human philosophy, all mortal beauty, and yet have not been able to recite the simplest facts! Is it so that any intelligent critic will reason?

      Neither let it be objected that, since the miracles have in themselves no moral quality, there is no rational, or valuable, or even proper place for them in a gospel, considered as a new-creating grace for the world. For it is a thing of no secondary importance for a sinner, down under sin, and held fast in its bitter terms of bondage, to see that God has entered into his case with a force that is adequate. These mighty works of Jesus, which have been done and duly certified, are fit expressions to us of the fact that he can do for us all that we want. Doubtless it is a great and difficult thing to regenerate a fallen nature; no person, really awake to his miserable and dreadful bondage, ever thought otherwise. But he that touched the blind eyes and commanded the leprosy away, he that trod the sea, and raised the dead, and burst the bars of death himself, can tame the passions, sweeten the bitter affections, regenerate the inbred diseases, and roll back all the storms of the mind. Assured in this manner by his miracles, they become arguments of trust, a storehouse of powerful images, that invigorate courage and stimulate hope. Broken as we are by our sorrow, cast down as we are by our guiltiness, ashamed, and weak, and ready to despair, we can yet venture a hope that our great soul-miracle may be done; that, if we can but touch the hem of Christ's garment, a virtue will go out of him to heal us. In all dark days and darker struggles of the mind, in all outward disasters, and amid all storms upon the sea of life, we can yet descry him treading the billows, and hear him saying, "it is I, be not afraid." And lest we should believe the miracles faintly, for there is a busy infidel lurking always in our hearts to cheat us of our faith, when he cannot reason it away, the character of Jesus is ever shining with and through them, in clear self-evidence, leaving them never to stand as raw wonders only of might, but covering them with glory, as tokens of a heavenly love, and acts that only suit the proportions of his personal greatness and majesty.

      There are many in our day, as we know, who, without making any speculative point of the objection we are discussing, have so far yielded to the current misbelief as to profess, with a certain air of self-compliment, that they are quite content to accept the spirit of Jesus; and let the miracles go for what they are worth. Little figure will they make as Christians in that kind of gospel They will not, in fact, receive the spirit of Jesus; for that, unabridged, is itself the Grand Miracle of Christianity, about which all the others play as scintillations only of the central fire. Still less will they believe that Jesus can do any thing in them which their sin requires. They will only compliment his beauty, imitate or ape his ways in a feeble lifting of themselves, but that he can roll back the currents of nature, loosened by the disorders of sin, and raise them to a new birth in holiness, they will not believe. No such watery gospel of imitation, separated from grace, will have any living power in their life, or set them in any bond of unity with God. Nothing but to say--" Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by miracles and signs which God did by him," can draw the soul to faith, and open it to the power of a supernatural and new-creative mercy.

      We come back, then, to the self-evidencing superhuman character of Jesus, and there we rest. He is the sun that holds all the minor orbs of revelation to their places, and pours a sovereign, self-evidencing light into all religions knowledge. We have been debating much, and ranging over a wide field, in chase of the many phantoms of doubt and false argument, still we have not far to go for light, if only we could cease debating and sit down to see. It is no ingenious fetches of argument that we want; no external testimony, gathered here and there from the records. of past ages, suffices to end our doubts; but it is the new sense opened in us by Jesus himself--a sense deeper than words and more immediate than inference--of the miraculous grandeur of his life; a glorious agreement felt between his works and his person, such that his miracles themselves are proved to us in our feeling, believed in by that inward testimony. On this inward testimony we are willing to stake every thing, even the life that now is, and that which is to come. If the miracles, if revelation itself, can not stand upon the superhuman character of Jesus, then let it fall. If that character does not contain all truth and centralize all truth in itself, then let there be no truth. If there is any thing worthy of belief not found in this, we may well consent to live and die without it. Before this sovereign light, streaming out from God, the deep questions, and dark surmises, and doubts unresolved, which make a night so gloomy and terrible about us, hurry away to their native abyss. God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This it is that has conquered the assaults of doubt and false learning in all past ages, and will in all ages to come. No argument against the sun will drive it from the sky. No mole-eyed skepticism, dazzled by its brightness, can turn away the shining it refuses to look upon. And they who long after God, will be ever turning their eyes thitherward, and either with reason or without reason, or, if need be, against manifold impediments of reason, will see and believe.

      But before we drop a theme like this, let us note more distinctly the immense significance to our religious feeling of this glorious advent of Jesus, and have our congratulations in it. This one perfect character has come into our world, and lived in it; filling all the molds of action, all the terms of duty and love, with his own divine manners, works and charities. All the conditions of our life are raised thus, by the meaning he has shown to be in them, and the grace he has put upon them. The world itself is changed, and is no more the same that it was; it has never been the same since Jesus left it. The air is charged with heavenly odors, and a kind of celestial consciousness, a sense of other worlds, is wafted on us in its breath. Let the dark ages come, let society roll backward and churches perish in whole regions of the earth, let infidelity deny, and, what is worse, let spurious piety dishonor the truth; still there is a something here that was not, and a something that has immortality in it. Still our confidence remains unshaken, that Christ and his all-quickening life are in the world, as fixed elements, and will be to the end of time; for Christianity is not so much the advent of a better doctrine, as of a perfect character; and how can a perfect character, once entered into life and history, be separated and finally expelled? It were easier to untwist all the beams of light in the sky, separating and expunging one of the colors, than to get the character of Jesus, which is the real gospel, out of the world. Look ye hither, meantime, all ye blinded and fallen of mankind, a better nature is among you, a pure heart, out of some pure world, is come into your prison and walks it with you. Do you require of us to show who he is, and definitely to expound his person? We may not be able. Enough to know that he is not of us--some strange being out of nature and above it, whose name is Wonderful. Enough that sin has never touched his hallowed nature, and that he is a friend. In him dawns hope--purity has not come into the world, except to purify. Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world! Light breaks in, peace settles on the air, lo the prison walls are giving way--rise, let us go.

      THE END.

      NOTES:

      9)   Life of Jesus, p. 363.   

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See Also:
   Part 1
   Part 2
   Part 3
   Part 4
   Part 5

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