The aim of this book is to help thoughtful readers of the gospels to discern more clearly the features of him whom those writings inimitably portray. It is avowedly a study rather than a story, and as a companion to the reading of the gospels it seeks to answer some of the questions which are raised by a sympathetic consideration of those narratives. These answers are offered in an unargumentative way, even where the questions are still in debate among scholars. This method has been adopted because technical discussion would be of interest to but few of those whom the book hopes to serve. On some of the questions a non-committal attitude is taken in the belief that for the understanding of the life of Jesus it is of little importance which way the decision finally goes. Less attention has been given to questions of geography and archaeology than to those which have a more vital biographical significance.
A word concerning the point of view adopted. The church has inherited a rich treasure of doctrine concerning its Lord, the result of patient study and, frequently, of heated controversy. It is customary to approach the gospels with this interpretation of Christ as a premise, and such a study has some unquestionable advantages. With the apostles and evangelists, however, the recognition of the divine nature of Jesus was a conclusion from their acquaintance with him. The Man of Nazareth was for them primarily a man, and they so regarded him until he showed them that he was more. Their knowledge of him progressed in the natural way from the human to the divine. The gospels, particularly the first three, are marvels of simplicity and objectivity. Their authors clearly regarded Jesus as the Man from heaven; yet in their thinking they were dominated by the influence of a personal Lord rather than by the force of an accepted doctrine. It is with no lack of reverence for the importance and truth of the divinity of Christ that this book essays to bring the Man Jesus before the mind in the reading of the gospels. The incarnation means that God chose to reveal the divine through a human life, rather than through a series of propositions which formulate truth (Heb. i.1-4). The most perennially refreshing influence for Christian life and thought is personal discipleship to that Revealer who is able to-day as of old to exhibit in his humanity those qualities which compel the recognition of God manifest in the flesh.
An Appendix is added to furnish references to the wide literature of the subject for the aid of those who wish to study it more extensively and technically; also to discuss some questions of detail which could not be considered in the text. This appendix will indicate the extent of my indebtedness to others. I would acknowledge special obligation to Professor Ernest D. Burton, of the University of Chicago, for generous help and permission to use material found in his |Notes on the Life of Jesus;| to Professor Shailer Mathews, also of Chicago, for very valuable criticisms; to my colleague, Professor Charles Rufus Brown, for most serviceable assistance; and to the editors of this series for helpful suggestions and criticism during the making of the book. An unmeasured debt is due to another who has sat at my side during the writing of these pages, and has given constant inspiration, most discerning criticism, and practical aid.
The Newton Theological Institution, April, 1900.