THE SHORT DURATION AND MIGHTY EFFECT OF HIS MINISTRY. ABSENCE OF ALL OSTENTATION AND WORLDLY GREATNESS.
WE now approach the public life of Jesus. In his thirtieth year, after the Messianic inauguration through the baptism by John as his immediate forerunner, and as the representative of the Old Testament, both in its legal and prophetic or evangelical aspect, and after the Messianic probation by the temptation in the wilderness, -- the counterpart of the temptation of the first Adam in paradise, -- he entered upon his great work.
His public life lasted only three years; and, before he had reached the age of ordinary maturity, he died, in the full beauty and vigor of early manhood, without tasting the infirmities of declining years, which would inevitably mar the picture of the Regenerator of the race, and the Prince of life. He retained the dew of his youth upon him: he never became an old man. Both his person and his work, every word he spoke, and every act he performed, has the freshness, brilliance, and vigor of youth, and will retain it to the end of time. All other things fade away; every book of man loses its interest after repeated reading: but the gospel of Jesus never wearies the reader; it becomes more interesting the more it is read, and grows deeper at every attempt to fathom its depth. Even Napoleon is reported to have said on St. Helena, pointing to a copy of the Testament on his table: |I never tire with reading it, and I read it daily with equal delight. The gospel is not a book, but a living power which overwhelms every opposing force. The soul which is captivated by the beauty of the gospel does no more belong to itself or to the world, but to God. What an evidence is this of the divinity of Christ!|
And yet, unlike all other men of his years, Christ combined, with the freshness, energy, and originating power of youth, that wisdom, moderation, and experience, which belong only to mature age. The short triennium of his public ministry contains more, even from a purely historical point of observation, than the longest life of the greatest and best of men. It is pregnant with the deepest meaning of the counsel of God and the destiny of the race. It is the ripe fruit of all preceding ages, the fulfillment of the hopes and desires of the Jewish and heathen mind, and the fruitful germ of succeeding generations, -- containing the impulse to the purest thoughts and noblest actions down to the end of time. It is |the end of a boundless past, the center of a boundless present, and the beginning of a boundless future.|20
How remarkable, how wonderful, this contrast between the short duration and the immeasurable significance of Christ's ministry! The Saviour of the world a youth!
Other men require a long succession of years to mature their mind and character, and to make a lasting impression upon the world. There are exceptions, we admit. Alexander the Great, the last and most brilliant efflorescence of the ancient Greek nationality, died a young man of thirty-three, after having conquered the East to the borders of the Indus. But who would think of comparing an ambitious warrior, conquered by his own lust, and dying a victim of his passion, with the spotless Friend of sinners? a few bloody victories of the one with the peaceful triumphs of the other? and a huge military empire of force, which crumbled to pieces as soon as it was erected, with the spiritual kingdom of truth and love which stands to this day, and will last for ever? Nor should it be forgotten, that the true significance and only value of Alexander's conquest lay beyond the horizon of his ambition and intention; and that by carrying the language and civilization of Greece to Asia, and bringing together the Oriental and Occidental world, it prepared the way for the introduction of the universal religion of Christ. Napoleon, in his conversations with Gen. Bertrand at St. Helena, made the striking remark: |The world admires the conquest of Alexander; but Christ is a conqueror who attracts, unites to himself, and incorporates with him, for its own benefit, not a nation, -- no, but the whole human race. What a miracle! The human soul, with all its faculties, becomes an annex of the existence of Christ.|
There is another striking distinction of a general character, between Christ and the heroes of history, which we must notice here. We should naturally suppose that such an uncommon personage, setting up the most astounding claims and proposing the most extraordinary work, would surround himself with extraordinary circumstances, and maintain a position far above the vulgar and degraded multitude around him. We should expect something uncommon and striking in his look, his dress, his manner, his mode of speech, his outward life, and the train of his attendants.
But the very reverse is the case. His greatness is singularly unostentatious, modest, and quiet; and, far from repelling the beholder, it attracts and invites him to familiar approach. His public life never moved on the imposing arena of secular heroism, but within the humble circle of every-day life, and the simple relations of a son, a brother, a citizen, a teacher, and a friend. He had no army to command, no kingdom to rule, no prominent station to fill, no worldly favors and rewards to dispense. He was an humble individual, without friends and patrons in the Sanhedrin or at the court of Herod. He never mingled in familiar intercourse with the religious or social leaders of the nation, whom he had startled in his twelfth year by his questions and answers. He selected his disciples from among the illiterate fishermen of Galilee, and promised them no reward in this world but a part in the bitter cup of his sufferings. He dined with publicans and sinners, and mingled with the common people, without ever condescending to their low manners and habits. He was so poor, that he had no place on which to rest his head. He depended, for the supply of his modest wants, on the voluntary contributions of a few pious females; and the purse was in the hands of a thief and a traitor. Nor had he learning, art, or eloquence, in the usual sense of the term, or any other kind of power by which great men arrest the attention and secure the admiration of the world. The writers of Greece and Rome were ignorant even of his existence, until, several years after the crucifixion, the effects of his mission, in the steady growth of the sect of his followers, forced from them some contemptuous notice, and then roused them to opposition.
And yet this Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of any orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and sweet songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times. Born in a manger, and crucified as a malefactor, he now controls the destinies of the civilized world, and rules a spiritual empire which embraces one-third of the inhabitants of the globe. There never was in this world a life so unpretending, modest, and lowly in its outward form and condition. and yet producing such extraordinary effects upon all ages, nations, and classes of men. The annals of history produce no other example of such complete and astounding success, in spite of the absence of those material, social, literary, and artistic powers and influences which are indispensable to success for a mere man. Christ stands, in this respect also, solitary and alone among all the heroes of history, and presents to us an insolvable problem, unless we admit him to be more than man, even the eternal Son of God.
We will now attempt to describe his personal or moral and religious character as it appears in the record of his public life, and then examine his own testimony of himself as giving us the only rational solution of this mighty problem.