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He has very naturally been compared with Socrates, Confucius, Zoroaster, Gautama and others; but it is interesting to notice that these men of exalted character and wonderful wisdom seem great in proportion as they are like Him. He was peerless, in the judgment of all historians and of all religious critics, the standard of measurement for the prophets of every nation and age.
In dealing with this great historical character, we are approaching a problem of rarest complexity and profundity.
And it seems wise to begin our study by concentrating attention upon the unexpectedness of Christ's career, and the entire originality of His character, words and work. We must forget our familiarity with Christian types of virtue and lines of thought, and put ourselves among the intelligent contemporaries of the Jewish Teacher, so that, if possible, we may receive the striking first impression of Jesus upon His age. So positioned, we shall perceive that He was not a mere outgrowth of His times, but unexpected, alone and, on the groundwork of ordinary conditions, impossible.
We are aware that this assertion is boldly denied by many bright and earnest minds, who, being accustomed to the summary methods of physical science and of historical criticism, think
to resolve Jesus of Nazareth, to account for Him and to explain Him into what is deerned His proper place in the story of human prog
The theories that have been elaborated for the purpose of rationalizing the Prophet of Galilee have been many and contradictory, always changing and very evanescent.
The lasting substance of them may be briefly stated.
In all such attempts, it is in general claimed that the times were such and the circumstances such, that a Jesus Messiah was, in the year of Our Lord one, not only a possibility, but a probability. Jesus, it is said, was a Hebrew prophet, like Elisha or Isaiah, of unequalled power,—but carried away by His own enthusiasm, tyrannized over by His own great thoughts, the victim of ideas the natural product of His times, whose life has suffered gross exaggeration and misconception at the hand of biographers. Such, in brief, is modern Rationalism, as it essays the problem of Christ.
But explanations of this sort ignore a number of facts, to which we address ourselves.
It is not true that Jesus Christ was, in any ordinary sense, an outgrowth of His times. No possible ingenuity can so account for His character and history. Let those portions of the
Gospels which the more earnest of Rationalists have questioned be thrown aside, let Jesus be stripped of all adornment of miraculous power, nay, view Him as one might Socrates, Confucius and Mohammed, and still He can not be explained on the groundwork of those particular and universal influences which ordinarily shape human experience and character.
The more we scrutinize the facts, the more are we impressed with the contrast between the Messiah whom the Jews were expecting and the Christ that came.
The Hebrews, from the beginning, had been a people of ardent religious yearnings. They had ever been wont to expect, with almost boyish enthusiasm, the actual realization in the national life of great popular ideals. Their government was purely theoretic: Jehovah was recognized as King; and the ruler in the palace, to whom pertained the baubles of power, was only His vicegerent. Temporal affairs and spiritual ardors were thus strangely blended in the national history. The people believed that their sins were the only obstacle to a faultless reign and a happy and holy national life. Out of their sense of guilt, out of their broken hopes, out of their intense religious ambition, there arose the idea of a coming Anointed One, who was to realize all temporal and spiritual aspira
tions and to wield all temporal and spiritual power and authority, not only over Zion, but over all the earth, a Mightiest of prophets, a Priest of priests, a King of kings. These popular aspirations rose and fell, narrowed and widened, became lustrous or dim, according to circumstances and the religious warmth of the times they formed great tides of spirituality, now filling the popular thought up to highest water-mark of expectancy, and again leaving bare weed-covered shoals and sunken rocks of hopeless unbelief. In certain natures such anticipations had always been pure and elevating; with the masses they were seldom other than dreams of conquest and glory, though even in the latter case the intense religiousness of the Jewish race was always deeply involved. The Messiah expected, and to all appearances needed, was a second David, a man of war, who could both fight and rule,-a priest and holy,but pre-eminently a magnificent despot, whose kingdom should be visible and terrible, with brave Jews for legionaries and Scribes and Pharisees for councillors.
When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, the tide of Messianic expectation was at its flood. The people were eagerly waiting. It seemed, indeed, "the latter times," a very "Day of Jehovah," a day of darkness and of gloominess, a
day of clouds and of thick darkness." Zion, the beautiful city, lay desolate in the ravishing grasp of Rome; a citadel, occupied by legionaries, overlooked the sacred precincts of the Temple; massacres of Jews by Gentiles were constantly occurring in the towns of Galilee; and all the ills of conquest and misrule vexed the Land. The suffering people argued that the vials of the wrath of God must have poured forth their utmost contents. A great body of Jewish citizens were calling on God, in agony of spirit, day and night. Surely Zion would soon arise from the dust and put on her beautiful garments and shine! It was a period of illusion. Men deeming themselves watchmen on the walls, now and again fancied that they heard the footfalls upon the mountains of the heralds that were coming with glad tidings to publish peace. In vision they saw Messiah in His glory rise up a power in the land, they beheld the gathering armies, the glorious warfare, the overthrow of Roman legions, the breaking up of Gentile nations, and the supremacy of Jerusalem from the River unto the ends of the earth. In the eagerness of their expectation and the assurance of their hope, they looked upon their oppressors with ravenous, exulting eyes, as though already fallen beneath their heel.
Just then came John the Baptist from the