THE HOME AT NAZARETH.
SUCH, then, is the "solitary floweret out of the wonderful enclosed garden of the thirty years, plucked precisely there where the swollen bud, at a distinctive crisis, bursts into flower."
But if of the first twelve years of His human life we have only this single anecdote, of the next eighteen years of His life we possess no record whatever save such as is implied in a single word.
That word occurs in Mark vi. 3: "Is not this the carpenter?"
We may be indeed thankful that the word remains, for it is full of meaning, and has exercised a very noble and blessed influence over the fortunes of mankind. It has tended to console and sanctify the estate of poverty; to ennoble the duty of labour; to elevate the entire conception of manhood, as of a condition which in itself alone, and apart from every adventitious circumstance, has its own grandeur and dignity in the sight of God.
1. It shows, for instance, that not only during the three years of His ministry, but throughout the whole of His life, our Lord was poor. In the cities the carpenters would be Greeks, and skilled workmen; the carpenter of a provincial villageand, if tradition be true, Joseph was "not very skilful"can only have held a very humble position and secured a very moderate competence. In all ages there has been an exaggerated desire for wealth; an exaggerated admiration for those who possess it; an exaggerated belief of its influence in producing or increasing the happiness of life; and from these errors a flood of cares and jealousies and meannesses have devastated the life of man. And therefore Jesus chose voluntarily "the low estate of the poor"not, indeed, an absorbing, degrading, grinding poverty, which is always rare, and almost always remediable, but that commonest lot of honest poverty, which, though it necessitates self-denial, can provide with ease for all the necessaries of a simple life. The Idumæan dynasty that had usurped the throne of David might indulge in the gilded vices of a corrupt Hellenism, and display the gorgeous gluttonies of a decaying civilisation; but He who came to be the Friend and the Saviour, no less than the King of All, sanctioned the purer, better, simpler traditions and customs of His nation, and chose the condition in which the vast majority of mankind have ever, and must ever live.
2. Again, there has ever been, in the unenlightened mind, a love of idleness; a tendency to regard it as a stamp of aristocracy; a desire to delegate labour to the lower and weaker, and to brand it with the stigma of inferiority and contempt. But our Lord wished to show that labour is a pure and a noble thing; it is the salt of life; it is the girdle of manliness; it saves the body from effeminate languor, and the soul from polluting thoughts. And therefore Christ laboured, working with His own hands, and fashioned ploughs and yokes for those who needed them. The very scoff of Celsus against the possibility that He should have been a carpenter who came to save the world, shows how vastly the world has gained from this very circumstancehow gracious and how fitting was the example of such humility in One whose work it was to regenerate society, and to make all things new.
3. Once more, from this long silence, from this deep obscurity, from this monotonous routine of an unrecorded and uneventful life, we were meant to learn that our real existence in the sight of God consists in the inner and not in the outer life. The world hardly attaches any significance to any life except those of its heroes and benefactors, its mighty intellects, or its splendid conquerors. But these are, and must ever be, the few. One raindrop of myriads falling on moor or desert or mountainone snowflake out of myriads melting into the immeasurable seais, and must be, for most men the symbol of their ordinary lives. They die, and barely have they died, when they are forgotten; a few years pass, and the creeping lichens eat away the letters of their names upon the churchyard stone; but even if those crumbling letters were still decipherable, they would recall no memory to those who stand upon their graves. Even common and ordinary men are very apt to think themselves of much importance; but, on the contrary, not even the greatest man is in any degree necessary, and after a very short space of time
"His place, in all the pomp that fills
4. A relative insignificance, then, is, and must be, the destined lot of the immense majority, and many a man might hence be led to think, that since he fills so small a spacesince, for the vast masses of mankind, he is of as little importance as the ephemerid which buzzes out its little hour in the summer noonthere is nothing better than to eat, and drink, and die. But Christ came to convince us that a relative insignificance may be an absolute importance. He came to teach that continual excitement, prominent action, distinguished services, brilliant success, are no essential elements of true and noble life, and that myriads of the beloved of God are to he found among the insignificant and the obscure. "Si vis divinus esse, late ut Deus," is the encouraging, consoling, ennobling lesson of those voiceless years. The calmest and most unknown lot is often the happiest, and we may safely infer that these years in the home and trade of the carpenter of Nazareth were happy years in our Saviour's life. Often, even in His later days, it is clear that His words are the words of one who rejoiced in spirit; they are words which seem to flow from the full river of an abounding happiness. But what must that happiness have been in those earlier days, before the storms of righteous anger had agitated his unruffled soul, or His heart burned hot with terrible indignation against the sins and hypocrisies of men? "Heaven," as even a Confucius could tell us, "means principle;" and if at all times innocence be the only happiness, how great must have been the happiness of a sinless childhood! "Youth," says the poet-preacher, "danceth like a bubble, nimble and gay, and shineth like a dove's neck, or the image of a rainbow which hath no substance, and whose very image and colours are fantastical." And if this description be true of even a careless youth, with what transcendently deeper force must it apply to the innocent, the sinless, the perfect youth of Christ? In the case of many myriads, and assuredly not least in the case of the saints of God, a sorrowful and stormy manhood has often been preceded by a calm and rosy dawn.
5. And while they were occupied manually, we have positive evidence that these years were not neglected intellectually. No importance can be attached to the clumsy stories of the Apocryphal Gospels, but it is possible that some religions and simple instruction may have been given to the little Nazarenes by the sopherîm, or other attendants of the synagogue; and here our Lord, who was made like unto us in all things, may have learnt, as other children learnt, the elements of human learning. But it is, perhaps, more probable that Jesus received His early teaching at home, and in accordance with the injunctions of the Law (Deut. xi. 19), from His father. He would, at any rate, have often heard in the daily prayers of the synagogue all which the elders of the place could teach respecting the Law and the Prophets. That He had not been to Jerusalem, for purposes of instruction, and had not frequented any of the schools of the Rabbis, is certain from the indignant questions of jealous enemies, "From whence hath this man these things?" "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" There breathes throughout these questions the Rabbinic spirit of insolent contempt for the am ha-aretz or illiterate countryman. The stereotyped intelligence of the nation, accustomed, if I may use the expression, to that mummified form of a dead religion, which had been embalmed by the Oral Law, was incapable of appreciating the divine originality of a wisdom learnt from God alone. They could not get beyond the sententious error of the son of Sirach, that "the wisdom of the learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure." Had Jesus received tho slightest tincture of their technical training he would have been less, not more, effectually armed for putting to shame the supercilious exclusiveness of their narrow erudition.
6. And this testimony of His enemies furnishes us with a convincing and fortunate proof that His teaching was not, as some would insinuate, a mere eclectic system borrowed from the various sects and teachers of His times. It is certain that He was never enrolled among the scholars of those Scribes who made it their main business to teach the traditions of the fathers. Although schools in great towns had been founded eighty years before, by Simon Ben Shatach, yet there could have been no Beth Midrash or Beth Rabban, no "vineyard" or "array" at despised and simple Nazareth. And from whom could Jesus have borrowed?From Oriental Gymnosophists or Greek Philosophers? No one, in these days, ventures to advance so wild a proposition.From the Pharisees? The very foundations of their system, the very idea of their religion, was irreconcilably alien from all that He revealedFrom the Sadducees? Their epicurean insouciance, their "expediency" politics, their shallow rationalism, their polished sloth, were even more repugnant to true Christianity than they were to sincere Judaism.From the Essenes? They were an exclusive, ascetic, and isolated community, with whose discouragement of marriage, and withdrawal from action, the Gospels have no sympathy, and to whom our Lord never alluded, unless it be in those passages where He reprobates those who abstain from anointing themselves when they fast, and who hide their candle under a bushel.From Philo, and the Alexandrian Jews? Philo was indeed a good man, and a great thinker, and a contemporary of Christ; but (even if his name had ever been heardwhich is exceedingly doubtfulin so remote a region as Galilee) it would be impossible, among the world's philosophies, to choose any system less like the doctrines which Jesus taught, than the mystic theosophy and allegorising extravagance of that "sea of abstractions" which lies congealed in his writings.From Hillel and Shammai? We know but little of them; but although, in one or two passages of the Gospels, there may be a conceivable allusion to the disputes which agitated their schools, or to one or two of the best and truest maxims which originated in them, such allusions, on the one hand, involve no more than belongs to the common stock of truth taught by the Spirit of God to men in every age; and, on the other hand, the system which Shammai and Hillel taught was that oral tradition, that dull dead Levitical ritualism, at once arrogant and impotent, at once frivolous and unoriginal, which Jesus both denounced and overthrew. The schools in which Jesus learnt were not the schools of the Scribes, but the school of holy obedience, of sweet contentment, of unalloyed simplicity, of stainless purity, of cheerful toil. The lore in which He studied was not the lore of Rabbinism, in which to find one just or noble thought we must wade through masses of puerile fancy and cabalistic folly, but the Books of God without Him, in Scripture, in Nature, and in Life; and the Book of God within Him, written on the fleshly tables of the heart.
The education of a Jewish boy of the humbler classes was almost solely scriptural and moral, and his parents were, as a rule, his sole teachers. We can hardly doubt that the child Jesus was taught by Joseph and Mary to read the Shema (Deut. vi. 4), and the Hallel (Ps. cxiv.-cxviii.), and the simpler parts of those holy books, on whose pages His divine wisdom was hereafter to pour such floods of light.
But He had evidently received a further culture than this.
7. But whatever the boy Jesus may have learned as child or boy in the house of His mother, or in the school of the synagogue, we know that His best teaching was derived from immediate insight into His Father's will. In the depths of his inmost consciousness did that voice of God, which spake to the father of our race as he walked in the cool evening under the palms of Paradise, communemore plainly, by farwith Him. He heard it in every sound of nature, in every occupation of life, in every interspace of solitary thought. His human life was "an ephod on which was inscribed the one word God." Written on His inmost spirit, written on His most trivial experiences, written in sunbeams, written in the light of stars, He read everywhere His Father's name. The calm, untroubled seclusion of the happy valley, with its green fields and glorious scenery, was eminently conducive to a life of spiritual communion; and we know how from its every incidentthe games of its innocent children, the buying and selling in its little market-place, the springing of its perennial fountain, the glory of its mountain lilies in their transitory loveliness, the hoarse cry in their wind-rocked nest of the raven's callow broodhe drew food for moral illustration and spiritual thought.
Nor must we lose sight of the fact that it was in these silent, unrecorded years that a great part of His work was done. He was not only "girding His sword upon His thigh," but also wielding it in that warfare which has no discharge. That noiseless battle, in which no clash of weapons sounds, but in which the combatants against us are none the less terrible because they are not seen, went on through all the years of His redeeming obedience. In these years He "began to do" long before He "began to teach." They were the years of a sinless childhood, a sinless boyhood, a sinless youth, a sinless manhood, spent in that humility, toil, obscurity, submission, contentment, prayer, to make them an eternal example to all our race. We cannot imitate Him in the occupations of His ministry, nor can we even remotely reproduce in our own experience the external circumstances of His life during those three crowning years. But the vast majority of us are placed, by God's own appointment, amid those quiet duties of a commonplace and uneventful routine which are most closely analogous to the thirty years of His retirement; it was during these years that His life is for us the main example of how we ought to live. "Take notice here," says the saintly Bonaventura, "that his doing nothing wonderful was in itself a kind of wonder. For His whole life is a mystery; and as there was power in His actions, so was there power in His silence, in His inactivity, and in His retirement. This sovereign Master, who was to teach all virtues, and to point out the way of life, began, from His youth up, by sanctifying in His own person the practice of the virtuous life He came to teach, but in a wondrous, unfathomable, and, till then, unheard-of manner."
His mere presence in that home of His childhood must have made it a happy one. The hour of strife, the hour of the sword, the hour when many in Israel should rise or fall because of Him, the hour when the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed, the hour when the kingdom of heaven should suffer violence, and the violent take it by force, was not yet come. In any family circle the gentle influence of one loving soul is sufficient to breathe around it an unspeakable calm; it has a soothing power like the shining of the sunlight, or the voice of doves heard at evening
"It droppeth like the gentle dew from heaven,
Nothing vulgar, nothing tyrannous, nothing restless can permanently resist its beneficent sorcery; no jangling discord can long break in upon its harmonising spell. But the home of Jesus was no ordinary home. With Joseph to guide and support, with Mary to hallow and sweeten it, with the youthful Jesus to illuminate it with the very light of heaven, we may well believe that it was a home of trustful piety, of angelic purity, of almost perfect peace; a home for the sake of which all the earth would be dearer and more awful to the watchers and holy ones, and where, if the fancy be permitted us, they would love to stay their waving wings. The legends of early Christianity tell us that night and day, where Jesus moved and Jesus slept, the cloud of light shone round about Him. And so it was; but that light was no visible Shechînah; it was the beauty of holiness; it was the peace of God.
8. In the eleventh chapter of the Apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter, it is stated that Joseph had four elder sons and several daughters by a previous marriage, and that the elder sons, Justus and Simon, and the daughters Esther and Thamar, in due time married and went to their houses. "But Judas and James the Less, and the Virgin, my mother," continues the speaker, who is supposed to be Jesus Himself, "remained in the house of Joseph. I also continued along with them, not otherwise than if I had been one of his sons. I passed all my time without fault. I called Mary my mother, and Joseph father, and in all they said I was obedient to them, nor did I ever resist them, but submitted to them . . . . nor did I provoke their anger any day, nor return any harsh word or answer to them; on the contrary, I cherished them with immense love, as the apple of my eye."
This passage, which I quote for the sake of the picture which it offers of the unity which prevailed in the home at Nazareth, reminds us of the perplexed question, Had our Lord any actual uterine brothers and sisters? and if not, who were those who in the Gospels are so often called "the brethren of the Lord?" Whole volumes have been written on this controversy, and I shall not largely enter on it here. The evidence is so evenly balanced, the difficulties of each opinion are so clear, that to insist very dogmatically on any positive solution of the problem would be uncandid and contentious. Some, in accordance certainly with the primâ facie evidence of the Gospels, have accepted the natural supposition that, after the miraculous conception of our Lord, Joseph and Mary lived together in the married state, and that James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon, with daughters, whose names are not recorded, were subsequently born to them. According to this view, Jesus would be the eldest, and on the death of Joseph, which, if we may follow tradition, took place when He was nineteen, would assume the natural headship and support of the orphaned family. But according to another view, of which St. Jerome may be called the inventor, these brethren of our Lord were in reality His cousins. Mary, it is believed, had a sister or half-sister of the same name, who was married to Alphæus or Clophas, and these were their children. Each person can form upon that evidence a decided conviction of his own, but it is too scanty to admit of any positive conclusion in which we may expect a general acquiescence. In any case, it is clear that our Lord, from His earliest infancy, must have been thrown into close connection with several kinsmen, or brothers, a little older or a little younger than Himself, who were men of marked individuality, of burning zeal, of a simplicity almost bordering on Essenic ascetism, of overpowering hostility to every form of corruption, disorder, or impurity, of strong devotion to the Messianic hopes, and even to the ritual observances of their country. We know that, though afterwards they became pillars of the infant Church, at first they did not believe in our Lord's Divinity, or at any rate held views which ran strongly counter to the divine plan of His self-manifestation. Not among these, in any case, did Jesus during His lifetime find His most faithful followers, or His most beloved companions. There seemed to be in them a certain strong opinionativeness, a Judaic obstinacy, a lack of sympathy, a deficiency in the elements of tenderness and reverence. Peter, affectionate even in his worst weakness, generous even in his least controlled impulse; James the son of Zebedee, calm and watchful, reticent and true; above all, John, whose impetuosity lay involved in a soul of the most heavenly tenderness, as the lightning slumbers in the dewdropthese were more to Him and dearer than His brethren or kinsmen according to the flesh. A hard aggressive morality is less beautiful than an absorbing and adoring love.
9. Whether these little clouds of partial miscomprehension tended in any way to overshadow the clear heaven of Christ's youth in the little Galilæan town, we cannot tell. It may be that these brethren toiled with Him at the same humble trade, lived with Him under the same humble roof. But, however this may be, we are sure that He would often be alone. Solitude would be to Him, more emphatically than to any child of man, "the audience-chamber of God;" He would beyond all doubt seek for it on the grey hill-sides, under the figs and olive-trees, amid the quiet fields; during the heat of noonday, and under the stars of night. No soul can preserve the bloom and delicacy of its existence without lonely musing and silent prayer: and the greatness of this necessity is in proportion to the greatness of the soul. There were many times during our Lord's ministry when, even from the loneliness of desert places, He dismissed His most faithful and most beloved, that He might be yet more alone.
10. It has been implied that there are but two spots in Palestine where we may feel an absolute moral certainty that the feet of Christ have trod, namelythe well-side at Shechem, and the turning of that road from Bethany over the Mount of Olives from which Jerusalem first bursts upon the view. But to these I would add at least anotherthe summit of the hill on which Nazareth is built. That summit is now unhappily marked, not by any Christian monument, but by the wretched, ruinous, crumbling wely of some obscure Mohammedan saint. Certainly there is no child of ten years old in Nazareth now, however dull and unimpressionable he may be, who has not often wandered up to it; and certainly there could have been no boy at Nazareth in olden days who had not followed the common instinct of humanity by climbing up those thymy hill slopes to the lovely and easily accessible spot which gives a view of the world beyond. The hill rises six hundred feet above the level of the sea. Four or five hundred feet below lies the happy valley. The view from this spot would in any country be regarded as extraordinarily rich and lovely; but it receives a yet more indescribable charm from our belief that here, with His feet among the mountain flowers, and the soft breeze lifting the hair from His temples, Jesus must often have watched the eagles poised in the cloudless blue, and having gazed upwards as He heard overhead the rushing plumes of the long line of pelicans, as they winged their way from the streams of Kishon to the Lake of Galilee. And what a vision would be outspread before Him, as He sat at springtime on the green and thyme-besprinkled turf! To Him every field and fig-tree, every palm and garden, every house and synagogue, would have been a familiar object; and most fondly of all amongst the square flat-roofed houses would His eye single out the little dwelling place of the village carpenter. To the north, just beneath them, lay the narrow and fertile plain of Asochis, from which rise the wood crowned hills of Naphtali, and conspicuous on one of them was Safed, "the city set upon a hill;" beyond these, on the far horizon, Hermon upheaved into the blue the huge splendid mass of his colossal shoulder, white with eternal snows. Eastward, at a few miles' distance, rose the green and rounded summit of Tabor, clothed with terebinth and oak. To the west He would gaze through that diaphanous air on the purple ridge of Carmel, among whose forests Elijah had found a home; and on Caifa and Accho, and the dazzling line of white sand which fringes the waves of the Mediterranean, dotted here and there with the white sails of the "ships of Chittim." Southwards, broken only by the graceful outlines of Little Hermon and Gilboa, lay the entire plain of Esdraelon, so memorable in the history of Palestine and of the world; across which lay the southward path to the city which had ever been the murderess of the prophets, and where it may be that even now, in the dim foreshadowing of prophetic vision, He foresaw the agony in the garden, the mockings and scourgings, the cross and the crown of thorns.
The scene which lay there outspread before the eyes of the youthful Jesus was indeed a central spot in the world which He came to save. It was in the heart of the Land of Israel, and yetseparated from it only by a narrow boundary of hills and streamsPhœnicia, Syria, Arabia, Babylonia, and Egypt lay close at hand. The Isles of the Gentiles, and all the glorious regions of Europe, were almost visible over the shining waters of that Western sea. The standards of Rome were planted on the plain before Him; the language of Greece was spoken in the towns below. And however peaceful it then might look, green as a pavement of emeralds, rich with its gleams of vivid sunlight, and the purpling shadows which floated over it from the clouds of the latter rain, it had been for centuries a battle-field of nations. Pharaohs and Ptolemies. Emîrs and Arsacids, Judges and Consuls, had all contended for the mastery of that smiling tract. It had glittered with the lances of the Amalekites; it had trembled under the chariot-wheels of Sesostris; it had echoed the twanging bow-strings of Sennacherib; it had been trodden by the phalanxes of Macedonia; it had clashed with the broadswords of Rome; it was destined hereafter to ring with the battle-cry of the Crusaders, and thunder with the artillery of England and of France. In that Plain of Jezreel, Europe and Asia, Judaism and Heathenism, Barbarism and Civilisation, the Old and the New Covenant, the history of the past and the hopes of the present, seemed all to meet. Ko scene of deeper significance for the destinies of humanity could possibly have arrested the youthful Saviour's gaze.