IN fulfilling a task so difficult and so important as that of writing the Life of Christ, I feel it to be a duty to state the causes which led me to undertake it, and the principles which have guided me in carrying it to a conclusion.
1. It has long been the desire and aim of the publishers of this work to spread as widely as possible the blessings of knowledge; and, in special furtherance of this design, they wished to place in the hands of their readers such a sketch of the Life of Christ on earth as should enable them to realise it more clearly, and to enter more thoroughly into the details and sequence of the Gospel narratives. They therefore applied originally to an eminent theologian, who accepted the proposal, but whose elevation to the Episcopate prevented him from carrying it out.
Under these circumstances application was made to me, and I could not at first but shrink from a labour for which I felt that the amplest leisure of a lifetime would be insufficient, and powers incomparably greater than my own would still be utterly inadequate. But the considerations that were urged upon me came no doubt with additional force from the deep interest with which, from the first, I contemplated the design. I consented to make the effort, knowing that I could at least promise to do my best, and believing that he who does the best he can, and also seeks the blessing of God upon his labours, cannot finally and wholly fail.
And I have reason to be thankful that I originally entered upon the task, and, in spite of all obstacles, have still persevered, in it. If the following pages in any measure fulfill the objects with which such a Life ought to be written, they should fill the minds of those who read them with solemn and not ignoble thoughts; they should "add sunlight to daylight by making the happy happier;" they should encourage the toiler; they should console the sorrowful; they should point the weak to the one true source of moral strength. But whether this book be thus blessed to high ends, or whether it be received with harshness and indifference, nothing at least can rob me of the deep and constant happiness which I have felt during almost every hour that has been spent upon it. Though, owing to serious and absorbing duties, months have often passed without my finding an opportunity to write a single line, yet, even in the midst of incessant labour at other things, nothing forbade that the subject on which I was engaged should be often in my thoughts, or that I should find in it a source of peace and happiness different, alike in kind and in degree, from any which other interests could either give or take away.
2. After I had in some small measure prepared myself for the task, I seized, in the year 1870, the earliest possible opportunity to visit Palestine, and especially those parts of it which will be for ever identified with the work of Christ on earth. Amid those scenes wherein He movedin the
in the midst of those immemorial customs which recalled at every turn the manner of life He livedat Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, at Bethlehem, by Jacob's Well, in the Valley of Nazareth, along the bright strand of the Sea of Galilee, and in the coasts of Tyre and Sidon many things came home to me, for the first time, with a reality and vividness unknown before. I returned more than ever confirmed in the wish to tell the full story of the Gospels in such a manner and with such illustrations aswith the aid of all that was within my reach of that knowledge which has been accumulating for centuries might serve to enable at least the simple and the unlearned to understand and enter into the human surroundings of the life of the Son of God.
3. But, while I say this, to save the book from being judged by a false standard, and with reference to ends which it was never intended to accomplish, it would be mere affectation to deny that I have hoped to furnish much which even learned readers may value. Though the following pages do not pretend to be exhaustive or specially erudite, they yet contain much that men of the highest learning have thought or ascertained. The books which I have consulted include the researches of divines who have had the privilege of devoting to this subject, and often to some small fragment of it, the best years of laborious and uninterrupted lives. No one, I hope, could have reaped, however feebly, among such harvests, without garnering at least something, which must have its value for the professed theologian as well as for the unlearned. But, with this double aim in view, I have tried to avoid "moving as in a strange diagonal," and have never wholly lost sight of the fact that I had to work with no higher object than that thousands, who have even fewer opportunities than myself, might be the better enabled to read that one Book, beside which even the best and profoundest treatises are nothing better than poor and stammering fragments of imperfect commentary.
4. It is perhaps yet more important to add that this Life of Christ is avowedly and unconditionally the work of a believer. Those who expect to find in it new theories about the divine personality of Jesus, or brilliant combinations of mythic cloud tinged by the sunset imagination of some decadent belief, will look in vain. It has not been written with any direct and special reference to the attacks of sceptical criticism. It is not even intended to deal otherwise than indirectly with the serious doubts of those who, almost against their will, think themselves forced to lapse into a state of honest disbelief. I may indeed venture to hope that such readers, if they follow me with no unkindly spirit through these pages, may here and there find considerations of real weight and importance, which will solve imaginary difficulties and supply an answer to real objections. Although this book is not mainly controversial, and would, had it been intended as a contribution to polemical literature, have been written in a very different manner, I do not believe that it will prove wholly valueless to any honest doubter who reads it in a candid and uncontemptuous spirit. Hundreds of critics, for instance, have impugned the authority of the Gospels on the score of the real or supposed contradictions to be found in them. I am of course familiar with such objections, which may be found in all sorts of books, from Strauss's Leben Jesu and Renan's Vie de Jesus, down to Sir R. Hanson's Jesus of History, and the English Life of Jesus by Mr. Thomas Scott. But, while I have never consciously evaded a distinct and formidable difficulty, I have constantly endeavoured to show, by the mere silent course of the narrative itself, that many of these objections are by no means insuperable, and that many more are unfairly captious or altogether fantastic.
5. If there are questions wider and deeper than the minutiæ of criticism, into which I have not fully and directly entered, it is not either from having neglected to weigh the arguments respecting them, or from any unwillingness to state the reasons why, in common with tens of thousands who are abler and wiser than myself, I can still say respecting every fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, Manet immota fides. Writing as a believer to believers, as a Christian to Christians, surely, after nearly nineteen centuries of Christianity, any one may be allowed to rest a fact of the Life of Jesus on the testimony of St. John without stopping to write a volume on the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel; or may narrate one of the Gospel miracles without deeming it necessary to answer all the arguments which have been urged against the possibility of the supernatural. After the long labours, the powerful reasoning, and the perfect historical candour with which this subject has been treated by a host of apologists, it is sorely as needless as it is impossible to lay again, on every possible occasion, the very lowest foundations of our faith.
Nor have I left the subject of the credibility of miracles and the general authenticity of the Gospel narratives entirely untouched, although there was the less need for my entering fully upon those questions in the following pages, from my having already stated elsewhere, to the best of my ability, the grounds of my belief. The same remark applies to the yet more solemn truth of the Divinity of Christ. Thatnot indeed as surrounded with all the recondite enquiries about the perichóresis or communicatio idiomatum, the hypostatic union, the abstract impeccability, and such scholastic formulæ, but in its broad Scriptural simplicitywas the subject of the Hulsean Lectures before the University of Cambridge in the year 1870. In those lectures I endeavoured to sketch what has ever seemed to my mind the most convincing external evidence of our faith, namely, "The Witness of History to Christ." Those who have rejected the creed of the Church in this particular, approach the subject from a totally opposite point to our own. They read the earlier chapters of St. Luke and St. Matthew, and openly marvel that any mind can believe what to them appears to be palpable mythology; or they hear the story of one of Christ's miracles of powerthe walking on the Sea of Galilee, or turning the water into wineand scarcely conceal their insinuated misgiving as to honesty of those who can accept such narratives as true. Doubtless we should share their convictions in these respects, if we approached the subject in the same spirit and by the same avenues. To show that we do not and why we do not so approach it, isincidentally at leastone of the objects of this book.
The scepticand let me here say at once that I hope to use no single word of anger or denunciation against a scepticism which I know to be in many cases perfectly honest and self-sacrificingly nobleapproaches the examination of the question from a point of view the very opposite to that of the believer. He looks at the majestic order and apparently unbroken uniformity of Law, until the Universe becomes to him but the result mechanically evolved from tendencies at once irreversible and self-originated. To us such a conception is wholly inconceivable. Law to us involves the necessity of postulating a Lawgiver, and "Nature," which we only use as an unscientific and imaginative synonym for the sum total of observed phenomena, involves in our conceptions the Divine Power of whose energy it is but the visible translucence. We believe that the God and Creator of "Nature" has made Himself known to us, if not by a primitive intuition, at any rate by immediate revelation to our hearts and consciences. And therefore such narratives as those to which I have alluded are not nakedly and singly presented to us in all their unsupported and startling difficulty. To us they are but incidental items in a faith which lies at the very bases of our beingthey are but fragments of that great whole which comprises all that is divine and mysterious and supernatural in the two great words, Christianity and Christendom. And hence, though we no longer prominently urge the miracles of Christ as the proofs of our religion, yet, on the other hand, we cannot regard them as stumbling-blocks in the path of an historical belief. We study the sacred books of all the great religions of the world; we see the effect exercised by those religions on the minds of their votaries; and in spite of all the truths which even the worst of them enshrined, we watch the failure of them all to produce the inestimable blessings which we have ourselves enjoyed from infancy, which we treasure as dearly as our life, and which we regard as solely due to the spread and establishment of the faith we hold. We read the systems and treatises of ancient philosophy, and in spite of all the great and noble elements in which they abound, we see their total incapacity to console, or support, or deliver, or regenerate the world. Then we see the light of Christianity dawning like a tender day-spring amid the universal and intolerable darkness. From the first, that new religion allies itself with the world's utter feeblenesses, and those feeblenesses it shares; yet without wealth, without learning, without genius, without arms, without anything to dazzle and attractthe religion of outcasts and exiles, of fugitives and prisonersnumbering among its earliest converts not many wise, not many noble, not many mighty, but such as the jailer of Philippi, and the runaway slave of Colossæwith no blessing apparently upon it save such as cometh from abovewith no light whatever about it save the light that comes from heavenit puts to flight kings and their armies; it breathes a new life, and a new hope, and a new and unknown holiness into a guilty and decrepit world. This we see; and we see the work grow, and increase, and become more and more irresistible, and spread "with the gentleness of a sea that caresses the shore it covers." And seeing this, we recall the faithful principle of the wise and tolerant Rabbi, uttered more than 1,800 years ago"If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found to fight against God" (Acts v. 38, 39).
And when we have thus been led to see and to believe that the only religion in the world which has established the ideal of a perfect holiness, and rendered common the attainment of that ideal, has received in conspicuous measure the blessing of God, we examine its truths with a deeper reverence. The record of these truthsthe record of that teaching which made them familiar to the worldwe find in the Gospel narrative. And that narrative reveals to us much more. It not only furnishes us with an adequate reason for the existence and for the triumphs of the faith we hold, but it also brings home to us truths which affect our hearts and intellects no less powerfully than "the starry heavens above and the moral law within." Taught to regard ourselves as children of God, and common brothers in His great family of man, we find in the Gospels a revelation of God in His Son, which enables us to know Him more, and to trust Him more absolutely, and to serve Him more faithfully, than all which we can find in all the other books of God, whether in Scripture, or history, or the experience of life, or those unseen messages which God has written on every individual heart. And finding that this revelation has been recorded by honest men in narratives which, however fragmentary, appear to stand the test of history, and to bear on the face of them every mark of transparent simplicity and perfect truthfulnessprepared for the reception of these glad tidings of God's love in man's redemption by the facts of the world without, and the experiences of the heart withinwe thus cease to find any overwhelming difficulty in the record that He whom we believe to have been the Son of GodHe who alone has displayed on earth the transcendent miracle of a sinless lifeshould have walked on the Sea of Galilee or turned the water into wine.
And when we thus accept the truth of the miracles they become to us moral lessons of the profoundest value. In considering the miracles of Jesus we stand in a wholly different position to the earlier disciples. To them the evidence of the miracles lent an overwhelming force to the teachings of the Lord; they were as the seal of God to the proclamation of the new kingdom. But to us who, for nineteen centuries, have been children of that kingdom, such evidence is needless. To the Apostles they were the credentials of Christ's mission; to us they are but fresh revelations of His will. To us they are works rather than signs, revelations rather than portents. Their historical importance lies for us in the fact that without them it would be impossible to account for the origin and spread of Christianity. We appeal to them not to prove the truth of Christianity, but to illustrate its dissemination. But though to us Christianity rests on the basis of a Divine approval far more convincing than the display of supernatural powerthough to us the providence which for these two millenniums has ruled the destinies of Christendom is a miracle far more stupendous in its evidential force than the raising of the dead or the enlightenment of the blindyet a belief in these miracles enables us to solve problems which would otherwise be insolvable, as well as to embrace moral conceptions which would otherwise have found no illustration. To one who rejects themto one who believes that the loftiest morals and the divinest piety which mankind has ever seen were evoked by a religion which rested on errors or on liesthe world's history must remain, it seems to me, a hopeless enigma or a revolting fraud.
6. Referring to another part of the subject, I ought to say I do not regard as possible any final harmony of the Gospels. Against any harmony which can be devised some plausible objection could be urged. On this subject no two writers have ever been exactly agreed, and this alone is sufficient to prove that the Gospel notices of chronology are too incomplete to render certainty attainable. I have, of course, touched directly, as well as indirectly, on such questions as the length of the ministry; and wherever the narrative required some clear and strong reason for adopting one view rather than another on some highly disputed point, I have treated the question as fully as was consistent with brevity, and endeavoured to put the reader in possession of the main facts and arguments on which the decision rests. But it would have been equally unprofitable and idle to encumber my pages with endless controversy on collateral topics which, besides being dreary and needless, are such as admit of no final settlement. In deciding upon a particular sequence of events, we can only say that such a sequence appears to us a probable one, not by any means that we regard it as certain. In every instance I have carefully examined the evidence for myself, often compressing into a few lines, or even into an incidental allusion, the results of a long enquiry. To some extent I agree with Stier and Lange in the order of events which they have adopted, and in this respect, as well as for my first insight into the character of several scenes, I am perhaps more indebted to the elaborate work of Lange than to any others who have written on the same subject. When an author is writing from the results of independent thought on the sum total of impressions formed during a course of study, it is not always possible to acknowledge specific obligations; but whenever I was consciously indebted to others, I have, throughout the book, referred especially to Ewald, Neander, Schenkel, Strauss, Hase, Sepp, Stier, Ebrard, Wieseler, Hofmann, Keim, Caspari, Ullmann, Delitzsch, De Pressensé, Wallon, Dupanloup, Capecelatro, Ellicott, Young, Andrews, Wordsworth, Alford, and many others; as well as to older writers like Bonaventura and Jeremy Taylor. I have also to acknowledge the assistance which I have gained from the writings of Dean Stanley, Canons Lightfoot and Westcott, Professor Plumptre, Dr. Ginsburg, Mr. Grove, and the authors of articles in the Encyclopædias of Ersch and Grube, Herzog, Zeller, Winer, and Dr. W. Smith. Incidental lights have of course been caught from various archæological treatises, as well as works of geography and travel, from the old Itineraries and Reland down to Dr. Thomson's Land and Book, and Mr. Hepworth Dixon's Holy Land.
7. It is needless to add that this book is almost wholly founded on an independent study of the four Gospels side by side. In quoting from them I have constantly and intentionally diverged from the English version, because my main object has been to bring out and explain the scenes as they are described by the original witnesses. The minuter details of those scenes, and therewith the accuracy of our reproduction of them, depend in no small degree upon the discovery of the true reading, and the delicate observance of the true usage of words, particles, and tenses. It must not be supposed for a moment that I offer these translationswhich are not infrequently paraphrasesas preferable to those of the English version, but only that, consistently with the objects which I had in view, I have aimed at representing with more rigid accuracy the force and meaning of the true text in the original Greek. It will be noticed that in most of my quotations from the Gospels I do not slavishly follow the English version, but translate from the original Greek. It will be seen too that I have endeavoured to glean in illustration all that is valuable or trustworthy in Josephus, in the Apocryphal Gospels, and in traditional particulars derived from the writings of the Fathers.
8. Some readers will perhaps be surprised by the frequency of the allusions to Jewish literature. Without embarking on "the sea of the Talmud" (as the Rabbis themselves call it)a task which would require a lifetimea modern reader may find not only the amplest materials, but probably all the materials it can offer for the illustration of the Gospel history, in the writings not of Christians only, but also of learned and candid Rabbis. Not only in the well-known treatises of Lightfoot, Schöttgen, Surenhuys, Wagenseil, Buxtorf, Otho, Reland, Budæus, Gfrörer, Herzfeld, McCaul, Etheridge, but also in those of Jews by birth or religion, or both, like Geiger, Jost, Grätz, Derenbourg, Munk, Frankl, Deutsch, Raphall, Schwab, Cohen, any one may find large quotations from the original authorities collected as well by adversaries as by reverent and admiring students. Further, he may read the entire Mishna (if he have the time and patience to do so) in the Latin version of Surenhusius, and may now form his judgment respecting large and important treatises even of the Gemara, from such translations as the French one of the Berachôth by M. Moïse Schwab. I have myself consulted all the authorities here named, and have gained from them much information which seems to me eminently useful. Their researches have thrown a flood of light on some parts of the Gospels, and have led me to some conclusions which, so far as I am aware, are new. Nothing of the slightest importance can be gleaned from the Talmudists about our Lord Himself. The real value of the Rabbinic writings in illustrating the Gospels is indirect, not directarchaeological, not controversial. The light which they throw on the fidelity of the Evangelists is all the more valuable because it is derived from a source so unsuspected and so hostile.
9. If in any part of this book I have appeared to sin against the divine law of charity, I must here ask pardon for it. But at least I may say that whatever trace of asperity may be found in any page of it, has never been directed against men, but against principles, or only against those men or classes of men in long-past ages whom we solely regard as the representatives of principles. It is possible that this book may fall into the hands of some Jewish readers, and to these particularly I would wish this remark to be addressed. I have reason to believe that the Jewish race have long since learnt to look with love and reverence on Him whom their fathers rejected; nay, more, that many of them, convinced by the irrefragable logic of history, have openly acknowledged that He was indeed their promised Messiah, although they still reject the belief in His divinity. I see, in the writings of many Jews, a clear conviction that Jesus, to whom they have quite ceased to apply the terms of hatred found in the Talmud, was at any rate the greatest religious Teacher, the highest and noblest Prophet whom their race produced. They, therefore, would be the last to defend that greatest crime in historythe Crucifixion of the Son of God. And while no Christian ever dreams of visiting upon them the horror due to the sin of their ancestors, so no Jew will charge the Christians of today with looking with any feeling but that of simple abhorrence on the long, cruel, and infamous persecutions to which the ignorance and brutality of past ages have subjected their great and noble race. We may humbly believe that the day is fast approaching when He whom the Jews crucified, and whose divine revelations the Christians have so often and so grievously disgraced. will break down the middle wall of partition between them, and make both races one in religion, in heart, and lifeSemite and Aryan, Jew and Gentile, united to bless and to evangelise the world.
10. One task alone remainsthe pleasant task of thanking those friends to whose ready aid and sympathy I owe so much, and who have surrounded with happy memories and obligations the completion of my work. First and foremost, my heartiest and sincerest thanks are due to my friends, Mr. C. J. Monro, late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Mr. R. Garnett, of the British Museum. They have given me an amount of time and attention which leaves me most largely indebted to their unselfish generosity; and I have made claims on their indulgence more extensive than I can adequately repay. To my old pupil, Mr. H. J. Boyd, late scholar of Brasenose College, Oxford, I am indebted for the Table of Contents. I have also to thank the Rev. Professor Plumptre and Mr. George Grove not only for the warm interest which they have taken in my work, but also for some valuable suggestions. There are many others, not here named, who will believe, without any assurance from me, that I am not ungrateful for the help which they have rendered; and I must especially offer my best acknowledgments to the Rev. T. Teignmouth Shorebut for whose kind encouragement the book would not have been undertakenand to those who with so much care and patience have conducted it through the press.
And now I send these pages forth not knowing what shall befall them, but with the earnest prayer that they may be blessed to aid the cause of truth and righteousness, and that He in whose name they are written may, of His mercy,
"Forgive them where they fail in truth,
F. W. F.THE LODGE, MARLBOROUGH COLLEGE,
Monday before Easter, 1874.