The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39
"Jesus Who is Called Christ."
"Jesus Who is Called Christ."
I enter upon this subject, not with hesitation, but with some amount of tenderness; I do not desire to cause pain, yet I fear I shall. No doubt Jesus caused pain when he condemned some of his day as "vipers" and "hypocrites;" and, though I shall not give way to any such personalities, yet, I shall feel it my duty to pronounce as sweeping condemnations of the popular ideas held of Jesus. I know what ideas of Jesus are; I have held them, I have cherished them; he was once the subject of my daily thoughts, and even of my dreams; but he is now only a far off remembrance. That is to say, my mind was at one time wrapt in a subject, idea or picture, called Jesus, which it then believed real, but now recognises to have been only an idea—a picture. Nine-tenths of mental and social disturbance is over pictures,—ideas; and the sole contention is, whether the idea and lineaments presented are realities or only pictures. The believer maintains they are realities; the unbeliever, that they are only ideas—pictures.
It is painful to be undeceived, to have a delusion dispelled. "As charm by charm unwinds which robed our idols" we feel a very distinct resentment against the man who has unwound the charms,—who has rent the veil of the temple and exposed our palpable idolatry. But when our closely-hugged superstitions and sweet delusions are fully exposed, we stand self-convicted and our personal pride is hurt, and, ashamed of having wasted our affection and zeal upon shadows, we abandon our idols.
Idols are but representations, and always faulty representations of something else; and, instead of helping to the page 4 perception of that something, they stand between us and it, block up the view, and we see only the idol and not the something represented. Uniform, priestly tact is to direct the attention of the people always to the idol, and never to the idea the idol represents. Hence the people know only the idol, worship only the idol, and have no conception of the idea; and consequently, any irreverence towards the idol excites in them the most keen resentment, while a total disrespect for the idea represented hardly raises comment. Take, for instance, Jesus as the personification of sympathy for humanity—Human Sympathy; here, Jesus is the idol, Human Sympathy the subject represented; but the idol so absorbs the attention of the worshippers, that, for every ninety-nine who worship the idol, probably not more than one worship Human Sympathy.
My devotion is towards the subject, not the idol; I crave it as my right, and it is also my ambition, to stand face to face with the truth, the reality, the fact. I do not want to do business through any agency, interpreter or medium, but direct with principals. I want to enjoy the benefits of the sun's light; but not from those weak, scanty rays of his reflected by the moon; No! I want them full, pure, and straight from the great luminary itself. Idols are barriers in the path; stumbling blocks over which intellect falls and breaks its knees : they give no light, but eclipse much. It is our duty to take them from their sacred pedestals, remove them from where they stand between us and the light, and place them carefully in the grey quiet of the historical museum, where future generations may study and be warned by them from the follies of their ancestors. I purpose here to take the idol "Jesus" from its pedestal. This idol is one which to the European race looms large, and obscures much; but, when removed from its sacred stand and taken to pieces, you will be surprised to find how very little there is of it.
"Jesus who is called Christ." These words are from the gospel of Matthew. How very cautious and non-assertive the writer is : he does not say Jesus is Christ, but only, that he "is called" Christ; writers and preachers now, are much more positive. Although voluminous lives of Jesus have been written, yet all the accredited information we have on the subject, is contained in the four gospels, and no one can tell anything of the life, worth listening to or reading, not page 5 found there. The information in the Apocryphal gospels is so marvellous, and even ludicrous, that to introduce it would hinder the serious consideration of the subject; and the small paragraph in the 13th Chap, 18th Book Josephus Antiquities is so plainly a clumsy interpolation, that the credence once given to it has been withdrawn. We are therfore limited to the four gospels for information on the subject; the fact that no other books upon the life of Jesus have been canonized or authorised, points clearly that we need not leave these books for any others.
The name Jesus, among the Jews, was a common one; but it is very uncertain whether there ever was the person of that name, even regarded merely as a man, whose actions and sayings are reported in the gospels. The circumstantial information of him in the gospels is very scanty, and very contradictory; and the Jews, from whose royal seed we read he came, the people whom he called his "own," to whom he was specially sent, and came specially to save, have from the first, and consistently throughout, unto this day, rejected him either as a prophet or messiah. Here we have a standing denial,—a denial by a whole race,—a denial by the race of which Jesus is said to have been a member, and who therefore ought to have understood him best, and appreciated him most,—an unflinching denial, not beaten down by long continued persecution,—a persistent denial throughout eighteen centuries, and now as decided as ever. With such a, not loud, but firm, continuous and far-reaching No! before us, we might well dismiss the subject, as unworthy of further investigation. The great fact we have pointed out, would long ago have proved sufficient to destroy any credulity but a religious one. Christians may well be solicitous for the conversion of the Jews, and spend their hundreds of thousands to bribe them to change their faith.
"What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?" And they say unto him, "The son of David" The descent of Jesus from David, was considered a very important matter; two of the gospel writers with apparent care give the line of descent. The writer of Matthew gives the descent through Solomon, David's son; in which, with David the first, and Jesus the last name, there are twenty-eight persons. The writer of Luke gives the descent through Nathan, another son of David, and in which, with David the first name, and page 6 Jesus the last, there are forty-three persons; that is, fifteen persons, fifteen generations more than in Matthew. Fifteen generations of, say, thirty years each, make 450 years, and consequently, the Jesus of Luke must have been born 450 years later than the Jesus of Matthew, and could not be the same person. Were any one to attempt to establish his claim to a quarter-acre allotment of land, on the evidence of two such genealogies, he would be laughed out of court; yet we are gravely and pathetically told, that "the salvation of our never-dying souls" hangs upon the testimony of writers who make such a mess of a mere professed matter-of-fact line of pedigree; and the most surprising matter is, that after ten years spent in revising these books, those pedigrees are left as they were before. But after all, neither of these genealogies prove Jesus the son of David, for the simple reason, that in the same writings, it is alleged that Joseph was not his father.
What sort of a man was David, that it was esteemed an honour to be descended from him? I shall not drag you over his life, but merely take you to his deathbed. Here he charges Solomon, his son and successor, with regard to Joab, the faithful captain of his host, and says, "Let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace." Afterwards he says also to Solomon : "And behold thou hast with thee, Shemei, the son of Gera . . . which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim; but he came down to me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the Lord, I will not put thee to the death with the sword; now therefore hold him not guiltless, . . . but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood. So David slept with his fathers, and was buried." We have heard much of the awful death-beds of infidels, and of their awful last words, but never can we have a more awful death-bed, nor more awful last words than these : "His hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood." The last injunction of a savage heathen could not be more unforgiving, more bloody; and this is the dying, the last injunction, of the "divine psalmist," "the sweet singer of Israel," "the man according to God's own heart," the royal progenitor of Jesus.
The immaculate conception, as it is called, or to speak more correctly, the miraculous conception, is a pagan idea, a myth, a fable; it came from India, there is no truth in it; page 7 the whole experience of mankind and all medical science is against it: if Jesus was, and Mary was his mother, and Joseph was not his father, then another man was. Mary may have told the story we read, but if she did, it must have been under some aberration of intellect, or to conceal her faithlessness to Joseph; and we may be certain, she was no more believed by her neighbours then, than any woman would be, who under the same circumstances, would invent a similar story now.
When Jesus was born, wise men came from the east to see the baby, and a star guided them on their way "till it came and stood over where the young child was." While on their way, these wise men, though guided by the star, foolishly call on Herod the king, at Jerusalem, and ask him, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews.' Herod pricks his ears, scents a rival, and inwardly resolving to cut the rival's throat, asks the wise men to search carefully, and when they have found the child, to bring him word, that he also may go and worship it. The wise men would have fallen into Herod's trap, but are warned by God in a dream; and having seen the child, return to their own country another way. Joseph, also warned in a dream, flies with his wife and child into Egypt, and Herod, balked in his intentions, is so enraged, that he slaughters all the male children in the village, from two years old and under. By this story, the birth of Jesus causes the slaughter of a whole village-full of infants. Why were their parents not warned as Joseph was? or why was not the heart of Herod turned aside from his bloody intention? But do not afflict your minds, it never happened; neither Herod nor any other Roman deputy ever perpetrated such a butchery; it is a Hindoo legend altered. In Jacollint's "Bible in India," Chrishna and his virgin mother fly in like manner from the reigning king, who pursues with bloody purpose. As to the star and the wise men, what nonsense! the Dog-star for instance, taken from his sphere in the heavens and sent before these old fools, like a boy with a lantern to shew them the dwelling of a lying-in woman; men about the bed of a woman in that condition could not be wise men, any doctor or nurse now-a-days, would soon pack them off; the husband, on such occasions, is scarcely tolerated. Wise men indeed! why it was their stupidity, according to the page 8 account, which caused the slaughter of all the male children of the village.
The family affections exercise an important function in binding society; Moses issued the injunction, "Honour thy father and thy mother." In the rudest society filial feeling is strong, and also the fraternal; the attachment is frequently undemonstrative, but it is firm and steady, and of the character of social duty. Jesus, in his own life, treated the family affections with neglect, and in his teaching, set them altogether aside. When a boy of twelve, his parents took him to Jerusalem on the occasion of a religious festival, and, when a day's journey on their way back, they missed him, and returning to Jerusalem, they, after three days search, found him in the temple talking with the doctors. His mother, evidently annoyed, said, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us behold thy father and I sought thee sorrowing!" Did he say he was sorry for having given them pain and trouble? Not he. He replies, "How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be in my father's house? They did not reply to his double question, but I do. First, his parents sought him because of parental affection; and second, they "wist" not that he must be in his father's house—the temple, or they would not have searched three days for him; and, I add, that had he had a proper sense of duty to his parents, and any tenderness for their feelings, he would have asked and obtained leave to remain behind, before he did so. He cannot be allowed to escape from the duties of a son by assuming that he was God. If men are neglectful of social duties, and consequently, bad members of society, when they are also Gods, then the fewer men we have that are Gods the better. Jesus returns with his parents, and "was subject unto them." This remark, coming so shortly after the reproof his mother gave him, seems to indicate an amendment in conduct; but after he had entered public life, he speaks even more irrevently to his mother. On the occasion of his alleged changing water into wine, and before he performed the feat, his mother remarked to him, "They have no wine," and he replies, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." On another occasion while addressing an audience, he is told that his mother and brethren are standing outside, wishing to speak to him; he neither passes out to speak to them, nor asks the crowd to allow them to pass in to where page 9 he was; but stretches forth his hand towards his disciples, and says, "Behold my mother and my brethren." It is plain then, that he had quite cut himself adrift from family sympathies and family duties, and, what is more, he demanded that those who followed him should do the same. To one who determines to follow him he refuses the permission to go first and bury his father, and to another he refuses leave to go and bid farewell to those at his house. In Matthew, when sending out his disciples, he says, "He that loveth father or mother, . . . son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;" and in Luke, he says, "If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father and mother, and wife and children and brethren and sisters, ... he cannot be my disciple."
On one occasion, and while on the cross, he does exhibit filial feeling. His mother and a disciple are standing by, and he says to his mother, "Behold thy sou," and to the disciple, "Behold thy mother," and the disciple took her to his own home. This is as it should be, and creditable alike to Jesus and the disciple. To Jesus for thinking of his mother's necessities when he was in great suffering, and to the disciple for his prompt and practical attention to the hint. But wait, we will consider; from Jesus thus directing the attention of the disciple to his mother, and that disciple taking her at once to his home, we must infer that she was in needy, if not destitute circumstances; but have we any reason to believe that? The family consisted of, Joseph the father, Mary the mother, Jesus the eldest son, four other sons and some daughters; Joseph and Jesus (his son,) were carpenters, what occupations the other four sons followed is not stated. We are not informed that Joseph had died, or that his other four sons had died, or that any calamity had befallen the family, whereby it was broken up and the mother left destitute and homeless; so we are quite without a reason for believing that the disciple took her to his home, and, consequently, the rest of the incident must also fall to the ground.
Jesus was a disciple and pupil of John the Baptist; John baptized him; and, when Jesus began to preach, he took the same subject as the Baptist: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." John uses the epithet: "offspring of vipers," Jesus, "generation of vipers." John says, "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast page 10 into the fire." Jesus repeats the same words. John says, "He that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath food let him do likewise." Jesus says, "If any man would go to law with thee and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;" this is John's precept repeated and spoiled. John was an abstemious man, Jesus was not,—John fasted, Jesus feasted; John was hardy and ascetic, dispensing with the society of women; Jesus was soft, and waited on by women. John was resolute, and reproved Herod; Jesus was irresolute, and incapable of such boldness. John, we read, was imprisoned and afterwards, without trial, beheaded; not for any crime, but for expressing an opinion upon Herod's marriage. If Jesus had had affection for his old master, and the spirit of a public man, he would then have expressed to the people his indignation at the tyranny of Herod. Here was a worthy theme for invective and denounciation; much higher game than the Scribes and Pharisees; but he had no desire to improve the opportunity. When the disciples of John, after having buried his body, come and tell Jesus what has been their master's fate, Jesus "withdraws from thence in a boat to a desert place apart," evidently bent upon his own safety; and, not throughout his whole ministry, as it is called, does he utter one word against this deed of Herod's.
That Jesus was not abstemious like John, listen to his own words: "John the Baptist is come, eating no bread nor drinking wine, and ye say, 'He hath a devil;' the Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and ye say, 'Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibbler.'" We read also that he attended a feast Levi made when called to be a disciple, that he dined with a Pharisee, attended a marriage feast and made a fresh supply of wine for the guests when the original stock "gave out." That he was "soft" the following will prove : "There was at the table, reclining in Jesus's bosom, one of his disciples whom Jesus loved" He asks Peter, until Peter is annoyed, this one question : "Simon, son of John, lovest thou me." He preferred Mary, who "sat at his feet and heard his word," to her sister, Martha, who bustled about, cooked for him and served him. When dining with a Pharisee, he allowed a woman to wet his feet with her tears, wipe them with her hair, kiss them and anoint them; his host, the Pharisee, felt scandalized, and Jesus addresses him page 11 thus: "I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet, but she hath wetted my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair; thou gavest me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet; my head with oil thou didst not anoint, but she hath anointed my feet with ointment."
Jesus was evasive and irresolute; he does not meet his questioners with direct replies, but quibbles, to baffle them; and the compilers of these veracious writings always report him the victor in these word squabbles. After his driving the money-changers out of the temple, as reported, the chief priests, scribes and elders come to him and civilly ask : "By what authority doest thou these things, and who is he that gave thee this authority?" (Were any carpenter in our day to enter a stock exchange, or even a church bazaar, and act as he had done, he would not have such consideration shown him, but would soon be in the lock-up.) He replies, "I also will ask you a question : The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from men?" And they reasoned with themselves: "If we shall say from heaven, he will say, 'Why did ye not believe him?' but if we shall say, from men, all the people will stone us, for they be persuaded that John was a prophet; and they answered that they knew not whence it was; and Jesus said unto them : "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things."
Another time he is asked, "Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar or not?" But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, "Shew me a penny; whose image and superscription hath it? (as if he did not know.) And they said, "Cæsar's." And he said unto them, "Then render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's." The Jews were then a conquered people, and the question actually was : Ought they to pay tribute to their conquerors? but Jesus evades the question. When before the elders and chief priests, they say to him : "If thou art the Christ, tell us." He replies : "If I tell you ye will not believe." He is again asked : "Art thou the son of God?" and replies : "Ye say that I am!" Pilate asks him : "Art thou the King of the Jews?" He replies : "Thou sayest!" He is also sometimes sullen, giving no answer when questioned; when accused before Pilate, "he answered nothing;" when before Herod, "Herod was page 12 exceedingly glad, for he was of a long time desirous to see him, . . . and he questioned him in many words, but he answered him nothing."
The most cursory reader of the gospels, if not an implicit believer, must observe the strong bias with which the writers write in favour of Jesus, and against anyone who differs from him: they who question him, are represented as doing so with "craftiness," or "tempting him," or "laying in wait to catch him." They receive no credit for honesty of purpose, and they are represented as so completely floored with his replies, that "they durst not any more ask him any question," and the multitude are described as "amazed," and "astonished" with his utterances. The writers of the gospels are the most glaring ex parte writers met with.
The most resolute of the acts of Jesus we read of, was clearing the money changers out of the temple, and that requires verification. When he expected to be arrested, he contemplated resistance, and told his disciples to buy swords; they reply they have two, which he says is enough. At the arrest, Peter valourously draws one of the swords and cuts an ear from the servant of the high priest, Jesus orders him to put up his sword, and reproves him for using it; and thus ends the resistance. Jesus also shewed resolution in attacking the Pharisees, and vigour in denouncing them. I am always nauseated with those sickly, painful faces artists give of Jesus, and would like to see a representation of him standing with animated countenance and uplifted arm, like a world's reformer, and as we may suppose he stood when he thundered out: "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites." I suppose such a picture has never been done; it might not be orthodox; but the bold out-spokenness attributed to Jesus in the case of the Scribes and Pharisees is so unlike his usual character we must enquire into it.
Much of the feud between Jesus and the Pharisees was upon cleanliness. We read that "The Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, . . and when they come from the market, except they wash themselves, they eat not; and many other things there be which they have received to hold : washings of cups and pots and brazen vessels." To us, these cleanly habits of the Pharisees seem quite proper, but the disciples of Jesus did not wash their hands before they sat down to eat, and the Pharisees page 13 found fault with them for this dirty habit. And they did quite right, particularly when we remember that some of the disciples were fishermen; for everyone knows that fish are such slimy, scaly things, that after handling them, as fishermen must, one wants a good deal of washing. But Jesus rages against the Pharisees, says they cleanse the outside of their crockery while "the inward part is full of extortion and excess;" and utters many other charges, abusive remarks and ominous woes, but gives not a solitary instance of fact in proof. Here is the testimony of Josephus regarding the Pharisees : "They live meanly and despise delicacies in diet, and they follow the conduct of Reason; and what that prescribes as good for them they do; and they think they ought earnestly to strive to observe Reason's dictates for practice. They also pay respect to such as are in years." And again in the same paragraph : "The cities gave great attestations to them on account of their entire virtuous conduct, both in the actions of their lives and their discourses." With this most unexceptional testimony of Josephus to the moral character of the Pharisees, and the testimony of the writer of Mark to their cleanly habits, we may consider their reputation completely cleared from the imputations which have so long rested on it.
The Pharisees followed the conduct of Reason and did not believe in Jesus, that was their double offence, and why he hurled his invectives at them. Was this the beginning of the enmity between Reason and the Church? Is this the earliest tradition of that feud between Rationalism and Christianity? which has been handed down to us with such awful fidelity through all the mutations in society and manners in these long nineteen centuries, and which now exists as certainly as ever, though toned down to the fashion of current civilization.
Jesus had no fortitude. He could not endure hunger patiently, and quailed at the approach of death. One morning, returning from Bethany to Jerusalem hungry, he made for a fig tree he saw, in the hope of getting a few figs, but the tree was only in leaf, as the fig season was not in. He did not know that, though every boy about did, and was so disappointed and enraged at not getting any figs, that he cursed the tree, and, the writer of Matthew adds, "immediately the fig tree withered away." Of course we do not believe that, but page 14 the rest is quite possible with an absent-minded and petulant person. We are told that Jesus was born for the long pre-meditated and express purpose of dying to save us. A benevolent-minded person, if convinced that by his death he would deliver millions from misery, would be elated at the approach of death, and meet it cheerfully. Many a patriot, many a martyr, who for the deliverance of his fellows from some wrong has lived a harassed and persecuted life, has also at the end met a violent death firmly, cheerfully, and even glorying that he suffered in his noble cause. Not so Jesus. The anticipation crushes him from the first. Before he performs his first miracle it weighs on him, and he remarks, "Mine hour is not yet come." On several occasions he alarms his disciples, telling them, "The son of man shall be delivered up." Later, he says, "The hour cometh." Then, "The hour is come." And on the night preceding his execution he is most abjectly prostrated and broken down; prays three times to avoid the fate; and, although the account says there was "an angel from heaven strengthening him," he sweat terribly, and it was the winter season, when they had to make fires; and, to close this painful picture of absence of manly fortitude, next day as he dies he utters the awful and God-accusing cry : "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Neither the death-bed injunctions of David nor the death-cry of Jesus are enviable. Lying Christians may cease to waste their talents fabricating infidel death-beds. They can never surpass these two death-scenes, the one for unforgiving malignity, and the other for soul-harrowing despair. If God forsook Jesus at his death, what guarantee has the believer that He will remain by him. The writer of John does not record this death-cry against Jesus, but merely says, "He bowed his head and gave up the ghost." This is more in accordance with human observation, and the version we would rather believe. The testimony of physicians, nurses and mothers is, that agony and violent expression in the hour of death is of very rare occurence. The patient usually fades from life like a dying candle, like the last feeble beats of a clock run down, like the wearied passing into sleep. Jesus did hot die on his bed, certainly, but neither do they who die from wounds, on the battle field, and they do not cry out at the last with a "loud voice." It is not the violence, but the stillness of death that appals our ignorance. The fear of page 15 death is the last enemy to be destroyed. It sears the heart into selfishness, terrifies the intellect with goblins, and the sooner everyone who means well to the race begins to destroy this fear and foster manly courage and cheerful resignation the better for the race.
Jesus was not popular like John the Baptist. We read that when John came preaching there "went out to him all Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about Jordan, and they were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." We read that "Herod feared John" and also that "when he (Herod) would have put him to death he feared the multitude." When Jesus questioned the priests, scribes and elders regarding the baptism of John, they say, If we shall say his baptism was from man "All the people will stone us, for they be persuaded that John was a prophet." How different was the case when the priests and elders resolved to put down Jesus. When under arrest, Pilate would gladly have released him, but the people cried out: "Not this man, but Barabbas," and Barabbas was a robber. Pilate persisted for his release, but the multitude "cried out exceedingly, saying, 'Let him be crucified.'" Pilate washed his hands before the people to clear himself of any participation in the death; and the people said, "His blood be on us and on our children." How is this? How is it that in these writings it is represented that Jesus, who is alleged to have cured multitudes of sick, lame, blind, palsied, leprous, and possessed of devils, fed the people four and five thousand at a time, and called the dead back to life; how is it I ask, that the same people are furious for his blood, will not listen to the suggestion of the governor to release the prisoner, are not touched by the governor's most significant, public act of washing his hands, but cry out: "His blood be on us and and on our children," and John the Baptist, who cured no diseases, fed no thousands, raised none from the dead, is so popular with the people that the scribes are afraid to express an opinion on his baptism, and Herod is afraid to kill him? These relations and representations are too self-contradictory to deserve any belief.
About the alleged resurrection of Jesus little need be said. We have read of criminals who have suffered the extreme penalty of the law having been resuscitated by their friends and lived afterwards for years. The story of the resurrection page 16 of Jesus may have such a foundation, but it is not within the whole range of human experience that ever a dead person was brought to life. There have been many cases in which the functions of life have been restored to activity in persons who have been apparently dead, but the fact that these functions were so restored is proof that the persons were not dead. If Jesus was dead when laid in the tomb, he never rose.
We read that Jesus "went about doing good" How? By miracle. But there is no miracle. It is a sound scientific fact that there can be none. The universe is one unbroken connection or web, of cause and effect, in which there is not an unoccupied point or crevice where such a foriegn, unnatural, and purely imaginary thing as a miracle could be placed. Health is such an invaluable blessing, and disease such a blighting curse, that, if Jesus possessed the power of healing as written, and could communicate the same power to others, or instruct them how to acquire it, he is deeply culpable for having left the world without inoculating mankind with, or instructing them in this healing power. Common humanity is better disposed than that: every year thousands of our cleverest young men, and now young women also, enter our colleges and commence the study and practice of the art of healing, and give their whole lives to the laborious task. Every year we have hospitals built and extended for the lodgment, comfort and cure of the sick, blind, dumb, maimed and insane; and here we read in the New Testament, there was a man, who by a word or touch, or touch of his clothing, cured multitudes of every description of disease and insanity. He dies, and this immense boon to diseased and suffering humanity he conceals, does not leave it with any depositary, does not contribute one idea, one fact, one prescription towards the noble art of healing, and we are left to toil along in the tedious, but it appears, only course of study, erection of hospitals, and the application of nursing and the best remedies we can discover towards the cure or alleviation of sickness.
If anyone had possessed the power of healing as we read of Jesus having had, and could have made the power or art common property, and died without doing so, there is no epithet strong enough in language to apply to him; but Jesus never had such power, the cures ascribed to him are merely traditional legends the editors of the gospels have incorporated for the sake of embellishment and effect. It is the same page 17 with the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand. If Jesus had left us this power of feeding thousands with a few loaves, how many thousand times since he is said to have so fed the hungry, could it have been applied; but he had no such secret to leave, and the only course for us is to impose assessments, erect poor-houses and hospitals, and in emergency cases collect subscriptions. The "doing good" by miracle is beyond our imitation, and therefore the alleged example of Jesus in this matter is of no practical use to us, nor is it instructive. There would be no merit in doing good by supernatural power, the merit would belong to the supernatural power. A good man with the power of doing good by miracle would require no urging. It would be impossible to restrain him. Take from the life of Jesus the cures he performed by miracle, and the hungry he fed by miracle, and what good acts of his are left. We do not read that he ever gave alms to the poor, that he ever housed and fed them, that be ever helped to pull an ox or an ass out of a slough, that he ever rescued a person from drowning, that he ever helped to extinguish a fire. "Went about doing good" indeed. Let us have some instances not miraculous; these are shut out of court. We know that Cook, Franklin, Livingstone and others spent their lives in the cause of exploration and have done good. We know that Faraday and others spent their lives in scientific investigation and have done good. We know that those who have so far perfected the steam-engine, and applied it to manufacturing and carrying purposes, have done good. We know that those who have studied the human body and the art of healing, walked the hospitals, and waited amidst infectious disease by the bedsides of the sick and the dying have done good. We know many a life-boat's crew has faced without fear the dangers of a boiling surf, rescued the drowning from many an ill-fated vessel, and done good. We know that our firemen have, often and again, rushed through smoke and flames, saved helpless women and children from a horrible death, and done good. We know that the Victoria Cross decorates the breast of many a hero, who, at imminent peril to his own life, has carried oft' his wounded fellow soldier from a bloody field, and done good. And we know there is a society called "The London Humane Society," which has issued thousands of medals to men, and even to dogs, who have gallantly, and at the risk of their own page 18 lives, saved the lives of others. And let me ask you, in a whisper, What did Jesus do? Alas! for this idolised ideal : what there is of it human is not superior, and that of it which is superhuman we cannot believe and cannot imitate.
We have seen that Jesus contemned family relationships, yet, with an inconsistency, not strange, but common in these gospels, he is represented as fond of the society of women, they are often with him, and he is also represented as fond of children. Yet he does not marry. It would surely have been more in keeping with social usage, and kept down scandal, had he done so, and been waited on by his own wife rather than by strange women. No one need be shocked at the idea of Jesus marrying. If he was, he was only a man, and to marry is a man's duty. He often refers to himself as the bridegroom, which is very near to marrying. But the point with which I am more concerned is, that though he said that the man who "hateth not his own children cannot be my disciple," yet he is represented as fond of children, and said, so we read : "Suffer little children to come unto me . . . and he took them up in his arms and blessed them." If we understand Jesus to be the Church, this fondness for children is explained. Children are the stay, the hope of the Church. If the Church has them for the first fourteen years of their lives, it is certain of nineteen of every twenty of them as men and women afterwards. That is why the Church is so wroth with state education and secular education. It would still manipulate the growth of ideas, and keep society clinging to its skirts as the only guide, "the light of the world—the good shepherd—the comforter." Yes, the Church is fond of little children! it likes their submission, their believing capacity, their pliability, their convertibleness. These are just the materials upon which a church can operate with credit, and fashion into the desired shape. After securing the children, the next thing for a church is men and women with the same docile and believing dispositons. Jesus said, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein." Men and women who ask questions, who want it to be explained how this is, and why that was, are an abomination and a pestilence in any church. Therefore it was necessary that in the gospels Jesus should be represented as fond of children, and that his followers should be required to become as children. These gospels, and many page 19 more, were edited by literary artists in the Church, and for the Church, and the four we have are those the Church, after deliberation, commended and accredited. Sheep and the Shepherd—the Church, are truthfully suggestive figures of speech. Sheep are so docile: they allow themselves to be led and driven and folded and fleeced without resistance, without an expression of their own will in the matter; the figure befits the church and its human flocks well! But the goats, they are fond of exercising their own judgment, of rambling where they choose, exploring brambly defiles, scaling rocky acclivities and dizzy heights. They must be the Freethinkers. The Church, through the gospels gives a forecast of the last judgment, in which the sheep are placed at the right hand, and the goats at the left of the judge, who, addressing the sheep, says, "Come unto me ye blessed," and unto the goats, "Depart from me ye cursed." The primary qualifications for admission into the Church are blind faith and docility.
Fallen women were in favour with Jesus. He tells the priests and elders; "The harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." Mary Magdalene was often with him. He permits, nay, approves that a woman who "is a sinner," a woman of no character, shall kiss and do sundry other things to his feet. He engages in a long conversation with a woman of Samaria, a woman living in a state of adultery or fornication, cohabiting with a man who is not her husband. When another woman, caught in the act of adultery, is brought to him, he says he does not condemn her. In none of these instances did he make any remark disapproving of the life these women had led or were leading. In his conversation with the woman of Samaria a good opportunity occurs, but he makes no use of it: the woman tells him she has no husband, and he replies she has had five, and the one she now has is not her husband. The woman admits such to be the fact and changes the subject of conversation. Jesus does not reprove her for living with one who is not her husband, does not even say her conduct is wrong, but they pass on to another subject in the most beautiful innocence and unconcern, as if Jesus had merely asked her, "How many children have you?" and she had replied, "Five : three boys and two girls." It is held that amourousness was not an element in the character of Jesus, that he was incapable of entertaining the passion. If he had such misfortune, it must have arisen from a defect- page 20 ive organization, but it enabled him to associate with these women with impunity. The women were decidedly infatuated with him. If he went amongst fallen women to reclaim them it was a good work, but we have just seen he did nothing in it. I would advise any young man of thirty not to imitate Jesus in this matter, but rather to avoid women who would toy about him as the woman with the ointment did about Jesus.
In the gospel narratives of the life of Jesus, what variations, what contradictions we find! One writer relates incidents of which the other three are silent, two, of which the other two are silent, and three, of which one says nothing! and in quite a multitude of instances where an incident is related by more than one, the relations are circumstantially different, often very seriously so. The inscription on the cross, few though the words are, is not given in the same words in any two gospels. To anyone believing in Jesus as a literal fact, and believing also that the gospels are inspired, it would be a painful task to attempt conscientiously to reconcile the narratives. I can only see two possible issues to such an attempt. If he who took the task were thoroughly honest and held to his faith his reason must give way, if he held to his reason his faith must yield. The difficulty about a writing for which inspiration is claimed is, you cannot help the writer out by suggestion; you cannot say he may have omitted something here, or overstated something there; he has not known much about this, or has got a wrong version of that; or, if be had used certain words, instead of those he has used, he would have conveyed the meaning better. No! you must take an inspired book as it is; just as you buy a horse at auction—with all its faults. But who said the gospels were inspired? The writers make no such claim, and they should have known best. The Church said so. Sacerdotalism said so. The same priestly impudence which consecrates allotments of the ground we tread on, buildings, water, candles and crosses, consecrated the gospels; and, although Protestants repudiate the church which consecrated the gospels, they hold to the consecration.
The Jesus of the Church is more easily comprehended than the Jesus of the gospels. Yet there is more than one Jesus in the Church: each section of the Church has its own Jesus, in which there are peculiar and prominent features; which though they may be present, are not prominent in other ideals page 21 The leading features of the Jesus of the Roman Catholic Church are suffering and submission. You all have seen the pictures of Jesus by the great artists, or copies of them: he is wearing a crown of thorns; the thorns have been beaten into his scalp, and the blood is trickling over his brow and down his agonized and tearful face. This is the suffering. His hands are crossed on his breast and his eyes turned upwards; that is the submission. What painfully typical truth there is in these pictures'. How real they are! How the touches of the artists describe what has been the teaching of the Church and the fate of Christians during these tedious Christian centuries. Suffering and Submission! what melancholy words, but how true. The history of Europe shows how true shows how full a cup of suffering the nations have drunk; and what palliative did the Church offer?—Submission.
The Church taught the people that they had inherited suffering, that on their own account they deserved suffering, that this world is a place of suffering, that God sent famine and pestilence that they might have suffering, that He handed them over to tyrants and spoilers that they might have more suffering, that the religious duty of the people was submission, and the Church quoted the words of Jesus : "I say unto you that ye resist not evil," and many more of his sayings enjoining the same submissive conduct. The ideal of the sympathising Virgin must have been a great comfort to those plundered, down-trodden Catholics. They made their prayers to her, and, although never a prayer was answered, it was some consolation to their torn hearts and wearied lives to look into those sad and affectionate eyes and pour their sorrows into her bosom.
The Jesus of the Episcopalian Church does not show so much suffering. The blood and tears have been washed from the face, which now wears the expression of sadness, helplessness and resignation. Submission is a prominent trait, and faithfully preached. This church is one of insipid symbols, dresses, routine and ready-made prayers. There are no pulsations of the human heart in it. It is not the church of the people, but the church of the bishops for the people. The wills of the bishops, and not the hearts of the people, give it the life it shows, such as that is. Toryism and it are sworn friends, and also friends by blood. It cares little for the page 22 Virgin, but is deeply enamoured of the twin goddesses, Place and Property.
With the Presbyterian church, the Virgin is simply an abomination. The suffering of Jesus is recognised, but the Presbyterian ideal of Jesus is as a solicitor. He is supposed to be seated at the right hand of God, and constantly pleading the cause of sinner clients. The submission half of Jesus is not so fully recognised as by the two preceding sections of the Church. "Be ye subject to the higher powers" is, as in the Episcopal church, a pulpit theme; but there seems to be concealed somewhere in Presbyterianism the heresies of impatience under suffering and insubordination to tyranny, which have more than once burst forth and placed beyond a doubt the fact of their existence.
We have also the Quaker Jesus, a man of peace, a non-swearer, of few words, but those plain, true, and to the point. A most excellent ideal. But the Quakers very sensibly reject the injunction of Jesus: "Take no thought for the morrow," and, with admirable prudence and thrift, take much thought.
"Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in.
Tell me the story softly, with earnest tones and grave."
"I am so glad that Jesus loves me."
"The voice of Jesus say :page 23
'Come unto me and rest; lay down thou weary one,
Lay down thy head upon my breast.'"
"That beautiful shore."
"The valley of blessing so sweet."
"The home over there."
and "The sweet by and by."
"I know not the hour when my Lord will come
And take me away to his own dear home."
"Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on his gentle breast"
the climax is reached.
Some may consider that the likening of Jesus in these songs to an affectionate conjugal partner lowers the ideal, but it must be remembered Jesus has always represented sentiment, never intellectuality, and the sentiment of conjugal love does him honour. Conjugal, parental, filial, paternal, or any other kind of love with hearts and homes in it is worth far more than all the theology ever written. Without domestic love, or even while a cloud obscures it, the heart and home are desolate, and life unendurable; with it, life is pleasant, the greatest difficulties can be surmounted, and deepest sorrows endured.
This ideal Jesus but very imperfectly satisfies that craving for sympathy and union which every sane person feels. That beautiful shore, The home over there, The sweet by and by and The arms of Jesus are mere pictures, imaginings, expectations, of the realization of which there is not the slightest evidence or even probability. We have read, "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone?" and here, when the tendrils of the heart are stretched forth, seeking the support and sympathy of kindred flesh, they are told to cling to Jesus. What is Jesus? It is not a visible presence; it is not a tangible substance; not even an historical fact. It is merely a fond imagining, and the heart broods and pants over its own creation, and then languishes when it finds that creation so unsubstantial. But since the human heart manifests such intense sympathy for a mere ideal, page 24 a brain picture, what an outpouring of practical feeling may we expect when these fountains are opened upon the real Jesus—the ever-present and ever-suffering humanity. When such sympathy is evoked by the contemplation of an un-authenticated, bleeding Jesus, and his hour or two of perturbation, terror and sweat, what sympathy may not be developed, when attention is directed to the sweating, suffering, harassed, and often bleeding millions of mankind.
"Weep you when you but behold
Our Cæsar's vesture wounded. Look you here,
Here is himself."
For how many centuries has thought, energy and wealth been wasted in dreaming. What has been called religion, has been mere dreaming, imagining, believing. The present, the real, and the practical have been continuously ignored. Man has been taught to pray, not to work; to neglect the practical and attainable, and dissipate his energies in quest of the impractible and unattainable; to despise the tangible means of happiness with which he is visibly surrounded, and yearn for visionary joys and conditions of being, of which the countless generations which have preceded him have never given any confirmation. He has been taught to rack his sympathies over the alleged sufferings of Jesus, and hardened into indifference to the real suffering which everywhere met his eyes, by being told that such suffering was ordained by God, and without remedy. Thus hath man dreamed, been taught and believed, nor is he awake yet. He begins however, under favouring circumstances, to rub his eyes, and feel, half painfully, half stupidly, awake. He begins to note that there are facts as well as dreams, and also, that the facts are the more reliable. When he acknowledges that facts are his only trustworthy guides, he will be fully awake. We have seen how he has struggled and pondered and suffered and sympathised in his dreams, which have been as the troubled sleep of a giant, and gave some idea of the force and sympathy stored up in him; so we may confidently anticipate that, when fully awake, that force and sympathy will brush away fantasies, re-cast society, and remodel even the face of the globe.
J. M. Smith, Printer, 243 Swanston-st., Melbourne.