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Nazareth Revisited


From the Cure of the Blind Men to the Call of the Apostles.

As the two cured blind men passed out of the house (at Capernaum), a dumb man was brought in. With no more difficulty than he could open the eyes of the blind, Jesus could loose the tongue of the dumb. A word sufficed to expel what was supposed to be the demon causing the dumbness. The supposed demon, though a myth theologically, was a reality physiologically, as we have before had occasion to notice. The dumbness was caused by a real disturbing presence, and the popular name for this was "demon" in the days of Jesus. In removing this, Jesus removed what was universally known as the demon. It mattered nothing that the notion in which that name originated was a heathenish notion, and an untrue one. It was facts and not their names with which Jesus dealt. He cured the dumb man with a word, as he had cured the blind men. The bystanders were amazed at the power evinced in such performances. "It was never so seen in Israel," said they. The implication contained in this exclamation (that Jesus was from God) was offensive to the leaders of the people -- the Pharisees. Many of the Pharisees were privately of the same opinion; but, as a body, they highly resented it. If the numerous and incessant and unprecedented miracles of Christ seemed to compel the conviction which they refused, they found their escape in the "theory" of the matter they had formed for themselves. They said "He casteth out demons through the prince of the demons." They did not question the miracles, but they tried to explain them away by a theory which they propounded on more than one occasion, and with increasing emphasis and distinctness as the fame of Christ's miracles grew more prevailing. "This fellow," said they, "hath Beelzebub, the prince of the demons; and by the prince of the demons casteth he out demons" (Matt. xii. 24; Mar. iii. 22). How foolish this theory was, Jesus showed in a sentence; and how wicked, he presently declared in words which are not exceeded by any of his utterances for terrible solemnity. On the first point, he argued that if Beelzebub were a prince of the invisible realms, it was not likely he would use his power (through Jesus or in any other way) to pull down his own kingdom. It must be a power adverse to Beelzebub that was dislodging his minions right and left as Jesus was doing. He appealed to their own doings in the case. Exorcism was an art practised among their disciples. Their theory of the art was that God gave them power to expel demons. They never imagined that Satan used his power to cast himself out. Now, said Jesus, "If I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges." In all this, Jesus took for granted me reality of Beelzebub, the heathen divinity whom Israel in their darkness had come to regard as a reality; and the reality also of the demons Beelzebub was supposed to have under his control. The question was not as to them, but as to the nature of the works of Christ. There was no answer to Christ's question on the Pharisean theory of these things. His works could not be of diabolical origin on their own theory of diabolical operation. But the Pharisees were of the class of theorists who are inaccessible to reason, and on whom he could only "look round about with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their hearts" (Mar. iii. 5). Nevertheless, for the sake of others who were to be reached by his recorded words for ages afterwards, he finished his argument, and uttered words of heavy moment. "If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God is come unto you. ... All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Matt. xii. 28-32). Mark adds "Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit" (Mar. iii. 30). It needs not this addition to shew the meaning of Christ's words about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The whole connection shews it. It was the crime of the Pharisees that was in view. The unforgiveable blasphemy of the Holy Spirit of which they were guilty consisted in attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to another agency.

That the offence should be unpardonable was, in the circumstances, just. It was both against reason, and against the evidence of their senses. It was therefore on a par with the "presumptuous sin" for which there was no forgiveness under the law (Num. xv. 30). The spirit in both cases was the same -- a spirit of wilful, wanton, presumptuous rebellion against the light -- a spirit which in any case makes the difference between that "sin unto death," and that sin which is not unto death of which John speaks (1 Jno. v. 16). It is this which gives character to the declaration of Paul in Hebrews that "it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come (a description applicable only to those who were the subjects of the miraculous gifts of the apostolic age) -- if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance" (Heb. vi. 4-6); and also the statement that "if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversary" (x. 26).

Much mental torment that might have been spared has been endured in connection with this subject of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Sensitive persons have feared they may have been guilty of the offence without being aware of it. An enlightened apprehension of the subject will shew them that such a case as sinning against the Holy Spirit without being aware of it is not possible; and further, that it is doubtful if the offence is possible at all in our age when the Spirit does not visibly assert itself. The ground of the special responsibility existing in the apostolic age was the evidence. "If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin" (Jno. xv. 24). In our day, the evidence has become obscure and difficult of apprehension for the common run of minds. The Bible is truly the work of the Spirit of God, and the man who says it is human literally commits the sin which Jesus says will never be forgiven. But the circumstances are different, and it is questionable if in the circumstances of an era like this, when God's face is hidden, such an offence would be estimated so heinously as in a day when the voice and hand of God were visibly displayed in attestation of His truth.

Before Jesus left the subject, he made a declaration much deserving to be pondered by all who recognise the voice of God in him. It bears seriously upon a habit of irreverence and thoughtlessness of speech which is more prevalent in modern than in ancient times. He said "I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matt. xii. 36). This solemn statement was evoked by the rash sayings of the Pharisees that his miracles were the work of Beelzebub; but it is evident that Jesus intended it to have a very wide application to "every idle word." The saying of the Pharisees gives us to understand what is meant by an "idle" word -- not an idle word in the literal English sense of a meaningless word said in an idle purposeless mood, but a word spoken unwisely and with a meaning detrimental to the honour or truth or majesty of God. Such may be spoken through ignorance or "of malice aforethought." In either case it is an offence, though more an offence in the latter case than the former. It is an offence to which men are peculiarly liable in this age. The misapplied constructions of science have nearly dissolved all sense of responsibility, and extinguished all sentiment of reverence. Human consequences are a check upon action, but in speech, unbounded license is the order of the day. The language of the psalm expresses the common feeling: "Our tongues are our own: who is Lord over us?" It is one of the many symptoms of the deep disorder that prevails in the world. It is a time for David's prayer, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: keep the door of my lips;" protect us from the flood of irreverent speech that passes on every hand -- the impure, frivolous, reckless, foolish chatter that undermines wisdom in every heart, turning reverence to scorn, and love to a theme for jest. The words of Christ will act as a wholesome antidote in the hearts of those who give heed. "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."

Reverence is the highest and the noblest faculty in the human constitution. Like all other faculties, knowledge opens the way for its exercise. The profundities and infinities and inimitable contrivances of the universe tell us of power and wisdom that inspire adoration; the revelation that God has made of himself through Moses and the prophets discloses to us the source and nature of those exquisite powers, and supplies the mind with a perfect fulcrum for the action of that faculty of reverence which finds adequate expression in the act of worship alone. Worship in the true sense is the highest function of created intelligence. It is the one that is most under a blight in the present state of things upon the earth. It is either allied with darkness, and amounts to nothing more than a superstition; or it is burnt away to nothing in the flaming light of mechanical intellect applied to mercenary use. Christ is the type of the few who will be selected from the chaos for the new cosmos of the coming time -- men of light and reverence. The development of this type is a work of great difficulty in the barbaric environment of modern life. But the Word of God makes it possible; and one of its moulding influences lies in the recollection that the irreverent and foolish use of the God-like faculty of speech will be brought into question in the great day of account.

After the cure of the dumb man, Jesus left Capernaum for a local circuit among "the cities and villages" of the district, "teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." This prominence of "the Gospel of the Kingdom" calls for notice (Matt. iv. 23; ix. 35; xxiv. 14; Mark i. 14; Luke iv. 43; viii. 1; ix., 2, 11; Acts viii. 12; xx. 25; xxviii. 31.) The kingdom was a constant feature, whether in his formal discourses or in his private and conversational contacts with the people and their leaders. It is impossible to understand his teaching without an understanding of the kingdom. The understanding of this has become difficult only on the assumptions of popular theology, which are inconsistent with the truth. When these are dismissed with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul out of which they grow, the difficult subject becomes easy, and a key is obtained which fits every part of his teaching -- whether his parables, his public discourses or his preceptive allusions. Jesus never defined in an elementary or formal way what the kingdom was. He assumed that it was understood by his hearers, -- which it was. Nevertheless, we may gather a clear idea of the subject from his allusions; and the idea so to be gathered is exactly what is to be derived from Moses and the prophets, as we should expect from one who said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." This is a very different idea from that of popular sentiment. The most favourite form of that sentiment in our day is that which thinks of the Kingdom of God as the relation of divine ideas to the human mind, individually applied. The whole realm of divine ideas is thought of as the kingdom, and our connection with the kingdom an affair of sympathetic contact with that realm, so that a man is conceived of as in the kingdom who is in subjection to divine ideas. That this was not the conception governing the language of Christ becomes evident from almost any attempt to harmonise that language with it.

When he speaks of his coming, he says, "Ye shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and many shall come from the east and from the west ... and shall sit down in the Kingdom of God" (Luke xiii. 28). This is the language of locality and futurity, and is used of men who were already (historically viewed) in the state of mind popularly understood by the Kingdom of God.

Again, when he speaks of public events as signs of the time, he says: "When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand" (xxi. 31). The same remark applies: futurity is intimated for "the kingdom" of this statement, and it is regarded as a thing of political and social relations.

Again, at the last passover celebrated by himself and his disciples, when referring to the future bearings of the scheme of things that bound him and his disciples together, his words were "I will not any more eat thereof until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God ... I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God shall came" (xxii. 16-18).

Such language could not be harmonised with a view which regards the Kingdom of God as a mental realm or state having constantly immanent relation to every man. It is only intelligible in view of the Jewish idea of an actual kingdom to be established in the Holy Land in the age of the Messiahs glorified presence. That this was the idea before the mind of Christ is evident from three things: --

1. That the earth is recognized in his teaching as the scene of the kingdom when established.

2. That the Jewish constitution of things, involving land, institutions and people, is always in view as the basis of that kingdom.

3. That the recompense of his servants is always linked in his parables and otherwise, with his second coming to enter into possession of the kingdom.

The proof of these three points is capable of an easy and brief establishment; and their establishment will not be out of place, in view of the key they furnish to the mass of his teaching, which we have yet to pass in view in the further consideration of the life of Christ *

The first point is illustrated by such a statement as "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. v. 5.) The "shall" of this promise shows futurity, and experience shows it has no fulfilment in the present. Take this inheriting of the earth in connection with the invitation to the righteous on the day of judgment, "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom" (Matt. xxv. 34), and we see the earth and the kingdom associated. The well-known petition in "the Lord's prayer" shews the same association: "Thy kingdom come: thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Consider also the assurance, "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" in connection with the revealed consummation of the work of Christ as exhibited to John in Patmos: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever."

The second point (the Jewish basis of the kingdom) is established first by his relation to David, the king of Israel, to which the angel gave political emphasis in the preliminary announcement of his birth: "The Lord God shall give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke i. 32); secondly, by his claim to be the king of the Jews (Jno. xix. 21), which was the ground of accusation that led to his crucifixion (verse 19); thirdly, by the promise to his disciples that in the day of his glory, they would be enthroned with him in kingly supremacy over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. xix. 28; Luke xxii. 30); and fourthly, by the apostolic anticipation that he would "restore again the kingdom to Israel" (Acts i. 6) at his re-appearing at the time spoken of by all the prophets (Acts iii. 20). The third point (the connection which he always makes between judicial recompense and his second appearing) is one of the most conspicuous features of the case, whether we regard formal declaration or the involved implications of discourse. "The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. xvi. 27). "The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.... What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch" (Mar. xiii. 34). "And it came to pass that having received the kingdom, and having returned" (Luke xix. 12). "Blessed are those servants whom their lord when he cometh shall find watching" (Matt. xxiv. 46). "Take heed ... lest that day come upon you unawares" (Luke xxi. 34). "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself" (John xiv. 2).

This must suffice as an illustration of the evidence afforded by the direct utterances of Christ, of the real and political and Jewish character of the Kingdom of God, which was the subject of the gospel he preached. The evidence in the same direction to be found in the promises made to the fathers, the covenant made with David, and the many statements of the prophets -- those "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit," it would be out of place to set forth here. The cases cited give ample indication of the nature of the "gospel of the kingdom" which he preached in the synagogues of Galdee in connection with the works of healing which he performed. That the tidings of the approach of a kingdom in which mankind will be governed and managed on the principles of heaven, should be considered good news (as the term gospel imports), will appear natural to everyone who realises how much human well-being depends upon the material and educational conditions to which men are subjected. But how much greater do the good news appear when they come to us in the form of an invitation to possess the glory and honour and immortality of the kingdom -- to become fellow, heirs with Christ of his throne (Rev. ii. 26). Those who may be disposed to think of such a conception of the kingdom as gross, and low, and sinister, have only to think the subject out to discover their mistake. The Kingdom of God, foretold by the prophets, and preached by Jesus, is exactly suited to all the needs of this afflicted world -- whether we consider the relations of man to himself, man to man, or man to God. There is no desire of any reformer; there is no sentiment of any idealist; there is no yearning of any philanthropic heart; there is no aspiration of any divinely thirsting mind, but what the Kingdom of God provides for the realisation of in the most effectual form -- all the more effectual because political. To be effectual, it must be political. A remedy that was not political would leave untouched and unaffected the most vital conditions of human weal. It is a false philosophy of human nature that has obscured the glorious character of the kingdom of God as the remedy exactly fitted to meet all the wants of the afflicted state of things now prevailing upon the earth.

It is part of the unapproachable completeness and greatness of Christ, that while inculcating the noblest principles of present action ever conceived by man, he should ally them with the highest motives of which the human heart is capable, by proclaiming the approach of an age and a government in which human life should be taken in hand by God, and so regulated as to yield the beauty and the joy of which it is capable, but which, under the conditions now prevailing, are unattainable.

The multitudes drawn by the teaching and the miracles of Christ during the circuit through Galilee now under consideration, excited his pity. "He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted (or, as the margin reads, 'they were tired and lay down'), and were scattered about as sheep having no shepherd" (Matt. ix. 36). They had-come from great distances, and persistently kept him company from day to day, and began to show signs of the fatigue inseparable from the irregularities of unsettled life. What led them to subject themselves to this privation? It was doubtless the hope and expectation of something good at the hands of Christ. They sought good in vain in all ordinary quarters. As sheep without a shepherd, they had no one to look after them, and made poor shift for themselves as they best could -- nibbling pasture when there was an opportunity, but more often fleeing in apprehension from the approach of the marauding stranger. In Jesus, they thought they had found one who would provide what they needed, and they flocked after him, and he pitied them. His compassion for them was something to which the people were unaccustomed. It was something pleasant to them, as compassion is to all human beings -- a something absent from all ordinary human leaderships.

It was something, however, with a painful side to it. His compassion, though active, was powerless for any effectual purpose, such as the people eagerly looked to him for. Had they made a mistake in looking to him as "the good shepherd" who "careth for the sheep?" Oh, no: but the circumstances were not such as admitted of the putting forth of his tending, protecting ministering power. They did not know this, and he did. "They thought the Kingdom of God would immediately appear," and he knew that the days of vengeance were at hand, long-gathering over Israel, and about to burst in unparalleled tribulation on the heads of that generation, who, notwithstanding the companies following him, were busy filling up the measure of their fathers' iniquities, in approving and imitating their God-neglecting deeds. Forty years afterwards, the storm descended, and swept them all away. There was a deep meaning to Christ's compassion. No wonder that he often "sighed deeply." No wonder that he wept, when on a later occasion he beheld Jerusalem in her pomp and glitter. No wonder he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. He wished the people who followed him the very best from the bottom of his heart, but he knew it could not be. The laws of God are inflexible; the people were such as could not prosper in accordance with their operation. Sin and evil are inseparable. Sin submerged the land like a flood, and it was not possible that the blessings which the people longed for could be allowed. Yet they sought after those blessings, and followed him because they thought he could bestow them. They thought not wrongly of him, but they discerned not the impregnable barriers that stood in the way, requiring even his own soon coming death. Therefore, the compassion that stirred his bosom was a painful compassion -- a compassion that would bless and could not, and yet could -- a compassion that could only yearn and weep and wait. How much a similar conflict belongs to the present state of things on the earth those can testify who have learnt to look on things with the light, while with the love, of God.

Jesus said to his disciples, looking on the multitude around him, that the harvest was great, if the labourers were few. He meant the harvest in a limited sense, for the true "harvest," as he afterwards said, in explanation of one of his parables, "is the end of the world" (aion). He had gone forth sowing the seed of the word, and the result had been multitudes of listeners everywhere, which he spoke of as a harvest which there was a lack of harvestmen to gather in. He was, in fact, almost the only one there was to look after it. He had disciples, but they took no part separably from him. They went with him, hanging on his words and admiring his works, and boasting in their connection with him. They were not such a help as the situation called for. He felt himself single-handed, and though that hand was a powerful hand, still, as a man subject to human infirmity, he felt the burden, and eased his mind, as well as prepared the disciples for the next phase of the work, by saying to them: "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers into his harvest." Did they do what he told them? Did they pray to the Father that He would increase the instrumentality in proportion to the need of the growing work around them? We do not know. Possibly they did, but probably they did not, for as yet they were but children in the work in which they had become associated with Christ. They would have such confidence in the sufficiency of Christ for all things that it would probably seem to them unnecessary that they should burden their minds with solicitude towards God on behalf of the work in which they were engaged. Here let us learn from Christ that men "ought always to pray," and even on behalf of such men and such works as may seem the strongest. He asked the prayers of his disciples on behalf of a work which he himself had in hand. Thus, also, Paul entreated: "Brethren, pray for us." The dependence of all things and creatures on the Eternal Father, through his boundless spirit filling and upholding the universe, and through which His will can affect the subtlest and the smallest conditions, would teach us, if we could but have our eyes open at all times, that prayer is a necessity for all work that is to prosper in the Lord.

Having pre-disposed the minds of the disciples in the direction of the need for a more effectual work by the distribution of labour, Jesus at the next recorded opportunity proceeded to separate certain of them for a more especial co-operation with himself. In this, we have the first proper appointment of the twelve apostles, as distinguished from the body of disciples that had gathered around him, and of whom they constituted but individuals in common. Their personality, their qualifications, and their instructions we may hope to consider in another chapter.

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