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§ 51. No alterations of Christ’s Plan.
It may be imagined, however, that although Christ was conscious, from the beginning, of his calling to realize the idea of the kingdom of God, the plan of his work may have been modified from time to time according to the varying results which depended upon the vacillating temper of the public mind; that at first, perhaps, he hoped to find the greater part of the Jewish nation ready to receive him; and designed, under this supposition, to separate the incorrigible from the better part, and collect the latter into a Theocratic community under his government; and that he expected that the kingdom of God, once seated firmly in this way, would, by the might of its prevailing spirit of Divine life, by degrees transform all other nations into the same kingdom. In fact, what an incalculable influence might a nation, thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Christianity and illustrating Christianity in all its relations, exert toward the moral regeneration of the rest of mankind! A light indeed would it be, not hid under a bushel, but throwing its beams on all sides into the surrounding darkness: the salt and the leaven, truly, of all mankind. And some,127127 De Wette and Hase. Paulus also, with some modifications. in fact, assert that Christ cherished these hopes when he first appeared in public. Hence, say they, the joyous feeling with which he announced the “acceptable year” in the synagogue at Nazareth;128128 Luke, iv., 17, seq. hence his purpose, manifested in the Sermon on the Mount, to give to the people new Theocratic statutes in accordance with his higher stand-point; hence his promise to the apostles that they should govern, under him, the new Theocratic community;129129 Matt., xix., 28. hence, too, his last lamentation over Jerusalem, that he had so often tried to save the nation which ought to have submitted to his guidance. All which, they say, presupposes a belief on his part that the results might have been different had the people listened to his voice, and that he expected more of them to listen to him; that the aim of his ministry was altered when he found the resistance more stubborn and general than he had supposed; and that, from the course of events themselves, he learned, in the light of the Divine Spirit, that the plan for the establishment of the kingdom of God which the Divine counsels had formed, was such, that he himself must submit to the power of his enemies, and rise victorious from his sufferings; while the kingdom itself was only to advance by slow degrees, and after many combats, to its final triumph.
Yet, after all, these reasonings are only specious, not solid. Even the most important of them rather opposes than sustains the theory they are adduced to support. It is true, there is such a thing as a holy enthusiasm for a Divine idea, which is blind to all difficulties, or deems that it can gain an easy victory. Such, however, was not the enthusiasm of Christ for his Divine work; on the contrary, he combined with it a discretion which fully comprehended the opposition he must encounter from the prevailing opinions and feelings of the times. He was far from trusting to the momentary impulses under which the people, excited by his words and actions, sought to join themselves to him. He readily distinguished, with that searching glance that pierced the depths of men’s hearts, the few who came to him, drawn of the Father and following an inward consciousness of God, from those who sought him with carnal feelings, to obtain that which he came not to bestow. How did he check the ardour of his disciples, when he rebuked the false self-confidence inspired by a transient enthusiasm, and reminded them of their weakness! There was no extravagance in his demands upon men; nothing exaggerated in his hopes of the future. Every where we see not only a conscious possession of the Divine power to overcome the world, which he was to impart to humanity, but also of the obstacles it should meet with from the old nature in which the principle of sin was yet active. This was the spirit which passed over from him to the Apostles, and which constituted the peculiar essence of Christian ethics. CHRIST, while as yet surrounded only by a handful of faithful followers, describes the renewing power which the seed that he had sown would exert on the life of humanity; yet, brilliant as the prospect is, his eyes are not dazzled by it; he sees, at the same time, how impurity will mix itself with the work of God, and how clouds will obscure it. Could He whose quick glance thus saw the depths of men’s hearts, and took in at once the present and the future, who knew so well the corrupt carnality of the Jewish nation before he entered on his public ministry, so far deceive himself as to suppose that he could suddenly transform the larger part of such a nation into a true people of God? He that searched men’s hearts and knew what was in man could not be ignorant that his severest battles were to be fought with the prevalent depravity of men; and in connexion with these struggles, how natural was it for him to look forward to the death which he should suffer in the faithful performance of his calling! Even at an early date he intimated the violent death by which he was to be torn from the happy fellowship of his disciples, leaving them behind him in tears and sorrow.130130 Matt., ix., 15. Hase says, indeed, that these words do not imply necessarily an approaching violent death, but might be uttered in view of the common lot of mortals. But, in the first place, Jesus, if he applied to himself the Old Testament idea of the Messiah, could not believe that he would be torn by natural death from the Theocratic community which he should found among the Jews, and thus leave it to the direction of others; but must expect (if he hoped to found an external Theocracy) always to remain present as Theocratic king. (This applies, also, to what Hase says (2d edit. of his Leben Jesu, p. 89), in opposition to his previously expressed views.) Again, it would be strange indeed for a man of thirty to express himself to older men, in reference to the common end of mortals, in such language as the following: “Now is your time for festal joy; for when your friend shall be removed, it will be time for fasting and sorrow.” The whole connexion of the passage shows that Jesus did not expect to part from them under happy circumstances, but amid many conflicts and sufferings.
His temptation, the historical truth and import of which we have shown, makes it clear that he had decided, before he commenced his public labours, not to establish the kingdom of God in a mere outward way by miraculous power. And this is further shown by his assigning, in the first epoch of his ministry, to John the Baptist, whom he called the first among the prophets, a subordinate place in relation to the new era of religion; for this could only have been done in view of John’s in ability fully to comprehend the essential feature of this new era, viz.; the spiritual developement of the kingdom of God from within. And again, in reference to John he said, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me;” evidently presupposing that John’s Old Testament views would be offended at the new era; a presupposition which refers to the new spiritual growth of the Divine kingdom. It is, therefore, undeniable that from the beginning Christ aimed at this new developement of that kingdom.
We find further proof of this in all the parables which treat of the progress of his kingdom, and the effects of his truth upon human nature, viz., the parables of the mustard seed, of the leaven, of the fire which he had come to kindle upon earth, all which were designed to illustrate the distinction between the Old Testament form of the Theocracy and that of Christ; to illustrate a developement which was not at once to exhibit an external stately fabric; but to commence with apparently small beginnings, and yet ever to propagate itself by a mighty power working outwardly from within; and to regenerate all things, and thus appropriate them to itself. All these parables presuppose the renewal of human nature by a new and pervading principle of spiritual life; and imply that the kingdom of God. cannot be visibly realized among men until they become subjects of this renewal. To the same effect was Christ’s saying (which we shall further examine hereafter), “neither do men put new wine into old skins, else the skins break and the wine runneth out.” He who uttered such truths, involving a steadfast and connected system of thought, could not have set out with the purpose of establishing an outward kingdom, and have afterward been induced by circumstances to change his plan in so short a time. What an immense revolution in his mental habits and course of thinking must a few months have produced, on such a supposition! It would be, indeed, a gross misapprehension of the precepts given in the Sermon on the Mount to interpret them literally as laws laid down for an outward Theocratic kingdom. Such an interpretation would involve the possibility of a struggle between Good and Evil in the kingdom of God; such as can never take place in Messiahs reign, if it be realized according to its idea. The form of a state cannot be thought of in connexion with this kingdom; a state presupposes a relation to transgression; an outward law, the forms of judicature, the administration of justice are essential to its organization. But all these can have no place in the perfect kingdom of Christ; a community whose whole principle of life is love. Laws intended for the free mind lose their import when their observance is compelled by external penalties of any kind whatever. More of this view hereafter, when we come to treat especially of the Sermon on the Mount.
Nor is a change in Christ’s feelings to be in any wise admitted. The year of joy [the acceptable year, Luke, iv., 19] did not refer to the happy results which he hoped to attain, but to the blessed contents of the announcement with which he commenced his labours; the substance of the message itself was joyful, whether the dispositions of the people would make it a source of joy to them, or not. And even on his first proclamation at Nazareth, the hostility of the carnally-minded multitude could have enabled him to prognosticate the general temper with which the whole people would receive him. It follows by no means, from the wo which he uttered over his loved Jerusalem (Luke, xiii., 34, 35), that he had hoped at first to find acceptance with the entire nation, and to make Jerusalem the real seat of his Theocratic government. Yet, although he could not save the nation as a whole, he offered his warnings to the whole, leaving it to the issue to decide who were willing to hear his voice.
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