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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§ 209. Christ refuses to interfere in Civil Disputes. (Luke, xii., 13-15.)—His Decision in the Case of the Adulteress.

It was natural that there should be some, among the number who came under the powerful influence of Christ, to seek from his authority the decision of questions foreign to his calling. In such cases he refused to interfere; his kingdom was to rule the hearts of men; not to establish outward law or equity. On a certain occasion, one570570   I cannot agree in Schleiermacher’s opinion that this was one of those whom Christ had asked to follow him. Had it been so, Christ would doubtless have replied to him, as he did to others, that his followers must be prepared to renounce all earthly possessions. It was not at all wonderful that a man who recognized in Jesus a teacher of Divine authority should ask him to arbitrate a dispute between himself and his brother, who may have also admitted Christ’s authority. of the listening crowd asked him to decide a dispute between himself and his brother in regard to an inheritance. The Saviour repelled him, declining to fix the limits of civil property and decide in questions of civil right; so important did he consider it to avoid even the appearance of intermeddling with the affairs of human law and government. And in the light of his conduct in this case, we see that Christianity is not directly to order the relations of civil society; this outward Divine authority is foreign to its calling. Christ worked only in his. own sphere, the sphere of men’s hearts; although, indeed, by operating upon the heart, he meant to operate upon every thing else; for all human relations grow out of it. He made use of this opportunity (v. 15) to rebuke covetousness, the source of such contentions; to show the vanity of earthly wealth; and to point out the heavenly treasures as the only object worth men’s striving after.

The case which follows undoubtedly belongs, chronologically, to an earlier period, not precisely determinable; but we place it here because of its affinity, in a certain sense, with that just mentioned, inasmuch as it involved a question of outward law.571571   [There has been much dispute about the authenticity of the account of the adulterous woman; John, viii., 1-11.] We think, both from internal and external grounds, that it does not belong to John’s Gospel (see Lücke on the passage); perhaps its insertion there was suggested by viii., 15. But in all essential features it bears the stamp of truth and originality. If invented at all, it must have been by the Marcionites; but in that case it would have been coloured more highly with opposition to the Mosaic law; nor could an invention of theirs have found such general currency in the Catholic Church. The difficulties consist more in the form than in the substance of the narrative; and even these can be readily overcome. As to the account in Evang. ad Hebraeos (Eus., iii., 39) of a woman accused of many sins before the Saviour, we know too little about it to decide whether it was true and original, or a mere exaggeration either of the one before us in John, or of the other account of the sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus (p. 211); or whether it arose from a blending of the two together.

At a period before the open and decided manifestation of hostility on the part of the Pharisees, while they were seeking privately to attach suspicion to Christ as the friend of publicans and sinners, they brought to him a woman taken in adultery, and asked whether she ought not to suffer the penalty of death prescribed by the Mosaic law. Had he ventured to pronounce her free, as they perhaps expected from his well—known gentleness to sinners, their object would have been gained; they might have involved him in a dispute with the law of Moses. As the question was foreign to his sphere, he at first paid no attention, but stooped and wrote upon the ground. They pressed the point, however, and he then drew the question out of the sphere of law into that of morality, which was properly his own. Looking round upon them with all his majesty of mien, he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

It is true, that from the stand-point of law the moral character of the judge is of no account; it is the law alone that judges. But from the stand-point of morality, he that condemns another (i. e., the sinner, not merely the sin) while conscious of sin himself, though of another kind, pronounces his own condemnation (Rom., ii., 1). His own conscience bears witness against him. In this case, therefore, Christ appealed to the consciences of the accusers, not only to dispose them to leniency, but also to awaken in them a common sense of sin, and need of pardon and redemption. To the woman, who was bowed down under the burden of sin, he said, “Neither do I condemn thee;” cautioning her, at the same time, to guard against falling again into transgression


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