Charles F. (Charles Force) Deems.

Who was Jesus? online

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his lips.

A poor wretch corroded with leprosy had heard of the power
and goodness of Jesus, whose reputation had gone down among
the outcasts in the tombs. lie came near the
wonder-worker, and kneeled, and fell on his face,
and worshipped, and said with extraordinary faith
and pathos, " Thou canst make me clean, if thou
wilt." The historians of the New Testament tell
this story with a calmness which seems itself miraculous. We
ordinary historians are moved by the touching postures, and acts,
and fancied accents of these two men. Laying all dogmas aside,
here is a historic group of profound and powerful poetic interest.
Standing there is a young teacher, who has aroused the dull ears
of plodding, stupid, ritualistic religionists of his day, and attracted
the attention of the fashionable, the gay, the heathen rulers of his
people, and of the busy merchants intent on trade. A populous
region begins to be full of his praises. He is stirring his people
and his age by religious views the most practical, full of common

Jesus heals a
leper. Matt. viii.
1-4; Mark i. 40-
45 ; Luke v. 12-

* .fflsch., Clwrph., 271-274.
f Tacitus, Ann., lib. v.
% In quoting from Isaiah the phrases
usually understood to be prophetic of

' ' the Christ," I am reminded of a strange
old Jewish tradition that the Messiah
was to be a leper.


sense, adapted to human wants, yet lofty and spiritual, and uttered
in a tone of paramount authority. His life is blamelessly pure,
The innocency of infancy, the tenderness of womanhood, the
strength of manhood, the gravity of a sage, the endurance of a
martyr, and the daring of ;i hero must have been the mingled
elements of his aspect and his manners. Serene and lofty and
sweet, Jesus stands, while at his feet a leper lies, disgusting,
loathsome, rotten. He has been burning with fever for many
years, for he is " full of leprosy." It is in his blood and flesh,
a lift and a torment, lie has no hope from medicine or nursing.
He can look forward only to a death-in-life existence, whose nights
shall be filled with dreams that scare and visions that terrify
(Job vii.), and whose mornings shall be an awakening to face an
approaching and inevitable doom. This is his only, his lasl
chance, lie has heard of the mighty deeds of Jesus. His faith
in the power of Jesus is unfaltering. The Messiah will be a
leper-curcr. This is the Messiah. He can. Willhel That is
•the question. 7/* the goodness of this wonderful Rabbi be equal
to his power the leper will be saved. But perhaps the leprosy is
the one evil God has determined not yet to remedy, and this,
after all, may not he the Messiah.

It is not improbable that all these thoughts passed through the
mind of the sufferer. He saw in fancy his home, his wife, his
babes, and all that makes the home circle powerful in its attrac-
tions. If the Great Teacher should cure him he should go hack
to all those dear delights. If he refused, then the tombs and
wretched companionship and despair!

117// he? Let us look up from the suppliant to that face of
lofty lovingness. Jesus is moved — moved with compassion. No
our else bad ever felt so for the leper. All others

lii i i i. -i. i i i '4.1 J' ThcsiifTVivianil

had been moved, but it had been with disgust or .. ,


horror. The brow of Jesus lifts Itself. The

eyes of the teacher soften and brighten. Hi- bands Stir slightly.

Llis lips quiver with emotion* [lis frame Is, perhaps, agitated.
All-health, unbroken Wholesomeness, untainted Physical Purity,
stands fare to Pace with Disease and Corruption. It is a moment
of critical conflict. Lie is about to speak a word which is to bo
decisive of his power or his feebleness. There can he no halt-
success. It will he complete, and BUrpaSS in its effects all other

words that over passed human lips, or be instantly followed by a


surrender oi moral power. lie dares to utter that word, and
does it with elevated calmness, fearless of ceremonial impurity
or infectious disease. Stepping forward, he breaks through the
whole ceremonial law that severed this abject sufferer from de-
cent people, and laying his fingers on the hot head of the throb-
bing leper, thrilled the sufferer with a delicious sensation, and
into his ears, all stuffed with matter of corruption, shot the music
of the simple speech of love and power : " I will : be clean."
More quickly than can be written the man at his feet felt new
fountains of health created at his heart, new blood coursing
through his veins, new flesh as of a babe's pushing the rottenness
from off his bones, and he arose, shook himself, sloughed off his
leprosy, and stood out clean.

Immediately upon the performance of this miracle Jesus

charged the healed man not to make it known until he had gone

to the priest, and offered for his cleansing those

., ? , , thinsrs which Moses had commanded " for a tes-

to the healed man. _ n

timony unto them," says Mark (i. 44). The Jew-
ish law at that time was that if a person should be restored from
the leprosy he should be examined by the priest of his district.
After seven days he underwent a second examination, performed
a lustration, and then went to Jerusalem, where he offered a pre-
scribed sacrifice and was pronounced clean. There were slight
forms of leprosy, as still may be found in Palestine, which were
curable. The sanitary regulations referred to these. But still, as
they were forms of leprosy, the separation had to be made. Seat-
ed leprosy was considered incurable, and, until the days of Jesus,
no cure is recorded except of those who were miraculously
healed in the times of the prophets. Generally Jesus enjoined
silence upon those whom he restored, and the reasons are appar-
ent. The importance of his ministry, as is always the case witli
great men, lay in his spiritual influence rather than in the mere
woids and acts which conveyed it. His miracles were only acces-
sories. For the spiritual as well as physical good of the restored he
commanded quiet. Nor did he desire to have his deeds so bruited
abroad as that his ministry should be obstructed by great crowds,
nor such enthusiasm generated as should lead to mobs or political
complications. These were general prudential reasons. In one
case, at least (Mark v. 9), we shall find that he gave an opposite
direction. But in each case, in addition to the general, there was


a special reason. The priest had pronounced him a leper : if the
priest, unmoved by the knowledge that Jesus had cleansed him,
should pronounce. him healed, the "testimony to them" would be
complete that Jesus had really performed this wonderful deed
and had thus established his claims to the Messiahship.

But the glad and grateful man could not be restrained. lie
blazed the matter abroad so much that crowds

came flocking to Jesus, until he was compelled to . * ' ,_,. wa

• i i i • i /» • ! • r » i from the P ubli c.
withdraw himself into a solitary place. And

there for some days he refreshed his soul by devotional exercises.

It was needful, for trouble was brewing for the great teacher.

A Messiah that removed himself from the public was not the

Messiah for the Jews. lie returned to his chosen

kr\ TT- £ it • i • Matt. ix. 2-8;

>me m Capernaum. Ills tame had grown m Ins , T , .. . '
1 & . Mark u. 4-12;

absence. People nocked to the house he occupied, Luke v. 17-26.
Whether it was a residence he had hired, or one that
belonged to some disciple, we cannot learn. But it was known to
the inhabitants of Capernaum, and to the strangers therein. He
commenced teaching. Among his hearers were certain Phari-
sees and doctors of the law, who had come down from Jerusalem.
It is not quite easy to determine the motives of these listeners.
They may have been drawn by the fame of Jesus, or they may
have been emissaries come to collect testimony against the voting
rabbi who had made such a commotion on his visit to Jerusalem.
Both classes probably were represented in this assembly, for Luke
intimates that he healed some,* while some were severely critical
upon his mode of expression in a miracle which he performed in
their midst. The miracle was on this wise :

Four men brought upon a pallet their friend, who was a paraly-
tic. The entrance to Oriental houses is ordinarily by the one front
door. This was blocked by the excessive crowd,
so that it was impracticable to press through:

, ', paralytic.

but the desire of these men, increased probably
by the urgency of the patient, was so great that they ascended
the roof, probably through the adjoining house, and. crossing the
parapet, either removed the hatchway, if Jesus was sitting in the

* The construction hero is a little these Pharisoes and di on its
difficult. The cwtovs in the original baa Caoe it Beeme Co 'l". for there was noth-
no grammatical antecedent. It is rather log in their cases to main them i
unnatural to Interpret it as meaning tdve ox his curative power.


upper chamber or removed the awning, if Jesus was sitting in the
court-yard. In reading the statement of the evangelical histo-
rians we must recollect the construction of eastern houses. "What
might be impossible as European and American houses are built in
our cities was not an insuperable difficulty in the East. But it was a
difficulty; and when Jesus saw the earnestness of all parties he said
to the paralytic, " Son, be of good cheer; thy sins arc forgiven thee."
How much depends upon a little word ! This speech by Jesus
was the turning-point in his history. If he had said, "May thy
sins be forgiven," he would simply have uttered
w J™ portanceofa an aspiration of piety. But undertaking to de-
clare upon his own individual authority the for-
giveness of the man's sins, in other words, forgiving /dm, he vol-
untarily took a vast step forward, ascended to a higher and more
conspicuous platform of claim, and aroused against himself all
the philosophic, religious, and traditionary prejudices of his peo-
ple. It was the commission of a most, if not the most, grievous
crime known to the Jews. It was hlasjrfiemy. It was a claim to
exercise the prerogative of God. It was making himself equal
with God. It was making himself God. And there was no re-
treat for Jesus. He had said it. The learned visitors sat reason-
ing with themselves, "Who can forgive sins but God only?"
Jesus read their thoughts, and manifested his penetration by tell-
ing them just what was passing in their minds.

He proceeded to establish this awful claim. Any fool or crazy
man may claim anything which is not susceptible of proof or dis-,
proof. What evidence is furnished that heaven
ratifies the assertion of any human being that the
sins of another human being are forgiven? It is a pertinent
question. The claim may be at once futile and sinful. Jesus
asked tb.em this question : "Which is easier — to say ' Thy sins are
forgiven,' or to say ' Rise, take thy bed and walk? ' : To forgive
sins is not less difficult than to heal disease, to one who can do
both ; but it is less easy of proof, as the latter is open to the senses.
But neither can be done without the will of God, and God will
not indorse blasphemy by a miracle, and therefore Jesus said to
them, " That you may know that I have power to forgive sins,
listen and behold." And turning to the sick man he said, "Eise,
take up your bed, and go to your own house." There was no
struggle, no slow stretching of himself, no painful effort to drag


himself and his pallet through the crowd. Immediately he stood
up before them, he gathered up that on which he had been lying
and started for his home. The crowd disparted. They made way
for this new wonder. The man went home shouting. Amaze-
ment, fear, and gladness took hold of the people. The great
power of God had come down among men.

It is to be noticed how Jesus, in the methods of this miracle, sets
forth the close connection between an unwholesome spiritual con-
dition and the physical maladies of mankind.
He treats a disease somehow as if it were a sin.
" Your sins are forgiven, rise up, go home." In this case, as per-
haps invariably in cases of paralysis, some sin, some excessive
3elf-indulgence, lies at the root of this bodily disablement. Jesus
is compassionate to the sufferer, but houest with the sinner. He
addresses him tenderly but faithfully. He calls him "son," but
gives him to understand that his sympathy with suffering does
not for a moment blind him to the badness of the sin from which
it sprang So indescribably sublime was the self-possession of
Jesus that no crisis threw him from his balance, and yet so obvious
is it that he never thinks of self-possession and mental equipoise.
His greatness inheres.

Shortly after the healing of the paralytic Jesus was found at
the sea-side, teaching multitudes who gathered about him.

Making a short excursion from Capernaum along the Lake of
Gennesaret, discoursing on religious subjects, he came to the
road from Damascus, which, crossing the Jordan
by "Jacob's Bridge " went along the lake coast to )lattbew ' s cal1 -

,, . i, . ... , • , -, ^Iatt. ix .; Luke

the neighboring cities. On this road, near Caper- v . m-irk ii
naum or some other town, it is quite probable
there would be a toll-house. Such a station somewhere - ;
came upon, and there found Matthew, called also Levi, who was
discharging the duties of a Roman jportitor, or tax-gatherer, com-
monly called " publican " in our version. It was the most degrad-
ing employment in which a dew could be found, it was making
himself, for gain, a Bervanl of tin- oppressor of his people. - :

ig to have known him. lie simply said to him, " Follow me,"
and Matthew immediately obeyed, 1 1 ere was another shock given
to Jewish prejudice. It was intolerable that he should select his
circle of nearesi friends and disciples from men whose reputation
waB so ruinously bad.



Matthew's feast.

But something more was done, probably on that very day, to in-
tensify the growing opposition. The newly called disciple made
a great feast at his house. All his old companions
were welcome to his table. On this day he must
have consulted Jesus, who did not object to dining with publicans
and those technically called sinners by the scientifically religious
Pharisees. And so there was a great crowd of bad men, and Jesus
and his djsciples eating with them. This seemed the crowning
outrage. lie had pronounced a man forgiven who had not gone
through the ritual, thus bursting the bands of sacerdotal succes-
sion and ecclesiastical exclusiveness. lie then broke down the
pales of social life, which were also themselves of ecclesiastical
construction. The Pharisees remonstrated with his disciples.
But when Jesus heard it he said to them, with splendid irony,
"They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are
sick. Go learn what God meant when he spake by his prophet,
' I will have mercy and not sacrifice.' (Ilosea vi. 6.) And I am
not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

His reply was silencing to the Pharisees, and should be instruc-
tive to people of all ages. It first quotes the proverb, " The physi-
cian is not for the whole, but for the sick," which
to the Ph ri was ^ llown to Jews and Gentiles, and is of uni-

versal use.* It was employed ironically against
these Pharisees. They were as unsound as the sinners that sat at
meat with him, the difference being that the latter knew them-
selves sin-sick and the former did not. Seriously, the place for
the physician is in the wards of the hospital, and not in the crowd
of hearty, healthy laborers. The man whose purity and exaltation
of character are not such as will draw the low to his higher plat-
form, and not be degraded to theirs, is not the man to be even a
Moral Reformer, not to say a Great Regenerator. Men cannot
from great distances do good to their fellow-men. It is amid the
amenities of social life that much is done for o;ood morals.

And then he quoted from their sacred books: "I will have
mercy and not sacrifice," says God. When afflictions come in
His providence they may have a chastening effect ; but lacerations
of ourselves or others, of our bodies or our souls, are not accept-

* It is found in the Talmud (Tal
Babyl, tit. Bara Kama, fol. 46, col. 2).
Used by Antisthenes in Laertius, Dio-

genes in Stohajus, Pausanias in Plutarch,
Ovid in " De Ponto."


able to God, who prefers a life of love to all self -tormenting.
Jesus seems to teach that whatever sacrifice a man may make fcr
God, if there be no charity, it all counts for nothing ; that charity
must animate all toils to make them beautiful in the sight of God.
As if he had said, " You Pharisees offer great sacrifices, and yet
are unmerciful to your poor brethren who make no religious pro-
fession. You are merciless ; how can you expect mercy ? "

From the proverb and the scripture he ascends to an authorita-
tive declaration concerning himself: " I am come to call sinners
to repentance, not the righteous." In this there seems some irony,
but the proposition involves a profound truth. In every age,
from every teacher, only those receive benefit who are conscious
of needing help. The Pharisees of every age are those whose ex-
terior deceives them as to their inward condition, and they are
the very people who receive the least good from the beneficial
agencies abroad in the world. Sinners, who being sinners, know
themselves to be sinners,, are those to whom salvation comes. It
is not the lack of power in the spiritual agencies that keeps men
from being good, but generally the lack of a sense of their own
need, and a willingness to throw themselves open to the sweet in-
fluences of the spiritual world. And thus he answered the

They had talked to his disciples; then the disciples of John
talked to him, and said, " AYe and the Pharisees fast often : why
do not your disciples fast?" Let us make all .

£ ,.?. £ .1 rp, • John's discipieo

allowance of charity for these men. 1 heirs was ob : ecfc-

a pitiable condition. Their master was in prison,
and they could not beartosee Jesns in the midst of festivities.
Their school had wellnigh broken np. Many of John's disciples
had attached themselves to Jesus. There were probably a few of
the stanchest and most obstinate followers of the Baptist, who
were ready to acknowledge what was good in Jesus, bul clung
closely to the modes and teachings of John, and in their obstinacy
classed themselves with the Pharisees. AJFter Biieh numberless
demonstrations of the folly of such :i course, it is amazing how
men persist in clinging to the dawn, and in suffering as it broad-
ens into the fulness of the day. Jesus answered them by almost
echoing the words of their great master. John had spoken "1" the
pleasure which the friend of the bridegroom enjoyed as he heard
the voice of the bridegroom. Jesns replies to these qraeruloua dia



riples of John, "Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, ns
long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come,
when the bridegroom shall he taken from them, and then shall
•iiey fast. No man putteth a patch of new cloth unto an old

garment ; for that which is put
in to fill it up taketh from the
garment, and the rent is made
worse. Neither do men pour
new wine into old skins: else
the skins break, and the wine
runneth out, and the skins perish : but they put new wine into
new skins, and both are preserved."

lie thus does several things in one reply. lie reminds them of
the light in which their master had received him, namely, as ful-
filling the prophecies by coining- to espouse the
bride. (Isai. liv. 5-10.) It ought to be a festive
season. The gladdest day of a man's life should be the day of
his nuptials. The disciples were represented as the intimate
friends of the bridegroom, those who were accustomed to go with
him to the bride's house to bring her to her home with great re-
joicings. It was not meet that they should fast, for it was the
Jewish teaching, as we learn from Maimonides, " that all fasting
should cease in the days of the Messiah, and that there should be
then only holidays and festivals, as it is written in Zechariah
viii. 10."

He reminds them of the difference between the old and the
new. The old must pass away. lie was come to inaugurate

the new. In the old hard dispensation there were
The old and the ~ , , , , , , * m, , ,

fast-cavs, when all must fast, lhere was to he
new. t ^ '

nothing of the kind thereafter. It is amazing
how this is overlooked by Church and by State in the absurd ap-
pointing of special days when all the community must fast or
feast together. What is one man's fast maybe another man's
festival. When a man has the sense of his Maker's love and
presence — his Maker is his husband, according to the old Hebrew
idea — he has no occasion to fast. As long as that remains he
Bhould keep perpetual holiday. It is only a sense of His absence
that should make a man fast, and that might befall him on an
appointed festival.

And so, having spoken of a wedding, garments and wine are


naturally suggested, and from them lie derives two very striking
illustrations of the proposition, that it is prepos-
terous to attempt to work the new into the old,
the new Present into the old Past, the new Jesusism into the old
Judaism. A man does not put a patch of new cloth on an old
worn garment, lest the strong patch tear away the weak cloth in
which it is inserted, and thus the rent hecome larger. Jesusism
is to he a totally new thing. It is not to be worked into the cere-
monials of Judaism. It is to be quite a new robe, all new.
There is no more need of the old Judaism. You may give it
away to poor beggarly creatures who may be content to cover
their nakedness with the faded spangles and rent skirts of its
threadbare ritualism, but the new ages are to wear a new dress.
And how greatly every effort of the later times to make the work
of Jesus a mere improvement upon Judaism, has made the whole
matter worse. Jesus swept away old things; "old types, old
ceremonies, old burdens, sacrifices, priests, sabbaths, and holy
days are all passed away: behold all things have become new."*
It was the style of Jesus to advance from some thought sug-
gested by an occurrence, or question, or objection, to higher and
higher truths, drawing men up to spiritual things

, & . . . i i j. i • L • Higher truths,

by the ordinary methods oi human intercommuni-
cation. The garment is external. Wine in the skins f is some-
thing internal. If these skins were old, the new and fermenting
wine would burst them, so that the wine would be lost and the
bottle be rendered worthless. Just such a result, Jesus taught,
would take place when men attempted to put the new wine of
his gospel into the old bottles of ceremonials: the whole would be
Lost. Very early men tried to hold the living spirit of Christian-
ity in the dead body of Pharisaic Judaism, and the result was that
they made neither good Christians nor decent Jews. The spirit
which Jesus brought into the world was the spirit of regeneration
rather than reformation of manners. In the individual man the
new Life of progress comes into him, and works itself out into the
production of all proprieties, lie cannot be made a new man by

•DeonAlford, Greek Testam

f .Milk and oil, water and wine, are

ntiil in the Mast. as 1 1 1 . v were in the

oa, cai i it 'l hi hoW L< a mode

of the skins of animals, commonly of

To this day they may b<
at almost ev< >-y turn in I Sj ria.

It is an ancient arrangemi at, u appear!
from ll.'ini r and Berodotu*.


mending him outwardly. But if any attempt to confine the cur-
rent of the gospel within the banks of certain prescribed forms,
all good results -will be lost.

Jesus and the spirit of his gospel are against rubric and ritual
and ceremonial, and churchism generally. He does not seek to
make churchmen, but Christians. That is taught in the saying
in reply to the question of the disciples of John. It is taught
everywhere. But it is a lesson professed Christians seem loth
to learn. They have repeated in all times the folly of putting

Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Force) DeemsWho was Jesus? → online text (page 19 of 77)