Charles F. (Charles Force) Deems.

Who was Jesus? online

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tion, that he should give some intimation of his designs, and per-
haps of his plans, that he should at once openly unfurl the ban
ner of the Messianic campaign, and make a distinct demonstra-
tion against the Roman Empire, then " he opened his mouth and
taugltt them." That was all. But it was teaching that had truth
and authority of manner to make it impressive, and has been mak-
ing greatness and goodness for man from that day to this.


Elements of Lofty Character.

His first utterance sounds like the closing rather than the open-
ing of a discourse. It sounds as if much had gone before — very
many questions and no little discussion — and now
npiri't, for theirs is the the conclusion of the whole matter was to be
kingdem of the hcav- stated. He struck far away from all they were
looking at in the very first words he spoke. He
gazed upon them and cried out, "Happy the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of tiie iieavens ! " And this decision of
his intellect, coming as an outburst of his heart, he follows up by a
series of descriptive characteristics which mark the man who is
the happy or blessed man. And these we must carefully exam-
ine that w T e may find the philosophy of this Teacher, and learn if
possible the method of this discourse. It will be seen that they
all describe character, and that there is noplace for rank or wealth
or any of the outward distinctions of human life.

" The poor in spirit " is the first characteristic. As this is a
kind of key-note, it is not to be wondered that there has been much
diversity of opinion as to the meaning of Jesus. When we come
to see how spiritual is the whole tone of this discourse, we are
forced to feel that mere poverty, lack of material wealth, which is
the most literal bare sense of the word " poor," cannot have been
meant. It has been sujjQ-ested * that the words are to be collocated
bo as to read, " Happy in spirit are the poor." But there is no
authority for this arrangement of the words, and the oldest MS.-f

* By such writers as Olearius, Wet- I f The Sinaitic Codex.
stein, Michaelis, and Paulus. I


extant gives the order Maicdpioi 01 iTTwyoi ra Trvev/xan, and if the
arrangement were as suggested above, it would break the symme-
try of the beatitudes, and, finally, it would be notoriously false.
The people that listened to Jesus were poor enough and unhappy
enough. It would have been to them neither instruction nor com-
fort to tell them in rhetorical flourish that the poor are happy.
"When the Emperor Julian, in the fourth century, said that his
only object in confiscating the • property of Christians was that
their poverty might confer on them a title to the kingdom of
heaven, instead of a bitter scoff it would have been a benevolent
thing in the Apostate, if Jesus meant mere literal poverty. And
then it should follow that if one would benefit one's fellow, the
very best method is to take his property, burn his houses, strip
him, and turn him naked and empty on the world. There can
be no interpretation put upon the words of a man of common
sense which shocks common sense. Moreover, Jesus was a man
who was extraordinarily spiritual, and as far as possible from being
gross in his modes of thought. lie was surpassingly sagacious,
and as far as possible from being stupid, and therefore could have
had no meaning contradicted by the whole history of the race.

The phrase has been translated to signify voluntary poverty,
poverty from a spirit of being poor, " qui propter Spiritum Sanc-
tum volnntate sunt pauperes," as Jerome says. But that agrees
neither with the genius of the language nor with the analogy of
the discourse. Precisely the same grammatical construction re-
curs in verse 8, and the reader will see how violent a similar ren-
dering Would be in that passage.

There arc two interpretations which may be accepted as being
more natural under the circumstances, and more in accordance
with the whole drift of the discourse. One is by Clement of
Alexandria, who thinks that when Jesus pronounced the poor
blessed, he meant all those who, whether as to worldly goods rich
or poor, do inwardly sit loose from their property, and conse-
quently in that way are poor,— -a view similar to that of Paul in
i. Cor. vii. 29: "they that have as though they have not." That
may be a truth included in what Jesus taught on this occasion,
but is that the teaching? Let us see if we cannot find a still more
natural interpretation.

Let us recollect the state of mind of those whom he was ad-
dressing. "What specially made them unhappy was their sense oi


their worldly poverty as individuals and as a nation. In any age
of the world, to any people, that is most galling. The embarrass-
ments and degradation of such a condition us of in his own soul while they may be wholly unknown
to others, while at least two of the next three open into the visible

The hidden growth of grace now begins to bring forth fruit.
The man who has felt and mourned his poverty of spirit, who has
become self-continent and meek, whose heart has H thP mcr( jfuL,
been athirst for rightCOUSneSS, is not Selfish, but for they Bhall obtain
goes out in love and pity to his fellow-men. The
subjects of a spiritual kingdom, which is to consist in the para-
mount influence of love, are to be merciful. Conquering warriors
were not ordinarily merciful, but had what the heathen thought to
be the sweets of hating. The conquered were not merciful, but
had the sweets of revenge. And neither were happy. The happy
man is he who seeks to make others happy, whether they be good
and grateful or bad and thankless.

The next characteristic of the happy is that they are pure in
heart, heartily pure, loving purity, and seeking to have it inwardly.

* This translation I give from the I Pa xvi. 15. In our common English
Beptuaginl version, where it occurs in I version it is xvii. 15.


The logical connection between this "beatitude" and that which
Hai the ure in immediately precedes and follows is not qnite so
neart, for they shau see apparent. Indeed it is to be doubted whether in
the mind of Jesns there was anything of that
strict scholastic arrangement of ideas which so many commentators
endeavor to construct for this discourse. Nevertheless there must
have been in the mind of this great teacher some thread of dis-
course, some nexus of thought or feeling which prompted the
succession of ideas. Perhaps it is found in the meaning assigned
by Jesus, which may not have been the modern sense of purity.
Perhaps he did not mean those who are free from violation of
the seventh commandment, but rather those who from the heart
observe the ninth ; not so much those who are not carnal as those
who are not cunning. Happy the sharp, cunning man, is the
general verdict. Such men are supposed to be able to secure the
riches, the honors, the glories of the world. They are the grand
speculators, the successful diplomatists. But Jesus declares that
the innocent, the innocuous, those whose souls are honest, whose
intents are guileless, whose spirits are surrounded by a moral
atmosphere of perfect transparency, — that these are the blessed,
happy men.

And he assigns this remarkable reason for such blessedness — -
" they shall see God." Now, as all the happiness must in some
sort correspond with the condition of character stated, we can
be assisted by an understanding of one to the comprehension
of the other. What is this vision of God, and when shall it take
place ? Some have held that visio beatijica was real bodily sight,
others that it was purely mental, others that it was both physical
and spiritual ; some that it is now, others that it will be in the
state of existence which the soul shall maintain beyond the
grave, others that it is both here and hereafter.

That Jesus simply used these words in a spiritual sense I have
no doubt, nor do 1 doubt that they signify a blessedness which
is iu»t confined to either life,but is as true of the here as of the here-
after. It is familial- to the students of the Bible that these writ-
ers use "see" and " know" almost interchangeably. The Great
Teacher probably intended to convey the idea that in order to
know God, to understand His nature and His ways, simple-heart-
edness, clear. icss of the atmosphere about the mind and heart, is
necessary; that the sharpness which wins in the panics of life,


and the sagacity which obtains among men the reputation of a
knowledge of human nature, which reputation so many covet,
come to nothing in the studies which men make of God.

And that this is true every man may know for himself. The
best and noblest thoughts of God, the most sunny and cheering
and elevating, are not such as we have through commentators.
Few things are more disheartening than the reading of very many
expositions of the Scripture. The mole-like delving, the petty
distinctions, the insignificant discriminations, the scholastic sub-
tleties of " the Fathers," so called, the cold, worldly-wise argu-
mentations of more modern writers, are all so many obstructions
to the pursuit of the fresh truth. What truths they have are
arranged like the plants in the most artificial of Dutch gardens,
while the "Garden of God" is a jungle of natural beauties and
sweetnesses. On this question of the visio Dei, seeing God, read
what is said by Tertullian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Enthymius,
Tkeodoret, Vorstius, Yoetius, and a score of others, ancient and
modern, that lie on the table beside the present writer, and at the
•lost' you will feel as if you must rise and shake the skirts of the
garments of your soul, and plunge into some deep forest, or climb
some lofty peak, or go so far out on lake oi\sea that the sounds of
men do not reach you, and look up into the great sky, and down
into the greater depths of your spirit, and open the windows of
your soul that the air of the breath of God and the light of the
smile of God may enter.

" The world 1 >v wisdom knew not God " (1 Corinthians i. 21), is a
general truth. In the original the preposition used (Sta) contains
a figure of speech, which being incorporated the words might be
translated, " The world does not find God at the other end of
wisdom," by which is meant shrewdness, skill in matters of com-
mon life, and even ability in the department of dialectics. Purity
of character is needed, total cleanness of the soul, and such as
have this have the blessed vision of God. One such man, who
never befools himself with ('he adoption of an error because it is

Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Force) DeemsWho was Jesus? → online text (page 25 of 77)