Charles F. (Charles Force) Deems.

Who was Jesus? online

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dom of heaven which lies all about you, like a sea about an
island below its level, an island from which the inrush of tlie sea
is prevented by dikes. Make a crevasse in all your old high
piled traditionary prejudices, and the kingdom of heaven will
sweep in.

That seemed to be the substance of the matter of his preach-

To preaching he united a rite of "baptism. Perhaps the origin
of baptism can never be discovered. The wash-
ing of the outer man seems always and every-
where to have been considered as somehow emblematic cf the puriri


* The expression, "whose shoe's
latchet I am not worthy to unloose,"
has its force intensified by comparison
with a passage in the Talmud : ' ' Every

office a servant will do for his master
a scholar should perform for his teach-
er, excepting loosing his sandal thong.'
— 'Tract. Judduschin, xxii. 2.



cation of tho spirit.* Much discussion has been had by the learned
on the question whether John's baptism was equivalent to the bap-
tism of proselytes; but it has not been settled whether that was
introduced before or after the ministry of John. But through all
the Mosaic law and ritual there ran the idea of a connection be-
tween the filth of the body and the impurity of the soul, and the
Jewish mind was familiar with the thought of effects attributed
to a rite which involved the application of water for the removal
of unhealthy taints. The Pharisees and Sadducees are represented
as coming to the baptism of John, — but not the Essenes. A large
part of their religion consisted in frequent ablution of the body.
And so, when John began to preach spiritual holiness, it is not won-
derful that he should adopt and administer the rite of baptism.
lint it was not Christian baptism, of course, as Christianity was
not yet inaugurated. It did not rise to the height of a sacrament.
But it must have had a deeper significance than any baptism pre-
viously known to the Jews, and John's specific instruction must
have unfolded that deeper meaning.

A very great use of John's baptism — perhaps it was so designed
— was that it broke through all priestism, all churchism, all ritual-
ism, lie was a private person. lie was, as to his ministry, in no
"succession." He had no ecclesiastical position, no ' ; authority."
But he baptized. The rite, as he administered it, was private. He
was breaking up the soil for a new kingdom which was to be very
free and spiritual, for a new form of the ever-during church that
was to have no priesthood, no close corporation of authorized dis-
penses of truth or pardon. And so he baptized. He that had no
more wight" than any other man, used an ordinance indicative
of spiritual purification.

After all, the ministry of John — brief, vehement, attractive, and
powerful as it was — seemed to have had little permanent effect
upon I lis generation. It was like a rushing mountain torrent that

Inum says (Hist. Christianity,
Book i. chap. iii. ) : "The sacred

uses .-ill mora] pollul to
the Indian ; among the Greeks and Ro-
mans even the murderer might, it was
supposed, wash the blood dean from 7iis

hand8 t ' and (in many of their e

rites) lustrations or ablutions, either in


the running stream or in the sea, puri-
fied the candidate for dn in< I I
made him lit to approach th<

i is." He quoti 9 the
•• Ali nimiuin faciles, q i imina

■ lis,

Tolli Qumine I ; : is nquA.'


moved some stones and float wood, and cut a channel deeper, but

soon passed away. " For a season " the masa

His ministry not of the people rejoiced- in him ; and such a hold

permanently ef- ]md ^ gecured lipon tlie popu l ar m ; nf J t h at t ] ie

Pharisees did not dare to deny the divine au-
thority of his mission when they were publicly questioned by
Jesus. But the people's passion is not steady. They were falling
away from the high excitement to which the sudden thunders of
John's arousing preaching had flung them. Bishop Ellicott elo-
quently says : " We may with reason believe that the harbinger's
message might have arrested, aroused, and awakened ; but that
the general influence of that baptism of water Mas comparatively
limited, and that its memory would soon have died away if lie
that baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire had not invested
it with a new and more vital significance. John struck the first
chords, but the sounds would have soon died out into silciice if a
mightier hand had not swept the yet vibrating strings." — Histor-
ical Lectures, p. 105.

In following regularly the career of Jesus we shall come upon
an occasion when he jjave his estimate of the character of John.



Jesus now comes forward from his long obscurity. "We have

seen him only once before since his infancy. Now he comes tc

the Jordan to be baptized of John. Let us eol-

. . , Jesus reappears.

late the records. • RT „x + ••• ,, , .

Matt, m.; Marki.

MatthevPs account (iii. 13) is this: "Then cometh Jesus from
Galileo to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John
forbade him, saying: 'I have need to be baptized of thee, and
eomest thou to me?' And Jesus answering said unto him, 'Suffer
it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.'
Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went
uj» straightway out of the/water: and, 1, the heavens were opened
unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove,
and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, 'This
is my beloved Son, in whom I ain well pleased.'"

Mark (i. 0) says: "It came to pass in those days, that Jesus
came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jor-
dan. And straightway coining up out of the water, he saw the
heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
and there came a voice from heaven, saying, 'Thou art my be-
loved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' "

Luke's narrative (iii. 21) is this: "Now when all the people were
baptized, it came fo pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and pray-
ing, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in
a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from
heaven, which said, 'Thou art my beloved Son; in thee 1 am well

Luke adds (verse 23): "And Jesus himself began to be about
thirty years of age."

John docs not give a narrative of the ceremony of the baptism,

but records the testimony of John the Baptist (i. 29).

Here is the fact that Jesus was baptized of John in Jordan. To
this all the four New Testament historians testify. They give uc


intimation of the place. That was not important. In the open-
ing of the public ministry of Jesus we may take
Jesus comes to OC casion to say that nowhere do we find these four
J hn U writers striving to make out a case, striving tc

agree in details of narrative, or ministering any-
thing to superstition. No portrait, no autograph, no description of
the physique of Jesus is preserved by them. They do not attempt
to invest any place in which he did anything with a sacredness
which should make it the focus of superstition. But they tell
their story with the artlessness of guileless children, and leave the
impression to deepen and brighten in the mind of the reader.
We shall strive to deal with the case in the same spirit of simple
unaffected reverence for Nature and Snpernature, feeling that we
have no more right to ignore the one than to set aside the other.

The fact that Jesus submitted voluntarily to John's baptism is
wholly unaccountable on certain dogmas long assumed to be un-
questionable. The commentators who adopt these

Why Jesus was dogmas f o ll 0W one another in a dreary march
baptized. ° ..„ d

around what they suppose to be a difficulty, which

they really make into a difficulty for other minds, but which they

do not remove. The simple statement of John himself ought to

throw much light on the subject. He says, "that he should he

made known to Israel; therefore am I come baptizing with

water." That seems quite explicit. The hope of a Messiah was

intensifying its element of expectation when John's ministry

opened. He felt the depths of his great nature stirred with a

call to arouse his people to a preparation of heart for the great

Advent. He did not entertain those thoroughly spiritualistic

views of the Messiah's kingdom which have since obtained. He

believed in his personal reign, a great spiritual improvement, a

discrimination, a dividing, a burning up the chaff of bis own

nation, a cleansing of the Jewish people for the establishment of

a purified theocracy to be administered by The Christ in proper


It was not simply the kingdom he was to announce, but the

Idnsr. Something in this man's soul told him that in the course

of his ministry of heralding the kingdom the

Certain mistakes. . . , , , . " , , . ' , . , ' , , , ,

king should be revealed to Jinn, and fie should

point out that being to his people, and that there his ministry was

virtually to cease. Upon the inauguration of Jesus, John was


functus officio. Jesus did not come to John for instruction, surely
Every reader of the history, who reads it even in the most com-
mon human way, must see that as a teacher the man Jesus wag
superior to the man John. lie did not come to him to be bap-
tized with a baptism of repentance, change of mind, fen- he had
held these views of the spiritual theocracy as long as John had.
lie was at least John's fellow-prophet of the coming kingdom.
lie had thrown no obstacles in the way. lie was not a priest, a
conventionalist, a ritualist, a fossilized conservative of decent
heterodoxes. It was not a sacrament that John was to administer
to him. It was not an induction into a priestly office. The bap
tism administered by John to Jesus had no precedent and was
not a precedent. It was a singular act and fact in human his-
tory. The Man who was to be the Ruler of the human mind in
the a^es to come, and was to ascend to the highest throne in the
kingdom of thought; the Man who was to be the Ruler of the
human heart in the ages to come, so that no one was to be so
deeply, highly, tenderly, reverently loved as He, — this man was
the Son of Mary. He had been ordained to this place in the
harmonious arrangement of the universe, and hence is called the
CnuiSTUS. The time for his inauguration had come. lie was to
be revealed to the world through the ministry of John.

One needs to be very tender and thoughtful as one studies this
great passage; great not only in the history of Jesus, but in the
history of the world; for the history of all humanity was from
this time forth to be changed by him. Whatever there is of fact
should be studied with historical discrimination, and whatever
there is of poetry, wonder, awe, and beauty, should, if possible,
be studied with poetic appreciation.

It has been well said that —

"It is of manifest importance that what we see we should see clearly. We
are not indeed to require, as an absolute condition of faith, that we should he
ulilc to sec, or even to image distinctly to the mind, the
tiling in which we are to believe. Because there arc things 4W y"

° mental picturo.

which, from their very nature, do not admit of being pic-

tur !tl even to th ■ imagination, such as God or one's own bouL burgh

R r., vol. xlvi., ]>. 839, Eng. cd.) But when tin: matter proposed is confessedly
an object of Bcnse, a scene that addresses the

Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Force) DeemsWho was Jesus? → online text (page 9 of 77)