Charles F. (Charles Fletcher) Dole.

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Baptist, of Jesus' own disciples, especially of

7 Mark ii. 18, etc 10 Matt. xi. 19.

s Matt. x. 33. 1J Matt. xiii. 37.

9 Luke vii. 28. 12 Matt. xii. 50.


Peter, 13 in speculating as to Jesus' office and
claims? Can we keep just what we like in the
story of the interview between Jesus and Zebe-
dee's sons 14 and suppose that nothing at all
was said of a kingdom of glory, in which, after
the impending crisis of sorrow, the disciples
hoped to share?

Again, why did the authorities put Jesus to
death, if he claimed nothing beyond the gift of
ordinary prophecy? What assumption of au-
thority could have led to that extraordinary
story of the cleansing of the temple? What
else but the sense of Messiahship could have
made him so silent beneath the questions at his
trial? How shall we explain the alleged in-
scription on the cross, "The king of the Jews ?"

Jesus' singular unwillingness to be publicly
known deserves attention here. If we can be-
lieve the tradition, he habitually imposes silence
about himself, at least in the early part of his
ministry, on one and another of the sick whom
he has treated. It may be said that this tallies
with the sentences which urge the doctrine of a

13 Matt. xvi. 13, etc.

14 Mark x. 35, etc.


quiet coming of the kingdom, without violence
and observation, as we to-day think it comes.
I raise the question whether these verses do
not all lend themselves to a different interpre-
tation? One of the great motives of Jesus'
life seems to have been the beatitude, "Blessed
are the Meek." The law of the world, he
teaches, is that the mighty shall be brought
down and the lowly exalted. He has accord-
ingly an instinctive dread of being put forward
and made a popular hero. The idea of a suf-
fering type of leadership, taken from Isaiah,
has impressed his mind. Through the gate of
suffering, humiliation and even death lies the
way of victory. None the less, but all the
more, may he claim and expect final exaltation.
The lowly shall be exalted. That is his creed.
There is nothing inconsistent between this
thought and the expectation of the coming of
a "great and terrible day of the Lord," a day
of retribution. This tremendous equalizing of
accounts and rewards is indeed the fact to be
looked for. The familiar text about the king-
dom of God coming "not with observation"
now tallies with this idea of the lowly Messiah,


who through the valley of humiliation is on his
way to glory.

Even we modern men are able to hold both
ideas in solution at one and the same time; on
one hand, the thought of a ceaseless law of evo-
lution, the possibility also on the other hand of
epochs of seemingly rapid and even revolu-
tionary movement. Both ideas have truth in
them and fall back on analogies in nature. We
are inclined therefore to think that Jesus did
distinctly, naturally and sincerely voice the ex-
pectation of his age, looking toward some sort
of a catastrophe and a miraculous renovation
of social conditions. This seems altogether
more likely than that he failed to share the
common hopes of his oppressed and imagina-
tive people in favor of an interposition of their
God in their favor. He doubtless believed that
he was the chosen leader in the way of the new
hope. He spoke with an assumption of au-
thority. He doubtless thought himself gifted
to heal the sick and to drive out the demons.
People rallied to him and responded to his
treatment, carried away by the contagion of
his own conviction and hope. All this is quite


in line with what we know of the psychic work-
ing of human nature.

It may be objected that this thought of Jesus
makes him less simple than we had supposed.
It gives a double aspect to his character. But
it does not make him less human or natural.
Let us use a familiar historical illustration вАФ
one of many that might be cited. It is the case
of Savonarola, the great Florentine preacher
and reformer. Perhaps no man of higher,
nobler or more austere virtue and purpose ever
lived. On one side, you have the pure gold of
a great and constant devotion, true till death,
a generous humanity, an overwhelming sense
of common duties and practical ideals. On the
other hand you see a man of prophetic visions,
the child of the Middle Ages, ruled by the
superstitions of his people, one day working
with sane mind for reform through the sure
development of the institutions of Florence,
the next day confidently expecting the miracu-
lous interposition of angels. At his best and
noblest he preached the doctrine of love. All
the same, and with no sense of incongruity, he
denounced the rulers of his people and stirred


the antagonism of men with his passion, subtly
akin really to the passions of the men whom he

A query arises here whether there may not
lie in human nature, like tinder ready to be
fired, an astonishing and almost infinite readi-
ness, more than men are aware of, to be set
apart, anointed and crowned as martyrs or
leaders. Thus, the fishermen of the lake of
Galilee are ready immediately to be princes in
the new realm. Thus daily, ill-equipped Amer-
ican citizens set themselves up for the highest
offices. Thus, priests and ministers imagine
themselves to be worthy of superior dignities
and privileges and to deserve to live in palaces,
or again to be given titles above other men. Is
there not a sort of faculty of Messiahship latent
in men? On its lower side it shows itself in
the extraordinary egotism and conceit of quite
mediocre men. On its best side, it is close to
the infinite and divine element in humanity.
"We know not what we shall be," inasmuch as
we partake of the nature of God. The found-
ers of religions and of sects have thus com-
monly thought themselves to be appointed of


God. The recent story of Babism is a good
illustration of this fact. Other cases easily
occur. For example, some may recall a man of
very noble nature, a rather conspicuous figure
among radical American thinkers in the last
century, who refusing the name of Master to
Jesus though at the cost of personal loss and
suffering, yet fondly thought of himself as a
sort of philosophic Messiah, whose teachings
only needed to be followed by mankind to solve
the doubts of the world!

Suppose now a man of profound spiritual
genius, such a man as Moses might have been,
or a man of commanding personality, such as
Daniel Webster was to his contemporaries.
Bring him to birth centuries ago, in a land
where God was thought to speak to man in the
dreams of the night. Let him be born at a
period when all sorts of wonderful ideas were
dawning on the world. Possess him with the
tradition of the prophets. Fill his soul with
ardor for his oppressed people. Let him fast
and pray in lonely mountains. Let him hear
voices and dream dreams. Let him in imagi-
nation fight battles with the arch-foe of souls.


Lift him in insight above the people around
him and let him hear their words of admiration
at his splendid gifts. You have thus the nat-
ural material for the idea of some sort of Mes-
siahship. All the more the praise of Jesus that
his thought took the form of the meek. 15 The
more meek the man was, the higher the coming
exaltation. This was at the heart of Jesus'
doctrine. In his age, however, such meekness
demanded a coming glory and victory to match
it. Meekness was not inconsistent with the
punishment and humiliation of his enemies.
The more they triumphed in this world, the
surer their doom would be in the next. This
is the steady teaching of the New Testament.
It seems to have been the thought of Jesus. If
he knew better, alas, that he did not make the
humane teaching plain ! If now and then he
hit close to the mark of the universal doctrine
of love, he seems never to have worked this
doctrine out into its consistent application in
detail. How could he have done so immense
a task as that, in the face of the prepossessions

15 See the parable about taking "the lowest room" at the
feast. Luke xiv. 7, etc.


of his age and the demonology that haunted
the world? As well expect Franklin to have
worked out the theory of the newly found
theory of electricity into the applications of
Edison and Marconi.

The fact is, in taking account of Jesus' life
and person, we can never afford to leave his
theology out of our sight. It looks as if his
God was thought of as literally a "person," in
the narrower sense of the word, seated some-
where in heaven and ruling the world through
the offices of his angels. Did Jesus ever any-
where clearly state the wonderful doctrine of
the Fourth Gospel, "God is Spirit?" Never
does he give a word of release from the almost
Persian conception of the divided world and
the Satanic kingdom. His faith is that God
will at last triumph over the devil. Here is
the naive basis of a theology altogether differ-
ent from what modern men can believe. The
natural underlying practical conclusion is the
final separation of the evil from the good.
This idea has been the gloomy burden of the
theology of Christendom. It had been woven
into the warp and woof of the traditional


Christianity. Jesus' great name is still used
to sanction it.

We have already seen that we may never ex-
pect to recover a veritable likeness of Jesus.
We have not the necessary authentic material.
But more than that, the idea of Messiahship is
inextricably in our way. It is not only wrought
into the narrative. It is apparently also in the
mind of Jesus. It was inevitable to his age.
But it does not fit into the framework of our
modern thought. It has become unhelpful
ethically. The Messiah has the lineaments of
a man, not the character of the God whom we
worship. It is a Messiah who was mistaken,
as for instance, in his prophecies of the end of
the world. 16 The world is coming to learn the
use of a greater word than the "I" of a Mes-
siah. The noblest of leaders may not safely
dwell on the centrality of his own person. The
more modest words "we" and "ours" alone
keep men safe and in orderly place in the ranks
of the common humanity. No one may assume
a sole authority over his fellows.

What then, you ask, shall we make of the

16 See Matt. xvi. 28.


actual Jesus? We catch the suggestion of a
grand and impressive figure, after the fashion
of an Elijah or Isaiah, intense, passionate, de-
voted, prodigal of life, absolutely willing to go
wherever the vision or the divine voice bids.
He is a great lover and equally a strong hater.
He is possessed with a sense of a supernatural
mission which he must needs die to fulfil. He
is sustained with a sense of coming victory,
of death leading to life. He has caught the
idea that the suffering of the good is a sort of
price paid, as it really is, for the renewal of
the life of the world. He believes that, in some
peculiar sense, he is set apart to pay that kind
of price. Passages from his favorite prophet
sway his mind to this thought. More and
more, as he approaches the end of his brief
career, he is lifted, as many another prophet
has been, with this overmastering sense of the
exaltation of his office. There blends there-
fore with the touches of the common and genial
humanity, an almost repellant impression of
aloofness, as of one already the inhabitant of
another and mystic realm. On this side Jesus
is well-nigh unapproachable. Normal human


life is apart from this realm. It is the region
of fanaticism and all religious extravagance.
The characteristic of the earlier phases of re-
ligious experiences, such as William James has
related, is a vein of what seems to us modern
men morbid and shadowy. The characteristic
of modern religious experience is that it seeks
the sunlight, and must be at one with bodily
health and sanity.

I am aware that others may find or create a
very different picture of Jesus. It is easy to
see only what pleases one. It is easy to imagine
a lovable and gentle man, free of every Hebrew
feature, in fact the best type of the present-day
clergyman, affable, and tactful, a favorite at
dinner parties. Is it at all certain the actual
Jesus would be persona grata in the average
home of the well-to-do citizen who prays in
Jesus' name, more than he was in Pharisees'
houses two thousand years ago? Recall his
stern criticism of men's social and religious
conventionalities. 17 How many people enjoy

17 Read the story of Jesus in Simon's house, Luke vii. 36,


meeting a genuine man who will tell them ex-
actly what he thinks !

There is a common use of Jesus' life and
character which deserves a word of considera-
tion. I mean the complete idealization of
Jesus, especially under the name of "Christ."
Men tell us that they do not care who Jesus
was "after the flesh," as Paul says, in view of
their ideal of the perfect type of humanity.
They therefore worship Christ, now become
another more human, intimate and personal
name for the idea of God present in human life.
Men make under this name a beautiful and glo-
rified conception of a human life, high enough
to be called one with God. This is the Christo-
centric religion of "progressive orthodoxy."

Many go further than this. They report
that they have had profound spiritual experi-
ences of communion with "The Risen Christ."
We do not deny the fact of a spiritual experi-
ence. We merely suggest that the name which
it bears is the least essential part of it. Under
all forms and many names men have had a
sense of peace, gladness, a companionship too


high for words, and some kind of divine guid-
ance. This is the central fact of religion.
The validity of the experience evidently does
not depend upon the name or the symbol used,
or any particular image suggested in the mind.
James Martineau who says "God," is as well
served as Dr. Lyman Abbott, the favorite name
of whose God seems to be "Christ." The man
who sees no visions and has no dreams may
rest in the thought of a divine universe in
which all is well.

One may admit that this symbolism, like its
kindred Mariolatry, is helpful and ennobling.
But it is not and cannot be an acquaintance
with, or an appreciation of the actual Jesus.
Men who worship the Christ of their imagina-
tion as God certainly touch Jesus no more
closely than the worshipers of Mary touch the
actual mother of Jesus. The story of Jesus
indeed suggests certain noble features which
go to make up the imaginative conception of
the ideal man. This process of idealization
is like an artist's sketch in which one might
not even recognize the actual forest and stream
from which it has been suggested. Like the


picture, it is the work of the artistic or poetic
faculty. It is not even necessary for the wor-
shiper of Jesus as the ideal Christ to know him
at all. It is like the worship of Mary, which
may be ardent and uplifting, though no one
knows anything about her. The difficulty of
this use of the conception of Christ is that men
confuse their ideal with bits of the ancient
story. Their Christ, so far from being the
highest ideal which they can conceive, is the
man who called down woes upon his enemies.
Such idealization perpetuates the spirit of en-
mity in the world.



The conventional questions may now be
asked. How can the rise and history of Chris-
tianity be accounted for in any other way than
upon the presupposition of a unique founder?
For the most progressive nations are to-day
accounted Christian. The Christian religion
under some one of its forms is still winning
converts. This seems at first a very formi-
dable question, but the answer is much plainer
than it is often made to appear. It grows out
of a mass of familiar knowledge about the rise
and development of religions.

In the first place there seems to be no ground
to believe that the actual Jesus, even in the role
of Messiah, ever intended to found a new re-
ligion. The old religion at its best was good
enough for him. It was a religion of justice,
mercy, peace, reverence. This was all that
Jesus preached. It only needed to be freed



from its tribal narrowness and its vexatious de-
tails of ceremony in order to become a religion
good enough for all men. The spirit of a
broader humanity was already in the air. If
Paul had really known the religion of his own
people, as taught in the sixth chapter of Micah,
it is hard to see to what else he would have
needed to be converted. It is certain that with
such a religion he could never have been a per-
secutor, much less an enemy of Jesus ! Of all
the denominations in Christendom the Quakers
seem to have been nearest to Jesus' thought.
If one fact is sure, it is that Jesus never
founded the elaborate congeries of systems his-
torically known as "Christianity." It is pre-
posterous to suppose that he would have under-
stood the claims, the colossal machinery and
the magnificent pomp of the Roman Catholic
and other sacerdotal churches.

As to the rise and development of Chris-
tianity, two quite different theories appear.
One is that the mighty stream of Christian
history is traceable back substantially to a sin-
gle fountain or source, namely, the life and
teaching of Jesus, as men may once have


guessed that the mysterious Nile had a single
source. This idea seems to be out of line with
all the analogies of history and of human life.
The other thought is that the great stream
flows from innumerable sources, with contribu-
ting fountains in every land and from every pe-
riod of history, with daily accretions to-day, as
if from the constant rain and the dew. The
stream of religion flowed before Jesus was. A
long line of unknown psalmists and lovers of
righteousness fed the strong spring of his life,
as from underground sources. A noble group
of men, close to him and following him, each
added the momentum of their lives to the new
flow of the current. At this point the stream
took Jesus' official name, as the continent of
America took the name of Americus Vespucci,
or might better have taken the name of Colum-
bus, without the slightest word of disparage-
ment of other brave and great voyagers who
under a common inspiration sailed the same
seas. The analogy between the founding of
Christianity and the discovery of America is
very suggestive. We have the same analogy
in the history of every invention. No person


ever accomplishes anything alone. No one
can be given the sole credit for any attain-

The truth is, that the early Christianity obvi-
ously owed its success very largely to the inde-
fatigable labors of Paul, whose genius took it
out of the lines of a Jewish sect and gave it a
quasi universal character. As Jesus founded
no new religion, so he wrote no books and pro-
fessed to bring no new doctrine. There is no
certainty that he appointed apostles, least of all
twelve in number. Suppose that he had merely
emphasized the Fatherhood of God and the
brotherhood of man, though in the clearest
manner. Does any one imagine that a new
religion could have been established and made
to endure on this simple basis, in the age of
Nero and in the face of Gothic invasions?

The primitive Christianity was involved
with certain very natural, and fascinating
ideas, lying close to the borderland of error,
which, like alloy mixed with the gold, gave it
common currency. One of these ideas, akin
to the belief of modern spiritualists, was the
bodily or physical resurrection of Jesus. This


appealed tremendously, as such a notion always
does appeal, to the popular imagination. This
was the burden of Paul's preaching, though
he seems for himself not to have credited a
physical resurrection so much as the repeated
appearance of Jesus in his "spiritual body." 1

The early Church also seems to have looked
for the miraculous coming of their Lord from
heaven to judge the world. 2 This was an idea
to conjure with and to make converts. The
grand expectation in the early Church that
supernatural events were about to spring forth
made such a book as the Apocalypse possible.

Again, the early Christianity, just like Chris-
tian Science to-day, was a vigorous health cult,
all the more persuasive from the common de-
lusion that devils were the cause of disease.
The Christian healer, at the magic name of
Jesus, could cast out the devils, and cure the
sick. Imagine this idea removed from the
early Christianity, and try to think what would
have been the collapse of faith. These three
great ideas, like so many strong strands, helped

1 I Cor. xv. 44.

2 See I Thess. vi. 14, etc.


mightily to hold Christians together, till the
new religion came to be fortified with the
priest-craft, the pomp and power of imperial
Rome. Then it largely ceased to be Jesus'
religion at all.

The development of Christianity from the
working of natural means and the play of
human motives, allies it with the rise of other
great cults. Thus, while the Buddha gave a
name to Buddhism, he certainly did not create
the religion. But he served as an intermediary
to give a new and popular turn to the prevail-
ing religion of his people. A religion is al-
ways greater than its founder. Otherwise we
should have to assume needless dignity for the
authors of various modern cults. We have
spoken of the Madonna worship. But no one
outside of the Catholic Church thinks it neces-
sary, in order to explain the origin of the wor-
ship, to suppose that Mary was better than
other mothers. It is interesting to recall that
in Paul's case, he seems not to have known
Jesus "after the flesh," that is, the actual Jesus.
His Jesus was an ideal person and all the more
powerful. The relation of the founders of a


great religion to the course of its growth is
like that of the founders of a nation or a
dynasty. We gladly owe our thanks to King
Alfred and Washington, but we owe our
thanks to many another good patriot as well,
without whose help we could never have heard
of Alfred or Washington.



It may be that the old word will be uttered
again, at least in some form: "They have
taken away my Lord." If we can never be
sure what the actual Jesus was like, what be-
comes, you ask, of the "leadership of Jesus"?
We answer, in the very words attributed to
Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, and which contain
a world of wise suggestion: "It is expedient
for you that I go away." It is another in-
stance of the familiar case where the vase that
bore the exquisite perfume must be broken in
order to use the perfume. The letter must go
that the spirit may prevail.

To be perfectly frank, as we are bound to be
by every consideration of honesty as well as
religion, the actual and historical man Jesus
is not, and has long since ceased to be, the one
leader or Master in religious life, or in the
progress of mankind. He is not the real au-



thority of the modern man in any church,
either for conduct or religion.

Let us face this fact seriously, for it is very
important. In the first place, the ideal man
whom we modern people demand as the pat-
tern of our lives, is not, as we have seen, the
Jesus of the Gospels. It is indeed a different
ideal for every man and woman. But for us
Americans, it must be modern and American.
Jesus was a Jew, unmarried, the father of no
children, apparently somewhat skeptical of the
marriage relation, 1 as Paul was. He was not
a citizen but only a subject of the empire; he
was not a man of affairs; he had nothing to
do with art; he was the example of a Hebraic
type, in contrast to the generous Greek type of
life, or the vigorous Norse type. The dom-
inant thought of the cross and the resurrec-
tion puts him somewhat away from the normal
healthy-minded youth and man. Our actual
ideal, on the contrary, is of a patriot, a husband
and father, a man of affairs, a man of the
world, in the highest sense of the word, whose
business it is, not so much to die bravely as to

1 Matt. xix. 10-12.

1 2 4 6

Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Fletcher) DoleWhat we know about Jesus → online text (page 4 of 6)