George W. (George Wright) Buckley.

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The Wit and Wisdom
of Jesus

The Wit and Wisdom
of Jesus


George Wright Buckley

Author of " Carlyle and Emerson: a Contrast," " Politics
and Morals," " Pain is Gain," etc., etc.

Humor is an invisible tear through
a visible smile.''''

— From the Russian.






BXA^A il^D

a 4932 L

Copyright, 1901
By James H. West Company


A FEW years since, the author dehvered a
series of addresses on different aspects
of Jesus' Hfe. In one of those addresses the
idea dominating the preparation of the follow-
ing pages was given prominence. Since then,
the idea has grown upon him with each suc-
cessive reading of the gospel narratives, until
it is a commanding presence not to be put
aside without attempting to secure for it a
public audience. This he has recently done,
to a limited extent, in a magazine article.

While conscientiously pursuing his own
way in the accomplishment of his purpose,
the author is aware that he is not sole worker

^ Preface

in this field. Especially should Dr. Marion
D. Shutter have due credit for the pioneer
services he rendered several years ago, when
he issued his suggestive volume on *' Wit and
Humor of the Bible." Along similar line
has commenced to travel German scholarship,
which, in general, has led in Biblical criticism
with such marked profundity, patience and
brave sincerity.

With thus much of preface the author
sends forth this little work, knowing well that
ultimately it will stand neither for more nor
less of truth and worth than men shall find
therein. g. w. b.



^ -






Humor Versus Criticism . .



Life-Sketches: Turning "Men's

Ears into Eyes " . . . .



Misunderstood . , . .



Kindred and Neighbors . . .



Pithy Sayings and Retorts , .



Opposition and Quotation . .



Miracles; Practical Religion



Vanquished Craft



Hypocrisy and Self-Righteous-

ness .....,,.



Closing of the Conflict . . .


Conclusion ,





Behold the man ! Behold the God !

Ah, which to say, and how, and why !

In vain our tangled reasons try
The path so many feet have trod.

O man of sorrows, man of joy ! —
Of joy for all thy strife and scars, —
Whereso thou art among the stars.

In peace that nothing can destroy, —

Though we our voices may not blend

With that hoarse chant the centuries raise.
Yet is it not a sweeter praise

To say, ** Our brother and our friend " ?

And if beyond this verge of time
We know thee better as thou art.
Wilt thou not clasp us heart to heart.

As fills our ears the heavenly chime ?

—John W. Chadwich.

Who art thou. Lord?'''* — the question, still, of old !

Thy silver speech hath opened man's dull ears.
Thy wisdom hath turned spirit's dross to gold.

And calms us yet, through maze of tangled years.

■ Whence earnest thou ? ' ' The Galilean hills

Which knew thy eager feet and pulsing speech —

Could they alone inspire the Word that thrills
The souls of men to farthest ages' reach ?

Or for thy birth, from Keav'n with rapture rife
Didst thou indeed descend earth's woes to leaven ?

We know not ! — but we know thy words of life
From mortal birth lift man to birth of Heaven !

— James H, West.


Sometimes wit lieth in pat allusion to a known story,
or in seasonable application of a trivial saying, or in
forging an apposite tale ; sometimes it playeth in words
and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of
their sense, or the affinity of their sound ; sometimes
it lurketh under an odd similitude ; sometimes it is
lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in a quick-
ish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly divert-
ing or cleverly retorting an objection ; sometimes it is
couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony,
in a lusty hyperbole, in a startling metaphor ; . . .
sometimes a scenical representation of persons or things,
a counterfeit speech, a mimical look or gesture, passeth
for wit ; . . . sometimes it riseth only from a lucky
hitting upon what is strange. . . . Often it consisteth
in one knows not what, and springeth up one can
hardly tell how. Its ways are unaccountable and
inexplicable, being answerable to the numberless rov-
ings of fancy and windings of language. — Barrow*.




TO exempt nothing from inquiry is the
marked attitude of our age. The maxim
of Greek philosophy, " Man is the measure of
all things," has become our maxim too. In
this unfettered and searching temper of the
time the old theological distinction of profane
and sacred loses dominion over thoughtful
men : the Bible, and even the teachings and
character of Jesus, are subjected to honest and
comparative analysis. It is well, this free
measurement of him, if only one preserve a
truly reverent and grateful relation to his
peerless personality.

More than a decade since, the writer was
much taken with the title of a helpful little
volume of "higher criticism," from the pen of
Reverend Joseph Henry Crooker. The title

12 The Wit and Wisdom of Jesus

was "Jesus Brought Back." The title was
very taking, because it so strikingly signifies
what has been transpiring these latter days.
As some of the choicest specimens of antique
art were lost in the accumulated rubbish of
centuries, to be resurrected by the zealous
efforts of modern archaeologists, so the Son
of man was lost in the disfiguring theology
and superstition of the Christian Church, to
be found again in our age of discovering and
restoring manifold things. The real Jesus is
being brought back. In literature, in art, in
the pulpit itself, there is no mistaking the
tendency to view him in human aspects and
relations — to view him as under a universal
law of human development and limitation,
whereby even the greatest of men are linked
to the imperfect age in which they live and to
the more or less specialized nature of the
work given them to do.

Just as we say that Aristotle and Herbert
Spencer were specially gifted for philosophy,
Humboldt and Darwin for science, Shake-

Introduction IJ

speare for poetry, Edison for invention, the
Rothschilds for banking, so may we not say
of Jesus that his special genius was for relig-
ion and ethics ? To the paramount end of
bearing witness to truth on its spiritual and
moral side, and in such a way as most effect-
ually to give it vital relation to life, he was
endowed with certain powers. Among these
were clear perceptions of religious and moral
obligation, poetic sensibility, insight and sym-
pathetic imagination to enter readily into the
consciousness of others — into their motives
and reasoning, their hopes and fears, loves and
hates, joys and sorrows. To these qualities
add a passion for sendee, a gift for oratory of
a genuine and persuasive kind, and, withal, a
faculty of wit and humor, — most assuredly
wit, S7ii generis in pre-eminent degree. This
latter faculty had immeasurably to do with
making his sayings stick to the memory of
his hearers and become the transmitted inher-
itance of the race.

Who has not marveled at the apparent self-

I/f The Wit and Wisdom of Jesus

contradictions of individual men — individual
great men ? Shakespeare, almost overmas-
tered by the heat and luxuriance of his imag-
ination, magic sovereign of impalpable subjects
in an impalpable kingdom above — how sane
and true his measurements of human forces
here below ! What a discriminative vision of
the systems and affairs of men may be given
to a shy and sensitive unworldling ! — witness
the serene and spotless Emerson. On occa-
sion, how mighty in action the cloistered
dreamer ! — timid and sickly Calvin (called
"a walking hospital"), drawn from scholarly
privacy into the strenuous and combative
publicity of his regenerative career at Geneva ;
or Luther, the studious monk of Erfurt, before
the Diet of Worms, wishing " to be quiet, yet
hurried into the midst of tumults." So, in-
deed, a soul big with earnest intent, yea, with
divine sadness, may also have a spring of
humor to refresh men and disclose the heart
of things amiss in this world ; — humor often
playing across some somber background as

Introduction /J

the sunlight plays across a dark cloud of the
heavens. Strangely close to truth is the defi-
nition of a Russian, that " Humor is an invis-
ible tear through a visible smile." Even thus
was it with Thomas Carlyle in literature, the
melancholy Lincoln in politics, and, in religion,
"the man of sorrows," Jesus of Nazareth.

Recognizing the legitimacy and effective-
ness of well-timed wit and humor, the prince
of righteousness exercised them to a purpose
befitting one mindful of the gravity of his
mission and profoundly sensitive to the tragic
side of life. Sometimes he used them to
season serious discourse, simply as we use salt
and sugar to season food ; sometimes to pierce
with his thought the thick mental integuments
of one or another class of his hearers ; some-
times as victorious weapons of battle with
unscrupulous enemies. What concerns the
author of these pages is not that he classify
the wit and wisdom of Jesus under definite
categories ; but rather that he give them some
living relation to the sublime personality

l6 The Wit and Wisdom of Jesus

whence they sprang, and that, too, with a
rehgious and moral motive, and with the free-
dom of a broad interpretation of terms and

The utterances of the most independent
minds are the resultant of outer and inner
conditions in process of change. Influences
of race, heredity, environment ; influences
which come from increased knowledge of the
conduct and motives of men, which come from
the noblest aspirations of them when disap-
pointed, from the rasping sense of unavoidable
combat with stupidity and selfishness, from
the suffering of it all — who shall measure
the potency of these to shape the usage of
the mental faculties, wit and humor and the
rest } Untrammeled by traditionary premises
and prejudices about Jesus, may we not inter-
pret what he did and said in the light of such
influences operative in his brief career } His
life was progress and tragedy, from the pre-
cocious boy in the temple, amazing the doctors,
to the agony-crowned victor of Gethsemane

Introduction ly

and Calvaiy. The supreme integrity of his god-
ward aim holds to the fatal end ; but the shift-
ing scenes and situations of the drama must
needs work some change in his thought and
treatment as physician to the soul of man.

Never to the eye of the most reverent
Israelite, standing on the Mount of Olives,
looked more enchanting the distant sanctuary
of the temple in Jerusalem, with its white
marble parapets and its golden-plated sides,
shining in the sunlight, now " like a mountain
of glittering snow, now like a sea of fire" —
never more enchanting than in the opening of
his ministry looked to this Messiah's untried
hope and faith the prospect of life in loving,
helpful fellowship with men. But thorns mul-
tiplied along the way. Pushed on by an im-
perative vision and conscience into conflict
with established powers, the shadows cast by
growing opposition encroach upon the lights
as that conflict proceeds. Touching the will-
ingness of his countrymen to accept him as
the king of a "kingdom not of this world," he

l8 TJie Wit and Wisdom of Jesus

had meted out to him the sore disappointment
of all the prophets of God. Hope and faith
lost some of their early joyousness, as the rich
flush of fruit fades out with too much cold-
ness and shade. The boy's cruelty that de-
spoils the nest of its birdlings makes the
mother's voice more sad and piercing. And
society's cruelty to its prophet, which despoils
him of his cherished expectations, offspring
of divine intent, makes more sad and piercing
his voice in the wilderness of this world : —
*' O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killeth the
prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto
thee ! How often w^ould I have gathered thy
children together, even as a hen gathereth her
chickens under her wings, and ye would not ! "

The view above expressed of the Galilean's
career has partly determined the order in
which the wit and wisdom of Jesus are pre-
sented in this book; the supposition being
that, in general, the more genial forms found
expression before he was subjected to positive
antagonism from various quarters. Note the

Introduction /p

qualifying phrase, " in general " ; because to
make the supposition more sweeping by assert-
ing that these more genial forms must needs
all be credited to his earlier career, and those
less so to his later career, would surely not
tally with human nature and experience.

Let this word also be spoken, namely, that
with all our latter-day research into the com-
position of the gospels, and into the times of
nascent Christianity, it is possible to go wrong
in using our freedom to stamp as genuine or
spurious this, that, and the other recorded
utterance of Jesus. For whatever one's con-
ception of him, that conception presides over
one's exercise of this freedom, whether one
be conscious of it or not. The writer makes
no pretense that it is otherwise with himself.
Here and there he uses some parable or say-
ing across which some higher critic or other
draws the line as doubtful or spurious. But

As the higher critics disagree.
By what authority shall we see ?


Humor Versus Criticism

Among those great elements of human nature which
have shown themselves to be rooted in the deep, un-
conscious life of man, must be placed the sense of the
ludicrous. . . . There are persons almost wholly
destitute of it. Such persons are tied down to the
substantial facts of life, whether these be important
or unimportant. I will not say that they suffer more
than those who have the sense of the ludicrous, for
the power of the imagination that goes with this may
sometimes create sorrows. They are, however, hard
and wooden. Intercourse with them is hke driving
in a wagon without springs. ... A natural, hearty
laugh is at once a sign of sanity, and a preserver of it.
One who can laugh naturally is for the moment free
from any idee fixe that may be haunting him. He
shows, for the moment at least, a superiority to the
hard facts of life. — Dr. C. C. Everett.


The Wit and Wisdom

of J,


Humor Versus Criticism

^'Ifwe may believe our logicians y man is distinguished
from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter.
If we consider the frequent reliefs we receive from
ity and how often it breaks the gloom which is apt
to depress the mind and damp our spirits, with
transient unexpected gleams of joy, one would take
care not to grow too wise for so great a pleasure
of life.'' ^ — Addison.

A CONTEMPORARY of Emerson, in de-
scribing this American seer and prophet
on the lecture-platform, speaks of his indulg-
ing in the " inaudible laugh," as here and there
he slipped into grave discourse some expres-

2^ The Wit and Wisdom of Jesus

sion of subtle and quiet humor. Very likely,
too, the " inaudible laugh " and pleasant humor
lent, not infrequently, winsome grace both to
the preaching and the social converse of the
seer and prophet of Galilee. I imagine him in
his early ministry going forth with buoyant
faith in men, — body healthy, mind teeming
with lively imagery ; loving Nature and soli-
tude, heartily loving men and their comrade-
ship ; open to the comedy of life rather more
than when further along the journey, when
the tragedy of it projects itself more conspic-
uously into the foreground.

To behold him a son of joyous humor as
well as of tragic sadness surely enhances the
lovableness and perfection of his character.
Yea, to think of his having now and then a
good laugh in him, a free and genuine laugh,
with the ring of innocent childhood and
Nature's own sincerity — this also is not so
shocking to the writer as once it was. With-
out losing his " weeping Christ," he sees him
otherwise than holding the finical sentiment

Humor Versus Criticism 2^

which Emerson seems to quote with approval
from Lord Chesterfield, — "I am sure that
since I have had the full use of my reason,
nobody has ever heard me laugh." But in-
deed, the same Emerson, who had true Platonic
vision of both sides of all questions, speaks
much more to our notion elsewhere : " A per-
ception of the comic seems to be a balance-
wheel in our metaphysical structure. It
appears to be an essential element in a fine
character. Wherever the intellect is con-
structive, it will be found. We feel the ab-
sence of it as a defect in the noblest and most
oracular soul. The perception of the comic
is a tie of sympathy with other men, a pledge
of sanity, and a protection from those perverse
tendencies and gloomy insanities in which
fine intellects sometimes lose themselves."
And Carlyle, too, England's prophet — hov/
strongly he declares himself on this matter :
" How much lies in laughter : the cipher-key
wherewith we decipher the whole man ! . . .
The man who cannot laugh is not only fit

26 The Wit and Wisdom of Jestis

for treasons, stratagems, and spoils, but
his own life is already a treason and a

Humor and laughter, with due measure
of gravity behind them, are sign and seal of
health and sanity ; sign and seal of true
kinship with humanity. Therefore Jesus,
when he took upon him, or had put upon him,
this humanity, was given them in goodly
measure. No vender of jokes ; but perceiver
and revealer of disparities between folly and
wisdom, pretense and practice — perceiver and
revealer of the lie masquerading as truth, of
wickedness skulking under outward seemings
of the good.

Meager as the records are, they disclose
plays of humor on the part of the Son of man
which, whatever his own bearing, must have
worked the risibles of some hearers into no
uncertain smile, perhaps sometimes into ex-
plosive laugh.

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Online LibraryGeorge W. (George Wright) BuckleyThe wit and wisdom of Jesus → online text (page 1 of 8)