Richard Roberts.

That one face; studies of the place of Jesus in the minds of poets and prophets online

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1 j U 1 ill II III 11

3 3433 06823709 2




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1 That one Face, far from vanish, rather groivs,
Or decomposes but to recompose y
Becomes my universe that feels and knows."

— Robert Browning


New York : 347 Madison Avenub




Copyright, iqiq, by

The International Committee of

Young Men's Christian Associations

The Bible Text used in this volume is taken from the Revised Version of 188 1.



Foreword vii

I. Vision and Revelation i

II. A General Survey 19

III. The Poet of the Awakening — Dante 37

IV. The Poet as Reformer — Shelley 54

V. The Poet as Rebel — William Blake 71

VI. The Poet as Philosopher — Browning 92

VII. The Poet as Seeker — Tennyson 107

VIII. The Poet as Mystic — Francis Thompson 123

IX. The Prophet of Righteousness — Savonarola. . . . 141

X. The Prophet of Humanity — Mazzini 154

XI. The Prophet of Service — John Ruskin 169

XII. The Universal Jesus 183



It is hardly necessary to say that this is not in any sense
a volume of literary estimates. It is simply an attempt to
show "the face of Jesus Christ" as certain great souls have
seen it; and nothing is added to this save what seemed
necessary in order to provide the proper perspective.

The selection of those whose view of Jesus is treated
in this book has been determined entirely by the fact that
the present writer happens to have learned more from
them than from any others. Obviously other lists of the
same kind might be made by other men ; but one may take
leave to question whether the total result would be ap-
preciably different.

Some of the contents of the following pages appeared
in the author's book, "The Meaning of Christ," which was
published in 1906, but has been for many years out of
print. A few paragraphs of the twelfth week's material
have been taken from the author's "The Renascence of
Faith." All this matter has, however, been entirely re-



Vision and Revelation

The aim of this book is to help men and women to reach
a true judgment about Jesus. It does not pretend to
provide all the conditions and materials of such a judg-
ment. It will endeavor to set in order a certain class of
material, in the hope that the reader may be stimulated to
pursue the study further, and especially to consider afresh
the portrait of Jesus in the gospels. To the gospel pres-
entation of Jesus we shall naturally refer again and again
in the course of the present study; but this will not do
away with the need of a consecutive study of the gospels
themselves. Indeed, this study will itself have proved a
failure if it does not send those who may engage in it
back to the gospels to seek out the face of Jesus for

It will be observed that what is proposed here is an
endeavor to show how Jesus impressed certain persons.
These persons are of two classes, poets and prophets. Of
the company only one has an ecclesiastical connection of
a formal kind, namely, Savonarola. The rest are all
laymen; and consequently we may expect to find them
largely free from professional and theological bias. The
theological and clerical mind is perhaps open to the
suspicion of partisan motives, of wanting to establish a
case. The persons whom we propose to study will not
suffer from this disadvantage. Indeed, some among them
would have repudiated the suggestion that they ranked
as orthodox Christians; one, Shelley, even called himself
an atheist. It will at least be interesting to find out what



these men thought about Jesus. What was it in Him
that impressed them? How did they react to Him?
Plainly this study should yield us some important material
for a complete portrait of Jesus.

Perhaps, indeed, it may turn out that this is the most
important material of all, outside the New Testament.
There are in the creeds and confessions abundant defi-
nitions of the Person of Christ, but we have begun to
recognize that formal statements of truth have grave
limitations. Usually they have been fashioned in the
fires of controversy; and consequently they overmuch
reflect the bias of partisan views. But we also know
nowadays that intellectual propositions cannot compass
the whole meaning of life.

"In divinity and love
What's best worth saying can't be said,"

says Coventry Patmore in one of his poems; and this is
particularly true of religious experience — most of all true
of men's experience of Jesus. The touch of life is not
in the creeds, in articles of faith deliberately and sys-
tematically drawn out. We are much more likely to find
what we want in the spontaneous and often unguarded
utterances of persons who simply spoke as they saw and
were not in the least concerned to expound or to defend
a particular view or tradition.


First Week, First Day

Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect: yet a
wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world,
which are coming to nought : but we speak God's wisdom
in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden,
which God fore-ordained before the worlds unto our
glory: which none of the rulers of this world knoweth:
for had they known it, they would not have crucified the
Lord of glory: but as it is written,


Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not,
And which entered not into the heart of man,
Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love

But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for
the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of
God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man,
save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so
the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God.
But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the
spirit which is of God; that we might know the things
that are freely given to us by God. Which things also
we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth,
but which the Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things
with spiritual. Now the natural man receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness
unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are
spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all
things, and he himself is judged of no man. For who
hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct
him? But we have the mind of Christ. — I Cor. 2:6-16.

Our first business is to try to understand the peculiar
quality of the mind of the poet and the prophet.

William Blake once said that he saw not with his eyes
but through them; by which he meant that he saw with
his mind. To him, seeing consisted not in perceiving
alone, but in the way his mind reacted to the thing per-
ceived. The vision included not only the object, but what
his mind was provoked to add to or to read into the object.
So he went on to say that when he looked at the sun-
rise, it was not a round disc of fire that he saw, but "a
great multitude of the heavenly host, crying 'Holy, Holy,
Holy, Lord God Almighty.' " So Francis Thompson look-
ing at the sunset found in it a suggestion of his crucified
Lord: "Thou art," he sang,

"Thou art of Him a type memorial;
Like Him thou hang'st in dreadful pomp of blood
Upon thy western rood."

But it is given to few of us to see things after this



manner. This daring and flaming quality of imagination
is God's peculiar gift to the poet and the artist.

Yet great as this gift is, it is not God's greatest gift
of vision. For neither did William Blake at sunrise nor
Francis Thompson at sunset read in the face of the sun
its essential secret. They saw that God was there —
the one saw the Creator, the other the Redeemer; but
the image under which either saw Him was the creation
of his own imagination. Neither — as it were — saw
through the sun; what he did was to paint a picture on
the face of the sun, a picture essentially true no doubt,
but still a picture. The greatest gift of vision is not im-
agination but insight, not the gift that adds a picture,
however true, to the fact, but which pierces through the
fact and discovers the meaning hidden in its heart. This
same William Blake wrote a poem about the American
Revolutionary War ; but ■ for him the war-zone was not
the thirteen colonies, but the invisible no-man's-land be-
tween heaven and hell. He saw it not as a conflict of
men or of political interests, but as a struggle of titanic
spiritual powers. His fancy painted the war on a crowded
and bewildering canvas; but before his imagination had
got to work, his insight had perceived the issue to be one
of eternal principles. The war, as he saw it, was part
of the long and checkered drama of human liberation,
in which heaven and hell were as deeply engaged as
this world of living men. And this is the greater gift of
vision, that breaks through the crust of the outward
event to its core of spiritual reality. The poet must have
it if he is to be more than a minor poet; it is the first
necessity of the prophet. Some have a greater capacity
for it than others; but in his measure every man must
have it, for without it he goes through life blindfolded.

First Week, Second Day

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall
guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from


himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these
shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things
that are to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall take
of mine, and shall declare it unto you. — John 16: 13, 14.

What the true seer sees does not, however, depend
solely upon his insight. Wordsworth in one of his poems

"Think you amid this mighty sum
Of things forever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come
And we must still be seeking?"

Indeed, it is one of our commonest experiences that things
do come to us. But in our day there has been considerable
skepticism as to the value of anything that comes to us
except along the accredited highway of the "scientific
method." The only safe knowledge, we have been told,
is that which we gain first through the senses and then
through the exercise of reason upon the data gathered by
our senses, the knowledge toward which we struggle by
the exercise of our natural faculties. But from this view
we are nowadays being gradually emancipated. While
we accept the validity of the scientific method in its own
field, we do not now believe that it is efficient over the
whole field of possible knowledge.

"Reason," says G. J. Romanes, the English biologist,
"is not the only attribute of man, nor is it the only faculty
which he habitually uses in the ascertainment of truth.
Moral and spiritual faculties are of no less importance
in their respective spheres even of everyday life. Faith,
trust, taste, etc., are as needful in ascertaining truth as to
character, beauty, etc., as is reason. Indeed, we may take
it that reason is concerned in ascertaining truth only where
causation is concerned; the appropriate organs for its
ascertainment where anything else is concerned belong to
the moral and spiritual region." 1

1 "Thoughts on Religion," p. 112.



Henri Poincare, in his book "Science and Method"
tells how his discoveries in mathematics — and few men
have made more or greater — came to him in sudden
flashes. True, he had been seeking these things, but he
did not arrive at them by process of conscious reasoning.
They arrived, as it were, and often in irrelevant times
and places, when his mind was engaged with other mat-
ters — all of which goes to show that while we have
faculties that are essentially acquisitive, that go out and
seek the truth, we have others the nature of which is
receptive, they are there to receive such truth as may
come to us; and both are essential to our knowledge of
the truth.

Now Poincare adds in his account of his experiences
that these discoveries of which he speaks had been pre-
ceded by spells of intense mental concentration on the
subject. He had gone out, as it were, resolutely to meet
the truth, and then the truth had come to meet him.
From this we may infer that no man will understand Jesus
who does not put all the mind he has to the task. That,
indeed, will not of itself bring a full understanding of
Jesus; but without it there can be no understanding at
all. Yet if a man will do this thing, the rest will come;
and the process by which it comes we call revelation.

First Week, Third Day

Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you,

children of Israel, against the whole family which I
brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying, You only
have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore

1 will visit upon you all your iniquities. Shall two walk
together, except they have agreed? Will a lion roar in
the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry
out of his den, if he have taken nothing? Can a bird
fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is set for
him? shall a snare spring up from the ground, and have
taken nothing at all? Shall the trumpet be blown in a
city, and the people not be afraid? shall evil befall a
city, and the Lord hath not done it? Surely the Lord


God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his
servants the prophets. The lion hath roared, who will
not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but
prophesy? — Amos 3: 1-8.

The conditions of an adequate personal judgment upon
Jesus — and indeed upon any subject that really matters
— are first, insight backed by a concentrated effort of un-
derstanding; and second, revelation, a something com-
municated. The measure and vividness of a revelation
depend upon the power and quality of one's insight; and
that in its turn depends upon two things: first, natural
endowment, and second, cultivation. The prophet is made
by a unique original gift of insight, strengthened and
sensitized by much thought and meditation, which make
him capable of receiving great revelations. Prophets vary
in size, of course. There are major prophets and minor,
as there are major and minor poets. 2 But the difference
between them is essentially one of scale and degree, not
at all of kind. Moreover, it would be difficult to draw a
psychological line which separates the prophet from the
poet. The prophet is frequently a poet; and the poet is
often a prophet. Both have the same quality of vision.
The difference between them lies in another quarter, to
which we shall attend presently.

Meantime, let us consider the nature of this insight
more particularly. What we sometimes call "common
sense" is a kind of insight. It consists of a sane percep-
tion of the relation of facts to each other, a just apprecia-
tion of their comparative importance, and a sound judg-
ment upon the conduct proper to the situation. It is a
useful and generous gift; and though we call it common,
it is none too prodigally distributed. Few of us have as
much as it would be good for us to have. Yet common

2 In the Old Testament, the distinction between the major and minor
prophets refers to the length of the books attributed to them. We
are using the words here rather with reference to the quality of their
message. The prophet who prophesies most is not necessarily the
greatest prophet. Ezekiel is not a greater prophet than Amos.


sense operates only on the outside of things, and its
peculiar danger is to assume that the things it is capable
of dealing with cover the whole reality of life. But the
greater part of life is, after all, out of sight; and we
shall not reach a sound judgment concerning life until we
have the power to penetrate its hidden regions — like
Moses, to see the invisible. The distinctive quality of
the prophet's and the poet's insight is that it is able to
pierce this unknown and uncharted territory and to in-
terpret life and man and God in the light of it. It is the
gift of spiritual discernment and interpretation, the power
to apprehend the spiritual reality which lies behind things
and events, and to some extent to state the things seen
in a language which others can understand. To some
extent, notice; for all the spiritual reality which a man
may perceive cannot be expressed in speech; it "breaks
through language and escapes." As St. Paul says, we see
only in part; and the part we see we only utter in part
— whether we be prophets or poets, or only plain folk
with a faint and flickering vision. But this is the distinc-
tion of the prophet and the poet — that they see things in
this way. Peter Bell took "the primrose by the river's
brim" at its face value; but the prophet and the poet see
"every common bush aflame with God." For them reality
lies not in things seen and temporal, but in the things
which are unseen and eternal.

The difference between the poet and the prophet is
simple. The poet sings; the prophet preaches. The poet
clothes the thing he sees in a vesture of beauty and leaves
it at that; but the prophet is forever trying to gain a
hearing for his message. He has a truth to communicate
to men; but he is not, as the poet is, concerned with the
form in which the truth is uttered; his aim is to get it
heard, anyhow and at any cost. By this it is not meant
that the poet never preaches; on the contrary, every live
poet preaches. But he does not mean to preach; and he
preaches best when he least intends to. That is true of



all art. All noble art communicates a truth; but it does
so without meaning or professing to do so. But the
prophet's business is the preaching. This, however, does
not prevent him from being a poet; again and again
prophecy has seemed to cast itself into poetic form. We
see this in the Old Testament; and a notable instance of
ii is Lamennais' "Paroles d'un Croyant" where the burn-
ing message of the prophet expresses itself in long rolling
cadences like an ocean swell. The poet and the prophet
are near neighbors.

First Week, Fourth Day

Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea
Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say
that the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John
the Baptist; some, Elijah: and others, Jeremiah, or one
of the prophets. He saith unto them, But who say ye
that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou
art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus
answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon
Bar- Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto
thee, but my Father which is in heaven. — Matt. 16: 13-17.

This passage illustrates the difference between common
sense and spiritual insight. When the ordinary man said
Jesus was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets, he
was expressing a judgment reached by common sense.
So far as it went, it was true enough; and more, it was
— in contrast with the prevailing official judgments — a
favorable judgment. These people put Jesus in the high-
est class they knew, but it was a judgment arrived at by
the exercise of natural faculty. They said that Jesus
bore some family resemblance to the great figures of the
prophetic tradition ; but they failed to perceive the peculiar
distinction of Jesus. It was left to Peter to see and to
state what that was. "Thou art the Christ of God." But
observe that Jesus explains Peter's perception of His
significance by saying that he had received it from God.
"Flesh and blood" — that is, natural faculty — "hath not


revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."
Peter's judgment of Jesus was the product of spiritual
insight completed by a revelation.

The signal instance of this spiritual perception and
interpretation of Jesus is the Fourth Gospel. The Synoptic
Gospels in the main tell the story of Jesus in a plain
narrative without much comment; and record His teaching
as they found or received it. But the Fourth Gospel is
a spiritual interpretation of the story told by the synoptics.
It endeavors to see the figure of Jesus apart from its
historical setting; that is to say, it endeavors to place Him
in relation to the unseen world of eternal reality; and
its judgment is recorded in the Prologue of the first
chapter, where Jesus is identified with the Logos, the
Word, the eternal self-expression of God. Though the
Fourth Gospel is for the most part in narrative form,
it is deliberately placed in a setting which is curiously
timeless and careless of precise historical accuracy. Its
background is eternity.

The form of the Fourth Gospel's estimate of Jesus
was due to the intellectual background of the writer. The
term Logos may be said to begin its philosophical history
with Plato, who uses it to describe the eternal thought
of God, the perfect self-expression of God, as it were, in
its outgoing toward man. It was greatly developed in
Alexandria under Philo the Jew, who enriched the Greek
conception of the Logos by connecting it with the Wisdom
doctrine of the Jews, which broadly corresponds to the
Logos idea. But the Hebrew Wisdom was frequently
spoken of as a person, which at first may have been no
more than the common tendency to personify abstract
ideas, but which became more pronounced in Philo. It
is clear that, by some means or another, the teaching of
Philo had influenced early Christian thought. St. Paul
in the first chapter of Colossians shows undoubted traces
of it ; as do the opening words of the Epistle to the
Hebrews. But this drift of thought receives its crowning



expression in the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel, where
the proposition is plainly set down that "The Word be-
came flesh and dwelt among us"; and the view of the
Fourth Gospel is that the Word became flesh in the
Person of Jesus.

From this we may infer that what men see in Jesus is
influenced by their own mental background. It is this
that, partly at least, explains the wonderful diversity in
men's judgments upon Him; and that men see Him so
variously and so differently shows how unique a per-
sonality He was.

First Week, Fifth Day

Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness
of speech, and are not as Moses, who put a veil upon his
face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly
on the end of that which was passing away: but their
minds were hardened: for until this very day at the read-
ing of the old covenant the same veil remaineth unlifted;
which veil is done away in Christ. But unto this day,
whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart.
But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken
away. Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit
of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with un-
veiled face reflecting as a mirror 3 the glory of the Lord,
are transformed into the same image from glory to
glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit. — II Cor. 3: 12-18.

The peculiar value of the prophet's and the poet's vision
of Jesus lies in its spontaneity. Each from his own
angle and with his special gift of insight looks upon Him
and tells us what he sees. Very often he does not do so
intentionally; he does not set out to tell us what he sees.
The judgment is implied rather than deliberately stated;
and the richest clues are frequently those which are
dropped incidentally here and there. There is no suspicion
that someone is trying to prove a case or to defend an
opinion about Jesus. We have an unstrained reaction to

8 Margin, "beholding as in a mirror."



the personality of Jesus; and this should prove the best
kind of material for a study of the significance of Jesus.
We ought to find more truth about Jesus here than in
the creeds. For the creeds are the records of intellectual
findings. In our prophets and poets we shall find the
verdict of life.

But when we speak of the spontaneity of the poet and
the prophet, we must be careful to observe that their
impression of Jesus was not received on a clean canvas.
We have already observed that a man's view of Jesus is
affected by his mental background. It has, however, to
be noted that a man's mental background is composed of
two elements — that which he has put into it himself by

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Online LibraryRichard RobertsThat one face; studies of the place of Jesus in the minds of poets and prophets → online text (page 1 of 15)