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William Rounseville Alger.

The solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life online

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travagances, and aberrations, he deserves, and will ever
hold, an honored place among the leading minds of the
world. Prominent among the valuable lessons exempli-
fied by his career is the illustration it gives of the anti-
dotes to the germs of wretchedness and misanthropy
existing in a solitary lot.



JESUS. 377



JESUS.

JESUS has probably contributed, more than any other
person who ever lived, to aggrandize the idea of man in
the mind of the human race. No other has exerted so
great an influence for the deepening of the spiritual life
of the world and the production of the moral virtues.
This he has done through the contagious working of his
character, the commanding authority of his instructions,
the persuasive beauty of his example, and the organiza-
tion of the Church, a diffusive society whose explicit
aim it is by all sorts of worthy motives and sanctions to
cultivate goodness. So much the freest sceptic, who
looks out over the picture of history with unprejudiced
eye, will confess. But beyond this, in regard to the exact
details of what Jesus actually was and did and said, there
are insurmountable difficulties in the way of sure knowl-
edge. In the narratives which furnish the only direct
information we have about him, there are chasms, in-
consistencies, incredibilities. The Christ of the Fourth
Gospel appears not like a real being, but an imperson-
ated theory, half-humanized and supplied with accordant
speeches ; the incarnation of a philosophic and religious
idea existing in the metaphysical speculations of that age,'
but moulded and colored by the peculiarities of the He-
brew mind as well as by the genuine influences of the
historic Jesus. His most extraordinary character and
teachings must have transcended the comprehension of
his companions even more than is shown by the avowed
examples of it given in the New Testament. The idol-
atrous affection and awe of later times wrought with a
creative impulse upon everything pertaining to him, sur-
rounding him with a halo of miraculous attributes and
legends, through whose dazzling obscurity it is difficult to
see his actual features. Furthermore, the absence of the
spirit of scientific criticism in his contemporaries and
biographers, the fragmentary meagreness of the records,
the disguising perversions of nationalities, languages, and
ages, through which his history has since passed, all



378 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

agree to complicate the problem and make it virtually
impossible for us with entire accuracy to discriminate fact
from myth, truth from error, the meanings of the Teacher
from the interpretations of the reporters, and thus re-
cover his authentic portrait.

One thing at least is certain. The unspent regenerat-
ing force exerted on the world ever since, the redemptive
revolution working among men and distinctly traceable
to the time and place of the birth of Christianity, demon-
strate that there then lived a man of unprecedented
originality and power of soul, divinely inspired in an
unprecedented degree. The veritable Jesus of Nazareth,
whose blessed feet trod the fields of Galilee two thou-
sand years ago, is the historic nucleus about which has
gradually gathered that supernatural nimbus which now
dazzles the imaginations of most of his followers with a
bewildered belief of his literal Godhead. He whom Paul
called "the man Christ Jesus," is the highest historic
teacher, guide, and exemplar of our race ; not unlike
others in kind, however superior in degree. Looked at
in this way he is no longer absolutely unique, but belongs
to a class, is the culminating flower of a type. The great
prophets and founders of religions in other periods are
not to be contrasted with him as sheer impostors, casting
double mystery on him ; but their traits and doings, the
psychological phenomena they reveal, are to be studied
as helping us the better to understand him. Abraham,
Moses, Isaiah, Zoroaster, Buddha, Socrates, Mohammed,
and scores more of the holiest and grandest spirits of
our race, have communed with God at first hand, been
inspired by Him, felt themselves intrusted with special
messages and a general mission. These too have col-
lected disciples, transmitted themselves, and, in their
various modes, formed churches, theologies, rituals. To
such as these a superhuman birth, supernatural endow-
ments and feats, have commonly been attributed after
they had gone and left their inexhaustible influence at
work, their immense echoes rolling behind them. Most
students of the history of Jesus have singularly neglected
to avail themselves of this help, a competent investiga-



JESUS. 379

tion of the characters and careers of such men as Samuel,
Elijah, David, Pythagoras, Apollonius, Francis of Assissi,
Bernard of Clairvaux, the magnetic natures of the
world, the fascinating personalities of history, the mystic
souls of biography, the imperial wonder-workers of time.
The more thoroughly we enter into the experiences of
this stamp of men, and into the mythologizing action,
with reference to them, of the minds of subsequent and
inferior men, the better able we shall be to understand
Jesus and the vulgar theory of him ; though, after all this
aid, his overtopping authority, the overawing mystery of
his genius, may still baffle our measure and compel us to
say with the Centurion, " Truly this was the Son of God."

In distinction from the historic Jesus, there is the the-
ological Christ, who is a theoretical personage, a specula-
tive abstraction, a spectral dogma, a creation of scholas-
tic controversies. In distinction from both of these,
there is the practical Saviour of the heart, the working
Christ of the Church, the Master really revered and loved
by the world of true disciples. This Christ is partly his-
toric and partly ideal, but wholly divine. He is the mov-
able index of the conscience of mankind ; the reflex of
the world's sense of its duty ; the picture of perfection,
freshly shaded and tinted in every age, borne by the
marching human race. This transfusion of the ideal with
the historic in the image of its Saviour, is a necessity in
a life of humanity which is not a fixture but a process.
Every quality of beauty and of good developed in the
evolution of advancing history and man, with its new re-
finements, complexities, and expansions, is seen reflected
in this authoritative ideal, in order that it may be taken
up by the assimilating forces of reverence, obedience,
and love. Seen in this light the mythical and ideal ele-
ments in the popular Christ are not coincident with false-
hood or illusion, but are an inevitable factor in that his-
toric process of revelation, or that revealed process of
history, through which God educates mankind, are a
divine arrangement for leading men to redemption.

It is the delirium of historical scepticism to deny that
there was an authentic man who served as the centre foi



380 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

this construction and glorification which has grown into
the moral and religious head of the civilization of the
Christian world. Greek philosophy, Hebrew tradition
and hope, and Roman domination, furnished the ripe ma-
terials and conditions, and Gibbon says, " Christianity
was in the air." Yes, and it would have remained in the
air had not a crystallizing personality appeared to collect
and draw it thence. The elements of Christianity were
held in solution in the world ; the character of Christ,
moving through them, precipitated Christendom.

But historic actuality as Jesus was, no one without strong
wilfulness or credulity can accept the present portrait,
painted in the imagination of Christendom, as an exact
transcript of the primitive original. Each critical inquir-
er, who, unwilling to remain in confessed ignorance, or to
accept with blind faith what is told, desires to get at the
facts, must do his best to extricate the real image from
the mingled darkness and radiance of history, myth, le-
gend, and speculation enveloping it. The Christian Con-
sciousness, the collective sense of Christendom, is com-
petent to determine what is congruous, what incongruous,
with the true idea of Christ ; to cut off superfluities and
supply defects in the transmitted form. The purest and
highest souls, who know the most of biography, history,
and science, the most of the mysteries of human nature,
who have been the most perfectly trained in the personal
experience of the spiritual life, and who therefore have
an ineffably quick tact to detect moral consonances, dis-
crepancies, and requirements, are the authoritative rep-
resentatives of this totality of Christian perception and
feeling. But the difference between fact and truth, his-
tory and spirit, the typical idea and the concrete reality,
must always be borne in mind.

The present sketch comparatively limits itself to those
aspects of the character of Jesus which have relation to
solitude, loneliness, grief, and the various temptations in-
cident to these experiences. It does not attempt to pre-
sent a full portraiture of him and his career. He was a
soul so pure as to be an organ of the Spirit of the Whole ;
that is, an inspired representative of God. He was a gen-



JESUS. 381

ius so fine and strong as to master by spontaneous intu-
ition moral and religious principles and sentiments which
the wisest philosophers and poets, aided by the richest
training of the schools, have apprehended only after a
lifetime of toil and aspiration. His organism was so in-
teriorly soft and deep, that fulfilling emotions of peace
and bliss, such as the rarest mystics in their highest mo-
ments have known, were his effortless acquisition. The
greatest and most original thoughts, the most direct per-
ceptions of fundamental truths, the most beautiful and
persuasive images, the most entrancing expansions of
feeling, came to him so like instincts unawares, that he
could not claim them as his own, but only attribute them
to God, the Infinite Father, with whom the sweet sim-
plicity of his self-renounced heart felt itself in unison
through all the loveliness and mystery of His works and
ways. No poet or moralist ever created fresher or more
charming apologues than he, or spoke in a richer dialect
of audacious insight and beauty than he in his speeches
of the lilies, of the birds, of the sun rising on the evil
and on the good, of the rain falling on the just and on
the unjust. No reformer ever scouted the hoary tradi-
tions of ages and reversed the rooted prescriptions of his
time with more fearless superiority than he. His receptive
and responsive capacity of genius brought him into un-
paralleled intimacy of fellowship with humanity, nature,
and God, made him independent of the teachings of
others, gave him a supreme authority, ingravidated his
utterance as with the weight of worlds. " Heaven and
earth may pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
It is the voice of a God.

Many earnest students of the character of Jesus are
perplexed, confounded, by what seems to be the astound-
ing arrogance of his personal claims, the contradiction
between the sublime sincerity of his precepts and practice
of self-sacrifice on the one hand, and the unapproachable
egotism of many of his declarations on the other. Three
considerations go far to remove this difficulty. First,
there is great reason to believe that much of this self
assertory language was either not used by him at all, but



382 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

reflected back from the ideas subsequently entertained of
him, or was employed by him in an official sense referring
to his Messianic rank and functions, not in a personal
sense. Secondly, in several instances it is clear that the
ostentatious assumption is only apparently such. For ex-
ample, when he says, " I am meek and lowly of heart,"
there is nothing like vanity or boasting ; it is trje simple
truth, expressed by an innocence so naive, an unsophisti-
catedness and sincerity so august, as to be wholly uncon-
scious of self. He had no thought of awakening admira-
tion, but aimed, through pure truth of example and word,
to bless others by winning them also to meekness and
lowliness. It is self-regardful vanity that in such a case
would hesitate to speak the truth from fear of the effect,
and be immodest in appearing modest. Thirdly, when
Jesus made use of such expressions as, " He that eateth
my body and drinketh my blood hath eternal life," he
means not himself, but the divine quality shown in him,
a gift of God. He likewise says, " He that eateth my
flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in
him," that is, between him and the disciple animated by
the same indestructible principles there is a community
of spirit. Also, still more clearly, " The words I speak,
they are spirit and they are life." The doctrine he taught,
the faith he held, the spirit he was of, it is this, and not
his own personality, that he demands such astounding
deference to. " I and my Father are one " : here he does
not sink God in himself, boundless egotism, but iden-
tifies himself with God, boundless renunciation, feels
that God inspires him, lives and speaks in him, and does
the works. He so surrenders and blends himself with the
truth as to represent it, and say, " I am the truth." He
found himself in possession of great moral and spiritual
truths, truths far in advance of the time. He did not
know how they came, but felt that he did not himself
achieve them. He supposed that God had given them
to him and laid on him the mission of proclaiming them.
He identified the revealing spirit with God ; and justly
so. It is God alone who can give to the finite and
perishable individual the perception of the universal and



JESUS. 383

eternal, so that, an inspired prophet, he shall say, " I will
utter things which have been kept secret from the foun-
dation of the world." It is not any personal ego, but the
voice of divine reality, that speaks then. " No man
cometh unto the Father except by me." That is to say,
No man can live in that communion with the Father in
which I live, except by means of the same faith in the
Father which I have, except by means of that idea of the
Father which I have declared. Correctly understood,
there is no egotism in these declarations ; they are natu-
ral and dignified expressions of the facts of the case :
they are the style proper to the seer.

Whatever cannot be explained by these considerations
is to be rejected as spurious ; because the evidence is
irresistible that Jesus was the most self-abnegated, sacri-
ficing, lowly, and loving, of the sons of men. The central
germ of his divine originality consisted in this very thing,
his utter superiority to all the hollow ambitions, pomps
and prides of the world, his unrivalled sympathy with the
poor, the sinful, the outcast, the lost. He came not to be
ministered unto, but to minister. Leaving to others the
uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in syna-
gogues, he devoted himself to the cure of vice and the
relief of pain, and by the assiduous practice of his own
aphorism, " Let him that would be first among you be
your servant," inverted the scale of Pagan virtue, and in-
stituted a new order of greatness on the earth. It is
because he has lived that we are now able to say, looking
down on the wretched with pity and up to the ransomed
with desire, The lower a man carries his love the loftier
he lifts his life. In every objectionable sense of the word
egotism, Jesus was one of the least egotistic souls that
ever appeared among men. Every word inconsistent with
this interpretation of his character is falsely ascribed to
him. The mighty Ipse dixit of Pythagoras reflects not
the personal assumption of the great Crotonian ; it re-
flects the impression made on his disciples by his inscru-
table personality and genius. The more inscrutable soul
of Jesus would naturally work a deeper effect and secure
stronger expressions. This explanation is to be empha-



384 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

sized with the fact that in that period exceptionally impos-
ing and gifted men were often regarded as deities. Peter
said to those who would have worshipped him as a god,
" See ye do it not ; I also am a man." The priests and
people at Lystra would have sacrificed garlanded oxen to
Paul and Barnabas, believing them to be Hermes and
Zeus. It is therefore clearly unnecessary to think that
Jesus is God because he has been believed to be God.
The mystery of the soul of Jesus, the strange authority
of his knowledge, the marvellous effects he wrought, are
to be ascribed to a special heightening of the ordinary
intercourse of God with human nature. To undertake
to explain them by the notion of something superhuman
and preternatural, a unique incarnation of the Godhead,
is to leave the region of reason and law and enter the
region of fancy and chimera.

He who taught men that the path of the moral com-
mandments was the path of salvation, that a life of philan-
thropic works was a title to redemption in the judgment,
who took an innocent child for the best image of heaven,
who sought no kingdom but truth, no honor but love, who
said " Of myself I can do nothing," and who in the fare-
well hour instituted a' feast of love to keep his name in
remembrance, could never have dreamed of the medi-
aeval doctrine of the atonement, could never have ex-
pected to be deified, nor have wished to be personally
worshipped. And all worship that, resting in him, stops
short of the Absolute Highest, simply makes him the
purest and sublimest of fetishes. He is then the head
of that series of idols which sinks past the picture of the
Italian bandit, and the leaden image of the Portuguese
sailor, to the toad, tree, stick, and stone of the savage.

To merge the divine humanity of Jesus in a factitious
theory of his Deity is to lose more than can be gained.
For we can get no good from him except as we drink his
spirit. He can benefit us only by influencing us to become
like himself. The only redemptive relation to him is a
spiritual not an official one, an adoption of the quality of
his character, not any ceremonial attitude towards his
name or person. The essential thing is not a formal



JESUS. 385

belief in the saving efficacy of his blood, but a willing-
ness, imbibed from him, to shed our own for the good of
mankind. We read that a diseased woman once pressed'
through the crowd and touched the hem of his garment,
and by the power of her faith was immediately healed.
Is not still the loyal disciple, who gets near enough to
touch him in spirit and draw forth the inspiring virtue he
delivers, made spiritually whole ? But to neglect the text,
" Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," for the
text, " I will raise him up at the last day," to value the
groaning and the unloosed napkin by the grave of Laza-
rus more highly than the conversation by the well of
Jacob and the parable of the Good Samaritan, is to
vulgarize the wisdom of Jesus into clairvoyance, and
materialize his spiritual divinity into a physical thauma-
turgy. It is doubtless easier for the Confraternity of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus to worship the symbol of the visible
organ than vitally to appropriate the moral substance.
But the genuine heart of Jesus is to be seen in his say-
ings, Surfer little children to come unto me ; Go, and sin
no more ; It is my meat to do the will of Him that sent
me ; Love one another as I have loved you ; and is fitly
worshipped only by a personal assimilation of these
sentiments.

The whole mass of declarations and imagery, accord-
ingly, in which Jesus is represented as virtually asserting
that no one can be saved without a direct and professed
relation to him in his Messiahship, arrogating to himself
personally a forensic position of inconceivable power and
grandeur, this language, if regarded as authentic, and
taken in its literal sense, would force us to believe that he
labored under a gross delusion. It is impossible for any
mind fit to grapple with such a subject, to credit, as the
true account of the plan of God for the future history of
the earth and man, the mechanical hypothesis, the melo-
dramatic mythology, that on a fixed day a trumpet is to
sound, clouds of angels to fly down and reap the harvest
of the burning world, Jesus himself to appear in omnip-
otent array and to cause a resurrection of the dead from
their graves, and then sit in person in the awful assize,
17 Y



386 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

and apportion their doom to the good and the bad. This
is no tone from the. infinite harmony of truth. It is a jar-
ring figment of fancy. We cannot believe that he whose
mind, with its matchless intuitive scope and penetration,
was so soundly poised, ever taught any such thing.
The genius of the religion he founded, the prominent con-
gruities of his character, require us to think that such as-
sertions are exaggerations thrown back by later theories,
or misreports fastening on his expressions an exterior
meaning foreign to his intention. His other thoughts are
irreconcilable with this monstrous forensic and theatrical
personal prominence. "The word that I have spoken,
the same shall judge him at the last day ; for I have not
spoken of myself." "To sit on my right hand and on my
left, is not mine to give." " Why callest thou me good ?
There is none good but One, that is God." " All the law
and the prophets hang on these two commandments, Thou
shall love God with all thy heart, Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself." " Except ye be converted and be-
come as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of
heaven." "If I honor myself, my honor is nothing."
" Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you
free." " God is Spirit, and they that worship him must
worship him in spirit and in truth." The man who was
the author of these thoughts could not have believed
himself destined to ride down space with a cherubic escort,
as the conquering hero of the Universe, and to set up his
judgment chair on an expiring world amidst the rising
millions of the dead. Never. It is historically traceable
as mixed Persian and Jewish fancy, and its authorship
has been only erroneously attributed to Jesus.

The whole dominant style of character exemplified by
Jesus, as summed up in his chief maxims, such as,
Resist not evil, Love your enemies, My kingdom is not
of this world, Go forth as lambs among wolves, Humility
and service are the true exaltation, was startlingly new
and strange in his age. This singularly original person-
ality, so close to God, so harmonized to truth, so full of
love, could not but set him far apart in spirit, and make
him a baffling enigma to his contemporaries. Even those



JESUS. 387

simple hearts who yielded to his charm, and followed him
with loving reverence, could not pierce the mystery that
surrounded him, but constantly " marvelled what manner
of man he was." Whether we think of him as pacing the
highways, in the still village synagogue, tossing in the mid-
night tempest on the lake, riding through hosannas, over
strewn garments and palms, besought by the wondering
multitude to become their King, seeking the sheltered
shades of Gethsemane or the starry top of Olivet,
always he seems to us transcendently alone, wrapt in the
solitude of his own magical originality.

In addition to the distinguishing effect of the wonder-
ful impression he made on persons, and of the wonderful
works of healing and renewal he wrought, the matchless
penetration of his genius, as shown in his parables and his
beatitudes and his answers to puzzling questions, must have
removed him from other men by making it impossible for
them at once to comprehend his teachings. Repeatedly we
read, "They understood not what things they were which
he spake unto them." And once he said, as if sorrowfully
forced back upon himself in a chill insulation, " I have
many things to say unto you, but you cannot hear them
yet," and then he invoked the Spirit of Truth to teach
them afterwards what was at that time unintelligible to
them. Not one man out of a million at this day can
fathom by any direct perception the full meaning of his
utterances, " Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is
the kingdom of heaven" ; "Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God." How few also are competent to
appreciate his intense moral idealism, as shown both in
his ethics and in his doctrine of prayer ; a practical ideal-
ism far superior to the speculative idealism of Berkeley
or Fichte. His interior realization was so entrancing as



Online LibraryWilliam Rounseville AlgerThe solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life → online text (page 32 of 35)