Jesus Christ was undoubtedly the very last sort of Messiah that the Jews expected. Christian theologians say confidently that the characters of humility, obscureness, and depression, were commonly attributed to the Jewish Messiah; and even Bishop Butler, in general the most severely exact of writers, gives countenance to this error. What is true is, that we find these characters attributed to some one by the prophets; that we attribute them to Jesus Christ; that Jesus is for us the Messiah, and that Jesus they suit. But for the prophets themselves, and for the Jews who heard and read them, these characters of lowliness and depression belonged to God's chastened servant, the idealized Israel. When Israel had been purged and renewed by these, the Messiah was to appear; but with glory and power for his attributes, not humility and weakness. It is impossible to resist acknowledging this, if we read the Bible to find from it what really those who wrote it intended to think and say, and not to put into it what we wish them to have thought and said. To find in Jesus the genuine Jewish Messiah, or to find in him the Son of Man of Daniel, one coming with the clouds of heaven and having universal dominion given him, must certainly, to a Jew, have been extremely difficult.
Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly in the Old Testament the germ of Christianity. In developing this germ lay the future of righteousness itself, of Israel's primary and immortal concern; and the incomparable greatness of the religion founded by Jesus Christ comes from his having developed it. Jesus Christ is not the Messiah to whom the hopes of his nation pointed; and yet Christendom with perfect justice has made him the Messiah, because he alone took, when his nation was on another and a false tack, a way obscurely indicated in the Old Testament, and the one only possible and successful way, for the accomplishment of the Messiah's function:—to bring in everlasting righteousness. Let us see how this was so.
Religion in the Old Testament is a matter of national and social conduct mainly. First, it consists in devotion to Israel's God, the Eternal who loveth righteousness, and of separation from other nations whose concern for righteousness was less fervent,—of abhorrence of their idolatries which were sure to bewilder and diminish this fervent concern. Secondly, it consists in doing justice, hating all wrong, robbery, and oppression, abstaining from insolence, lying, and slandering. The Jews' polity, their theocracy, was of such immense importance, because religion, when conceived as having its existence in these national and social duties mainly, requires a polity to put itself forth in; and the Jews' polity was adapted to religion so conceived. But this religion, as it developed itself, was by no means fully worthy of the intuition out of which it had grown. We have seen how, in its intuition of God,—of that 'not ourselves' of which all mankind form some conception or other,—as the Eternal that makes for righteousness, the Hebrew race found the revelation needed to breathe emotion into the laws of morality, and to make morality religion. This revelation is the capital fact of the Old Testament, and the source of its grandeur and power. But it is evident that this revelation lost, as time went on, its nearness and clearness; and that for the mass of the Hebrews their God came to be a mere magnified and non-natural man, like the God of our popular religion now, who has commanded certain courses of conduct and attached certain sanctions to them.
And though prophets and righteous men, among the Hebrews, might preserve always the immediate and truer apprehension of their God as the Eternal who makes for righteousness, they in vain tried to communicate this apprehension to the mass of their countrymen. They had, indeed, special difficulty to contend with in communicating it; and the difficulty was this. Those courses of conduct, which Israel's intuition of the Eternal had originally touched with emotion and made religion, lay chiefly, we have seen, in the line of national and social duties. By reason of the stage of their own growth and the world's, at which this revelation found the Hebrews, the thing could not well be otherwise. And national and social duties are peculiarly capable of a mechanical exterior performance, in which the heart has no share. One may observe rites and ceremonies, hate idolatry, abstain from murder and theft and false witness, and yet have one's inward thoughts bad, callous, and disordered. Then even the admitted duties themselves come to be ill-discharged or set at naught, because the emotion which was the only certain security for their good discharge is wanting. The very power of religion, as we have seen, lies in its bringing emotion to bear on our rules of conduct, and thus making us care for them so much, consider them so deeply and reverentially, that we surmount the great practical difficulty of acting in obedience to them, and follow them heartily and easily. Therefore the Israelites, when they lost their primary intuition and the deep feeling which went with it, were perpetually idolatrous, perpetually slack or niggardly in the service of Jehovah, perpetually violators of judgment and justice.
The prophets earnestly reminded their nation of the superiority of judgment and justice to any exterior ceremony like sacrifice. But judgment and justice themselves, as Israel in general conceived them, have something exterior in them; now, what was wanted was more inwardness, more feeling. This was given by adding mercy and humbleness to judgment and justice. Mercy and humbleness are something inward, they are affections of the heart. And even in the Proverbs these appear: 'The merciful man doeth good to his own soul;' 'He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he;' 'Honor shall uphold the humble in spirit;' 'When pride cometh, shame cometh, but with the lowly is wisdom.' And the prophet Micah asked his nation: 'What doth the Eternal require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?'—adding mercy and humility to the old judgment and justice. But a farther development is given to humbleness, when the second Isaiah adds contrition to it: 'I' (the Eternal) 'dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit;' or when the Psalmist says, 'The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise!'
This is personal religion; religion consisting in the inward feeling and disposition of the individual himself, rather than in the performance of outward acts towards religion or society. It is the essence of Christianity, it is what the Jews needed, it is the line in which their religion was ripe for development. And it appears in the Old Testament. Still, in the Old Testament it by no means comes out fully. The leaning, there, is to make religion social rather than personal, an affair of outward duties rather than of inward dispositions. Soon after the very words we have just quoted from him, the second Isaiah adds: 'If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger and speaking vanity, and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in obscurity and thy darkness be as the noon day, and the Eternal shall guide thee continually and make fat thy bones.' This stands, or at least appears to stand, as a full description of righteousness; and as such, it is unsatisfying.
What was wanted, then, was a fuller description of righteousness. Now, it is clear that righteousness, the central object of Israel's concern, was the central object of Jesus Christ's concern also. Of the development and of the cardinal points of his teaching we shall have to speak more at length by-and-by; all we have to do here is to pass them in a rapid preliminary review. Israel had said: 'To him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God.' And Jesus said: 'Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,'—that is, of the very people who then passed for caring most about righteousness and practicing it most rigidly,—ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.' But righteousness had by Jesus Christ's time lost, in great measure, the mighty impulse which emotion gives; and in losing this, had lost also the mighty sanction which happiness gives. 'The whole head was sick and the whole heart faint;' the glad and immediate sense of being in the right way, in the way of peace, was gone; the sense of being wrong and astray, of sin, and of helplessness under sin, was oppressive. The thing was, by giving a fuller idea of righteousness, to re-apply emotion to it, and by thus re-applying emotion, to disperse the feeling of being amiss and helpless, to give the sense of being right and effective; to restore, in short, to righteousness the sanction of happiness.
But this could only be done by attending to that inward world of feelings and dispositions which Judaism had too much neglected. The first need, therefore, for Israel at that time, was to make religion cease to be mainly a national and social matter, and become mainly a personal matter. 'Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, that the outside may be clean also!'—this was the very ground-principle in Jesus Christ's teaching. Instead of attending so much to your outward acts, attend, he said, first of all to your inward thoughts, to the state of your heart and feelings. This doctrine has perhaps been over strained and misapplied by certain people since; but it was the lesson which at that time was above all needed. It is a great progress beyond even that advanced maxim of pious Jews: 'To do justice and judgment is more acceptable than sacrifice.' For to do justice and judgment is still, as we have remarked, something external, and may leave the feelings untouched, uncleared, dead. What was wanted was to plough up, clear, and quicken the feelings themselves. And this is what Jesus Christ did.
'My son, give me thy heart!' says the teacher of righteousness in the golden age of Israel. And when Israel had the Eternal revealed to him, and founded our religion, he gave his heart. But the time came when this direct vision ceased, and Israel's religion was a mere affair of tradition, and of doctrines and rules received from without. Then it might be truly said of this professed servant of the Eternal: 'This people honor me with their lips, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.' With little or no power of distinguishing between what was rule of ceremonial and what was rule of conduct, they followed the prescriptions of their religion with a servile and sullen mind, 'precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little,' and no end to it all. What a change since the days when it was joy to the just to do judgment! The prophets saw clearly enough the evil, nay, they could even point to the springs which must be touched in order to work a cure. But they could not press these springs steadily enough or skillfully enough to work the cure themselves.
Jesus Christ's new and different way of putting things was the secret of his succeeding where the prophets failed. And this new way he had of putting things is what is indicated by the expression epieikeia,—an expression best rendered, as I have elsewhere said, by the phrase: 'sweet reasonableness.' For that which is epieikes is that which has an air of truth and likelihood: and that which has an air of truth and likelihood is prepossessing. Now, never were there utterances concerning conduct and righteousness,—Israel's master-concern, and the master-topic of the New Testament as well as of the Old,—which so carried with them an air of consummate truth and likelihood as Jesus Christ's did; and never, therefore, were any utterances so irresistibly prepossessing. He put things in such a way that his hearer was led to take each rule or fact of conduct by its inward side, its effect on the heart and character; then the reason of the thing, the meaning of what had been mere matter of blind rule, flashed upon him. The hearer could distinguish between what was only ceremony, and what was conduct; and the hardest rule of conduct came to appear to him infinitely reasonable and natural, and therefore infinitely prepossessing. A return upon themselves, and a consequent intuition of the truth and reason of the matter of conduct in question, gave men for right action the clearness, spirit, energy, happiness, they had lost.
This power of returning upon themselves, and seeing by a flash the truth and reason of things, his disciples learnt of Jesus. They learnt too, from observing him and his example, much which, without perhaps any conscious process of being apprehended in its reason, was discerned instinctively to be true and life-giving as soon as it was recommended in Christ's words and illustrated by Christ's example. Two lessons in particular they learnt in this way, and added them to the great lesson of self-examination and an appeal to the inner man, with which they started. 'Whoever will come after me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross daily and follow me! he that will save his life shall lose it, he that will lose his life shall save it.' This was one of the two. 'Learn of me that I am mild and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls!' was the other. Jesus made his followers first look within and examine themselves; he made them feel that they had a best and real self as opposed to their ordinary and apparent one, and that their happiness depended on saving this best self from being overborne. Then to find his own soul, his true and permanent self, became set up in man's view as his chief concern, as the secret of happiness; and so it really is. 'How is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and forfeit himself?' —was the searching question which Jesus made men ask themselves. And by recommending, and still more by himself exemplifying in his own practice, by showing active in himself, with the most prepossessing pureness, clearness, and beauty, the two qualities by which our ordinary self is indeed most essentially counteracted, self-renouncement and mildness, he made his followers feel that in these qualities lay the secret of their best self; that to attain them was in the highest degree requisite and natural, and that a man's whole happiness depended upon it.
Self-examination, self-renouncement, and mildness, were, therefore, the great means by which Jesus Christ renewed righteousness and religion. All these means are indicated in the Old Testament: God requireth truth in the inward parts! Not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure! Seek meekness! But how far more strongly are they forced upon the attention in the New Testament, and set up clearly as the central mark for our endeavors! Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup that the outside may be clean also! Whoever will come after me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross daily and follow me! Learn of me that I am mild and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls! So that, although personal religion is clearly recommended in the Old Testament, nevertheless these injunctions of the New Testament effect so much more for the extrication and establishment of personal religion than the general exhortations in the Old to offer the sacrifice of righteousness, to do judgment, that, comparatively with the Old, the New Testament may be said to have really founded inward and personal religion. While the Old Testament says: Attend to conduct! the New Testament says: Attend to the feelings and dispositions whence conduct proceeds! And as attending to conduct had very much degenerated into deadness and formality, attending to the springs of conduct was a revelation, a revival of intuitive and fresh perceptions, a touching of morals with emotion, a discovering of religion, similar to that which had been effected when Israel, struck with the abiding power not of man's causing which makes for righteousness, and filled with joy and awe by it, had in the old days named God the Eternal. Man came under a new dispensation, and made with God a second covenant.
To rivet the attention on the indications of personal religion furnished by the Old Testament; to take the humble, inward, and suffering 'servant of God' of the prophets, and to elevate this as the Messiah, the seed of Abraham and of David, in whom all nations should be blessed, whose throne should be as the days of heaven, who should redeem his people and restore the kingdom to Israel,—was a work of the highest originality. It cannot, as we have seen, be said, that by the suffering servant of God, and by the triumphant Messiah, the prophets themselves meant one and the same person. But language of hope and aspiration, such as theirs, is in its very nature malleable. Criticism may and must determine what the original speakers seem to have directly meant. But the very nature of their language justifies any powerful and fruitful application of it; and every such application may be said, in the words of popular religion, to have been lodged there from the first by the spirit of God. Certainly it was a somewhat violent exegetical proceeding, to fuse together into one personage Daniel's Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven, the first Isaiah's 'Branch out of the root of Jesse,' who should smite the earth with the rod of his mouth and reign in glory and peace and righteousness, and the second Isaiah's meek and afflicted Servant of God charged with the precious message of a golden future;—to fuse together in one these three by no means identical personages; to add to them the sacrificial lamb of the Passover and of the temple-service, which was constantly before a Jew's eyes; to add, besides, the Prophet like to himself whom Moses promised to the children of Israel; to add, further, the Holy One of Israel and Redeemer, who for the prophets was the Eternal himself; and then to say, that the combination thence resulting was the Messiah or Christ whom all the prophets had meant and predicted, and that Jesus was this Messiah. To us, who have been formed and fashioned by a theology whose set purpose is to efface all the difficulties in such a combination, and to make it received, easily and unhesitatingly, it may appear natural. In itself and with the elements of which it is composed viewed singly and impartially, it cannot but be pronounced violent.
But the elements in question have their chief use and value, we repeat, not as objects of criticism; they belong of right to whoever can best possess himself of them for practice and edification. Simply of the Son of Man coming in the clouds, of the Branch of Jesse smiting the earth with the rod of his mouth, slaying the wicked with his breath, and re-establishing in unexampled splendor David's kingdom, nothing could be made. With such a Messiah filling men's thoughts and hopes, the real defects of Israel still remained, because these chiefly proceeded from Israel's making his religion too much a national and social affair, too little a personal affair. But a Messiah who did not strive nor cry, who was oppressed and afflicted without opening his mouth, who worked inwardly, obscurely, and patiently, yet failed not nor was discouraged until his doctrine made its way and transformed the world,—this was the Messiah whom Israel needed, and in whom the lost greatness of Israel could be restored and culminate. For the true greatness of Israel was righteousness; and only by an inward personal religion could the sense revive of what righteousness really was,—revive in Israel and bear fruit for the world.
Instead, then, of 'the Root of Jesse who should set up an ensign for the nations and assemble the outcasts of Israel,' Jesus Christ took from prophecy and made pre-eminent 'the Servant whom man despiseth and the people abhorreth, but who bringeth good tidings, who publisheth peace, publisheth salvation.' And instead of saying like the prophets: 'This people must mend, this nation must do so and so, Israel must follow such and such ways,' Jesus took the individual Israelite by himself apart, made him listen for the voice of his conscience, and said to him in effect: 'If every one would mend one, we should have a new world.' So vital for the Jews was this change of character in their religion, that the Old Testament abounds, as we have said, in pointings and approximations to it; and most truly might Jesus Christ say to his followers, that many prophets and righteous men had desired, though unavailingly, to see the things which they, the disciples, saw and heard.
The desire felt by pious Israelites for some new aspect of religion such as Jesus Christ presented, is, undoubtedly, the best proof of its timeliness and salutariness. Perhaps New Testament evidence to prove the workings of this desire may be received with suspicion, as having arisen after the event and when the new ideal of the Christ had become established. Otherwise, John the Baptist's characterization of the Messiah as 'the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,' and the bold Messianic turn given in the twelfth chapter of St. Matthew to the prophecy there quoted from the forty-second chapter of Isaiah, would be evidence of the highest importance. 'A bruised reed breaketh he not,' says Isaiah of the meek servant and messenger of God, 'and a glimmering wick quencheth he not; he declareth judgment with truth; far lands wait for his doctrine.' 'A bruised reed shall he not break,' runs the passage in St. Matthew, 'and smoking flax shall he not quench, until he send forth judgment unto victory: in his name shall the Gentiles trust.' The words, until he send forth judgment unto victory, words giving a clear Messianic stamp to the personage described, are neither in the original Hebrew nor in the Greek of the Septuagint. Where did the Gospel-writer find them? If, as is possible, they were in some version then extant, they prove in a striking way the existence and strength of the aspiration which Jesus Christ satisfied by transforming the old popular ideal of the Messiah. But there are in any case signs of the existence of such an aspiration, since a Jewish commentator, contemporary, probably, with the Christian era, but not himself a Christian, assigns to this very prophecy a Messianic intention. And, indeed, the rendering of the final words, in his name shall the Gentiles trust, which is in the Greek of the Septuagint as well as in that of St. Matthew, shows a similar leaning in the Jews of Alexandria some two centuries before Christ.
Signs there are then, without doubt, of others, besides Jesus Christ, trying to identify the Messiah of popular Jewish hope,—the triumphant Root of David, the mystic Son of Man,—with an ideal of meekness, inwardness, patience, and self-denial. And well might reformers try to effect this identification, for the true line of Israel's progress lay through it! But not he who tries makes an epoch, but he who effects; and the identification which was needed Jesus Christ effected. Henceforth the true Israelite was, undoubtedly, he who allied himself with this identification; who perceived its in comparable fruitfulness, its continuance of the real tradition of Israel, its correspondence with the ruling idea of the Hebrew spirit: Through righteousness to happiness! or, in Bible-words: To him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God! That the Jewish nation at large, and its rulers, refused to accept the identification, shows simply that want of power to penetrate through wraps and appearances to the essence of things, which the majority of mankind always display. The national and social character of their theocracy was everything to the Jews, and they could see no blessings in a revolution which annulled it.
It has often been remarked that the Puritans are like the Jews of the Old Testament; and Mr. Froude thinks he defends the Puritans by saying that they, like the Jews of the Old Testament, had their hearts set on a theocracy, on a fashioning of politics and society to suit the government of God. How strange that he does not perceive that he thus passes, and with justice, the gravest condemnation on the Puritans as followers of Jesus Christ! At the Christian era the time had passed, in religion, for outward adaptations of this kind, and for all care about establishing or abolishing them. The time had come for inwardness and self-reconstruction,—a time to last till the self-reconstruction is fully achieved. It was the error of the Jews that they did not perceive this; and the old error of the Jews the Puritans, without the Jews' excuse, faithfully repeated. And the blunder of both had the same cause,—a want of tact to perceive what is really most wanted for the attainment of their own professed ideal, the reign of righteousness.
When Jesus appeared, his disciples were those who did not make this blunder. They were, in general, simple souls, without pretensions which Jesus Christ's new religious ideal cut short, or self-consequence which it mortified. And any Israelite who was, on the one hand, not warped by personal pretensions and self-consequence, and on the other, not dull of feeling and gross of life like the common multitude, might well be open to the spell which, after all, was the great confirmation of Christ's religion, as it was the great confirmation of the original religion of Israel,—the spell of its happiness. 'Be glad, O ye righteous, and rejoice in the Eternal,'—the old and lost prerogative of Israel,—Christianity offered to make again a living and true word to him.
For we have already remarked how it is the great achievement of the Israel of the Old Testament, happiness being mankind's confessed end and aim, to have more than anyone else felt, and more than anyone else succeeded in making others feel, that to righteousness belongs happiness. Now, it will be denied by no one that Jesus, in his turn, was eminently characterized by professing to bring, and by being felt to bring, happiness. All the words that belong to his mission,—gospel, kingdom of God, savior, grace, peace, living water, bread of life,—are brimful of promise and of joy. 'I am come,' he said, 'that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly;' 'Come to me, and ye shall find rest unto your souls;' 'I speak, that my disciples may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.'
You can see, says Jesus to his followers, you can see the leading religionists of the Jewish nation, with the current notions about righteousness, God's will, and the meaning of prophecy, you can see them saying and not doing, full of fierce temper, pride, and sensuality;—this shows they can be but blind guides for you. The savior of Israel is he who makes Israel use his conscience simply and sincerely, who makes him change and sweeten his temper, conquer and annul his sensuality. Such a savior will make unhappy Israel happy again. The prophets all point to such a savior, and he is the Messiah, and the promised happiness to Israel is in him and in his reign. He is, in the exalted language of prophecy, the holy one of God, the son of God, the beloved of God, the chosen of God, the anointed of God, the son of man in an eminent and unique sense, the Messiah and Christ. In plainer language, he is 'a man who tells you the truth which he has heard of God;' who came not of himself and speaks not of himself, but who 'came forth from God,'—from the original God of Israel's worship, the God of righteousness and of happiness joined to righteousness,—'and is come to you.' Israel is perpetually talking of God and calling him his Father; and 'everyone,' says Jesus Christ, 'who hears the Father, comes to me, for I know Him, and know His will, and utter His word.' God's will and word, in the Old Testament, was righteousness. In the New Testament, it is righteousness explained to have its essence in inwardness, mildness, and self-renouncement. This is, in substance, the word of Jesus which he who hears 'shall never see death;' of which he who follows it 'shall know by experience whether it be of God.'
But as the Israel of the Old Testament did not say or feel that he followed righteousness by his own power, or out of self-interest and self-love, but said and felt that he followed it in thankful self-surrender to 'the Eternal who loveth righteousness,' and that 'the Eternal ordereth a good man's going and maketh his way acceptable to Himself,' —so, in the restoration effected by Jesus, the motive which is of force is not the moral motive that inwardness, mildness, and self-renouncement make for man's happiness, but a far stronger motive, full of ardent affection and gratitude, and which, though it really has its ground and confirmation in the fact that inwardness, mildness, and self-renouncement do make for man's happiness, yet keeps no consciousness of this as its ground. For it acquired a far surer ground in personal devotion to Jesus Christ, who brought the doctrine to his disciples and made a passage for it into their hearts; in believing that he was indeed the Christ come from God; in following him, loving him. And in the happiness which thus believing in Jesus Christ, following him, and loving him, gives, it found the mightiest of sanctions.
And thus was the great doctrine of the Old Testament: To righteousness belongs happiness! made a true and potent word again. Jesus Christ was the Messiah to restore the all things of Israel, —righteousness, and happiness with righteousness; to bring light and recovery after long days of darkness and ruin, and to make good the belief written on Israel's heart: The righteous is an everlasting foundation! But we have seen how in the hopes of the nation and in the promises of prophecy this true and vital belief of Israel was mixed with a quantity of what we have called Aberglaube or extra-belief, adding all manner of shape and circumstance to the original thought. The kingdom of David and Solomon was to be restored on a grander scale, the enemies of Israel were to lick the dust, kings were to bring gifts; there was to be the Son of Man coming in the clouds, judgment given to the saints of the Most High, and an eternal reign of the saints afterwards.
Now, most of this has a poetical value, some of it has a moral value. All of it is, in truth, a testimony to the strength of Israel's idea of righteousness. For the order of its growth is, as we have seen, this: 'To righteousness belongs happiness; but this sure rule is often broken in the state of things which now is; there must, therefore, be in store for us, in the future, a state of things where it will hold good.' But none of it has a scientific value, a certitude arising from proof and experience. And indeed it cannot have this, for it professes to be an anticipation of a state of things not yet actually experienced.
But human nature is such, that the mind easily dwells on an anticipation of this kind until we come to forget the order in which it arose, place it first when it is by rights second, and make it support that by which it is in truth supported. And so there had come to be many Israelites,—most likely they were the great majority of their nation,—who supposed that righteousness was to be followed, not out of thankful self-surrender to 'the Eternal who loveth righteousness,' but because the Ancient of Days was to sit before long, and judgment was to be given to the saints, and they were to possess the kingdom, and from the kingdom those who did not follow righteousness were to be excluded. From this way of conceiving religion came naturally the religious condition of the Jews as Jesus at his coming found it; and from which, by his new and living way of presenting the Messiah, he sought to extricate the whole nation, and did extricate his disciples. He did extricate these, in that he fixed their thoughts upon himself and upon an ideal of inwardness, mildness, and self-renouncement, instead of a phantasmagory of outward grandeur and self-assertion. But at the same time the whole train of an extra-belief, or Aberglaube, which had attached itself to Israel's old creed: The righteous is an everlasting foundation! transferred itself to the new creed brought by Jesus. And there arose, accordingly, a new Aberglaube like the old. The mild, inward, self-renouncing and sacrificed Servant of the Eternal, the new and better Messiah, was yet, before the present generation passed, to come on the clouds of heaven in power and glory like the Messiah of Daniel, to gather by trumpet-call his elect from the four winds, and to set his apostles on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The motive of Christianity,—which was, in truth, that pure souls 'knew the voice' of Jesus as sheep know the voice of their shepherd, and felt, after seeing and hearing him, that his doctrine and ideal was what they wanted, that he was 'indeed the savior of the world,' —this simple motive became a mixed motive, adding to its first contents a vast extra-belief of a phantasmagorical advent of Jesus Christ, a resurrection and judgment, Christ's adherents glorified, his rejectors punished everlastingly.
And when the generation, for which this advent was first fixed, had passed away without it, Christians discovered by a process of criticism common enough in popular theology, but by which, as Bishop Butler says of a like kind of process, 'anything may be made out of anything,'—they discovered that the advent had never really been fixed for that first generation by the writers of the New Testament, but that it was foretold, and certainly in store, for a later time. So the Aberglaube was perpetuated, placed out of reach of all practical test, and made stronger than ever. With the multitude, this Aberglaube, or extra-belief, inevitably came soon to surpass the original conviction itself in attractiveness and seeming certitude. The future and the miraculous engaged the chief attention of Christians; and, in accordance with this strain of thought, they more and more rested the proof of Christianity, not on its internal evidence, but on prophecy and miracle.
More Articles by This Author Matthew Arnold
- English poet and cultural critic
- Born on December 24th, 1822 and died on April 15th, 1888