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THE CHRIST AS A PREACHER.
“ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor;
St. Luke iv. 18, 19.
WHEN we have once measured these words, we shall be reminded of the tent of the Arab chief: when folded it could be carried in his hand, but when spread it was wide enough to shelter his whole tribe.
A study of the incident under which they were spoken in the synagogue of Nazareth is peculiarly rewarding, because it looks off in so many directions: into remote Jewish history, into present customs, to the nature of the gospel, to its manifold methods of working, to the heart of God, to the inspiration of Christ; and finally it discloses the weakness and evil of human nature when its prejudices and traditional thoughts are assaulted. It is so rich in material and association that a book could legitimately be made from it. It would be a book historical, ecclesiastical, political, theological, ethical, psychological, and the treatment would not be forced. Were a thoughtful student to sit down to the study of this passage, he would first be led to an investigation of the captivity of the Jewish nation in Babylon, and of the details of that captivity; the peculiar forms of suffering endured, and the effects in body and mind, and upon national beliefs and customs. He would then be led to study the literature of the book of Isaiah, and of the relation of the Hebrew prophet to the people, – almost a unique thing in history. He would then pass to a study of the political economy of the Jewish state, and especially to that peculiar feature of it by which every fifty years society was, to a certain extent, resolved into its elements and reconstructed ; all alienated lands restored, all bondsmen liberated, probably all debts canceled, — the most unique feature in human legislation, and one of the wisest and most gracious, affording, as it did, a barrier against the aggressions of capital, checking the growth of oppression, taking off the burdens from the poor and unfortunate, and giving them another chance by restoring them to freedom in their circumstances, an inwrought, constitutional defense of the people against their natural oppressors, a system instinct with liberty and grace and every divine quality. It was an arrangement full of wisdom, in that it was constantly restoring the nation to the great social principles on which it was founded, principles of righteousness and mercy and freedom, — an order linked in with its religion and with sacrifice for sins that were also burdens and bondage, - a vast, stupendous system, overwhelming in its significance, sweeping all about the life of every man, covering him with its grace, from the misery of outward misfortune and mistake to the guilt of secret crimes !
If it is asked where Jesus refers to this system, the answer is in the phrase, “the acceptable year of the Lord.” We might read these words many times, and not suspect that Christ referred to this political feature of the Jewish commonwealth, unless we had learned that the year of jubilee was commonly known as “the acceptable year.” The phrase is thus taken out of the hands of a narrow theology that uses it as a time-word, - a certain day beyond which there may not be another in which God is gracious, and instead is made to stand for the ushering in of an order and an age of the freedom and mercy and justice presaged by the year of jubilee, an age of spiritual and also political freedom, an eternal reign of righteousness and love.
Our student will then be led to study that pathetic story of the captivity, when the daughters of Jerusalem wept by the rivers of Babylon and hung their harps upon the willows, and the prophets sank into lamentations or rose into ecstatic visions of deliverance and return; thence to the special forms of that oppression, how it broke the hearts and bruised and weakened the bodies, especially inducing blindness, and thence into a study of the return and upbuilding. He will then pass to a study of the synagogue, find out when the people began to assemble in these edifices built, like our churches, throughout the country, in which the people met every Sabbath to hear the law read and discussed. He will, with awakened curiosity, be led to see in the synagogue the germ or framework of the Christian Church, and to suspect the reason why Christ said nothing about an external church, because here was one already existing in external form sufficient for all practical purposes, — a very simple, rational, and convenient institution, fit to shelter and house believers every one of whom has become a king and priest to God. He will see that the synagogue, and not the temple, furnished Christianity with its Church. And he will be apt to close his study with very slight regard for the vast hierarchical systems that envelop and weigh down the faith, and to conclude that the Church is a very simple thing; at most but a body of believers come together to repeat the words of their common faith, without any priest at all, but only a minister for simple convenience.
Our student will come to know much about the customs of the people, and of the procedure in the synagogue, notably that children were required to attend its service and hear the Law, and join in its simple worship. He will learn that certain parts of the sacred books were appointed to be read on certain days, and much also of ancient manuscripts, their shape, texture, how kept and read, and of Oriental ways of teaching. As he thus studies, he will be forced to the imperative conclusion that he is reading a history of the most trustworthy character, and not a tissue of myths and late remembrances; and if he has the gift of logic and
insight, he will be drawn away from any thin, semilearned theories that may have clouded his faith in the record.
He will then pass to a study of the matter of Christ's preaching. He finds that Christ read the appointed lesson for the day, which happened to be the day of Atonement, but not the whole of it; that He pauses in the middle of a sentence because the rest was not to his purpose, and he is flooded with revealing light shed by the omission, for the Christ has not come to proclaim “ the day of the vengeance of our God.” That conception was not to enter into the order He had come to declare. It was an undue presence of that conception that made Judaism imperfect, and John the Baptist less than the least in the kingdom of heaven. It was the absence of that conception of God that furnished the positive elements of the revelation of God which Christ was making.
Our student, as he scrutinizes this preaching, finds in it a twofold meaning, though but one spirit. This Gospel is primarily a deliverance shadowed by the year of jubilee ; it embraces the physical and social ills of men and their spiritual ills. The inextricableness with which they are united in the words of Christ suggests to him the profound mystery of body and spirit, mind and matter, environment and spiritual history. He will find in it a denial of all Manichean and Stoic notions that the soul is independent of the body, and is to be treated in another fashion, but rather will he find the broader philosophy, that man is to be regarded as