By Harris Franklin Rall
We have seen the character of Jesus in his relation with men, but the springs of his life lay beneath this. These we consider when we study the inner spirit of his life and his relation with God. Men saw his love and righteousness in word and deed, but they felt even more the power of the life that lay behind this. "In him was life," wrote one of his disciples. What was that life?
The Life Of Jesus With God
The inner life of Jesus was a life with God. One man's passion is beauty. Another's dream is of power. A third sets all his strength to the gaining of wealth, and measures all things in relation to this end. The passion of Jesus was God. All the thought of his life was filled with God. The fallen sparrow, the tinted lily, the glowing sunset, the swift tempest, the life of men about him all spoke to him of God.
A Life of Humility.—The life of Jesus with his Father was first of all a life of humility. We have seen the independence of Jesus, how he asserted his authority against friend and foe, against priest and scribe, and even over against the sacred law. The source of that independence was in his utter dependence upon God. He had no desire for himself. He saw his life only in relation to God's will, and lived in utter dependence upon God's power. That dependence is no irksome restraint, but a matter of deepest rejoicing. His Father is Lord of heaven and earth and of his own life, and for this he thanks God (Matthew 11. 25). All the praying of Jesus shows this spirit; it is the atmosphere that encompasses the Lord's prayer, and it fills his soul in the conflict in the Garden.
A Life of Trust.—Closely akin to this humility is his confidence in God. The spirit of utter trust breathes through all his life. His confidence did not come from ignorance or blindness. He knew from the first the evils that surrounded him, and what awaited him in those last days, but he never hesitated (Luke 9. 51). He knew the peril from Herod, "that fox," but he knew also that "today and to-morrow and the third day" were in God's hand. Upon his Father's goodness he could fling his life, for this Father was Lord of heaven and earth. All who saw him noted that spirit of confidence. Even his enemies said, "He trusted in God," albeit they mocked in saying it. The early church, with its joyous faith, is witness to his power to communicate this spirit to others. His praying shows us that this confidence was not held without fierce struggle. He wrought his work amid the greatest perils. He saw his nation turn from him, his disciples desert him, one of his companions betray him, and the most cruel and shameful of deaths coming upon him. But in the midst of all danger and the apparent collapse of his work his quiet confidence and peace never left him. He breathed his last with words of trust upon his lips: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
A Life of Obedience.—In the teaching of Jesus, obedience and trust go hand in hand. So it is in his life. There is more than one kind of obedience. There is the obedience of the servant who thinks only of his wage. There is the obedience that bows in submission because it cannot help. But the obedience of trust and devotion is of a different kind. Such was the obedience of Jesus. When he thought of the will of God he saw it as the greatest good that could come to man; to do that will was man's highest calling. Here too there was struggle, as he faced shame and pain and seeming defeat; and yet he could say of all his life, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me." The will of God was not only the supreme purpose of his life, but the joy and strength that sustained him.
The Spirit Of Jesus
His Purity.—We have considered the character of Jesus in his relation to his fellows and to God. We need now to look at that character as a whole. "And first of all we note its purity. The taint of sin is upon all other lives. We turn to them, the greatest and the best, who
They are the victors who overcame, whose names we cheer. But the marks of the conflict are upon them all; the stain of dust is on their garments, and they have all known defeat. His life too had its struggles, but he alone bears no scars and shows no stains. Our saints of earth are the last to speak of freedom from sin; the higher men rise spiritually the more sensitive the conscience, the deeper the feeling of guilt. No men have ever uttered a deeper note of contrition than Paul or Augustine or Luther. No man had so clear a vision of sin as Jesus. No man ever made it so clear as the dark and damnable thing that it is. And yet he never once betrays even a passing sense of penitence or suggests a single time a consciousness of the need of forgiveness."
His Positive and Passionate Righteousness.—The word "purity," like the word "sinlessness," has a suggestion of the negative about it. That is far from its meaning, however, in the case of Jesus. The thought of the church and the pictures of the artists have sometimes been at fault here. They have laid the whole stress on the meekness and mildness and patience of Jesus; he stands before us as a patient sufferer removed from all the interests as from all the evil of life. But the impression that we get from a fair study of the Gospels is very different. It is the positiveness of his character that we feel. His morality is no negative, colorless thing. His life, like his teaching, has a note of power and authority. His righteousness is not an absence of sin, but a flaming passion for the good. The traditional saint is one who turned from evil; Jesus faced it and fought it. Sometimes men have even stumbled at the burning words which Jesus flung at the Pharisees, or at the thought of a scourge of cords in the hands of the man of love. All this is but the mark of the positiveness and power of his righteousness. Our reaction against evil as against good is wont to be weak and intermittent; his was always quick and strong. Wherever he saw good in men, in their earnestness or good will or penitence, there he responded at once with sympathy and appreciation and help. Where he saw evil, the reaction was just as sure. And he flamed out against evil just because his love was so strong. There was nothing passive or negative in him. And because he set forth righteousness so positively, men had to take sides for or against him, as they have done ever since.
A Wholesome Holiness.—With this positiveness of Jesus' spirit there goes his wholesomeness. One might call it the wholeness, or true holiness, of his life. There is a certain piety which fears the world and thrives only by running from it. To such saints the joys of common life are a matter of suspicion. A robust health does not point to the Kingdom, and the way to God seems to lead away from the common and the human. This spirit of world fear and world-flight may be found in the Protestant Church as well as elsewhere. The spirit of Jesus points the other way. There is a sanity and poise about him. There is a simple humanness in his ways. There is even a joyousness in his spirit. All life interested him, childhood at play, motherhood and home, men at their business, nature in its beauty. Especially was he a good companion—sociable, we sometimes say. There were homes that looked for his coming, close friends who shared his days and nights, and festal occasions where he was the chief guest. Because he was pure, he could welcome all good things without peril, and yet he never lost the highest among these lesser goods.
The Balance and Completeness of His Character.—And to this we must add the completeness of the character of Jesus. It is a simple thing to say, it is a wonderful thing to realize, that Jesus represents not one type of achievement, however great, but the highest in all human life and relations. Among men, even the greatest, we find one quality or another preeminent. Francis of Assisi is the type of boundless love and gracious service. Brave Martin Luther was born for days which called for hard blows and a doughty spirit. The spirit of both is found in Jesus, and all else besides. The most opposite virtues are perfectly expressed in him. His is the spirit of perfect humility wholly dependent upon God; his is the courage and independence that stands unshaken before the world. There is a sympathy and tenderness about him like that of a woman; by its side there is a virility, a masterfulness, that no man has surpassed. To-day he gathers into his arms the little children, on the morrow his flaming passion sweeps the temple of its defilers. What love and gentleness are in him, and yet how stern, how unyielding he can be with others and with himself! He is a comrade of joy in the fellowship with men, but he knows also the night of prayer and the perfect fellowship with God. He was the most friendly of men, the supreme Friend, and yet no man was ever more lonely than he.
The Example and Inspiration of All.—"What wonder that he speaks to every land and age, to every type of this race of ours. All have found their inspiration and ideal in him. In him is the spirit of all kind and tender mothers, of all loyal friends, and lovers of men. He has been the inspiration of purity and truth, of all high and noble manhood that has quickened our lesser lives. His is the spirit of faith that has made men quiet and strong when all the world opposed them; the spirit of courage and chivalry, of all defense of weakness and all high hatred of wrong and oppression; the spirit of love and devotion that calls for men to-day to fight against ancient wrong and new abuse, against oppression and cruel lust and hardened greed, and all things that make earth foul and curse the children of men; the spirit of glad and confident service that loves men and fights evil, and knows that the kingdom of sin must perish and the rule of God must come."
The Imitableness of Jesus.—Long ago the church declared its belief in the full and complete humanity of Jesus, as in his full divinity. But that is not enough. Jesus is not only a man, he is the man. In him has been shown once for all what man should be, what he might be. And so we come to the wonderful fact of the imitableness of Jesus. It might be thought that this perfect life would by that fact be wholly removed from us and our endeavor. The saints whom the church has set up and the heroes. whom men sometimes glorify are often so removed from our imitation. We cannot all flee the world, or become. martyrs, or work other marvelous deeds. But the reason why we cannot imitate these men is just because they are one-sided; and the reason we can follow Jesus is just because he is so complete. We can see, every one of us, our highest life in him.
Directions For Study
Scripture references: Matthew 11. 25-27; 26. 39; Mark 15; 2-5; 11. 15-17; 14. 32-35. Here again we must not limit our-. selves to a few passages. Read the lesson discussion and give illustrations from the Gospels of each of the aspects of Jesus' character as discussed above.
What other qualities, if any, would you suggest as characterizing Jesus' relation to his Father? Does the thought of his love for God occur to you? Is that included in what is said about God as being the passion of Jesus' life?
How do men usually show their sense of sin? What would you think if the finest and best man that you know should intimate to you that he was not only without sin, but that he never had sinned? Can you think of Jesus as ever having sinned? Why not?