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view the forms of departed friends; for in these the colours of the imagination are both deepened and softened by the more refined feelings, friendship, esteem, and
The sudden loss of such a leader as Jesus must have left a strong impression on any minds; much more on those of fishermen and peasants of an eastern country, who believed him to be the Messiah, The romantic hopes which he had excited, the sublime views to which he had raised their minds, and the feelings of veneration and attachment to himself which he had awakened, could not at once subside. All these powerful sources of action found a vent in the continuance of his plans, in the institution of memorials of him, in heightening and colouring to other hearers the incidents of his life, and in cultivating the delightful illusions of his resurrection, perpetual presence, and future re-appearance. Fictions proceeding from such feelings, and also connected, as they were in the case of the disciples, with the real interests of life, must be of a different character from those thrown out in the mere wantonness of imagination. Hence the appearance of simplicity, earnestness, and reality, which in the midst of palpable inconsistencies, pervade the evangelic histories, and render even their fictions unique. Hence also the reason of the superiority of the evangelic style to most of the similar fictions in the apocryphal books; for as these were written at later times, the immediate impressions produced by the advent of Jesus had become much weakened. In short, in the stories of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus we see traces of the sentiments awakened in some inhabitants of an eastern and imaginative clime, at an eventful period of their country's history, by the life, precepts, and sudden death, of one of the most extraordinary persons in history.
It is undoubtedly more gratifying to enter into the feelings of the disciples, and, transporting ourselves in imagination to Jerusalem, Bethany, and the Mount of Olives, now become desolate by the absence of their master, whose conversation and undertaking had formerly rendered every hill and village a place of interest-to listen with anxiety to the reports of those who say
he is risen; to allow our wishes to overcome distrust; to imagine that the risen Messiah is still walking the earth, secure in his immortal state from further attempts of his enemies; to expect him at times to throw aside his invisible veil, and to look for him on the mountain, high road, and lake; to believe that his now divine nature enables him to assume different forms at pleasure, and to convert each dimly seen or indistinctly remembered shape into Jesus; and when he seems finally to have left the earth, to see him ascending to the right hand of God, there to wait the appointed time for revealing his kingdom. But imagination and feeling are unsafe guides in an inquiry into facts. The real occurrence is often found to bear no proportion in grandeur to the shape which it has assumed in contemplation. And in the circumstances attending the death of Jesus, we are forced to see a striking instance of the tendency of the mind to invest ordinary events with a higher beauty and interest than unimpassioned observation alone could discover, and to give to the common places of the world an impress of that higher life and perfection toward which it seems borne by its own nature. The disappearance of the body of the crucified Nazarene loses the mysterious grandeur which its connexion with themes most interesting to mankind had drawn around it, and shrinks into a comparatively poor and trifling incident when we approach for close inspection : but the sublime views which it was in part the occasion of bringing forth, and the moral revolution which it contributed to promote, are in themselves deeply-interesting facts, which have an important bearing on every inquiry concerning the ultimate destination of the human mind.
REMARKS ON THE OTHER MIRACLES IN THE FOUR GOSPELS.
In common life marvellous tales are often met with, which, on taking the trouble to trace them back through various stages to their source, we find to have originated in something perfectly intelligible and natural. And when we have done this in some instances, we conclude that the same result would follow in the case of similar tales, coming to us through the same channels, although in this latter case we might not have the means of following up such a tedious investigation.
For instance,–Irenæus says “There were some who had heard Polycarp relate, how St. John, going one day to the bath in Ephesus, and finding the heretic Cerinthus in it, started back instantly without bathing, crying out, Let us run away, lest the bath should fall upon us while Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is in it.”
of truth, is in it.” Iren. 1. iii. c. 3. Epiphanius tells the same story of Ebion, and adds that, “St. John had never before made use of the public baths, till he was sent thither on this occasion by divine inspiration, to give this open testimony of his detestation of heresy.” Feuardentius, in his notes on this passage of Irenæus, says that Jerome, in his treatise against the Luciferians, affirms that "immediately after the retreat of St. John, the bath actually fell down, and crushed Cerinthus to death.” An ordinary event is thus grown into a miracle of some magnitude.
There is no reason why we should not apply the same mode of investigation to the narratives of the writers preceding Irenæus, viz. those of the New Testament.
In Matthew ch. iv., and Mark i., there is an account of
Jesus calling Peter to follow him, whilst he was
Draught fishing at the sea of Galilee. Luke relates the same occurrence, adding a miraculous draught of fishes, ch. v. John adds a miraculous fire of coals to broil the fish, and a prophecy of Peter's death; and makes Jesus do the whole after his resurrection. xxi.*
Here, again, we see the very natural progress of a story during sixty-four years, from a simple occurrence into a cluster of miracles. And it gives us reason to think that other accounts of miracles would also be easily explicable if we had the means of stopping them at each stage.
Matthew and Mark relate that Jesus was Descent of baptized by John the Baptist, and that he saw
the spirit. the spirit descending upon himself like a dove. Luke says that the spirit did descend in a bodily shape, like a dove. John adds, that this descent of the spirit had been foretold to John the Baptist. By the time of Justin, there was also a fire kindled in the Jordan. Dial. with Trypho.
* That all the accounts are based upon the same incident is inferred from the following resemblances :The scene was at the sea of Galilee or Tiberias
in all four. Peter, James, and John, were amongst
id. They were fishing
id. Jesus gives the command to Peter, Follow
Matt., Mark, & John. Jesus promises Peter that he shall be a fisher of men
Matt., Mark, & Luke. The fishermen forsake all and follow him
id. When Jesus first met them they had caught nothing
Luke & John. Jesus commands to cast the net
id. A great multitude of fishes are taken
John alone gives the story of the marriage Marriage
feast, where the water was turned into wine, in Çana.
which there are these marks of fiction : “ When they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.” There appears no reason why Jesus should be applied to for wine, which it was the business of the host to furnish. “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what hast thou to do with me? mine hour is not yet come.”
This last seems to be a favourite phrase of John, vii. 6, xiï. 1, xvi. 21; but it is unnatural from Jesus on such an occasion. “His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” This implies a power of foresight in his mother, for as yet Jesus had done no miracle, and had not intimated that he was about to give any orders to the servants. And, after all, his kinsmen who were there did not believe in him. John vii. 5, Mark üï. 21. Now in this instance we have no means of detecting the progress of exaggeration by comparing the story with another account; but, having once seen reason to be suspicious of the writer's veracity, it is more reasonable to suppose the simple fact to have been, that Jesus was once in his life present at a marriage feast, and that some of his disciples in after-times endeavoured to honour him by attributing to him a miracle on the occasion, than to believe a story loaded with such improbabilities. Peter's wife's
Matthew says, that Jesus touched the hand
of Peter's wife's mother, “ And the fever left her, and she arose and ministered unto them.” Mark, although apparently borrowing from him, makes the affair resemble a miracle more by saying “ immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them;" and Luke completes it by saying, “it was a great fever,” and “immediately she arose and ministered unto them.” Now the variations, although perhaps made innocently, are important; for the reality of the miracle depends upon