The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
(Rome, a.d. 63)
[Note.—With regard to the condition of the Hebrews, and scope of the Epistle, Smith's Dictionary of the Bible says:—"The numerous Christian churches scattered throughout Judaea (Acts 9:31; Galatians 1:22) were continually exposed to persecution from the Jews (1Thessalonians 2:14), which would become more searching and extensive as churches multiplied, and as the growing turbulence of the nation ripened into the insurrection of a.d. 66. Personal violence, spoliation of property, exclusion from the synagogue, and domestic strife were the universal forms of persecution. But in Jerusalem there was one additional weapon in the hands of the predominant oppressors of the Christians. Their magnificent national Temple, hallowed to every Jew by ancient historical and by gentler personal recollections, with its irresistible attractions, its soothing strains, and mysterious ceremonies, might be shut against the Hebrew Christian. And even if, amid the fierce factions and frequent oscillations of authority in Jerusalem, this affliction were not often laid upon him, yet there was a secret burden which every Hebrew Christian bore within him—the knowledge that the end of all the beauty and awfulness of Zion was rapidly approaching. Paralysed, perhaps, by this consciousness, and enfeebled by their attachment to a lower form of Christianity, they became stationary in knowledge, weak in faith, void of energy, and even in danger of apostasy from Christ. For, as afflictions multiplied round them, and made them feel more keenly their dependence on God, and their need of near and frequent and associated approach to him, they seemed, in consequence of their Christianity, to be receding from the God of their fathers, and losing that means of communion with him which they used to enjoy. Angels, Moses, and the High-priest—their intercessors in heaven, in the grave, and on earth—became of less importance in the creed of the Jewish Christian; their glory waned as he grew in Christian experience. Already he felt that the Lord's day was superseding the Sabbath, the New Covenant the Old. What could take the place of the Temple, and that which was behind the veil, and the Levitical sacrifices, and the Holy City, when they should cease to exist? What compensations could Christianity offer him for the loss which was pressing the Hebrew Christian more and more?
"James, the bishop of Jerusalem, had just left his place vacant by a martyr's death. Neither to Cephas at Babylon, nor to John at Ephesus, the third pillar of the Apostolic Church, was it given to understand all the greatness of his want, and to speak to him the word in season. But there came to him from Rome the voice of one who had been the foremost in sounding the depth and breadth of that love of Christ, which was all but incomprehensible to the Jew; one who feeling more than any other Apostle the weight of the care of all the churches, yet clung to his own people with a love ever ready to break out in impassioned words, and unsought and ill-requited deeds of kindness. He whom Jerusalem had sent away in chains to Rome again lifted up his voice in the hallowed city among his countrymen; but with words and arguments suited to their capacity, with a strange, borrowed accent, and a tone in which reigned no apostolic authority, and a face veiled in very love from wayward children who might refuse to hear divine and saving truth, when it fell from the lips of Paul.
"He meets the Hebrew Christians on their own ground. His answer is—'Your new faith gives you Christ, and, in Christ, all you seek, all your fathers sought. In Christ the Son of God you have an all-sufficient Mediator, nearer than angels to the Father, eminent above Moses as a benefactor, more sympathising and more prevailing than the High-priest as an intercessor: his Sabbath awaits you in heaven; to his covenant the old was intended to be subservient; his atonement is the eternal reality of which sacrifices are but the passing shadow; his city heavenly, not made with hands. Having him, believe in him with all your heart,—with a faith in the unseen future, strong as that of the saints of old; patient under present, and prepared for coming, woe; full of energy, and hope, and holiness, and love.' Such was the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
"And this great Epistle remains to aftertimes, a keystone binding together that succession of inspired men which spans over the ages between Moses and St. John. It teaches the Christian student the substantial identity of the revelation of God, whether given through the prophets, or through the Son; for it shows that God's purposes are unchangeable, however diversely in different ages they have been 'reflected in broken and fitful rays, glancing back from the troubled waters of the human soul.' It is a source of inexhaustible comfort to every Christian sufferer in inward perplexity, or amid 'reproaches and afflictions.' It is a pattern to every Christian teacher of the method in which larger views should be imparted, gently, reverently, and seasonably, to feeble spirits prone to cling to ancient forms, and to rest in accustomed feelings."]
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,"Divers Manners"
For want of knowing this, people are ignorantly charging the evangelists and even modern Christian teachers with inconsistencies and paradoxes, and even high treasons. It is wonderful what ignorance can do. Falsehood can always be more fluent, if not more eloquent, than truth. The liar has no difficulties. He can say what comes uppermost; he has so depleted himself that he has no memory, so that when he is accused he does not burn with shame. We cannot even get Christian congregations to know the same thing under different aspects. Some earnest men have been trying for a long time to get a congregation to know the gospel under twenty different phases; and the congregation does not know it except under one phase. Give me the jingle of words I heard in the nursery, and I will say, This is the gospel; tell me the very selfsame truth under different language, namely, in the words of the current time, the new, fresh, young, audacious words, and because the words have changed I cannot see that the gospel remains. What is to be done under such circumstances is the question of despair. The people cannot be educated: you cannot take them up out of the old ruts and set them upon new courses. But the courses are not new; it stands upon the open page of Holy Writ that the same thing is said "in divers manners." Every man tells the tale in his own way; every narrator sends his own blood through the stirring narrative. Yet having to deal with such an infinite mass of folly the teacher is discredited because the student only knows the truth, as he calls it, under one form, and unless you ring the same peal upon the same bells he says you are not preaching the gospel. Some learned men have been at the pains to collate instances in which there is an apparent difference and yet a real agreement. We are indebted to such searchers into coincidences and contrasts and reconciliations for very much of our Biblical knowledge and our spiritual stimulus. Some of these we may now consider, expressing our indebtedness to those who have done the quarrying work, and have set us thinking upon new lines, and have brought us by their consecrated industry to see how contrasts may indicate similarities, and how similarities may become identities. After nineteen hundred years of teaching Christ's Church will only look at Christ in one way: whereas he could be seen in a thousand aspects: but the Papist has his point of view, and so has the Protestant, who is as big a Papist under another name; and every chapel-guest as well as every cathedral-haunter has his own way, his own rattle; and if he hear not the same things under the same forms he cannot believe that he is hearing about the same Lord. We must sustain great loss before we can have solid gain.
The writer to whose researches we are principally indebted for instances of the kind indicated would have us bear in mind first of all that Matthew wrote for Jews. Now, the Jew is always a man by himself; he never mixes with anybody; when he sits down beside a Gentile he is miles and miles away from him. Matthew, therefore, had to write to Jews and for Jews; therefore he must adopt a Jew's manner. Luke did not write to the Jews; Luke wrote for Gentiles and to Gentiles. Luke tells the same story of the kingdom, yet he hardly says one word that Matthew says; he hardly ever comes upon the lines of Matthew's observation. This is intensely interesting; this should excite our souls with holy wonder; into these things we should dig, for along this line we find the inspiration of the narrative,—not in similarities but in dissimilarities, not in coincidences but in contrasts. Still the infinite story moves on with infinite dignity; even when the men are apparently telling the same things in contradictory terms you will find the holy reconciliation at the other end. Matthew has to select an expression under which he will bring all his remarks. What is the expression which Matthew chooses? He chooses the expression "kingdom of heaven." Luke has to choose a formula under which he will set forth the Christian idea, what is the formula chosen by Luke? "Kingdom of God." Even in this choice of terms there is inspired genius. The Hebrew could never have understood the expression "kingdom of God": if he had once seen that expression in connection with the Gospel of Christ, he would have fallen at once into his favourite error, namely, that this kingdom is visible, pompous, magnificent, unrivalled,—the Kingdom of kingdoms, the kingdom swallowing kingdom. This was the habit of his grammar. The Hebrew language, as we have seen, had no superlative; the Hebrew language eked out its superlative expressions by the name of "God": so it was "city of God," "cedars of God," meaning the very finest city, the very noblest trees, cedars of unrivalled beauty. If Matthew had said, "I am coming to tell you that Christ brought the Kingdom of God," the Jews would have said, This is what we have been expecting: now shall the empires of the earth quake, because they shall see a kingdom grander than any other. So Matthew would say, under Divine inspiration, We must keep from the Jew this expression "Kingdom of God," or he will misunderstand it and misapply it, and get into no end of fallacies and sophisms. So Matthew said, "the Kingdom of heaven,"—the spiritual kingdom, the moral kingdom, the empire heavenly, that has no form, magnitude, proportion that you can see and appreciate, but that is a kingdom of the soul. Luke had to address a different audience, and therefore he takes the name "God"; he is a theist, a monotheist, and he pictures this kingdom as the divinest empire.
When Matthew would tell the Jews a miracle, what miracle will he choose to begin with? What would be Matthew's first miracle? Not Luke's, and not John's; nor does Luke take John's, nor does John take Matthew's. Now Matthew shall write to his Jew readers, and what will he tell them first of the miracles? Here is inspiration: no sooner does Jesus Christ come down from the mountain where he has been teaching the multitude than, "Behold, there came a leper." How the Jew's eyes round with wonder! This matter of leprosy has been a serious matter to him through all the ages. Matthew therefore instantly brings the new Teacher into contact with a leper. Nor does the inspired genius end there; Matthew proceeds, "And Jesus put forth his hand, and"—mark his ingenuity—"touched him,"—the unheard-of, the impossible miracle! Nothing could have so struck Jewish attention. Christ might have been the prince of necromancers, and have done many wonderful things, and the Jew would not have listened to any one of them: but to tell the Jews that this man came to a leper, and touched the leper, and healed the leper, and sent him away a clean man! Oh, the power of genius, the master-touch, the wisdom of God! Luke had a first miracle, too; what will Luke say? What will Luke give the Gentiles as the first miracle? Something about a leper? No. Gentiles know nothing about lepers in that sense:—"And in the synagogue there was a man, who had a spirit of an unclean devil" (Luke 4:33). Why, this is the very subject of Gentile speculation,—demon worship, demon possession, how to get rid of the demon. Luke says, I will tell you all about that: this Kingdom of God deals with the kingdom of the devil, and shatters it. Luke could have begun at Matthew's point, but did not. Mark the operation of "the divers manners." This religion means to handle the world, and it must know the ways of the world and the speeches of all men. Gentiles were interested in demonology in every aspect, and Luke says he can tell them about their favourite subject. That is the genius of Christianity; it always knows what a man thinks about, what a man likes best, where a man can begin. Christianity says, I can talk your language: you are most interested in lepers, hear this; you are most interested in demons, hear this. John has his first miracle, and like himself, all social affection, tender love, and sympathy, he begins with the wedding and the water made into wine. Each of the men could have begun at the same point; each took his own point to begin with; each was justified in the selection of his starting omen.
Turning to another aspect, you see the same thought. Matthew says (Matthew 23:27)—"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." No Gentile could have said that, If Matthew had written his gospel to the Gentiles they would have left it as an unperused letter. "Whited sepulchres": there is no such word in all Gentile speech. The Jew understood it in a moment. And you must write to men in their mother-tongue. If a Jew crossed a grave he was ceremonially defiled; even if he walked over a grave without knowing it was a grave he contracted ceremonial defilement. How to prevent this, then? The Jews had recourse, we are told by learned inquirers, to this method, that when a grave became so worn on the greensward as to be practically obliterated the place was whitened, a line perpendicular, and a line horizontal were drawn upon that grave; so the Jew knew and kept away from it, and walked at some distance, because if he had crossed that spot he would have been ceremonially defiled; and if the whitewash had been taken off by the rain, and he walked across the grave he would still have been defiled: therefore the Jews instantly knew this metaphor. But Luke could not well pass over such a statement without some observation. How, then, did Luke manage to put his case?—"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them" (Luke 11:44). What a beautiful Gentile speech! There is nothing here that is local, Jewish, peculiar; the reference is set in a general and universal form: and yet, both Matthew and Luke professedly report the same sermon! What a wonderful contradiction it would be to some minds! How they would trip up the so-called inspired writers, and say, Behold! Luke hears the discourse, and reports it thus: whereas Matthew heard the discourse and reported it otherwise. Is there any contradiction? Not a tittle. There is always a meaning within the words: why do men not get into the interior meaning, the esoteric and eternal thought? Why are they such pedantic purists as to quarrel about the verbiage, the words, the literal, symbolic form? If Matthew had reported in Luke's form it would not have been Jewish; if Luke had reported in Matthew's form it would not have been Gentile: each man reported in his own way because each man had to report to his own people. You write to your readers.
We might take another instance. Matthew 23:23—"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith." The Gentiles would not have understood this; they would not have known what Luke was talking about if he had put it in that form. The law? the Gentiles would say, what saith this babbler? The law—what law? whose law? we know not what he saith. Now let Luke report in his own way:—"But woe unto you Pharisees! for ye tithe mint, and rue, and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment, and the love of God,"—the law without mentioning it, the substance without the literary reference. Thus the Gentile is smitten squarely. He is not allowed to run off at the tangent of inquiry as to what the man could mean when he refers to the law. Yet he is lifted into the law eternal without passing through the law literal. But my lord the pedant says, Behold, Matthew says one thing, and Luke says another, yet they both profess to be reporting the same discourse. So they are, but not phonographically; they are reporting the soul of things, they are interpreting the heart of Christ. Why will men not come into the larger interpretation, the nobler construction, and see what peddling, and embarrassing things words may be when they are employed to set forth the infinite, the spiritual, the Divine?
Other instances could be given in handfuls; these must suffice as indicating a very fruitful course of thought. The New Testament will bear a searching into. From what I can understand there are men associated with the interpretation of the New Testament, who on the whole are not fools. They have examined the documents through and through, and although they may not be millionaires at the bank, they are millionaires in heaven,—in literature, in the higher thought, inspired scholars. Why should such men cling to a document that is full of lies, contradictions, and romances? Yet the document lives, and bears sway over the thought and feeling of men, expanding as necessities increase, illuminating in proportion as the darkness defies its glory. We are taught, then, by these instances and others which learned students have pointed out to us, that we are bound to study our audience. Why write in Hebrew to people who cannot read a word of it? Why write in long words to little children? So with preachers: I say to a man, If you have a congregation of slow-heads, and people who never read a word about anything, then you are bound to be infantile in your style of speech; you must speak to these overgrown babies of yours in a way they can understand. You are right in doing so; it is the Christliest of tempers to make yourself as they are, that you may lift them up into a higher level. To another man, who has an audience of another kind, quick, who can begin with him at the very first sentence, another style is appropriate. There are audiences that start the moment the preacher breathes; they are with him, not a tone do they miss. With such an audience you may be as concise, terse, pointed, as you can. Such men want telegrams, not elaborate details; they can understand the words, for they open all heaven to their eager attention. You must have your own way of addressing your men. Your brother would probably taunt you with being something which he is not: take care that you do not taunt him with being something that you once were. Each man must address his own audience. Blessed be God, Christianity can adapt its facts to every audience. When you go into a nursery the children say, "Do you know any tales?" but if a fullgrown man were to say to you, "Do you know any tales?" you would naturally begin to wonder, and probably your estimate of the man might considerably go down when you reflected upon the meanness of his request. Christianity says in effect, You would like to hear about lepers, hear my statement; or you would like to hear about the dispossession of demons, hear my statement, I will tell you some of the most wonderful things about that subject you ever heard. Christianity says to contemplative, philosophic minds, You would like to hear the beatitudes, the outward miracles turned into spiritual mysteries and wonders, I can tell you what Jesus said on the high hill; he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." This man does not care about lepers and demons, but when you touch what I may call the spiritual nerve he is alive all over; he wishes to hear the gracious words that proceeded out of the young Teacher's mouth. In every case there is an audience within an audience. Every congregation is several congregations. The wise teacher therefore may have in the same discourse to tell about lepers and demons, about raising the dead, and uttering the beatitudes; because as a wise teacher he must distribute to each a portion of meat in due season. The difficulty is for the one guest to wait until the other guest has been served. Where is your socialism? where your fine theory of human rights? The man sitting next to you could not understand about the demon, but he is entranced about the leper; therefore he must have his representation, and whilst he is having his you must wait for yours, because, you know, you are a Socialist, a fine human-brotherhood man: show it, and talk less about it! Omission may not be denial. The preacher may want to say many things, but for want of time he may not say them; he has not therefore neglected or denied them. A ministry is not an affair of one little hour: a ministry stretches across the breadth of a lifetime, and must be judged in its variety, and in its totality, and not in its isolation. We do not want an inflexible method, we want an unchangeable Christ. This is the lesson, to revert to the opening of the discourse, which the Church needs most to learn. Matthew spake of the same Christ that Luke magnified. When John related his miracles they were different miracles, not a different Lord. There was variety, yet there was unity. Every man saw the aspect that pleased him most, or struck him most, and yet all the men are talking about the same sweet, dear Lord. That is the secret of preaching; that should be the mystery of the power of the Church. If it were so we should get rid of endless foolish criticism. When we see the learned canon going forth with his elaborate essay to read to a prepared audience, we would say, God bless thee, thou man of God: go and tell all these glittering things to an excited intellectual audience, and receive thy reward of grateful applause. When we see the Salvationist going out with his drum and trumpet, we should say, God bless thee, ardent comrade: go and work miracles in the name of thy Lord. Thus there would be great community of feeling, true sociality of sympathy amongst the hosts of heaven; no man would be attempting to do another man's work, every man in his own way would be doing the work of Jesus Christ; and thus unity would express itself in variety, variety would reconcile itself in unity; and when all comes to be told it shall be found that in a thousand voices men have been uttering the same music.