First Day: The Prophetic Succession
And he began to speak unto them in parables. A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a pit for the winepress, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruits of the vineyard. And they took him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and him they wounded in the head, and handled shamefully. And he sent another; and him they killed: and many others; beating some, and killing some. He had yet one, a beloved son: he sent him last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard. What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. -- Mark 12:1-9.
The vineyard parable was meant as an epitome of Jewish history. By the servants who came to summon the nation to obedience, Jesus meant the prophets. The history of the Hebrew people was marked by a unique succession of men who had experienced God, who lived in the consciousness of the Eternal, who judged the national life by the standard of divine righteousness, and who spoke to their generation as representatives of God.(6) The spirit of these men and the indirect permanent influence they gained in their nation give the Old Testament its incomparable power to impel and inspire us. They were the moving force in the spiritual progress of their nation. Yet Jesus here sketches their fate as one of suffering and rejection.
Have other nations had a succession of men corresponding to the Hebrew prophets?
Are there any in our own national history?
Second Day: The Suffering Servant of Jehovah
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? -- Isaiah 53:4-8.
In the latter part of Isaiah are a number of sections describing the character and mission of "the servant of Jehovah." Whom did the writer mean? A single great personality? The suffering and exiled Hebrew nation? A godly and inspired group of prophets within the nation? The Christian Church has always seen in this servant of Jehovah a striking prophecy of Christ. The fact that the interpretation has long been in question indicates that the characteristics of the servant of Jehovah can be traced in varying degrees in the nation, in the prophetic order, in single prophets, and preeminently in the great culminating figure of all prophethood. Isaiah 53 describes the servant of Jehovah as rejected and despised, misunderstood, bearing the transgressions and chastisement of all. It is the first great formulation of the fact of vicarious suffering in humanity.
Why and how can the sins of a group fall on one?
Third Day: A Contemporary Prophet
And as these went their way, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to behold? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft raiment are in kings' houses. But wherefore went ye out? to see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written,
Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the marketplaces, who call unto their fellows and say, We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not mourn.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a demon. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! And wisdom is justified by her works. -- Matt.11:7-10; 16-19.
To Jesus prophetism was not merely an historic fact, but a living reality. He believed in present-day inspiration. He and his contemporaries had seen one great prophet, fearless, heroic, with all the marks of the type, a messenger of God inaugurating a new era of spiritual ferment (vs.12, 13). But John had to bear the prophet's lot. He was then in prison for the crime of telling a king the truth, and was soon to die to please a vindictive woman. The people, too, had wagged their heads over him. Like pouting children on the public square, who "won't play," whether the game proposed is a wedding or a funeral, the people had criticized John for being a gloomy ascetic, and found fault with Jesus for his shocking cheerfulness. There was no way of suiting them, and no way of making them take the call of God to heart. Long before electricity was invented, human nature knew all about interposing nonconductors between itself and the truth.
Have we ever noticed students interposing a general criticism between themselves and a particular obligation?
Can it be that one of the uses of a higher education is to furnish greater facility in fuddling inconvenient truth?
Fourth Day: Looking Forward to the Cross
And it came to pass, when the days were well-nigh come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem. -- Luke 9:51.
In that very hour there came certain Pharisees, saying to him, Get thee out, and go hence: for Herod would fain kill thee. And he said unto them, Go and say to that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I am perfected. Nevertheless I must go on my way to-day and to-morrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her own brood under her wings, and ye would not! -- Luke 13:31-34.
Jesus early knew that the decision was going against him. He saw the cross on the horizon of his life long before others saw it. Painters have pictured him in his father's carpenter shop, with tools on his shoulder, gazing down at his shadow shaped like a cross. He accepted death consciously and "stedfastly set his face to go up to Jerusalem," though he knew what was awaiting him. Jerusalem had acquired a sad preeminence as the place where the struggles between the prophets and the heads of the nation were settled. He saw his own death as part of the prophetic succession. He went to it, not as a driven slave, but as a free spirit. That jackal of a king, Herod, could not scare him out of Galilee. His time was in his Father's hand. Today, tomorrow, and the day following, he would work, and then he would be perfected.
Fifth Day: New Prophets to Follow
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. -- Matt.23:29-36.
This is the climax of the great invective against the religious leaders of the nation. The last count in the indictment is that they were about to complete the record of their fathers by rejecting and persecuting the prophets of their generation. The fact had sunk into the public mind that former generations had been guilty of this. "If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." Jesus promises to make a test of this and foretells that they will go the old way and so declare their spiritual solidarity with the sins of the past. We see here that he thought of his disciples as moving in the prophetic succession.
"Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand, Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against the land?"
"Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by."
Sixth Day: The Cross for All
From that time began Jesus to show unto his disciples, that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. -- Matt.16:21-25.
When the tide was turning against Jesus, he tested the attitude of the inner circles of his disciples, and drew from Peter on behalf of all a ringing declaration of faith and loyalty (vs.13-16). "From that time" Jesus began to share with them his outlook toward death. Peter expressed the shock which all felt and protested against the possibility. The vehemence with which Jesus repelled Peter's suggestion gives us a glimpse of the inner struggles in his mind, of which we get a fuller revelation in his prayer in Gethsemane. But instead of receding from his prediction of the cross, he expanded it by laying the obligation of prophetic suffering on all his disciples. Their adjustment toward that destiny would at the same time be the settlement of their own salvation. When the Kingdom of God is at stake, a man saves his life by losing it and loses his life by saving it, and the loss of his higher self can not be offset by any amount of external gain.
Looking ahead to the profession which we expect to enter, where do we foresee the possibility of losing our lives by trying to save them, or of saving our lives by apparently losing them?
Seventh Day: The Consolations of the Prophet
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you; yea and before governors and kings shall ye be brought for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you. -- Matt.10:16-20.
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read the scriptures,
The stone which the builders rejected,
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. -- Matt.5:10-12.
These three passages express three great consolations for those who share prophetic opposition with Christ. They will have to face great odds; numbers and weight will be against them. But there will be a quiet voice within to prompt them and sustain them: "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you."
The second consolation is that the higher court will reverse the verdict of the lower. The stonemasons may look a stone over and conclude that it will not fit into the building; but the architect may have reserved that stone for the head of the corner. The prophet rarely lives to see his own historical vindication, but faith knows it is inevitable.
The third consolation is contained in the last of the Beatitudes. Those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake may well rejoice for the company they are in, for the Leader whose name they bear, and for the Kingdom of God which is now and ever shall be their heritage.
Imagine two classmates in the same profession, reaching the end of their career. The one has attained success, wealth, eminence, together with a reputation of never having done a courageous and self-sacrificing action, and with the consciousness that his soul has grown small as he has grown old. The other has been a fighter for the right, a conspicuous man, but has kept out of office, tasting poverty and opposition with his family, yet with the consciousness that he has had the salt of the earth for his friends and that he has put in some mighty good licks for righteousness. Which would we rather be?
Study for the Week
Christian men have differed widely in interpreting the significance of Christ's suffering and death, but all have agreed that the cross was the effective culmination of his work and the key which unlocks the meaning of his whole life. The Church has always felt that the death of Christ was an event of eternal importance for the salvation of mankind, unique and without a parallel. It has an almost inexhaustible many-sidedness. We are examining here but one aspect. We have seen in the passages studied this week that Jesus himself linked his own suffering and rejection with the fate of the prophets who were before him and with the fate of his disciples who would come after him. He saw a red line running through history, and his own life and death were part of it. He himself generalized the social value of his peculiar experience, and taught us to see the cross as a great social principle of the Kingdom of God. He saw his death as the highest demonstration of a permanent law of human life.
Evil is socialized, institutionalized, and militant. The Kingdom of God and its higher laws can displace it only by conflict. "Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne." This clash involves suffering. This suffering will fall most heavily on those who most completely embody the spirit and ideas of the Kingdom, and who have the necessary boldness to make the fight.
In most men the eternal moral conflict gets only confused understanding. Sometimes they are aroused by sentimental pity or indignation, but soon tire again. If their own interests are affected they fight well. But there are men and women whose minds have been made so sensitive by personal experiences or so cleansed by right education and by the spirit of God that they take hold of the moral issues with a really adequate understanding. Living somehow on the outskirts of the Kingdom of Heaven, they have learned to think and feel according to its higher ways, and when they turn toward things as they now are, of course there is a collision; not this time a collision of interests, but a clash of principles, of justice with wrong, of truth with crafty subterfuges, or of solidarity with predatory selfishness.
The life and fate of these individuals anticipates the issues of history. This is the prophetic quality of their lives. Working out the moral and intellectual problems in their minds before the masses have realized them, they become the natural leaders in the fight, clarify the minds of others, and thus become, not only forerunners, but invaluable personal factors in the moral progress of the race. "The single living spirits are the effective units in shaping history; all common tendencies working toward realization must first be condensed as personal forces in such minds, and then by interaction between them work their way to general recognition" (Lotze). Lowell's "Present Crisis" is perhaps the most powerful poetical expression of the prophetic function in history.
"Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes -- they were souls that stood alone,
"By the light of burning heretics Christ's bleeding feet I track, Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back, And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned
During the centuries when the Church was herself in need of redemption and her purification was resisted by the dominant ecclesiastical interests, such prophetic spirits as Arnold of Brescia, Wycliffe, Huss, and Savonarola were most frequently found battling for the freedom of the Church from the despotic grafters inside and outside of the hierarchy, and for the purity of the gospel. The Church was a chief part of the social order, and the reform of the Church was the preeminent social problem. Today the Church is on the whole free from graft, and as openminded as the state of public intelligence permits it to be. Therefore the prophet minds are now set free to fight for the freedom of the people in political government and for the substitution of cooperation for predatory methods in industry, and the clash is most felt on that field.
The law of prophetic suffering holds true as much as ever. Probably no group of men have ever undertaken to cleanse a city of profit-making vice without being made to suffer for it. In the last thirty years this country has watched eminent men in public life in various great cities making a sincere drive to break the grip of a grafting police machine, or of a political clique, or of public service corporations. For a while such a man has public sentiment with him, for all communities have a desire to be moral. But when it becomes clear that he really means what he says, and that important incomes will be hurt, powerful forces set on him with abuse and ridicule, try to wreck his business or health, and sidetrack his political ambitions. An eminent editor in the Middle West, speaking before the Press Association of his State several years ago, said: "There is not a man in the United States today who has tried honestly to do anything to change the fundamental conditions that make for poverty, disease, vice, and crime in our great cities, in our courts and in our legislatures, who, at the very time at which his efforts seemed most likely to succeed, has not been suddenly turned upon and rent by the great newspaper publications." A volume of truthful biographical sketches of such leaders would give us a history of the cross in politics, and would tell us more about Christianity as an effective force in our country than some church statistics.
Jesus took the sin of throttling the prophets very seriously. It is sin on a higher level than the side-stepping of frail human nature, or the wrongs done in private grievances. Since the Kingdom of God is the highest thing there is, an attempt to block it or ruin it is the worst sin. Our hope for the advance of the race and its escape from its permanent evils is conditioned on keeping our moral perceptions clear and strong. Suffocating the best specimens of moral intelligence and intimidating the rest by their fate quenches the guiding light of mankind. Is anything worse?
Jesus held that the rejection of the prophets might involve the whole nation in guilt and doom. How does the action of Caiaphas and a handful of other men involve all the rest? By virtue of human solidarity. One sins and all suffer, because all are bound together. A dominant group acts for all, and drags all into disaster. This points to the moral importance of good government. If exploiters and oppressors are in control of society, its collective actions will be guided and determined by the very men who have most to fear from the Kingdom of God and most inclination to stifle the prophetic voices.
But the same solidarity which acts as a conductor of sin will also serve as a basis to make the attack of the righteous few effective for all. If the suffering of good men puts a just issue where all can see and understand, it intensifies and consolidates the right feeling of the community. The suffering of a leader calls out passionate sympathy and loyalty, sometimes in a dangerous degree. In the labor movement almost any fault is forgiven to a man who has been in prison for the cause of labor, and death for a popular cause will idealize the memory of very ordinary or questionable characters. But if the character of a leader is pure, suffering accredits him and gives him power. The cross had an incomparable value in putting the cause of Christianity before the world. It placed Jesus where mankind could never forget him, and it lit up the whole problem of sin and redemption with the fire of the greatest of all tragedies.
"The cross, bold type of shame to homage turned,
But not all righteous suffering is socially effective. A good man may be suppressed before he has won a following, or even before he has wrought out his message in his own mind, and his suppression leaves only a few bubbles on the waters of oblivion. In that case his life has failed to discharge the redemptive force contained in it. It only adds a little more to the horror and tragedy of a sinful, deaf, and blood-stained world. Many of the men whose lives ebbed away behind the cruel silence of the walls of the Spanish Inquisition, were such men as Spain needed most. What saving effect did their death exercise? The uncounted patriots whose chains have clanked on the march to Siberian exile, have not yet freed Russia from its blind oligarchy. Our faith is that their lives were dear to God, and that their sorrows and the bitter tears of those who loved them are somehow part of an accumulating force which will one day save Russia. But this is religious faith, "a conviction of things not seen." We can not prove it. We can only trust.
Meanwhile it is our business to see that no innocent blood is wasted. Pain is a merciful and redemptive institution of nature when pain acts as an alarm-bell to direct intelligent attention to the cause of the pain. If pain does not force the elimination of its own cause, it is an added evil. The death of the innocent, through oppression, child labor, dirt diseases, or airless tenements, ought to arrest the attention of the community and put the social cause of their death in the limelight. In that case they have died a vicarious death which helps to redeem the rest from a social evil, and anyone who utilizes their suffering for that end, shows his reverence for their death. We owe that duty in even higher measure to the prophets, who are not passive and unconscious victims, but who set themselves intelligently in opposition to evil. The moral soundness of a nation can be measured by the swiftness and accuracy with which it understands its prophetic voices, or personalities, or events. The next best thing to being a prophet is to interpret a prophet. This is one of the proper functions of trained and idealistic minds, such as college men and women should possess. The more the Kingdom of God is present, the less will prophets be allowed to suffer. When it is fully come, the cross will disappear.
The social principle of the cross contains a challenge to all who are conscious of qualities of leadership. Let the average man do average duties, but let the strong man shoulder the heavy pack. It is no more than fair that persons of great natural power should deliberately choose work involving social hardships. At present the theory seems to be that the strong have a right to secure places where they will be freed from the necessity of exerting themselves, and can lay their support on the shoulders of the poor. That is the law of the cross reversed. Our semi-pagan society has always practiced vicarious suffering by letting the poor bear the burdens of the rich in addition to their own. Instead of encouraging the capable to hunt after predatory profit and entrusting public powers to those who have been most successful in preying, we ought to encourage solidaristic feeling, and give both power and honor to those who are ready to serve the commonwealth at severe cost to themselves.
What has the principle of the cross to say to college men and women? If they have an exceptional outfit, let them do exceptional work. A knight in armor was expected to charge where others could not venture. A college education entitles a Christian man to some hard knocks. It seems contemptible for us to walk off with the pleasures and powers of intellectual training, and to leave the work of protecting children and working girls against exploitation to men and women without education, without leisure, and without social standing, who will have to pay double the tale of effort for every bit of success they win. In some European countries foreign mission service has been left mainly to men and women of the artisan class. In our country college men and women have volunteered for it. That is as it ought to be. On the other hand, in the struggle for political liberty the European universities have taken a braver and more sacrificial part than has ever fallen to our lot.
Those who are conscious of a prophetic mission have a redoubled motive for a clean, sober, and sincere life. Especially in its initial stages an ethical movement is identified with its leaders and tested by their character. A good man can get a hearing for an unpopular cause by the trust he inspires. His cause banks on his credit. The flawed private character or dubious history of a leader is a drag. It is worse yet if a man whose name has long been a guarantee for his message, backslides and brings doubt upon all his previous professions. Cases could be mentioned where noble movements were wrecked for years because a leader forfeited his honor. Constant fighting against evil involves subtle temptations. To stand alone, to set your own conviction against the majority, to challenge what is supposed to be final, to disregard the conventional standards -- this may lead to dangerous habits of mind. If we propose to spread a lot of canvas in a high wind, we need the more ballast in the hold. Through the thin partitions of a summer hotel, a man heard Moody praying God to save him from Moody. Imagine what it must be to lose standing and honor among your fellow men by secret weakness. Imagine also the poignant pain if your disgrace pulls down a cause which you have loved for years and which in purer days you vowed to follow to its coronation.
Suggestions for Thought and Discussion
I. Vicarious Suffering and Social Progress
1. Does suffering benefit humanity? Titus crucified thousands of Jews during the destruction of Jerusalem. Did their death have any saving effect?
2. What is the connection between vicarious suffering and social salvation?
II. Prophetic Suffering
1. What was the fate of the Old Testament prophets? What was their influence in the life of Israel? To what extent is Mark 12:1-9 a fair epitome of the treatment of the prophets by the Hebrew nation?
2. What is the significance of Isa.53:4-8? Why and how can the sins of a group fall on another?
3. Where did Jesus see the continuity of prophetic suffering in his own times?
4. What place did he give to vicarious suffering in the life of his followers and in the conquest of the Kingdom? How does the law of the Cross connect with the fact of solidarity?
5. In what respects was Christ's Cross unique? In what respects does it express a general spiritual law?
III. Vicarious Suffering Today
1. Give instances of persons in public life today whose careers were wrecked because they assailed socialized evil or graft. How does this differ from the fate of the prophets?
2. Are the sacrifices of prophetic leaders ever useless and actually ineffective? Do you feel an inward protest against that? On what ground?
3. To what extent is the call to be a Christian a challenge to vicarious suffering? What social significance, then, would Christian baptism have?
4. Is there anything wrong with a Christian life which does not incur suffering?
5. Would suffering be normal in the religious life of the young?
6. Why does this social principle apply especially to college men and women?
IV. For Special Discussion
1. What qualities constitute a man a prophet?
2. Are there embryonic prophets? Or spent prophets? Is a prophet necessarily a saint?
3. Do prophets arise where religion deals with private life only? What is the social value of prophetic personalities?
4. Name men in secular history and literature who have the marks of the prophet. Any in recent times?
5. Does learning create prophetic vision or blur it?
6. Does the ordinary religion today put a man in line for the Cross or for a job as a bank director?
7. Can you think of anything that would bring the Cross back into the life of the churches today?
8. Would vicarious suffering diminish if society became Christianized?