THE GENIALITY OF JESUS
" John came neither eating nor drinking . . . The Son of Man came eating and drinking."—St. Matt. xi. 18, 19. We have seen what was the basal joy of Jesus. The being, the character, the uni versal presence, activity, and sovereignty of the Father in heaven—these were the everlasting arms underneath all existence, the widest, but also the most immediate environment of His own life and of all life ; and within this infinite joy all joys and sorrows that arise from the lesser environ ments were ensphered. And, to follow the logical order, we ought to consider in the first place the emotions awakened in Jesus by the widest and most external of these, Nature. But leaving this subject for another occasion, let us endeavour to study the emotions excited by His human environ ment ; and first by those things in it that are naturally gladsome.
It so happens that the contrast be tween Him and John the Baptist regarding this very matter was one of the things that arrested the attention of their contemporaries. John impressed the popular imagination by his rigid asceticism. His abode, his food and raiment were those of the desert, telling of one by whom the world and its delights, and all the joys of common life, had been for sworn. But Jesus, they said, came " eating and drinking." He was no weird prophet coming forth from the wilderness in hermit's garb, but a homely man, affable, approach able, sociable in His manner of life, kindly with His kind. He had all John's scorch ing indignation against the evils of society and the hypocrisies of conventional religion, but He had what John had not, geniality. There is a type of piety in which we do not expect to find this ; as, for example, St. Teresa naively discloses when she writes of Peter of Alcantara,1 a saint and ecclesiastic famous in her day, that "with all his sanctity he was kind." She had not expected to find so much genial humanity in so eminently pious a person. And plainly it would have been equally unexpected in John the Baptist ; and to those who took their idea of religious intensity from John it was a surprise to find it in Jesus. He comes eating and drinking, looking with lively unaffected sympathy upon the pursuits and joys of common life, and Himself partici pating in them so far as His unique calling allowed. We may say, indeed, that among the great religious teachers and leaders a marked feature in the uniqueness of Jesus is His geniality. He wept with them that wept ; no less did He rejoice with them that rejoiced.
1. The Gospel Portrait.
Where upon the whole can be found a fairer, more genial view of our natural 1 I owe the reference to (I think) one of Professor Glover's writings. human life than in the Gospels ? Take Christ's pictures of family life. How lofty is His valuation of everyday human father hood, which, imperfect as it is, seeks for its children the best it knows, and gives the best it can ! How He finds His whole Gospel in that single figure — the father whose joy at the recovery of his ungrateful, self-willed boy sweeps utterly away, like an obliterating flood, all resentful feelings and painful memories ! How He bids men look first into their own hearts, that they may find God !
And how sympathetic Jesus is with the joys of wedded love ! It is indeed start ling to find that the scene on which He first "manifested forth His glory" was a rustic wedding ; and that His first miracle was wrought to remedy no grave disaster, healed no broken heart nor met any tragic extremity at all, but was an act of simple kindness, done merely to secure that the humble marriage-feast of two villagers should go brightly on with no shadow of poverty or embarrassment falling upon it.
Think of the joy of Jesus in children— how He watched the little folk at their play (you cannot imagine John the Baptist doing that) in the open spaces of the market-place, and how He enjoyed the humours of it, with gentle smile marking the changing moods, the very human perversities and little fits of sulks, with which they conducted the affairs of their mimic world, as real to them as the anxious buying and selling of their elders. Or look at that scene, where Jesus lifted the child upon His knees, and fondling it in His arms, sat with it thus in the midst of twelve pretentious self-important men who had been wrangling as to which of them should be greatest in the kingdom of their dreams. Or that other, where a band of fathers and mothers bring their babes to Him for His blessing, and the disciples, as if their Master were some stiff, austere, pompous Rabbi, bid them and their brats begone, and, before they can turn away, His voice is raised in mingled displeasure and tenderness to plead the cause of the little ones and claim them as His own. How the sunshine of Christ's tender, large-hearted humanity falls upon this lovely scene ! How love beams and smiles upon the visage of the Son of Man !
Then, think of the delight of Jesus in social intercourse. It was this that excited the comment of contemporaries ; and it is still one of the surprises of the Gospels to count how often in the very brief course of His recorded ministry we read of His presence at some kind of festivity, or taking part in the friendly intercourse of a social meal. And no feast was ever graced by His presence but the conversation was all the brighter and the enjoyment all the heartier for it. In His eyes this world of human society was no unhallowed domain ; His vision of God blended sweetly and naturally with social fellowship and homely joys.
Everywhere Jesus appears in the Gospels as a close and keenly interested observer of the human scene. Nothing seemed to escape His eyes. The labourers standing around in the market-place waiting for a job, the virgins of the wedding party waiting for the bridegroom, the pertinacious litigant and the conscienceless judge, the shepherd sending for his neighbour to celebrate with him the recovery of his sheep that was lost, the scapegrace in the far country—think of the multitude of such pictures in the Gospels, pictures that will stand when all the philo sophies of the world are dust. And Jesus is not merely an interested, or even a kindly and sympathetic spectator of life's busy and various scene. He takes His place in it, and takes His place in it not with an air of condescending superiority or patient toler ance, but with perfect spontaneity and naturalness ; not as one who is brought into accidental contact with it, like a visitor from another world, but as one moving in his proper sphere.
2. Its Meaning for Us.
What does this geniality of Jesus mean for us ? What does it teach us ? First, it rules out asceticism as aChristian ideal. It is impossible to say with certainty on what ground the asceticism of John the Baptist rested ; but we do know why Jesus could not be an ascetic. The ascetic ideal may have its origin in despair of the world, as it had in the apocalypticism which was current in our Lord's time. This world was a mere devil's world, an " evil age " which could not be mended, but must be ended to make way for the Kingdom of Heaven. But this pessimistic view was far from being that of Jesus. To Him this world was an imperfect world, on which the powers of evil had a terrible grasp, of which the Evil One might even be said to be the ruler ; yet not so that it was not throughout God's world, with God's hand everywhere upon it,1 God's presence everywhere in it. Jesus could not be an ascetic from despair of the world. Sometimes, again, asceticism is based on despair of man. Man is so weak and evil that the world 1 However far we may go in asserting fundamental points of agreement between our Lord's outlook on life and that of Apocalyptic, we must not fail to observe the equally fundamental points of difference ; and this is one of them. becomes to him merely an apparatus of temptations with which he is utterly unable to cope. But while no one has spoken so sternly as Jesus of the necessity that may be laid upon us to be content with less than the full natural enjoyment of the world, and for the sake of ultimate salvation accept a life that is temporarily curtailed and maimed, He never holds this up as the ideal. Neither in the life nor the teaching of Jesus is there a trace of the ascetic principle that the physical is the necessary, lifelong foe of the spiritual. The world is God's world ; and men are God's children for whom this world is made.
Jesus, because He was the Perfect Man, the Son of God, could not be an ascetic. Nor could He hold up an ascetic ideal to others ; for He came to lift up men to His own plane, to give them that loving con sciousness of God which makes all things sacred, that purity to which all things are pure, that potency of spiritual life which converts all things to its own uses.
Further, the geniality of Jesus rules out all cynicism. It signifies that Jesus in the natural life of human society nothing merely trivial and transient, not a Vanity Fair, a moving picture-show, a tragi-comedy of alternate laughter and tears. Many spectators have seen nothing more ; but Jesus saw deeper. He saw in all this changing panorama, this procession of work and play, rejoicing and sorrowing, that passes hour by hour across the stage, something great, some thing* that in its coming and passing away leaves eternal traces on men's souls. Yes, and something that not only means intensely, but means well. He "came eating and drink ing," enjoying this human life in all its relationships, because in its nature and purpose it is good.
What then, let us ask, makes this natural life so really great and good that it was worthy even of Christ's living it, and taking agenial delight in it ? Let us try to get to the bottom of the matter. Why is it we do not exist as isolated units ? Why is our life set in a social framework, so that we have to work and play, eat and drink, sorrow and rejoice, together ? What is the meaning, God's meaning, in all that complexity of physical and social relationship which forms the organism of our life here on earth ? It means just this : that God is Love, and that we are God's children made in His Image, and that only in this social state of existence can we live the Divine life of love. That is the meaning of it : our human world, with all its endless ramifications, has only this one great Divine purpose, the increase, the development, and education of love. There never was a more egregious error than that which identifies the " religious " life with a state of solitary devotion. Only think, if we lived like Robinson Crusoe on his island, there would be no place for justice, integrity, or honour, none for trust, loyalty, generosity, patience, forgiveness, self-sacrifice. Almost all the qualities and dispositions that make the moral image of God in man would remain dead or dormant, like seeds frozen in ice or buried in desert sands. Yes, our human world is made for the increase of love. You may say that it has very often lent itself to the increase of selfishness, antagonism, and hate. That is true, just as one's arterial system may circulate bad blood. But it is made for the circulation of good blood ; and even so all the relationships by which we are made members one of another —the ties ot kindred, th^ duties of citizenship, the work of the world, aye and its play too, its more superficial associations — are the natural channels, the veins and arteries through which the Divine life must flow and circulate among men on earth.
And observe that this is exactly how Jesus saw human life. Wherever He looked on it, whether it was at the labourers in the vineyard, or the servants with their talents, or the creditor and his debtors, or the prodigal and his father, He found a parable of the Divine. And the parables of Jesus are parables not of ingenious fancy but of insight. He saw the Divine analogy there, because, it is there, because man is the image of God, and the natural human life with all its busy activity arhori*g transient things is meant to be filled with the Divine, all meant for the growth and discipline of love, and of all the graces of character that spring from love as their root.
As we grasp this truth, we see in the next place that, as St. Paul says, there is nothing unclean of itself. There is really no " devil's ground." The earth is the Lord's. Not a single thing in it is the devil's, not a power or appetite of body or mind, no kind of work, no form of healthful pastime. But I am wrong : there is " devil's ground." Wherever love, the Spirit of God, is not, wherever instead of it there is self-seeking, self-indulgence, pride, jealousy or hypocrisy, greed, overreaching, impurity, irreverence, there is "devil's ground." A meeting of Presbytery where any of these are is for the moment devil's ground ; a base-ball match without them were angels' ground.
It is strange how in this matter people like to deceive and hoodwink themselves, how even religious people like to palm off deception and humbug upon themselves. It is a saddening thing to any thoughtfid man to see how in every age Christian morality tends to become not a thing of spirit and of truth, but of conventions and shibboleths. Certain places and companies, certain forms of amusement, are laid under taboo by godly people, and originally, perhaps, with good reason—they are associated with so much that is evil. But then the avoidance of these comes to be made a badge of religion and Christian morality. They come to represent the deadly sins ; and a man may neglect the weightier matters, he may have a proud, rancorous heart, may be unjust, censorious, unkind^ a tale-bearer and backbiter, slippery in business, untrustworthy in private, or public life, yet if he can pronounce the shibboleth aright, he takes himself, and other like-minded persons take him, for a godly man. How is it that there is in human nature this ineradicable tendency to Pharisa ism, to put outward things for inward things, unreal things for real, to live by a morality of badges and labels ? Because, I suppose, it is the easiest and cheapest kind of morality there is. Unfortunately, it is also the most worthless. It is alien to the mind of Christ. He set it entirely aside. He rejected all the 38 The Geniality of Jesus shibboleths of the good, strict people of His age. He offended their prejudices right and left. He came eating and drinking, with publicans and sinners one day, with a Pharisee the next. He labelled nothing as bad, nothing as good ; but told men that all the goodness or badness they found in outward things came from themselves. It was not that which goes into a man, but what comes out of him, from his evil heart, that defiles. He told men to trust in God and seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, to love God and their neighbour everywhere and always, and all would be well with them. He tells us the same thing to-day.
3. The Need of Discrimination. But on the other side also, there is the constant danger of falsehood masquerading under the guise of truth. People may turn from a narrower to what they think the broader view of the Christian life under a profound mistake.1 They certainly do so (1 V. Stopford Brooke's Fight of Faith, p. 28.) when they think that Christ is an easier master to serve than John the Baptist. It is no less possible to make mere shibboleths of the assertions of Christian freedom than of the negations of narrowness. When men say in their hearts—I need deny myself nothing and yet be a good Christian, for Christ came eating and drinking ; I may go anywhere I please, for every place is holy ground ; I may live in and for my business, and be absorbed in money-making all the time, yet make it all "holiness unto the Lord " ; I may devote my life to pleasure and spend all my spare time in the round of amusements and entertainments, for there is nothing wrong in them, and God wishes me to enjoy myself-—such a travesty of the geniality of Jesus is only a ghastlier selfdeception than the other. Every place is holy, yes, if we take a holy spirit to it ; but do we ? All business is holy, if we do it in faithfulness to God and love to our fellowmen ; but, then, do we ? And pleasure too is holy, if it does not degenerate into selfindulgence, but is used for the holy purpose of refreshing body or mind for the serious duties oflife ; but, then, is it so used ? Who cannot see that the geniality of Jesus is a far more exacting ideal than the austerity ofJohn ? Far easier to eat locusts and wild honey like John than to eat and drink with Jesus Christ.
What is it to have the geniality of Jesus ? It is to carry on our worldly business, and to give our time and our energies heartily to its duties, but to do them in love, as the work God has appointed us for the service of our generation. It is to enjoy thankfully all that God gives us to enjoy, but to enjoy lovingly and never to let our enjoyment be purchased at the cost, direct or indirect, of pain or harm to others ; never to forget that to stain enjoyment with self-indulgence, idle ness, or impurity, is to make it devilish and not divine. It is, above all and in short, to have so much love in us, so much of Christ, that we shall be freed from all external and mechanical demands to give up this or that for our own good or the good of others, because such surrender is the very impulse of love. To this we may not immediately attain ; to this we need to be helped by the way of self-restriction and self-discipline. And in truth we dare not face Christ's ideal of life at all—nothing else than the austerity of John the Baptist would offer us any hope —were it not that Christ is Christ, our Strength and our Redeemer, who when He sets the ideal before us gives also the inward power it demands, who quickens our nature at its spiritual centre and creates in us a clean heart. Let us seek, then, to be so deeply Christian that we shall be Christian in all things ; and to be so Christian in all things that we shall be more fully Christian at the deep heart of life. Let us seek to make all our relationships and associations of earth, in the home, in business, in the circle of friend ship and social intercourse, in work and pastime, in Church and State, the channels of love ; and we shall be of those for whom Christ's prayer prevails : not that they may be taken out of the world, but that they may be kept from the evil, and not only kept from the evil, but be a leaven leavening the world for the Kingdom of God.