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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
E. T. Winkler, D. D.
From The Baptist Review, 1879
A careful examination of the evangelical narratives must be made before we can appreciate the amount of missionary work performed by Jesus. It is interesting to observe how soon he became a traveler—first at the time of the presentation of the first-born, when he was carried in his mother's arms from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and back, then in the long and rapid flight to Egypt. On their return from the land of bondage to Nazareth, an event important enough to be celebrated by prophecy, the holy family, avoiding Jerusalem, pursued the coast route, and crossed the lower heights of Carmel into the great plain beyond, thus tracing nearly the whole length of the land of Palestine.
At twelve years of age he traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem and back, doubtless following the road which extended from the Jewish capital to Jericho, thence skirting the Jordan, and finally returning westward into the plain of Jezreel. Nothing more is told us by the Evangelists of the movements of Jesus until we reach the period of his manhood.
Then his travels were dictated by a great purpose, and became a part of his plan of life. Knowing that the time was short, and resolved to improve every occasion for the accomplishment of his mission, he went forth to herald the kingdom of God.
Toward the close of his ministry he said, when about to perform one of his greatest miracles of healing, John 9:4: "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world." Such was the elevated sentiment by which his whole life was inspired and controlled,—an overmastering, unremitting sense of duty, and a tireless humanity drove him on. We propose to exhibit the salient features and the spirit of this work.
After his baptism by John, Jesus, leaving the thronged banks of the Jordan, buried himself in solitary and inhospitable wilds,—perhaps, as tradition relates, in the gloomy desert of Quarantania, the Mountain of Temptation, whose bald summits and frightful crags overlook the fertile plain of Jericho; more probably, upon the granite heights of Sinai, where Moses, the giver of the law, and Elijah, the reformer of Israel, passed through a similar ordeal. (Matt. 4, Mark 1, Luke 4: compare Exod. 24:18; I Kings 29:8.) The glory wrought out by such affliction was signified by the transfiguration of these three upon the Mount (Matt. 17:1-8).
Not long after the temptation Jesus proceeded to Jerusalem, where he attended the Passover and formally began his public ministry, gathering disciples in Judea and then in Samaria on the way of his return to the north. In the autumn of the same year he undertook the missionary work in Galilee. From this period there are indications of not less than five missionary circuits performed by himself, independently of those to which he commissioned and sent his disciples. His missionary career, as traced, or rather illustrated, by the evangelists, is full of movement and adventure. Nowhere does he fix his steadfast abode, nowhere linger long—for the household to which he belongs is the whole family of man. No city, no province can confine his activity.
From Gennesaret, whose fertile shores and prolific waters had attracted a dense population, he goes about all Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, where the people meet on the Sabbath to hear the Law and the Prophets read and explained, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease (Matt. 4:23). Soon, from this commercial center, his fame overspreads the neighboring province of Syria. When the Gospel has been preached to the cities, he repairs to the villages to teach (Mark 6:6). He bears the message of salvation to hamlets most remote, until he finds himself within the boundaries of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21).
He returns to traverse the city-beaconed Gennesaret in every direction, until all its rude fishers know him,—and its very storms and waves. He climbs the mountains and treads the wildernesses. He crosses the Jordan to and fro. Now he labors in the far north, in Caesarea Philippi; now in Jerusalem, the mart and sanctuary of the South, to which, indeed, he frequently resorts, as his mournful rebukes for slighted opportunities and his intimacies and friendships attest; now in the central province of Samaria; now beyond the river, amid the barbarous swine-keepers and demoniacs of the .eastern highlands, or in the pillared streets of the Ten Cities, or beneath the sylvan shades of Bethabara, where John baptized.
A whole year was devoted to his last missionary journey. From that first day, when Messiah stood apparent in Jordan, to the moment when he fell into the hands of his enemies, the career of our Lord was a long pilgrimage. Do those Christians who sneer at missions remember the history of him whose name they bear? Of him whose restless wanderings have given to Carey and Judson and a thousand kindred souls their supreme inspiration?
Yet the picture of our Savior's life would not be complete did we not speak of the arduousness and painfulness of his missionary career. We have already referred to the fact that he sacrificed every worldly advantage and blessing to this object. He amassed no property. He allowed himself no domestic seclusion, no competency, no accommodation, no repose. His itinerancy was a weary work. Of conveniences to relieve the long journey there were none; or, had there been any for others, there were none for him. He bore the manifold privations of poverty and the harsh judgments and unreasoning opposition which men are prompt to show to a lowly and beggared stranger. He had to rely upon the kindness of good people to receive him into their houses and give him food and shelter. He traveled—a dependent upon meagre charity—when the wealth of kingdoms and the glory thereof might have been marshaled in his train.
Here and there we have glimpses of this familiar experience of Jesus. On one of his journeys to Jerusalem he sent messengers to a Samaritan village at the foot of the hills of Manasseh to make ready for him. But the villagers of En Gannim (now Jenin) would not receive him, because his face was as if he would go up to Jerusalem (Luke 9:52). There was no refreshment for him in the "Fountain of Gardens." At Sychar he cast himself fainting upon the well-curb, and his prayer for water was answered with a taunt (John 4:5). How suggestive the circumstance that, when he went up to the barren fig-tree, he "sought fruit thereon, because he hungered" (Matt. 21:03)! How painful and how general an experience of rejection is indicated in that remark, made as it was by the meekest of all sufferers: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests ; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head!"
Nor is this all; for often, when Jesus expected to rest, he must turn away from shelter, and flee for his life. At one time the mob at Nazareth, stung to madness by his faithful words, undertook to hurl him down the cliff which walls the hill-encircled village on the south-west. At another, the blood-streaming sword of Herod was lifted against him (Matt. 14:12); and when Jesus heard that John was killed, he departed into a desert place apart. At another, he was sentenced by the Sanhedrin, the High Court of his people. At the Passover the Chief Priests and the Pharisees took counsel to put him to death. Jesus, therefore, walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence into a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there continued with his disciples (John 11:47--53).
Henceforth he lived and labored with a price set upon his head. That touching description which the Apostle Paul gave of his own sufferings, in conveying the Gospel to the Gentiles, had already been realized in the experience of the greater teacher, while publishing the Gospel to the chosen people. Jesus also knew what it was to be "in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen; in perils in the city, in perils of the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst; in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Cor. 11:26).
Oh, the painful, painful pilgrimage! Oh, the weary days and the watchful nights! Oh, the bruised feet, and the parched lip, and the beard frosted with the cold, and the brow breaking into the blood-sweat of the fever, and the eyes swimming with tears, and the wounded heart—signs manifold, and eloquent beyond all other expression, of the love of that Good Shepherd who came to seek and to save that which was lost! On the Domesday-book of the Martyrs, the name of Jesus stands first of all (Matt 10:24-27.)
Yet all hardships were borne by Jesus with patient resignation. For it was not his object to secure secular advantages or personal accommodations in his journeys. He went about to benefit the world by the doctrines he proclaimed, and the acts of mercy he performed. He blessed those who applied to him; but he did not wait for their applications. He went about seeking objects of pity—the ignorant, who needed to be taught; the sick, who needed to be healed; the lost, who needed to be saved.
He went about to discharge the grand function of a Teacher, a Physician, a Redeemer. Such was the motive of his journeys: and for all the weariness, the privation and the danger attending his course, he gained a sweet reward, if but one soul was found whom he could enlighten, cleanse, and console (John 4:28-32); if anywhere, in all the midnight of the world, appeared one single sign and starry promise of the time for which he prayed and labored then, and sits now on the heavenly throne—that gracious time:
"When every evil thing,
From being and remembrance both, shall die,—
The world one solid temple of pure good!"
Fain would we emphasize our Lord's benignant purpose. As we have observed, the journeys he performed constitute a considerable and important part of his history. But Jesus was no fugitive Ulysses, wandering aimlessly over lands and seas. He pursued a career of beneficence. The idea of all he did, of all he taught, of all he suffered — the heading of every separate chapter of his life — the sum of the whole Gospel narrative, the ground of all the faith and hope he inspires, the theme of the saints on earth, and the song of the angels in the heavens, is, "He went about doing good!"
How wide was the beneficence of Jesus! It had no limits. Like the sun, which refuses light and warmth to none of God's creatures, the Redeemer shed the radiance of his truth and the refreshment of his bounty upon all. His blessings were as impartial as the droppings of the clouds, as limitless as the flight of the winds. They were given without respect of persons— to the poor as freely as the rich, and (a thing that deserves special notice in these days of patronizing humanitarianism and condescending posture-making) to the rich as well as to the poor; to the wicked as generously as to the devout; to the lowly as cordially as to the honored. The scorner as well as the disciple was an object of pity and of help. His heart poured forth its treasures like a fountain.
What need did he not supply? What prayer did he not answer? What benefit, sought at his hands, did he not joyfully bestow? His blessings were as boundless as his love. Each moment of his life was charged with kindness. Here he blessed men as their teacher, there he relieved them as a miracle-worker: here he was an admonisher; there, a consoler: here, a physician; there, a guardian; here, a prophet of the divine will; there, a giver of heavenly grace. And all this marvelous work of philanthropy was crowned by the grandest sacrifice—his vicarious death upon the cross. While his personal labors were, for the most part, confined to Palestine, the scope of Christ's work of mercy was as broad as the needs and the sorrows of men (John 10:16).
And Jesus was active in doing good. To bless the world was his daily and loved employ. To this commanding interest all the repose, all the conveniences, all the pleasures of life were cheerfully surrendered. It was not by accident that he helped others, or in extreme cases only; he made beneficence the business of his life. He acted considerately. He decided how this or that deed of kindness might best be done. He sought every opportunity to do good to men. He did not wait to be addressed; but encountered the wants and woes of men with anticipating love, and extended to them a free and heart-subduing largess which they dared not solicit or expect. He had the pilgrim instinct impatient of repose, and the poet vision to which the robes of the flowers eclipsed the pomp of kings; but neither as pilgrim nor poet did he traverse "the goodly land," and visit the frequent shrines it reared to beauty, or valor, or devotion, so many of whose sites were visible from the hills familiar to his boyhood. A higher purpose possessed him.
And how persevering was the Reedemer in doing good! The case of the healed lepers, of whom but one returned to thank him, indicates what had become his common and daily experience. The acorns dropped from the liberal oak; but how few looked upward to admire and bless the tree. If we did not know how men are wont to deal with Christ now, we would be astounded by the ingratitude then displayed toward him, not only by individuals, but by whole cities and provinces.
The incident at Nazareth, already alluded to, may be recalled in this connection. In that village he had been brought up. Above all other communities, the Nazarenes knew that spotless life, one moment of which, fixed by the magical hand of Genius upon the canvas, has immortalized the author of "The Shadow of the Cross." But when, as his custom was, Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read, so far were they from welcoming the salutary words he uttered and reverencing the more eloquent appeal of his example, that all they in the synagogue were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of a hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong (Luke 4:16).
Nevertheless, so soon as time had cooled their rage, the outraged Teacher returned, to make one more effort for their salvation; for to him it was not hard to pity and forgive those whose passion and prejudice revealed their spiritual degradation and misery. But now he found their hatred hardened and polished into irony; the rude metal that once glowed in the furnace was now tempered into impenetrable steel.
When the Sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many hearing him were astonished, saying: "From whence hath this man these things, and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Jude and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him…And he marvelled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:2-6). Thus, again and again, "he came unto his own, and his own received him not." All around, the beautiful valley spread its vineyards, corn-fields, and gardens; and the air was fragrant with fig and olive, orange and pomegranate; only human hearts, in that "realm of flowers," resented culture and denied their sweet fruits to the diligent hand.
So, also, it was in the other cities where Jesus labored. Among these Capernaum stands conspicuous. During three of the most important years of his life his home was in this city, when any home he had. Here, in a scene whose brilliant vegetation the cold pen of Josephus could describe only by hyperboles in the heart of the most populous district of Palestine; amid the stir of the communities that clustered around the cold blue lake of Gennesaret, he published the Gospel of the kingdom—here he interpreted the Sabbath readings of the synagogue; here he drew lessons of wisdom from secular employs,—that of the fisher casting his nets, of the sower going forth to sow, of the merchant seeking goodly pearls, of the householder, the ruler, the soldier, the woman, the child; here he wrought miracles of mercy; here he established missionary circuits, and hence he sent forth heralds of amnesty and pardon. With what result? The answer is given in his lament: "Thou, Capernaum, that wast exalted unto heaven, shalt be cast down to hell; for if the mighty works which were done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained unto this day" (Matt. 11:23).
The work seemed to be a failure, and the prospect became more and more gloomy. Still it was carried on. With a courage that rose as difficulties multiplied, with a cheerful trust that turned to new fields of missionary adventure when the old refused their increase, with a devotion that no peril or sacrifice could chill, our Lord continued to travel and teach and toil, as the benefactor of the race. For the sake of the guilty he even consented to be treated as a malefactor, to be scandalized, persecuted, condemned, and crucified. No reproach or injury, no unthankfulness or treachery could prevent him from going about doing good. He maintained his kindly conduct toward friends and enemies, even to the end of his earthly course.
In reviewing this wondrous career we are struck by the harmony subsisting between our Lord's acts and teachings (Luke 1:1). Nay, we might almost say that his acts were the most important part of his teachings. He wrote nothing, either in regard to his divine doctrines or his own peerless life, the most effective part of which, its closing scenes, could not, indeed, have been recorded by his hand. He was not like John, a voice crying in the wilderness; but rather an incarnate Gospel, an enduring, regenerating spirit, a life that must be repeated in every age and Church of Christendom. Christ wrote no other book. The repentance he demanded was emphasized by his display, practically as well as orally, of the peculiar and spiritual character of the law of God (Matt. 5:17, 18).
The faith he insisted upon (Mark 1:15) was encouraged more by his condescending friendship and humanity and vicarious sacrifice than by the pictures of the perfect eternal blessedness proposed to all who accepted the transforming and elevating doctrines of the Gospel. That perfect example of godliness and virtue, of love and meekness, of poverty and self-denial,—that example unique and unparalleled,—wins the deepest reverence and the most heart-felt love and trust of which our natures are capable. That moral and religious character, exercised in so many ministries of blessing, tested by such oppositions and hostilities, yet ever so calm, so bright, so loyal, is itself the surest proof of the genuineness of the Gospel history, is the firmest foundation of the Christian faith, and is the mightiest spiritual influence known among men. Those who penned the record of Jesus' public ministry knew that such a story had a self-evidencing power.
And, what we need often to reflect upon, the same plan that possessed the heart of Jesus, and employed the weary years of his earthly life, is the policy of the glorified Redeemer's scepter. The Acts of the Apostles indicate that the missionary work is the prompting of his Spirit and the acceptable service of all his people. The Paraclete sent forth by the ascended Jesus establishes the mission at Jerusalem by signs and wonders. A call from heaven enjoins Peter to open the gates of mercy to the Gentile world, and assigns to Paul the office of apostle to the Gentiles. Then the ardent son of Jonah is dispatched to Babylon; John to Ephesus; Philip is summoned away from Samaria, where he has been preaching to listening thousands, to meet a solitary traveler in the desert; there the evangelist converts the chamberlain of Candace, and consecrates a missionary to the benighted continent of Africa. Paul traverses land and sea, and publishes the good news of salvation in all the great cities of the Roman Empire.
But why instance only this or that eminent teacher? Have not all the company the same grand calling? They are the light of the world. They are the salt of the earth. They receive gifts. They find opportunities opening before them. Scattered by persecution, they bear every-where the Word of Life. As they preach, converts are gathered; and these also are possessed by the same desire to extend the kingdom of the Lord. "The bigotry of the synagogue, the doubts of the academy, and the pride of the portico" are subdued by the cross, while the invisible, but ever present, Jesus leads his laborers onward to new conquests.
Such is the appointed method for the extension of our Lord's kingdom among men, as his own example teaches us and his approving providences in the history of his people declare. He was an evangelist; and in spirit he is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, and must therefore approve a career of beneficence modeled after his own. His commission to his people is, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." And he will bless them now, just as he did in apostolic times, in proportion to the fidelity, the zeal, the enterprise,' the self-denial with which they carry out the grand injunction.
Not to adventure upon the large field of evidence into which this proposition invites us, what proofs of its truth might not be drawn from the history of our own denomination! How powerful the influence of those restless Bible-readers of the dark ages was,—those men and women who bore the Word of God in the secret folds of their garments, and who published the message of salvation at the peril of their lives,—some future historian, the Niebuhr of the Church of God, must relate.