The Gospel 24/7
Famous For Writings on Life and Work of Christ
Follow Book & Flag
If, in the course of a lifetime, we have been fortunate enough
to hear once or twice an orator of the first rank, we talk of it all our days; or,
if we can remember a preacher who first made religion real to us, his image is
enshrined in our memory in a sacred niche. What, then, must it have been to listen
to Him who, spake as never man spake? What must it have been to hear the Sermon on
the Mount or the Parable of the Prodigal Son issuing, for the first time, fresh from
the lips that uttered them?
The enthusiasm of those whom He addressed corresponded with His own. Almost as soon
as He began to preach His fame spread over the whole of Syria, bringing hearers from
every quarter; and from this time onwards we are constantly hearing that great multitudes
followed Him, the crowd becoming sometimes so dense that they trode one upon another.
They detained Him when, wearied out with His efforts, He wished to escape into solitude;
and, if at length He got away for a little, they were waiting for Him when He came back.
Wherein lay the secret of this intense and universal interest? The ancients represented
the orator in works of art as drawing men after himself with golden chains issuing from
his mouth. What were the chains of attraction by which Jesus drew all men unto Himself?
A darkness of this kind, which may be compared to that of midnight, was brooding over
Galilee when Jesus opened His career as a preacher; and St. Matthew, who lived on the
spot, describes the contrast by quoting these words of prophecy: "The people that sat
in darkness saw great light; and to them who sat in the region and shadow of death
light is sprung up." In the same way, the first criticism passed on the new Preacher
by all who heard Him was a surprised expression of the difference they felt between Him
and their accustomed teachers: "The people were astonished at His doctrine; for He taught
them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
The people in their criticism of Jesus exactly hit the principal defect of their
teachers. He, they said, taught with authority, and not as the scribes; that is, the
scribes taught without authority. This is the leading characteristic of these Talmudic
writings. No teacher speaks as if he had ever been in touch with God Himself or seen
the spiritual world with his own eyes. Everyone quotes some earlier teacher, to whose
authority he appeals; they are all leaning upon one another. This is a fatal kind of
preaching, though it has often prevailed and sometimes loudly arrogated to itself the
name of orthodoxy.
(EXPLANATORY NOTE from James Dearmore about the first sentence in the next paragraph
following this editorial note. The famous writer on the Life of Christ, James Stalker,
is speaking purposely in a manner contrary to fact to illustrate how some people then,
and now, try to put a straitjacket on God and His Word making it all "deed" or "letter"
and no "spirit". He is NOT indicating that God could ever literally be put into a prison,
or contained any where, by any thing, or any one. He is using his words in the sentence
following to show how some take all the life and spirit out of "religion" and "the Bible"
and "God" by the way they handle and present them to others.)
So the fame of Him traveled from Dan to Beersheba; men said to one another, with kindling
looks, "A great prophet is risen up among us; and the shepherd left his sheep in the
wilderness, the husbandman his vineyard, and the fisher his nets by the shore, to go and
hear the new Preacher; for men know they need a message from the other world, and they
instinctively recognize the authentic voice when they hear it.
It cannot be said that the printed words of Jesus are disappointing: on the contrary, their
weightiness and originality must have attracted attention however they had been spoken. But
yet in this case, also, as can easily be perceived from the criticism of His hearers, the
Preacher told as well as the sermon.
Though for many generations the only preachers whom His countrymen had heard were dry-as-dust
scribes, yet one of the proudest traditions of the Jewish people was the memory of great
speakers for God whose voices had sounded throughout the land in days gone by, and whose
characteristics were indelibly imprinted on the national memory; and, as soon as Jesus
commenced to preach, it was recognized at once that the great order of the Prophets had
revived in Him. They said He spoke as one of the prophets.
Now these were both great prophets; perhaps the very greatest in the popular estimation;
so that it was to their very greatest that they compared Him. But the two were of
types so diametrically opposite to one another that it may seem impossible that their
characteristics should have been united in one personality.
Elijah was in every respect a contrast to Jeremiah: he was a man of rock, who could
rebuke kings and queens to their faces and stand alone against the world. It did not
seem possible that one who exhibited the traits of Jeremiah should also exhibit those
of Elijah. Yet the people recognized in Jesus an Elijah.
The truth is, both characteristics, His softness and His sternness, had a common root.
As in the poorest peasant He saw and revered a man, so in the wealthiest noble He saw no
more than a man. As the rags of Lazarus could not conceal from Him the dignity of the soul,
so the purple of Dives could not blind Him to its meanness. He knew what was in man --- the
height and the depths, the glory and the shame, the pathos and the horror; and men felt,
as they faced Him, that here was One whose manhood towered above their own and yet, stooping
down, embraced it and sympathized with it through and through.
The teaching of Jesus owed its attractiveness, and owes it still, in no small degree, to
its exquisite form. The common people do not, I think, as a rule remember so well the drift
of an argument or a long discourse as remarks here and there expressed in pithy, pointed,
crystalline words. This is the form of most of the sayings of Jesus. They are simple,
felicitous and easily remembered; yet every one of them is packed full of thought, and
the longer you brood over it the more do you see in it. It is like a pool so clear and
sunny that it seems quite shallow, till, thrusting in your stick to touch the pebbles
so clearly visible at the bottom, you discover that its depth far exceeds what you are
trying to measure it with.
Christ used this method of illustrating truth so constantly that the common objects of
the country in which He resided are seen more perfectly in His words than in all the
historians of the time. The Jewish life of Galilee in the days of Christ is thus lifted
up out of the surrounding darkness into everlasting visibility, and, as on the screen
of a magic lantern, we see, in scene after scene, the landscapes of the country, the
domestic life of the people, and the larger life of the cities in all their details.
In the house we see the cup and the platter, the lamp and the candlestick; we see the
servants grinding the meal between the millstones and then hiding the leaven in it,
till the whole is leavened; we see the mother of the family sewing a piece of cloth on
an old garment and the father straining the wine into the skinbottles; we see, at the
door, the hen gathering her chickens under her wings and, in the streets, the children
playing at marriages and funerals.
Are there any figures of our own streets with which we are more familiar
than the Pharisee and the Publican at prayer in the Temple; or the Priest and the
Levite and the Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho; or the gorgeous Dives at his
daily banquet and Lazarus lying at his gate with the dogs licking his sores? Nor were
these pictures less striking to the audiences of Jesus, though they were familiar; for ---
First, when we see them painted,
things we've passed
Perhaps a hundred times,
nor cared to see.
It was because Jesus had exquisite love and consideration for His hearers that He thus
sought out acceptable words to win their minds. But there was a reason in Himself besides.
It is when the mind of a preacher is acting on the truth with intense energy and delight
that it coruscates in such gleams of illustration. When the mental energy is only
smoldering in a lukewarm way inside the subject, then you have the commonplace, prosaic
statement; when the warmth increases and pervades the whole, you get the clear, strong,
impressive statement; but, when the glow has thoroughly mastered the mass and flames all
over it, then come the gorgeous images and parables which dwell for ever in the minds of
Never has the substance of preaching been more trivial than among the Jewish scribes.
The Talmudical books show this. The topics they deal with are in their triviality
beneath contempt. The religion of the scribes was a mere round of ceremonies, and
their preaching was almost wholly occupied with these: the proper breadth of phylacteries,
the proper length of fasts, the articles of which tithe ought to be paid, the hundred
and one things by which one might be made ceremonially unclean --- these and a thousand
similar minutia formed the themes of their tiresome harangues. There have been times
in the History of the Church since then when the pulpit has sunk almost to as low a
level. In our own country immediately before the Reformation the sermons of the monks
were, if possible, even worse --- more trivial and low in tone --- than those of the
scribes in the time of Christ.
Of course the subjects which formed the substance of Christ's preaching cannot here be
enumerated, it must suffice to say that His matter was always the most solemn and vital
which can be presented to the human mind. He spoke of God in such a way that His hearers
felt as if to their eyes God was now light and in Him was no darkness at all. As He
uttered such parables as the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son, it seemed as if the gates
of heaven were thrown open and they could see the very beatings of the heart of the
divine mercy. He spoke of man so as to make every hearer feel that till that moment he
had never been acquainted either with himself or with the human race. He made every man
conscious that he carried in his own bosom that which was more precious than worlds; and
that the passing hours of his apparently trivial life were charged with issues reaching
high as heaven and deep as hell. When He, spoke of eternity, He brought life and immortality,
which men before then had only vaguely guessed at, fully to light, and described the
world behind the veil with the graphic and familiar force of one to whom it was no
But the power and the spirit that embodied themselves in these sounds never die; they live and burn today as they did then. Whenever a preacher strikes correctly a note of the eternal
truth, it is Christ that does it. Whenever a preacher makes you feel that there is a world of realities above and behind the one you see and touch; whenever he lays hold of your mind, touches your heart, awakens your aspiration, rouses your conscience --- that is Christ trying to grasp you, to reach you with His love, to save you. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ; as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." ----- Excerpt from James Stalker's "Imago Christi"