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THE CHILDHOOD AND TRAINING OF CHRIST.
BY PHILIP SCHAFF.*
Christ passed through all the stages of human life, from infancy to manhood, and represented each in its ideal form, that he might redeem and sanctify them all, and be a perpetual model for imitation. He was the model infant, the model boy, the model youth, and the model man ;but the weakness, decline, and decreptitude of old age would be incompatible with his character and mission. He died and rose in the full bloom of early manhood, and lives in the hearts of his people in unfading freshness and unbroken vigor for ever.
Let us glance at the infancy and childhood of our Saviour. The history of the race commences with the beauty of innocent youth in the garden of Eden, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy,” in beholding Adam and Eve created in the image of their Maker, the crowning glory of all his wonderful works. · So the second Adam, the Redeemer of the fallen race, the Restorer and Perfecter of man, comes first before us in the accounts of the gospels as a child, born, not in paradise, it is true, but among the dreary ruins of sin and death, from an humble virgin, in a lowly manger—yet pure and innocent, the subject of the praise of angels and the adoration of men. Even the announcement and expectation of his birth transforms his virgin mother, the bride of the humble carpenter, into an inspired prophetess and poetess, rejuvenates the aged parents of the Baptist in hopeful anticipation of the approaching salvation, and makes the unborn babe leap in Elizabeth's womb—the babe who was to prepare the way for His coming. The immortal psalms of Elizabeth, Mary, and Zacharias combine the irresistible charms of poetry with truth, and are a worthy preparation for the actual appearance of the Christ-child, at the very threshold of the Gospel-salvation, when the highest poetry was to become a reality, and reality to surpass the sublimest ideal of poetry. And when the heavenly child was born, heaven and earth, the shepherds of Bethlehem, in the name of Israel, longing after salvation, and the wise men from the East, as the representatives of heathenism in its dark groping after the “unknown God,” unite in the worship of the infant King and Saviour.
Here we meet, at the very beginning of the earthly history of Christ, that singular combination of humility and grandeur, of simplicity and sublimity, of the human and divine, which characterizes it throughout, and distinguishes it from every other history. He appears in the world first as a child—as a poor child—in one of the smallest towns of a remote country, in one of the lowliest spots in that town, in a stable, in a manger, a helpless fugitive from the wrath of a cruel tyrant—thus presenting, at first sight, every stumbling-block to our faith; but, on the other hand, the appearance of the angel, the inspired hymns of Zacharias and Mary, the holy exultation of Elizabeth, Hannah, and Simeon, the prophecies of Scripture, the theological lore of the scribes of Jerusalem, even the dark, political suspicion of Herod, the star of Bethlehem, the journey of the magi from the distant East, the dim light of astrology and astronomy, the significant night-vision, and God's providence overruling every event,-form a glorious array of evidences to the divine origin of the Christ-child; and heaven and earth seem to move around him as their centre, which repels whatever is dark and evil, and, by the same power, attracts what is good and noble. What a contrast :-a child in the manger, yet bearing the salvation of the world; a child, hated and feared, yet longed for and loved; a child, poor and despised, yet honored and adored—beset by danger, yet marvellously preserved; a child, setting the stars in heaven, the city of Jerusalem, the shepherds of Judea and the sages of the East in motionattracting the best elements of the world, and repelling the evil! This contrast, bringing together the most opposite, yet not contradictory things, is too deep, too sublime, too significant to be the invention of a few illiterate fishermen.
* From a book, which will soon be issued, on the “Person of Christ, the Miracle of History, with a reply to Strauss and Renan.”
Yet, with all these marks of divinity upon him, the infant Saviour is not represented, either by Matthew or Luke, as an unnatural prodigy, anticipating the maturity of a later age, but as a truly human child, silently lying and smiling on the bosom of his Virgin mother, “ growing” and “waxing strong in spirit," and therefore subject to the law of regular development; yet differing from all other children by his supernatural conception and perfect freedom from hereditary sin and guilt. He appears in the celestial beauty of unspotted innocence, a veritable flower of paradise. He was “that Holy Thing,” according to the announcement of the angel Gabriel (Luke i. 35), admired and loved by all who approached him in a childlike spirit, but exciting the dark suspicion of the tyrant king who represented his future enemies and persecutors.
Who can measure the ennobling, purifying and cheering influence which proceeds from the contemplation of the Christ-child at each returning Christmas season, upon the hearts of the young and old, in
land and nation! The loss of the first estate is richly compensated by the undying innocence of paradise regained.
Of the boyhood of Jesus, we know only one fact, recorded by Luke; but it is in perfect keeping with the peculiar charm of his childhood, and foreshadows, at the same time, the glory of his public life, as one uninterrupted service of his heavenly Father. When twelve years old, we find him in the temple, in the midst of the Jewish doctors, not teaching and offending them, as in the apocryphal gospels, by any immodesty or forwardness, but hearing and asking questions, thus actually learning from them, and yet filling them with astonishment at his understanding and answers. There is nothing premature, forced or unbecoming his age, and yet a degree of wisdom and an intensity of interest in religion, which rises far above a purely human youth. “He increased,” we are told, “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke ii. 52). He was subject to his parents, and practised all the virtues of an obedient son; and yet he filled them with a sacred awe as they saw him absorbed in the things of his Father, and heard him utter words, which they were unable to understand at the time, but which Mary treasured up in her heart as a holy secret, convinced that they must have some deep meaning, answering to the mystery of his supernatural conception and birth.
Such an idea of a harmless and faultless heavenly childhood, of a growing, learning, and yet surprisingly wise boyhood, as it meets us in living reality at the portal of the Gospel history, never entered the imagination of a biographer, poet, or philosopher before. On the contrary, as has been justly observed in all the higher ranges of character, the excellence portrayed is never the simple unfolding of a harmonious and perfect beauty contained in the germ of childhood, but is a character formed by a process of rectification, in which many follies are mended and distempers removed, in which confidence is checked by defeat, passion moderated by reason, smartness sobered by experience. Commonly a certain pleasure is taken in showing how many the wayward sallies of the boy are, at length, reduced by discipline to the character of wisdom, justice and public heroism, so much admired. Besides, if any writer, of almost any age, will undertake to describe not merely a spotless, but a superhuman or celestial childhood, not having the reality before him, he must be somewhat more than human himself, if he do not pile together a mass of clumsy exaggerations, and draw and overdraw, till neither heaven nor earth can find any verisimilitude in the picture.
This unnatural exaggeration, into which the mythical fancy of man, in its endeavor to produce a superhuman childhood and boyhood, will inevitably fall, is strikingly exhibited in the myth of Hercules, who, while yet a suckling in the cradle, squeezed two monster serpents to death with his tender hands, and still more in the accounts of the apocryphal Gospels, on the wonderful performances of the infant Saviour. These apocryphal Gospels are related to the canonical Gospels as the counterfeit to the genuine coin, or as a revolting caricature to the inimitable original; but, by the very contrast, they tend, negatively, to corroborate the truth of the evangelical history. The strange contrast has been frequently urged, especially in the Strauss controversy, and used as an argument against the mythical theory. While the evangelists expressly reserve the performance of miracles to the age of maturity and public life, and preserve a significant silence concerning the parents of Jesus, the pseudo-evangelists fill the infancy and early years of the Saviour and his mother with the strangest prodigies, and make the active intercession of Mary very prominent throughout. According to their representation, even dumb idols, irrational objects, and senseless trees, bow in adoration before the infant Jesus, on his journey to Egypt; and after his return, when yet a boy of five or seven years, he changes balls of clay into flying birds, for the idle amusement of his playmates; strikes terror round about him, dries up a stream of water by a mere word, transforms his companions into goats, raises the dead to life, and performs all sorts of miraculous cures, through a magical influence which proceeds from the very water in which he was washed, the towels which he used, and the bed on which he slept. Here we have the falsehood and absurdity of unnatural fiction, while the New Testament presents us the truth and beauty of a supernatural, yet most real history, which shines out only in the brighter colors by the contrast of the mythical shadows.
With the exception of these few, but significant hints, the youth of Jesus and the preparation for his public ministry are enshrined in mysterious silence. But we know the outward condition and circumstances under which he grew up, and these furnish no explanation for the astounding results, without the admission of the supernatural and divine element in his life.
He grew up among a people seldom and only contemptuously named by the ancient classics, and subjected at the time to the yoke of a foreign oppressor; in a remote and conquered province of the Roman empire; in the darkest district of Palestine; in a little country town of proverbial insignificance; in poverty and manual labor; in the obscurity of a carpenter's shop; far away from universities, academies, libraries, and literary or polished society; without any help, as far as we know, except the parental care, the daily wonders of nature, the Old Testament scriptures, the weekly Sabbath services of the synagogues at Nazareth (Luke iv. 16), the annual festivals in the temple of Jerusalem (Luke ii. 42), and the secret intercourse of his soul with God, his heavenly Father. These are, indeed, the great educators of the mind and heart; the book of nature and the book of revelation are filled with richer and more important lessons, than all the works of human art and learning. But they were accessible alike to every Jew, and gave no advantage to Jesus over his humblest neighbor.
Hence the question of Nathaniel, “What good can come out of Nazareth ?” Hence the natural surprise of the Jews, who knew all his human relations and antecedents. “How knoweth this man letters ?” they asked, when they heard Jesus teach,“ having never learned ?” (John vii. 15.) And on another occasion, when he taught in the synagogue,
" Whence has this man this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother Mary and his brethren (brothers) James and Joses and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence, then, hath this man all these things ?” These questions are unavoidable and unanswerable, if Christ be regarded as a mere man. For each effect pre-supposes a corresponding cause.
The difficulty here presented can by no means be solved by a reference to the fact that many, perhaps the majority of great men, especially in the Church, have risen by their own industry and perseverance from the lower walks of life, and from a severe contest with poverty and obstacles of every kind. The fact itself is readily conceded; but iq every one of these cases, schools, or books, or patrons and friends, or peculiar events and influences, can be pointed out, as auxiliary aids in the development of intellectual or moral greatness. There is always some human or natural cause, or combination of causes, which accounts for the final result.
Luther, for instance, was, indeed, the son of poor peasants, and had a very hard youth ; but he went to the schools of Mansfeld, Madgeburg and Eisenach; to the University of Erfurt; passed through the ascetic discipline of convent life; lived in a university, surrounded by professors, students and libraries, and was innocently, as it were, made a reformer by extraordinary events and the irresistible current of his age.
Shakspeare is generally and justly regarded as the most remarkable and most wonderful example of a self-taught man, who, without the regular routine of school education, became the greatest dramatic poet not only of his
age and country, but of all times. But the absurd idea, that the son of the Warwickshire yeoman, or butcher, or glover—we hardly know which—was essentially an unlearned man, and jumped, with one bound, from the supposed, though poorly authenticated youthful folly of deerstealing to the highest position in literature, has long since been abandoned by competent judges. It is certain that he spent several years in the free grammar school of Stratford-upon-Avon, where he probably acquired the "small Latin and less Greek,” which, however small in the eyes of so profound a classical scholar as Ben Jonson, was certainly large enough to make the fortune of any enterprising youth from New England. And whatever were the defects of his training, he must have made them up by intense private study of books, and the closest observation of man and things. For his dramas—the occasional chronological, historical and geographical mistakes notwithstanding, which are small matters at all events, and in most cases, as in “Pericles” and in “Midsummer's Night Dream,” intentional or mere freaks of fancy-abound in the most accurate and comprehensive knowledge of human nature, under all its types and conditions, in the cold north and the sunny south, in the fifteenth century and at the time of Cæsar, under the influence of Christianity and of Judaism, together with a great variety of historical and other information which cannot be acquired without immense industry and the help of oral or printed instruction. Moreover, he lived in the city of London, united the offices of actor, manager, and writer, in the classic age of Elizabeth, in the company of genial and gifted friends, with free access to the highest ranks of blood, wealth and wit, and during the closing scenes of the greatest upheaving of the human mind which ever took place since the introduction of Christianity.
În the case of Christ no such natural explanation can be given. He can be ranked neither with the school-trained, nor with the self-trained or self-made
men, if by the latter we understand, as we must, those who without the regular aid of living teachers, yet with the same educational means, such as books, the observation of men and things, and the intense application, of their mental faculties, attained to vigor of intellect and wealth of scholarship, like Shakspeare, Jacob Boehm, Benjamin Franklin, and others. All the attempts to bring him into contact with Egyptian wisdom, or the Essenic Theosophy, or other sources of learning, are without a shadow of proof, and explain nothing after all. He never quotes from books except the Old Testament, he never refers to secular history, poetry, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, foreign languages, natural sciences, or any of those branches of knowledge which make up human learning and literature. He confined himself strictly to religion. But from that centre he shed light over the whole world of man and nature. In this department, unlike all other great men, even the prophets and the apostles, he was absolutly original and independent. He taught the world as one who had learned nothing from it and was under no obligations to it. He speaks from divine intuition as one who not only knows the truth, but is the truth, and with an authority, which commands absolute submission, or provokes rebellion, but can never be passed by with contempt or indifference. “His character and life were originated and sustained in spite of circumstances with which no earthly force could have contended, and therefore must have had their real foundation in a force which was preternatural and divine.”
At the same time it is easy to see, from the admission of Christ's divinity,