Religious Studies, Sketches and Poems
Гарриет Бичер-Стоу

<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 >>
It was to such souls as these, patient, laborious, prayerful, that the message came; that the Good Shepherd – the Shepherd and Bishop of Souls – was born. No comment can brighten or increase the solemn beauty of those simple words in which this story is told: —

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth Peace, Good-will toward men.

"And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

"And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."

They received the reward of faith; having heard the heavenly message, they believed and acted upon it. They did not stop to question or reason about it. They did not say, "How can this be?" but "Let us go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass." And so it was that they were rewarded by seeing and hearing the wonders "as it was told unto them."

The visit of these simple, confiding souls doubtless cheered the patient hearts of the humble outcasts, and strengthened their faith.

If now it be asked, Why was all this so? we have only to answer that heaven is a very different world from our earth, and that heavenly ways of viewing people and things are wholly above those of earth. The apostle says that the foolishness of God is wiser than man, and the weakness of God is stronger than man; that the things that are highly esteemed among men are abominations in the sight of God.

When a new king and a new kingdom were to be set up on earth, no pomp of man, no palace made with hands, was held worthy of him; few were the human hearts deemed worthy of the message, and these were people that the world knew not of – simple-minded, sincere, loving, prayerful people.

The priests and scribes were full of national pride and bitterness, burning for revenge on the Romans, longing for conquest and power. They were impatiently waiting for the Leader whose foot should be on the necks of their enemies. They had no sense of sin, no longing for holiness, no aspirations for a Spiritual Deliverer; and therefore no message was sent to them.

But to the simple-minded Joseph the angel said, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus (Saviour) for he shall save his people from their sins." Not from the Romans but from their sins he came to save, and the message of his coming was to humble souls, who wanted this kind of salvation.

But there was a fitness furthermore in these circumstances. Up to this time the poor and the unfortunate had been the despised of the earth. It had been predicted again and again that the Messiah should be the especial Friend of the poor: —

"He shall deliver the needy when he crieth,
The poor and him that hath no helper.
He shall spare the soul of the needy,
And precious shall their blood be in his sight."

As a mother when seeking a lost and helpless child, outcast in some den of misery, would pass by palaces and refuse the shelter of luxurious roofs, to share the poverty of her beloved, so the poor man's Friend and Lord chose to come in the hut and the stable rather than in the palace, that he might be known forever as the God of the poor, the Patron of the neglected, and the Shepherd of the lost.



There was one woman whom the voice of a divine Messenger, straight from heaven, pronounced highly favored. In what did this favor consist?

Of noble birth, of even royal lineage, she had fallen into poverty and obscurity. The great, brilliant, living world of her day knew her as the rushing equipages and palatial mansions of our great cities know the daughters of poor mechanics in rural towns.

There was plenty of splendor, and rank, and fashion in Jerusalem then. Herod the Great was a man of cultivation and letters, and beautified the temple with all sorts of architectural embellishments; and there were High Priests, and Levites, and a great religious aristocracy circling about its precincts, all of whom, if they thought of any woman as highly favored of heaven, would have been likely to think of somebody quite other than the simple country girl of Nazareth. Such an one as she was not in all their thoughts. Yet she was the highly favored woman of the world; the crowned queen of women; the One whose lot – above that of all that have lived woman's life, before or since – was blessed.

The views adopted in the Roman Church with respect to this one Woman of women have tended to deprive the rest of the world of a great source of comfort and edification by reason of the opposite extreme to which Protestant reaction has naturally gone.

John Knox was once taken on board a ship manned, as he says, by Popish sailors, who gave into his hand an image of the Virgin Mary and wanted to compel him to kiss it. Stout John tossed it overboard, saying, "Let our Lady now save herself; she is light enough, let her learn to swim." To have honored the Virgin Mary, even in thought, was shrunk from by the Protestants of those times as an approach to idolatry. An image or a picture of her in a Puritan house would have been considered an approach to the sin of Achan. Truth has always had the fate of the shuttlecock between the conflicting battledoors of controversy.

This is no goddess crowned with stars, but something nobler, purer, fairer, more appreciable – the One highly favored and blessed among Women.

The happiness of Mary's lot was peculiar to womanhood. It lay mostly in the sphere of family affection. Mary had in this respect a lot whose blessedness was above every other mother. She had as her child the loveliest character that ever unfolded through childhood and youth to manhood. He was entirely her own. She had a security in possessing him such as is not accorded to other mothers. She knew that the child she adored was not to die till he had reached man's estate – she had no fear that accident, or sickness, or any of those threatening causes which give sad hours to so many other mothers, would come between him and her.

Neither was she called to separate from him. The record shows that he was with his parents until their journey to Jerusalem, when he was twelve years old; and then, after his brief absence of three days when he was left behind, and found in the temple disputing with the doctors, we are told that "he went down to Nazareth and was subject unto them."

These words are all that cover eighteen years of the purest happiness ever given to mortal woman. To love, to adore, to possess the beloved object in perfect security, guarded by a divine promise – this blessedness was given to but one woman of all the human race. That peaceful home in Nazareth, overlooked by all the great, gay world, how many happy hours it had! Day succeeded day, weeks went to months, and months into years, and this is all the record: "Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man."

Looking at Jesus as a mere human being, a historical character, as some do, the one great peculiarity of him is the intensity of the personal affection he has been able to inspire. The Apostles give him one title which was his above all the other children of men, "The Beloved." Christ has been and now is beloved, as no other human being ever was. Others have been good men, – true men, benefactors of their race, – but when they died their personality faded from the earth.

Tell a Hottentot or a Zulu the story of Socrates, and it excites no very deep emotion; but, for eighteen hundred years, Hottentots, Zulus, South Sea Islanders and savages, Greenlanders, – men, women, and children in every land, with every variety of constitutional habit, – have conceived such an ardent, passionate, personal love to Jesus of Nazareth that they have been ready to face torture and death for his sake.

"It is not for me to covet things visible or invisible," said Polycarp, on his way to martyrdom, "if only I may obtain Jesus Christ. The fire, the cross, the rush of wild beasts, the tearing asunder of bones, the fracture of limbs, and the grinding to powder of the whole body, let these, the devil's torments, come upon me, provided only that I obtain Jesus Christ."

So felt the Christians of the first ages, and time does not cool the ardor. There are at this present hour hundreds of thousands of obscure men and women, humble artisans, ignorant negroes, to whom Christ is dearer than life, and who would be capable of just this grand devotion. It is not many years since that in the Island of Madagascar Christian converts were persecuted, and there were those who met death for Christ's sake with all the triumphant fervor of primitive ages. Jesus has been the one man of whom it has been possible to say to people of all nations, ages, and languages, "Whom having not seen ye love, and in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."

If we should embody our idea of the Son with whom Mary lived in secure intimacy for thirty years, we should call him Love, itself. He was not merely lovely, but he was love. He had a warming, creative power as to love. He gave birth to new conceptions of love; to a fervor, a devotion, a tenderness, of which before the human soul scarcely knew its own capacity.

Napoleon asserted the divinity of Jesus from the sole fact of his wonderful power of producing love. "I know men," he said, "and I know Jesus was not a man; – eighteen hundred years ago he died defeated, reviled, and yet at this hour there are thousands all over the world who would die for him. I am defeated and overthrown, and who cares for me now? Who fights, who conquers for me? What an abyss between my misery and the triumph of Jesus!"

The blessedness of Mary was that she was the one human being who had the right of ownership and intimate oneness with the Beloved. For thirty years Jesus had only the task of living an average, quiet, ordinary human life. He was a humble artisan, peacefully working daily for the support of his mother. He was called from her by no public duty; he was hers alone. When he began his public career he transcended these limits. Then he declared that every soul that heard the will of God, and did it, should be to him as his mother – a declaration at which every Christian should veil his face in awe and gratitude.

We may imagine the peace, the joy, the serenity of that household of which Jesus was the centre. He read and explained the Scriptures, and he prayed with them, in such blessed words as those that are recorded in St. John's Gospel. In this life of simplicity and poverty he taught them that sweet and sacred secret of a peaceful daily looking to God for food and raiment that can be learned only by the poor and dependent. He made labor holy by choosing it as his lot.

Many little incidents in Christ's life show the man of careful domestic habits. He was in all things methodical and frugal. The miraculous power he possessed never was used to surround him with any profusion. He would have the fragments of the feast picked up and stored in the baskets, "that nothing should be lost." His illustrations show the habits of a frugal home. His parable of the kingdom of heaven, likened to the leaven hidden in three measures of meal, gives us to believe that doubtless he had often watched his mother in the homely process of bread-making. The woman, who, losing one piece of money from her little store, lights a candle and searches diligently, brings to our mind the dwelling of the poor where every penny has its value. His illustrations from husbandry – ploughing, sowing, growing, the lost sheep, the ox fallen into the pit, the hen and her chickens – all show a familiarity and a kind sympathy with the daily habits and life interests of the poor. Many little touches indicate, also, the personal refinement and delicacy of his habits, the order and purity that extended to all his ways. While he repressed self-indulgence and the profusion of extravagant luxury, he felt keenly and justified bravely that profusion of the heart that delights in costliness as an expression of love.

There seems to be reason to think that the retirement and stillness of the peasant life in Nazareth, its deeply hidden character, was peculiarly suited to the constitutional taste both of Jesus and his mother.

Mary seems, from the little we see of her, to have been one of those silent, brooding women who seek solitude and meditation, whose thoughts are expressed only confidentially to congenial natures. There is every evidence that our Lord's individual and human nature was in this respect peculiarly sympathetic with that of his mother. The prophecy of Isaiah predicts this trait of his character: "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street." In the commencement of his ministry we find the same avoidance of publicity. He hushed the zeal of his disciples. He wrought miracles with injunctions of secrecy – "See thou tell no man." The rush of sensational popularity seemed especially distasteful to him, and we find him after a little retiring from it. "Come ye with me into a desert place and rest awhile," he says to his disciples, "for there were so many coming and going that they found no leisure so much as to eat."

Thus, the retirement of the Garden of Gethsemane – where it is said Jesus ofttimes resorted with his disciples – and the quietude of the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at Bethany, seemed to be especially attractive to him. Indeed, so great a desire had he for quiet and peace, and for the calm of that congenial thought and communion that can be had with but a few, that his public life must be regarded as a constant act of self-abnegation. It was as foreign to him to be out in the hot glare and dust of publicity, and to battle in the crowded ways of life, as to the most gentle woman. Divine Love was ever, in this bustling, noisy, vulgar, outward life, lonely, and a stranger. "He was in the world," says St. John, "and the world was made by him, but the world knew him not."

There was one woman of all women to whom it was given to know him perfectly, entirely, intimately – to whom his nature was knit in the closest possible union and identity. He was bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh – his life grew out of her immortal nature. We are led to see in our Lord a peculiarity as to the manner of his birth which made him more purely sympathetic with his mother than any other son of woman. He had no mortal father. All that was human in him was her nature; it was the union of the divine nature with the nature of a pure woman. Hence there was in Jesus more of the pure feminine element than in any other man. It was the feminine element exalted and taken in union with divinity. Robertson has a very interesting sermon on this point, showing how the existence of this feminine element in the character of Jesus supplies all that want in the human heart to which it has been said the worship of the Virgin Mother was adapted. Christ, through his intimate relationship with this one highly favored among women, had the knowledge of all that the heart of man or woman can seek for its needs.

There is in the sacred narrative a reticence in regard to the mother of Jesus which would seem to bear very significantly upon any theories of their mutual relations, and especially upon their present connection in spiritual matters – the idea that Mary, as Mother of God, retains in heaven authority over her son, and that he can deny her nothing. St. John takes care to state specifically the scene in Cana of Galilee where Jesus informs his mother that, in his divine relations and duties, her motherly relation has no place. "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come."

The address, though not in the connection wanting in respect, or so abrupt as it appears in the translation, was still very decided, and was undoubtedly one of those declarations meant not only for her but for mankind. In the same spirit are his words where, in his public ministration, word was brought to him that his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to see him: —

"Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? And he looked around on them that sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and sister and mother."

From that noble utterance, the Song of Mary, – retained by the church as a Magnificat, – there is evidence of a soul not only exalted by genius and enthusiasm, but steeped in the traditions of ancient prophecy. It is so like the Psalms of David that a verse of it, if read out casually, might seem to be taken from them. There is no doubt that a soul like this, when possessed of the great secret of prophecy, devoted itself with ardor to all in the Hebrew Scriptures which foreshadowed her son's career. She was the first teacher of the child Jesus in the Law and the Prophets. One of Raphael's most beautiful conceptions of her represents her sitting thoughtfully, holding the hand of the infant Jesus, while the roll of the prophecies lies in her lap, and her eyes are fixed on the distance as in deep thought. There is a similar picture of her by Palma Vecchio. The communings of Christ and his mother on these subjects must have been so long and so intimate that she more calmly and clearly knew exactly whither his life was tending than did his disciples. She had been forewarned in Daniel of the time when the Messiah was to be cut off, but not for himself; she understood, doubtless, the deep, hidden meaning of the Psalm that describes the last agonies, the utter abandonment of her son.

There is in her whole character a singular poise and calmness. When the Angel of the Annunciation appeared to her she was not overcome by the presence of a spiritual being as Daniel was, who records that "he fell on his face and there was no strength in him." Mary, in calm and firm simplicity, looks the angel in the face, and ponders what the wonderful announcement may mean. When she finds that it really does mean that she, a poor lonely maiden, is the chosen woman of all the human race – the gainer of the crown of which every Jewish woman had dreamed for ages – she is still calm. She does not sink under the honor, she is not confused or overcome, but answers with gentle submission, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to his word."

Yet the words of the Magnificat show a keen sense of the honor and favor done her. She exults in it with an innocent heartiness of simplicity. "He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaid, for from henceforth all nations shall call me blessed."

It is remarkable that Mary was never in any one instance associated in public work with Jesus. She was not among the women who are mentioned as following and ministering unto him. She was, it seems, in Jerusalem at the last Passover of our Lord, but it was not with her, or at her table, that he prepared to eat the Passover. He did that as master in his own house, with a family of little children of his own choosing. Mary was not at the first Eucharistic feast. Undoubtedly there was foreknowledge and divine design in all this, and doubtless Jesus and Mary were so completely one in will and purpose that she was of perfect accord with him in all these arrangements. There are souls so perfectly attuned to each other, with such an exact understanding and sympathy, that personal presence no longer becomes a necessity. They are always with each other in spirit, however outwardly separated. But we find her with him once more, openly and visibly, in the hour when all others forsook him. The delicacy of woman may cause her to shrink from the bustle of public triumph, but when truth and holiness are brought to public scorn she is there to defend, to suffer, to die.

Can we conceive what this mob was, that led Jesus forth to death? Mobs in our day are brutal, but what were they then? Consider what the times must have been when scourging was an ordinary punishment for criminals, and crucifixion an ordinary mode of execution; what were the sights, the sounds, the exhibitions of brutality among which Mary and the women friends of Jesus followed him to the cross!

And Mary did not faint – did not sink. She did not fall to the earth when an angel predicted her glory; she did not fall now, when the sword had gone through her heart. It is all told in one word, "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother." The last word that Jesus spoke to any mortal ear was to commend her to his dearest friend.

After the resurrection Mary appears once more among the disciples, waiting and praying for a descent of the Holy Ghost – and then in the sacred record we hear of her no more.

But enough is recorded of her to make her forever dear to all Christian hearts. That Mary is now with Jesus, that there is an intimacy and sympathy between her soul and his such as belong to no other created being, seems certain. Nor should we suffer anything to prevent that just love and veneration which will enable us to call her Blessed, and to look forward to meeting her in heaven as one of the brightest joys of that glorious world.
<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 >>