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THE BIRTH OF OUR LORD
" Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”—Matthew i. 18. It has now been shown that we stand on firm ground in accepting the narratives of the Four Gospels as faithful records of the life and ministry of our Lord; that they contain, at least in all substantial points, the direct testimony of two eye-witnesses, and the reports of two other persons who were in direct and intimate communication with eye-witnesses. We have further seen how immense is the presumption in favour alike of the truthfulness of the Evangelists and of their soundness of judgment, afforded on the one hand by the profound love of truth which they display, and on the other hand by the verification which experience has afforded of their insight into the great realities of man's moral nature and of the course of history. When they thus command our confidence on all the more central and weighty matters of their testimony, it is natural to conclude that they must equally deserve it in details; and we shall at least be prepared to hold our judgment in suspense in respect to minor difficulties in their narratives.
These considerations must be carefully borne in mind in passing to-day to consider in their order the cardinal facts in our Lord's ministry, as enumerated in St. Peter's address to Cornelius and in the Creed of the Church. But we must needs commence by observing that, from the point of view we have gained, we are enabled, or rather compelled, to put aside at once the principal speculations of late years respecting our Lord's method and purpose. For all those speculations proceed on the re-arrangement, according to the views of the particular writer, of the records of the Gospels; one part being taken out and another left, and the whole being readjusted to meet the author's comprehension of the case. One writer proposes to discuss our Lord's object and scheme without reference to His theology, as though the deepest and most characteristic of His motives could possibly be excluded from His work. Another endeavours to exclude His miracles altogether from consideration, and a third resolves them into a halfconscious, half-unconscious illusion.
M. Renan, who, as we have seen, accepts the four Gospels as
serions documents, providing for us, to a great extent, the evidence of eye-witnesses, nevertheless constructs a story of our Lord's life in flagrant contradiction with the main order of events as
uniformly narrated by these witnesses. The Gospels piace the commencement of our Lord’s ministry at His baptism by John, and exhibit Him from that time forward as preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and working miracles in acrordance with it. But M. Renan imagines out of his own mind a kind of idyllic period in Galilee before our Lord's communication with John, during which He was wholly occupied with what that writer is pleased to consider the purely moral instruction of the Sermon on the Mount. It seems enough to say that any method which deals in this arbitrary manner with the unanimous testimony of serious witnesses is selfcondemned.
It must be added that there is a presumption very difficult to comprehend in the tone of mind which assumes a capacity for sitting in judgment, as it were, on the work of our Lord, and measuring His aims by its own standard. On any supposition, His moral and spiritual power has been, and still remains, superior to the conceptions and ideals of all other men. It is only reasonable to suppose, therefore, that it must in numerous points be wholly above and beyond our comprehension. So far as we have definite statements preserved to us, such as we believe we possess in the Gospels, we may hope in some measure to apprehend it. But if we cannot trust the order of their narration, we
are simply in presence of a mysterious manifestation of superhuman wisdom, goodness, and power, which we cannot hope to explain. It is not surprising, therefore, that every writer on this subject who departs from the records of the Gospel and the faith of the Church, develops some new scheme inconsistent with those of his predecessors. The Church alone has been consistent from the first in its acceptance, and in its general interpretation, of the story in the Gospels; and the fact that this uniform impression should have been produced by the four Gospels upon all who have submitted themselves simply to their instruction, must alone raise a great presumption in favour of its harmony with the real truth of the case.
Now these are the considerations from which we have to start in considering the credibility of such a passage in the Gospel bistory as that of the miraculous birth of our Lord, with the angelic messages which accompanied it. The information could of course only be derived from one source, namely, from the Mother of our Lord herself; and as to the possibility of Apostles and Apostolic men receiving this information, it is enough to know that, after the Ascension as St. Luke states, the Apostles "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren. We know nothing of Mary's life after this; but our Lord on the Cross commended her to the care of St. John, and the solemn charge was doubtless fulfilled. It follows, therefore, that for a whole generation after the compilation of the first three Gospels - according to the admissions already quoted—that very Apostle was still living who was better able than any
other man to know whether the accounts of our Lord's birth given by St. Luke and St. Matthew were in accord with Mary's testimony. The objectors to the truth of the record have most strangely laid stress on the fact that the narrative is not repeated by St. John. This is but an extreme instance of a most unreasonable assumption constantly employed by rationalistic critics-namely, that because an Evangelist does not mention some important fact, he was ignorant of it, or disbelieved it. In this case St. John, by the supposition, was writing at least thirty years after the narrative had been placed on record by St. Matthew and St. Luke. His Gospel is throughout, to a large extent, supplementary to theirs, omitting many things which they had reported, and adding many which they did not report. In accordance with this general characteristic, it is perfectly natural that he should not mention occurrences which were sufficiently narrated already, and were accepted by the whole Christian Church of his day. The really