Chapter 7

His Method of Thought
Differences Him From Men

In studying the story of the evangelists let us try to come nearer to Jesus. We need not fear; he would have us find out all about him that we can; he would have us know what manner of man he is. If we love beauty, goodness, and truth, we will approach him with reverence. No good man, no man you can respect or trust, will speak of Jesus with flippant words. But we may go to him without hesitation; he who took little children in his arms and blessed and kissed them will not receive the humblest student with coldness. Indeed, the more one needs him the more welcome he is. It was he who said to the "weary and heavy laden," "Come unto me."

Let us consider now, as best we may, what we must call his method of thought. It differences him utterly from all mere human teachers. We can find many illustrations.

In the first place, Jesus does not seek the same end that the great thinkers, who have given the world its philosophy and its science, always seek—the creation of an intellectual system of and for the universe. Humboldt, who was a very learned and gifted man, gives us a great work he calls Cosmos. It tells all he knew, or thought he knew, of the universe, and explains it all as best he could. He is one among many; all the philosophers try to account for things, and the greater they are the more they try.

In the human mind there is a resistless tendency to search into secret things, and to construct a philosophy of them. Aristotle gave us his Categories; the moderns try their hand in the same line of things. It means only this; men who are philosophers and thinkers seek to classify all facts and to find out and express—"formulate" is the word—a complete, all-embracing, all-explaining law of them.

Witty Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his Poet at the Breakfast-Table, gives us a pretty satire on this invincible disposition and always disappointed and disappointing effort of thinkers. His "Philosopher" was ever just about to find expression for his great discovery—just about to state the all-comprehensive law, the perfect formula, that left out nothing and explained it all.

It is essentially a man's way; in all departments we see the tendency and effort of men to explain the universe.
The chemist talks of "atoms" because he wishes to get down to the basis of things—to know the ultimate fact, beyond which analysis cannot go. The ontologist talks of "germs" for a like reason; he is ever striving to find a something—a substance or a force—that will explain to him not one but every life process. And the greater ones are seeking always to explain the origin of all things—to show how the universe was started or got itself going.
The philosopher who studies mind seeks the same sort of end—the construction of a mental science that embraces every fact and explains every mystery of mental action. The theologian is in the same drift; he wants a philosophy of religion. He seeks to explain God, and, in not a few instances, seems to labor more earnestly with his own nature and government than to show the sinner how to be saved. The theologian labors to show what the origin of evil is, and to make his view a philosophy that will harmonize all differences and explain all mysteries.

The strength of this tendency in mere men—and it is strongest in the greatest—to find a statement that may account for all things is shown in the absurd conclusions that some of them, entirely sane on other subjects, accept for themselves and urge upon other minds. A great chemist concludes that the universe was "once latent in a fiery cloud," and seems content with a form of pretty words. Another expounder of mysteries accounts for life in our world by telling us the "germs" were first brought from somewhere in space by "falling meteorites," pays his worship to what he dreams is science, and is content to push his problem further from him. The notion that the word "protoplasm" is supposed to stand for represents another effort to explain all things, albeit by a theory harder to understand than the universe it would embrace and expound. These are only specimens; both ancient and modern times abound in them. Wiser, perhaps, and quite as scientific was the desperation of that student of the mysteries of life and man who concluded that the "missing link" must be in the bottom of the Indian Ocean; for no diver can prove what is not in water so deep as this fathomless sea.

What we are now considering is a resistless tendency in thinking minds. It is not peculiar to one class of men; it does not characterize one age. It is simply human nature to ask questions and seek explanations. Consider a few names now mentioned and see for yourself that the greater the mere man the more he tries to explain the universe—to find a formula large enough to contain it, to classify its facts and correlate its forces. Think of these men and the few whose names should go with them—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Origen, Augustine, Pelagius, Athanasius, Calvin, Edwards, Leibnitz, Bacon, Humboldt, Kant, Cuvier, and, perhaps, some new men. Philosophers, scientists, theologians, they are all alike in this—they are building a system, a philosophy of the universe.
Do not mistake my purpose in these illustrations; the disposition which we have been considering is a pure human instinct; it is resistless, and it is the condition of mental activity. The mind that does not ask questions, that does not knock at the closed doors of knowledge, is stagnant and will perish. Progress and growth depend upon inquiry. Wise men will cheer every earnest student, whether he is trying to find what an atom is or what the stars contain. It is a man's way to seek to explain all things; the effort affords the drill and discipline that make growth and progress possible to the race.

But in these respects, as in so many others, Jesus is utterly unlike the philosophers and scientists and theologians. He does not in the least seek the end that mere men seek. He makes us understand the universe—matter and mind, man and God—better than all of them put together. But he nowhere accounts for things. He has not a word about the "cosmos." He makes no inquiry, raises no question, offers no explanation concerning the origin of things. In him there seems to be no consciousness of the mysteries of the universe, either as to its origin or nature.

But it may be said Jesus taught morals, religion, not science or philosophy, and he had no occasion to construct a system of the universe. In morals and religion, more than anywhere else, do mere men build systems when they think, explain things when they teach. But Jesus, teaching morals and religion, was unlike all others, mere men, teaching morals and religion. He said not one word—he, the only teacher who seemed to understand it—about the "origin of evil," the subject that has vexed not a little theology into lunacy; he, the only one who has seemed capable of doing it, has given us no "theodicy," nor so much as seemed to think of it at all.

He did not, he who made claim to perfect knowledge of God, explain God or philosophize about God; Jesus did not so much as give us a philosophy of himself, his life, or his mission. It was John, the disciple, not Jesus, the Master, who wrote of the Logos. Jesus offers no philosophy of the plan of salvation; he does not philosophize concerning faith, or prayer, or immortality.

As to evil, Jesus tells men what evil is, shows the ruin it brings upon them, and points out to them the way of deliverance. He talks to men of their evil and the way to make an end of it.

Jesus never investigates. He never doubts his knowledge or questions for one instant the grounds of it. We have no fit word for his method; intuition is perhaps as good as any. His thinking is not a process; it is like seeing, not learning, the truth; seeing not the outside of things as men see them, but the inside of them as God sees them.
Jesus never uses those forms of logic that are absolutely necessary to all others. We are speaking of his "method of thought;" perhaps such words do not apply to him at all. How did he find out what was true? He did not seem to find it out at all; it seemed to be in him. He never seems to discover a truth. He does not, by reasoning from what is to what must be, find out what he did not know before.

In geometry we begin with what we call "axioms," a few simple principles that need no proof. We call them "self-evident," because we see that they are true, that they must be true, the instant we know what the words mean that state them to us. Upon these we build our geometry and all the science and art that rest upon it or grow out of it. When we prove one thing we did not know by something that, being self-evident, needs no proof, we put the two together and prove a third, and so on as far as we can go. Jesus would have known the third, and the hundredth, and the last, as he knew the first—without this building-up process. He would know all that the axioms contain as we know the axioms.

For want of fitter words we have been speaking of his "method of thought." As these words have significance to mere men, Jesus, it seems, had no method of thought; he did not, as men must do, think to know; he knew things. Perhaps this is in part what he meant when he said to Pilate, "I am the Truth."

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