We will consider the method of Jesus as a teacher, and the word is appropriate now. He did have a method in teaching men the truths that he knew without reasoning about them, the truths that he did not discover by investigation, the truths he knew because they were in him.
To begin with, Jesus does not seek to prove things to his hearers; he announces what is truth as God announces truth. He is a divine dogmatist; he offers no proof of what he sets forth as truth.
No other teacher ever taught as Jesus did. What we may call his logic-form is pre-eminently the teacher's; but no teacher ever employed it as did he who came out of Nazareth. He reasons from the weaker to the stronger reason. He does not reason to prove truth to others, as he does not reason to discover it for himself, but to teach it. This is the form of reasoning we find in all his parables and illustrations. His arguments are designed to help his learners understand what he meant and to impress it upon their minds. He never seems concerned about proving to men the truth of what he said, but only to make it plain and to enforce it. Many illustrations might be given; let a few suffice.
One day Jesus was teaching his disciples the doctrine of God's providence. He makes no argument to prove that there is a providence; he does not seek to convince them, but only to help them realize in their own thoughts the all-embracing, unfailing, and gracious providence that kept them. And he did this not to make them understand the doctrine of providence, but to help them trust in it. He seeks to bring home to them the truth he does not seek to prove. How does he set about it? What is his method? Not a mere man's method. It is indeed an absolutely simple method; but no other teacher, who has not learned it of him, has used it so in discoursing of such truths.
He begins with what they knew: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." They knew the liliesthat is, they were used to seeing them, the little flowers so common, so insignificant, yet so beautiful. Jesus concludes: "Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
In the same way he reasons of sparrows and men. He would inspire his disciples with the courage that has its root in faith in God's loving and unfailing providence. He says to them the great God not only feeds the poor little birds, but cares for them, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."
He would teach his disciples the folly of forgetting what is essential in brooding anxieties about small things: "And which of you with taking thought [worrying] can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?...Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment."
He would make men see how perfectly simple and unmysterious is prayer and how absolutely certain it is that God will answer. Have we not listened to mere menpreachers they called themselves, yet doing, it may be, the best they couldmystifying simple-minded people and little childrenthemselves most of allwith tortuous disquisitions concerning the "subjective" and "objective" results of their devotions! Answering infidels, they suppose!
Jesus makes no argument about the nature of prayer; he has not a word to prove its reasonableness or to harmonize the doctrine with law. He says: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."
How does he prove what he affirms? He does not prove it; he brings it home to them: "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or, if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?"
Every hearer, whether parent or child, answered out of his heart, "There is not such a man among us." Jesus concludes: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
The cold and cruel Pharisees, playing at religion and seeking their own, complained one day that Jesus healed a poor maimed man on the Sabbath day. Jesus made no argument about the nature of the Sabbath. He reminded them that they would lift a sheep out of the ditch on the Sabbath day, and concludes with a question that brought the truth home to them: "How much then is a man better than a sheep?"
These same people, contending about the forms of religion and forgetting God and man, complained that Jesus kept company with "publicans and sinners," and was kind to them. In answer he told them of the shepherd who, missing one sheep from his flock of a hundred, could not be content with the ninety and nine, but went out into the wilderness seeking the lost one; he told them how glad the shepherd was when in his arms he had tenderly brought it home. He told them also of the woman who could not rest till, with broom and candle, she had searched her house for the piece of money she had lost. He told them of her neighbors rejoicing with her when she had found it. Why he cared for publicans and sinners he made plain when he added: "I tell you there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."
Jesus would make these hard guardians of what they called the Church and despisers of their brother-men realize the Fatherhood of God. He made no argument of the sort mere men would make.
He tells them of the two sons and how glad the old father was when his poor prodigal got home. The conclusion no human heart can miss: the infinite Father, infinitely better than any earthly father, is infinitely glad when his prodigals return to him. The heart that once takes in this story of the two sons can never again tremble and cower before that horribly heathen conception of God that makes him only an infinite terror, seated on the throne of the universe, to be afraid of, fled from, and hated forever.
Jesus sought to encourage the most despondent and abject to trust in the divine justice as well as mercy. There is no lofty argument concerning the righteousness of God. He tells of the widow and the unjust judge, who feared not God nor regarded man, the judge who made a boast of heartlessness and apologized to himself for seeming to do a good deed. He grants the widow's prayer because he was selfish and mean; he would not be "wearied with her importunities." Jesus concludes: "And shall not God avenge his own darlings who cry day and night unto him?"
How clear Jesus made what mere human teachers make dark! What even some preachers of our times, too proud in their false learning to be simple in their methods and language, make so tiresome and so bewildering to hungry souls who ask for bread and get chaff!
We will not understand how unlike the methods of mere men is the method of Jesus till we have wearied ourselves with what they call reasonings; till we have come to understand that no man can teach religion who rejects the methods of Jesus for what he thinks are the methods of what he calls logic and philosophy, truly understanding neither.
What we may call his manner, as distinguished from his method of teaching, differences Jesus from mere men. No great teacher, unless it be some one who has learned of him the true secret of teachingand how far below the Teacher the best and wisest fall!ever before or since has the manner of Jesus.
There is a sort of fatality about men's teaching. Vanity or ignorance makes them seek to appear profound when they are only obscure. What unspeakable relief and blessing it would bring to all churches and schools if pastors and teachers would only study the method of Jesus and seek to imitate the simplicity of Jesus! Teachers, not a few of them, burden and bewilder their pupils with the dead lumber of learning that is not knowledge; preachers, not a few of them, mystify and mislead their hearers with reasonings, philosophies, and argumentations, mere war of words for the most part, that are not gospel nor life. When Jesus talked of the deepest and highest questions, of God and man, of rights and wrongs, of life and death, of time and eternity, of heaven and hell, it is said, "The common people heard him gladly." This could never be said of even the good Socrates, or the great Plato; for the "common people" could not understand them.
It is indeed a rare thing that the "common people" hear "gladly" a teacher of science, philosophy, or religion whom the uncommon people call great. As a rule, the greater one is, as men measure greatness, the less do "common people" hear him "gladly," and least of all when he speaks or writes upon the very greatest of themes. Is it because such teachers are not themselves brothers to the common people? One reason is the great men do not truly understand what they teach. And herein is a reason for patience.
Perhaps, for the most part, the great ones do the best they can. It seems that, when a mere man seeks to think profoundly or to speak strongly, he must fall into obscurity. this obscurity cannot be due to any inherent difficulty in the truth itself, but to those limitations, mental and spiritual, that belong to mere human teachers. But Jesus taught the greatest truths in language as simple and clear as when he spoke of the most familiar duties of daily life. His manner is as easy and his words as plain when speaking of immortality as when telling men to be honest and to "love one another."
Compare the Sermon on the Mount and the writings of the greatest and best of men who have discoursed upon these themes. How perfectly simple and transparent and easy the manner and style of Jesus! How complex and dark and difficult the manner and style of men! How it should shame mere men into meek simplicity when they read of Jesus, the divine Teacher, "The common people heard him gladly!"
After all, it may be that our method of thought is as unfitted for understanding the Gospel as our method of teaching is unfitted for expounding it. It may be that if we worried ourselves less with what men have written of his wordstoo often trying to read into his teachings thin philosophies; if we brooded more upon his words and less upon men's notions of his words, we would understand Jesus better. Then we also could teach the people. Then, it may be, the "common people" would hear us "gladly." If we preached his "text" more and books about his "text" less we would preach more truth that saves and less philosophy that bewilders.
In speaking of the method and manner of Jesus there is another matter, not easy to discuss, that should be mentioned; I refer to the effect upon himself of his thoughts and words.
There is a divine calmness in him never seen in mere men; that is impossible to them. In this also he stands apart from men.
His greatest discourses are without intellectual heats. This is wonderful to me. He shows himself to be the tenderest-hearted teacher who ever sought to lead men out of darkness into light. We know that he is not cold of heart; we know how deep is his compassion on men; how infinite his concern for them. But he delivers the most tremendous truths with the most perfect composure and balance of spirit. If a mere man were to see clearly for the first time what the Sermon on the Mount, the third chapter of John, the parable of the Prodigal, and a score of other discourses and revelations like them really signify; if a mere man were, so to speak, to come suddenly upon such thoughts, such conceptions, so vast, deep and high, it would unbalance him. His brain would be on fire and his heart would break with holy excitement. But Jesus speaks these truths with perfect calmness; they were not new thoughts to him; there was no effort in order to grasp them or to express them. Yet Jesus was full of sympathy. He wept with the sisters at the grave of Lazarus and bewailed the fate of Jerusalem with sobs and tears.
You have read a story of Sir Isaac Newton, which, whether it be historically true or false, well illustrates, for it is very like a man, what is here brought to your attention, as showing how Jesus differs from a mere man. When Sir Isaac had nearly finished his deep and long-continued studies of the laws which govern the movement of the heavenly bodies, and was near enough the end of his great mathematical calculations to foresee the result and to realize that it would justify his sublime speculations concerning the controlling law of the material universe, he became so excitedcold philosopher and trained to self-control as he wasthat he could not complete the simple processes involved in his formula. It was necessary to call in a friend to finish the easy work for him; for the moment the great astronomer was out of balance.
Sir Isaac's was exactly a mere man's way; great inventors have gone mad when they were within one step of triumph.
But Jesus was calm when speaking, in the simplest way, of the greatest truths of life and the most stupendous events that await eternity for their unfolding.
No wonder those who, on one occasion, were sent to lay hands on him had only this answer when they returned to their masters without him: "Never man spake like this man."
Click Here to Return to Introduction and Table of Contents
Go to Top