The Character Of Jesus
In this chapter we do not refer to the divine nature of Christ, for on that side of His wonderful personality He was very God, and hence infinitely beyond us. We speak of the man Jesus who was taken up into the Godhead, but who had a soul and body, and was distinctly human, as we are.
It is this very fact of the perfect humanity of the Saviour that assures us of His sympathy, and gives us peculiar boldness and confidence in coming to Him not only for salvation, but for help in every time of need.
But this human nature covered a character, and the study of this character has the double effect of showing us how far the world has gone astray, and where the true path is for us to tread. In imitating Jesus we may be unlike most people, but we will be right, and will certainly be blessed.
One feature of the Saviour’s character was His lowliness.
He said of Himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” This is only another word for humility.
Here at once we see how men have erred in their ideas of a perfect character. The Greeks had no word for meekness. The nearest to it was meanness. This was what it appeared to be to them. Meantime lowliness means lowness with many today, or is regarded as an affectation of humility.
Jesus lived so as to rebuke the pomp, pride and vanity of the world; and the blows He delivered by His words and life itself were simply tremendous. born in a stable, nurtured in poverty, raised in a despised town, engaged in manual toil, followed by illiterate people, riding on an ass into Jerusalem, dying on a cross–truly everything He did and said was like death blows aimed at the swelling arrogance of the world.
As we look deeper and nearer still and see the pride of those who called themselves His people; as we mark the semicircular row of dignitaries on the platform, the pompous walk of the prominent minister or layman up the aisle, we marvel in spirit at the utter dissimilarity to Jesus. In complete contrast we see Him washing the disciples’ feet, hear Him saying that the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, brood on his words if any of His followers be great, to be the servant of the rest, and stand amazed at the opposite conception and practice of the Christian life today.
If the haughty manner, pompous demeanor, swelling form, guttural roll of voice, and manifest desire to impress others with one’s dignity and importance are right, then Jesus is wrong. But if the life of Jesus was right, then these lives are wrong and their owners fearfully mistaken.
The simplicity of Jesus.
Paul speaks of this in his epistle to the Corinthians. Moreover the beautiful virtue is evident in all the actions of Christ. It refers to simple tastes, unadorned language, and the unaffected, plain life of the Saviour. That Jesus would speak in the florid or stilted language of some of His followers who can believe. That He would burden His friends with scores of foolish, minute laws about etiquette who can credit. And yet who so correct and considerate in all things as Himself?
It was a simple life with single-heartedness and single-mindedness apparent to every one, at all times. The verbose and pompous was not His style of speech, nor the put on or make believe His kind of life. He was all the grander for His simplicity, and never looked more divine than when sitting at the table with a few humble men about Him, the meal consisting of a piece of fish and a honeycomb; and at another time simply bread, which He broke, and looking up to heaven gave thanks.
We have noticed that when men are truly great they are plain and simple in their style of living. It is the consciously weak individual who needs external impressive help, who borrows feathers for the jackdaw nature or swells the toad life to look like an ox. The spiritually great are both simple and humble.
Once a gentleman called to see Dr. Winans of Mississippi, the leading preacher and theologian of that conference and the acknowledged leader in the General Conference. The visitor, in approaching the residence, passed a humble-looking man in the garden, whom he supposed to be the gardener. He asked him if the doctor was at home and received a quiet affirmative reply. The gentleman rode on to the house and fifteen minutes later Dr. Winans came into the parlor. The visitor discovered at once to his surprise that the supposed gardener was Dr. Winans.
During the Civil War the writer as a small boy was in Meridian, Mississippi, at a time when General Forrest and the major generals under him had a conference at the Ragsdale Hotel. Without exception all these superior officers wore plain uniforms. We saw General Forrest, who was commanding a corps of twenty thousand men, bring in an armful of wood and throw it on the fire in the public office; The same day we saw a third lieutenant, arrayed in feathers, brass buttons and gold braid on his sleeve, and in our boyish ignorance we first felt disposed to regard him as commander-in-chief of the whole Western Department. The above actual scene needs no explanation or application on the writer’s part.
The sincerity of Jesus.
By this we mean His frankness, openness and absolute truthfulness. He was a being who never spoke anything but the clear, unadulterated truth. No falsehood, prevarication or fabrication of any kind ever passed his lips. There was no magnifying beyond verities and realities; no strained language, no highly coloring of pictures beyond truth; and no extravagance of utterance in any of His many statements, conversations and discourses. He always spoke the truth.
Nor did He trust to the ambiguities of language to hide His meaning, and never resorted to the politician’s art. There was nothing double about Christ.
There is scarcely anything more sickening to the soul than to be compelled to be thrown with insincere people, and listen to their hollow speeches. The nausea, not to say suffering of spirit, is indescribable which is produced by hearing protestations of friendship and affection and yet have the proof that the speaker has not been the kind man or true friend to you in other places. The appearance of interest, and even gush of manner, becomes all the more intolerable when we are aware of the doubleness.
On the contrary, to be cast with sincere people is restfulness itself. You feel that you are safe in their hands, and know that your name and reputation will be protected by them, whether you are present or absent.
One of the charms about Jesus is His faithfulness and truthfulness. He is truth itself.
The unchangeability of Jesus.
The Bible says, “He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” This feature alone is sufficient to bind the human heart to Him. He is ever the same. He is the loving Christ, always faithful, pitiful and compassionate and ready to bless and save.
In this world we find change everywhere. Not only circumstances and conditions alter, but people do not remain the same. Friends lose interest in you and turn away. People who once loved you grow cold. Relatives become estranged. Members of one’s own family are alienated. These things constitute the greatest trials and shocks of life. Some people never get over them.
You start out with some Christian friend to whom you confide everything. The thought that the day will arrive when that friend will cease to be interested in you, and even be prejudiced against you, never enters the mind. And yet such an experience we doubt not comes to all.
In the holiness ranks we have some men who have a habit of kissing each other. Others equally sanctified prefer to shake hands. When the kissing brethren met the writer in this cordial way he naturally supposed that they had a deeper affection, and also a profounder work of grace. He also almost unconsciously drew comparisons rather unfavorable to the handshaking brethren, his judgment being that they were colder. But time is a strange revealer of men and things. The kissing brethren have not proved the best friends of the writer; while the handshaking brethren, who are less demonstrative, have been far truer to him. The pain felt concerning these changes is all the more intensified by the abuse of the sacred pledges of love.
The faithfulness of Christ becomes all the more attractive and beautiful to the soul after these experiences with men. and the heart leans back and settles comfortably in the blissful fact that Jesus is the same always. Time, distance, poverty, unpopularity, all of which have such influence upon the judgments, affections and conduct of men toward one another, have no effect whatever upon Jesus, unless, indeed, He becomes tenderer because of human loneliness and suffering.
If any condition of human woe above another serves to show this beloved trait of Christ’s character, that condition is sickness or disease. In the Saviour’s life on earth the people brought forth the afflicted and laid them in the streets in ghastly rows before Him. The ground was an awful mosaic of human suffering, of convulsed countenances and writhing forms, of faces flushed with fever, or white with approaching death. But He would stoop down and lay His hands upon them and bid them “be whole.” No loathsome sight altered the lines of pity on his face, and not even the horrible spectacle of the leper kept back that pitiful hand. The same touch was laid upon the foul, decaying body that was given to the sick girl or the young man lying on his bier.
This unchangeable love and pity of Christ are seen today in His treatment of His people who pass through the trying experiences of old age and disease. It does not look difficult to love and cherish one who is young and attractive, but those same bright and beautiful beings become dreadful to look upon from the effects of senility and some loathsome disease; and yet all can see, and they themselves testify to the fact that the Saviour was never nearer to them and never more loving and tender.
A fifth feature of the character of Jesus was His willingness to serve others.
The writer was once very much struck while preaching, with the “I wills” of Christ. It rushed upon him as he spoke that Christ never refused to go anywhere or help any one when asked. The frequent call, Master, do this, help me, heal me, come to my servant, come to my son, come to my daughter who is grievously tormented with a devil, was always met with “I will.” The thought was so affecting showing as it did the amiable, unselfish heart and life of Jesus, and so in contrast with, the best of His people, that the eyes filled, voice choked, and we fairly broke down in the pulpit.
It is curious to see Christ start out to visit some distant home, where He was expected to heal the sick or raise the dead. He would be interrupted again and again on the way with urgent cries and calls for pity and help of every kind. Yet He answered them all with the same accent of sympathy and love, would relieve the pressing want, give deliverance to the sin or disease oppressed, and then press on to the place for which He had started. In traversing the line of the special duty or work of the day, He would make a series of divergences, loops of mercy, as they were, making at the close of the day a very remarkable and glorious pathway.
It was this quiet, loving acceptance of these frequent interruptions to the main work that gives us such an affecting view of the heart and character of Jesus. Where most of us would either fret or repine, or wonder why we were so deterred and hindered in the special labor of the day, Jesus would take all such breaks and interruptions as parts of the divine plan, or would bring His own calm, conquering, loving nature to the rescue, and smooth out the wrinkles, harmonize the discordances, and make the divergences look at the close of the day like a straight, shining highway of glory.
Who wonders that this same Jesus has become the moral standard of the world; and who doubts that if He be lifted up He will draw all men unto Him?