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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Mental Characteristics

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MENTAL CHARACTERISTICS.—There can be no full appreciation without some analysis: the friend who is understood is loved the better. That ‘love is blind’ is singularly false, save when the word is restricted to an unworthy meaning. True love gives insight always; and the power it gives of divining what to others is invisible is a species of analysis. There is no question, however, of analyzing Divinity. Divinity realized in humanity is what we know in Jesus Christ. In God Incarnate there can be nothing which is not human, though nothing which is human only. An attempt to analyze the mental characteristics of the Lord Jesus is therefore an attempt to appreciate the human manifestation which God has made of Himself. The first condition must be reverence, and the study is best undertaken with St. Paul’s teaching (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) in mind, for success is to be reached only if ‘we have the mind of Christ.’

1. Perhaps the first characteristic to notice is the way in which the mind of the Lord Jesus was always so thoroughly alive to everything around Him. In the single glimpse afforded of His boyhood this appears strikingly; for no one can read Luke 2:41-51 without feeling the eagerness with which He looked on Jerusalem for the first time consciously, and threw Himself into the best life of the festival. He was instantly at home in the Temple, and ready to listen and to inquire of the Rabbis there with a keen grasp which amazed them. Later on, the same ready observancy, which not merely noticed but entered into every phase of life, is again and again to be remarked. Now it was the flowers of the country side that won His attention (Luke 12:27), now the games of the children in the market-place (Luke 7:32), now the habits of the wild creatures (Luke 9:58), or their unconsidered treatment in captivity (Luke 12:6), now the details of the yeoman’s employment (Matthew 13:3-8; Matthew 12:11, Luke 13:11), now the unnoticed self-denial of a poor woman in a crowd (Mark 12:43). Just as readily He gave keen attention to the life of long ago told in the Scriptures of His race. For Him the characters appearing in the stories of the past were all real and vivid; e.g. Naaman (Luke 4:27), David (Matthew 12:3), Zachariah (Matthew 23:35). With no less alacrity He noted the current events which made a popular impression (Luke 13:4), and the far more momentous movements of national life which others too often overlooked (Luke 21:20, Matthew 16:1-3).

2. In close connexion with the foregoing characteristic stands the fulness of vital force in the Lord Jesus. Of most persons it is true that the emotional, or the intellectual, or the volitional faculties dominate and give the general colour to the temperament, but in Him all were supremely strong. The vehemence of His feelings was such as would have overbalanced the will or unsteadied the intellect of another; but He never lost balance or clarity. The lucid understanding which never failed in things great or small would have subordinated feeling, or even sapped its strength, in most; but the calm sweep of His discernment never made Him less warm-hearted towards ‘one of the least of these my brethren,’ and He condemned at once any use of reason which restrained responsiveness, as when His disciples were inclined to check the children brought to Him and He was ‘moved with indignation’ (Mark 10:14), or when He promptly defended the woman’s ‘waste’ of the costly ointment which her uncalculating love so gladly spent on Him (Mark 14:6). Yet neither warmth of feeling nor reach of understanding ever warped His will to excuse or palliate in any wise, or made His resolution waver. Nothing could be sterner or more unsparing than the way in which He turned on almost the best-loved and aptest of His disciples, and this, too, directly after His whole heart had gone out to him in welcome and in grateful sympathy for the trust and insight he had just shown (Matthew 16:17; Matthew 16:23). The narrative of the Temptation in the wilderness, which must have been derived from the Lord Himself, can hardly be paralleled in its dauntless determination, except indeed by the narrative of how He followed out in His work the ideal here resolutely formed, and never faltered in following it still when it led Him through the valley of the shadow of death.

3. What has been said of the poise of these three mental factors, which are found in every living action of every living soul, though hardly ever balanced evenly, must be extended in Jesus’ case to a wider range. There is nothing more remarkable than the perfect proportion of His nature. Those characteristics which are found singly in others, and which are commonly antithetic and even incompatible, are found alike, and at one in Him. He was passionate: ‘He looked round with anger’ (Mark 3:5); ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35, cf. Luke 19:41); ‘Jesus looking on him loved him’ (Mark 10:21); ‘Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers!’ (Matthew 23:33). But who was ever so patient? cf. Mark 4:40, John 16:12, and the whole scene of His trial and crucifixion. He was full of reverence for the past; scrupulous in His respect for authority (Matthew 23:2), and very sensitive to the sacred associations of ancient institutions (Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:41-42; Luke 22:15). But He held Himself entirely untrammelled by either precedent or outward enactment (Matthew 5:17-18 ff.), and appealed without hesitation to the conscience and instinct of every man, as to a sufficient and trustworthy test (Luke 13:15-16). His was an imaginative and contemplative mind; He loved to withdraw to the desert country by Himself, or with a handful of intimate friends, and to spend long hours in personal devotions. Even when work pressed upon Him, and He ‘had no leisure so much as to eat’ (Mark 6:31), feeling the harvest waiting to be reaped was far too great for His little band of fellow-labourers to cope with, He still spent what seems to have been an astonishingly large proportion of His time in seclusion. But never was a dreamer of dreams so intensely practical. Hard and prolonged work He undertook with zest, then slept at once and soundly, and woke ready for any effort or emergency at the instant (Mark 4:1-2; Mark 4:33-39). And His practical ability is strikingly apparent in other ways; e.g. He was so sure in the handling of men (Luke 9:57-62, John 3:1-15; John 11:6-16), so capable of picking out and dealing with the precise thing needing to be done at any given stage or moment (Matthew 17:24-27, John 7:3-8; John 11:6-16). He was remarkably tolerant, and again and again gave offence to narrower minds by the width of His sympathies and the leniency of His judgments. Particularly is this illustrated by His relations with ‘publicans and sinners,’ which exposed Him to disgraceful calumny (Matthew 11:19), of which He recked nothing; but His tolerance was also too great for His own followers to understand it (Mark 9:38-41), and great enough sometimes to shame the bitterest opponents into silence (John 8:7-11). Yet no one could be more rigid on occasion, as in His treatment of the Phœnician mother (Matthew 15:23-28), or more inexorable in condemnation (Matthew 23:13-36, Mark 3:28-29). His humility was profound, and has changed the estimation of this quality in the eyes of mankind. ‘I am in the midst of you as he that serveth’ (Luke 22:27), He would say, or show them even more vividly in deed (John 13:15). ‘I am meek and lowly in heart’ (Matthew 11:29) was what He felt as He welcomed the weary, and gave thanks that the highest wisdom was ‘revealed unto babes.’ Yet never were such tremendous assertions made by any one about himself, or such unfaltering emphasis laid upon the place he must hold in the eyes of others, and the claims he made upon them: ‘He that loveth father or mother … son or daughter, more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37-38); ‘The Spirit of the truth shall glorify me, for he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine’ (John 16:13-15). Again, the stern independence which would not bend to make a ‘hard saying’ more easily acceptable, but would let all who would not receive it go their way, even if His closest intimates were to be included (John 6:66-68), and which justly called forth F. W. Robertson’s rejoinder, ‘Don’t care was crucified on Calvary,’ was no less characteristic of Him than that craving for sympathy which went with His sensitive and affectionate nature, and led Him to beseech the companionship of those whom He could best trust in such hours of agonized prayer as are recorded on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the one hand, He always saw things just as they are, undistorted by His own feelings, unconcealed by custom or convention, neither excused nor glorified, if faulty, by their associations, nor hackneyed or degraded by their common abuse. This holds equally of the smallest details of the natural world (Matthew 11:7) or of human life (Luke 14:7; Luke 15:8-9), and of the greatest forces at work in the world (Mark 13:2). All this marks Him out as a genuine realist. But, on the other hand, beyond all others He was an idealist. For Him the most real world was that Kingdom of heaven which He always felt to be ‘at hand’—within direct and instant reach. It was His own most positive experience not to ‘live by bread alone,’ but to satisfy the needs of His nature with food and drink that were spiritual (John 4:13-14; John 4:34). The story of the Temptation is perhaps the purest idealism ever written: but glimpses into His thoughts which are subsequently afforded show how the habitual working of His mind was on no lower level of idealism (Luke 10:17-24). Again, He was intensely individualistic in His point of view (Matthew 6:3; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:17), and, even in the widest sweep of forecast on the fate of the world, did not fail to regard each several individual in and for himself; in fact, His influence has given the world a different and a deeper conception of the worth and meaning of individual lives, and has gone far towards the making of the best modern thoughts of personality. But none the less He was quite free from the segregative and disintegrating individualism which has been the bane of Puritanism and Benthamism and other phases of thought in which the individualist standpoint has been prominent. And the aims He set forward were always communal. e.g. His followers were described as ‘a flock,’ ‘a church,’ ‘a vine,’ in which the severance of a member involved its utter futility. The ‘Kingdom of God’ was the one great end for which all were to live and work (Matthew 6:33), careless of personal needs; and no condition for association with Himself was more imperative than that every one should ‘disown himself’ completely (Mark 8:34-37). But what is most remarkable of all is not that these and other antithetic characteristics, which are in other cases met with singly, were found in concurrence and in full development in the mind of the Lord Jesus, but that in Him they were in such perfect proportion and such intimate relation that they were not opposing tendencies at all. To say that it is impossible to indicate which way the balance of contrasted impulses inclined, so stable was the equipoise, is not enough. These things, which in other natures are conflicting, were in Him mutually supporting and at one. In nearly all minds one can detect more or less cleavage and internal strain, but that of the Lord Jesus was wholly annealed, showing only the finest temper without any tension.

The fulness, balance, and unity of the Master’s nature make it impracticable to use in His case what is the commonest and readiest way of portraying a person. This is to throw into the foreground of the picture those features in which the character is exceptionally strong, or those deficiencies which mark it off from others, and to leave as an unelaborated background the common stuff of human nature. Thus by sketching the idiosyncrasies, and casting a few high-lights, the man is set forth sufficiently. But what traits are there in the Lord Jesus which stand out because more highly developed than other features? Where are His foibles or defects? Nothing truly human was wanting in Him, nothing was exaggerated. The fact which distinguished Him from all others was His completeness at all points, so that in the first and in every succeeding generation of His followers the greatest have declared, ‘Of his fulness we all receive’ (John 1:16). And this surely is what we must expect to be its mode if we try to conceive of a Divine incarnation. Even as Christ’s power and presence give to such as trust Him ‘perfect wholeness’ (τὴν δλοκλκριαν ταύτην, Acts 3:16), so the power and presence of the Infinite realized in humanity is disclosed in a ‘perfect wholeness’ which raises every human feature and faculty above itself, and compels the confession, ‘In him dwelleth all the plenitude of the Godhead bodily-wise’ (Colossians 2:9). It is difficult to mention more than four features which can fairly be called personal traits of the Lord Jesus. These are: His keen appreciation of the beauty of the natural world: His fondness for little children, whom again and again He held up for the reverence of His disciples, and whom He Himself looked upon with a feeling akin to awe (Matthew 18:10); His love of being on a height (many of the cardinal points in His career were on the hill-tops, just as the crises of temptation were on ‘an exceeding high mountain,’ and when He was ‘set on the pinnacle of the temple,’ cf. Matthew 5:1; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 15:29; Matthew 17:1; Matthew 28:16 || Mark 3:13); and His love of being often alone. On the other hand, if one seeks for personal characteristics due to the marked absence of anything that most men share, there is nothing that can be named, except that, unlike others, He was without ‘the defects of His qualities.’ Thus exaltation never passed into ecstasy; zeal never into rashness or one-sidedness; sympathy never into sentimentality; determination never into obstinacy; conscience never into scrupulosity; the habit of moral discrimination never into casuistry; standing indignation against the hypocrisies of the day never made Him censorious; a wonderful tenderness of heart left Him stern and uncompromising; and an energy which rejoiced in work, and shrank from nothing, never led Him to become exacting towards others or inconsiderate of their weakness.

In this connexion a word must be said on His relation to the stock of Israel. All His personal habits and customs, all His information, His religious premises, found their starting-points in the national life and customs of Israel, and in the Scriptures and other current ideas of its noblest minds belonging to previous days. And He never hesitated to adopt and use freely the practices and religious language which He found in the Israel of His age. But it is impossible, for all that, to regard Jesus as a typical, or as a perfect Jew. He had indeed all the best characteristics of the greatest sons of Israel, and notably of the prophets of the past; their zeal for righteousness, their fear of God, their tenacity of purpose, their noble scorn of the littleness of the earth and all that is in it in comparison with ‘the high and lofty One that inhabiteth Eternity, whose name is Holy’ (Isaiah 57:15). But He was likest them just where they were least representative of the race from which they sprang, just where they towered above their fellow-countrymen and were least appreciated by the latter. He rose above them all; and while nothing truly Jewish was discarded or denied, the Jew was left below. He was fully conscious of this Himself, and so the term by which He continually named Himself was at once the simplest and the greatest that a human being can bear—He was the ‘Son of Man.’ It is a title all can use, but He alone exhausts. And to this day it continually receives corroboration from many quarters, for His disciples, drawn from many races, never find Him alien to their own needs. To the Oriental believer Jesus is an Oriental, to the Western He has all the Western nature. The ancient Greek philosopher, the modern Hindu, and the Negro slave, no less than the British subject, see indeed different aspects of Him salient, but none feels in Him a national character which makes Him a foreigner from their several points of view.

4. A few negative observations are required, as they serve to define more clearly some of the characteristics of the Lord Jesus. (a) He was sinless. Amidst men whose eyes were sharpened by envy to detect the least fault, and who tried many times to ensnare Him in His words because they despaired of tripping Him in wrong conduct, He threw down the challenge without misgiving: ‘Which of you convicteth me of sin?’ And none dared take it up, either then or later (Mark 14:55): nor in the sixty generations that have passed since then have any such ethical advances been made that, looking back from our present vantage ground, we can point to anything as sin in Him. But His sinlessness did not consist merely in the fact that no act of full-grown sin could be discovered. There was no taint anywhere in Jesus’ mind. Everything bore the bloom of perfect spiritual health and maturity. Spiritual disease could find no foothold whence to spread its poison, not even in the hours of spiritual conflict and internal agony. ‘One that hath been tempted in all points like as we are, apart from sin’ (Hebrews 4:15), is the only possible description of Him. (b) He made no use of limiting qualifications in His sayings, or similar reservations in His action. He did not use ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’ but spoke with simple decisiveness on the most complex questions. At times He would carry this to the length of paradox, and bid a man struck on one cheek turn the other to invite a blow. At other times He would restate a problem to strip it of those adventitious difficulties with which it is enveloped in common minds; as when He met the unuttered question whether He would break the Law by healing on the Sabbath, by putting the inquiry, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill?’ (Mark 3:4). But more often He went straight to the centre of the matter in hand with a simple directness which made all qualifications needless: His dealing with the Sadducees’ puzzle (Mark 12:18-27) is a striking instance. This can be done only by one whose ‘eye is single.’ (e) Jesus was never critical. More nearly than anywhere else one seems here to discover a deficiency in Him; for the critical faculties are of great value, and in some minds are in admirable vigour. In Him they were in abeyance. And yet it is plain this resulted from no want of faculty. He could on occasion prove Himself matchless in dialectic; and in more than one controversy with skilled opponents He used this dialectic power with crushing effect. What could be finer than His appeal to the image and superscription of the tribute-money when plied with the insidious question, ‘Shall we give, or shall we not give?’ (Mark 12:14); or than His rejoinder to the challenge of His own authority, ‘The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? answer me’ (Mark 11:30),—a rejoinder which not only silenced objectors, but went to the root of the question they raised as to the criterion of ‘authority’? His dialectic skill sometimes passed into biting sarcasm, as when He pointed out how the scribes and Pharisees witnessed to themselves that they were the sons of them that slew the prophets, by the way they garnished their tombs (Matthew 23:29-31). Here are all the faculties for critical efficiency, but the Lord Jesus was never critical. The fact seems to be that His mind was too creative. In minds of lesser stature, criticism may hold an honourable place, and often serves a very useful purpose; but it is always a second-hand way of winning truth. The truly creative mind does not need it, and does not use it, but reaches truth by direct intuition, or makes it spontaneously. He did so.

5. The last observation leads on to the mention of three mental characteristics which can hardly be separated, and which are all inwoven in the very fabric of Jesus’ mind. His thoughts were always concrete, not abstract; His intellectual processes were intuitive, not argumentative; His views were ever positive, not negative. It has been very truly pointed out that ‘only the widest generalizations and concrete facts are definite’ (Hort); whatever lies between these extremes is more or less indefinite. Most minds are occupied mainly with this intermediate region, adding some degree of generalization to each fact of experience, and qualifying the largest generalizations by some accommodation to groups of facts observed. And to this is due not a little of the indefiniteness of most men’s thoughts. But it was otherwise with the Lord Jesus. If He dealt with generalizations at all, He generalized out and out, dropping all half-way descriptions and limitations. He did not, therefore, shrink from inculcating principles which have often since been questioned on the ground that they are not of universal application. e.g. ‘Give to him that asketh of thee’ (Matthew 5:42),—though experience shows too surely how much moral mischief may be done by indiscriminate charity; ‘Ask, and it shall be given you’ (Matthew 7:7),—though prayers by no means always win what has been prayed for; ‘It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:25),—though wealth used worthily is no such bar to entry, and must itself be regarded as a ‘loan from the Lord.’ There is a definiteness in these unrestricted duties which could not have been attained by any carefully qualified rules of conduct. But more often the Lord Jesus adhered to concrete facts, and did not generalize at all. So, when any case came before Him, He dealt with that, and did not treat it as a precedent to govern others generally similar. Thus He told the rich young ruler to ‘sell all he had and give to the poor, and follow him’ (Mark 10:21). He certainly meant this to be done literally and at once; but it would be ruinous to turn this counsel into a command binding upon all rich men. It was never so intended, but was the particular remedy for the ‘one thing lacking’ in that one young man. No rule is to be directly drawn from the Lord’s treatment of the woman in the Temple, or of Zacchaeus, or of Judas Iscariot, which would apply to all adulteresses, or renegades, or traitors: each was dealt with as the particular need required.

This was one leading reason why the use of parables was such a very characteristic feature in Jesus’ teaching; they have been said, in fact, and not without reason, to be the most characteristic of the Lord’s recorded sayings. They enabled Him to put the lesson He desired in the concrete instead of the abstract. So, when asked, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ He gave no general answer, but an actual instance occurring on the road (Luke 10:30 ff.). Probably the scribe to whom this was first spoken never found himself in circumstances that were similar; but if he gained the higher standpoint which this story gave him, and saw into the very heart of truth in that one case, he would be able, like thousands of others who have heard the story since, the better to answer his own question in his own circumstances.

It was a consequence of this love of the concrete, and avoidance of that vagueness which belongs to all that lies short of the widest generalization, that Jesus never gave definitions. Instead, He fixed the type in some particular fact or instance. In His teaching there was no theorizing, no abstract discussion, no systematic theology. Nor was there any care to lay down principles for the organization or policy of His Church in times to come. The nearest approach to this last is in such passages as Matthew 18:15-17, or the directions given before the first mission (Matthew 10:5-23); but in these nothing is more noticeable than the utter absence of all abstractions, and all provisions for distant contingencies, every idea being expressed in concrete form, and in immediate connexion with the conditions of the work in hand. And yet in all this there is no mere particularism. Each single fact on which He looked was seen by Him in its real relations to all else, and in the light of the highest and widest principles. There is true insight into human needs in the saying that ‘little thoughts do not suit with little duties. It is in the fulfilment of simple routine that we need more than anywhere the quickening of the highest thoughts’ (Westcott). With Jesus that was instinctive. Any fact in His sight was serious, was sacred; for it was not merely an illustration of a wider truth, rather it was an actual embodiment of eternal reality. He looked on the ‘flower in the crannied wall’—no more—and saw it with such penetrating insight that to Him it was eloquent of ‘what God and man is.’ He showed just the same intuitive recognition of truth in His estimate of a man, or His grasp of a religious principle. Whether it were the purpose and use of the Temple, or the religious customs and conventions of the day, or practical problems involving conflicting considerations, like that set to Peter by the question, ‘Doth not your Master pay the half-shekel?’ (Matthew 17:24), or inquiries on the outer confines of human thought, such as those concerning eschatology and the life beyond death, the Lord Jesus always looked into the very heart of the facts before Him, so that all accessories and accidents seemed to drop away and leave the truth in its naked simplicity under His eyes. He completely disregarded the things which for most minds overlie and confuse the essential issues, and fixed His gaze on those positive points round which all the rest was accretion. His mind therefore concerned itself but little with negatives in any case. One most important consequence of this was that He always saw whatever good there was in any man, and paid comparatively little heed to the evil which might be there also. He did not stay to combat or correct the latter, but freed and reinforced the former so that it grew till no place was left for the evil, and it was expelled. In His hands all the old negative commandments were transformed into positive ideals; and all were summed up in the one great ideal of loving God and one’s neighbour (Mark 12:29-31), which was itself set forth in no lower form than the very highest, ‘Ye shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48). And in full accordance with this habit of mind, the judgments which from time to time He passed on men about Him were determined rather by what moral worth they had or lacked, than by what faults were in them. The most unsparing condemnation fell upon the Pharisees, whose lives were strict and reputable, and free from the gross and careless vices of the multitude. He denounced their whole moral and religious activity as an ‘hypocrisy,’ because it was one great negation. They were not ‘sinners’; but with all the opportunities for good which more than others they possessed, their hearts and lives were empty. He portrayed them, and showed the futility of their whole religious method, by describing a man out of whom the unclean spirit has been driven, and whose house is then cleaned and left vacant. The cleaning out is not disputed, but all the more surely does the vacancy invite new tenants; and if no good spirit occupies the house forthwith, ‘the last state of that man becometh worse than the first’ (Luke 11:36). So in His pictures of God’s final judgment the condemnation falls not usually on those against whom crimes may be alleged (though these find mention, e.g. Mark 12:9, Matthew 22:7), but on the thoughtless maids found without oil; on the servant who took good care of his talent but never used it; on the guest without a wedding garment; on those to whom it is said, ‘I was an hungered, and ye gave me no food; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not’ (Matthew 25:42 f.). The whole point of view of Jesus in this is in strong contrast with that of the Judaism of His age, which aimed at attaining holiness by an earnest and elaborate endeavour to eliminate unholiness and defend the shrine of the soul from trespass.

One aspect of these last-mentioned characteristics may be summed up in a word, by saying that the make of Jesus’ mind was that which is found in the greatest poets. They all combine, as lesser men cannot, the realist and the idealist. Their ideas are concrete, not abstract. Their minds work by intuition, not by argument. Their interests and thoughts are positive; and they are all more or less insistent that—

‘The evil is null, is nought, a silence implying sound.’

And much of the Lord’s teaching shows that the sense of form and the feeling for language which belong to them were His in a remarkable degree. Perhaps it was not entirely the power of His own personality, nor yet the substance of what He said, but also in part the music of its expression, that enabled Him so often to throw a spell over His hearers: e.g. ‘All bare him witness, and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth’ (Luke 4:22); ‘The people all hung upon him, listening’ (Luke 19:48); ‘The officers answered, Never man so spake’ (John 7:46). There is, of course, the truest poetry in many of His sayings and in His parables; and His teaching teems with flashes of imagery such as only the highest poetry presents. Even in form of language some of His sayings lack little of the rhythm and music of poetical expression. But we have to remember that He wrote nothing that remains, and that nothing has been reported in His original words. The best we can expect to find in the NT is a good and faithful translation; and who can translate poetry? But a doubt must remain whether any literary vehicle could carry the full poetic inspiration of the Lord Jesus. Poems, however truly living, are the reflexions of life. The Life itself was inherent in Him (John 5:26), and He came to impart it, not to reflect it (John 10:10). So His ‘poems’ (ποιήματα) are the souls which, generation after generation, He has created anew, the ideals which have transformed, and are transforming, the world: even as St. Paul said of his disciples, ‘Ye are an epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God’ (2 Corinthians 3:3). See, further, art. Poet.

6. There are some things more properly described, perhaps, as features of character than as mental characteristics, but the distinction is such a narrow one, being a difference in the point of view and not in the facts, that they must be mentioned, though as briefly as possible. The profound reverence of Jesus’ mind is one. Not only does this appear in every relation to His Father in heaven, and in the way He taught His disciples to look up to Him, but also in His delicate respect for all those who sought His help, and the sensitive regard He showed for the spiritual responsibility of each person, on which He never trenched. Another is His simplicity. He loved a simple life in outward things, rebuking Martha for her too ample provision when so little was needful (Luke 10:41), and teaching His followers to spend little care on the wealth and comfort which He held so lightly, and to pray only for ‘daily bread.’ But simplicity is still more strikingly characteristic of the nature and process of His mind. Though more than any other that has ever lived He was ‘many-sided,’ He never gave the impression of a complicated nature. With the directness of a child He always turned to the point in hand; and no one was ever more free from that hesitancy which is so often found in those who are the best able to see both sides of a question. With sympathy unfailing and unlimited, He still was simple, and could put the loftiest thoughts into simple terms. That is always a characteristic of a really great—though not of every great—mind: never was an instance of it comparable with this one. Closely akin to this is the fact that Jesus was never disconcerted or bewildered, nor did He ever lose presence of mind in the most difficult or dangerous situations. Rather, in times of trial, there was a heightening of His serenity of mind; for trial and sorrow made stronger appeal to His faith, which was always responsive. μὴ μετεωρίζεσθε was a counsel most characteristic of Him (Luke 12:29); and it was this habitual trust in the Father that enabled Him in the very hour of impending agony to make His followers the bequest of peace—His peace (John 14:27; John 16:33).

7. Two matters of importance remain to be mentioned, distinct but by no means unconnected—(a) Jesus’ characteristic outlook upon life, and (b) His method as the Saviour of the world.

(a) One cannot escape the feeling that while others look only at the surface of life, the Master looked through its surface and saw its depth: we see life usually in two dimensions, He looked at it in three, and so saw reality. Of course, from His standpoint all its proportions were very different from those which appear to us. The most striking expression of what is meant is to be found in Browning’s description of Lazarus as given in the Epistle of Karshish. But while Browning had learnt the nature of this larger view, converting all proportions, from Him who called back Lazarus to earth, he represents it as a double prospect in Lazarus, with none of that translucent unity which is its essential feature in the Lord Jesus. The Beatitudes are an instance. Their chief effect, and it cannot be doubted their chief purpose, is to set the hearer on a new standpoint, and so enable him to gain a new view of life. It is no paradox that the poor are blest, while all men congratulate the rich; and this is not said to give emphasis to the aspect which is too much over looked. It is simply the truth of life, seen as the eyes of the Lord Jesus saw it when He looked round on His disciples gathered there, all destitute of earth’s possessions, but with a light in their eager faces as they ‘hung upon him listening’ which told of the ‘righteousness and peace and joy in holy inspiration’ which showed that theirs was the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). All whose reading of experience goes deep can see, or partly see, why He counted sorrow blest, and gentleness, mercy, purity, and love the treasures of man’s real enrichment. Another instance is the prayer He gave to His disciples when they felt the need of being taught how to pray. There is an unearthliness in it, and a grasp on the real depths of life, such as no other prayers disclose. God’s glory, and His Kingdom, and the joy of fulfilling His will, fill up all the foreground; and the remainder of the view includes brief mention of bare needs here, and then fuller appeal for the deeper needs of forgiveness, and of the shelter of Him who is our ‘shield and our exceeding great reward.’ Hardly less striking is the way in which He enforced the duty of simple truthfulness, His words calling up vividly the awful picture of the Evil One leaning over the soul that talks loosely, to ply it with ‘suggestions’ which then find unsuspecting utterance as readily as those which the hypnotist gives to his unconscious ‘subject’ (Matthew 5:37, with which cf. Luke 22:31). There were times when the Lord expressed strongly this contrast between the view which men took of life and that which He took (Luke 16:15), but more often His reference is a mere allusion. The difference culminated in that most characteristic and central idea on which He so often dwelt, that a man must ‘lose his life to find it’ (Mark 8:34-37 ||, cf. Matthew 10:39, Luke 17:33, John 12:25). Death itself was accordingly transfigured in Jesus’ eyes: it neither put a limit to life nor made a breach which destroyed its continuity. Death was for Him ‘sleep’; a sleep from which He awaked more than one, and from which ‘in the last day’ He would awake and raise up ‘every one that beholdeth the Son and believeth on him’ (John 6:40). For Himself, He looked through death to His own resurrection, which He again and again told His disciples to expect as the day of His departure drew nearer; and for the rest, He recognized death with all its miserable and misleading associations as little as might be, and refused even to speak of it if this could be avoided (John 11:11-14). With His strong sense of the continuity of life there went, however, a very remarkable reserve about the future. Concerning it He disclosed nothing of detail; nothing that trust in the love of God and the assurance of life’s continuity do not themselves imply. He plainly said He did not know the course of the future, and His disciples must not expect to do so (Mark 13:32, Acts 1:7). But He never showed Himself averse to adopting the current religions language which rested on the prophecy and apocalyptics of the past, to clothe those ideas which He wished to impress about the life to come; though it may well be that the eschatological passages in the Gospels are considerably coloured and confused by the fact that they have come through the medium of disciples who were not equal to following their Master’s higher thoughts.

It is in connexion with this far profounder view of life which we find in Him that we are best able to understand the ‘powers that worked in’ the Lord Jesus (ἐνεργοῦσιν αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῶ, Mark 6:14), and His consciousness in regard to them. The term ‘miracles’ can hardly fail to prove misleading, as it is so closely associated with the 18th cent. point of view, which considered them as exceptions to natural law, and as owing their evidential value to the fact that they were exceptions. That view is quite obsolete and impossible now to a really scientific mind: it was always singularly unappreciative of ‘the mind of Christ.’ There can be no doubt that Jesus Himself felt complete certainty that He did wield powers of an extraordinary and practically limitless kind (cf. Matthew 26:51-53), and that His contemporaries never dreamt of disputing the fact. But to Him they were certainly neither ‘unnatural’ nor ‘supernatural.’ The distinetion drawn by the latter term is quite alien to His mind, and inconsistent with His point of view; for Him the continuous character and flow of life was a fundamental idea, and the one unbroken reality included equally what we describe as ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural.’ The ‘powers’ of which He was conscious had their proper place and scope in life as He saw it; and if it is not possible for us to assign this, or to explain them, that is due probably to the single fact that, as already said, we try to see the reality of life from the standpoint of two dimensions, and can succeed so little in seeing it from that of three as He did (cf. Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18, John 20:23).

(b) The method which the Lord Jesus followed in carrying out His purpose as the world’s Saviour was no less unique than His outlook on life, and it was the direct result of the latter. In the ordinary sense of the term He was no reformer; He did not try to make the institutions which He found serve their end better, nor did He seek to substitute one expedient for another, to attain more successfully the aims before Him. He felt that His Kingdom was ‘not of this world,’ and all He sought was to open its portal to believers. He did not pit His Kingdom against those of the world to overthrow the latter; rather He refused to let His followers do this or to do it Himself (Matthew 26:52-54). Nor did He attempt to withdraw His followers from the world, as other religious leaders often have done, that they might serve God with less distraction. Even His prayers were not for change of the world itself, or the delivery of His disciples from it (John 17:9-21). Though His whole life was sacrificed to save the world, He just left the world alone. As in His teaching there was little that was negative, so in His work He tried to undo nothing. It is very surprising how content He always seemed to be to accommodate Himself to the use of any means or circumstance that lay ready at hand, while so unbending in aim throughout. Thus He spoke the religious language of Judaism, practised the customs in Israel, and respected its institutions, however much they were degraded and abused. He paid His half-shekel to the Sanhedrin and His tribute-money to the Caesar without protest. Browning again brings out with striking effect this feature of the Master’s in his portrait of Lazarus, whose ‘especial marking … is prone submission to the heavenly will,’ so that he tries to change nothing; but here again this characteristic, being isolated, lapses into quietism as it never did in Lazarus’ Master. For, however willing Jesus was to use and leave unreformed the things around Him, none of these ever bound Him. If there was fault or falsehood mingled with what He borrowed for the moment, He left that on one side and moved on towards His goal unaffected. He saw the truth too clearly to be diverted by aught else, and the truth made Him free. And He led His followers into the freedom that was His own. So, while He abstained from all political intervention, and declined to be mixed up with the ordinary business of life (Luke 12:14), and left religious institutions and traditions where He found them, He nevertheless revolutionized all life. There is no department of human activity in the world to-day—except in some of its backwaters which have not yet felt His influence—which is not profoundly altered in consequence of His life and work and words. His confidence that it would be so never faltered; He saw here the supreme scope of the law of ‘life through loss.’ So He declared beforehand the result which is yet in progress under our eyes—‘I, if I be lifted up out of the earth, will draw all men unto myself’ (John 12:32). Of what import are the foam flakes which float upon its surface to him who plunges into the mighty stream of life? Jesus’ view of life, and His method of saving men, both so original, both so characteristic, are both vindicated in full by the results. They are alike summed up in the joyous conviction which many and many a soul has uttered when lifted to His higher plane, and which even the world itself has been forced to suspect, though not to share: ‘If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15).

Literature.—Bernard, Mental Characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ; Adamson, Studies of the Mind in Christ; Latham, Pastor Pastorum; Du Bose, Gospel in the Gospels; art. Character of Christ, and the Literature there cited.

E. P. Boys-Smith.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mental Characteristics'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​m/mental-characteristics.html. 1906-1918.