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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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REALITY.—That a spirit of clear sincerity and genuine reverence for truth pervades the narratives of the Gospel writers and inspires the central Figure they depict, is an impression irresistibly forced on unprejudiced minds. Everywhere there is evident, in the writers themselves and in the Master about whom they write, a straightforward honesty and singleness of aim, and we find ourselves unmistakably in an atmosphere of reality.

I. In the Gospel writers.—Reality, as manifested by the Gospel writers, may be recognized by several notable features, such as:

1. The absence in them of any straining after effect.—They relate facts as they know them, and always with a certain artless simplicity; and if occasionally they put an interpretation of their own upon the facts, it is still patent that it is an honestly framed interpretation. Invariably, in describing startling events, instead of dwelling on their startling character, they content themselves with such bare statements as that ‘fear came upon all’ (Luke 1:65), that ‘all men did marvel’ (Matthew 8:27, Mark 5:20), that men were ‘amazed’ (Luke 4:36; Luke 5:26), that ‘they glorified God’ (Matthew 9:8; Matthew 9:33, Mark 2:12, Luke 5:26), or that ‘they were astonished with a great astonishment’ (Mark 5:42). There is often a graphic force in the description, yet the events themselves are related without any rhetorical elaboration, and no attempt is made to heighten the colours. The narrative is plain, direct, and unadorned.

2. Their frankness in recording incidents which reflect on the leaders of their cause.—Notwithstanding every inducement to save the credit of the disciples first chosen by the Master, far from concealing the faults and perversities of those men, they tell the story of them with simple candour, this being in their view essential to an accurate understanding of the circumstances connected with the early beginnings of the faith. The jealous rivalries of the Twelve, and their disputes as to who should be accounted greatest (Matthew 18:1, Mark 9:34, Luke 22:24), the failure of some of them to meet the duty of the hour (Matthew 17:16; Matthew 26:40-43, Mark 14:40; Mark 14:50), the intolerant zeal (Luke 9:54) and ambitious scheming (Matthew 20:20-23) of the two sons of Zebedee, the rash presumption (Matthew 14:28-30; Matthew 16:22-23) and weak denial (Matthew 26:69-74, Mark 14:66-71) of Peter, the treachery of Judas (Matthew 26:10-16; Matthew 26:47, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:48)—are all told with an unvarnished plainness which betokens an inward pressure to be strictly faithful to the truth.

3. Their genuine absorption in their subject.—There is evident in these Evangelists a feeling that they are dealing with a theme too sacred to be trifled with. Their attitude towards the Lord whose life and actions they seek to portray is one of profound reverential affection, constraining them to a complete sinking of their own personality, with no other aim than that of presenting a picture worthy of Him who has won their hearts. They write as men who are impelled by a pure devotion to declare what they have learned and know about things which they believe to be precious and true.

II. In Jesus.—Reality, as seen in Jesus Himself, is superlatively arresting. In an age of affectations, formalisms, and general bondage to tradition, He stood out as uncompromisingly sincere, intent on getting close to fact and truth, and keeping resolutely in view the essential and permanent interests of life. He dared to think for Himself, and rose high above all artificiality and make-believe. This spirit of reality in Jesus is convincingly attested by the following points:

1. His thorough naturalness as a religious teacher.—With no demure, sanctimonious airs, and no pretentious tones such as the Rabbis were wont to assume, He spoke straight to the heart and conscience; and common people felt that His utterances came home with an authority they were compelled to own (Matthew 7:29). There was nothing of the professional about Him. His demeanour was that of unstudied simplicity; and when occasion suited, He could unbend and let joy and cheerfulness have their genial flow,—looking with amused interest on the children at their games (Matthew 11:16-17), sharing the gladness of the social gathering (John 2:1-10), or lighting up His discourse with flashes of playfulness (Luke 11:5-8). While keenly alive to the seriousness of His vocation, He affected none of the Pharisaic rigour which would repress the healthy instincts of humanity—a witness for the highest truth, yet winningly human, and with a manner so gracious and open as to make Him easily accessible to all classes of men.

2. His fearless directness in facing the actual facts of existence.—No one ever looked with more straight and steady gaze than Jesus did on the solemn realities of human life and destiny. The distress and suffering that are in the world (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 12:15), the mysteries of Providence (Luke 13:1-4, John 9:3), the value and needs of the soul (Matthew 16:26-27, Luke 12:20-21), the curse of sin (Matthew 18:8-9, Luke 13:3, John 8:24), the certainty of retribution (Matthew 18:6; Matthew 23:33, Mark 9:43-48), the necessity of spiritual renewal (Matthew 9:17, John 3:3-7), the burden of responsibility (Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 23:14, Luke 10:13-16), the imperative obligations of duty (John 9:4), the supreme authority of God (Matthew 19:17, John 4:34; John 10:29),—on all these Jesus kept His eye fixed with an intensity of vision and purpose that was never relaxed from the beginning to the end of His career. Clearing His mind of all vague sentiment and easy superficiality, He confronted the grave problems and experiences, the mighty facts and forces, which affect man’s well-being now and for ever, and dealt with them in a spirit of unwavering fortitude and sincerity.

3. His steadfast determination to reach, and hold by, the fundamental elements of religion.—Radical in the truest sense, Jesus displayed an incessant anxiety to get at the roots of things, to pierce beneath superficial respectabilities, and find the great eternal principles on which life should be based. This is seen (1) in His teaching. The outward observances of religion. He maintained, are nothing unless prompted by genuine gratitude and reverence (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42). No matter how decorous the worship offered to Jehovah, if the spirit of devoutness does not fill the mind (Matthew 15:8, John 4:24). The show of goodness may look fair, but it has no value if it be the outcome only of calculating prudence or self-flattering pride (Matthew 6:2-5, Luke 16:15). Purity, mercy, clear integrity of motive in the central springs of the life, He insisted on as the essentials of goodness. Everything had to be sterling, from the heart, real [see art. Heart].—(2) In His private life. The demand thus made was severely searching, yet it was fully met by Jesus in His own person. If the faithful application of high spiritual principles to the common, trivial concerns of existence be a sure proof of reality, that proof was given by Him in a superb degree. It is significant that the men who knew Him best and saw most of Him in daily intimacy were also the men who adored and believed in Him most fervently; and even the one who played the traitor was yet constrained to bear testimony to the goodness he had wronged (Matthew 27:4).—(3) In His bearing towards the bigoted exclusiveness of His day. Though threatened with the wreck of His own reputation by any association with the ‘publicans and sinners,’ Jesus had such profound sympathy with them in their despair of all good, begotten by the harsh ostracism to which they were doomed, that He seized every opportunity of coming into touch with them (Matthew 9:10-13, Mark 2:15-16, Luke 5:29-30; Luke 15:1-2). Bent on stirring the hearts of those outcasts of society by some ray of hope, He moved straight on to His gracious object, grappling with the moral necessities of the situation, indifferent to the censures of offended propriety. He even went so far as to choose a publican as one of His immediate disciples. The same superiority to the exclusive temper of His time is evinced also in His relations with the despised Samaritans (John 4:4-12, Luke 17:11-19; cf. Luke 10:32-37)—His dominant concern always being to penetrate beneath surface appearances, and to reach and make manifest the capacity for righteousness in the innermost core of every human soul.

4. His unworldly standard of personal worth.—While drawing a sharp distinction between the two kinds of worth,—the material and the spiritual (Matthew 6:19-20; Matthew 6:25),—Jesus did not denounce material success, though for Himself He never sought it. What He did denounce was the disposition to take material success as the measure of a man’s value (Luke 12:15-21). It is a false measure, and He refused to be judged by it Himself, or to apply it in judging any man. Content to be estimated by His soul-qualities, He estimated others by the same test, not by their temporal status or means (Luke 16:19-26, Mark 12:41-44).

5. His perfect candour in the bestowal of appreciation or reproof.—Though disdaining to flatter, Jesus was ever ready to recognize good, even when found in unexpected quarters, as we see in His praise of the faith of the centurion at Capernaum (Matthew 8:10), and of the offering of the poor widow at the Temple (Mark 12:42-44). Prompt and warm, too, was His approval of the genuine feeling which He found struggling to assert itself in any soul, even when others condemned, as when He threw the shield of His graeiousness over Zacchaeus of Jericho (Luke 19:9), the erring woman amid her penitence (Luke 7:44-48), and Mary of Bethany in the scene of the anointing (John 12:5-7). On the other hand, while benignly charitable towards natural human frailty, He could not suffer the flagrant follies and misdoings that met His eye to pass without remonstrance. The fault-finders who challenged the piety of His disciples because they did not fast (Matthew 9:14-17, Luke 5:33-39), the illiberal formalists who sought to convert the Sabbath into a dreary bondage (Mark 2:23-28, Luke 13:15-16), the hardened censors who had no mercy on a woman caught in transgression (John 8:7), the scribes and Pharisees who turned religion into a pretentious show (Matthew 23:13-35),—were made to feel the baseness of the spirit by which they were animated. There was a clear-purposed directness in the intercourse of Jesus with men; and even the chosen Twelve were not spared when they gave way to presumption, intolerance, or jealousy (Matthew 16:22-23, Mark 9:34-36, Luke 9:54-56). At the risk of alienating those men, He shrank not from speaking the straight word when their errors or failings called for rebuke.

6. His downrightness in dealing with popular expectations.—Not even to gain a following would Jesus trifle in the slightest with truth and sincerity. When the multitudes, excited by the fame of His deeds, pressed round, expecting Him to take some step which would lift Israel to new heights of glory, instead of playing on their credulity, as for a while He might have done, He struck directly at their sensuous and extravagant hopes, insisting on their deeper needs and the more vital work which had first to be effected in their hearts (John 6:27 ff.). With His eye on the moral and spiritual regeneration of men, He made it abundantly plain that He had no reliance on any such political and social revolution as they were looking for, unless it were brought about through a change of character. And when the inevitable reaction came, He let the once eager throng go their way, rather than accept their allegiance on a false understanding of what He was and sought to accomplish (John 6:60-66).

7. His reverent sobriety amid popular enthusiasm.—Dazzling as the outbursts of such enthusiasm were, Jesus would never permit Himself to indulge in the luxury of self-gratulation, but, anxious to preserve the purity of His high spiritual aims, He deliberately seized the earliest opportunity of escaping to the mountains or the wilderness for solitary communion with the Father (Matthew 14:23, Mark 3:13; Mark 6:31). Even during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem He detached His mind from the ringing hosannas, and thought of the sins of the nation and the threatening doom (Luke 19:41); and when the ovation was over He withdrew to the quiet of Bethany (Matthew 21:17), maintaining His spirit clear and true.

8. His scrupulous honesty with regard to the risks of discipleship.—That none might be misled by too sanguine expectations, Jesus took pains to give warning of the hardship and sacrifice which the adoption of His cause would involve. He told those willing to rally round Him to count the cost (Luke 14:28-33), to be prepared for the endurance of privation and the rupture of old ties (Matthew 10:37, Luke 9:57-62), the severities of the world’s disfavour (Matthew 5:11), the cross of self-denial (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34). Standing on the clear ground of truth, He spoke without evasion or concealment, and shrank from any homage that was not founded on a heartfelt sense of His spiritual worth.

9. His consistent devotion to an unselfish purpose.—The freedom of Jesus from strictly personal aims is ‘writ large’ on every page of the Gospel narratives. Even when constrained to assert His high claim as the bearer of a special Divine commission, there is not the slightest trace of His having any end to serve but the will of God and the good of men; and from that end the world had no bribes by which He could be tempted aside (John 14:30).

10. His calm resoluteness in facing the consequences of His teaching and work.—Though fully alive to the deadly hostility which His teaching and general line of conduct would inevitably arouse, Jesus refused to make His path smoother by any prudential concessions to conventional taste. The policy of concession was urged upon Him at various stages, from the Temptation in the wilderness to the Agony in Gethsemane, but was always energetically repelled. When Peter at Caesarea Philippi ventured to dissuade Him from carrying His principles to the point, of personal danger, He treated the suggestion as a voice from the realm of darkness (Matthew 16:22 f.). Conscious of a testimony to bear for God to which He could not be untrue, and intent on disseminating ideas which He felt to be essential to the spiritual well-being of humanity, He confronted the malice of priests, Pharisees, and scribes, and amid gathering troubles ‘steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51), where that malice at its fiercest had to be encountered. Knowing that a baptism of suffering awaited Him as the result of the work He had undertaken, He was ‘straitened till it should be accomplished’ (Luke 12:50), and with serene inflexibility of purpose He moved on towards the tragic climax, and braved the death which had cast its shadow over Him for many a day. See also art. Sincerity.

Literature.—In addition to the Lives of Christ, the following works may be consulted:—Ullmann, Sinlessness of Jesus; Lacordaire, Conferences on Jesus Christ; Seeley, Ecce Homo; Bruce, Training of the Twelve, and With Open Face; T. G. Selby, Ministry of the Lord Jesus; Farrar, Witness of History to Christ, pp. 75–88; J. Watson, Mind of the Master; Stopford Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, pp. 89–131; Smyth, Truth and Reality. Fruitful suggestions may also be found in the sermons of Channing, F. W. Robertson, and Martineau.

Geo. M‘Hardy.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Reality'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​r/reality.html. 1906-1918.