The Story of a Beautiful Life – Preface part 1 of 2

The Story of a Beautiful Life

by Cannon Farrar


In fulfilling a task so difficult and important as that of writing the Life of Christ, I feel it to be a duty to state the causes which led me to undertake it, and the principles which have guided me in carrying it to a conclusion.

It has long been the desire and aim of the publishers of this work to spread as widely as possible the blessings of knowledge; and, in special furtherance of this design, they wished to place in the hands of their readers such a sketch of the Life of Christ on earth as should enable them to realize it more clearly, and to enter more thoroughly into the the details and sequence of the Gospel narratives.

Under these circumstances application was made to me, and I could not at first but shrink from a labor for which I felt that the amplest leisure of a lifetime would be insufficient, and powers incomparably greater than my own would still be utterly inadequate. But the considerations that were urged upon me came no doubt with additional force from the deep interest with which, from the first, I contemplated the design. I consented to make the effort, knowing that I could at least promise to do my best, and believing that he who does the best he can, and also seeks the blessing of God upon his labors, cannot finally and wholly fail.

And I have reason to be thankful that I originally entered upon the task, and, in spite of all obstacles, have still persevered in it. If the following pages in any measure fulfill the objects with which such a Life ought to be written, they should fill the minds of those who read them with solemn and not ignoble thoughts; they should “add sunlight to daylight by making the happy happier”; they should encourage the toiler; they should console the sorrowful; they should point the weak to the one true source of moral strength. But whether this book be thus blessed to high ends, or whether it be received with harshness and indifference, nothing at least can rob me of the deep and constant happiness which I have felt during almost every hour that has been spent upon it. Though, owing to serious and absorbing duties, months have often passed without my finding an opportunity to write a single line, yet, even in the midst of incessant labor at other things, nothing forbade that the subject on which I was engaged should be often in my thoughts, or that I should find in it a source of peace and happiness different, alike in kind and in degree, from any which other interests could either give or take away. After I had in some small measure prepared myself for the task, I seized the earliest possible opportunity to visit Palestine, and especially those parts of it which will be forever identified with the work of Christ on earth. Amid those scenes wherein He moved—in the –”holy fields

Over whose acres walked those blessed feet

Which eighteen hundred years ago were nailed,

For our advantage, on the bitter cross”–

In the midst of those immemorial customs which recalled at every turn the manner of life He lived—at Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, at Bethlehem, by Jacob’s Well, in the Valley of Nazareth, along the bright strand of the Sea of Galilee, and in the coasts of Tyre and Sidon—many things came home to me, for the first time, with a reality and vividness unknown before. I returned more than ever confirmed in the wish to tell the full story of the Gospels in such a manner and with such illustrations as—with the aid of all that was within my reach of that knowledge which has been accumulating for centuries—might serve to enable at least the simple and unlearned to understand and enter into the human surroundings of the life of the Son of God.

But, while I say this, to save the book from being judged by a false standard, and with reference to ends which it was never intended to accomplish, it would be mere affectation to deny that I have hoped to furnish much which even learned readers may value. Though the following pages do not pretend to be exhaustive or specially erudite, they yet contain much that men of the highest learning have thought or ascertained. The books which I have consulted include the researches of divines who have had the privilege of devoting to this subject, and often to some small fragment of it, the best years of laborious and uninterrupted lives. No one, I hope, could have reaped, however feebly, among such harvests, without garnering at least something, which must have its value for the professed theologian as well as for the unlearned. But, with this double aim in view, I have tried to avoid “moving as in a strange diagonal,” and have never wholly lost sight of the fact that I had to work with no higher object than that thousands, who have even fewer opportunities than myself, might be the better enabled to read that one Book, beside which even the best and profoundest treatises are nothing better than poor and stammering fragments of imperfect commentary.

It is perhaps yet more important to add that this Life of Christ is avowedly and unconditionally the work of a believer. Those who expect to find in it new theories about the divine personality of Jesus, or brilliant combinations of mythic could tinged by the sunset imagination of some decadent belief, will look in vain. It has not been written with any direct and special reference to the attacks of skeptical criticism. It is not even intended to deal otherwise than indirectly with the serious doubts of those who, almost against their will, think themselves forced to lapse into a state of honest disbelief. I may indeed venture to hope that such readers, if they follow me with no unkindly spirit through these pages, may here and there find considerations of real weight and importance, which will solve imaginary difficulties and supply an answer to real objections. Although this book is not mainly controversial, and would, had it been intended as a contribution to polemical literature, have been written in a very different manner, I do not believe that it will prove wholly valueless to any honest doubter who reads it in a candid and uncontemptuous spirit. Hundreds of critics, for instance, have impugned the authority of the Gospels on the score of the real or supposed contradictions to be found in them. I am of course familiar with such objections, which may be found in all sorts of books, from Strauss’s Leben Jesu and Renan’s Die de Jésus, down to Sir. R. Hanson’s Jesus of History, and the English Life of Jesus by Mr. Thomas Scott. But, while I have never consciously evaded a distinct and formidable difficulty, I have constantly endeavored to show, by the mere silent course of the narrative itself, that many of these objections are by no means insuperable, and that many more are unfairly captious or altogether fantastic.

If there are questions wider and deeper than the minutiae of criticism, into which I have not fully and directly entered, it is not either from having neglected to weigh the arguments respecting them, or from any unwillingness to state the reasons why, in common with tens of thousands who are abler and wiser than myself, I can still say respecting every fundamental doctrine of the Christian to Christians, surely, after nearly nineteen centuries of Christianity, any one may be allowed to rest a fact of the Life of Jesus on the testimony of St. John without stopping to write a volume on the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel; or may narrate one of the Gospel miracles without deeming it necessary to answer all the arguments which have been urged against the possibility of the supernatural. After the long labors, the powerful reasoning, and the perfect historical candor with which this subject has been treated by a host of apologists, it is surely as needless as it is impossible to lay again, on every possible occasion, the very lowest foundations of our faith.

Nor have I left the subject of the credibility of miracles and the general authenticity of the Gospel narratives entirely untouched, although there was the less need for my entering fully upon those questions in the following pages, from my having already stated elsewhere, to the best of my ability, the grounds of my belief. The same remark applies to the yet more solemn truth of the Divinity of Christ. That—not indeed as surrounded with all the recondite enquiries about the communicatio idiomatum, the hypostatic union, the abstract impeccability, and such scholastic formulae, but in its broad Scriptural simplicity—was the subject of the Hulsean Lectures before the University of Cambridge in the year 1870. In those lectures I endeavored to sketch what has ever seemed to my mind the most convincing external evidence of our faith, namely, “The Witness of History to Christ.” Those who have rejected the creed of the Church in this particular, approach the subject from a totally opposite point to our own. They read the earliest chapters of St. Luke and St. Matthew, and openly marvel that any mind can believe what to them appears to be palpable mythology; or they hear the story of one of Christ’s miracles of power—the walking on the Sea of Galilee, or turning the water into wine—and scarcely conceal their insinuated misgiving as to the honesty of those who can accept such narratives as true. Doubtless we should share their convictions in these respects, if we approached the subject in the same spirit and by the same avenues. To show that we do not and why we do not so approach it, is—incidentally at least—one of the objects of this book.

The skeptic—and let me here say at once that I hope to use no single word of anger or denunciation against a skepticism which I know to be in many cases perfectly honest and self-sacrificingly noble—approaches the examination of the question from a point of view the very opposite to that of the believer. He looks at the majestic order and apparently unbroken uniformity of Law, until the Universe becomes to him but the result mechanically evolved from tendencies at once irreversible and self-originated. To us such a conception is wholly inconceivable. Law to us involves the necessity of postulating a Law-giver, and “Nature,” which we only use as an unscientific and imaginative synonym for the sum total of observed phenomena, involves in our conceptions the Divine Power of whose energy it is but the visible translucence. We believe that the God and Creator of “Nature” has made Himself known to us, if not by a primitive intuition, at any rate by immediate revelation to our hearts and consciences. And therefore such narratives as those to which I have alluded are not nakedly and singly presented to us in all their unsupported and startling difficulty. To us they are but incidental items in a faith which lies at the very bases of our being—they are but fragments of that great whole which comprises all that is divine and mysterious and supernatural in the two great words, Christianity and Christendom. And hence, though we no longer prominently urge the miracles of Christ as the proofs of our religion, yet, on the other hand, we cannot regard them as stumbling-blocks in the path of an historical belief. We study the sacred books of all the great religions of the world; we see the effect exercised by those religions on the minds of their votarics; and in spite of all the truths which even the worst of them enshrined, we watch the failure of them all to produce the inestimable blessing which we have ourselves enjoyed from infancy, which we treasure as dearly as our life, and which we regard as solely due to the spread and establishment of the faith we hold. We read the systems and treatises of ancient philosophy, and in spite of all the great and noble elements in which they abound, we see their total incapacity to console, or support, or deliver, or regenerate the world. Then we see the light of Christianity dawning like a tender day-spring amid the universal and intolerable darkness. From the first, that new religion allies itself with the world’s utter feebleness, and those feeblenesses it shares; yet without wealth, without learning, without genius, without arms, without anything to dazzle and attract—the religion of outcasts and exiles, of fugitives and prisoners—numbering among its earliest converts not many wise, ant many noble, not many mighty, but such as the jailer of Philippi, and the runaway slave of Colossae—with no blessing apparently upon it save such as cometh from above—with no light whatever about it save the light that comes from heaven—it puts to flight kings and their armies; it breathes a new life, and a new hope, and a new and unknown holiness into a guilty and decrepit world. This we see; and we see the work grow, and increase, and become more and more irresistible, and spread, “with the gentleness of a sea that caresses the shore it covers.” And seeing this, we recall the faithful principle of the wise and tolerant Rabbi, uttered more than 1,800 years ago–”If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found to fight against God.” (Acts v. 38, 39)

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