Great Texts of the Bible
The Growth of the Child Jesus
And the child grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.—Luke 2:40.
1. There is great significance in the fact, seldom appreciated by common believers or teachers of Christianity, that Jesus was once a child, with a child’s thoughts, feelings, joys, griefs, and trials. Not only was He a man, and therefore nothing human was alien to Him but sin, but He was also a child, and no childish experience is unknown to Him or removed from His sympathy. He became a child, as Irenæus beautifully observes, that He might be the Saviour of children. He has sanctified childhood, as He has every other age and experience of humanity, by passing through it. And the light and sanctity of this Divine childhood still linger around every human child, as the ideal of the artist hovers over the statue he has wrought, making it beautiful by the reflection of its pure and perfect beauty.
2. The subject of the text is the growth of Jesus. “The child grew.” Many read this statement without perplexity; but in all ages of the Church reflective minds have felt the difficulty of harmonizing the idea of progress with that of Divinity. The difficulty is undeniably a real one and may not be ignored; yet there would surely have been far more difficulty if Luke had said or implied that the Child did not grow. The Incarnation is a mystery which transcends our powers of explanation; but when once we have been told, and have believed, that Jesus was born and that Jesus died, we have left ourselves no excuse for doubting at the interval between these two events must have been filled up with years of normal human life.
3. First of all, then, we have the fact stated. Apocryphal histories of the infancy are full of marvellous tales; but none of these is trustworthy, and nearly all are glaringly false. There are many blanks in the narratives we possess, but it appears that after the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem, where, before long, the Magi found them living, not in the village inn where the Child was born, but in a private house, as Matthew incidentally mentions. When the wise men had departed to their unknown country, Jesus was carried into Egypt, whence, after the death of Herod, He was brought back into Palestine, and placed in one of the most beautiful and retired villages of the northern province. In Nazareth the Child grew up in quietude as a healthy, happy child, strong in body and in mind; and men saw that grace, or rather, the beauty of God, the Divine beauty of holiness, was upon Him. This brief, but most significant, memorial contains in outline the story of twelve years, during which “the arm of the Lord” dwelt in the lowly home which His heavenly Father had chosen as the most suitable of all the homes then existent on the, earth.
4. Next, we see that His growth was natural. Think for a moment of the difficulty of conceiving a childhood in which Deity and humanity should be united, with no injustice done to either element. It is one of the evidences of the truthfulness of the Gospel narrative that it presents a perfectly natural and harmonious life, neither impossible to man nor unworthy of God.
The moment we look outside our Gospels we see what havoc the imagination was bound to make in attempting to fill up the outline by the invention of details. The Apocryphal Gospels of the infancy endeavour to assert the union of Divine power with human childhood by a series of grotesque miracles. One day the child Jesus cures a serpent’s bite by blowing on it, and kills the serpent by the same means; another day He tames a whole den of lions, and leads them dry-foot across Jordan; another day He makes birds out of clay and claps His hands and they fly away. St. Luke, on the contrary, while ever ready to record miracle in its proper place, takes pains to describe the holy childhood as a simple and natural growth alike of body and of mind, in due subjection to the restraints of home, free from precocity and yet not without strange intuitions, prophetic intimations of an unusual future, perplexing at the time but full of meaning in the light of later days.
Did angels hover o’er His head
What time, as Holy Scriptures saith,
Subject and dutiful He led
His boyhood’s life at Nazareth?
Was there an aureole round His hair,
A mystic symbol and a sign,
To prove to every dweller there,
Who saw Him, that He was divine?
Did He in childish joyance sweet,
Join other children in their play,
And with soft salutation greet
All who had passed Him in the way?
Did He within the Rabbi’s schools
Say “Aleph,” “Beth,” and “Gimel” mid
The Jewish lads, or use the tools
At Joseph’s bench as Joseph did?
And sometimes would He lay His head,
When tired, on Mary’s tender breast,
And share the meal her hand had spread,
And in her mother-love find rest?
We marvel—but we only know
That holy, harmless, undefiled,
In wisdom, as in stature, so
He grew as any mortal child.
All power, all glory hid away
In depths of such humility,
That thenceforth none might ever say
They had a lowlier lot than He!
And since the child of Nazareth
Set on it thus His seal and sign,
Who—till man’s sin hath marred it—saith
That childhood is not still divine!
The Evangelists record no incidents of the childhood of Jesus which separate it from the childhood of other of the children of men. The flight into Egypt is the flight of parents with a child; the presence of the boy in the Temple is marked by no abnormal sign, for it is a distorted imagination which has given the unbiblical title to the scene—Christ disputing with the Doctors, or Christ teaching in the Temple. But as the narrative of the Saviour’s ministry proceeds, we are reminded again and again of the presence of children in the multitudes that flocked about Him. The signs and wonders which He wrought were more than once through the lives of the young, and the suffering and disease of humanity which form the background in the Gospels upon which we see sketched in lines of light the outline of the redeeming Son of Man are shown in the persons of children, while the deeper life of humanity is disclosed in the tenderness of parents.1 [Note: H. E. Scudder, Childhood in Literature, 48.]
Luke the Evangelist speaks of the growth of the Son of Mary as he might have done of that of Samuel, the son of Hannah, or as Froude might of Martin Luther, the son of Margaret. It was gradual and natural, in body and mind, in its physical, mental, and spiritual characteristics. Every glimpse we get of the child, the boy, and the man, reveals the same full humanness. Neither boy nor man is abnormal. Nothing is artificial, mechanical, external: all is vital, natural, and inward. The mystery of His Origin and Nature notwithstanding, we must say, with Principal; Fairbairn, “the supernatural in Jesus did not exist for Jesus, but! for the world.”2 [Note: J. Clifford, The Dawn of Manhood, 35.]
The words recall, and are meant to recall, three others childhoods:
(1) First, the childhood of John the Baptist. Of him too St. Luke has told us that “the child grew and waxed strong in spirit”; and still earlier he has related that many were led to ask, “What manner of child shall this be? And the hand of the Lord was with him.” The parallel between the two children nearly of the same age is purposely worked out—the pious parent’s, the annunciation by the angel, the naming before birth, the prophecies of greatness, the long period of silent preparation for a unique mission. In each case the childhood was natural, the development slow and gradual, not forced and premature. In each case “the child grew and waxed strong in spirit.”
(2) And in drawing these pictures St. Luke had his models in the past. Look at Samson’s birth and childhood. His birth is announced beforehand by an angel, with the promise that “he shall begin to save Israel out of the hands of the Philistines”—words with which we may compare the language of the hymn in St. Luke, “that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.” Samson was to be “a Nazirite unto God from the womb,” even as the Baptist was to “drink neither wine nor strong drink,” but was to be “filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb.” And of Samson too it is written, “The child grew, and the Lord blessed him, and the spirit of the Lord began to move him.” Those were wild times, and it was wild work which Samson had before him, and he was not always faithful in his doing of it. But his childhood was a strong and natural childhood, with its occasional intimations of a destiny.
(3) And if Samson’s childhood is a forecast of St. John’s no less clearly is Samuel’s gentler childhood the prefiguration of our Lord’s. Here, again, we have the child promised beforehand, and dedicated before birth. In each case “the handmaid” of the Lord utters her “Magnificat.” “Hannah prayed and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord”; and “Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord.” A difference we find in early training; for the child Samuel is given to the service of the sanctuary as a child. But in similar terms we read of his quiet growth: “The child Samuel grew before the Lord”; and again, “The child Samuel grew on, and was in favour with the Lord and also with men.” Then comes the story of the voice of God in the house of God, itself a notable parallel to the Gospel of to-day; and then the words come once again that tell of holy growth—for this crisis did not suddenly bring the fulness of ripe knowledge of God and of life—“Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.”1 [Note: J. A. Robinson, Unity in Christ, 157.]
5. We have seen that the growth of Jesus was natural. But the question remains, How could that growth take place without sin? There are two conceivable kinds of development; one development through antagonism, through error, from stage to stage of less and less deficiency. This is our development; but it is such because evil has gained a lodgment in our nature, and we can attain perfection only through contest with it. But there is another kind of development conceivable, the development of a perfect nature limited by time. Such a nature will always be potentially that which it will become; i.e. everything which it will be is already there, but the development of it is successive, according to time; perfect at each several stage, but each stage more finished than the last. The plant is perfect as the green shoot above the earth, it is all it can be then; it is more perfect as the creature adorned with leaves and branches, and it is all it can be then; it reaches its full perfection when the bud breaks into flower. But it has been as perfect as it can be at every stage of its existence; it has had no struggle, no retrogression; it has realized in an entirely normal and natural way, at each successive step of its life, exactly and fully that which a plant should be. Such was the development of Christ. He was the perfect child, the perfect boy, the perfect youth, the perfect flower of manhood. Every stage of human life was lived in finished purity, and yet no stage was abnormally developed; there was nothing out of character in His life. He did not think the thoughts of a youth when a child, or feel the feelings of a man when a youth; but He grew freely, nobly, naturally, unfolding all His powers without a struggle, in a completely healthy progress.
The work of an inferior artist arrives at a certain amount of perfection through a series of failures, which teach him where he is wrong. By slow correction of error he is enabled to produce a tolerable picture. Such is our development. The work of a man of genius is very different. He has seen, before he touches pencil, the finished picture. His first sketch contains the germ of all. The picture is there; but the first sketch is inferior in finish to the next stage, and that to the completed picture. But his work is perfect in its several stages; not a line needs erasure, not a thought correction; it develops into its last and noblest form without a single error. Such was Christ’s development—an orderly, faultless, unbroken development, in which humanity, freed from its unnatural companion, evil, went forward according, to its real nature. It was the restoration of humanity to its original integrity, to itself, as it existed in the idea of God.
6. St. Luke not only says that as a child Jesus grew, developing as other children do, but he also tells us that He grew in every part of His personality. (1) He grew in body: “waxed strong”; (2) He grew in mind: “filled with wisdom”; and (3) He grew in spirit: “the grace of God was upon him.”
Development ought always to take place in all these three ways. Let us take a little baby as our instance. First of all the baby begins to grow in body; it gets bigger, it gets stronger; it has power over its little actions; it begins to walk—it is a great; at time in the house when the baby begins to walk—and everybody says how it is growing. And so it goes on, growing in bulk and in strength. Its clothes become too small for it. It grows on to boyhood or to girlhood; on to manhood, to womanhood; to strength and grace and beauty.
Now that is a marvellous thing—that growth of body. But, by and by, people begin to notice another kind of growth; something else is growing. This little one begins to walk; it also begins to talk, to notice things, to remember, to like and to dislike. Not only is the body growing, the mind is growing too. Presently the little mind will be strong enough to learn the alphabet, to begin to write, to begin to cipher, to begin to play on the piano, later on it will be strong enough to go to school, to college, and will, in time, become a learned man or woman.
Now that is a still more wonderful growth, for it will stop growing as a body, but it will never stop growing as a mind. You may find that child at eighty still growing, still growing, still learning, still advancing in wisdom. But, once more, if you notice the little one very closely, you will see that, not only does it grow in two ways—in body and mind—but it grows also in another way; it grows out of little faults into little virtues; out of little tricks of temper into patience, into power over itself; out of little selfishnesses into noble love. There are dolls and toys of the mind and there are dolls and toys of the soul; and as the body outgrows its clothes, and the mind outgrows its little mistakes, so there is something which is the best thing in man—the soul—which also grows; grows out of little faults and little wickednesses, and the unlovely habits of selfishness, till, by and by, men see before them a grand and splendid character.
i. Bodily Growth
“The child grew and waxed strong.”
The words are used of bodily development in size and strength. The Authorized Version adds “in spirit,” but that addition does not belong to this verse; it has been taken in by some copyist or commentator from the eightieth verse of the first chapter, where it is used of St. John the Baptist.
I think I am safe in saying that this exactest of writers would never have said about the youth of our Lord what he does say, and says over again, unless he had had before his mind’s eye the figure of a young man conspicuous among His fellows for His stateliness and His strength. The sacred writer tells us that he had the most perfect understanding of the very beginnings of our Lord’s life, because he had himself seen, and had interrogated with a view to his gospel, the most trusty eye-witnesses of our Lord’s childhood and boyhood and youth; till in this text we ourselves become as good as eye-witnesses of the laying of the first foundation stones of our Lord’s whole subsequent life and character and work. And the very first foundation-stone of them all was laid in that body which the Holy Ghost prepared for our Lord as the “instrumentum Deitatis”—the organ and the instrument of His Godhead. You may depend upon it that a writer like Luke would never have repeatedly expressed himself, as he has here repeatedly expressed himself, about the growth and the stature of our Lord’s body, if our Lord’s bodily presence had been weak, as was the case, to some extent, with the Apostle Paul. In his famous essay on “Decision of Character,” John Foster has a most striking passage on the matter in hand. Decision of character, the great essayist argues, beyond all doubt, depends very much on the constitution of the body. There is some quality in the bodily organization of some men which increases, if it does not create, both the stability of their resolutions and the energy of their undertakings and endeavours. There is something in some men’s very bodies, which, like the ligatures that the Olympic wrestlers bound on their hands and on their arms, braces up the very powers of their mind. Men of a strong moral character will, as a rule, be found to possess something correspondingly strong in their very bodies; just as massive engines demand to have their stand taken on a firm foundation. “Accordingly,” says Foster, “it will be found that those men who have been remarkable among their fellows for the decisiveness of their characters, and for the success of their great endeavours, have, as a rule, been the possessors of great constitutional strength, till the body has become the inseparable companion and the fit co-worker with the mind.” It is an ancient proverb—“Mens sana in corpore sano”—a sound mind in a sound body—a stately mind and character in a corresponding bodily stature.1 [Note: A. Whyte, The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 40.]
The human form is considered to be the highest expression of beauty and perfection for the following reasons. It is adapted to the greatest number of uses, its powers within the limits of its strength being certainly, as far as the hand is concerned, inexhaustible. The erect form rises upwards, indicative of the aspiring mind, a characteristic not shared by any other animal. The beautiful head is poised on a splendid column, the neck, which is elevated from the base line formed by the spread of the shoulders. The balanced rotundity and flatness of the limbs; the lovely movements of the wrist and marvellous structure of the hand, its powers, as has been already said, apparently almost inexhaustible; the general harmony of proportion, several parts of the body being neither too short nor too long for beauty—these compare to advantage with analogous parts of the lower creation.1 [Note: George Frederic Watts, iii. 8.]
It is a pain to think of children living in conditions where they cannot grow in body as they should. Why are their frames so shrunken, and their little faces so pale and old-looking? Because they have no sufficient breathing-space in life, and no proper food to eat. In one of our seaports a church organized free suppers for poor lads one hard winter. At supper one night a superintendent noticed a boy who was not eating anything, and when he asked him why, the boy said, “I have been boiler-scaling.” The superintendent, though he had lived in the seaport all his life, had never heard of boiler-scaling before. Very small boys are employed to go into the boilers of ships with a hammer to strike down the scales of rust that form there. They come out half-suffocated with rust-dust and with a bronzed appearance. For this work they get a miserable pittance of pay, though it is work that none but very small boys can do. They usually take a candle, but the lad who was ill at supper had been sent into a boiler which was so hot that the candle quickly melted, and he had to have a small oil lamp. The lamp fumes and the boiler-heat and the dust made the supper impossible, as you may well imagine. I daresay it would be true that the other conditions of that boy’s life were not much more favourable to his growth. Thousands of children in this country, it is tragic to think, are doomed not to grow in body as they should.2 [Note: T. R. Williams, Addresses to Boys, Girls, and Young People, 46.]
ii. Mental Growth
“Filled with wisdom.”
1. Sometimes the body grows and the mind remains a dwarf. After the mind has reached a certain point it may refuse to grow and want to stay where it is. Big men and women sometimes have very small minds. They may be six feet tall and weigh ever so many pounds, and still have a little bit of a mind. Their aims may be low, and their ambitions small, and their sympathies narrow, and their affections stunted, and their ideas puny. They are mental dwarfs. Everybody who comes near them knows they are small. Their conversation is thin, their dealings are petty. They are cross and crabbed, and unreasonable and ugly, and very hard to get along with. They are hard to live with because they are so small. We sometimes call such people childish, and I have heard them called big babies. A little baby a few months old is the sweetest thing in all the world, but a big baby is one of the most terrible of all living creatures.
2. It is not said that Jesus was filled with knowledge, or with learning, or with great talents, or with great promise of great eloquence, though all that would have been true, in the measure of His years. But wisdom is far better than all these things taken together. “Wisdom is the principal thing,” says the wise man, “therefore get wisdom.” Knowledge is good; knowledge is absolutely necessary. Knowledge, however, often puffs up; but never wisdom. Wisdom always edifies. He grew in knowledge, you may be sure, every day. He passed no day without learning something He did not know yesterday. He listened and paid attention when old men spoke. He read every good book He could lay His hands on. He went up as His custom was to the Synagogue every Sabbath day. And then all that was turned on the spot into wisdom to Him, like water turned into wine.
How common a thing is all learning, and all knowledge, and all eloquence; and how rare a thing is a little wisdom to direct them! How few men among our great men are wise men! Really wise men. How few among our own relations and friends are really wise men. If you have one wise man in your family, or in the whole circle of your friendship, grapple that man to your heart with a hook of gold.1 [Note: A. Whyte, The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 47.]
Let us distinguish wisdom from two things. From information first. It is one thing to be well-informed, it is another thing to be wise. Many books read, innumerable facts hived up in a capacious memory—this does not constitute wisdom. Books give it not; sometimes the bitterest experience gives it not. Many a heart-break may have come as the result of life-errors and life-mistakes; and yet men may be no wiser than before Before the same temptations they fall again in the self-same way they fell before. Where they erred in youth they err still in age. A mournful truth! “Ever learning,” said St. Paul, “and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Distinguish wisdom again from talent. Brilliancy of powers is not the wisdom for which Solomon prayed. Wisdom is of the heart rather than the intellect: the harvest of moral thoughtfulness, patiently reaped in through years. Two things are required—earnestness and love. First that rare thing earnestness—the earnestness which looks on life practically. Some of the wisest of the race have been men who have scarcely stirred beyond home, read little, felt and thought much. “Give me,” said Solomon, “a wise and understanding heart.” A heart which ponders upon life, trying to understand its mystery, not in order to talk about it like an orator, nor in order to theorize about it like a philosopher; but in order to know how to live and how to die.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson, Sermons, ii. 182.]
One of the most pleasing of the poems in Christina Rossetti’s “New Poems” is that addressed “To Lalla,” the favourite name of her cousin Henrietta Polydore. The latter was only three years old when the poem was written. The lines incidentally point the moral that wisdom of the heart is better than knowledge of the head. It is a trite moral, but rarely has it been better expressed than here.
Read on: if you knew it
You have cause to boast:
You are much the wiser
Though I know the most.2 [Note: Mackenzie Bell, Christina Rossetti, 21.]
3. There is a distinction to be observed between His intellectual development and ours. We, being defective in nature, are developed through error. By slow correction of mistakes, we arrive at intellectual, by slow correction of faults at moral, excellence. But it is quite possible to conceive the entirely natural development of Christ’s perfect nature, limited by time; the development, as it were, of a fountain into a river, perfect as the fountain, but not more than the fountain as a child; perfect as the rivulet, but not more than the rivulet as a boy; perfect as the stream, but not more than the stream as a youth; and perfect as the majestic river as a man. At each stage greater than at the last, more developed, but as perfect as possible to nature at each; and as the water of the fountain, rivulet, stream, and river is the same throughout, self-supplied, perennial in its source and flowing, so was it with the nature of Christ, and with His growth.
A simple-hearted Child was He,
And He was nothing more;
In summer days, like you and me,
He played about the door,
Or gathered, where the father toiled,
The shavings from the floor.
Sometimes He lay upon the grass,
The same as you and I,
And saw the hawks above Him pass
Like specks against the sky;
Or, clinging to the gate, He watched
The stranger passing by.
A simple Child, and yet, I think,
The bird folk must have known,
The sparrow and the bobolink,
And claimed Him for their own,
And gathered round Him fearlessly
When He was all alone.
The lark, the linnet, and the dove,
The chaffinch and the wren,
They must have known His watchful love,
And given their worship then;
They must have known and glorified
The Child who died for men.
And when the sun at break of day
Crept in upon His hair,
I think it must have left a ray
Of unseen glory there—
A kiss of love on that little brow
For the thorns that it must wear.
4. Can we discover any of the means that were used in the development of His mind? We know not if there were schools for children in those days, but the parent, and especially the mother, was the natural instructor of the child in all necessary knowledge, as she is the nurse and provider for its physical wants. What this Divine child learned from His human mother in those years of sweet and loving dependence, what wise questions He asked, or what wonderful sayings He uttered in that humble home, sayings which Mary, His mother, laid up and pondered in her heart, we may never know, at least in this world; for the lips of inspiration are sealed except in a single instance. But there were two oracles of instruction ever open, in which God spake to His Son, and taught Him, preparatory to His speaking through Him to the world He came to save. The first of these was the Scriptures of the Old Testament, that “sincere milk of the word” by which all devout and holy minds have been nourished, and have grown thereby. Jesus’ intimate familiarity with the letter of Scripture, shown by His frequent quotations from it, evince how carefully He had studied the written Word—like the Psalmist, hiding it in His heart. And His profound and sometimes startling penetration into its spirit shows a deeper and more spiritual knowledge of it, such as no Rabbi or mere human expositor could have imparted.
Besides this, there was that other not less sacred book, or revelation, of nature, where God’s thoughts are written and embodied in the things that are made. And of this book the child Jesus was a constant and diligent student. The vale of Nazareth is described by travellers as one of the most beautiful spots to be found in Palestine, or even in the world. St. Jerome rightly calls it “the flower of Galilee,” and compares it to a rose opening its corolla. It does not command a landscape like Bethlehem; the girdle of hills which encloses it makes it a calm retreat, the silence of which is, even in our day, broken by the hammer and chisel of the artisan. The child Jesus grew up in the midst of a thoroughly simple life, in which a soul like His might best develop its harmonies. He had only to climb the surrounding heights to contemplate one of the finest landscapes of the Holy Land. At His feet lay the plain of Jezreel, tapestried with myriad flowers, each one more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory. Its boundaries were Tabor and Carmel, whence echoed the voice of Elijah; Lebanon confronted Carmel, and the chain of Hermon joined its snowy summits to the mountains of Moab; while afar off glimmered the Great Sea, which, outlying all national barriers, seemed to open to Jesus that world which He came to save.
Standing at Fuleh, and looking due north, you can see, some six or seven miles away, the green hills that embosom the village of Nazareth. How often from the hidden village, when the sun was sinking westwards over Carmel, must there have come to the top of the green hill overlooking the great plain the lone figure of a Young Man to look out over the great sea of beauty, and watch the slowly darkening plain, while Tabor, Hermon, Gilboa, Ebal, and the hills of Samaria still glowed in the sunset.
Skylarks to-day sing their sweetest over green Galilee; a thousand wild herbs load the evening airs with perfumes; the golden honeysuckles add their scent to that of the myrtle bushes along the pathways; and a sky of surpassing blue domes the whole wondrous scene. This village of the Nazarene is not even mentioned in the Old Testament. Strange fact! Yet from it was to go forth one still small Voice which was to shake the temples, waken the tombs, and bring the pillars of empire to the ground.
It was here, on these grassy hills, that those wonderful Eyes drank in, through three-and-twenty years, all that imagery of fruit and flower, of seed and harvest time, all the secrets of the trees, which afterwards became the theme of similitudes and parables. It was here the Master prepared to manifest all that infinite knowledge of soul and sense, the pale reflection of which, as it is found in the Evangelists, has come as a moonbeam over the troubled river of the lives of men, silvering the turbid stream, lighting the gloomy headlands, and shedding its benign rays far out upon the endless ocean in which the fevered flood is at last to rest.1 [Note: Sir William Butler: An Autobiography, 374.]
These are the flowery fields, where first
The wisdom of the Christ was nursed;
Here first the wonder and surprise
Of Nature lit the sacred eyes:
Waters, and winds, and woodlands, here,
With earliest music charmed His ear,
For all His conscious youth drew breath,
Among these hills of Nazareth.
The quiet hills, the skies above,
The faces round were bright with love;
He lost not, in the tranquil place,
One hint of wisdom or of grace;
Not unobserved, nor vague nor dim,
The secret of the world to Him,
The prayer He heard which Nature saith
In the still glades by Nazareth.
Yet graver, with the growth of years,
The step, the face, the heart appears;
The burden of the world He knows,
The unloved Helper’s lonely woes
Till, when the summons bids Him rise
From that still place of placid skies,
Fearless, yet sorrowing unto death,
Jesus goes forth from Nazareth.1 [Note: G. A. Chadwick.]
iii. Spiritual Growth
“The grace of God was upon him.”
1. This word goes beyond all we have yet considered. It says that in these silent years the boy Jesus lived toward God; that within the life of home and school and play there was another life; that the child looked up to a Father in heaven, and by most simple faith brought Him into the midst of the scenes He saw and the duties He did. That word spoken to earthly parents in the Temple is a mysterious saying, to be laid up with many another in Mary’s heart, to be read in the light of events long afterwards, and perchance to be mysterious even then. To us the most remarkable and revealing thing about it is the simple, devout familiarity with which He uses the Father’s name, His manner of taking God for granted and of assuming His relation to Him. “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?” This is no strange, sudden break from all His past, no discovery of His mission. His life hitherto has been leading Him to this hour. In the hills of Nazareth He had found a house of God where He held communion with Him; the poor synagogue of Nazareth was to Him His Father’s house before He saw the great Temple at Jerusalem. In the home of Nazareth He found Him near. Every duty of that lowly life bound Him to the Father. Those silent years were doubtless rich in experiences which are not written down, which were not told to any, but which were forming and confirming the faith in which He was to live and work and die.
Christ’s pure quiet life in Nazareth was the greatest fact in His whole great career. It was this life that gave significance to His death.
Nazareth stands for the home life. It contains the greater part of His great career. By far the greater number of years was spent here. Here were more praying for others and over the life plan, more communing with the Father, more battling with temptation and narrow prejudice and ignorance than in the few years of public service.
Nazareth stands for that intensely human life of Jesus lived in dependence upon God’s grace exactly as other men must live. It was lived in a simple home that would seem very narrow and meagre in its appointments and conveniences to most of us. He was one of a large family living in a small house, with the touch of elbows very close, and with all the possible small, half-good-natured frictions that such close, almost crowded, touch is apt to give rise to.
He worked with His hands and bodily strength most of the waking hours, doing carpentering jobs for the small trade of the village, dealing with exacting, whimsical customers, as well as those more easily suited.
He was a son to His mother, an eldest son, too, and may be, rather likely, of a widowed mother, who leaned upon her firstborn in piecing out the small funds, and in the ceaseless care of the younger children. He was brother to His brothers and sisters, a real brother, the big brother of the little group. He was a neighbour to His fellow villagers, and a fellow labourer with the other craftsmen. In the midst of the little but very real and pressing problems of home, the small talk and interests of the village life, He grew up, a perfect bit of His surroundings, and lived during His matured years.
And who can doubt the simplicity and warmth and practicality and unfailingness of His love as it was lived in that great Nazareth life? We will never know the full meaning of Jesus’ word “pure,” and of His word “love,” and of all His teaching, until we know His Nazareth life. The more we can think into what it really was, the better can we grasp the meaning of His public utterances. Nazareth is the double underscoring in red under every sentence He spoke.
Those three years and odd of public life all grew up out of this Nazareth home life. They are the top of the hill; Nazareth is the base and bulk; Calvary the top. Here every victory had already been won. The public life was built upon the home life. Under the ministering to crowds, healing the sick, raising the dead, and patient teaching of the multitudes, lay the great strong home life in its purity. Calvary was built upon Nazareth.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Home Ideals, 112.]
2. He grew in spirit by the exercise of His moral powers in resisting the temptations arising from mere natural desire, which needed to be controlled in Him as well as in all men. While the grace of God was upon Him and in Him, to inspire and aid His good endeavours, it did not supersede His own free moral agency. The discipline of life came to Him, as it does to all, and challenged Him to conflict; and He acquired moral strength and wisdom only through experience and trial, by overcoming whatever foe or hindrance lay in His path of holy obedience. And this was not an easy victory, but involved conflict, self-denial, and suffering. For we read that, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered”; and that “he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin”; which He could not be, without a real conflict between desire and will, between flesh and spirit. The difference between Him and other men was not in His exemption from trial and moral discipline, or in His impeccability or inability to do wrong, but in the fact that in Him the spirit, or will, never succumbed to temptation, but remained steadfast and sinless though continually solicited; while in others the will is often overcome, and so weakened in its power of resistance. The conflict in Him was to retain His integrity, in others to recover it. And the indispensable help in this conflict, without which no wisdom and no virtue can be established, was to detect the first approaches and manifold disguises of moral evil, and a reinforcement of spiritual strength from the infinite Source of all strength and wisdom. That charge so often made to His disciples afterwards, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” was drawn from His own deep and life-long experience.
You are not to think of “grace” here in its ordinary evangelical acceptation. But there is no fear, surely, of your making that mistake. You think every day and every hour of God’s grace to you as the chief of sinners. And though our Lord thought without ceasing of the grace of God that had come to Him; it was not the same kind of grace as that is which has come to you. The grace of God has come to you bringing salvation. But the Saviour of men did not for Himself need salvation. More than one kind of grace came to Him, first and last. But not among them all the grace that has come so graciously to you. And it breeds great light on the kind of grace that came to the Holy Child when we turn from the fortieth verse of this chapter to the fifty-second verse, and there read that He increased in favour with God and man. The true sense here is the same as when a voice came from heaven to the Jordan, and elsewhere, and said: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” “The good pleasure of God was upon him,” that would be the best way to render the text.1 [Note: A. Whyte, The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 47.]
The highest reaches we can attain here are but broken fragments of the full Divine beauty. At the best we can only become dimly transfigured; only faintly does the beauty of the Lord appear in us. The last design made by the great painter, Albert Dürer, was a drawing showing Christ on His Cross. It was all completed, except the face of the Divine Sufferer, when the artist was summoned away by death. At the end of the longest and holiest life we shall have but a part of the picture of Christ wrought upon our soul. Our best striving shall leave but a fragment of the matchless beauty. The glory of that blessed Face we cannot reproduce. But when we go away from our little fragment of transfiguration we shall look a moment afterward upon the Divine features, and, seeing Jesus as He is, shall be like Him.2 [Note: J. R. Miller.]
3. This spiritual life, essentially in Him from His birth, had been naturally developed in His consciousness by means of external circumstances, and through the growth of His intellect. The first gleams of the consciousness of His spiritual life may have arisen through the influence of His home and of outward nature. A kindling influence then came upon His intellect in the religious journey to Jerusalem and the sights He saw at the Feast, and reached its culminating point in the conversation in the Temple.
Accompanying this dawning consciousness of the spiritual light and life which dwelt within Him, there arose also in His mind the consciousness of His redeeming mission. We seem to trace this in the words “my Father’s business.” It does not appear, however, just to say that this idea was now fully defined and grasped. We should be forced then to attribute more to Him than would agree with perfect childhood; but there is no unnaturalness in holding that it now for the first time became a dim prophecy in His mind. It required for its complete development that the sinfulness of the world should be presented to His growing knowledge as a thing external to Himself. Sin so presented made Him conscious, by the instinctive repulsion which it caused Him, of His own spotless holiness; and, by the infinite pity which He felt for those enslaved by it, of His own infinite love for sinners; and out of these two there rose the consciousness of His mission as the Redeemer of the race from sin. This was the business which His Father had given Him to do. Clearly and more clearly from this day forth, for eighteen years at Nazareth, it grew up into its completed form, till He was ready to carry it out in the action of His ministry.
I instance one single evidence of strength in the early years of Jesus: I find it in that calm long waiting of thirty years before He began His work. And yet all the evils He was to redress were there, provoking indignation, crying for interference—the hollowness of social life, the misinterpretations of Scripture, the forms of worship and phraseology which had hidden moral truth, the injustice, the priestcraft, the cowardice, the hypocrisies: He had long seen them all. All those years His soul burned within Him with a Divine zeal and heavenly indignation. A mere man, a weak emotional man of spasmodic feeling, a hot enthusiast, would have spoken out at once, and at once been crushed. He bided His own time (“Mine hour is not yet come”), matured His energies, condensed them by repression, and then went forth to speak, and do, and suffer. This is strength; the power of a Divine silence; the strong will to keep force till it is wanted; the power to wait God’s time.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson, Sermons, ii. 182.]
The Growth of the Child Jesus
Brooke (S. A.), Sermons, i. 108.
Brooke (S.A.), The Fight of Faith, 273.
Campbell (W. M.), Foot-prints of Christ, 11.
Clifford (J.), The Dawn of Manhood, 34.
Crookall (L.), Topics in the Tropics, 21.
Eyton (R.), The True Life, 93.
Gibbon (J. M.), The Children’s Year, 60.
Goodwin (H. M.), Christ and Humanity, 81.
Gray (W. H.), The Children’s Friend, 82.
Jefferson (C. E.), My Father’s Business, 25.
Laing (F. A.), Simple Bible Lessons, 159.
Leathes (A. S.), The Kingdom Within, 217.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, ii. 17.
Morrison (G. H.), The Footsteps of the Flock, 19.
Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, ii. 175.
Robinson (J. A.), Unity in Christ, 155.
Rutherford (W. G.), The Key of Knowledge, 191.
Sidey (W. W.), The Silent Christ, 13.
Simpson (W. J. S.), Addresses on St. John Baptist, 58.
Stanley (A. P.), Sermons for Children, 1.
Swing (D.), Sermons, 120.
Talmage (T. de W.), Sermons, iv. 354.
Tymms (T. V.), The Private Relationships of Christ, 36.
Whyte (A.), The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 40.
Williams (T. R.), Addresses to Boys, Girls, and Young People, 41.
Children’s Pulpit: First Sunday after the Epiphany, ii. 355.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxv. 8 (Lyman Abbott); lvi. 259 (T. V. Tymms).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sermons to the Young, xvi. 77 (A. P. Stanley).
Preacher’s Magazine, viii. 555 (J. Feather).