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Of the Good News; and concerning the Kingdom of God; and how we desired of Jesus new laws.by@edwinabbott

Of the Good News; and concerning the Kingdom of God; and how we desired of Jesus new laws.

by Edwin A. AbbottOctober 17th, 2023
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When I drew nigh to Capernaum, it was about the eleventh hour; so I hasted that I might inquire where Jesus of Nazareth abode, before the sun went down: for it was the day before the Sabbath. But as I journeyed down the valley, called the Valley of the Doves, and came to the place where the road turneth round to the right, I could not forbear to draw rein for a while, so beautiful was the sight; and though I had seen it often-times before, yet never before, methought, had it seemed so beautiful as now. On the tops of the hills were walnut-trees; lower down fig-trees; and below them grew luxuriant palms. For the place hath, as it were, several climates suiting several trees and plants; corn also aboundeth in those parts, and flax is not wanting; but the olive-trees (as elsewhere in Galilee) stand so thick together, and so thriving, that it was a common saying, “Thou mayest sooner rear a forest of olive-trees in Galilee than one child in Judæa;” fruit-trees also of all sorts grew there without number, laden with the goodliest fruits, exceeding the fruit-trees of any other part of Galilee; insomuch that the place was justly wont to be called the Garden of Abundance. But the city itself was as a [pg 91]half-circle of pearls, encompassed with gardens as with a circlet of emerald. A multitude of ships and fishing-boats bestrewed the surface of the lake, which was of a deep blue colour, as blue as sapphire; and the waves thereof were very still, because no wind at all was blowing. But as I looked towards Chorazin, the sight in the surface of the waters surpassed the sight of the land. For there, as in a mirror, one might see by reflexion in the water below, all that was on the land above; the walnut-trees and fig-trees and palm-trees, and the oleanders on the border of the waters, and the white pelicans watching for their prey upon the brink thereof, and the hedges of cactus, and the cottages of the husbandmen; all these things were to be clearly seen as if painted on the waters of the lake. Then came into my mind certain words which my Master had said to me when we went forth from Sepphoris together; how that our Father in heaven provideth for the adornment even of the grass of the fields, and how He hath made the simple flowers of the fields more beautiful than Solomon in his glory. And so it was that, as I thought on these words, I praised the Lord of Hosts, who hath made the world so beautiful; and though I had seen this sight many times before when I had come down from Sepphoris, yet now mine eyes seemed, as it were, to be opened to discern a new beauty therein. But I thought also on Israel and of the blessedness that was in store for this goodly land, if only the Roman could be driven forth. As I thought on these things, an east wind sprang up; and lo, where there had been but a moment ago so fair a sight, naught was now to be seen save troubled waters of many divers colours. [pg 92]Then I hasted onward, purposing to inquire concerning Jesus of Nazareth first, and afterwards to go to the house of my uncle.
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Philochristus: Memoirs of a Disciple of the Lord by Edwin Abbott Abbott is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Of the Good News; and concerning the Kingdom of God; and how we desired of Jesus new laws.

Of the Good News; and concerning the Kingdom of God; and how we desired of Jesus new laws.

When I drew nigh to Capernaum, it was about the eleventh hour; so I hasted that I might inquire where Jesus of Nazareth abode, before the sun went down: for it was the day before the Sabbath. But as I journeyed down the valley, called the Valley of the Doves, and came to the place where the road turneth round to the right, I could not forbear to draw rein for a while, so beautiful was the sight; and though I had seen it often-times before, yet never before, methought, had it seemed so beautiful as now.


On the tops of the hills were walnut-trees; lower down fig-trees; and below them grew luxuriant palms. For the place hath, as it were, several climates suiting several trees and plants; corn also aboundeth in those parts, and flax is not wanting; but the olive-trees (as elsewhere in Galilee) stand so thick together, and so thriving, that it was a common saying, “Thou mayest sooner rear a forest of olive-trees in Galilee than one child in Judæa;” fruit-trees also of all sorts grew there without number, laden with the goodliest fruits, exceeding the fruit-trees of any other part of Galilee; insomuch that the place was justly wont to be called the Garden of Abundance. But the city itself was as a half-circle of pearls, encompassed with gardens as with a circlet of emerald. A multitude of ships and fishing-boats bestrewed the surface of the lake, which was of a deep blue colour, as blue as sapphire; and the waves thereof were very still, because no wind at all was blowing. But as I looked towards Chorazin, the sight in the surface of the waters surpassed the sight of the land. For there, as in a mirror, one might see by reflexion in the water below, all that was on the land above; the walnut-trees and fig-trees and palm-trees, and the oleanders on the border of the waters, and the white pelicans watching for their prey upon the brink thereof, and the hedges of cactus, and the cottages of the husbandmen; all these things were to be clearly seen as if painted on the waters of the lake.


Then came into my mind certain words which my Master had said to me when we went forth from Sepphoris together; how that our Father in heaven provideth for the adornment even of the grass of the fields, and how He hath made the simple flowers of the fields more beautiful than Solomon in his glory. And so it was that, as I thought on these words, I praised the Lord of Hosts, who hath made the world so beautiful; and though I had seen this sight many times before when I had come down from Sepphoris, yet now mine eyes seemed, as it were, to be opened to discern a new beauty therein. But I thought also on Israel and of the blessedness that was in store for this goodly land, if only the Roman could be driven forth. As I thought on these things, an east wind sprang up; and lo, where there had been but a moment ago so fair a sight, naught was now to be seen save troubled waters of many divers colours. Then I hasted onward, purposing to inquire concerning Jesus of Nazareth first, and afterwards to go to the house of my uncle.


But when I was now at the going down to the city, my cousin Baruch was come forth to meet me, saying I was stayed for at a feast in the house of Manasseh. So I went straightway with him, and the sun set and the Sabbath was begun; and I had not yet seen Jesus of Nazareth. During supper time I would have inquired of Manasseh concerning Jesus; but Baruch had forewarned me that I should be silent. For my uncle, (he was a dyer by trade, and had many slaves and more than one house of merchandise, there and at Magdala, and elsewhere round about the Lake,) being fond of peace and wholly given to traffic, feared Jesus, lest he should beguile the people of Capernaum to take up arms against the Romans. Also he feared for Baruch, lest he too should be led away by Jesus. This I learned from my cousin after supper; howbeit he said not much about Jesus, for my uncle watched us. Only he said that Jesus had been now a full week in Capernaum, and that he was said to be able to work signs, and that certain of the fishermen had joined themselves unto him; but the most part still held with John the Prophet, saying that John was greater than Jesus; neither believed they that Jesus was the Messiah.


On the morrow, about the sixth hour, we went to the synagogue. There was a great throng, so that we were fain to sit in the farthest seats from the Ark of the Law; neither could we discern who sat in the chief seats, nor who read, because a pillar stood between us and the pulpit. Now first the Law was read and prayers were offered up according to custom; but by reason of my sadness, because I desired to have seen Jesus again, I was even as the parched ground, and no moisture fell upon my soul. But when the Prophets were read, then it was as a shower of heaven on the congregation, and the dew of the Lord upon our souls; for the voice of him that read was the voice of Jesus of Nazareth.


When he had made an end of reading, Jesus began to exhort the people, saying that he was sent to proclaim good news, to release the captive, give health to the sick, and light to the blind, and to bring Redemption to Israel. God, he said, loved all; not the good alone, but even the bad: yea, God was in very truth our Father in heaven. Therefore how much soever the kindest father on earth may love his children, albeit they transgress against him, much more is the love of God toward us though we be sinners. He did not tell us that we were not sinful; nay rather, he made it clear to us that our sins were as red as blood in the sight of the All-seeing; but none the less, he called us the children of God. As many as would repent should be forgiven; and he spake as if he himself had a certain divine power of forgiveness whereby he might purify the soul and bring us close to God, one family in the presence of our Father. One thing was needful, that we should trust in him and in his message. This day, he said, this very day, are the prophecies of Redemption fulfilled in your ears. Then he cried aloud unto all that were hungering or thirsting for righteousness, all that were weary of the burden of their sins, all that felt themselves utterly hopeless, friendless, and vile, bidding them resort to him as their refuge: “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”


While he was speaking, methought I was not hearing words, but seeing somewhat that might be seen and touched; so solid seemed the mercies of God, even as a rock whereon one standeth. For Jesus ever testified of the Father as one testifieth that knoweth by experience, and spake of heaven as of that which he had known and felt. Yea, and more than that; a certain strange power was in him to make things invisible to seem visible by his discourse. Wherefore, albeit Moses had called God the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and the Prophets also had taught Israel to say unto God, “Thou art our Father,” and all this doctrine was well known and trite among us; yet now, for the first time, the doctrine seemed to be no more a mere dead letter, but a living word. Such a life did Jesus of Nazareth breathe into it, insomuch that his Good News (for so he called it) came upon our hearts as news indeed, never heard before among the children of men.


This long while (since Jesus had first begun to speak), a certain youth whom I had before noted, sitting not far from me, had been muttering and moaning gently to himself; but I was rapt in the words of Jesus, wherefore I had given the less heed to the boy. But now, he stood up, and cried aloud in a deep hollow voice, as of a full-grown man, “What hast thou to do with us? Let us alone, let us alone.” Then in his own voice he cried again, “I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” Immediately I perceived that it was the demoniac, even Raphael the son of Joazar, whom Theudas the Exorcist had adventured to heal; but a great fear fell on all the congregation, and the women rose up from their places, shrieking for terror. But Jesus, without use of charm or gesture, rebuked the unclean spirits and bade them come forth. Then they tare the youth, so that he shrieked with a piercing shriek; and so they came forth. And Jesus delivered the boy to his father; who would scarce suffer Jesus out of his sight, between joy that the devils were gone forth, and fear lest they might return. Howbeit, now the spirits were driven out so that they returned no more. For the boy lived to be a man; nor did he die (as it hath been reported to me) till he numbered fifty years, dying about twelve years ago, two years before destruction came upon the Holy City.


When Jesus departed from the synagogue, the people thronged him, bringing to him divers requests, some concerning their friends that were diseased or lunatic, or afflicted with devils; others begging him to come and bless their children; others asking him that he would lodge in their houses, or at the least sup with them. For at this time all men, rich and poor, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Galileans, inclined to follow Jesus. But he would go to none of the rich men’s houses, but only to the house of Simon the son of Jonah (whom he afterwards called Peter); he was one of the fishermen of the place and had joined himself to Jesus. But Jesus suffered me to accompany him.


But when we were now entering into the house, behold all things were full of disorder and lamentation. For Simon’s wife’s mother (who abode in the house) had been suddenly afflicted with a grievous sickness, so that, instead of serving the guests, she was laid speechless upon a bed in an upper room. Then they spake to Jesus concerning her. Now I was not myself present when the thing took place; but (as it was reported to me) Jesus healed her after the same manner as he had healed my mother; for he took her by the hand and lifted her up, and she arose whole and free from her disease, and ministered unto the guests.


Jesus straitly charged us that we should tell no man; whereat we marvelled not a little. But howsoever we obeyed him, it could not be hid. And besides this, the fame of the healing of Raphael the son of Joazar had been noised abroad through the whole of the city, insomuch that at sunset, when we went forth, the Sabbath being now ended, we saw great multitudes of demoniacs, lunatics, and some also sick of the palsy and of fever, laid in their beds along the road through which we would have passed. Some also, that were afflicted with incurable diseases, had been brought notwithstanding, because of their entreaties; if perchance Jesus might heal them; and I saw one man that had been blind from his birth.


Now it came to pass that when Jesus came forth from Simon Peter’s house, and saw the faces of all these sick people, and the faces of their friends, all waiting if perchance he would help them, his countenance was altered, and the shadow of sorrow fell upon him, and he sighed and said, “Verily for the sorrowful I am sorrowful, and for the sick I am sick.”4 Then he passed along the ranks of the sick people; and wheresoever he perceived that any could be healed, he laid his hands on them, and lo, they were at once freed from their infirmities; and many unclean spirits were driven out from those whom they had possessed. Now most of them that were healed had been possessed with evil spirits; but others were lunatic, or sick of the palsy, or of fever, or had impediment in their speech. But Jesus had a marvellous power to discern, methought, not only them that had faith from them that had not, but also such diseases as were to be cured, from such as were not to be cured, because it was not prepared for him that he should cure them. But when Jesus had made an end of healing, the multitude still followed us; and the friends of such as had not been cured, vexed us with importunities; and others, whose friends had been cured, called down blessings on Jesus, and refused to leave him. Thus, go whither we would, we could not be alone. So Jesus returned to the house, and I went back to the house of Manasseh.


I opened my mind to my uncle that night, and said to him that I purposed to go with Jesus of Nazareth whithersoever he went; and Baruch said the same. But my uncle no longer opposed himself against our wills; only he forewarned us that evil was in store for us; “For,” said he, “I have sojourned in Italy among the Romans three years, and I know well that nothing can withstand their power. But whoso gainsayeth them gainsayeth the strength of a king: according as it is written, ‘Where the word of a king is, there is power; and who may say unto him, What doest thou?’ ”


All the night long no sleep came to my eyes for musing on all the things that I had seen and heard that day: “For this day,” said I, “is, as it were, the birthday of the Redemption of Israel,” But when I thought thereon, and considered with myself that I had now joined myself unto Jesus as the Redeemer, and when I compared Jesus with the image of the Redeemer of Sion (such as I had framed it in my mind from the reading of the Prophets, and such as my countrymen expected), then was I as one astonied and amazed to find myself believing in Jesus, and standing on his side. For I had imagined unto myself one that should perchance appear, riding on the clouds of heaven, encompassed by thousands of angels, taking vengeance upon the enemies of Sion, according to the word of the prophet Daniel; or else I had thought to see a royal deliverer, even such another as David himself, mighty with the sword, riding at the head of his ten thousands, ruling the Gentiles with a rod of iron, or breaking them in pieces like a potter’s vessel; or else I had fashioned in my mind a Deliverer after the manner of Elias, rebuking kings in their pride, and calling down fire from heaven for a sign, or for the destruction of the Gentiles.


Now before this time, I had had no leisure to consider the matter; for, in the presence of Jesus, I had been drawn towards him as by an enchantment: but in the stillness of the night, Jesus being no more before my face, I thought on all the signs and wonders wrought by Moses and Elias aforetime, and doubt fell upon me; and it seemed to me not possible that Jesus of Nazareth could be greater than they, so as to be the Messiah. But when I asked myself, “Could it then be that Jesus is a deceiver?” my heart made answer, “Nay, that could not be. And if thou trust not in Jesus, there is not any one in the world in whom thou canst trust.” So I comforted myself in my perplexity, saying to myself, “Perchance the time hath not yet come for Jesus to manifest himself as the son of David, nor as the Son of man spoken of by the prophet Daniel: but doubtless that time will come; and then shalt thou see Jesus, as the Messiah indeed, in power.”


But on the morrow, very early, when we went forth to the house of Simon Peter, behold, a mixed multitude had gathered round the doors waiting for the coming of Jesus. And I also waited, standing with them, and heard how they conversed with each other. But it seemed that one had but now come forth from the house of Peter, saying that Jesus could not be found in the house. Then arose a murmur in the crowd; and a certain man from Antioch said that Simon had set a snare for Jesus of Nazareth, and had betrayed him to Herod the Tetrarch. But there was in the press one Gorgias the son of Philip, a man well known to Simon; and he laughed the man of Antioch to scorn. He had been in the army of Herod the King in former times, and his father was a Greek; but he conformed himself to the Law and joined himself to the sect of the Galileans; and his word prevailed greatly with them, because he was versed in warlike matters. This man declared that Jesus had withdrawn himself, that he might not be shut up in prison by the Tetrarch: “And no marvel,” said he, “for, seeing that the tyrant hath but now taken John the son of Zachariah, why should he not also adventure to take the new prophet?”


Others, beside myself, had not heard before that John had been cast into prison. So we questioned Gorgias, and heard that the prophet had been cast into prison in the Black Castle at Machærus three days ago. Many of them that were in the crowd had been disciples of John; and they cried aloud that the men of Galilee ought to rise up and deliver the prophet. But Gorgias beckoned with his hand that they should be silent, and when silence was made, he said, “Let us rise up, indeed, but not without a leader. Now the Lord hath sent to us this Jesus of Nazareth: and that he is a prophet sent from God none can deny.” The multitude shouted that it was even so, and one or other uttered praises of Jesus; and a certain man said, “Yea, never man spake as this spake.” But Gorgias answered and said, “It is known to all that I am a soldier, neither do words prevail with me without deeds. Wherefore I also, until yesterday, did but lightly esteem Jesus of Nazareth. But now he hath shown forth his power in deeds. And he that can do such deeds as Jesus hath wrought in our streets, shall he not do even greater deeds than these when the time shall come for them? Yea, doubtless, all things are possible to him. And what will avail squadrons of horse, or legions of foot, against one that can call down fire from heaven, or cause the walls of a city to fall to the ground? Choose we therefore Jesus to be our leader, and no one shall be able to stand against us.”


At this instant Simon Peter came forth, and he confirmed what had been said, to wit, that Jesus of Nazareth was not in the house: but he thought that he was gone forth to be alone. And so it was. For when we had made diligent search for him we found him alone on a mountain, about three miles from the town. We besought him to return; but he answered that he must proclaim the Good News in other villages also, for to that end he had been sent. So Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples accompanied him, and Baruch and I went with them; and for the space of four or five weeks we continued with him, going from town to town in Galilee; and Jesus preached the Good News, and healed the sick; and a great multitude of all sorts was added to our number.


Now the greater part of our band were honest people, hungering and thirsting for the Redemption of Sion: but some were vain men, children of iniquity, seeking the wages of unrighteousness. Especially they that had been formerly soldiers resorted to Jesus, as to a prince or general, like vultures hasting to the prey, supposing that they should gain much spoil if he prevailed against the Romans. And so it was that once when Jesus spake to his disciples, saying that they must be “fishers of men,” then Baruch, being offended by the presence of these children of mammon among us, answered and said, “But must the fishers catch vile fish as well as good?”


Hereat Jesus turned and looked sorrowfully on Baruch, and said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the age. The messengers of God shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”


Another parable spake he to the same effect, that the tares must needs grow with the wheat till the day of harvest, for not till then can the division be made between good and evil. When we heard this, we grieved thereat; for we had supposed that none save the faithful should have been admitted into the Kingdom, and we marvelled why Jesus should first suffer the bad to enter, and then drive them forth. Howbeit, we besought him that he would give us ordinances which we might observe, to the intent that we might not be cast out of the Kingdom. For some of our number had begun to say that Jesus had come to destroy the Law, so that every one might do what he listed; as though Jesus had said that God loveth the wicked as much as the righteous, even though the wicked abide in wickedness. Thus they brought shame upon us, and they set stumblingblocks in the path of many that had otherwise believed. Moreover the disciples of John the Baptist compared us with themselves, and asked us concerning our laws and customs and prayers; and, when they found that we had none of these things, then they despised us, saying that our Master was not equal to John. For at this time the fame of John the son of Zachariah overshadowed the fame of Jesus; yea, and for some time after this, even after John had been cast into prison. For this cause we intreated Jesus that he would both teach us how to pray, as John also had taught his disciples, and also that he would lay down laws for the new Kingdom, even as Moses had laid down laws for the kingdom in old times.


Jesus hearkened to our petition in silence. Then he said that he must depart from us for a season and go to the top of a certain mountain; but he appointed the third hour of the following day that we should come to him. Certain of the Scribes that followed with us murmured at Jesus, because he had appointed that we should come to him on the mountain: and one, finding fault for that Jesus was often wont to spend the whole night praying alone on some mountain, said, “It is written, ‘Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord;’ therefore it is good to pray from a low place, and not from a high place.” But Nathanael answered and said that Jesus loved to be alone on the mountain by night, to meditate on the greatness of the Lord and how He hath exalted the Son of man, according as it is written, “I will consider thy heavens, even the works of thy fingers, the moon and stars which thou hast ordained:” and “these very words,” said Nathanael, “I heard the Prophet but yesterday repeat, when we were upon the top of yonder mountain.” Hereat the Scribes murmured the more, saying that it was not written that any prophet in old times thus took counsel with the heavens after the manner of a Chaldean. But Gorgias the son of Philip murmured for another cause, saying that the Prophet ought not thus to mistrust his followers, nor to be so fearful for his own safety, and that it behoved the friends of Jesus to take him by force, if need be, and to make him a king. And to this Judas of Kerioth consented and some others.


But to the most of us the words of Gorgias seemed an abomination; for we knew that Jesus did not depart for fear: for indeed fear was not in him. But he desired to be alone because he wished to pray, and because of the burden of his heart. For it grieved him, more than can be told, to see the misery and wretchedness, yea, and the ignorance and the sinfulness of the mixed multitude which pressed round him. All their pains pained him and all their sufferings he suffered, insomuch that more than once I have heard him saying in a low voice to himself, “For them that are hungry I hunger, and for them that are athirst I thirst, and for them that are sick I am sick.”


Notwithstanding he was not so much distressed with the pains and diseases of the body as with the pains and diseases of the soul. For the sins of souls seemed to him as real and loathsome as the diseases of the flesh to us; and oftentimes a transgression that would appear slight to us, he counted as a work of Satan; so that whithersoever he moved, he saw sins more than could be seen of common men, yea, a very sea of sinfulness; albeit, underlying the sea of sin and sorrow, he still discerned the Everlasting Arms.


Moreover, because he loved all men with an exceeding great love, for this cause every hour in his life brought unto him a burden passing the power of words to describe. For the sins of men were not unto him as the sins of aliens and strangers, but as the sins of his own brethren: yea, they were even as his own sins; for, although he himself sinned not, neither knew sin, yet what pain cometh from the bearing of a brother’s sin, that he knew full well. Wherefore in him was fulfilled the saying of the prophet Isaiah; who prophesied that the Messiah should be a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, and that he should carry our sins and bear our iniquities.



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This book is part of the public domain. Edwin Abbott Abbott (2015). Philochristus: Memoirs of a Disciple of the Lord. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/48843/pg48843-images.html


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