From The Leading Ideas of the Gospels, 78-81 (1892)
The figure [of Jesus] stands out. It is throughout the gospel of Jesus, the Son of God. A man must be holy to comprehend the holiness of Jesus.
Let us suppose the case of a sharp man, who has neither taste nor genius, standing before a great picture; he will point out flaw after flaw in Raphael. Place one who has neither musical appreciation, nor modesty to admit it, where he must hear Beethoven. It is an unmeaning noise, which gives him a headache. Even so, the lower the moral and spiritual life may be, the less is Jesus understood and loved.
To an easy, soft-mannered, hard-hearted man of the world; to a subtle, bitter, selfish scholar… Gethsemane and the cross may be a scandal or a mockery. The gospel, which seems so poor and pale when we rise from the songs of poets and the reasonings of philosophers, is a test of our spirit. Let some ambitious students in philosophy…speak out their mind today upon this writing of St. Mark. They will not place it very high upon their list. But let them turn to it tomorrow, when the end of their toil finds them disappointed men; when sorrow visits them,… then they will recognize the infinite strength and infinite compassion of Jesus. Out of their weakness and misery, out of their disappointment, they will feel that here they can trust in a nobility that is never marred, and rest that tired heart of theirs upon a love that never fails, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
On the whole, then, in St. Mark we have not so much as in St. Matthew, the point of convergence of the prophetic rays in the Messiah, the Son of Abraham and David. Not so much as in St. Luke, the fairest of the children of men, priest and victim, the teacher of grace and forgiveness. Not so much as in St. John, the Word made flesh, floating in a robe of heavenly light.
It is the Gospel whose emblem is the lion, whose hero is full of divine love and divine strength. It is the history of Jesus which was addressed to the Romans to free them from the misery of scepticism, from the grinding dominion of iron superhuman force unguided by a loving will. Here, brief as it is, we have, in its essential germs, all the theology of the Church. Had every other part of the New Testament perished, Christendom might have been developed from this.
A man’s faith does not consist of the many things which he affects to believe or finds it useful to believe, but of the few things which he really believes, and with which he stands, fronting his own soul and eternity. This faith in the gospel called upon to “handle the serpents” or ” to drink the deadly things” of science and philosophy, we shall lift up the serpent as a standard of victory. The cup of poison shall not reach our heart as it reached the heart of Socrates, when the sun was going down behind the hill tops. ” It shall not hurt you.”
Let us hold fast this Gospel in that which tries many who are undisturbed by speculative doubt — in conscious sinfulness, in the allurements of lust. Let us cling to it in the din of voices that fill a Church distracted by party-cries; and ” he who has instructed his Church by the heavenly doctrine of his evangelist St. Mark, will grant that, being not like children carried away by every blast of vain doctrine, we shall be established in the truth of his holy gospel.” For the Church’s summary of the essence of the second Gospel is that it is a Gospel which gives strength
William Alexander (1824-1911) was an Irish Anglican archbishop, scholar, and poet. As Archbishop of Armagh from 1896 to his death, he played a central role in refounding the Church of Ireland after its disestablishment. A devoted Biblical scholar, he wrote The Leading Ideas of the Gospels while serving as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. He was also the husband of the noted hymnwriter Cecil Frances Alexander.