Having reached the middle of a great (and bold) undertaking, may I be allowed again to offer my apologia?

It is not because I “relish versing,” or with any hope to give pleasure to persons who care for poetry, that I am essaying to throw the life and teaching of our Lord into the form of verse; but because, under that progressive teaching which we believe is vouchsafed to the Church, a new need appears to have arisen, in response to which many efforts worthier than mine are being made.

Day by day we are taught to pray, by way of summing up all our requirements in this life, for “knowledge of Thy truth”—the prayer in the Liturgy which seems to summarise most fully our Lord’s teaching. But our practice hardly keeps pace with our prayer; we are apt to put two or three legitimate desires before what should be our primary aspiration; to have good—the cult of prosperity—is the prayer and effort of the natural man; to be good—the cult of sanctity—is the desire of the spiritually-minded; to do good—the cult of philanthropy—sums up the “religion of humanity”: these things we should have, be and do, but we are becoming aware that there is a further duty which we may not leave undone.

Our Lord’s promise concerning the teaching of the Holy Spirit implies this further obligation: “He shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” “All,” “whatsoever,” a sort of double superlative, lays upon us the duty of detailed devout study of each one of the divine sayings; for, how can we remember that which we have not fully known?

Now, the difficulty is, the sacred text is so familiar that we take in as little of the sense in our readings as we do of the force of “good-bye” when we lightly call the phrase to one another. There are times when “good-bye” becomes a prayer, as there are moments when some word of Christ’s comes to us as direct inspiration; but to be prepared for such inspirations in many directions we must embrace in our devout studies “all things,” “whatsoever” our Lord has spoken. By way of arresting the attention of the reader upon each incident and every saying, I have ventured upon a verse rendering of the gospels, because the medium of verse seems to me at once more free and more reverent than that of prose. The approximate chronological order has been followed, because the progressive difficulty of the ideas placed before us seems to require such ordered study. I have made use throughout, with much gratitude, of The Gospel History[1] (in the words of the Revised Version), by the Rev. C. C. James.

Though with a profound sense of its inadequacy as a treatment of so great a subject, I offer this verse rendering with some confidence to devout students. Certainly, the little volumes will fulfil their purpose for those, because the effort of such students is to visualize, realize, every incident of our Lord’s life; to ponder, search after the sequence and the occasion of every short saying as of every long discourse; and, in this effort of devout study, proper for the closet, it seems to me that the “marginal notes” made by a fellow-student, one who does not speak with authority, should be of use.

The student reads the text, whether a phrase or a paragraph, and ponders: the effort to hear the words of our Lord as if they were immediately spoken is not a slight one, and we are eager to see what some one else “makes of it.” At this point, if we read an authoritative exposition of the words, our inert minds are apt to subside into passivity; but a rendering, by no means authoritative, in the newer form of verse, should be stimulating: if we accept the paraphrase or comment offered in poetical form, we do so after critical examination, applying the only appropriate standard, that is, the Personality of our Blessed Lord; the intellectual labour we have given makes the conception our own, and we have gained some fragment of that knowledge which is eternal life.

If we reject the proposed rendering, we are in still better case, because we do not do so without such labour of thought as gives us another conception of the situation, another interpretation of the saying, and so our religious life becomes vivified by a further realization of the Divine Person; thus, the verse rendering will have served its purpose as a point of departure.

I think we must bear three things in mind in study of this nature: that we build upon the foundation which is laid—the teaching of the Church[2]—for no Scripture is of private interpretation; that we have no special thesis to advance, but are open to “receive with meekness the engrafted word”; and that our reading be not casual,—as though one were to dip here and there into a book of mathematics,—but continuous, following the chronological order of our Lord’s life rather than the sequence of events as given in any one Gospel: only so shall we be in a position to realize the progressive and cumulative character of the Christian philosophy proposed to us.

The present volume, for example, deals largely with controversial passages, which some of us are apt to put aside as irrelevant and perhaps a little tiresome! But this controversial matter makes up a large part of the “all things” “whatsoever” Christ has spoken, and a line-upon-line study here appears to disclose aspects of the divine character and teaching peculiarly suited to modern life. Christ stands before us labouring painfully and incessantly to make men know, understand; He tells the Jews, that truth makes a universal appeal; that every one has power to discern the truth when it is put before him; that men must before all things be candid, think sincerely. We can hardly read these chapters in St. John’s Gospel devoutly and continue to allow ourselves in the random-thinking, leading to vitiated conclusions, which spoils so much of life.

Little or no attempt at textual criticism is made in these volumes, because we are probably approaching an era of yet “Higher Criticism,” based upon a truer apprehension of the Divine Person; and towards this Higher Criticism every devout study is a contribution.

The part played by “the disciple” hardly requires explanation: the disciple is any devout reader of the Gospel history who must needs, inadvertently, play the part of the Greek Chorus by offering such “authentic comment” as the occasion calls for.

The Church possesses an illimitable field of literature—sermons, commentaries, expositions, hymns,—including all the ground I am attempting to cover; but perhaps every new presentation is a gain; and it may be that the gradual progressive development of Christ’s teaching can be advantageously set forth by way of paraphrase and amplification in the rarely attempted form of verse.

[1] Cambridge Press, 3s. 6d.

[2] The Church, i.e. “The blessed company of all faithful people.”

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