The Reasonableness of Jesus

Is faith in Jesus opposed to reason? Certainly not! Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson shows why Jesus is the most reasonable man you could meet.

Think about it

“Jesus was a man of unparalleled common sense. Would you see how rational he is, study his attitude to life.”

Our Unreasonable Objections

“There is a widespread impression, especially among young people of a certain age, that Jesus is unreasonable, and that Christianity is a religion which constantly makes war on reason. Young men sometimes say, ‘I do not want to join the church because I want to use my reason.’ How strange such language when Jesus from first to last pleads for the use of the reason.”

“Men often think they are using their reason when in fact they are exercising their prejudices or suffering from paralysis of the brain. I have heard men rail at Christianity as unreasonable because a certain Christian man had said a certain thing, as though Jesus of Nazareth must be held responsible for everything that every follower of his may think or say. Other men have been hopelessly estranged from Christianity because of certain statements they have read in certain books. How unreasonable! It surely is not fair to hold Jesus of Nazareth responsible for everything which men who bear his name may think or publish.”

“If men want to know whether Christianity is reasonable or not, why do they not read the Gospels? They are short and can be read through at least once a week, and yet men go right on refusing to read the Gospels — the one source of all authentic information as to what the Christian religion really is. Many think nothing of reading a novel of four hundred pages who stagger under the task of reading the four Gospels. It is just such persons who like to talk about the unreasonableness of Christianity. Why not be reasonable? Christianity has but one authoritative volume. Why not read it?”

Our Unreasonable Way of Life

“Open your New Testament, then, and see Jesus’ attitude to life. The word ‘life’ was often on his lips. . . . He wanted men to live. The tragedy of the world to him was that human life was everywhere so thin and meager. ‘I came that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly,’ thus did he express the object of his coming. ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ It was in such phrases that he endeavored to give men an idea of his mission and his person.”

“Men everywhere want to live, but the tragedy of the world is that they do not succeed. . . . We do the very things which curtail the capacity for living and dry up the springs of vitality. We are imitative creatures, all of us, and we mimic the habits and methods of those around us to our hurt. We are cowards all of us, and we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked and browbeaten and cheated out of our birthright. We are greedy, all of us, and in our eagerness to secure the things on which we have set our heart we become feverish and wretched, losing out of life its richest satisfactions. We are shortsighted, all of us, and in order to attain immediate ends we barter away the treasures of coming years. Life is not full or rich or sweet for many of us because we are handicapped by our doubts and hampered by our fears and enslaved by the unreasonable standards and requirements of a foolish world.”

“It is the aim of Jesus to break the fetters and let life out to its completion. To do a thing which reduces the volume and richness of a man’s life is foolish. We are reasonable in our conduct only when we are doing things which give life fuller capacity and power. Jesus was always reasoning with men in regard to the right way of living. . . . His attitude from first to last is the attitude of God as pictured by Isaiah. He was always saying, ‘Come, now, let us reason together.'”

Sermon on the Mount of Reason

“The Sermon on the Mount is the part of the New Testament which is nowadays universally praised, and no wonder. Every sentence is a pearl, and every paragraph is the classical expression of unadulterated common sense.”

“Men in the first century had overdeveloped the forms of prayer. . . . They said the same thing over and over again and called it praying. They repeated pious words on the street corners and were satisfied if their neighbors looking on called it praying. To Jesus all such devotion was ridiculous. If God is an intelligent Being, what is the use of any such mummery and mockery as this? If God is Spirit, then to pray to him is to come into communion with him, and you can do that best when you are alone and have shut all the world out. It is not necessary to multiply words, the things essential being sincerity and spiritual contact. How sensible, so reasonable that it will never become obsolete.”

“Equally sane is he on the subject of fasting. The exercise of fasting in Palestine had been elaborated into a system. Men fasted by the clock. Precise rules were laid down and to obey these regulations punctiliously was the ambition of the pious. . . . But to Jesus the whole system was mechanical and abominable. There was no reason in it. It was utterly formal and deadening and stupid. Moreover, to make a display of it and flaunt the signs of it in the eyes of the world was contemptible. Fasting if it is to have value at all must be an exercise of the soul. It is the spirit which is central. . . . It is not the abstinence from food which is pleasing to the Almighty, but the condition of the heart of the person who is doing the fasting. . . . How illuminating and sensible!”

No Rest from Reason

“Jesus would not allow himself to be swayed or daunted by institutions however sacred. Among the Jews there was no institution held in higher reverence than the Sabbath. So deep was the reverence that it degenerated into slavery. The day was made so holy that there was no living with it. The rules of Sabbath observance were so numerous that one could not turn round without breaking several of them.”

“Jesus saw at once through all the mass of rubbish which had accumulated . . . and laid down a maxim which shed light brilliant as the sun at noon. ‘The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.’ The life of man is the first thing to consider. . . . Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath Day? Is it lawful to save life on the Sabbath? It was with such questions that he punctured the inflated reasonings of the Jerusalem dunces, and set men free from a bondage which had become intolerable. His view of Sabbath observance is reasonable.”

The Golden Rule of Reason

“There is one sentence in the New Testament which by the vote of the world has been counted golden: ‘Therefore, whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them.’ What is this but perfect sense?”

“But someone may ask: Does not Christianity insist upon a namby-pamby attitude to the forces of the world? Does Jesus not virtually exhort his disciples to lie down and let men walk over them? No. You have gotten that idea from books other than the New Testament. Jesus is sensible at every point. ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet and turn and rend you’. . . . All men are not alike. All men are not to be treated alike. . . . When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, he told them if people were unwilling to listen to them, to shake the dust from their sandals against them and go somewhere else. He followed that plan himself. No limp and sugary weakling was he. . . . Nowhere is he more sensible than in his attitude to bad men.”

Our Unreasonable Expectations

“But someone says, ‘Is he not unreasonable in demanding that we believe a lot of doctrines which we cannot understand?’ Where does he demand that? Put your finger on the place, for I cannot find it. When I open the New Testament I hear him saying: ‘Follow me!’ . . . And when men wanted to know how they were to ascertain whether or not he was indeed a leader worthy of being followed, his reply was, ‘If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself.’ Is this not reasonable?”

“Jesus says if you want to understand the Christian life, then work at it. If you desire to know the truth, then live it. This is common sense. How else could one find the truth of a religion if he did not work at it? If you want to learn to speak Italian, you do not simply think about it, or read about it, but you go to work on it. It requires a deal of work, but no matter. . . . Just so is it with the Christian life. Men imagine they can become Christians by thinking about it, or reading about it, or hearing a preacher talk about it. How absurd! You can never become a Christian until you are willing to work at it. Are you willing to begin now?”

Excerpts from The Character of Jesus by Charles Edward Jefferson (Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1908)

Reasons for Our Study

Something is missing. That something is Jesus. Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson explains why the time for studying Jesus’s character is now.

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“I invite you to contemplate with me the character of Jesus. . . . The time is ripe for a restudy of his character and career. We have fallen upon distracted and distracting days. The world is crying out for something, it scarce knows what. Wealth has come, but the heart is hungry; knowledge has come, but life for many has slipped into a riddle and delusion. The world is filled with the inventions of human skill and genius, but there is a vast emptiness which neither science nor art is able to fill.”

Selves Falling Short

“Some of us are discontented with ourselves. We are restless, unsatisfied, bewildered. We carry with us a consciousness of failure. We feel we are falling short of what we ought to be. Life in spite of our efforts is meager and disappointing. Loaded with many possessions we cry, ‘What lack I yet?'”

“It may be wise, therefore, to turn aside from the path we have been traveling and listen for a season to Jesus of Nazareth. It may be that he has the secret for which we have been searching. . . . On approaching him we hear him saying: ‘Follow me! Learn of me! Eat me! Abide in me!’ It would seem that he offers us all good things on condition that we become like him. But what is he like? What is his disposition, temper, attitude, nature? Surely all who are discontented with themselves will want to study the character of Jesus.”

Time Out of Joint

“There are others of us who are discontented, not so much with ourselves as with the world. The time is out of joint, and we are sick at heart because no one seems to be wise or strong enough to set it right. Government is corrupt, the church seems dead or dying, the home is a failure or scandal, society is superficial and tainted, the social order is ready for the burning, the economic system is a burden and curse, the whole framework of the world needs to be reconstructed, and, alas, who is sufficient for so herculean a task?”

“When we open our New Testament, we find a man looking at us who although not a professional revolutionist has been the cause of many revolutions, and who although not a disturber of the peace has repeatedly turned the world upside down. He is not numbered among the radicals because in his radicalism he outstrips them all. . . . He has much to say about authority and power, and it is his claim that he can make all things new. . . . Surely all of those who are sick of the world as it is and who long for the coming of a world which shall be better, must, if they are wise, come to Jesus of Nazareth for his secret of pulling down the strongholds of iniquity and establishing righteousness and peace.”

Heart of a Man

“When we study his method, we discover that his supreme concern is for the rightness of heart of the individual man. This molder of empires gives himself to the task of molding individual men. This arch-revolutionist starts his conflagrations in the individual soul. He draws one man to him, infuses into him a new spirit, sends him after one brother man, who in time goes after a third man, and this third man after a fourth, and thus does he weld a chain by means of which Caesar shall be dragged from his throne.”

“Strange as it may seem, he has nothing to say about heredity, and stranger still nothing to say about environment. He keeps his eyes upon the soul, and by changing this he alters the environment and also the currents of the blood down through many generations. . . . This Reformer of Nazareth acts and speaks as though environment is not a matter of brick and plaster but rather of human minds and hearts. Men are made what they are, not by pavements and houses, but by the men among whom they live.”

“Would you change the environment, then begin by a transformation of men; and would you transform men, then begin by a transformation of some particular man. It is by changing the character of a man that we change the character of other men, and by changing the character of many men we change the character of institutions and ultimately of empires and civilizations. When Jesus says, ‘Behold I make all things new,’ he lays his hand on the heart of a man.”

Christ Character

“Here then is Jesus’ own secret for making an old world over. He will introduce golden ages by giving individuals a character like his own. His character is a form of power mightier than the legions of Caesar or the wisdom of the greatest of the schools.”

“There are many fussy and noisy workers, many a blatant and spectacular leader, reformers are often plausible and dashing, and revolutionists impress us by their schemes of creating a world which is new, but after all there is no more effective worker for the world’s redemption than the man or woman who in high or obscure places, strives, in season and out of season, to persuade men to conform their lives to the pattern presented to us in the character of Jesus; and no one is advancing so swiftly toward the golden age as the man or woman who by prayer and daily effort endeavors to build up in mind and spirit the virtues and graces of the Man of Galilee.”

Excerpts from The Character of Jesus by Charles Edward Jefferson (Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1908)