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Reviews | A Life of Jesus

A Life of Jesus

Melva Purkis

Hardback or e-book (ePub) – English

Paperback – French

384 pages

A Life of Jesus

The Christadelphian review (from June 2005)

A Life of Jesus

THE whole message of the scriptures turns on the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. To know about God and His Son is “life eternal”, the Lord said (John 17:3). Any study of the Saviour therefore has enormous personal benefit, for by seeing the Son, we see the Father also (John 14:9), and are led to worship Him.

The importance of Jesus’ life can be measured by the preservation of four separate Gospel accounts to reveal the multi-faceted character of God’s only begotten Son. In the process of reading these accounts, a person is lifted up to heavenly places to see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Much time can be spent attempting to reconcile the details of the four Gospels, and place them all in a chronological context. The result can be confusing and mechanical, and in the process the wonder of the Lord’s life can be obscured. Yet all the details were provided by God. Much more could have been written, “but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).

What the Gospel records provide in their combined message is a devotional account of the earthly ministry of God’s Son. They reveal not only the bald details of various incidents, but the attitudes and reactions of those who witnessed them, and the gracious teaching of the Master from heaven. This distillation of the Gospel messages about the Lord is vital if a believer is truly to come to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Disciples may
start as spectators taking note of what occurred; quickly they must become partakers – sharers with him in God’s eternal purpose.

Just over fifty years ago, brethren and sisters received great assistance in learning about the Saviour and his life from the dedicated work of Brother Melva Purkis. His book, A Life of Jesus, immediately filled a need. Its message rouses the heart as well as the mind, taking two-dimensional facts to paint a three-dimensional picture. Since its first publication in 1953, generations of brethren and sisters have warmed to the very personal account Brother Melva penned. It is clearly the product of scholarship and research, yet is infused with warmth and understanding, both of the human condition and its weaknesses, and of the remarkable and unique character of the Son of God.

By assisting readers to meditate more closely on the Lord’s life, this work helps brethren and sisters to say with the Apostle Paul: “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). With the publication of the third edition, this same help is now available to a new generation of readers.

MICHAEL ASHTON

The Testimony review (from February 1954)

A Life of Jesus

NOT from any mansion in the Holy City came God’s holy child, Jesus, but from a stable in “little” Bethlehem (“house of bread”), the home of his royal forebear – himself called “from the sheepfold” to be king! Not from priestly palace came he forth to Israel, but from a home in despised Nazareth (“a branch”); born of a country maiden, his adoptive father a rustic carpenter! Neither the pen of proud Pharisee nor of learned Scribe did the Holy Spirit move to portray the beloved one, but a publican, an unimportant young man, a physician, and a fisherman! Such are the ways of God Who “was in Christ”.

In like manner, among those sweet fruits of the printing press which have refreshed our soul, the book which, by its spiritual apprehension, its grace, its beauty and its reverent love, has carried us nearer than has any, outside Scripture, to the mind of him who was “in the bosom of the Father”, itself comes neither from man-styled “divine” nor “cleric”, but from one of our humble selves (an insignificant sect – the “little house of bread”), who, through abiding as a “branch” in the True Vine, has been able to bring forth this beautiful fruit “in due season”.

Were we to think, “This is just another Life of Christ”, how wrong we should be! It is A Life of Jesus, who is called “Christ” by most of us. The author, probably, has elected not to employ the official appellation usual in this connection, and has preferred the name by which the Saviour was commonly known among men, because it was chosen by his Father as more appropriately speaking of the work of his first advent. The reader, in any case, finds himself recalling and recapturing the simplicity and sincerity of the enraptured exclamation, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!”

Did we doubt that, at this late hour, there could have been any real need to add one more to the multitude of books about the Master, how soon we may have that doubt dispelled! There is never a page that fails to supply something toward the satisfaction of the deepest need of every soul that hungers and thirsts after his righteousness.

It is fitting that a work by the Devotional Editor of The Testimony should, designedly, be “devotional and not theological”. Though, to those familiar with some of the difficulties involved, it is evident that he has given much thought to time and circumstance, to problem and probability, whilst never permitting the cold logic of their discussion to chill the warmth of his narrative. An occasional footnote indicates the direction of research of this nature.

Like John the apostle, deeply conscious that he was to write, not a mere biography of the beloved, but a spiritual study of the Life and Light of men, the writer has manifestly first devoted himself to the Person and Subject of his work in true humility, realising that he was to write of one who is literally and personally very much alive; and as he writes,that he is doing so “in his presence”. He succeeds in conveying to us some of his own deep spiritual sensibility, and we find ourselves, as it were, taking off our shoes from off our feet, at more than one spot to which he leads us, feeling that the place whereon we stand is holy ground. Never, for example, shall we forget how, after his inimitable treatment of the Transfiguration, he closes our lips in shame against the usual discussion of the question: objective or subjective? with the remark, “Our reverence and awe should be too deep to allow us to discuss its nature”. How often have we dissipated in disputation, precious moments that could so much more profitably have been spent in endeavouring the better to appreciate, and appropriate to ourselves, the meaning of this “power and coming in his kingdom”, and the spirit of Jesus himself who, by that experience, was being strengthened in “his final dedication to the cross!”

In the life and work of the Redeemer, Mr. Purkis sees the eternal purpose of God sweep into the temporal sphere, and the glow of the spirit of Christ lights every page. The work divides into eight “Books”, and, as the figure 8 has long been associated with resurrection (probably because Jesus arose on the day beyond the seventh, or the analogous thought that the eighth thousand years will have left death behind), it is fitting that Book 8 deals with The Prince of Life, beyond the tomb, to the Ascension. Each Book is built up of short subdivisions, the mere reading of whose 75 titles whets the appetite, the satisfaction of which scarce waits on sleep!

From the “stable sanctuary” onward, the writer brings us “face to face with the love of God”, compelling us to feel the Lord Jesus to be much more than one in whom we believe – nothing less than one who should live in us. We see how, very naturally, the simple yet powerful stories Jesus told, took their rise in the homely scenes of his struggling youth. The years of waiting were rich in preparation.

Not the least valuable element in this work is the way in which every word and work of Jesus is made to yield their moral for us – their lesson for our own living, now. Jesus was very young when he realised he must be about his Father’s business, but that business “led him away from the rabbis, back over the Samaritan hills to the carpenter’s shop, and kept him there for no less than eighteen years. It was a severe test.” Then the lesson, which will touch so many so closely: “Slowly we realise that the Father’s business takes us back to the carpenter’s shop, to the things we thought we might have left behind, to the slow discipline of patience and steadfast devotion, to a long period of waiting upon God”. And so, all through the book.

The declared aim is to present a simple picture of Jesus. This aim is achieved, and an informed imagination fills in the background and brings reality into every changing scene. But there are many incidental and deeper delights as one looks closely, as when he contrasts the first Adam’s fall, among an animal creation subject to him, with the second Adam’s victory, among the wild beasts of the wilderness. Valuable, too, it is to catch that “gentle relentlessness” of Jesus toward all human relationships. And to see the close connection between what has happened, or is about to happen, and what Jesus says or does.

Following every miracle, we are made to see “the deeper significance that lay beyond the physical event”. As in connection with the one at the marriage at Cana: “The God of Israel, in the fulness of time, sent forth the heavenly Bridegroom with the true wine which had in it the essence of eternal life, before which the old wine “is ready to vanish away”. How penetrating, too, are the author’s frequent contrasts between our own imperfect spirits and that of Jesus. “Much of our anger is a revelation of weakness, not of strength. He was silent when most men would be stirred into uncontrollable fury; he was consumed with zealous indignation when most men’s lips would be sealed by cowardice, and their minds drugged by worldly excuses.”

No wonder that companying with one who has “the perspective of the ages” we feel the sense of futility in daily tasks as we realise we cannot live without him! From these pages “the sheer beauty of Christ shines forth”. Priceless pearls are here in plenty. “We see the death and then the burial of self-righteousness”. “As long as we love we shall be able to forgive.” “There are always hearts waiting to be touched by the appeal of a Christlike spirit”, and the like. His treatment of Mary Magdalene’s undying love is most moving. There is unobtrusive but skilful exposition of many a difficult passage or situation. And we need continually the warning that by a tradition of externalism we cannot influence the inner man. “Hypocrisy”, too, “is not extinct, nor materialism”.

Another aspect stressed is the prerequisite faith, in every living subject of miraculous cure. So, also, “According to our faith will our spiritual vision be”. We are not only made to live with Jesus through his ministry, we feel the shadow of the cross descending slowly upon us as we go to die with him. And we feel, more really than ever before, and more deeply sympathise with, the difficulty of the disciples in seeking to solve the puzzle of the two advents. We must thank him, too, for his emphasis upon the present “intimate ministration of angels”; it is something we should experience increasingly with the passing of the years “in Christ”. We are made to sympathise, also, with James and John, to whom the spirit of Jesus must have seemed, through their lack of understanding, unpredictable! The Good Samaritan, Bethany, and the Prodigal Son, are beautifully touched upon.

How telling his comment on the Olivet prophecy! “Our lives must not be absorbed with speculation but with preparation”, as he goes on to direct our attention to Jesus “addressing us over the centuries”. The clash at Jerusalem, when “the spears of the priests buckled against the breastplate of righteousness”; the arrest and trials – all illegal; and the inevitable end – yet not the end, complete a book as different from all others on this subject as its central character was different from all other men, namely, in its spirit. We are made conscious that Jesus was indeed “altogether lovely”. Reverence deepens as we read and we become aware of the subtle difference between merely watching and really waiting for our Master’s return. The prayer of the Foreword is more than answered in the book, which, we can testify, warms the heart, deepens spiritual affinity, and clarifies the understanding.

It is characteristic of the writer, and very true, when he says, “our knowledge of Jesus in its deepest sense … must always be a sacred communion with him in the sanctuary of our own devoted hearts”. This book, the nearest to an ideal “Life” that we have met, is manifestly the work of one who lives close to the Master. It is, equally clearly, the product of much prayer and personal dedication. It can show the mere student what he yet lacks. It will be a sheer delight to all the Marys and Marthas who can buy or borrow one, for to them the usual theological works upon this subject can make but little appeal, and prove of still less use! May “Christ in us, the hope of glory” be enhanced thereby a hundredfold.

F. WHITELEY

(Originally published in the February 1954 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 37-39), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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