It is, however, with the teaching of Jesus as it is recorded in the Gospels that, in these chapters, we are mainly concerned. We come, therefore to our second question: Can we trust the Four Gospels? And this question must be answered in even fewer words than were given to the last. As to the external evidence, let us hear the judgment of the great German scholar, Harnack. Harnack is a critic who is ready to give to the winds with both hands many things which are dear to us as life itself; yet this is how he writes in one of his most recent works: “Sixty years ago David Friedrich Strauss thought that he had almost entirely destroyed the historical credibility, not only of the fourth, but also of the first three Gospels as well. The historical criticism of two generations has succeeded in restoring that credibility in its main outlines." When, from the external, we turn to the internal evidence, we are on incontestable ground. The words of Jesus need no credentials, they carry their own credentials; they authenticate themselves. Christian men and women reading, e.g., the fourteenth of St. John’s Gospel say within themselves that if these are not the words of Jesus, a greater than Jesus is here; and they are right. The oft-quoted challenge of John Stuart Mill is as unanswerable to-day as ever it was. “It is of no use to say,” he declares, “that Christ, as exhibited in the Gospels, is not historical, and that we know not how much of what is admirable has been super-added by the traditions of His followers.... Who among His disciples, or among their proselytes, was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels?"
Assuming, therefore, without further discussion, the essential trustworthiness of the Gospel records, let us pass on to consider in this introductory chapter some general characteristics of Christ’s teaching as a whole.