Review: "The Public Ministry of Christ"

The Public Ministry of Christ
William G. Blaikie

This volume, first published in 1883, bridges the disciplines of Christology and pastoral theology, and its author will need no commendation to those who value Scriptural studies that blend scholarship and devotion. Blaikie's contention, argued in the opening chapter, is that it was a deliberate intention of Christ to teach and leave an example for his disciples, and that gospel ministers are not only able but obligated to follow that example as far as gift and grace permits.

This established, we then begin to unpack the elements of our Lord's public ministry. We begin with the preparation for his ministry, in which - to develop the one as a sample of the whole - Blaikie considers the purposes of God in making Nazareth the scene of development, with its relative isolation and solitude, together with the discipline of subjection (to the will of his heavenly Father, lawful human authority in the form of his parents, and the requirements of his official position as our representative) under which the Lord Jesus came. The thirty years give way to forty days in which that cultivated spirit of obedience is tested, with comparisons to and lessons for men who seek to follow Christ's example. Such thoughtfulness and meditation might make many ministers pause and ponder again the circumstances of our own preparation for the ministry, even though we must be careful not to presume upon definitive interpretations of providence.

Blaikie then moves on through the inner spirit of Christ's ministry in which he considers his entire consecration to his work, a then a section contemplating the outer features of Christ's ministry in its Judean, Galilean and post-transfiguration phases, with their general tenor and specific concerns. Christ's labour as a teacher then comes to the fore, and this is developed at some length, with a careful consideration first of its essential qualities, careful structures and striking illustrations. Our guide then consider the parables and some of Christ's longer public discourses and his more private investment in his disciples over the period of his public ministry. A different tack then develops as Blaikie looks at our Lord's dealings with those outside, on the borders of, and within the kingdom. All of these elements are considered in themselves and carefully explained and applied in their relevance to those who walk in the Master's footsteps.

Blaikie closes by considering Christ's last acts toward, words addressed to and prayers for various classes of men, closing with his post-resurrection appearances, in which, for example, emphasis is thrown on the prominence which Christ gives to his sufferings:
In the centre of the solar system, the sun occupies the best position for influencing every planet, but his rays go forth quite readily to the furthest outskirts of the system. "Christ crucified" in the centre of the Gospel firmament, is fitted to irradiate the whole sphere of moral and spiritual truth, and increase the power of every motive, and elevate the aim of every project that seeks to advance the true welfare of man. (339)
Neither does Blaikie lose sight of the very obvious fact that in these interviews the Lord was giving explicit direction to the disciples for the establishment and extension of his visible kingdom on earth, assuring us in his own final words that
If only we would take up the posture of servants, executing the designs of a heavenly Master, relying on the grace of His Holy Spirit, and giving ourselves soul, body, and spirit to His work, results not inferior to theirs [i.e. the disciples] would crown our labours, and of our work as of theirs it would be written, -  "So mightily grew the word of the Lord, and prevailed." (346-7).
In my limited experience I have yet to come across another volume with the distinctive blend and tone of Blaikie's study of the Lord Jesus' public ministry. On one level it would be valuable for anyone studying the life of the Lord and seeking to obtain insights into his labours; when to that is added the deliberate attempt to draw appropriate lessons for the followers and proclaimers of a crucified Christ, another layer is added. In this regard there is a particular freshness as Blaikie gives practical lessons concerning both character and conduct, blending insights into the disposition of Christ in his work and the work itself. The sections on teaching are very different from some of the "how-to" homiletical helps of the present day, focusing on illustrative principles rather than mechanical practices (though see also the same author's For the Work of the Ministry []). For younger men wishing to grasp more of what it means to follow Christ in their own roles as under-shepherding preacher and teacher, this would be a provocatively different and thoroughly engaging source of instruction. For older ministers, a work like this might serve as a glass of cold water, a tonic to refresh and revitalize, stimulating new perspectives on their service for the Lord. To either group, and others besides, the benefit of a book so thoroughly focused upon and breathing the Spirit of the person and work of Christ Jesus would be no small blessing in itself, as filling our eyes and our hearts with delightful views of his character and purposes.

[Readers might also wish to consult, as a companion volume dealing with different themes to different ends, but equally profitable, Blaikie's Glimpses of the Inner Life of our Lord.]