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“With historical science, the life of Jesus takes its place in the great stream of the world’s history; He is a human individual, who became what He was, and was to be, through the living action of ideas and the circumstances of His time, and He, as a mighty storm-wave which has arisen through the conflict of forces, is destined to sink once more into the smooth sea, in the restless whirl of earthly things, quietly subsiding from the general life of humanity, in order to make room for new and stronger throes and creations. Here, in the Church, He is the rock which rules over the flood, instead of being moved by it. . . . He, the pillar, the Son of God, will survey humanity, however far and wide it may extend, permitting it only to hold fast by Him, or to wreck itself against Him.”—Keim.
“But Thee, but Thee, O Sovereign Seer of time,
But Thee, O poet’s Poet, wisdom’s tongue,
But Thee, O man’s best Man, O love’s best Love,
O perfect life in perfect labour writ,
O all men’s Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest,—
What if or yet, what mole, what flaw, what lapse,
What least defect or shadow of defect,
What rumour, tattled by an enemy,
Of inference loose, what lack of grace
Even in torture’s grasp, or sleep’s, or death’s,—
Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee,
Jesus, good Paragon, thou crystal Christ?”
THE CENTRAL ASSERTION OF THE CHRISTIAN VIEW—THE INCARNATION OF GOD IN CHRIST.
In the second Lecture I conducted an historical argument intended to show that there is really no intermediate position in which the mind can logically rest between the admission of a truly Divine Christ and a purely humanitarian view. This argument I have now to complete, by showing that the necessity which history declares to exist arises from the actual state of the facts in the Christian Revelation. We have seen what the alternative is, and we have now to ask why it is so.
Why is it that we cannot rest in a conception of Christ as simply a prophet of a higher order? or as a God-filled man in whom the Divine dwelt as it dwells in no other? or as the central Personage of our race, at once ideal man and the Revelation to us of the absolute principles of religion? These views seem plausible; they are accepted by many; they seem at first sight to bring Christ nearer to us than on the supposition of His true God-manhood; why cannot the mind of the Church rest in them? Must not the explanation be that, taking into account the sum-total of the facts of Christianity, they refuse to square with any subordinate view, but compel us to press up to the higher conception? This is what I affirm, and I propose in this Lecture to test the question by an examination of the facts themselves.
There is, I know, in some minds, an insuperable objection, a priori, to the acceptance of the fact of the Incarnation, arising from the lowliness of Christ’s earthly origin and condition. Can we believe, it is said, that in this historical individual, Jesus of Nazareth—this son of a carpenter-God actually became incarnate; that in this humble man, so poor in all His earthly surroundings, there literally dwelt the fulness of the 216Godhead bodily? Is the thought not on the face of it incredible? The appeal here is to our powers of imagination—of conceiving—to our sense of the likelihood or unlikelihood of things; and to enable us to judge fairly of that appeal, and of its nature as an objection to the Incarnation, a great many things would have to be taken into account, both before and after. I would only say that, as regards a certain class who make that objection—the higher class of liberal theologians especially—the question seems only one of degree. If Christ is, in any ease, as most of them affirm, the central, typical, religiously greatest individual of the race; if the principle of the absolute religion is manifested in Him, as Pfleiderer allows;456456Cf. his Grundriss, secs. 128, 129. if He is the ideally perfect man in whom the God-consciousness finds its fullest expression, as Schleiermacher declares;457457ii. secs. 93, 94. if He is alone the sinless Personality of the race, as even Lipsius will grant,458458Dogmatik, sec. 651.—these are already remarkable claims, and, as compared with His lowly appearance and mean historical environment, create almost as great a feeling of strangeness as on the supposition of His true Divinity. Or let us suppose that the objection comes from the evolutionist. Then contrast the strangeness he speaks of with that of his own views. His objection is, that he cannot believe that in this lowly Man of Nazareth there should reside all the potentialities of Divinity. But what does he ask us to believe? He goes back to the primitive state of things, and there, in that little speck of jelly at the first dawn of life,—in that humble drop of protoplasmic matter buried in some oozy slime,—he bids us believe that there lies wrapped up, only waiting for development, the promise and potency of the whole subsequent evolution of life. In that first germ-cell there lies enfolded—latent—not only the whole wealth of vegetable existence, not only the long procession of future races and species of lower and higher animals, with their bodily powers and mental instincts, but, in addition, the later possibilities of humanity; all that has now come to light in human development—the wealth of genius, the riches of civilisation, the powers of intellect, imagination, and heart, the treasures of human love and goodness, of poetry and art—the genius of Dante, of Shakespeare, of Milton—the spiritual greatness and 217holiness of Christ Himself;—all, in a word, that has ever come out of man, is supposed by the evolutionist to have been potentially present from the first in that little primitive speck of protoplasm!459459Tyndall carries back this promise and potency to the original fire-mist. “For what are the core and essence of this hypothesis? Strip it naked, and you stand face to face with the notion that not alone the more ignoble forms of animalcular or animal life, not alone the nobler forms of the horse and lion, not alone the exquisite and wonderful mechanism of the human body, but that the human mind itself—emotion, intellect, will, and all their phenomena—were once latent in a fiery cloud.”—Fragments, ii. p. 132. I confess that, putting his assertion alongside the Christian one, I do not feel that there is much to choose between them in point of strangeness. But evolution, he would tell us, is not deprived of its truth by the strangeness at first sight of its assertion—neither is the Christian view, The question is not one to be settled a priori, but to be brought to the test of facts.
I. Testimony of the apostolic age as throwing light on Christ’s own claims.
I. Godet has said, “Christianity is entirely based upon Christ’s consciousness of Himself, and it is the heroism of faith to rest upon the extraordinary testimony which this Being gave to Himself.”460460Commentary on John, ii. p. 315 (Eng. trans.). This must be so, for the reason which Christ Himself gives, that He alone has the knowledge which qualifies Him to give a true estimate of Himself. “For I know,” He said to the Jews, “whence I came, and whither I go.”461461John viii. 14. I propose, however, to begin at a point further down—that to which our first written documents belong—and to ask, What was the view of Christ’s Person held in the apostolic age? The testimony of that age is clearly one of great importance, as throwing light on Christ’s own claims. When men say, Buddha also was raised to the rank of Divinity by his followers, though he himself made no such claim, I answer that the cases are not parallel. It was only long centuries after his death, and within limited circles, that Buddha was regarded as Divine; but one short step takes us from the days when Christ Himself lived and taught on earth, into the midst of a Church, founded by His apostles, which in all its branches worshipped and adored Him as the veritable Son of God made manifest on earth for our salvation. If it can be shown that in the apostolic Church a practically consentient view existed of Christ’s Person, this, 218of itself, is a strong reason for believing that it rested on claims made by Christ Himself, and rose naturally out of the facts of His historical self-manifestation.462462A good summary of the apostolic evidence will be seen in Dr. Whitelaw’s How is the Divinity of Jesus depicted in the Gospels and Epistles?
I begin with the broad fact which none can dispute, that, in the first age of Christianity, Christ was universally regarded as one who had risen from the dead, who had ascended on high to the right hand of God, who exercised there a government of the world, who was to return again to judge the quick and dead, and who, on these grounds, was the object of worship and prayer in all the churches.463463Cf. Weiss’s Bib. Theol. of the New Testament, pp. 177–181 (Eng. trans.); Harnack’s Dogmengeschichte, i. pp. 66–68. This view of Christ is found in every book of the New Testament,—in the Acts, in the Pauline Epistles, in Hebrews, in Peter, in the Book of Revelation, in the Epistles of John, and James, and Jude,—and is so generally acknowledged to be there, that I do not need to delay in quoting special texts. But even so much as this cannot be admitted, without implying that in the faith of the early Church Christ was no mere man, but a supernatural Personage, i.e. that the Ebionitic view was not the primitive one. Think only of what is implied in this one claim to be the Judge of the world—the arbiter of the everlasting destiny of mankind.464464Cf. Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, p. 152. “How does such a claim fit into the frame of a human consciousness? Such an assumption lies in fact beyond all our experience, also beyond the highest religious experience,” etc. There is no point on which the writers of the New Testament are more absolutely unanimous than this—that Christ shall come again to be our Judge; and whether the early Christians analysed all that was involved in this belief or not, there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who has analysed it that it involved the possession of attributes which can belong only to God (e.g., omniscience). Or take the other outstanding fact of worship paid to Christ—such, e.g., as we find in the Book of Revelation. The idea of Divine honours externally conferred on one who is essentially but man is quite foreign to the New Testament; and the only alternative is, to suppose that Christ was from the first regarded as having a supernatural and Divine side to His Person—as being essentially Divine.
As regards the apostolic testimony, the ground is happily 219 cleared in modern times by the large measure of general agreement which exists among impartial exegetes as to the nature of the doctrines taught in the several books. The old Unitarian glosses on passages which seemed to affirm the Divinity of Christ are now seldom met with; and it is freely admitted that the bulk of the New Testament writings teach a doctrine of Christ’s Person practically as high as the Church has ever affirmed. For instance, it is no longer disputed by any competent authority that, in Paul and John, it is the supernatural view of Christ’s Person that is given. As to John—using that name at present for the author of the Fourth Gospel and related Epistles—his doctrine of Christ is of the highest. This is admitted by the most negative critics, e.g., by Dr. Martineau, who says that the phrase “Son of God,” applied to the preexisting Word in the Fourth Gospel, heaves all finite analogies behind. “The oneness with God which it means to mark is not such resembling reflex of the Divine thought and character as men or angels may attain, but identity of essence, constituting Him not god-like alone, but God. Others may be children of God in a moral sense; but by this right of elemental nature, none but He; He is, herein, the only Son; so little separate, so close to the inner Divine life which He expresses, that He is in the bosom of the Father. This language undoubtedly describes a great deal more than such harmony of will and sympathy of affection as may subsist between finite obedience and its infinite Inspirer; it denotes two natures homogeneous, entirely one; and both so essential to the Godhead that neither can be omitted from any truth you speak of it. . . . It was one and the same Logos that in the beginning was with God, who in due time appeared in human form, and showed forth the Father’s pure perfections in relation to mankind, who then returned to His eternal life, with the spiritual ties unbroken which He brought from His finished work.”465465Seat of Authority, pp. 428, 429. Biedermann, Lipsius, Pfleiderer, Reuss, Reville, etc., all agrees in their estimate of John’s doctrine. Wendt (Die Lehre Jesu, ii. pp. 450–476) seems to go back, and to explain the expressions in John only of an ethical Sonship. Cf. Appendix to Lecture. In this Gospel, therefore, the question is not so much as to the doctrine taught, but as to whether the evangelist has given us an authentic record of what Christ said and did. On this question, so far as it is affected by the Christology, it will be well to 220reserve our judgment till we see whether the other writings of the apostolic age do not give us—or yield by implication—quite as high a view of Christ’s Person as that which creates offence in John.
To aid us in determining this question, there lie first to hand the writings, above alluded to, of the Apostle Paul. Here, again, it is not seriously doubted that in Paul’s undisputed Epistles we have as clear and strong an assertion of Christ’s Divine dignity as we could well desire. That, in Paul’s theology, Christ had a heavenly pre-existence;466466See Note A.—The Doctrine of Pre-Existence. that the title “Son of God” applies to Him in this pre-existent state; that He was a being of Divine essence; that He mediated the creation of the world; that in the fulness of time He took on Him human nature; that now, since His death and resurrection, He has been exalted again to Divine power and glory—all this the most candid exegetes now admit. A new turn, however, has been given in recent years to this theology of Paul, by the fancy of some theologians that this heavenly, pre-existent essence of the earlier Pauline Epistles—the “Son of God” who became incarnate in Christ—is not a second Divine Person, as we understand that expression, but a pre-existent “heavenly man,” a being apparently of subordinate rank, at once the perfect spiritual image of God and the heavenly prototype of humanity—a conception easier to state than to make intelligible. This “heavenly man” theory, as we may call it, has been seized on with avidity by many as the true key to the Pauline Christology.467467It goes back to Baur, and to Ritschl Entstehung, p. 80 (1857), and has been adopted by Holsten, Hilgenfeld, Biedermann, Lipsius, Pfleiderer, etc. Biedermann states it succinctly thus;—“The Person, the I of Christ, has already, before His appearance in the earthly corporeity, in the flesh, preexisted in a pre-earthly condition with God as the εἰκὼν Θεοῦ, as the human image of God, and consequently as the archetypal pattern of humanity; thus is He the Son of God. . . . The appearance of Christ in the world, sent by God in love, is not a becoming man, but a coming of the heavenly, pneumatic Man in the flesh.”—Dogmatik,. B. pp. 93, 97. Beyschlag of Halle adopts it as the basis of his own theory,—in this, however, differing from the others, that he attributes only an ideal pre-existence to this heavenly principle,468468Christologie, pp. 225, 226, 243. while the majority admit that what Paul had in view was a real and personal pre-existence. This whole hypothesis of the “heavenly man” I can only regard as a new-fangled conceit 221of exegesis, resting practically on one passage—that in which Paul speaks of “the second man from heaven,”4694691 Cor. xv. 47 (R.V.).—and in diametric opposition to the general teaching of the Epistles. It is an hypothesis, therefore, which finds no countenance from more sober expositors like Meyer, Weiss, or Reuss, all of whom recognise in Paul’s “Son of God” a Being truly Divine.470470See Weiss’s criticism in Biblical Theology, i. pp. 410–412, and ii. p. 100; Meyer on 1 Cor. xv. 47; Dorner, System of Doctrine, iii. pp. 175, 176. Christ indeed, in Paul’s view, has humanity, but it is not a humanity which He brought with Him from heaven, but a humanity which He assumed when He came to earth.
The argument for the “heavenly man” theory completely breaks down if we take into account the later Epistles—especially Philippians, Ephesians, and Colossians, the genuineness of which there are no good grounds for disputing.471471Renan, Reuss, Sabatier, Weiss, etc., accept them all as Pauline. Pfleiderer, who advocates this theory, admits the genuineness of the Epistle to the Philippians, but there we have the strongest assertion of Christ’s pre-existent Divinity. The whole argument in chap. ii. 5-11 turns on Christ’s original condition of Divine glory—” being in the form of God”—and His voluntary abdication of it to take upon. Him “the form of a servant”—“being made in the likeness of men”—“being found in fashion as a man.”472472Cf. Bruce’s Humiliation of Christ (Cunningham Lectures), pp. 21–28, 403–411. As to the teaching of the Epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians, there is no dispute, even among the friends of this theory. In these Epistles, says Lipsius, “Christ, as the image of God and the first-born of the whole creation, is an essentially Divine Personality, and the Mediator of the creation of the world.”473473Dogmatik, p. 453. Pfleiderer sees, or imagines he sees, in them the same influence of the Philonic Logos doctrine as is traceable in the Gospel of John474474Urchristenthum, pp. 676, 695.—an indirect witness that between the theology of Paul in these Epistles and that of the Fourth Gospel there is no essential difference. But though the Christology of the later Epistles is admittedly more developed than that of the earlier Epistles, the doctrine of Christ in both is substantially one.475475Cf. Schmid, Bib. Theol. of New Testament, pp. 469–478 (Eng. trans.). In both, Christ was “the Son of God,” eternally pre-existing in a state of glory with the Father, who, 222 in the fulness of time, moved by love, became incarnate for our salvation.4764762 Cor. viii. 9; Gal. iv. 4. In both—as also in John—He existed before the creation of the world, and was the agent in its creation.4774771 Cor. viii. 6. That He is the centre of the Divine purpose, and therefore the One for whom all things as well as by whom all things, are made, is a doctrine as clearly taught in the Epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians as in those to the Colossians and the Ephesians.478478Cf. Rom. i. 1-4, xvi. 25-27; 1 Cor. viii. 6. Bishop Lightfoot says: “The absolute universal mediation of the Son is declared as unreservedly in this passage from the First Epistle to the Corinthians (‘One Lord Jesus Christ; through whom are all things, and we through Him’), as in any later statement of the apostle; and if all the doctrinal and practical inferences which it implicitly involves were not directly emphasised at this early date, it was because the circumstances did not yet require explicitness on these points.”—Commentary on Colossians, pp. 188, 189. In both, the Divine name Κύριος is freely given to Him; passages applied in the Old Testament to Jehovah are applied to Him also; Divine honour is paid to Him; He is exalted to a Divine sovereignty of the world;479479Cf. on above statements, Weiss, Biblical Theology, i. pp. 390–393. His name is constantly joined with that of the Father as the source of grace and peace in the introductions to the Epistles,480480Rom. i. 7; 1 Cor. i. 3; 2 Cor. i. 2; Gal. i. 3. and again with those of the Father and of the Spirit in the apostolic benediction;4814812 Cor. xiii. 14. it is declared of Him that, as Judge, He has the attribute of the Divine searcher of hearts.482482Rom. ii. 16; 1 Cor. iv. 5. Taking all the facts into account, and remembering how inconsonant it would have been with Paul’s rigorous Monotheism to attribute Divine honours to a Being not truly Divine, it seems impossible to doubt that, in the view of the Apostle, Christ was truly a Divine Person, one in essence, though distinct in Person from the Father.483483It is a noteworthy circumstance that nearly all the modern scholars agree in that interpretation of the strongest passage of all, Rom. ix. 5, “who is over all, God blessed for ever, Amen,” which makes it refer to Christ. Thus, E.g., Rothe, Lipsius, Pfleiderer, Ritschl, Schultz, Weiss, etc. But the most remarkable circumstance of all is—and it is a point which I desire specially to emphasise—that in propounding these high views of Christ’s Person, Paul in no case speaks or argues as one teaching a new doctrine, but throughout takes it for granted that his reader’s estimate of the Lord’s dignity is the same as his own. He gives no indication in these letters that he preached or contended for a higher view of Christ’s 223Person than that which was currently received.484484Cf. Reuss, History of Christian Theology, i. p. 397 (Eng. trans.). The passage is quoted below. He has no monopoly of this truth, but assumes it as the common possession of the Church. He argues at length for the doctrine of justification by faith, but we never find him arguing for the Divinity of Christ. Whether writing to his own converts, or to churches he had never seen, he uses the same language on this subject, and apparently anticipates no doubt or contradiction on the part of his readers. What inference can we draw, but that the doctrine of Christ’s Person in the early Church was anything but Ebionitic,—that from the first a Divine dignity was ascribed to Christ?
Paul’s Epistles, however, are not the only witnesses on this point of Apostolic theology. Essentially the same doctrine we find in the Epistle to the Hebrews, long attributed to Paul, but now almost universally assigned to another author. It has, therefore, the value of an independent witness. The Epistle is further valuable for its early date, most critics unhesitatingly referring it to the period before the destruction of Jerusalem, probably about A.D. 66.485485Cf. Weiss, Introduction to New Testament, ii. p. 31 (Eng. trans.); Dr. A. B. Davidson, Hebrews, etc. A few, like Pfleiderer (who, however, thinks Apollos may have been the author), date it later.—Urchristenthum, p. 629. But here, though the writer’s stand- point is somewhat different from both Paul’s and John’s, we find precisely the same doctrine as before,—Jesus, the Divine Son of God, the effulgence of the Father’s glory and very image of His substance, the creator, upholder, and heir of all things, who, because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, Himself likewise partook of the same, and is now again exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high.486486Cf. Weiss, ii. pp. 186–190; Reuss, ii. pp. 243, 244. Reuss says: “It is clear from the figures chosen that the intention of the theology is to establish at once the Divinity and the plurality of the Persons in the Godhead, side by side with the monotheistic principle.” Further, in teaching this high Christological view, the author is not conscious any more than Paul of bringing in a new doctrine. He stands rather upon the ground of the common Christian confession, which he exhorts the Hebrews to hold fast.487487Heb. iv. 14.
It is conceded, however, that in the main the Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews is of the Pauline type, and the question arises—Have we anywhere a witness of another type, 224 showing how the Person of Christ was viewed in the distinctively Jewish, as contrasted with the Gentile sections of the Church? The answer is given in another book of the apostolic age, the early date of which is one of the articles of the modern creed, and which is supposed by some—e.g., by Volkmar—to have been written expressly with the view of opposing Paul.488488Pfleiderer shares this view. See it criticised by Reuss, Christian Theology, i. pp. 308–312. Pfleiderer thinks, too, that the passage in Matthew, “Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments,” etc. (Matt. v. 19), is a blow aimed at Paul’s antinomianism!—Hibbert Lectures, p. 178. I refer to the Apocalypse. By general consent of the modem school of critics, this book was composed immediately after the death of Nero,489489“It is now pretty generally acknowledged that the date of this book is the year 68–69 A.D.”—Pfleiderer, Hibbert Lectures, p. 153. Since the above was written, the hypothesis promulgated, by Vischer (1886), and favoured by Harnack, etc., has come into vogue, that the present book is a Christian workingup of an older Jewish Apocalypse, or of several such writings. See the views in Jülicher’s Einleitung, pp. 181–183. Jülicher takes the date to be about 95 A.D. Dr. C. A. Briggs, who at first opposed this theory, now adopts it. and its anti-Pauline character is not only admitted, but insisted on. Here, then, we have what may be regarded as a representative early Jewish-Christian writing; and the question is of deep interest, What kind of view of Christ’s Person do we find in it? And the answer must be given that the doctrine of Christ in the Apocalypse is as high, or nearly as high, as it is in either Paul or John. Reuss, who is certainly an unprejudiced witness, has some remarks here which are worth quoting as corroborative of the previous line of argument. “We may here observe,” he says, “that the writings of Paul, which carry us back, so to speak, into the very cradle of the Church, contain nothing to indicate that their Christological doctrine, so different from that of common Ebionitism, was regarded as an innovation, or gave rise to any disputations at the time of its first appearance. But we have in our hands another book, essentially Judaeo-Christian, which gives emphatic support to our assertion. This is the Book of Revelation. . . . It ought unhesitatingly to be acknowledged that Christ is placed in the Revelation on a par with God. He is called the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, and these same expressions are used to designate the Most High.”490490History of Christian Theology, i. pp. 397, 398 (Eng. trans.). Professor Pfleiderer is another critic who puts this point so strongly and unambiguously, that I cannot do better than give 225his words. “As, according to Paul,” he says, “Christ has been exalted to the regal dignity of Divine dominion over all, so, according to our author, He has taken His seat on the throne by the side of His Father, participating therefore in His Divine dominion and power—He is the Lord of the churches, holds their stars, or guardian angels, in His hand, and is also Ruler of nations and King of kings, the all-wise and almighty Judge of the nations; indeed, to Him is due a worship similar to that of God Himself. As the author of the Apocalypse, in his apotheosis of Christ as an object of worship, thus almost outstrips Paul, neither does he in his dogmatic definitions of Christ’s nature at all fall behind the Apostle. Like Paul, he calls Christ the ’son of God’ in the metaphysical sense of a godlike spiritual being, and far beyond the merely theocratic significance of the title. . . . As Paul had described the celestial Son of Man as at the same time the image of God, the agent of creation, the head of every man, and finally even God over all, so the Christ of the Apocalypse introduces Himself with the predicates of Divine majesty: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the All-powerful’; and He is accordingly called also the ‘Head of Creation,’ and ‘the Word of God,’ that is, the mediating instrument of all Divine Revelation from the creation of the world to the final judgment. It appears from this that the similarity of the Christology of the Apocalypse to that of Paul is complete; this Christ occupies the same exalted position as the Pauline Christ above the terrestrial Son of Man.”491491Hibbert Lectures, pp. 159–161.
It is not necessary, after these examples, that I should dwell long on the Christology of the Petrine and minor Epistles. Peter is again a distinct witness, and his testimony is in harmony with what we have already seen. Christ is, to refer only to the First Epistle, joined with the Father and the Spirit as one of the principals in the work of salvation;4924921 Pet. i. 2. He is the Redeemer, foreordained before the foundation of the world, but manifest in these last times;4934931 Pet. i. 20. His Spirit testified beforehand in the prophets;4944941 Pet. i. 11. He is called Κύριος, and passages used in the Old Testament of Jehovah are applied to Him—remarkably in 226chap. iii. 15, “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord”;495495Cf. 1 Pet. i. 5, ii. 13, iii. 12. He has gone into heaven, and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him;4964961 Pet. iii. 22. He is the ordained Judge of quick and dead.4974971 Pet. iv. 5. He is therefore, as Weiss says, in His exaltation a Divine Being,498498Biblical Theology of New Testament, i. p. 238. whether the Epistle directly teaches His pre-existence or not, as, however, Pfleiderer thinks it does.499499Urchristenthum, p. 659. Even James, who barely touches Christology in his Epistle, speaks of Christ as the “Lord of Glory,” and the Judge of the world, and prayer is to be made in His name.500500James ii. 1, v. 7-9, 14, 15. Not less instructive are the references in the brief Epistle of Jude, who describes Jesus as “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”; who exhorts believers to pray in the Holy Spirit, and keep themselves in the love of God, hooking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ; and who concludes his short letter by ascribing to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, glory, majesty, dominion, and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore.501501Jude 4, 20, 21, 25 (R.V.). If to these sources of evidence we add the popular discourses in the Acts of the Apostles, we shall have a tolerably clear idea of the views of Christ held in the Church in the earliest period of Christianity. These discourses, though, as might be expected, containing little or no dogmatic teaching on the origin or constitution of Christ’s Person, yet do not fail to represent Him as possessing a unique dignity;502502Acts iii. 13, 25, iv. 27. “Servant,” in sense of Isaiah’s “Servant of Jehovah.” as the holy and sinless One, whom it was not possible for death to hold;503503ii. 24, iii. 14. as the Prince of Life, exalted to the throne of universal dominion;504504ii. 36, iii. 15. as the Lord on whose name men were to call, the One in whom alone under heaven there was salvation, and through whom was preached forgiveness of sins to men;505505i. 21, 38, iii. 26, iv. 10-12, v. 30, 31. as the Giver of the Holy Ghost506506ii. 33. as the appointed Judge of the world, whom the heaven must retain till the time of the restitution of all things.507507iii. 20, 21. These representations, though simpler, are not inconsistent with the more developed Christology of the Epistles, but rather furnish 227the data or premises from which all the positions of that Christology can be deduced.508508Cf. Weiss, i. p. 180: “The Messiah who is exalted to this κυριότης must, of course, be a Divine Being, although, for the earliest proclamation, this conclusion gave no occasion for the consideration of the question on how far such an exaltation was rooted in the original nature of His Person.”
The supernatural view of Christ, then, is no late development, but was in all its leading features fully established in the Church in the generation immediately succeeding Christ’s death. We find it presupposed in all the apostolic writings, and assumed as well known among the persons to whom these writings were addressed. If there were, as the Tübingen school alleges, Pauline and Petrine parties in the Church, it was held by both of these; whatever other shades of doctrinal opinion existed, this was a common element. But this, it seems to me, is only conceivable on the supposition that the view in question was in harmony with the facts of Christ’s own life on earth, with the Claims He made, and with the testimony which His apostles had deposited in the various churches regarding Him. We are now to see how far this is borne out by the actual records we possess of Christ’s life.
II. The testimony of the Gospels—Christ in the Fourth Gospel.
II. We go back then to the Gospels, and ask what ‘they teach. Here I leave out of view the Fourth Gospel, about the teaching of which there can be little possible dispute. Not simply the prologue, but the acts and sayings of Christ recorded in that Gospel, are decisive for anyone who admits it, as I do, to be a truthful record by the beloved disciple of what Christ did and said on earth.509509It is precisely the discourses of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel which Wendt, in his recent Die Lehre Jesu, is disposed to attribute to a genuine Johannine source. On the difference of style between the Johannine and the Synoptical discourses, Godet remarks: “The discourses of the Fourth Gospel, then, do not resemble a photograph, but the extracted essence of a savoury fruit. From the change wrought in the external form of the substance, it doss not follow that the slightest foreign element has been mingled with the latter.”—Introduction to Commentary, p. 135 (Eng. trans.). The contrast, however, may be exaggerated, as shown by comparison of passages where the Synoptics and John cross each other.—Cf. Godet, Introduction, pp. 155–157. It would be out of place here to discuss the question of the genuineness. I would only say that, so far as the objections are drawn from the advanced Christology of the Gospel, and the alleged traces of Alexandrian influence, after what we have seen of the general state of opinion in the apostolic age, very little weight need be attached to them. The 228Christology of John is not a whit higher than the Christology of Paul, or that of the Epistle to the Hebrews, or even that of the Apocalypse—all lying within the apostolic age; the alleged traces of Philonic influence are as conspicuous in the Epistle to the Hebrews as in the Fourth Gospel. It is not, therefore, necessary to go beyond the apostolic age to account for them. I question, indeed, very much whether, if we except the prologue—i.e., if we keep to Christ’s own doings and sayings—there is much in John’s Gospel at all which would directly suggest the peculiarities of Philo. There is certainly a very exalted doctrine of Christ’s Person, but the doctrine is Christian, not Philonic.510510Harnack expresses himself very decidedly on this subject. “Neither the religious philosophy of Philo,” he says, “nor the manner of thought out of which it originated, has exercised a provable influence on the first generation of Christian believers. . . . A Philonic element is also not provable in Paul. . . . The apprehension of the relation of God and the world in the Fourth Gospel is not the Philonic. Therefore, also, the Logos doctrine found there is essentially not that of Philo.”—Dogmengeschichte, i. p. 99. See Note B.—Philo and the Fourth Gospel.
It may, however, still be said that at least the Synoptics511511Matthew, Mark, and Luke. tell a very different story. Here, it will be maintained, we have the human, the truly historical Christ, in contrast with the idealised and untrustworthy picture of the fourth evangelist. Dr. Martineau makes this his strongest ground for the rejection of the Gospel of John. But is it really so? Certainly it is not so, if we let these Gospels—as it is only fair that in the first instance we should do—speak fully and freely for themselves, and do not, in the interest of theory, curtail any part of their testimony. The picture given us in the Synoptics is not at all that of the humanitarian Christ. We have a true human life, indeed,—the life of One who went in and out among men as a friend and brother, who grieved, who suffered, who was tempted, who was poor and despised,—a true “Son of Man,” in every sense of the word. But do we not find more? Does this represent their whole testimony about Christ? On the contrary, does not this lowly Being move as a supernatural Personage throughout, and do not His character and works bear amplest witness to the justice of His claims? Is there, according to the Synoptics, nothing extraordinary in the commencement of Christ’s life, nothing extraordinary in its close, 229nothing in keeping with this extraordinary beginning and end in the career that lies between? It is easy, no doubt, to get rid of all this by denying the historical character of the Gospels, or pruning them down to suit; but after every allowance is made for possible additions to the narrative, there remains a clear enough picture of Jesus to enable us to determine the great subjects of His teaching, and the general character of His claims. In fact, the further criticism goes, the supernatural character of Jesus stands out in clearer relief. These are not mere embellishments, mere external additions, obscuring the picture of a Christ otherwise human. They are not things that can be stripped off, and the real image of Christ be left behind, as the writing of a palimpsest might be removed and the picture below be brought into view. The history is the picture. All fair historical criticism must see that these supernatural features belong to the very essence of the historical representation of Jesus in the Gospels, and that, if we take them away, we have no longer a historical Christ at all, but only a Christ of our own imaginings;512512Cf. on this, Bushnell’s Nature and the Supernatural, chap. xii., “Water. marks on the Christian Doctrine,” and Row’s Jesus of the Evangelists. that we must either take these features as part of our view of Christ, or say frankly with Strauss that we really know little or nothing about Him. But it is just the impossibility of resting in this dictum with any fair regard to the canons of historical criticism which has constantly forced even negative critics back to a fuller recognition of the historical reality of the portraiture in the Gospels, and has again placed them in the dilemma of having to reconsider these claims of the Son of Man.
Let us look at these claims of Jesus in the Synoptics a little more in detail. Even this title “Son of Man”—found only in Christ’s own lips, and never given Him by His followers—has something unique and exceptional about it. It wells up from the depths of the consciousness of One who knew Himself to stand in some peculiar and representative relation to humanity, and to bear the nature of man in some exceptional way.513513Cf. Dorner, Person of Christ, i. p. 55 (Eng. trans.), and System of Doctrine, iii. p. 170; Gess, Christi Person und Werk, i. p. 212. On the various views as to the meaning of the title, see Bruce, Humiliation of Christ, pp. 474–487 (Cunningham Lecture). He is not simply “a Son of Man,” but “the Son of Man”; just as, 230 in a higher relation, He is not simply “a Son of God,” but “the Son of God.” How high this latter relation is, is brought out in the words—“No one knoweth the Son save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him.”514514Mat. xi. 27 (R.V.). In conformity with the uniqueness of nature implied in these titles, He claims to be the Messiah,515515Matt. xi. 1-6; Luke iv.17-21, etc. the Fulfiller of law and prophets,516516Matt. v. 17. the Founder of the kingdom of God, the supreme Legislator and Head of that kingdom,517517Matt. xiii. (Parables of Kingdom); Matt. v.-vii. (Sermon on Mount). He, through faith in whom salvation is to be obtained,518518Matt. xi. 28; Luke vii. 50. the One who demands, as no other is entitled to do, the absolute and undivided surrender of the heart to Himself.519519Matt. x. 37-39. He forgives sins with Divine authority,520520Matt. ix. 2, 6. is the giver of the Holy Ghost,521521Matt. iii. 11, etc. ascribes an expiatory virtue to His death,522522Matt. xx. 28, xxi. 26-28, etc. anticipates His resurrection and return in glory,523523Matt. xvi. 21, 27, xvii. 23, xx. 19, etc. announces Himself as the appointed Judge of the world.524524Matt. xxv. 31-46, etc. This claim of Christ to be the final Judge of the world, found already in the Sermon on the Mount;525525Matt. vii. 21-23. His repeated declarations of His future return in the glory of His Father, and His own glory, and the glory of the holy angels;526526Mark viii. 38, etc. the eschatological parables, in which He makes the ultimate destinies of men depend on relation to Himself,527527Matt. xxv.; Luke xii. 11-27. are among the most remarkable features in His teaching, and are not to be explained away as mere figurative assurances of the ultimate triumph of His cause. They constitute a claim which must either be conceded, or Christ be pronounced the victim of an extravagant hallucination! We have to add to these claims of Christ, His endorsement of Peter’s confession of the unique dignity of His Person—“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”;528528Matt. xvi. 16, 17. His solemn words, so fraught with selfconsciousness, in answer to the High Priest’s adjuration—“Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven”;529529Matt. xxv. 64. and such sublime declarations, implying an omnipresent and omniscient 231relation to His Church, as “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”530530Matt. xviii. 20.
These are stupendous claims of Christ, but we have next to observe that the whole representation of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels is worthy of them. I do not dwell here on the holy majesty with which Christ bears Himself throughout the Gospels in all circumstances, on the tone of authority with which He speaks, on the grace and tenderness which marked His whole relations to men,—I would concentrate attention on the one point that Christ, according to the picture given of Him in the Gospels, is a sinless Being—in this respect also standing quite apart from other men. It is the uniform testimony of the apostles and other writers of the New Testament—of Paul, of Peter, of John, of the Epistle to the Hebrews, of the Apocalypse,531531E.g., 2 Cor. v. 21; 1 Pet. ii. 22; 1 John iii. 5; Heb. iv. 15; Rev. iii. 14, etc. Cf. on this subject Ullmann’s Sinlessness of Jesus, and Bushnell’s Nature and the Sapernatural, x.—that Christ was without sin; and the Synoptic narratives, in the picture they give us of a character entirely God-centred, dominated by the passion of hove to men, embracing the widest contrasts, maintaining itself in absolute spiritual freedom in relation to the world, to men and to events, uniformly victorious in temptation, untouched by the faintest stain of base, paltry, or selfish motive, completely bear out this description. So strong is the evidence on this point, that we find the sinlessness of Christ widely admitted, even by the representatives of schools whose general principles, one would imagine, would lead them to deny it—by adherents of the Hegelian school like Daub, Marheineke, Rosenkranz, Vatke;532532Cf. Dorner’s Person of Christ, v. pp. 121–131; System of Doctrine, iii. p. 261 (Eng. trans.). by mediating theologians of all types, like Schleiermacher,533533Der christl. Glaube, sec. 98 (ii. 78, 83). Beyschlag,534534Leben Jesu, i. pp. 181–191. Rothe,535535Dogmatik, ii. pp. 83, 108. and Ritschl;536536Unterricht, p. 19. by liberal theologians, like Hase537537Geschichte Jesu, p. 248. Hase, however, only recognises the sinlessness of Jesus from His entrance on His public work. It was a sinlessness won by struggle. and Schenkel,538538In his Dogmatik, see sketch in Pfleiderer’s Dev. of Theol. pp. 177–182. Pfleiderer himself doubts the “psychological possibility” of sinless perfection, and does not ascribe it to Christ—Ibid. pp. 117, 118. In his Religionsphilosophie, i. p. 339 (Eng. trans.), he blames Schleiermacher for identifying “this personality so entirely with the ideal principle, that it is exalted to an absolute ideal, and indeed to a miraculous appearance.” This affords a good standard for the measurement of Pfleiderer’s general Christian position. and so decided 232an opponent of the miraculous even as Lipsius.539539Dogmatik, sec. 651, p. 569. We must contend, however, that if Christ was really the sinless Being which the Gospels represent Him, and His followers believed Him to be, we have a phenomenon in history which is not to be explained out of mere natural grounds, or on any principle of development, but a literal new creation, a true moral miracle, involving further consequences as to the origin and nature of the exceptional Personality to whom these predicates of sinlessness belong.540540Strauss acknowledges this when he says: “A sinless, archetypal Christ is not a hair’s-breadth less unthinkable than one supernaturally born, with a Divine and human nature. “—Der Christus des Glaubens und der Jesus der Geschichte, p. 63. But Strauss himself bears high tribute to the perfection of Jesus. “In the attainment of this serene inward disposition, in unity with God, and comprehending all men as brethren, Jesus had realised in Himself the prophetic ideal of the New Covenant with the Law written in the heart; He had—to speak with the poet—taken the Godhead into His will. . . . In Him man made the transition from bondage to freedom.”—Leben Jesu, p. 207 (1864).
In keeping with the character and with the claims of Jesus are the works ascribed to Him in the Gospels. It is, as the merest glance will show, a supernatural history throughout. The miracles attributed to Jesus are not mere wonders, but deeds of mercy and love—the outflow of just such Divinity as we claim for Him. They are, accordingly, wrought by Jesus in His own name, in the exercise of His own authority,541541E.g., Matt. viii. 3, 7-10, 26. and are suitably spoken of as simply His “works”542542Matt. xi. 2. “Mighty works,” in vers. 20, 21, 23, is literally “powers.” “Works” is the favourite term in John.—i.e. standing in the same relation of naturalness to Him, and to His position in the world, as our ordinary works do to us, and to our position in the world. So far from being isolated from the rest of His manifestation, Christ’s miracles are entirely of one piece with it,—are revelations of the powers and spirit of His kingdom,543543Matt. xi. 4, 5; Luke xi. 20.—are the works of the kingdom, or, as they are called in John, “signs.”544544John ii. 11, etc. The most skilful criticism, therefore, has never been able to excise them from the narrative. Their roots intertwine inseparably with the most characteristic elements of the gospel tradition,—with sayings of Christ, 233for example, of unimpeachable freshness, originality, and beauty; and, as part of the history, they produce upon us precisely the same impression of dignity, wisdom, and beneficence, as the rest of the narrative. They are, in short, integral parts of that total presentation of Jesus which produces on us so marked and irresistible an impression of Divinity.545545Cf. Godet’s Lectures in Defence of the Christian Faith, iii., “The Miracles of Jesus Christ,” p. 124 (Eng. trans.); and Pressense, Vie de Jesus, p. 373 (Eng. trans. p. 277).
Even this is not the highest point in the Synoptic testimony about Christ. If Christ died, He rose again on the third day. Meeting with His disciples, He declares to them, “All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth”; He commissions them to preach repentance and remission of sins in His name to all the nations; He bids them “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (one name); He utters for their encouragement this sublime promise, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”546546Matt. xxviii. 18-20. There can be no mistake as to the meaning of this Trinitarian formula, which, as Dorner says, does not express a relation to men, but “requires us to regard the Father as the Father of the Son, and the Son as the Son of the Father, and therefore does not signify a paternal relation to the world in general, but to the Son, who, standing between the Father and the Spirit, must be somehow thought of as pertaining to the sphere of the Divine, and therefore denotes a distinction in the Divine itself.”547547System of Doctrine, i. p. 351 (Eng. trans.). Attempts are made to challenge the authenticity of these sayings. But they are at least part of the Synoptic representation of Christ, and must be taken into account when the comparison is between the Synoptic representation and that found in John, and in other parts of the New Testament. When, however, Christ’s whole claim is considered, no valid objection can be taken to these sayings, except on principles which imply that the resurrection never took place at all,—a position which works round to the subversion of the claim itself.548548See Note C—The Resurrection of Christ and the Reality of His Divine Claim.
Such, then, is the view of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels; 234and the conclusion I draw is, that it is in keeping with the estimate formed of Christ’s Person in the apostolic age. The two things are in harmony. Given such a life as we have in the Gospels, this explains the phenomena of the apostolic age. On the other hand, given the estimate of Christ’s Person and work in the apostolic age, this supports the reliableness of the picture of Christ in the Gospels, for only from such a life could the faith of the Church have originated. We have, in this Synoptic picture, the very Being whom the writings of Paul and John present to us; and the forms they use are the only forms which can adequately interpret Him to us. In other words, given the Christ of the Synoptic Gospels, the doctrine of Paul and John is felt to be the only adequate explanation of His character and claims. I agree, therefore, entirely with Dorner when he says, “It may be boldly affirmed that the entire representation of Christ given by the Synoptics may be placed by the side of the Johannine as perfectly identical, inasmuch as faith, moulded by means of the Synoptic tradition, must have essentially the same features in its concept of Christ as John has”; and adds, “Those who reject the Gospel of John on account of its glorifying of Christ, can hardly have set themselves in clear relations with the Synoptic Christology.”549549Person of Christ, i. pp. 60, 61.
I claim, then, to have shown that if we are to do justice to the facts of Christianity, we must accept the supernatural view of Christ’s Person, and recognise in Him the appearance of a Divine Being in humanity. The argument I have conducted—if it be correct—goes further than to show that this doctrine is an integral part of Christianity. If this were all, it might still be said, Rather than that this doctrine be accepted, let Christianity go! But if my contention is right, we are not at liberty to let Christianity go. The reason why Christianity cannot be waved out of the world at the bidding of sceptics simply is, that the facts are too strong for the attempt. The theories which would explain Christianity away make shipwreck on the facts. But if Christianity is not to be parted with, its full testimony to itself must be maintained; and we have now seen what this means. Formerly it was shown that the attempts to maintain Christianity, while rejecting the truth of the Incarnation, 235have uniformly failed. Now we have seen why it is so. It was shown also whither the rejection of Christianity led us, and how the painful steps of return conducted us back through Theism to Revelation, and through Revelation to belief in Christ as the supreme Revealer. But this faith heads us again to His testimony about Himself, and so once more to the Incarnation. Thus it is that the Lord stands constantly challenging the ages to give their answer to His question, “What think ye of Christ? whose Son is He?”550550Matt. xxii. 42. and increasingly it is shown that it is not in the world’s power to put this question aside. However silenced for the moment, it soon again asserts its rights, and will not cease to be heard till humanity, from one end of the earth to the other, has joined in the devout acknowledgment—“My Lord and my God!”551551John xx. 28.
III. Doctrinal aspects of the Incarnation: proposed reconstructions.
III. This fact of the Incarnation being given, how are we to interpret it? The full discussion of what, doctrinally, is involved in the Incarnation, belongs rather to dogmatics than to the present inquiry; but certain limiting positions may at least be laid down, which may help to keep our thoughts in harmony with the facts we have had before us, and may serve as a check on modern theories, which, professing to give us a re-reading of this all-important doctrine more in agreement with the Christian verity than the old Christological decisions, fall short of, or go beyond these facts. The early decisions of the Church on Christ’s Person are not, indeed, to be regarded as beyond criticism. It may very well be that reconstruction is needed in this doctrine as in many others. Only, we should be careful not to part with the old formulas till something better—something at least equally true to the facts of Christianity—is put in their place; and I confess that most of the modern attempts at a revised Christology do not seem to me to fulfil this condition.
Constrained by the evidence of Scripture, many theologians agree in ascribing “Godhead” to Christ, whose views of the Person of Christ yet fall short of what the complete testimony of Scripture seems to require. Schleiermacher may be included in this class, though he avoids the term;552552See Schleiermacher’s views in Der christl. Glaube, ii. pp. 56, 57, 93, He says: “Inasmuch as all the human activity of Christ in its whole connection depends on this being of God in Him, and represents it, the expression is justified that in the Redeemer God became man, in a sense true of Him exclusively; as also each moment of His existence, so far as one can isolate it represents a new and similar incarnation of God and state of being incarnate; since always and everywhere, all that is human in Him proceeds out of that which is Divine.”—Pp. 56, 57. He objects to the term “God-Man” as too definite.—P. 93. of more recent 236 theologians, Rothe, Beyschlag, Ritschl, Lipsius, etc., who speak freely of the “Godhead” (Gottheit), “God-manhood” (Gottmenschheit), of Christ, and of the “Incarnation” (Menschwerdung) of God in Him.553553Rothe, Dogmatik, B. pp. 88, 107, etc.; Beyschlag, Leben Jesu, p. 191, etc.; Ritschl, Recht. und Ver. iii. pp. 364–393; Unterricht, p. 22; Lipsius, Dogmatik, p. 457. Cf. also Schultz, Lehre von der Gottheit Christi, pp. 536, 537; Herrmann, Verkehr des Christen mit Gott, pp. 42–62; Nitzsch, Evangelische Dogmatik, ii. p. 514, etc. [Beyschlag’s views are further expounded in his New Testament Theology, since published and translated.] But what do these expressions mean? In all, or most, of these theories, Christ has a high and unique position assigned to Him. He is the second Adam, or new Head of the race, Son of God in a sense that no other is, archetypal Man, sinless Mediator and Redeemer of mankind.554554Schleiermacher, ii. p. 19; Lipsius, sec. 638. This is a great deal, and must be recognised in any theory of the Incarnation. All these theories acknowledge, further, a peculiar being or Revelation of God in Christ, on the ground of which these predicates “Godhead” and “God-manhood” are ascribed to Him. But what is its nature? In Schleiermacher, as already seen in the second Lecture, it is the constant and energetic activity of that God-consciousness which is potentially present in every man—which constitutes, therefore, an original element in human nature.555555Der christl. Glaube, ii. pp. 40, 56. Cf. Lipsius, p. 492. In Rothe, it is an ethical union of God with humanity, gradually brought about in the course of the sinless development of Christ, and constituting, when complete, a perfect indwelling of God in man—a perfect unity of the Divine and human.556556Dogmatik, ii. pp. 88–97, 165–182. In Beyschlag, it is the consciousness of a perfect and original relation of Sonship to God, which has its transcendental ground in an impersonal (Divine-human) principle eternally pre-existent in the Godhead.557557Leben Jesu, i. p. 191; Christologie, pp. 58, 84, etc In Ritschl, the “Godhead” of Christ has a purely moral and religious sense, expressing the fact that in Christ, as the supreme Revealer of God, and Founder of the kingdom of God, there 237is perfect oneness of will with God in this world-purpose, and a perfect manifestation of the Divine attributes of grace and truth, and of dominion over the world.558558Unterricht, p. 22. It will be seen that this is a tolerably complex idea of “Godhead.” In Lipsius, again, and those who think with him, “Incarnation” and “Godhead” denote the realisation in Christ of that perfect relation of Sonship to God (Gottessohnschaft) which lies in the original idea of humanity, and the perfect Revelation of the Divine will of love (Liebewillen) in that Revelation.559559Dogmatik, pp. 574, 575. Lipsius distinguishes between the “principle” of the Christian religion—which is that of religion absolutely—and the historical revelation of that principle in the Person and Work of Christ.—Pp. 535, 536. Yet this principle is not accidentally or externally bound up with Christ, as if He were only casually the first representative of it, or His work only the external occasion for the symbolical representation of the general activity of this principle in humanity.—Pp. 537, 538. Now I do not deny that in these theories we have a certain union of the Divine and human, just as believers in Christ, through union with Him and participation in His Spirit, become “sons of God,” and “partakers of the Divine nature.”560560John i. 12; 2 Pet. i. 4. I do not deny, further, that these theories secure for Christ a certain distinction from every other, in that they make Him the original type of that relation of Divine Sonship into which others can only enter through Him. It is a thought also which not unnaturally occurs, whether on this idea of a God-filled humanity—a humanity of which it may be truly said that in an ethical respect the fulness of the Godhead dwells in it bodily—we have not all that is of practical value in any doctrine of Incarnation. We must beware, however, of imposing on ourselves with words, and I believe that, if we do not rise to a higher view, it will be difficult, as the second Lecture showed, to prevent ourselves drifting to pure humanitarianism.
Two things are to be considered here—First, whether these theories are tenable on their own merits; and, second, whether they do justice to the facts of Christ’s Revelation, and to the data of the New Testament generally. I shall offer a few remarks on these points, then add a brief notice of the theories known as Kenotic.
1. There are two classes of these theories—those which do not, and those which do, presuppose a transcendental or metaphysical ground for the predicate “Godhead” applied to Christ, 238and as important differences exist between them, it is desirable to distinguish them.
(1) Of the former class are those of Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Lipsius, with many others that might be named. I abstract from other features in these theories, and look only at the grounds on which “Godhead” is ascribed to Christ; and I do not find any which transcend the limits of humanity. Christ is archetypal man, ideal man, sinless man, the perfect Revelation of grace and truth, the central individual of the race, the bearer of the principle of true religion, the Founder of the kingdom of God in humanity, the pre-eminent object of the Father’s hove,—but He is not more than man. His humanity may he a “God-filled” humanity; still a God-filled man is one thing, and God become man is another. There may be participation in the Divine life—even in the Divine nature—on the part of the ordinary believer; but the man in whom God thus dwells does not on this account regard himself as Divine, does not speak of himself as a Divine person, does not think himself entitled to Divine honours, would deem it blasphemy to have the term “Godhead” applied to him. If, therefore, this is the only account we can give of Christ’s Person, it is clear that this predicate “Godhead” can never properly be applied to Him. We might speak of the Divine in Christ, but we could not say that Christ Himself was Divine. We might see in Him the highest organ of Divine Revelation, but we would require to distinguish between the God revealing Himself and the humanity through which He is manifested. It would be blasphemy here also to speak of Christ Himself as God. It would be idolatry to give Him Divine honours. We find, therefore, that Ritschl has to admit that it is only in a figurative and improper sense that the Church can attribute “Godhead” to Christ.561561Ritschl, Recht. und Ver. iii. p. 378. This predicate, he says, is not a theoretic truth, but only a judgment of value—an expression of the worth which Christ has for the religious consciousness of the believer. In further carrying out the same idea, both Schleiermacher and Ritschl strip away, as formerly shown, all the eschatological attributes from Christ, and resolve His sitting at the right hand of God, His return to judge the world, etc., into metaphors. The only real sense in which Christ is spiritually 239present in His Church is through the perpetuation of His image, of His teaching, and of His influence in the community of believers.562562Ritschl, Recht. und Ver. pp. 383, 384, 407, 408. “In any other sense,” he thinks, “the formula of the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God is either without content for us, because Christ as exalted is directly bidden for us; or becomes the occasion of all possible extravagance (Schwärmerei).”—P. 407. Schleiermacher, Der christl. Glaube, pp. 84–88, 290–292; Lipsius, Dogmatik, pp. 494, 587. This is the legitimate consequence of a theory which does not go beyond the bounds of the human in its estimate of Christ; for if the eschatological teaching of Jesus is admitted, it seems impossible to stop short of a much higher view of His Person. This method, however, of simply sweeping aside what is distasteful, is too violent to be long endured; there are besides those utterances of Jesus which bespeak the consciousness of a relation different in kind, and not merely in degree, from that sustained by others to the Father. This class of theories, therefore, naturally passes over to another—that which seeks to do justice to the facts by admitting a deeper ground for Christ’s Personality than the earthly one.
(2)Of this second class of theories, I may take those of Rothe and Beyschlag as examples. Rothe thinks he effectually secures the idea of Christ’s Godhead by assuming that, in the course of Christ’s sinless development, God constantly unites Himself with Him in closer and closer relations, till at length a perfect union both of person and of nature is effected.563563Dogmatik, pp. 165–182. Beyschlag thinks to do the same by supposing that a Divine impersonal principle—a pre-existent ideal humanity—is somehow incarnated in Christ.564564Christologie, p. 84, etc. But not to speak of the absence of scriptural proof for both of these theories, see the difficulties under which they labour. Can it be seriously said that, if a transcendental ground of Christ’s Person is to be admitted, these theories have any advantage in simplicity or intelligibility over the old view? Take Rothe’s theory. What are we to make of the supposition of a personality which begins as human, and ultimately and gradually is changed into Divine? Then what is meant by two persons merging into one, and this by moral process? For God is one Person to begin with, and Christ is another, and at length a perfect union is effected of both. Do we really in this theory get beyond the idea of an ethical union, or perfect moral friendship, in which, after all, 240the two Persons remain distinct, though united in will and love? If this is the character of the union, it is only by a misuse of terms that we can speak of Christ becoming really God. Yet Rothe is perfectly in earnest with this conception of the deification of Christ, so we ask finally—How is this newly constituted Person related to God the Father? For Rothe acknowledges no immanent distinction of Persons in the God-head, and it is the Father Himself who thus unites Himself with Christ, and confers Godhead upon His Person. Rothe says expressly, “The Incarnation of God in the Second Adam is essentially an incarnation of both in Him—of the Divine personality, and of the Divine nature.”565565Dogmatik, ii. p. 172. But if it is the One absolute Personality whom we call God, who enters into the union with the humanity of Jesus, how can the resultant relation be described as that of Father and Son? Or if a new Divine Person really is constituted, does not Rothe’s theory amount to this, that, since the Incarnation, a new Person has been added to the Godhead? But what does the constitution of a new Divine Person mean? Is it not, if the expression is to be taken literally, very like a contradiction in terms? I need not wait long on Beyschlag’s rival theory of a pre-existent impersonal humanity, which solves no difficulties, and is loaded with inconceivabilities of its own. For in what sense can this idea of humanity be spoken of as Divine, any more than any other idea of the Divine mind which is realised in time h—the idea, e.g., of the world, or of the believer, or of the Church. What, besides, is meant by a heavenly, ideal humanity? Does it include only the single Person of Christ, or not also all the members of the human race?566566Cf. his Christologie, p. 58; and Leben Jesu, p. 46. How, further, is this ideal of humanity, which forms the supernatural principle in Christ, related to His actual humanity of flesh and blood, which came to Him “of the seed of David”?567567Rom. i. 4. Finally, if Christ’s Person was thus peculiarly constituted, even in respect of its humanity, how can it be said of Him that He was made in all things like unto His brethren?568568Heb. ii. 17. Beyschlag would avoid some of these difficulties, if he kept consistently by the position that Christ is but the perfect realisation of the “Ebenbild” of humanity, which is fragmentarily realised in ail men,—is, in fact, simply the ideal Man; hut he seeks to establish a metaphysical distinction between Christ’s humanity and ours, in virtue of which His personality is “originally and essentially” Divine, while ours is not.—Christologie, p. 58. See further on Beyschlag’s views in Appendix. It may seem a waste of time to discuss such questions; yet theories like Rothe’s and Beyschlag’s have 241their uses; for they aid us, by a process of exclusion, in seeing what the true theory must be, and where we are to look for it.
2. The second question I proposed to ask is already in large measure answered in the course of the above discussion, Do these theories do justice to the facts of Christ’s Revelation, and to the data of the New Testament generally? They clearly do not, either in a negative or a positive respect. There is no hint in the Scriptures of either Rothe’s gradual incarnation, or of Beyschlag’s pre-existent principle of humanity; but there are: many passages which directly, or by implication, claim for Christ personal pre-existence, and attribute to Him Divine acts and functions in that state of pre-existence. But, apart from this, all those passages which claim for Christ a unique relation of Sonship to the Father, taken with the sayings which imply His consciousness of the possession of attributes and functions raised above those of humanity, point to a super-earthly and pre-incarnate state of existence. And this brings us back to the fundamental distinction between a true and a false or inadequate doctrine of Incarnation. Incarnation is not simply the endowing of human nature with the highest conceivable plenitude of gifts and graces; it is not a mere dynamical relation of God to the human spirit—acting on it or in it with exceptional energy; it is not simply the coming to consciousness of the metaphysical unity all along subsisting between humanity and God; it is not even such moral union, such spiritual indwelling and oneness of character and will, as subsists between God and the believer; still less, of course, is it analogous to the heathen ideas of sons of the gods, where the relation is that of physical paternity —or of the appearances of gods in human guise—or even of temporary appearances in humanity, as in the case of the Avatars of Vishnu. The scriptural idea of the Incarnation is as unique as is the Biblical conception as a whole. It is not, to state the matter in a word, the union simply of the Divine nature with the human,—for that I acknowledge in the case of every believer through the indwelling Spirit,—but the entrance 242of a Divine Person into the human. That there is an analogy, and a closer one than is sometimes admitted, between the believer’s relation to God and Christ’s relation to the Father is expressly declared in Christ’s own words in John xvii.21, where He asks “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they may be one in Us.” But the subject here is moral union,—not union of essence, as in John i.1, and perhaps John x.30, hut the mutual ensphering of personalities in an atmosphere of love, such as obtains in its highest degree between the Father and the Son. For “he that abideth in Love, abideth in God, and God abideth in him.”5695691 John iv. 16. There is this also in Christ. But the distinction remains—these personalities of ours are human, and continue so, no matter how entirely filled, penetrated, possessed, with the light and love and knowledge of God they may be; but His was a Personality of a higher rank—a Divine Personality, which entered into the limitations and conditions of humanity from above, which was not originally human, as ours is, but became so. Here questions deep and difficult, I. acknowledge, crowd thick.upon us, to many of which no answer may be possible; but so much as this, I think, is assuredly implied in the Christian Incarnation.
3. Before, however, venturing further in this direction, I must bestow at least a glance on what is known as the question of the Kenosis. This word, meaning “emptying,” is taken, as is well known, from Phil. ii.7, in which passage Christ is said to have “emptied Himself” (ἑαυτὸν ἐκ ένωσε), taking the form of a servant. The question is, What does this emptying include? Did the Son of God—the Eternal Word—literally lay aside His Divine glory, and, ceasing to he in the form of God, enter by human birth into the conditions of earthly poverty and weakness? Or, if He did not, what is the import of this remarkable phrase? The Kenotic theories—represented en Germany by a long list of honoured names570570E.g. Thomasius, Gess, Ebrard, Kahnis, Luthardt, etc.—answer the former question in the affirmative. Godet among French writers advocates the same view. The Divine Logos, he thinks, literally laid aside His Divine attributes at the Incarnation, and entered the sphere of the finite as an unconscious 243babe.571571Cf. Commentary on John, i. 14. Pressense and Gretillat are other French Kenoticists. The object of these theories, of course, is to secure the reality of Christ’s humanity, and the fact of a true human development, which seemed imperilled by the older view. Notwithstanding, however, the wide support they have received, I cannot think that these theories will ever permanently commend themselves to the judgment of the Church.572572For an able discussion of Kenotic theories see Professor Bruce’s Humiliation of Christ, Lecture IV. (Cunningham Lectures). They seem to me—to come to the heart of the matter at once—to involve an impossibility, inasmuch as they ask us to believe in the temporary suspension of the consciousness, and the cessation from all Divine functions, of one of the Persons of the God-head! How does this consist with Scripture? Are we not told of the Son, in particular, not only that by Him all things were created, but that in Him all things consist—that He upholdeth all things by the word of His power? Is this relation to the universe not an essential one? and does the Kenotic theory not reduce it to one wholly unessential and contingent? I cannot therefore accept this theory, nor do I think that the reality of the Incarnation requires it. I might appeal here to the analogy of nature. There is an immanent presence of God in nature, but there is also a transcendent existence of God beyond nature. So the Divine Son took upon Him our nature with its human limits, but above and beyond that, if we may so express it, was the vast “over-soul” of His Divine consciousness. Even human psychology, in making us more familiar than we were with the idea of different strata of consciousness even in the same personal being, gives us a hint which need not be lost. The sense of the apostle’s words seems sufficiently met by the lowly form of Christ’s earthly manifestation—“despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”573573Isa. liii. 3.
The result of our inquiry has not been to overthrow the Christological decisions of the early Church, but rather to impress us with the justice and tact of these decisions in guarding the truth against opposite errors. Has all the labour and earnestness of modern investigation on this profound subject, then, been absolutely without result? I do not think 244so. One remarkable gain has already been adverted to, in the tendency of modern speculation to draw the Divine and the human nearer together, and to emphasise, if not their identity, at least their kindredness, and the capacity of the human to receive the Divine.574574In a practical respect the chief gain is that we begin with the earthly side of Christ’s humanity, and rise to the recognition of His Divinity; more stress is laid on the humanity which manifests the Divinity than formerly. See Kaftan’s Brauchen wir ein neue Dogma? p. 54. But many lights and suggestions have been afforded in the treatment of this subject, from Schleiermacher downwards, which in any attempt at a constructive view must always be of great value. This will perhaps become apparent if, in closing this survey, I notice an objection which is sometimes urged against the view of the Incarnation here presented—the ordinary, and as I believe the scriptural one—namely, that in affirming the incarnation of a heavenly and pre-existent Person we seem to impinge on the reality, or at least the integrity, of the human nature which Christ bore. The question is, Had Christ’s ‘human nature an independent Personality of its own, or was the Divine the only Personality? To guard against Nestorian error, or the assumption of two persons in Christ, the Church, it will be remembered, affirmed what is called the “impersonality” of the human nature of Christ, and, as might appear, with perfect reason on the principles of the Logos Christology.575575Cf. on this subject of the Anhypostasia, as it is called, Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, pp. 32, 33; Dorner’s System of Doctrine, iii. p. 254 (Eng. trans.); Bruce’s Humiliation of Christ, pp. 427–430. But this very consequence is made in modern times the ground of an objection to that Christology, which, it is said, while maintaining the Divinity, impairs the integrity of the humanity, of the Redeemer. For (1) If Christ’s human nature had no independent Personality, was not His human nature thereby mutilated? and (2) If it is the Divine Personality that is the subject—the Ego—does not this detract on the other side from the truth of His humanity? For this reason, some are disposed to grant that Christ’s humanity also must be conceived of as personal, and that the Incarnation must be thought of, with Rothe, as the union both of person and of nature. Let us see how it stands with this difficulty on closer inspection, and from what point of view it can best be obviated.
1. It would be well if the objector to the ordinary ecclesiastical 245 view—he who admits in any sense an Incarnation—would think out carefully what is implied in the attribution of an independent Personality to Christ’s human nature. On both sides there will be agreement that the unity of the Person must in some form be maintained. You cannot have two Egos in Christ’s one Divine-human Person—however close the relation between them. If the human Ego retains in any measure its distinction from the Divine, then we have not an Incarnation, but a Nestorian relation of persons. If, therefore, an independent human Ego is to be assumed, it must be supposed to be so incorporated with the Divine Ego—so host in it, so interpenetrated by it, so absorbed in it—that all sense of separate identity is parted with;576576This was Origen’s view in the early Church. The Logos, he thought, united itself with an unfallen soul in the pro-existent state. Cf. De Principiis, Book ii. chap. vi.: “But since, agreeably to the faculty of free-will, variety and diversity characterised the individual souls, so that one was attached with a warmer love to the Author of its being, and another with a feebler and weaker regard, that soul, . . . inhering from the beginning of the creation, and afterwards, inseparably and indissolubly in Him, as being the Wisdom and Word of God, and the Truth and the true Light, and receiving Him wholly, and passing into His light and splendour, was made with Him an a pre-eminent degree one Spirit, according to the promise of the apostle to those who ought to imitate it, that ‘be who is joined to the Lord is one spirit’ (1 Cor. vi. 17). . . . Neither was it opposed to the nature of that soul, as a rational existence, to receive God, into whom, as stated above, as into the Word and the Wisdom and the Truth, it had already wholly entered. And therefore deservedly is it also called, along with the flesh which it had assumed, the Son of God, and the Power of God, the Christ, and the Wisdom of God, either because it was wholly in the Son of God, or because it received the Son of God wholly into itself.”—Ante-Nicene Library trans. Origen’s view may be compared with Rothe’s, only that Rothe does not allow a separate personality in the Logos. while, on the other hand, the Divine Ego so transfuses itself into the human, so limits and conditions itself, so becomes the ruling and controlling force in the human consciousness, as itself practically to become human. There is perhaps no obvious objection to this view, but, at the same time, it is difficult to see what is gained by it. The human Ego, as a distinct Ego, is as entirely lost sight of—is as completely taken up and merged into the Divine—as on the other supposition. For it is of the essence of the true view of Incarnation that the bond of personal identity should remain unbroken between the Son who shared the glory of the Father in eternity, and the human Christ who prayed, “O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.”577577John xvii. 5.246
2. The other side of the objection — If it is the Divine Personality which is the subject, does not this detract from the truth of the human nature, give us only an unreal and doketic Christ?—raises a much deeper question—that, namely, of the original relation of the Divine Logos to humanity. If God can become man, it can only be on the presupposition of an original relation between God and humanity, in virtue of which there is an essential kindredness and bond of connection between them. This is already implied in the Scripture doctrine of man made in the image of God, but it receives a deeper interpretation through the doctrine of the Logos.578578An original relation of the Logos to humanity on the ground of the Incarnation, is already implied in the theology of Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen (cf. Dorner’s History); is made prominent in recent Christological discussions in Germany; was the view of Maurice, etc. When it is objected that the Divine Logos, even though entering into the nature and conditions and limitations of humanity, is not truly a human Person, the question is to be asked, Is the relation between Personality in the Logos and that in man one of contrariety, or is not Personality in the Logos rather the truth of that which we find in humanity? Is man’s personality in every case not grounded in that of the Logos? Is He not the light and life of all men, even in a natural respect—the light of intelligence, of conscience, of spirit? But if man’s personality is thus grounded in the Logos, is there a difference of kind between them, or not rather one of condition? Is there not a human side in the Logos, and a Divine side in man? and is not this the truth we have to conserve in such theories as Beyschlag’s and Hegel’s. There is no denial, therefore, in the doctrine of the Incarnation, rightly understood, of a true human Personality in Christ,—what is denied is that the Personality of the Divine Son cannot also become in the incarnate condition a truly human one. A further question would be, whether the idea of the human race did not include from the first the idea of an Incarnation, with the Son Himself as Head—a subject which will be dealt with in the next Lecture.
I remark, in a word, in closing, that we do not do justice to this stupendous fact of the Incarnation, if we neglect to look at it in the light of its revealed ends. The advantage of taking the doctrine in this way is, that we see at a glance the inadequacy of all lower theories of the Person of Christ, if the 247ends intended to be accomplished by His appearance were to be attained. If Christ came to do only the work of a prophet, or of a philanthropist, or of a teacher of ethical truth, I admit that the Incarnation would shrivel up into an absurdity. The means would be out of all proportion to the ends. But who will say this of the actual ends for which the Son of God came into the world? Who will affirm that if a world was to be redeemed from sin and guilt, and spiritual bondage—to be renewed, sanctified, and brought into the fellowship of life with God—anyone less than Divine was adequate to the task?579579Even Hartmann recognises this. “If one sees in Jesus,” he says, “only the eon of the carpenter Joseph and of his wife Mary, this Jesus and His death can as little redeem me from my sins as, say, Bismarck can do it,” etc.—Selbstzersetzung, p. 92. Here, again, the Christian view is in keeping with itself. There is a proportion between the Incarnation and the ends sought to be accomplished by it. The denial of the Incarnation of necessity carries with it a lowering of the view of the work Christ came to do for men. He, on the other hand, who believes in that work—who feels the need of it—much more who has experienced the redeeming power of it in his own heart—will not doubt that He who has brought this salvation to him is none other than the “Strong Son of God—Immortal Love.”580580In Memoriam.
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