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13. FINAL APPRECIATION.
We have thus produced ample evidence to show that, although we cannot admit the claim of the Fourth Gospel to be regarded as a record of the life of Jesus, it deserves the highest consideration at the present time when it is viewed as a book dealing with the essence of Christianity. So long as it is read with the idea of finding each particular statement about Jesus’ works and discourses to be correct, it cannot be enjoyed. But when this idea is abandoned, and when, in addition, Jesus continual claim upon people to believe in his heavenly origin is set aside, when therefore attention is given only to the thoughts which he is made to express, or when one reads attentively the First Epistle of John, one is impressed by a profundity of thought and feeling, the equal of which cannot easily be found anywhere else in the New Testament.
We may be sure that from the experience of his own soul he knew the value of the benefits offered by religion. He is aware that the religious man has light to illuminate his path (xii. 35), and that he possesses truth—truth which does not merely preserve him from error, but, more than that, delivers him from sin and leads him to holiness (viii. 32-35; xvii. 17-19). He knows of that faith which means resigning one’s ego entirely to a higher personality; he knows of that depth of meaning imparted to life which implies that this truly begins at the moment of faith’s awakening and cannot be interrupted by the death of the body; he knows of a spring of living water in his soul (iv. 14) and of the true bread from heaven which lasts for 256the life eternal (vi. 27, 32); he knows of a peace which the world cannot give (xiv. 27; xvi. 33), and of perfect joy (xv. 11; xvii. 13). In a word, he knows what it is to feel oneself a child of God and a friend of one’s Master, instead of a slave who does not know what his Master is doing (xv. 14 f.); he knows what it is for a man to feel at one with God and with his Saviour.
For all that constituted his religious aspirations he now found satisfaction in Christianity. But to him this means that he found it in the person of Jesus. For, in addition to all that we have mentioned, he knew something else: that no man has ever seen God, that none can receive any thing unless it be given from heaven, and that one must be chosen and cannot be the chooser of his own Saviour (i. 18; iii. 27; xv. 16). Consequently he needed revelation, and, sharing as he did the ideas of the age in which he lived, he could only conceive of this being imparted by a divine being who came down from heaven, proclaimed all truth, and brought every kind of salvation. The result is he has sketched the Jesus of his own mind in such a way that we men of to-day are often no longer able to find in him the true revelation. And yet in spite of this we can understand the way in which this deeply religious man came to build up this faith of his, In his Gospel we can still discover some very homely statements about Jesus, which show how at first a person’s attention might have been attracted to him simply as a remarkable phenomenon: “never man so spake” (vii. 46); “he that speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory, but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (vii. 18); “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep” (x. 11). But the author having by such observations as these, which are 257really appropriate to the historical Jesus, gained confidence in Jesus, his longing for revelation would of itself carry him farther so that he could accept everything else that was recorded of this same Jesus and all those ideas that necessarily seemed to him to be presupposed if in his own person he represented a perfect revelation of God.1010In the suggestion here offered, which of course is not meant to be anything more than a suggestion, we have deliberately assumed that when the Fourth Evangelist devoted himself to Christianity he was of mature age. The growth of his ideas could be explained with very much greater simplicity if we might suppose that he had been educated in Christianity from the days of his youth.
This again leads us to the thought that the author of the Fourth Gospel deserves credit for wishing to ascribe to Jesus all the sublime thoughts that he had made his own, especially when we remember that people of other ages, the present not excepted, have in the same way been only too ready to find in Jesus all that at any time has seemed to them truest and best in religion, We can understand now how it is that the author sees in this Jesus, and in him alone, the way to God, the truth and the life (xiv. 6); we can understand the confidence with which he can make him say, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (iv. 14), or “if a man keep my word, he shall never see death” (viii. 51). And one will be glad to be able to say after him, though the words were addressed to another kind of Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (vi. 68).
At the same time he has not shut his eyes to the truth that Christian knowledge needed to make progress. After the death of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is to guide the disciples into all truth (xvi. 13). We may certainly suppose that the Evangelist himself felt that he was receiving some of 258this guidance when he advanced so far beyond his predecessors in his effort to spiritualise Christianity. In fact, he has contributed very greatly towards establishing the truth of those words which in his Gospel (iv. 23 f.) Jesus addresses to the woman of Samaria: “the hour cometh and now is (already) when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth . . . God is Spirit, and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
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