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§ IV.—CHAPTER VIII.
THE DIVINE MAN INCARNATE WISDOM AND LOVE.
WITH the last chapter the argument, as apprehended by us, might appropriately have closed; it seems so superfluous to argue on the foundation of the gospel revelation for the wisdom and goodness of God—that revelation being only conceivable as in the highest degree an expression of both. Yet it may be well simply to glance at some of the special features of Divine excellence thus declared to us. The teaching and character of the Lord Jesus, and the adaptation of the gospel to the spiritual elevation and consolation of the human race, seem to present, in this view, the most prominent points for notice.
It is not now denied by any, even by those who repudiate the Divine authority of Christianity, that we have in the teaching and character of Christ a rare exhibition of wisdom and goodness. It is acknowledged that He who, eighteen hundred years ago, arose a Prophet among a feeble and distracted people, sunk in social and religious debasement, taught a purer and more exalted morality, and lived a life 351of more beautiful beneficence, than the history of the world elsewhere presents. While such a phenomenon, in all the circumstances, must appear somewhat inexplicable to those who do not recognise in it anything specially Divine, to the Christian it appears clearly intelligible and significant, He recognises in the man Christ Jesus the incarnation of Divine wisdom and love. He beholds in him the Word made flesh, who “dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
When we consider the special point in our argument at which we have arrived, we recognise the direct bearing upon it of this manifestation of Divine wisdom in Christ. With order everywhere pervading the physical world—with nature’s harmonies all around—there reigned confusion alone in the life of man. There were in him the promptings of a noble life, which at the best remained unsatisfied, and which too frequently were soon utterly crushed under the dominion of his lower propensities and tendencies. There was government everywhere, but here misrule. Morality seemed rather a varying fiction than a sovereign reality. Giving all honour to the aspiring aims of heathen wisdom, it will not be maintained that any ancient moralist succeeded in discovering a perfect polity for this sphere of misrule. In the Porch and in the Academy there had, no doubt, been taught some pure and elevated lessons, and certain hints of a Divine morality had there been reached, which, as we read them now, seem anticipations of a loftier truth; but in none of the classic schools do we find a moral doctrine at once adequate and consistent.352
This is only to be found in the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is only in His character that we perceive a perfect example of moral order, and in His doctrine that we acknowledge a perfect rule of moral polity. He alone fully understood what was in man, and what he needed to raise him above the mere earthly life so natural to him, into the nobler spiritual life of truth and duty. Stoicism on the one hand, and Platonism on the other, and, later than either, Eclecticism, as represented by the devout and meditative Plutarch, had discerned, with sufficiently clear vision, certain aspects of man’s spiritual being; but they altogether failed in that comprehensive conception of it which is expressed in the teaching of Christ. They failed to seize the twofold character of moral greatness and yet natural degradation which man everywhere presents, and which is at once so clearly mirrored and so comprehensively addressed in Christianity. This profound moral insight and completely adequate power of moral instruction are nowhere else exhibited. Seeing as man never saw into the secrets of the human heart, the Lord Jesus “spake as never man spake.” His simple utterances breathed a wisdom of which the sagacity of Socrates and the genius of Plato had only caught far-off and imperfect glimpses. He taught man, as neither of them had done, to know himself; He touched with a master hand the secrets of his moral being, revealing their discord, and providing the key to their higher and purer harmony. He brought back, in short, into the sphere of moral misrule, moral order; so that the Theist beholds in Him a perfect expression of Divine wisdom. The difficulties which may result from the broken 353and defaced manifestations of this wisdom in the general picture of humanity have here no place; for here is the representation, at once in life and in doctrine, of moral perfection. In the man Jesus Christ all the disorders of humanity disappear, and the Divine and human are seen in complete and most beautiful union. Here we have the “possibility of the human race made real;” and in the lustre of this perfect revelation of moral excellence the Divine wisdom shines forth with conspicuous fulness. Nay, here to the Christian Theist is the Divine wisdom, “its express image and the brightness of its glory.”
And here is certainly not less conspicuous the revelation of the Divine goodness. The life and the death of Christ presents, in truth, the most exalted picture of love that we can conceive. The more we contemplate them, the more does the impression of Divine beneficence rise upon us. He went about continually doing good. He dwelt among men as a brother, sharing their joys, and alleviating with an inexhaustible fulness of compassion their sorrows. He lived only to communicate happiness, and to shed around Him blessing. His ear was ever open to the cry of the wretched, and His hand ever ready to help the helpless. No aspect of human suffering repelled His sympathy—no magnitude of moral baseness checked the flow of His pity. He healed the broken-hearted, and set at liberty the bruised spirit. He made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear: the sick man heard His voice, and his sickness was cured; the dead heard it, and rose to life again. The spirit of beneficence animated Him with so Divine a strength that 354it triumphed over every obstacle of hatred and persecution which surrounded Him, and flowed forth in currents of kindness towards His most obstinate and bitter enemies. His love sought and accepted no reward save its own exalted exercise. Persecution could not prevent it—indignity could not repel it—contumely could not ruffle it—death could not quench it. What a depth of Divine compassion breathes in His lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!” What a fervour of infinite mercy is expressed in His prayer, “Father, forgive them—they know not what they do.”
The whole life of the Saviour is truly a life of love. We cannot regard any feature of it that does not bear the impress of beneficent devotion; and as we evermore meditate on its Divine beauty, we still see some finer traits of tenderness in it, and a more ennobling stamp of grace.
But it is in the sufferings and death of Christ that the picture of Divine love appears most marvellous and transcendent. Here we behold Him wrestling not only with others’ misery and overcoming it, but moreover with the dark burden of His own inexplicable agony, and triumphing under all. As we contemplate the lonely and shadowed figure of Gethsemane’s garden, bowed beneath a load of suffering which tongue shall never tell, and as we raise our eyes to the bleeding victim on the cross, we feel that there is a light of inexpressible love shining on us from amid all that darkness, as it burns with a radiant glow in the bosom of the sufferer. The presence of a love stronger than death alone sustains under all that mysterious passion. 355There is here, our hearts tell us, a love which “passeth knowledge.” There have, indeed, been others who have loved unto death—who have counted not their own lives dear, for some noble principle or glorious cause—yet there is something in the love of Christ which at once sets it above the loftiest example, or even the loftiest ideal of merely human affection. It is a love solitary in its depth and grandeur, reaching far beyond our conception in the height to which it rises above moral sympathy, and triumphs over moral enmity. Our minds cannot understand, but our hearts acknowledge a love which fed upon the very neglect, and took strength from the very contempt, which it encountered; a love which unworthiness only quickened, and hostility only fanned—which only glowed with the brighter and more ardent lustre the more it was crushed and bruised—which, from the bloody sweat of Gethsemane’s garden, and the darker agonies of Calvary’s cross, only gathered fresh vigour and mastery, till it brought forth battle unto victory, and, ascending to that eternal Bosom whence it emanated, “led captivity captive,” and “gave gifts to men.”
It is surely impossible to contemplate such a love without feeling that the great heart of God whence it came is love; and whatever difficulties may beset the burdened human heart, there is here a presence of love unstained, to which it can ever joyfully turn. There is here a radiance of beneficence which shines only the more intense from the dark background of sin and sorrow which reflects it. There issues here, from the very shadowing of the Divine character, a richer brightness, and from the hiding of its strength only a more glorious fulness.356
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