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Sec. 1.—By Others.
WHEN we cast a searching glance at the actual events of our Lord’s life, we cannot help wishing that men of the most opposite ranks and dispositions, occupying positions exterior to Christianity, sceptical, or even inimical, had left us express accounts of the impressions produced by His actions and character. Such a wish is, however, but scantily gratified by history. We know, indeed, with unquestionable certainty, from the testimony of heathen authors, that Jesus suffered death by crucifixion in the reign of Tiberius,2424 Tacitus, Annals, xv. 44; Suetonius, Life of Claudius, cap. xxiv., and elsewhere. and that even from the very first, divine honours were paid Him by those who were called Christians after Him, as the Christ.2525 Pliny, in the well-known, epistle to Trajan, Epist. x. 97. We have also the passage of the Jewish author Josephus in which, so far as it is genuine, Jesus is spoken of in generally 41favourable terms.2626 Archæol. xviii. 3, 3. The passage appears to me to be a compound of genuine elements and later additions. At all events, Jesus is mentioned by Josephus as He ‘who was called Christ’ (Archæol. xx. 9, 1). And, lastly, we perceive from the various statements of non-Christian authors, that the first importance was from the earliest period attributed to the person of Jesus Christ with respect to the establishment of Christianity.2727 Compare my work, Historisch oder Mythisch, pp. 10-13. But as far as anything individual or characteristic concerning His person is concerned, we learn absolutely nothing from such sources. Hence we are thrown entirely upon the information furnished us by those who adhered to Him in faith and devoted love,—that is, by the apostles. This information has not, however, been handed down to us in such wise as to give forth, so to speak, only a monotone of approbation and admiration of the moral elevation of Christ. On the contrary, we are thereby presented with a copious, varied, and unique portraiture of the impression He produced. The apostles do indeed also sum up in statements of a doctrinal kind their views of His moral character but these, bearing as they do the impress not of a standing formula, but of a free expression of conviction, are at the same time accompanied by the Gospel narrative. In this we possess a delineation carried out in a series of most varied pictures, both of the manner in which men of the most opposite dispositions—men indifferent and enthusiastic, devoted and inimical—were affected by the moral conduct manifested by Jesus Christ, and also of this conduct itself in all those conditions and relations of life by which character in general is tested.
We proceed to consider this more closely, and will first review some features and expressions of a more general kind. It is one leading mark of a strong and sharply defined character, to call forth a decided, and even an inimical reaction. 42And such was the effect produced in the case of Jesus Christ. By a behaviour utterly free from respect of persons, ‘He stirred up irreconcilable enmity. But the vigilant hatred of His foes, though everywhere following His steps, found nothing by which they might impugn the purity of His conduct. On the other hand, even those who observed Him in other respects with indifference, were struck and captivated by the peculiar dignity of His character. His worldly-minded judge,—a man by no means very susceptible of what was noble and exalted, nay, even a hard and cruel man,—felt himself compelled to bear solemn testimony to the innocence of the persecuted Jesus.2828 On the character of Pilate, see especially Philo, in the Legat. ad Caj., t. ii. p. 590, ed. Mang. The wife of Pilate, too, who, though undoubtedly of a gentler character, would naturally have but little interest in the fate of a Jewish teacher, was yet so possessed by the certainty of His blameless purity, that the thought that her husband might be stained with the blood of that just Person, left her no rest even in sleep.2929 Matt. xxvii. 19; especially the words, μηδὲν σοὶ καὶ τῷ δικαίῳ ἐκείνῳ. The commander of the Roman guard, at the cross, was so overcome by the impression made by the sufferer, that he gave a testimony to the righteousness of Jesus, which displays a reverence far surpassing any ordinary human standard.3030 Matt. xxvii. 54; Luke xxiii. 47. And even the thief who was crucified with Him was moved by the aspect of the sufferer,—who in this moment of deepest desertion seemed devoid of aught calculated to awaken faith,—to the most entire reliance upon His person, and thereby to a joyful hope of a better life.3131 Luke xxiii. 40.
Nowhere did the conduct of Jesus leave its beholders indifferent,—nowhere did it fail to produce a powerful impression. His Person produced upon all with whom He came in contact, the effect of compelling a moral decision; 43and during the whole course of His life, His mere presence passed a silent but irresistible sentence upon those by whom He was surrounded. This was most powerfully manifested in the case of those who were most intimately connected with Him; and from this circle we will adduce here only two specially striking examples,—viz. the betrayer of Jesus, and that apostle upon whom, as upon one firm as a rock to confess Him, Jesus built His Church. Even Judas Iscariot is a witness to the purity and innocence of Christ, and that by an act of the most decided kind,—an act not indeed of faith and love, but of despair. Like the other apostles, he too had, during three years of intimate intercourse, every opportunity of most closely observing the conduct of the Lord Jesus; and if he had detected any flaw in it, he would most certainly have brought this forward, after his treachery was consummated, for the purpose of palliating his deed and quieting his conscience. But finding nothing, he was constrained to confess that he had betrayed the innocent blood;3232 Αἷμα ἀθῶον (Matt. xxvii. 4). and the conviction of this crime was so heavy a burden on his soul, that he went away and killed himself. Thus even in and through the traitor, was the moral dignity and power of Jesus manifested; not, however, as a light unto life, but as a judgment unto death.
A contrast to this picture is exhibited in the case of St. Peter. The same apostle who first made a confession of faith in Jesus as the Son of the living God, makes an equally remarkable, though more indirectly expressed, confession of the moral glory of his Master. We allude, in the first place, to the expressions which broke from his lips after the miraculous draught of fishes: ‘ ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’3333 Luke v. 8. Undoubtedly the immediate occasion of these words was that manifestation of the power of Christ which he had just beheld; but it is worthy of remark, that 44Peter does not in the view of it exclaim, ‘I am a weak, a perishing,’ but ‘I am a sinful man.’ Hence is very evident that Peter recognised in Him who had just shown forth such mighty power, pre-eminently One who would be polluted by intercourse with him the sinner, and hence one separate from sinners, the Holy One. The sinner and the Holy One of God can, so it seems to him, have nothing in common. We have in this saying the direct utterance of a soul struck with the moral dignity and uniqueness of Christ,—an utterance as strong and definite as can well be imagined, and at the same time an evidence of the light in which the apostle regarded our Lord’s miraculous power, viz. as based upon moral reasons, and inseparable from sinless perfection.3434 The notion of the incompatibility between the possession of the power of working miracles and a sinful nature is also expressed by others not included in the apostolic circle. See John ix. 16, xxiv. 31, 33. It shows how intimately connected in his view were the morally and the physically miraculous. With this trait is connected a similar one in the life of St. Peter. We mean the circumstance that, after his denial of his Master, it needed only a look from the latter3535 Luke xxii. 61. to produce the deepest conviction of sin, and the bitterest remorse in fhe heart of the apostle. A mere look could never have had such power, unless the sacred purity and dignity of Him whom he had first denied, had at the same time been irresistibly present to his mind. The holy purity of Jesus and his own sinfulness are, to the apostle’s mind, like two opposite poles, which exercise a power of mutual limitation in the effect they ‘produce upon his inward emotions.
The same truth which is in these instances brought before us by facts, is still more definitely and expressly asserted by the apostles in many doctrinal passages; and this is done in a manner which makes it obvious that they are by no means 45speaking of a moral excellence which might be shared also by others, but of a perfection attributable to the Lord Jesus alone. Neither is this all-surpassing elevation indefinitely and indirectly hinted at, but insisted on in a manner at once most decided and direct. All the apostles and apostolic men, and foremost among them he whose actions we have just mentioned as making a like confession, and St. John, the beloved disciple, recognised in Christ not merely a righteous and innocent man, but the Righteous and Holy One in a super-eminent way, in an absolutely unique sense.3636 Acts iii. 14, viii. 25, xxii. 14; 1 Pet. iii. 18; 1 John ii. 1, 29, iii. 7; Heb. iv. 15. Comp. also 1 Tim. iii. 16. He is in their eyes One who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin;3737 Heb. iv. 15. who is our perfect example, because He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth;3838 1 Pet. ii. 21. Nitzsch excellently paraphrases the expression ὑπογραμμός by: the living Reinschrift and Vorschrift—i.e. fair copy for imitation—of a behaviour pleasing to God. the Lamb without blemish and without spot;3939 1 Pet. i. 19. the true High Priest, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;4040 The expressions ’separate from sinners’ and ‘higher than the heavens,’ used in this passage, must undoubtedly be understood, in the first instance, in a local sense, but they are at the same time as certainly employed to symbolize that inward elevation of an ethical and metaphysical kind, which the writer attributes to Christ. They denote a state of most perfect fellowship with God, far surpassing aught attained by sinful creatures, and proved to be such by the super-mundane glory of its possessor. The entrance upon such a state naturally presupposes the absolute sinlessness and holiness of Him who is raised thereto: hence this, if it had not been most expressly affirmed in the former expression, would be decidedly asserted even by the latter. Compare the full discussion of this subject in Riehm’s Lehrbegriff des Hebräerbriefs, ii. § 55, p. 400, etc.; and also the same work, sec. i. §§ 37 and 38, pp. 317 and 321, etc., on the doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ in general, as stated in the Epistle to the Hebrews. who therefore needed not, as other high priests, to offer up sacrifice for His own sins; who, since in Him there was no sin, was for that very reason all the more 46able to take away ours.4141 Heb. vii. 27; 2 Cor. v. 21; 1 John iii. 5, with which passage compare Lücke’s Commentary, pp. 161, 162. But for this persuasion, moreover, of the sinless holiness of Jesus, the apostles could by no means have recognised in Him, as they actually did, not merely the greatest of all the prophets, but the Messiah, endowed with the fulness of the Divine Spirit,4242 It is not indeed expressly stated in the Old Testament that the Messiah was to be sinless, but His sinlessness is implied by the very nature of the case, and is at least alluded to Isa. liii. 9 (compared with 1 Pet. ii. 22). See Umbreit, Der Knecht Gottes, pp. 56-60. the founder of the kingdom of God, of which He was Himself to be both King and Lawgiver, the Redeemer from sin, the likeness of the alone good and holy God. For it is evident that none but One, the persuasion of whose holy purity had penetrated their inmost hearts, could have been all this, and especially the perfect Redeemer from sin. The traits and expressions hitherto adduced, and especially the latter, are, however, all of a general kind, and destitute of individuality. Hence it might be possible to regard them as the results of doctrinal prepossessions, and to declare that those who believed in Jesus, being persuaded that He was the Messiah and Redeemer, could not fail to attribute to Him the qualities which this character required, and among these was undoubtedly that of sinless perfection. Such a view, indeed, leaves unexplained the fact how faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Redeemer could exist at all, unless He really did produce the impression of a personality entirely pure and sinless. Sinlessness, too, as we shall hereafter see, was by no means so current a notion, that it had but to be applied to some person or other. On the contrary, it was not till the actual appearance of Jesus that it distinctly presented itself to the consciousness; and this being the case, it is but reasonable to infer that its source was this very appearance. It is, moreover, specially worthy of consideration, that the account presented to us of the person of 47Jesus by His apostles by no means consists of mere general statements, but also places before us a copious and detailed history of His life and character. By this, these more general features and expressions receive concrete completion and living confirmation. And the more so, because the evangelists have handed down to us their portraiture of Christ in a manner which exhibits no trace of forethought or design, but gives abundant indication of that artless simplicity which draws only the actual features,—features, however, which naturally combine to form a perfectly harmonious and utterly unique whole.
The task, then, which we have now to perform, is to gather together into a whole the various features of the portrait of the Lord Jesus, as furnished by the Gospels. This is a subject which, as all must allow, can never be exhaustively treated,—a task whose accomplishment can at best be but approximated. It is a theme infinite in its nature, and ever offering new aspects, at various ages of the world, and in successive stages of human development. As such it inevitably meets us in the course of our argument; and we consequently attempt its treatment, though we do so with the fullest conviction of our own insufficiency.
THE GOSPEL PORTRAITURE OF JESUS.
All must agree that the impression produced by the Gospel delineation of the Lord Jesus is one of moral greatness,—a greatness which has frequently overcome even the opponents of positive Christianity. It is, however, a greatness utterly new in kind. It is not said of Jesus that He was great in the eyes of the world, but ‘great in the sight of the Lord.’4343 Luke i. 15, 22. In heathen antiquity those were regarded as great men who, striving to excel their fellows, raised themselves above their contemporaries, either by mighty deeds, or by brilliant achievements 48in the realms of art or science.4444 Even Homer expresses in this respect the consciousness of the Grecian world in the pregnant words, ‘Ever to lead in the van, and to surpass others.’ This greatness, moreover, ever consisted in the fact, that in them the genius of their nation, working in a definite sphere, and with concentrated energy, became, as it were, incorporate. Within the province of the Old Testament it was indeed otherwise inasmuch as here it was no longer from mere self-reliant human strength that greatness was derived, but from the direct influence of Divine power. Yet even here greatness consisted essentially in those mighty manifestations of the Spirit which, surpassing what was common to man, were displayed in extraordinary and imposing actions, and here, too, all was effected within the closely drawn boundaries of nationality.
Quite otherwise was it with the Lord Jesus. His path was not upwards, but downwards. He was great, not by ascending, but by condescending: hence His was not a brilliant, but a silent greatness. The aim of His every action was to draw near to the mean and despised, to seek the lost, to minister to others, instead of being ministered to. His dignity was veiled under the form of a servant and as He ever avoided worldly honour,4545 John vi. 15; comp. John v. 41. and never sought His own glory, so did He chiefly manifest the strength of His will, in having no will of His own, but committing all things to God. His soul was silent before God (Ps. lxxii. 1, marg.), and His whole walk—especially when He silently suffered the worst to befall Him—was one uninterrupted expression of perfect acquiescence in the Divine counsels.
This is not a greatness which directly strikes the eye, and makes a powerful external impression, but a greatness of the inner nature. Jesus was great in the inner man before He had done anything externally great. And even when He 49did perform deeds with which nothing else could be compared, the reason of their super-eminence lay chiefly in the fact that they were done by Him, by One so unique in His inner nature. His disciples might—as He Himself said4646 John xiv. 12.—do such works as He did, and even greater; but these works could never be of like significance with His, because in Him the personality whence all originated was of a nature so far more exalted.
But this personality found the roots of its being and the object of its existence, not in anything special and limited like national genius, not in any single province of human activity, but in that which concerns all men without exception,—in the manifestation of the true relation to God, and the true relation to man. The whole life of Jesus was spent in realizing this relation in Himself, and from Himself towards all mankind, as at once the Son of God and the Son of man. Hence His was no special calling, but the calling of callings, the perfect fulfilment of which was to impart to all individual vocations a sure and eternal foundation.4747 Compare Mortensen, Christian Dogmatics, § 142, p. 282 (Clark’s Foreign Theological Library); Schöberlein, Grundlehren des Heils. p. 62; Dorner, Jes. sündl. Vollk. p. 15. Hence, too, His greatness is not such as is achieved in any special province; it is not the greatness of the hero or the lawgiver, of the profound thinker or the artist, but one which far transcends all these,—that greatness in which is manifested the true and universal Human in its highest relation, its relation to God, and through Him to all mankind; that greatness for which none other can furnish a standard, before which every other which does not unduly exalt itself must be constrained to bow.
It is not enough, however, thus to allude to the greatness of Christ in general outlines,—we must also descend to particulars. Yet we would guard against doing this in such wise as to seem, by presenting a collection of specially striking 50traits, to catalogue the chief and special virtues of the Lord. Jesus did not, in fact, manifest this or that particular virtue; but, according to the very significant expression of St. John, He manifested the life. It is His entire life which must be the subject of our contemplation, though, if our view of it is to be a vivid one, details must certainly not be excluded.
The very first thing which strikes us in the Gospel portraiture of Jesus, is the harmony which pervaded His whole life, the peace which flowed around Him, and which He ever communicated to those about Him. The impression made upon us by His appearance is ever one of repose, self-possession, and self-reliance, combined with deep inexhaustible mental emotion: He was distinguished, neither by the lofty ecstasy of an Isaiah or an Ezekiel, nor by the legislative and mighty energy of a Moses; His nature, on the contrary, was all serenity and gentleness. The sacred flame which glowed in the ancient prophets was in Him transformed into the soft but ever-energizing presence of the creative breath of the Spirit. As it was not the storm which rent the mountains, nor the fear-inspiring earthquake, nor the devouring fire, but ‘the still small voice,’ which announced to Elijah the presence of the Lord, so was it also with the Lord Jesus.4848 1 Kings xix. 8-15. See the excellent application of this passage in Joh. von Müller’s Allgem. Gesch. Book ix. cap. 6. He dwelt without intermission on those heights to which specially favoured individuals have, in isolated moments, been enabled to approximate. Like the sun in a cloudless sky, He quietly pursued with undeviating constancy Hi& appointed path. His words were full of light, and His works of heart and warmth, and yet they were ever free from violent emotion or passion. He did nothing thoughtlessly or without a purpose; whatever He undertook was ever crowned with complete success, and never failed to attain its object. Even when rebuking with severity, nay, denouncing with anger, it was not personal 51irritation that moved Him, but the holy wrath of love,—a love which hated sin, while it loved in the sinner the man capable of being redeemed. In such cases, as in all others, even in the most trying circumstances of His life, He ever maintained uniform self-possession and perfect self-control. Thus possessed of inward peace, He was able to address to His disciples the glorious words, ‘Peace I leave with you my peace I give unto you.’
The harmony and peace which prevailed in the character of Jesus did riot arise, however, from such a toning down of the various powers and activities as would prevent any of them from attaining its full energy of action. A harmony so attained would be not the harmony of greatness, but of mediocrity. The harmony of greatness can exist only in a strong character, where a rich, deep, powerfully stirred life wells up, and where discordant qualities are brought into unison. And this was eminently the case with Jesus,—with Him who came to send a sword as well as to send peace, and is with equal right entitled the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world. The harmony manifested in His character is based upon the richest fulness of heart and spirit, and proves itself to be the harmony of true greatness, by the fact that the tendencies which in other cases mutually exclude each other,—the powers and activities which are elsewhere found apart,—here work side by side in their full energy, and are blended by supreme power of mind into one glorious whole. In Him the Individual and the universally Human, independence and submission, doing and enduring, sublime majesty and humble condescension, are united, and pervade one another in a manner entirely new, and not even approximated by any who preceded Him. They are so combined that we cannot omit one of them, if we would have His portrait unimpaired and undiminished.52
Let us first contemplate the relation of the Individual to the universally Human in the person of Jesus. As a man, Jesus was placed under all the laws of human existence. He lived under the conditions of race and family; He had certain endowments of mind, and a certain mental disposition; He belonged to a certain nation, and lived at a certain historical era He entered into all these special relations, and did justice to them all. But instead of being limited by them, they served Him as means of realizing and manifesting that which was truly human in and beyond them.
The invincible will which He ever maintained was such, that we must call the Lord Jesus a man in the fullest sense of the word; yet we must not, on this account, make His peculiar characteristic to consist in manliness in so far as this is opposed to womanliness, for He equally manifested all the gentleness, purity, and tenderness of the female character. We find in Him high intellectual endowments; but it would be an error to characterize Him as pre-eminently acute or profound, clever or imaginative, because not any one of these gifts, though they were all seen in rich abundance, was the predominant quality of His mind. Nor less do we perceive in Him varying frames of mind and changes of disposition,—cheerfulness and freedom from anxiety, as well as deep seriousness and depression; quick susceptibility and imperturbable equanimity; painful fear and joyful resignation. And yet we could not but consider it unseemly to attribute to Him a peculiar temperament, in the ordinary acceptation of the term; for all that we know of Him produces the impression of a thoroughly sound and healthy mingling of dispositions, and a constantly natural interchange of emotions.4949 For admirable remarks on this subject, see Martensen’s Christian Dogmatics, § 141. Formerly, indeed, even the special temperament of Jesus was spoken of. Winkler, especially, in his Psychographie Jesu, Leipzig 1826, p. 122, ascribes to Him the choleric as that of great minds. See also Naumann, De Jesu Chr. ab animi afectibus non immuni, Lips. 1840; and, on the other side, Thiele, in the Theol. Lit. Bl. Feb. 1841, No. 19. In agreement with my views are Dorner, Jes. sundl, Vollk. p. 30; and Schaff, The Moral Character of Christ, p. 28.53
But this interpenetration of the particular and the general,—this repletion of a given individual form with the higher and universal spirit of humanity,—is super-eminently shown in the position which Jesus occupied with regard to His family and nation. He fulfilled all His duties as a member of a family, and especially manifested, even to His dying hour, the tenderest filial affection. But at the same time He subordinated all that occurred in the family circle to the Divine purposes, and made individual interests yield to those which were higher and universal.5050 E.g. John ii. 4; Mark iii. 32-35; Luke xi. 27, 28. As the founder of the kingdom of God upon earth, He regarded every one who did the will of God as His mother, and sister, and brother. In this sense, too, He required that every member of that kingdom should be willing to sever even the closest family ties, if they should form an obstacle in the way of his following his only Lord and Master. In like manner, Jesus did not cease to be a member of His nation. He performed with conscientious faithfulness all the Divine appointments which had been prescribed to His people, and submitted Himself even to human customs when praiseworthy and right. In His labours He observed the requirements and the forms of the spirit of His people, and adapted Himself most cordially and entirely to the circumstances of time and place. But while He did this, there was in His demeanour not a shade of those peculiarities which disadvantageously distinguish His peculiar nationality. He rather raised it above its narrowness, and happily exhibited in Himself such of its characteristics as were to be of decided importance to the religious development of the whole human race.
This is one of the principal characteristics by which Jesus 54 is distinguished from all the great spirits of antiquity, even the greatest of them. However profound in thought those men may have been, however comprehensive in action, they still bear, all of them, the impress of their own peculiar nationality, they still mirror back the age in which they lived; and this is true, not only of their life in its outward form, but also of their inmost and deepest nature. Even a Socrates knew no higher virtue than a free obedience to the law of his country, and a faithful observance of the customs of the fathers. Their noblest enthusiasm was evoked by the interests of their fatherland, and the highest deed they could achieve was to die for it. They grew out of the spirit of their age and nation: hence their reaction on their age and nation consisted, for the most part, in manifesting the fullest and noblest expression of that spirit.5151 Among the ancients, Socrates rises most above national limits, and he himself desired to be regarded as a cosmopolitan (Cicero, Tusc. Quæst. v. 37: Socrates quidem cum rogaretur, cuiatem se esse diceret, Mundanum, inquit, totius enim mundi se incolam et civem arbitrabatur); nevertheless, his whole nature, not excepting his moral character, had a Greek impress, and stood in immediate relation to the laws and customs of his country (Ritter, Gesch. der Philos. ii. 35). The same holds good of his piety, which, in spite of his peculiarities, was based upon the national traditions, and by no means possessed the universal character of Christian piety (ib. p. 38).
Jesus Christ was surpassed by no sage or hero of any era, either in power of action, or in readiness for self-sacrifice. But the principle which determined and guided His whole life was not national, but human; not temporal, but eternal. His moral character did not bear the impress of the age to which He belonged, but had ‘the ring of eternity’ about it. Developed from His own inner nature, He was the first to present an example of a full and perfect man, and, though connected with a particular nation, yet, by breaking through and abolishing national restrictions, to realize the idea of 55a common humanity.5252 See Hundeshagen On the Nature and Development of the Idea of Humanity, Heidelberg 1852 especially pp. 15-21. Hence, too, He was the first who, though His labours in their actual order began among His own people, did not confine Himself to their limits, but embraced in holy love the whole human race, and for it dared to live and die. It was thus that He became the portrayer of humanity as a living whole,—as a single body, through which divine energies flowed, the founder of the kingdom of God. And this He could only be, on the one hand, by lovingly recognising the infinite worth of each individual soul, and submitting Himself to all the divinely appointed distinctions in human life and, on the other, by rising above everything particular, whether in the individual or the family, the race or the nation by embracing in mind and heart all mankind, and transfiguring, by the new principle which He introduced, that which was special into that which was genuinely human and universally true. Hence it is the universal nature of its morality which specially strikes us in the character of the Lord. Yet this is never a vague generality, a colourless abstraction, but a morality in all respects so replete with rich, vivid, and quite unusual characteristics, that we cannot fail to attribute to Him also the trait of strong and well-defined individuality.5353 Compare Dorner, Jes. sundl. Vollk. pp. 15 and 44; also Schaff On the Moral Character of Christ, pp. 26, etc.
But not only are the individual and the universal resolved into one beauteous whole in the person of Christ, but other opposing characteristics of human life—self-dependence and resignation, action and suffering—mingle in Him in perfect harmony. It is true, indeed, that in every human development which is not, morally speaking, abnormal, we shall find both self-dependence and submission, power to do and to suffer. In every case, however, it will be manifest that 56one or the other has the preponderance,—that the man distinguished for self-dependence and energy is not equally great in resignation and endurance; or, on the other hand, that he who is in an eminent degree resigned and enduring, is deficient in action and self-reliance. In the person of Jesus these opposites were perfectly reconciled. His self-reliance was maintained in conjunction with absolute resignation, and His resignation was based upon the truest self-reliance. His actions, which ever betrayed a trace of suffering, disclosed at the same time a sublime spirit of endurance; and His sufferings, which were entirely voluntary, manifested at the same time the most untiring energy. Jesus was completely self-reliant, absolutely free and self-possessed. It is true that even He who had not where to lay His head, required, in His outward life, the assistance of others; while, for His inner life, He stood in need of the love of His own. He drew John nearer to His heart than the rest; He rejoiced in the submission of the woman that was a sinner; He desired ‘heartily’ to eat the passover with His disciples; He wanted them to be near Him, and to sympathize and watch with Him in the last agony of His soul. But this purely human need of sympathy never became in Him dependence upon others. He ever found firmness within Himself, and was ever determined in His outward procedure by inward motives. He could say to the apostles, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am.’ Nor did He merely say this,—He ever acted upon it; for always, in relation to everything that was highest, He appeared not in the character of a receiver, but a giver,—not as one strengthened by others, but as one who imparted both strength and liberty. In His heaviest and most decisive trials, He relied upon Himself alone; and it was in Gethsemane, where the disciples slept,—on the cross, when they 57 forsook Him, that the independence and dignity of the Shepherd, who remained unmoved when His flock was scattered, were first fully revealed. In order to attain to the dominion which He exercised, He did not, like others, require to make use of means external to Himself: on the contrary, every agency by which He worked was within Himself; and in this sense may the words of the prophet be applied to Him: ‘The government is upon His shoulders.’5454 Isa. ix. 6. But in this self-reliance in which Jesus, as altogether free from sin, and altogether holy, stood opposed to, the world, whose sin He deeply recognised, He never showed Himself exclusive and unsympathizing towards the sinful and the guilty. On the contrary, it was just as one wholly self-dependent that He gave Himself without reserve to the world; and it was as He who had life in Himself, that He lived not for Himself, but for others. Nothing that was human was foreign to Him. He wept over Jerusalem; He was grieved for the people; He called to Him the weary and heavy-laden; He preached the gospel to the poor. His practice was to restore the broken reed, and to revive the smoking flax. His whole life, even till His death upon the cross, stands before us as one great act of self-sacrifice. Self-reliance and resignation both appear in Him in their truly, ethical character: the former as the self-reliance of unbounded benevolence, which lives only for others; the latter, as the resignation of an entirely self-reliant, yet at the same time self-abnegating nature. He was capable of entire self-surrender, because of His perfect self-possession; and He was thus perfectly self-possessed, because fulness of self-sacrificing love was His very nature.
Similar to this is the relation between doing and suffering in the life of Christ. Jesus appears, at first sight, to have been essentially a man of action. He was wont, indeed, to 58withdraw into retirement, for the purposes of recollection and prayer; yet activity, and not contemplation, was the prevailing feature of His life. He went about doing good. He was constantly employed in ministering to the temporal as well as the spiritual wants of men. His very words were deeds, and His whole life ‘a work’ which the Father had given Him to do, and from which He never rested ‘while it was day.’ In accomplishing this work, He invariably kept one end in view, and manifested, in every circumstance of life, that power of mind which seems peculiar to those who are called to decided action. At the same time, however, He whose life seemed thus dedicated to action, was also super-eminently a sufferer. He was indeed the ‘man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.’5555 Isa. liii. 8. He was constantly enduring want and temptation, enmity and indignity. Besides those severe outward sufferings which awaited Him, even till the martyrdom of the cross, He incessantly felt the deepest mental affliction, because all the opposition and enmity which He encountered, arose from the sin of those whose salvation He regarded as His special office. And He bore all this, not with stoical indifference, but with deep and tender human sensibility, without murmuring or bitterness, committing all to God in quiet confidence, and never ceasing, even in the midst of His bitterest sufferings, to love those by whom they were inflicted. Doing and suffering were perfectly blended together in His life; and it is impossible at any juncture to separate the actions of the Lord Jesus from His sufferings, or to think of His sufferings apart from the activities of His existence. The acts of Christ were ever attended by suffering.5656 Compare Schöberlein, Grundlehren des Heils. p. 64. His very entrance upon His divinely appointed work was caused by sympathy for sinful men; how much more, then, must its accomplishment have 59entailed continual suffering, as being an unintermitting conflict with sin, which was the original cause of all the sorrows of His soul! At the same time, every suffering of Christ was also an act, for He did not merely allow suffering to come upon Him as something from without, but consciously entered into it, and voluntarily took it upon Himself, as a matter of Divine appointment. On this account, His death and passion must be regarded as the noblest action of His life. He endured the cross, though He might have had pleasure.5757 Heb. xii. 2 (Luther’s version). Thus did He manifest, in equal force and inseparable combination, the spirit both of the hero and the sufferer, and place before our eyes a harmony nowhere else to be found in the wide pages of history; because none but He ever waged such utter war with sin, or carried on this contest after so Divine a fashion.
Again, such a life could not fail to bear the fullest impress both of humilityy and majesty,—a majestic humility, and a majesty of a humble nature. Rightly, indeed, could Jesus say of Himself, ‘I am meek and lowly of heart.’ His whole life was one continuous act of self-sacrifice, and one uninterrupted course of self-abasement. Even at its close, when He knew that He was about to depart to the Father, He gave the most touching example of that condescending love which ministers to others, by washing His disciples’ feet;5858 John xiii. 2. thus bearing testimony that He regarded the service of love as the perfection of life. And yet a kingly spirit was ever shining forth through the veil of humiliation and reproach with which He was covered; and His words as well as His actions expressed a consciousness which we must either not understand at all, or understand as the result of inward dignity of an utterly incomparable nature. Many were the words of majesty which fell from the mouth of Jesus,—from His first utterance in the synagogue of Nazareth,60 ‘To-day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears,’5959 Luke iv. 16. to that powerful testimony before His worldly-minded judge, ‘I am a King. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth!’6060 John xviii. 37. What an effect, too, did the majesty of His personal appearance produce on all! It struck with the same power, though in such different manners, both the officers who were sent to apprehend Him,6161 John xviii. 6. and the disciple who had denied Him;6262 Luke xxii. 61. both the excited accusers who were ready to stone Him,6363 John viii. 59, x. 31, compared with Luke iv. 29. and the contrite malefactor who recognised in Him a Saviour, even amidst the horrors of crucifixion. And here, as before, these opposite attributes qualify each other. The Lord Jesus was thus full of majesty, just because His high soul bowed in such deep humility before God;; and thus perfectly humble, because His was not the humility of the sinner, arising from a deep sense of unworthiness before God, but that of one who had the high consciousness of full communion with God.
Thus is the portrait of our Lord presented to us as full of dignified majesty and holy gentleness; and that in traits so clearly defined, that they cannot fail to strike even the dullest mind. Nowhere do we find aught of show or ostentation,—nowhere a trace of labouring for effect or of imitation: all is truth and simplicity; every act is the product of His inmost soul, and yet every act is sustained by a repose and self-consciousness, whose marvellous composure is never for a moment disturbed. Everywhere is seen the perfect harmony of a strong and noble character,—or, to speak more correctly, of this One character,—which in this its perfectly harmonious blending, both of deepest feeling, and rich, full manifestation, is utterly beyond comparison. What, then, was the source of this harmony? It surely 61lay in the fact that all the actions of the Lord Jesus proceeded from one creative force, that His whole life was regulated by one governing principle. It is to this prin. ciple, this force, that we must now direct our attention.
And, first of all, the governing principle of the Lord’s life was the maxim, To do the will of God.6464 John vi. 38, v. 30. This will, knowing it as He did, directly and infallibly, was the only rule of His life. He did what the Father gave Him to do,—what He saw the Father do.6565 John v. 19. To do this was His meat and drink.6666 John iv. 34. Without this entire subjection to God, He could not have lived,—could not have been satisfied for a single moment. Hence His life was the manifestation of a perfect obedience,—an obedience not merely to Divine law, but to God Himself,—an obedience consisting not merely of a series of individual acts, but forming the one act of His whole life. And this obedience He learned especially by the things which He suffered;6767 Phil. ii. 8; Heb. v. 8. being thus made perfect, that He might become to others a source of obedience unto salvation.6868 Heb. v. 9; Rom. v. 19. But this obedience itself arose from a still deeper source, from the full unreserved surrender of His inmost soul to God, that is, from His faith, which, in its very nature, is one with love. Jesus dwelt entirely in the faith and love of God: these were the roots of His character, the sources of His life; from these He drew, not to possess them for Himself, but to impart them to others. From His love to God there ever flowed an inexhaustible stream of love to man; and it was this, its source, which gave to the human love of Jesus a character so peculiar and so different from anything that had yet been seen. It was not merely a hearty benevolence, and a general readiness to afford assistance, but a love full of a holy seriousness of purpose, and wholly directed towards one end,—to effect 62the salvation of all who needed it, i.e. of the whole sinful and sin-ruined race of man. Hence it was, by its own inner nature, a love which condescended to those of low degree, which sought out the lost and the reprobate, that it might first make them fitting objects of love; and thus, too, it was a compassionate, a preventing, a love-creating love. It is this which is the fundamental principle of the holy love of God Himself;6969 Compare Rom. v. 8 and 10; 1 John iv. 10. and since the whole life of the Lord Jesus, till His voluntary self-sacrifice, was passed in the active manifestation of this love, we have in Him, and in His love, not a mere reflex, but an actual and genuine manifestation of Divine love.
Finally, it is in this love that we find that unifying power, in virtue of which, varied and seemingly opposite qualities are blended into one harmonious whole in the character of Jesus. This love it was which, entering into all the divinely ordained distinctions of human life, at the same time rose above them to embrace the whole human race; which blissfully resting in God, nevertheless impelled to ceaseless activity for man which, free and independent in its own nature, gave itself to be a ministering servant to all which imparted strength both to do and to endure, and was as majestic in its holy earnestness as it was lowly in its condescension. It was this which set upon every act of the Lord Jesus the ineffaceable mark of religion, and which elevated what we should else call morality into holiness. Hence it is, that while the piety of Jesus never obtrudes itself as a special, and, as it were, an independent quality, every act becomes in His case one of religion, of worship;7070 Everything becomes in His hands, and by the breath of His month, a symbol, nay, a typical or prophetic expression of the spiritual and the Divine.—Dorner, Jesu sundl. Vollk. pp. 83 and 34. and hence, too, His whole manifestation does 63not give an impression of mere religion or mere morality, but of religion and morality in perfect combination,—in a word, of holiness. According, then, to what has been said, we see in the Lord Jesus a character in perfect unison with itself,—equally great in acting as in suffering. In Him we behold a Being whose one object was the salvation of sinners, and whose life and death were acts of absolute self-surrender for the sake of accomplishing that object; One whose essential nature was perfect, i.e. Divine, love manifested in a purely human form.
In such a Being, sin—i.e. antagonism to God—could have no place, because selfishness, which is the principle of sin, was utterly abolished by the all-conquering energy of love to God and man. And, in fact, we find the picture of the Lord Jesus which the Gospels furnish, and which all the apostles received, to be such, that even if nothing had been expressly stated on this point, we could never have conceived of sin—of alienation from God—as a feature thereof, without being immediately sensible that we were thus essentially disfiguring, nay, altogether destroying it.
But, it may be asked, is not all this but fiction? If it were, we could not but say, with the noble-minded Claudius,7171 See the first of the ‘Briefen au Andres’ in the Wandsbecker Boten. ‘that one might well let himself be branded, or broken on the wheel, for the very idea,—and he who could laugh or mock must certainly be mad.’ The portrait of the Lord Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, even if regarded as a mere idea or fiction, is the sublimest and most glorious idea to which the human mind has attained in the sphere of morality and religion,—it infinitely surpasses all other descriptions of character which we possess. Even if not genuine, it has a far greater influence upon our moral and religious life, than a thousand maxims of whose genuineness 64no one entertains a doubt. In short, it is too great, too pure, and too perfect, to be mere invention.
Besides, who could have invented it? Is it answered, Many—the whole Apostolic Church? Was such a thing ever heard of in the world, as a whole community combining to invent a portraiture of character so rich in details? How should the Church in general have hit upon such a notion and how, since the thing could not take place in a dream, could it have set about its execution? And, even admitting the possibility of the attempt being made by the Church, would the portrait produced have exhibited that harmony which is so decidedly found in the Gospel representation of the Lord Jesus? Or is it said that the fiction was the work of an individual? How, then, should the image of One sinlessly pure and holy have entered into the mind of a sinful human being? And, even if this were possible, whence could he, in addition to the idea of sinless perfection, derive all those special features and expressions which give life and substance to the idea? Such traits and such sayings, upon which not only the character of the highest originality is everywhere impressed, but to which, moreover, it must at least be conceded that they are of such a nature as to render it impossible to suppose them to be the mere productions of fancy;—these their inventor must, unless they had really been placed before him by the actual life of Jesus, have derived from himself and then, as Rousseau strikingly observes, the inventor of such an image would be greater and more astonishing than his subject.7272 ’L’inventeur en seroit, plus étonnant que le héros.’ And then we must accord to him what we withhold from Christ. Besides, which among such illiterate men as the apostles could have been capable of inventing an image which, even to the present day, is unsurpassed by the performances of the 65greatest literary geniuses of all ages, nay, is utterly inimitable? If such a fiction, moreover, were conceivable, how could its hero have become an object for which the very persons who had invented him should feel not merely a transitory enthusiasm, but should deliberately and perseveringly endure the loss of all things, and at last even suffer death? Besides, not only must the image of Jesus have been invented, but also the very foundations upon which it is placed in other words, the whole system of Christian modes of thought;—a system so utterly different from all that preceded it, and one into which the apostles themselves were but gradually and reluctantly initiated. Whence, then, did this arise, if the Jesus of the Gospels were not its author, and Himself but a fiction?
But we will enlarge no further, as we shall subsequently return to this point, especially when treating on the effects produced by the manifestation of Jesus. For the present we confine ourselves to one remark with respect to the apostolic testimony. Efforts have been made to depreciate this by such suggestions as the following:—The apostles, it is said, were not so precise in their use of the words in which we find the sinlessness of Jesus testified,7373 Strauss, Glaubenslehre, ii. p. 192. and meant to express no more than Xenophon did concerning Socrates, when he said7474 Memorab. i. 11. that he had never seen him do an unjust action, or heard him speak an unholy word in which words no one would find a testimony to the sinlessness of the heathen philosopher. It is also alleged that the testimony of even His most intimate associates to the moral character of Jesus is confined within very narrow limits they were acquainted with His behaviour only during the three years of their intercourse with Him, and knew nothing of it in the earlier periods of His life. Besides, even during the time they were with Him, they could not see His heart, and were thus capable of judging 66only of the external lawfulness, and not of the internal motives of His actions. Hence, the utmost to which they could bear witness would be, that they knew of no sin that Jesus had committed, not that there was none in Him.7575 These thoughts are further carried out in the programme of Dr. Weber: Virtutis Jesu integritas neque ex ipsius professionibus neque ex actionibus doceri potest, Viteb. 1796 (reprinted in his Opusc. Acad. pp. 179-192). He is followed, to a certain point, by Bretschneider in his Dogm. § 138; and more fully by the elder Fritzsche in his IV. Commentationes de ἀναμαρτεσίᾳ Jesu Christi, Hal. 1835-37 (reprinted in the Opusc. Fritzschiorum, Lips. 1838, pp. 45 seq.): compare especially the last Comment. The objections in question are briefly summed up by Hase in the Leben Jesu, § 32, and further developed, in a decidedly inimical sense, by Strauss in his Glaubenslehre, ii. 92. The opposite arguments are fully carried out in the article, ‘Polemisches in Betr. der Sündlosigkeit Jesu,’ Stud. und Kritik. 1842-3, pp. 640, etc., to which I invite attention. The objections here suggested are, however, bit very superficial, ignoring, as they do, the peculiar position which Jesus occupied with respect to His disciples, and failing in a just appreciation of moral development. It is undoubtedly true that the apostles, at the very least, testify as much concerning Christ as Xenophon asserts concerning Socrates, but it is quite as certain that they also go very much further. For Jesus was to them not merely what Socrates was to his school,—a noble, truth-seeking man, one indefatigably striving after wisdom,—He was, in their eyes, Himself the truth, the Son of God, the sole Mediator between God and man; and when, in consequence of the impression they had themselves received, they attributed sinlessness to One whom they viewed in this light, such a statement is undoubtedly one of far deeper and more serious import than that of a disciple of Socrates, when he says that he had never seen him do an unrighteous act, nor heard him speak an unholy word. Nor do the apostles confine themselves to negative assertions; but give us a positive portraiture of Jesus, in which, in spite of its fragmentary nature, that holy love, which entirely 67excludes the principle of sin, is reflected with a perfection which none can descry in the description of Socrates, as given by the greatest masters of eloquence.
With respect, however, to the other objections, it must be granted that the apostles in general were acquainted with Jesus only during their three years of intimacy with Him. Is the moral life, then, so to speak, such a piece of patchwork, that during three years of mature manhood its character could be perfection, unless its previous development had been of a similar nature? If not, would not every previous sin, of, necessity, have so stunted or obscured the moral character of Christ, that He could not subsequently have produced the impression of sinless perfection? Must not the traces of former sin have been perceived at some one juncture? The indissoluble connection of the entire moral development enables us here, if anywhere, to infer the character of the whole from the part, and the nature of the root from its fruit. But besides this, we have the testimony of one intimately acquainted with Him from His youth upwards,7676 I can only understand the expression of John (John i. 32, 33), though it seems to hint at the reverse, as implying his full recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus. See Planck, Gesch. des Christenthums in der ersten Periode, Pt. 11, pp. 116-24; and Neander, Leben Jesu, pp. 103-8, ed. third.—the testimony of John the Baptist concerning the earlier period of His life. John was himself a man surpassing his whole nation in moral elevation, and yet he most emphatically acknowledges, both by word and deed, and that in comparison with his own person, the utterly unique eminence of Christ. This he does, not only by designating Him as one whose shoe’s latchet he was not worthy to unloose, but also by declaring, at the baptism, that he, a sinner, needed to be baptized of Jesus, and by retiring into the background from thenceforward, because the greater than he was come, who must increase while himself must decrease.68
It is also unquestionably correct to say that the apostles could not look immediately into the heart of their Master, and hence could not judge with the certainty of Him who searcheth the heart and reins, concerning the secret motives of His actions. But does the fact that their knowledge of His moral condition was not Divine, make them forfeit their claim of being able to pass a human judgment concerning His person? This human judgment, when exercised within the province of morals, cannot but infer that where the whole external life is pure and undefiled, the internal source must be pure and undefiled also, and would only be justified in arriving at an opposite conclusion, if reasons existed for supposing a contrariety between the outward course of action and its inward motives. Had the apostles, then, cause for suspecting that the conduct which appeared so irreproachable, could have sprung from any but the purest source? If not, they had every ground for the assurance that His heart was as pure as His conduct; and that because they perceived no sin in it, there was no sin in Him.
Men are not generally too much given to the weakness of believing in moral excellence, much less in an entirely spotless virtue. When, then, such a belief strangely enough exists, and exhibits such powers of endurance as it does in the case of the apostles, we are certainly justified in the view that there must exist also a real objective reason, and a moral subjective necessity, for this belief.
Least of all can those who allow the sinless perfection of Christ oppose the possibility of its historical manifestation. If this sinlessness was actual, it must also have been perceptible by man. For would it not be the most monstrous contradiction, that a moral phenomenon, which must have been of the greatest importance to the whole human race, should actually have occurred, but in such wise that no one was capable of obtaining any certain knowledge and assurance 69concerning it? This would be a revelation, but one which revealed nothing to any man.7777 Further carried out by Dorner, Sündl. Vollk. pp. 16-22.
Too much, however, must not be asserted. Apostolic testimony, valuable as it is, does not furnish us with an absolute guarantee. This it could only do, if, referring it to inspiration, we acknowledge its authority to be of directly Divine origin. The whole course of our argument, however, requires us to seek for confirmation and completion in another quarter; and this is furnished to us in that testimony of Jesus to Himself which we have now to adduce as a proof of His sinlessness: for though it may indeed be said of the apostles that they were incapable of seeing His heart, the same cannot be affirmed of Himself.
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