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Sec. 2.—The Testimony of Jesus to Himself.
The Lord Jesus must best have known what was in Himself. Hence, the manner and nature in which He gave expression to His own moral consciousness, must naturally be of the most decided importance. The impression He produced on others, and their consequent conviction, must not, as is self-evident, be absent. Yet this might be but the echo of what originally proceeded from Jesus Himself; and hence, in the very nature of the thing, His own utterances on the subject must form the final and culminating testimony on which we embrace the persuasion of His sinlessness.
And, first, even the negative side of His testimony is in the highest degree remarkable.7878 For further confirmation, see my article, ‘Polemisches in Betr. Sündl.,’ Stud. und Kritik. 1842-3, pp. 661-67. Excellent remarks on this side of the question will also be found in Dorner, Schaff, and Young. As might be expected from one so holy, our Lord everywhere stood in most decided antagonism to sin: He drew it forth to light, rebuked, and 70opposed it to the uttermost nay, His whole life was devoted to maintaining a conflict against it. On the other hand, He was ever merciful to the penitent sinner, and bestowed commendations on those who, in the consciousness of their sinfulness, humbled themselves before God.7979 Luke viii. 9-14. Now, He who had so keen a perception for the sins of others, must—unless we suppose Him utterly self-deluded—have had as keen a one for sin in Himself. But we nowhere hear from Him—as we do from even the very best of other men—so much as an occasional expression of a consciousness of sin. There is no humbling of Himself before God for sin, no prayer for forgiveness.8080 Compare on this subject, J. G. Steinert, Dissert. de peculiari indole precum Domini. Does not this most decidedly show that the source from which these feelings proceed—feelings which are found just where the moral character is most eminent—had in Him no existence whatever? It may also be indirectly inferred from what He said at His baptism,8181 Matt. iii. 13-17. that He felt an inward consciousness that He needed for Himself neither repentance nor regeneration.8282 See Neander, Leben Jesu, p. 101, ed. third. He required from all, without exception, who would enter into the kingdom of God, that they should be born again of water and of the Spirit;8383 John iii. 5, etc. while for Himself such a thing is out of the question. A development, a being made perfect, did indeed take place in His case but a catastrophe in which the old man should die to sin, and the new and Divine man be born in Him, is not only nowhere hinted at, but is, moreover, utterly irreconcilable with the image which the Gospels present of the Lord Jesus. Nay, more far from manifesting any need of repentance and forgiveness, He claims, on the contrary, with respect to sinners, the high position of One not only able to proclaim the 71forgiveness of sins, but to bestow it.8484 Matt. ix. 6; Mark ii. 10; and elsewhere. He actually forgives the penitent in virtue of an authority which He evidently regards as one directly inherent in Himself. Could this be the case with a man who found guilt and sin in himself? Would not such an act, if there were no sufficient grounds for it, have been one of unparalleled audacity,—an encroachment upon the prerogative of God Himself?8585 Mark ii. 7; Luke v. 21. It is obvious that Jesus could only be justified in such an assumption by, the felt consciousness of perfect oneness with God,—a consciousness, again, arising from a feeling of perfect freedom from sin. In virtue of such a consciousness, moreover, could He alone have committed to His disciples a power to become the mediums of forgiveness after He had communicated to them the gift of the Holy Ghost.8686 John xx. 22, 23.
His positive testimony, however, goes much further. And here we have, first of all, to notice that weighty and important saying of Jesus, which we find in St. John’s Gospel: ‘Which of you convinceth me of sin?’8787 John viii. 46. Discussions on this and kindred passages will be found in Lutz, Bibl. Dogm. p. 294; and Schumann, Christus, vol. i. pp. 284, etc. Stier makes also excellent remarks on John viii. 46 in his Reden Jesu, Pt. 4, pp. 425, etc. We no sooner hear such words, than we feel they must have proceeded from One whose moral constitution was of the most peculiar kind and this impression is still further strengthened, when we remember that He who uttered them was a Person whose whole life was a model of truthfulness and humility. Every man, without exception, must immediately feel conscious that he cannot echo the mighty yet simple saying,—that for him, unable as he is to turn a deaf ear to the testimony of conscience, to apply it to himself, would be either empty fanaticism or miserable self-deception. Least of all could this happen within the sphere of Christian life, where the conscience is rendered 72in so high a degree acute, by a perfect revelation both of the moral law and the Divine holiness, and out of which that same apostle who has preserved this memorable saying of our Lord exclaims, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’8888 1 John i. 8. See Lücke, Pt. 3, pp. 98-100. It is in contradistinction to this, that One steps forth from the ranks of sinful human nature with the question, ‘Which of you convinceth me of sin? ‘
But the meaning of this question must be somewhat more closely determined. The very word8989 ἁμαρτία. on which most depends has been variously understood. We have translated it simply ’sin,’ as Luther and the authorized English version render it; but the word requires a fuller investigation. The Greek expression, which here comes under notice, has, as is well known, the general signification of failure (Verfehlen). This general idea, again, is specially applied in a twofold sense: it either means a failure in the sphere of mind, and then it is error, mistake, untruth; or it means a failure in the domain of morals, and then it is known as sin, perversion of will, wrong. The word is used in the former sense (though only under a certain assumption) in classical Greek; in the latter sense it is used in Hellenistic, and especially in New Testament Greek. From the earliest times commentators have differed with regard to this twofold use of the word in their exposition of the passage under consideration. Some have maintained that Jesus intended, by this expression, to claim for Himself exemption from error;9090 This explanation occurs in Origen, in his Commentary on John (vol. xx. § 25). Kypke tries to justify it on philological grounds, in his observations on the passage. On the other side see Lücke, Commentary on St. John, Pt. 2, pp. 298-301, ed. second; and Meyer’s Commentary, pp. 243, 244, ed. second. others have held that He claimed freedom from sin;9191 So many ancient and also the best among modern expositors,—e.g. Olshausen, Lücke, De Wette, and Meyer. while some have included the two ideas in one, making the question 73of Christ imply a reference both to error and to sin—any aberration, whether intellectual or moral, from the true and right way. Others, again, have been of opinion that the word sin is here best rendered deception.9292 The former is the view of Weber, in his already quoted Programm, p. 185, who thinks: Nomen ἁμαρτίας, non solum theoreticam sed etiam practicam aberrationem a vero et recto simul continere. The latter is proposed by Fritzsche, Commentat. ii. 2, pp. 7, etc. Comp. my article ‘Polemisches,’ etc. The two last opinions we may at once set aside, as warranted neither by the use of language nor by the occasion, and as having at best only a probability in their favour; but the two first expositions require a more detailed investigation.
The view according to which Jesus asks, ‘Which of you convinceth me of error?’ would seem to be favoured by the context. Immediately before, He had designated His Jewish antagonists children of Satan, the man-murderer, the liar from the beginning, implying that theirs was a temper which proved their relationship to Satan, in that they refused to believe on Him who taught the truth of God, and even persecuted Him to the death. Then He asks, ‘Which of you convinceth me of error?’9393 According to one view of the passage,—that, according to Stier, of John v. Müller,—a view in which there seems to be a transition from the sublime to the ridiculous,—the sense of this question is made to be: ‘Is there anything illogical in my inferences? ‘—with which is closely connected (for throughout the whole passage the contrast between truth and error, i.e. falsehood, is held fast) the further question: ‘And if I say (not falsehood, but) the truth, why do ye not believe me?’
Now, supposing this explanation of the passage to be the correct one, even then the passage would be of great importance for our purpose, for it would at least contain an indirect testimony to the religious and moral purity of Jesus. For if He claims exemption from error in the province which here comes under consideration,—viz. that of morality and religion,—does not this imply that He also attributes to Himself 74purity of inward nature and outward conduct in the same province? For freedom from sin presupposes freedom from error, and vice versâ,—the two act and react upon each other. Unquestionably the two in the sense of the New Testament, and especially of that Gospel in which this saying of Jesus is found, form one connected whole, just as their opposites, sin and untruth, do.9494 On this connection, compare Frommann, Doctrine of St. John (S. 181-309, 550-654, etc.).
But this explanation cannot be regarded as correct. In the first place, there attaches to it a verbal difficulty, which it is not easy to set aside. In classical usage, the word (ἁμαρτία) never occurs in the sense of error, without having beside it a modifying and determining clause or word.9595 See references (e.g. Plato, de Leg. i. 627, 668; Thucydides, i. 32, ii. 65) in Meyer, Comment. zu Joh. p. 243, ed. third. In the New Testament it is very uncertain whether it can be satisfactorily shown that the word ever does occur in this sense;9696 The passages, 1 Cor. xv. 34, Titus iii. 11, prove nothing conclusively. least of all can this be shown in the use of the word in St. John’s writings,—the idea He attaches to it being invariably that of sin. But the objections which arise from the passage itself, viewed with reference to the context, are still greater. Were we to adopt this explanation, there would, in the first place, be no progress in the argument; and this verse would not supply the reason or motive of what is said in the preceding verse. For when Jesus in that verse (John viii. 45) said, ‘I speak the truth,’ He made a statement which required to be proved. Now, if in the 46th verse He asks, ‘Which of you convinceth me of error?’ this would be a mere repetition, in a negative form, of the statement already made in a positive form, and by no means an argument in proof of it. Secondly, such a rendering of the word would destroy the analogy of the contrast which Jesus draws between Satan and the Jews on the one hand, 75and Himself, as the Son of God, on the other. For if, in the first part, regard is had not only to what is intellectually true, but, above all, to the moral condition, this must be the case in the second clause also. Thirdly, the notion that because they could convict Him of no error, they must believe on Him, would be one which would be in itself inadmissible;9797 So even De Wette (in his Exeget. Handbuch) on this passage. for it would make intellectual demonstration the basis of faith, whereas true faith rests upon a direct attraction of the heart to the salvation revealed in Christ.
If we now take up the second explanation of the passage, ‘Which of you convinceth me of sin?’ we shall find all these difficulties disappear. To this rendering there is no verbal objection; it falls in admirably with the context; it supplies a proof of the statement just made. Jesus had previously maintained, in opposition to the unbelief of His hearers, that He spoke the truth;9898 Verse 44: ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.’ and, as a pledge that He did so, He appeals to the fact that no one could convince Him of sin,—thus making His moral purity the guarantee of the truth of His doctrine. The idea might be rendered as follows:—Jesus had in his mind the contrast between truth and falsehood9999 ἀλήθεια and ψεῦδος. already pointed out, and by including falsehood, i.e. the special, in sin, i.e. the general, He arrives at the conclusion: ‘If I am free from sin, I must also be free from falsehood, for falsehood is sinful; and if I do not speak falsehood, then I speak the truth, and ye have no reason to withhold from me your faith.’ The entire argument He does not, however, express in words: the middle clause remains unspoken—viz. that He is free also from falsehood; and He goes on at once from the repudiation of sinfulness, 76to the positive contrary which follows from His sinlessness—viz. His speaking the truth.100100 This is also Meyer’s view of the train of thought. See Comment. S. 244. So, too, Schumann, Christus, B. i. p. 287. But there seems to be something artificial in introducing the idea of falsehood, which is in fact unnecessary. The thought is not only clear, but it becomes more forcible when we keep simply to those statements which Jesus has put in immediate connection. Generally speaking, the argument is founded upon the principle that there is an inseparable connection between the moral and the intellectual; and it is from a consciousness of this connection that Jesus says, ‘As you, my opponents, reject me, and in me reject the truth, because your temper is sinful—is satanic; so, on the other hand, can I lawfully present myself as one who speaks the truth, because I am free from sin.’ The conclusion is at once and immediately drawn—from the fact that He is free from sin, and from the moral purity of His character—to the truth of His words, and to the obligation lying upon His hearers to believe in Him, who was thus accredited: and this is a thought which is so consistent with all that fell from the lips of Christ, according to St. John’s Gospel, that it cannot appear in the slightest degree strange to any one acquainted with this document.101101 Meyer (Comment. p. 243) is of opinion, that to maintain either, with Lücke, that ‘the Sinless One is the purest and surest organ of knowledge and medium of truth;’ or with De Wette, that ‘the knowledge of truth rests on the purity of the will,’—would be to presuppose a knowledge of the truth attained by Jesus in a discursive manner, or at least in His human state, while His knowledge, especially according to St. John’s teaching, was intuitively possessed before His earthly existence, and then maintained only by constant communion with God. But the objection is not to the point. The question is, not how He acquired His perfect knowledge of the truth, but how this was to be proved. For this proof, Christ appeals directly to His sinlessness; for this is, under all circumstances, a condition by which alone a perfect knowledge of religious truth could even intuitively exist and be recognised. At all events, it is certain 77that Jesus in this passage expresses directly, as in previous passages He had indicated indirectly,102102 He did so when in verses 32-36 He called the Jews the slaves of sin, and designated Himself as the truth which maketh free. This, it is obvious, He could only be, by being free from that sin which enslaved and obscured His adversaries. His consciousness of freedom from sin and this it is which really concerns us.
But with regard to this testimony of Jesus, two objections have now to be obviated: first, it is of a subjective character, and, as such, does not of itself afford a complete proof of sinlessness secondly, it is purely negative, expressing simply a consciousness of the absence of sin, not a consciousness of positive perfection of life. But neither of these two considerations can at all weaken the validity which we claim for this evidence.
With regard to the former. If we are to attain to an assured conviction of the sinlessness of Jesus, this is only possible on the supposition that, above all things, He Himself possessed such a conviction. It was only from Himself that the idea could go forth to those around Him. He Himself knew best what was in Him,103103 2 Cor. ii. 10. and only in the lively expression of His own self-consciousness could the opinion which others formed concerning Him find its stay and strength. There can be no doubt that the self-consciousness of Jesus must at the same time find its objective vindication, and such vindication is abundant; but this would be but unreliable and insecure, were it not that it rests upon the self-testimony of Jesus. And this could not possibly consist of aught else than a simple word of assertion. Every assertion concerning one’s own state of heart and mind is of a subjective kind but this circumstance does not in the least degree diminish its value when it is spoken by an intelligent and truthful man, because, from the very nature of the case, it cannot be otherwise. The assertion 78of Christ that He was free from sin, even though merely subjective, entirely satisfies us whenever we assign to it its proper place, and regard it not as constituting the whole evidence of His sinlessness, but as an indispensable portion of it, which has its full import only when viewed in connection with the rest.104104 This is the only correct answer to the objection urged by Fritzsche (Comment. i. 21), and by the earliest opponents of Christ (John viii. 13), that a man’s testimony concerning himself is not valid. It is true, indeed, that if it stands alone it could not, under all circumstances, and in all relations, be regarded as conclusive; but when it is asserted that in a case like this it is of no value whatever, this is to transfer, in a most illogical way, a principle of law to the domain of morals, and to apply a presumption gathered from the darkest experience of life, and one which is in daily life regarded as an insult among men of honour, to Him who has called Himself the King of Truth, and in whose mouth was found no guile’ (Haze, Streitschriften, iii. 109, 110). It is however, utterly unfitting to maintain, as Fritzsche (Comment. 2, pp 4-6), following the precedent of Weber, and laying special emphasis on ἐλέγχει, does, that if it be sin which is really meant in this passage, even then Jesus says nothing more than what any holiest man living a life of obedience to law might say as well as He,—viz. that no one was able to prove him guilty of any sin! Such an explanation deprives the words of all their importance, and makes them utterly unworthy of the Lord Jesus. For surely it was not possible that He should, with worldly wisdom, thus take refuge in the outward legality of His actions, so far as these might happen to be known to those who were then about Him. No; when, conscious that in Himself the external action and the internal motive were in perfect harmony, He asserted the impossibility of convincing Him of sin in general, He assuredly intended to express also the purity of His moral consciousness,—the sinlessness of His inner life. Compare Lücke, Comment. zu Johann. p. 299, second ed.; De Wette, Exeg. Handbuch, 118; Hase, Streitschriften, iii. 109; and especially Stier, Reden Jesu, iv. 427. The latter aptly remarks: ‘Christ could not have asked the question (John viii. 46), unless He had been conscious that there was in Him no sin in the sight of God. If He who so spoke had any secret consciousness of sin before God, He would have sinned by the very act of uttering such words.’
With regard to the second point, it is true that when Jesus in the passage in question pronounces Himself free from sin, He makes only a negative statement. But the positive assertions required to render it complete are also to 79be found in rich abundance. Not to dwell on the fact that the sinlessness which Jesus asserted, both in general, and particularly in the midst of the sinful world around Him, could only have been substantiated by a life of most positive holiness, they will be found in a whole series of most emphatic sayings, in which all that could be desired, on this point, is very completely expressed.
Jesus calls Himself the Light of the World, and the King who is come into the world to bear witness to the truth; therefore not merely a light among other lights, but the light which lighteth every man; and not merely one among many witnesses to truth, but the King of Truth, who can be but One. He designates Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life;105105 John xiv. 6. and would hence be regarded not as one who merely shows the way, but as Him who is the way, and who, as embracing and manifesting in His own Person the true life and the living truth, leads to the Father. He also says106106 John iv. 34. that it is His meat to do the will of Him that sent Him, and to finish His work; He testifies107107 John viii. 29. that He does at all times the things which please the Father,—that He never seeks His own will, but always the will of the Father.108108 John v. 30. He holds Himself up as the glorifier of the name of the Father in the world, who sanctifies Himself for His people, who has overcome the world, and who imparts a peace which the world cannot give.109109 John xiii. 31, xiv. 27, xvi. 33, xvii. 4, 19. He invites all the weary and heavy-laden to come unto Him, because in Him and in His Person they will find rest for their souls.110110 Matt. xi. 28. Do we not instinctively feel that these are expressions which cannot proceed from the mouth of a sinful man, which can only fall from the lips of One whose character and life far surpass all that is sinful and human? What mere man, even though he were the wisest and most exalted that ever lived, could invite 80all, without exception, to come unto Himself, with the promise that they should find true rest for their souls?
Two far more important passages, however, must also come under consideration in this respect,—the one, ‘I and my Father are one;’111111 John x. 30. the other, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.’112112 John xiv. 9. If with reference to the former passage it may be disputed whether the words, ‘I and my Father are one,’ imply a unity of nature, a unity of power, or a moral unity, still it matters little for our purpose which explanation is preferred for every kind of oneness with God, in that supreme sense in which Christ lays claim to it, must result from that moral union with which alone we are here concerned,—from unity of will. Where the will, the whole moral being, is in any respect turned away from God, there can be no perfect oneness with God in any sense whatever. Where, on the contrary, real union with the will of God exists, there of necessity sin cannot be found, but only that holy love which is the motive power of the Divine will.113113 The objections made by Fritzsche in the third Programm with respect to the passages which I have adduced from St. John, are discussed in the article in Studien und Kritiken, 1842, No. 3. Compare also Weiss, Johann. Lehrbegr. pp. 205 and 208, etc.
There can, then, be no doubt that the Lord Jesus both felt and expressed the consciousness of His own sinlessness. If we are unwilling to admit the validity of this self-testimony, unique as it is,—if we will put no confidence in His sublime words,—there remains no alternative but to regard Him as either a fanatic or a hypocrite. We must either declare that, as far as Himself was concerned, He drew no very strict line of demarcation between good and evil,—that He made no searching examination of the secret recesses of His heart,—was not acquainted with every motion of His will,—did not strictly test His words and actions,—and that He exaggerated a consciousness of noble 81aspirations into the overweening notion of being sinlessly perfect; or we must admit the still more fearful alternative, that while conscious of transgressing God’s commandments in thought, word, and deed, He yet expressly bore testimony to the very opposite. In this case, He who in every other respect gives us the impression only of the most perfect purity and sincerity,—who ever manifested the utmost antagonism to hypocrisy of every kind,—would be branded as a sanctimonious hypocrite, and a contradiction would be introduced into His moral nature, by which it would be utterly destroyed. Who is there that would be willing to undertake the defence of such an assertion?
If, then, the rejection of the self-testimony of the Lord Jesus leads us only to untenable, nay, to unworthy conclusions, faith in this testimony, though resting on no demonstrative foundation, yet appears to be perfectly justifiable to reason, and is alone worthy of our moral dignity. Where there are no reasons to the contrary, confidence is far nobler and more dignified than distrust. But when we have a Person whose statements are in all respects corroborated in so unique a manner, as is here the case, it becomes a moral duty not to refuse our confidence to that which He simply yet solemnly asserts concerning Himself.
And this will appear still more in the light of a duty, when we add to His self-testimony that external corroboration to the consideration of which we now proceed.
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