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Sec. 3.—These Effects caused not by an Idea, but by an Actual Person.
The objection just hinted at is founded upon a spiritualism which everywhere flees from reality to dwell apart in a world of ideas, and seeks to resolve all life into mere intellectual conceptions. In fact, however, mere ideas have not the power of creating new life reality can only arise from reality and unless we are willing to regard the whole moral and religious life of the Christian world as a collection of mere ideas, instead of acknowledging it to be a reality, confirmed as such by our own experience, we must admit a corresponding reality as its starting-point, since there can be nothing in the effect whose germ was not previously in the cause.
But here the question specially arises: Whence came, then, the representation, or, if the term be preferred, the idea of sinless perfection? In all other cases, being and life are primitive, representation and conception derived. Yet here a notion is supposed to precede, which would not only have no foundation in an originating life, but to which there would nowhere exist a corresponding reality. And how is it to be accounted for that this thought should have appeared, with so marked a character and so powerful an energy, just at this point of the world’s history, while we find nothing similar or equal to it at any other period, nor at the same period in any other instance?
We have already alluded to the fact that the notion of sinlessness had by no means attained so definite a form that nothing else remained to be done but to apply it to Jesus Christ, but that, on the contrary, the idea itself was first developed with and by the appearance of Jesus Himself. We have now arrived at the place where it will be needful to 95investigate this more closely. It is a fact of no slight significance. For if, on the one hand, we find that, previous to the appearance of Christ, and beyond the circle of Christian influences, the notion of sinlessness was either utterly indefinite, or, where it did occur, was inseparably connected with the certainty that its realization was impossible; while, on the other hand, we see that within the province of Christianity not only is the notion itself fully defined, but also accompanied by a firm faith in its actual realization in the life of a certain individual,—the conclusion forced upon us is, that between the former and latter state of things there must lie something by which this mighty change has been effected. Thus, again, the only natural explanation is offered by the supposition that the idea of sinlessness was realized in the Person of Jesus Christ.
But it is not enough to have made this general statement. It must be historically proved; and for this purpose it will be needful to enter somewhat into particulars.
The reason why the idea of pure holiness was impossible to the whole heathen world, lay, as has been already hinted, not only in the fact that polytheism was deficient in a spirit of thoroughly decided morality, but also in the positively immoral elements by which it was disfigured. For where the Divine models themselves were not regarded as pure, there could be no place for the notion of a virtue, spotless and in all respects perfect, within the province of human life. Nevertheless, even the heathen world possessed, in the form of philosophy and poetry, an extensive range of thought, which rose far above the limits of the popular religion; and in these departments we undoubtedly meet with very exalted views of morality. The tragic poets, especially Sophocles, present us with pictures of a virtue as sublime as it is pious and attractive; and those philosophers whose systems are borne up by a spirit of morality, naturally approach somewhat 96to the idea of a perfection of moral life in holiness,—because it is scarcely possible to go at all deep into the philosophy of moral subjects, without at least verging upon this idea. None of the sages of antiquity is more noteworthy in this respect than Plato. In the second book of his Republic he draws a sketch of a righteous man, in which he represents perfect integrity as necessarily conjoined with suffering. This must remind every thoughtful reader of the noblest instance of suffering virtue that we know of, and be regarded as one of the most remarkable anticipations of Christianity to be found among the deep utterances of that prophetic spirit.120120 Plato’s Works, edited by Schleiermacher, third edition, vol. i.; Notes, p. 535. In opposition to the unrighteous man, who, however, disguises himself in the garb of integrity, in order the better to carry out his ill designs, Plato places the simple and truly upright man,—the man who desires not to appear, but to be good, and who, in order that righteousness, and the love of righteousness, may appear in full purity, does not even appear as a righteous man, but is made to suffer as an evil-doer. This righteous man is thus described:121121 Plato, de Republica, L. ii. P. iii. vol. i. pp. 65 and 66 of Bekker’s edition; in Schleiermacher’s edition, as above, pp. 128 and 129. Compare on the passage, Baur in his Apollonius von Tyana u. Christus, S. 163-166. ‘Without having done any unrighteousness, he still wears the appearance of being unrighteous, in order that he may be thoroughly proved to be righteous, inasmuch as he is not shaken in his integrity by the slander and other ills that thence arise, but remains stedfast’ and constant even to death, having all his life been regarded as unrighteous, though in truth righteous.’ Then with regard to his end he receives the following prediction ‘That he will be bound, scourged, tortured, and blinded, and that after he has endured all possible evils, he will at last be hanged.’ Now it is very certain that we have here presented to us the picture of a 97high and noble virtue and, what is especially worthy of note, it is virtue unobtrusive and suffering, virtue in the form of a servant. But, seen from the Christian point of view, two things are wanting. In the first place, the idea of virtue given here is entirely restricted to uprightness no reference is made to that inward religiousness by which virtue rises into holiness. Secondly,—and this is the main point,—all this is only a creation of the mind, while, on the other hand, we have no certainty that a righteousness, thus perfect in every respect, was ever actually realized in human life.
It is remarkable that one who lived at a period when he could survey the whole development of the ancient world, should expressly declare, as Cicero does, that ‘he at least had never found a perfectly wise man:’ on the contrary, he says the philosophers are all at variance as to what kind of a man such a one would be, if ever he might be expected to exist.’122122 In the well-known passage of the Second Book of the Tusculan Disputations, where he speaks of triumphing over pain, and says that the pars inferior, the molle, demissum, humile in man, should be governed by the domina omnium et regina ratio. Here he says, ii. 22: In quo erit perfecta sapientia—quem adhuc nos quidem vidimus nominem: sed philosophorum sententiis, qualis futuris sit, si modo aliquando fuerit exponitur—is igitur, sive ea ratio quæ erit in eo perfecta et absoluta, sic illi parti imperabit inferiori, ut justus parens probis filiis. Here, indeed, only one aspect of morality, the victory over pain, is spoken of; but if even in this one respect, which was the very point in which antiquity, and especially heroic Rome, excelled, Cicero doubted whether a perfectly wise man had ever appeared, how much more would he have done so if the realization of a virtue absolutely pure iu every respect had been in question! Cicero had a sufficient knowledge both of ethics and history to qualify him for pasting such a sentence, and we may well regard his opinion as expressing the consciousness of the educated portion of the ancient world. In fact there did not exist in the sphere of heathenism an individual with whom the idea of moral faultlessness could be associated. If in any case we could conceive this possible, it would be in that of Socrates. But though we possess truly glorious descriptions 98of this great man by two revering disciples, yet neither have they, nor has any one else, asserted that he was absolutely free from moral failings, and in all respects perfect.123123 The only passage which could be brought forward in support of an opposite assertion is in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, lib. i. cap. i. § 11: Οὐδεὶς δὲ πώποτε Σωκράτους οὐδὲν ἀσεβὲς οὐδὲ ἀνόσιον οὔτε πράττοντος εἶδεν, οὔτε λέγοντος ἤκουσεν. It is evident, however, from the whole tenor of this defence, and especially from the immediately preceding context, that it is more legality, and especially the legality of his public dealings and discourses, which is here intended, than morality in its higher signification. But granting that the words are to be understood as applied to morality in the widest sense, even then the main point is wanting, viz. the testimony of Socrates himself. This, however, is indispensable, since he alone was capable of a thorough survey of himself. We shall, however, do no injustice to Socrates by assuming that he would not have applied to himself that great saying of the Redeemer, ‘Which of you convinceth me of sin?’ In the very fact that the demons of Socrates chiefly warned him against things which he was not to do, while Christ positively acted in all things from a pure consciousness of God within, from that Divine Spirit by which He was impelled, lies a most important distinction between the philosopher and the Saviour. It is not to be denied that the picture of a perfectly wise man, not merely as an idea, but as a reality, is presented to us even within the sphere of heathenism by Philostratus, in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana; but in this case there is a reference to Christianity, and the whole life is but an imitation of that of Christ, translated into Platonism and Pythagoreanism. This is convincingly proved by Baur, in his work, Apollonius of Tyana and Christ, or the Relation of Pythagoreanism to Christianity, Tübingen 1632, in which (p. 162) the result of his researches, as far as our present subject is concerned, is thus expressed: ‘In the place of Him whom Christianity sets before us as the actually manifested Redeemer of the world, we have here a sage acting only by precept and example he is, moreover—and this must be the main point—no living form, but an image wanting independent reality and actual existence,—a faint and shadowy reflection of a living original, but for whom it is evident that even the creative idea which called it forth would be absent.’ On the contrary, we find that, strictly speaking, the prevalent conviction of the heathen world was, that moral perfection and faultlessness were impossible to man. This is most expressly asserted in the words of one who, equally with Cicero, may be regarded as fitted to he the spokesman of heathen antiquity, and whose high moral culture is acknowledged: we mean Epictetus. In his writings decided prominence is given 99to the notion of moral faultlessness; but to the question, Is it possible to be faultless? he unhesitatingly answers, ‘No, it is impossible; the only thing possible is to be ever striving to be faultless.’124124 The words of Epictetus, iv. 12, 19th ed. Schweigh., are: Τί οὐν; δυνατὸν ἀναμάρτητον εἶναι ἤδη; Ἀμήχανον· ἀλλ᾽ ἐκεῖνο δυνατὸν πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἁμαρτάνειν τετάσθα διηνεκῶς. In an epigram in Demosthenes, de Corona, p. 322, the quality of doing all that is right is attributed to the gods alone.
Such is the state of affairs with regard to the question which
now occupies us, in the intellectual high places of the heathen world.125125 Since the notion, and the word which defines it, assume each
the other, it may not be amiss to offer a few remarks upon the expressions ἀναμαρτησία
and ἀναμάρτητος. These undoubtedly occur at a very early period in the language
of classical antiquity, but at first they are for the most part applied only to
external relations; and even when in later times used with reference to moral actions,
they lack that full significance which Christian thought attributes to them. In
Herodotus ἀναμάρτητος is applied, v. 39, to a woman who had not sinned against
her husband, and, i. 55, to a city which had incurred no debts. In Xenophon and
Plato ἀναμάρτητος is sometimes one who cannot err, sometimes one who has
not actually erred; but in both instances it is used in no higher sense than
as referring to the external affairs of life. In the first of these two meanings,
Plato says, de Repub. lib. 1,
Πότερον δὲ ἀναμάρτητοί εἰσιν οἱ ἄρχοντες,
ἢ οἶοί τε καὶ ἁμαρτάνειν; in the other, Xenophon,
Ὁρῶ γὰρ τῶν ἀνθρώπων
οὐδένα ἀναμάρτητον διατελοῦντα. Longinus, de Sublim. xxxi. 8,
uses the word in the same sense as καθαρός and ἀσφαλής, to denote the
pure and the classical in style, and distinguishes in this respect between that
which is merely free from faults, and that which is the work of genius (de Sublim. xxxiii. 2). It is in Diogenes Laertius (vii. 122) and Epictetus that it occurs
with the most decided moral meaning. In the latter are found a whole series of passages
in which the word occurs:—e.g. i. 4, 11:
Ἐν ὁρμαῖς καὶ ἀφορμαῖς ἀναμάρτητος; iv. 8, 6:
ἡ τοῦ φιλοσόφου πρόληψις καὶ
ἐπαγγελία, ἀναμάρτητον εἶναι; and especially the above-mentioned remarkable passage,
iv. 12, 19. Ἁμαρτησία
also occurs, though less frequently, with the same various meanings. Compare Stephan.
Thesaur. Ling. Gr. vol. ii. p. 1920, ed. Lond. With more
probability might we assume the presence of the idea of sinless holiness in the
monotheistic religions than in paganism. For here, in virtue of the unity and spiritual
nature of God, there naturally exists a clearer impression of the idea of holiness.
The Old Testament contains even the hope—at least in prophetic 100allusion that the Messiah was to be a perfectly holy
servant of Jehovah.126126 Isa. liii. 9. Yet neither of the monotheistic law-religions,—neither the Mosaic
preparatory to Christianity, nor the Mohammedan, which, in spite of its partial
imitation of the Christian religion, was but an apostasy therefrom,—offers anything
like a full representation of the idea of sinless holiness: much less is there
implied in either of them a belief in the realization of that idea in any human
being. If this thought is to be found in these. religions, it would be to their
founders that we must chiefly look for it; but neither Moses nor Mohammed—between
whom, as is obvious, we make a comparison under this point of view alone—lays claim
to freedom from sin: they never even rose to this conception; nor did the adherents
of their faith ever honour them as sinless beings.127127 The prerogative of sinlessness has never been laid claim to
on behalf of Moses. The inadmissibility of such a notion would at once have been
shown by a reference to Ex. ii. 12 and 14.
Much less can sinlessness be predicated of Mohammed. On this point the reader is referred to the Contributions to a Theology of the Koran, by Œttinger (Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theologie, Jahrgang 1831, No. iii. pp. 62, 63), where we find the following observations: ‘Nowhere in the Koran do we find the idea of sinlessness applied to a human being. Reference might indeed here be made to the passage (12, 53) where Joseph says, “I will not acquit myself of guilt, for every soul inclineth to evil, save him on whom God has compassion.” But it is evident that this expression means no more than that every man will sin unless God’s mercy hold him up, which by no means implies that any one may be wholly free from sin. The Koran, in general, regards sin more as an outward than an inward occurrence, while even the prophetic vocation does not necessarily involve a perfect freedom from external and manifest transgression; though Mohammed, when his conscience accuses him, or even when men reproach him for his sins, earnestly endeavours to weaken the force of such reproaches by supposed Divine revelations.’ Still more decidedly is this point argued by Gerock (Christologie des Koran, Hamb. 1839, pp. 100, 101). It is there shown that in the Koran Jesus is indeed held up to imitation as a moral ensample, but necessarily without the predicate of sinlessness, since even Mohammed, who is greater than He, confesses to the commission of mistakes and precipitate actions. In one passage God says to Mohammed (Sur. 48, B. 1 and 2): ‘We have granted thee a decisive victory, in order that Allah may forgive thee thy sins both past and future.’ Again (Sur. 40, B. 57), Mohammed is reminded: ‘Pray for the forgiveness of thy sins.’ (So also p. 80, v. 1 seq.; p. 4, v. 104). With regard to Mohammed, the Koran makes no secret of the fact that he was guilty of failings, and he himself makes an admonition go forth from God commanding him to pray for the forgiveness of his sins: many reputed prayers of his have, moreover, been preserved in the traditions of his followers, 101in which he complies with this injunction.128128 Gerock, in the work already quoted, p. 101, note. But besides this, in the case both of the founder of Islam and the lawgiver of the Old dispensation, not only their lives, but even the character of their religious institutions, and their entire ministries, would have belied the predicate of sinlessness. Both of them, though in very different ways, were founders of states and leaders of armies, and, by these very circumstances, too much addicted to the use of external means to be able to maintain that purity of thought and action of which he alone is capable who, confining himself entirely to those interests which lie within the province of religion, uses none but spiritual weapons against every, even the most unjust, attack. Moreover, the doctrine and institutions of both are based only on law, and perfect holiness belongs to a higher sphere than that of law. It can exist only when the legal stage has been surmounted, and the obedience of faith and love has superseded obedience to law,—when there is no longer any need of an external law, because the law is written in the heart.129129 1 Tim. i. 9.
This is, then, historically the state of the case: In the ages before Christ, no definite notion of sinless perfection, and where a shadow of the idea is found, an accompanying certainty of the impossibility of realizing it: since the appearance of Christ, not only the idea itself in full 102distinctness, but also the assured certainty of its achievement. On the one side there is a Plato, who describes the righteous man as great and glorious indeed, but still as only an ideal picture without reality; a Cicero, who calls in question the possibility of the realization of perfect wisdom; an Epictetus, who has a clearer idea of what sinlessness means, but is at the same time convinced of the impossibility of its ever being carried out in actual life. On the same side stand the founder of the Old Testament dispensation, who himself lays no claim to the possession of spotless righteousness, nor is regarded by his followers as perfectly sinless; the greatest prophet of the ante-Christian age, who had indeed an anticipation that the idea of holy purity would be realized, but. not till a future time, when it should be seen in the servant of God; and, lastly, the founder of Islam, who himself confessed his moral defalcations, and who lives in the traditions of his followers as one who owned his faults and prayed for their forgiveness. On the other side there are the plain, simple-minded apostles, themselves reckoned neither among the poets nor the philosophers, in whom we find not only the idea of sinless holiness most clearly defined, but in whom also faith in its actual realization in the person of Jesus became a power, strong enough to conquer the world and death; and by whom was given a description of the pure and holy life of Jesus, which called forth the same faith in others also, and which must, to this very day, be regarded as an inimitable picture of religious and moral perfection.
What conclusion shall we then draw from this state of things? Shall we conclude that the apostles—like the God of Plato, who, contemplating ideas, proceeded to fashion the world—by only viewing the idea of perfection and holiness, sketched from their own internal resources the portrait of Jesus, and filled up the details of His life from their own 103poetic fancy? But then we must first show that that which they are supposed to have thus contemplated, had for them a real existence; and we have just seen that the opposite was the case. We must first make it appear credible that sober-minded men would have had such faith in a production of their own imagination (which they took for something real), as to sacrifice for its sake all that men usually hold dear: and in this there is a manifest contradiction. No! it would be far simpler, and far more consistent with history, to conclude that if an idea arose in all its clearness in the minds of the apostles, which the great thinkers and poets of antiquity were either utterly ignorant of, or saw but dimly, this can be accounted for only by the manifestation of a real life; and if an all-conquering belief in the reality of a sinless life was produced in their minds, while hitherto such a life had been esteemed impossible, the cause could only lie in the overpowering impression produced by that life itself, as seen unfolding before their eyes.
We shall, however, draw this conclusion with greater confidence, in proportion as this view is found to be in other respects consistent with the nature of the case. For if the idea of sinless perfection does indeed belong, of its very nature, to the human mind, and form the foundation of its whole moral development yet, according to the laws of moral life, there can be no clear, full, and living consciousness of it, and consequently no belief in its realization, so long as sin is the ruling power in humanity. Hence, when the idea has become lucid and lifegiving, and when along with it there is the firm conviction of its realization, we are entitled to draw the conclusion that this has taken place as the result of an actual conquest of sin, and a real manifestation of a holy and perfect life. We say then: it is not possible to think otherwise than that He who called forth in His contemporaries, and through them in the Christian 104world, a belief strong, stedfast, and capable of transforming their whole life, in an altogether pure and holy virtue, was Himself in very deed a perfectly pure and holy Being.
We have, then—as a retrospect of what has been advanced will show—a series of facts which mutually confirm each other. The moral greatness of Christ is confirmed, in a general point of view, by that judicial and dividing effect which His appearance everywhere produced, as well as by the relation in which men of the most opposite dispositions stood towards Him:—His enemies, with their deadly hatred; the seemingly impartial, who could not, however, withdraw themselves from the influence of His spiritual power the traitor, who, in his despair, passed sentence upon himself and the friends, whose love and reverence endured even unto death. But more definite confirmation of the sinless perfection of the Lord Jesus is offered by the testimony of the apostolic circle,—a testimony contained partly in direct assertions, and partly in that life-portrait of Christ which forms their commentary and confirmation. Beyond and above all this, however, is the sublime self-testimony from the lips of Jesus Himself, which leaves us in no doubt of what was His own consciousness with respect to His moral character, and the, relation to God and to the human race resulting therefrom. This, too, does not stand alone, but is supported and corroborated by the world-wide effects produced by Him in the sphere of religion and morality,—effects so entirely unique that no adequate explanation of them can be found, unless we allow that the self-testimony of Christ, and its echo in the evidence furnished by the apostles, is indeed corroborated by facts.
Surely all these circumstances, taken together, furnish ample security for the sinless perfection of Christ. Nevertheless, 105when the question is to convert the assent of the understanding into the lively conviction of the individual, there is yet another kind of testimony to adduce. And this is the individual experience which each man may and ought to make by a direct application to the original sources,—to those Gospels, whose simple, powerful, and lively portraiture can be replaced by nothing else. If this is done in a candid and unprejudiced spirit, the image of the Lord Jesus will be vividly presented to his mind and this image will not only fill his whole soul with admiration, as some production of poetry or rhetoric might do, but will act as a moral power upon his heart, and thus take possession of his whole inner man. He will feel that he has here found that which elevates him above all that is low, earthly, and common, which directly purifies him, and penetrates him with the feeling of the Divine nearness. He will be constrained to say that, if he desires to be really in harmony with such a manifestation, he must become a radically new man and, on further consideration, he will be persuaded that there is no other moral phenomenon on earth which produces like effects, and therefore none which thus points to a higher order of things, and to an origin beyond ordinary human experience, even an origin which is Divine.130130 Comp. Dorner, Jes. sündl. Vollk. p. 43, and Schaff On the Moral Character of Christ, p. 53.
In this sense we must say that it is the motel portraiture of the Lord Jesus which, in virtue of the vital power inherent in it itself, offers the best and strongest evidence of its truth and uniqueness. As the poet,131131 Schiller, in the Bride of Messina. in reply to the question, Whence the sun’s celestial fires are derived? answers, That which enlightens the world enlightens itself: its light bears witness that its origin is light,—so may the same be said of the portraiture of Him who is the light of the moral world—106the ‘Sun of righteousness.’ He who beholds the light of the sun and feels the warmth of its rays, will have no doubts of its existence, nor of the power of its agency. So, too, he who has once felt in his own heart the peculiar power exercised by the Gospel delineation of the Lord Jesus, will entertain no kind of doubt as to its reality and origin.107
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