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Sec. 1.—The Sinless Jesus as the personal Revelation of God.
Sinlessness, in the case of Him to whom it cannot but be conceded, is of itself a powerful guarantee of perfection, both in the knowledge of things Divine and moral, and in the doctrine arising therefrom. Sinless perfection and religious infallibility mutually condition each other; and Jesus Himself appeals, as we have seen, in proof that He spoke the truth, and that His doctrine was not His own, but His that sent Him, to the impossibility of convicting Him of sin, and to the fact that He did at all times such things as were pleasing to the Father.262262 John viii. 28, 29, and 46. See above, pp. 182-188.210
But doctrine, simply as such, is not revelation. It is, indeed, a component, but only a deduced and secondary part of revelation, and everywhere presupposes—but most especially in Christianity—a more primitive and more comprehensive whole,—a series of actual Divine announcements. Doctrine, at best, can but tell us what we ought to think of God: from revelation, on the contrary, if we regard the term in its full meaning, we expect that it should show us what He is,—that it should manifest His nature. Without needing to itdduce evidence, revelation will of its very nature be itself the strongest actual proof of the Divine existence and government, by bringing the God of whom it is the witness and lively image as near to our soul as is possible,. and above all by disclosing to us His very nature, and making it an object of contemplation. In this sense, that alone can be a perfect revelation which is accomplished by means of the totality of a personal life. For God Himself, as the infinitely perfect, self-conscious Spirit, is essentially a person; and the true relation of created spirits to Him cannot be otherwise conceived of than as that of person to person. Hence that manifestation of God to man which completes all revelation, in which both the relation of God to man and of man to God is perfectly realized, must have that same form which we recognise as the highest form of life, viz. the personal. Only in this form can the fulness of the Divine Spirit and the Divine love suitably manifest the whole sum of those qualities which, in a moral sense, constitute the nature of God. Only thus can God draw so near to man, that he, according to the measure of his capacity, may become a partaker of Him. Only thus can the true relation of man to God be expressed by an, actual and genuine life, and a restorative, creative, vital power be implanted in the history of mankind in such wise that, from henceforth, the higher life of man may be renewed and 211developed by organic connection with this its true centre. Hence we may say that, the more personal the Divine revelation,—the more it is expressed, not merely as religious instruction, or as the delivery of law, but as personal life,—the higher is it in degree; and that the final and perfect revelation must necessarily be one which is essentially manifested in a holy personality, in one whose life and conduct bring before the very senses of man the nature and will of God.
It is in this sense that Jesus is the revelation of God. It is He Himself that is this revelation, both in His own Person and in the totality of all that proceeded therefrom, whether in word or deed, of all the suffering and the glory, the humiliation and the exaltation, that was accomplished therein. It is thus that He represents Himself. He says,263263 John xiv. 6. ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,’—thus most expressly declaring that for the attainment of everlasting life everything depends upon His Person, and that in this respect He would be regarded not merely as one who teaches truth, but as truth impersonate, as truth manifested in life. In like manner, He designates Himself as one who has manifested unto men the name of the Father, i.e. the whole extent of His nature,. so far as it could be revealed in, the world, and to mankind.264264 John xvii. 6. He also asserts that no man can attain to the true knowledge of the Father but he to whom the Son will reveal Him;265265 Matt. xi. 27. and in that passage in which He speaks of a knowledge which is at the same time eternal life, He directly combines with the knowledge of the only true God that of Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.266266 John xvii. 3. Besides, wherever He speaks of a perfect and saving knowledge of God, He always represents this as brought about by means of His own Person; while it is undoubtedly Jesus who is intended, when subsequently the Son is designated in the apostolic circle as He through whom, 212as being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person, God has, after divers previous revelations, in these last days fully revealed Himself.267267 Heb. i. 1-3.
We have, moreover, this revelation of God in a personal life in Jesus, inasmuch as He was sinlessly perfect. His whole life breathes of God, is rooted in God, is inexplicable apart. from God. There is not, nor can there possibly be, a stronger evidence of the existence and government of God than such a life. If God is not to be seen and felt here, where, we may ask, is He to be found? But that He is to be found by, and that He is the rewarder of, them that seek Him, is told us by every word and act of the Lord Jesus, and is powerfully declared by His whole manifestation, in which the reality of a higher and a heavenly order of things is so overwhelmingly evident. And not only does the existence of God become a certainty through Him, but He is also the means of disclosing the nature of God, and that—as is indeed demanded by the very notion of revelation—under an entirely new aspect, an aspect which had not as yet become an all-pervading consciousness. Hitherto the power, the glory, the unapproachable dignity of God had been clearly perceived, while but a faint and distant idea of His grace had been entertained. But now, in the sinless Jesus, who died for a sinful world, in the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,’ that which constitutes the essential nature of God,—that which, as has been aptly said, is mast God-like in God, even His holy love, His preventing, sin-forgiving, death-conquering, and life-giving grace,268268 Compare Dorner, Jesu Sündl. Volk. p. 57, and the fourth section generally.—is brought out in the clearest light. In the sinless One, who lived only for sinners, God was for the first time revealed in the manner needed for the salvation of a sinful world. Nor was this done in the way 213merely of doctrine and declaration, but very chiefly in that manner in which alone such a revelation could exercise creative energy, even by acts of direct intervention, by a totality of saving deeds and saving operations, centering in the divine-human Person of Jesus Christ Himself, the living exemplification of the holy love of God. In that miracle of Divine love—the whole being and life of Jesus—the nature of God, as love, is manifested in a manner than which it is impossible to conceive aught higher or more perfect; and therein is fulfilled that profound saying of St. John:269269 John i. 17. ‘The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’
But a revelation of God concerns itself not merely with His nature, but also with His will. In this aspect it is still more apparent how Jesus the sinless One was the personal revelation of God to humanity. Looking at the moral side, we find that two conditions absolutely require to be complied with, if sinners—and all men are sinners—are to become well-pleasing in the sight of God. In the first place, they must be brought to know their sin, and to repent of it in their inmost soul; and further, the good must be set before their minds in its whole compass by means of a living and powerful example. Both these things—self-abasing knowledge of sin, and quickening knowledge of good—are effected in an incomparably excellent way by the manifestation of holy life given us in Jesus; and this manifestation is a moral revelation of God, because its true foundation is in Him.
Without doubt, even the moral law, both in its positive and in its unwritten form in the conscience, produced knowledge of sin, and sorrow on account of it. But evidently mere knowledge of and sorrow for sin in themselves are not all,—everything depends on their purity and depth; and 214 here it must at once, be acknowledged that a concrete life will have quite a different effect from an abstract law.270270 Martensen’s Dogmatik, § 109, p. 233.
The knowledge of sin may always be measured by the knowledge of good. The more complete and certain the latter, the truer and deeper the former. Now it is unquestionable that no law is able to communicate so sure and full a knowledge of good, as the life of one truly holy in all relations and circumstances. Conscience, when tenderly cherished and cultivated, does indeed speak with great certainty, but it is never infallible. It takes its tone in part from our own inward state it is itself entangled in that web of sin which is thrown around our whole being; and, as a thousand instances prove, it may go astray, it may even fall into a state of most fearful blindness, if it is not guided and enlightened by an external standard clearly held before it. The positive law, being more fixed and definite, is of course surer than the law in the conscience, but both lack that living completeness which is necessary for giving true knowledge of the good. They stand above and outside of our life: the commands they issue are abstract and general. Even the law as we find it in the Old Testament does not present the standard of good in its greatest perfection, not in the whole depth of its free inwardness. These defects are all overcome and supplied in the holy and sinless life of Jesus. There we have a sure standard. His life is conscience outwardly realized. We find there a perfection of good as to principle, and a carrying of it out in action, in all relations, which can never be surpassed. Consequently, in the presence of this exemplification of holy life, an entirely different knowledge of sin is awakened,—a knowledge much purer, deeper, more certain and complete, than any which arises from mere law.
That which thus holds true with respect to the knowledge of sin, is equally true as regards sorrow for sin. ‘ Is it not 215 natural that he who gazes on absolute righteousness and truth, realized in the living example of Jesus, who beholds there the transcript of human nature and the human will in their original purity, and who therefore comes to know the beauty and perfection, the glory and excellence of the holy Divine will, should humble himself more deeply and truly than the man who can merely oppose a stern commandment to himself and his inclinations?’271271 Words of Nitzsch in the Deutsche Zeitschrift, 1852, No. X. p. 81. In His realization of the good, Jesus always referred to God, not to the law. Hence it is that, as we stand in His holy presence, we become more truly conscious, than in any other circumstances, of that quality of sin, in virtue of which it is rebellion against God, unfaithfulness towards Him; and thus, too, of the deep guilt which sin involves. Inasmuch, however, as Jesus sacrificed His own pure life in the conflict with sin, the sinner may at the same time see in Him the love which went even to death for his sake: and how much more genuine and inward a sorrow for sin must this awaken than the mere thought of having transgressed the law! In this aspect, the life of Jesus had the effect of separating most distinctly good from evil, and did in the true sense discern and judge men. Through Him a direct judgment was executed on sin, which is shown to be Divine by its purity and holiness. In His Person man possesses a living power capable of awakening the knowledge of sin, and of calling forth sorrow for it,—a power which they who experience it will confess to be of Divine origin, and a constituent part of revelation.
More important still, however, is the positive side. Not only was the whole strength of sin laid bare, but man was made also to see and feel the whole purity and fulness of life possessed by the good; for how could he be brought to the determination of making goodness the substance and aim of his life, unless he saw its beauty and loveliness? It is not of 216course to be questioned that a susceptibility for the ideal of moral perfection is implanted in man along with his moral capabilities; but precisely at the moment when we feel that in this ideal there is nothing which contradicts and is foreign to true human nature,—that, on the contrary, it really belongs to our nature,—the question presses itself most strongly upon us: Why, then, do we not universally find in mankind a full belief in the existence of perfect goodness, and living examples of its attainment? And why was it that, when it did appear in full distinctness, it was but gradually, with much difficulty and after much resistance, that it penetrated the minds of those who beheld it? The simple reason is, that man cannot possibly produce what does not previously live in himself. The image of the perfect good, however, could not live in him, because sin did not permit its free development. It slumbered in him. It must have done so, or no power could ever have awakened it in his inner being, and it would always have remained incomprehensible to him. But it did not live in him, else would he have had a distinct and full consciousness of it. Proofs enough that such an ideal did not live in him, are furnished by history. The idea of justice, of a self-complacent virtue which prudently keeps the mean between two extremes, the idea of accordance with the laws and with that which is commended by all reasonable men,272272 For references as to particulars, see Rothe’s work on the Berechtigung der Sinnlichkeit nach Aristoteles, Studien und Kritiken, 1850, 2, p. 265 ff. and Schaubach’s das Verhältniss der Moral des class. Alterthums zur Christlichen, likewise in the Studien und Kritiken, 1851, 1, p. 59 ff. was the highest point to which educated reason rose before the appearance of Christ; and even this idea was more a matter discussed in the schools, than a universal persuasion. On the contrary, the picture of one who is filled with holy love,—of a love of the good for the sake of God,—of a love which compassionates the souls of 217 others, seeks, and sacrifices itself for their salvation, was foreign even to the most cultivated reason; nay, not only foreign to it as mere natural reason, but even unnatural and overstrained. Such an ideal could only be introduced amongst men through the medium of facts, of an actual life. The life by which this is effected cannot be regarded as a mere product of humanity, a climax reached by existing human nature; but, because an entirely new element, even true holiness, is there revealed, it must be viewed as the work of the Spirit from on high, as the operation of God. It is, in fact, a communication of God to humanity, and is as truly a revelation in connection with the department of morals, as what is usually so designated in connection with religion.273273 ’Christology must no longer be merely a chapter in dogmatics, but must take its place also as a chapter in ethics.’ So speaks Ackermann in a beautiful review of Harless’s Christliche Ethik, in Reuter’s Repertorium, 1852, 4, p. 39. We may even speak still more strongly: not only must Christology become one chapter, but the fundamental principle, of ethics. Christ is as truly the principle of the moral, as of the religious revelation. Compare De Wette, Lehrbuch der Christlichen Sittenlehre, Berlin 1853, §§ 3, 41-52.
This ideal has been set before us in the Person of Jesus, in Him who was the sinless One, who, because He lived only in God, was not merely a perfectly righteous man, but also manifested a love which proclaimed itself Divine by its holy earnestness and unbounded devotion. He is man, as God would have Him be, and therefore is He also the full and living expression of the Divine will to humanity. In Him, the Son full of grace and truth, has the Sun of Righteousness arisen upon man; in His light it is that we first see light, even in a moral sense, in its full brightness.
The presence of such a distinct, fixed, and elevated standard must unquestionably be of infinite value for the moral development of humanity. The significance of the matter becomes still greater, when we consider the mode and circumstances 218in which it was accomplished. Such ideals and examples of the good and noble as are to be found before the coming of Jesus, all wanted power to affect and actually to transform the depths of man’s life,—to transform humanity as a whole. The reason thereof was partially that they were not in reality the highest, but more because they were only products of thought,—products of intellect in a higher state of cultivation than was commonly attainable. Even when, as under the old covenant, these examples came before men clothed with Divine authority, and in a shape which the common understanding might lay hold of, they only appear as requirement, not as fulfilment. It is otherwise in Jesus. In His case, the ideal of perfect goodness is not merely set forth by a personality as a product of thought, but is realized in its life. Hence arises the extreme value it has in relation to moral intuitions and knowledge, and its boundless influence on our moral volitions and acts.
There is a further superiority, also, of this realization in Jesus, that it has both an all-inclusive and a universally intelligible character. The image of goodness in Jesus, we say, is all-comprehensive. It exhibits before us that which is true and universal in human nature under the very conditions to which every man is subject, in the relations of individuality, of race, of family, and of nationality, and is therefore sufficient for all, however situated as to these conditions of life.274274 Compare what is said, pp. 51-55, with regard to the universality of the moral character of Jesus. He realized the ideal in all the essential relations of life, especially in those which are attended with most difficulty and temptation; and has thus shown not only that, but how, good may be preserved intact, and come off victorious in all circumstances. He exemplified it not only in single and prominent virtues, not in a partial and fragmentary manner, but in the entirety of life, as a single and perfect 219work, resulting from complete harmoniousness of mind. He consequently stands before us as a true and universal example,—not as a model of which we are to copy the separate parts, but as a type the true spirit of which we are to appropriate as a whole. Nor is it less a characteristic that it is intelligible. It is deep and rich enough to furnish a subject which human comprehension and delineation can never exhaust; and, at the same time, it is placed before mankind in features so grand and mighty, yet so direct and affecting, that the simplest soul, yea, the mind of a child, can understand it, and even those who would resist, are impressed by it. We may consequently affirm of the moral example of Christ, that it .is one universally binding; and in this sense also may we apply to it the words of the apostle, ‘In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female.’275275 Gal. iii. 28. This example is destined alike for all, that all may make it their own; and all alike are destined for it, that it may live in them for ever. But that which thus stands in its all-embracing greatness above humanity, although it is at the same time truly human, which has not proceeded from, and is, notwithstanding, destined ever to enter into humanity, is stamped with the seal of a Divine revelation.
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