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Sec. 4.—The Sinless Jesus as the Pledge of Eternal Life.
The fellowship founded by Christ, however,—and this is the last point to be considered,—is not destined merely for this earthly existence, but has the promise of eternal life and perfect victory in a future and heavenly state. This promise holds good to every living member of Christ in particular, as well as to the community, formed of such members, in general. And the pledge for its performance is found in the sinless perfection of Him who, through what He was and what He did, became the sole foundation and all-comprising head of this fellowship.
This promise is, in the first place, expressed with the utmost assurance by Jesus Himself. He testifies of Himself that the Father has given Him to have life in Himself;306306 John v. 26. that no one takes His life from Him, but that He lays it down of 240Himself; that He has power to lay it down, and power to take it again.307307 John x. 18. He feels certain also, that through sufferings and death He shall but enter into the glory which He had with the Father before the world was.308308 John xvii. 5. In like manner He represents Himself as giving life to the world, and calls Himself, in this very sense, ‘the Resurrection and the Life.’309309 John vi. 33, xi. 5. His people especially are to be sharers of His eternal life and glory. ‘Because I live,’ He says, ‘ye shall live also;’310310 John xiv. 19. ‘Where I am, there also shall my servant be;’311311 John xii. 26. and, ‘Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given me be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which Thou hast given me.’312312 John xvii. 24. They are to attain to true life, to be received into everlasting habitations313313 Luke xvi. 9. in the Father’s house of many mansions, where a place is prepared for them,314314 John xiv. 2, 3. where a day shall come in which ‘they shall ask nothing,’ and a joy shall be bestowed upon them which no man shall take away from them.315315 John xvi. 22, 23. He speaks of Himself as one having life in Himself, and imparting it to His followers, both individually and collectively, as to those who are with Him, and through Him, partakers of an eternal life. And this implies that the same may be predicated of the fellowship of His followers, of the Church united in Him, and founded according to His institution. In this sense He also very decidedly announces, though in the figurative manner which is in this case alone appropriate, a future perfect realization of the kingdom of God,316316 Luke xiii. 21-30, and other places. which, after the final exclusion by means of a Divine interposition—of all who persevere in opposing it, is to enter upon an entirely new condition.317317 Matt. xix. 28, xxvi. 29. At the same time, however, He promises also to His believing people, who, until this consummation takes place, are still in 241a state of warfare upon earth, that He will be with them always, even unto the end.318318 Matt. xxviii. 20.
We now proceed to inquire whether that which is thus testified and promised by the Lord Jesus, is not likewise the necessary result of this sinless holiness,—in other words, what is the relation borne by this doctrine to the subject now under consideration?
It is certain that not a few so-called Christians see in Christ nothing more than a historical personage, who lived more than eighteen centuries ago, who taught certain doctrines, and perhaps performed also certain unusual acts, but who—beyond what has been handed down to us concerning Him in this respect—does not stand in any very close and immediate .relation to the present generation. In such a merely historical Christ, they who are really in earnest in their belief in His words, and sincerely His followers, do assuredly possess certain benefits. To them, however, may well be applied the saying, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead?’ And if they will but observe somewhat more closely the Christ presented to us in the Gospels, they will be constrained to admit that He declares Himself to be—and that, if but the chief features of His character are correctly drawn, He must actually be—something very different from a past historical phenomenon. For the actual historical Christ, and especially the Being who proved Himself to be sinlessly holy, necessarily implies the living Christ, the ever living, ever acting Christ and it is only when we admit this, that we really receive even the historical Christ, in the full completeness of all that is testified concerning Him.
If Jesus is sinless, and consequently the holy Son of God and Son of Man, as He declares Himself to be, He le one whose very existence is a pledge of indestructible life and 242supreme glory. Even if He had not declared this, it is the necessary and direct result of His whole life. All that He said or did pointed to a heavenly order of things, and was pervaded by the powers of eternity. The wall of partition which conceals from us the invisible world had no existence for Him. On the contrary, as His life was one continuous intercourse with God, so did He constantly behold the eternal and imperishable, and live and act therein as in His proper element. Thus true life was not revealed by Him as something to come, but as something already present. And this life is, moreover, of such a nature, that not only is the thought of annihilation through death irreconcilably opposed thereto, but it can only be conceived of as, by virtue of its inherent power, eternal and victorious over death. The resurrection, too, and exaltation of Jesus, when viewed in their rightful connection with His character, cannot be regarded as events happening to Him merely through an external and miraculous interposition of God, but must also be looked upon as proceeding from His own intrinsic nature, as the normal development of that Divine and eternal life which was ever present in Him, as consequences which, when once the limitations of His earthly life were removed, were simply inevitable.
But He who is thus exalted by the power of that Divine life which dwells in Him, cannot be otherwise conceived of than as the acting. And if even during His earthly course His agency related to the whole human race, the sphere of its influence cannot be a more circumscribed one, now that the restrictions of His earthly existence are done away with. We must not picture it to ourselves as similar only to that exercised by all whose lives have produced powerful effects upon history. Such persons do indeed exercise a lasting influence by means either of their deeds or of their intellectual productions. This, however, is not a direct, a living, 243a personal influence, but an after effect, brought about by historical tradition, and separate from all present connection with their persons,—an effect which generally becomes weaker and weaker in proportion to the remoteness of the ages in which they lived. We cannot stop at such an influence as this when we contemplate the Lord Jesus. For although, with respect even to this kind of influence, whether its depth, its extent, or its duration be considered, He occupies the highest place, He yet, by virtue both of His Person and of the work He effected, lays claim also to one of an entirely different kind. Through His absolute self-surrender for the good of mankind, His perfect obedience, and His atoning death, He has become the royal Head of the human race, and that not merely in a figurative, but in a real and living sense; and we cannot conceive of a living Head which does not exercise a continual influence upon its members. But besides this, He is also the Son of God and Son of Man—proved to be such in all the conflicts of life—who was perfected through sufferings, and who has entered through death into glory. The fulness of the Divine life and nature which was in Him on earth, though restricted by human limitation, can now freely and perfectly develope itself; and in virtue of the exalted position which alone becomes Him, we are constrained to assume that His agency is also of a Divine kind, and therefore not limited by time or space, nor confined to ordinary means, but direct, personal, and everywhere present. It is only in this sense that Christ can be said to be ever living, and at the same time exercising a living agency; and that this is actually the case, is the necessary consequence of that perfect and uninterrupted communion with God, which, by means of His sinless holiness, He ever maintained.
But, again, we cannot conceive of the eternal life and continuous agency of the Head, unless the members also are 244partakers of eternal life, and susceptible of the influence of their Head. The very idea of a personal God, a Creator who is love, involves the admission that the personalities whom He has created, upon whom He has impressed His image, and whom He has invited to fellowship with Himself, are also designed for an eternal and perfect existence, and cannot be destined to be merely resolved into their natural elements by corporeal death. But the matter assumes an entirely different aspect when such personalities are also members of Christ, and have become intrinsically one with Him; and when, therefore, that life, the design and foundation of which was already within them, has actually begun to be realized. For if Christ has by His very nature eternal life in Himself, and if faith is that which, according to its primitive sense, it ought to be,—viz. the complete appropriation of the life of Christ by a perfect surrender to Him, so that He becomes the proper vital principle of every believer,—it then naturally follows that they who have entered into real fellowship with Him, are through Him made partakers of the same imperishable existence.
But least of all can we conceive of an exalted and eternally living Christ, really the Head of His believing people, but unpossessed of the power of bringing them into His glory, and continually losing them through death. It would be but a very poor compensation to say: He can continually be taking new members to Himself as the old ones die away. This would be to commit the folly of conceiving not only of a heavenly Head with merely earthly members, but also of an eternally living Head, with members in a continual state of coming and going, in a condition of perpetual change. It is quite as impossible to combine faith in an actually living Christ with the supposition of the continual dying off of His members, as it is to supplement the idea of a living and personal God with the notion of the annihilation of the 245human personalities whom He has called into existence. In the latter case, together with a belief in personal existence after death, we are compelled to surrender also our belief in a personal God, who is love, and to abandon ourselves, if not to atheism and materialism, yet to the pantheistic doctrine of a universal life, ever ceaselessly changing between birth and death. So likewise in the former case, the eternally living Christ must be transformed into one who had a merely past existence, the after effects of which have now entirely disappeared, and who is therefore a historical Christ only in a very limited sense, before it can be maintained that His followers are destined to perish. Either we must say, that as believers fall a prey to annihilation, this must also have been the case with Christ Himself, or that because He lives and reigns, they shall also live and reign with Him. He has made them partakers of the Divine nature. He has impressed upon them the image of His life, and thereby imparted to them eternal life also. For how could that be said to be a Divine nature which was absolutely perishable? And how could Christ be Himself the truly living One, if the highest effects which have proceeded from Him in forming personal beings were ever and again, to be dissolved into nothingness?
What is true of the individual members of Christ holds good also of His members viewed collectively, of the kingdom of God, and its manifestation in the Church, which is the body of Christ. From the very first, it was not as an isolated individual that Christ received each man into His fellowship, but as one who was also destined to form a member in His body. And this relation can never cease, but must ever become more real and true. As the life of the individual is perfected in a higher state of existence by his being made partaker in ever-increasing fulness of the life of Christ, even so, and in equal measure, must the life of the community of 246Christians be perfected, until the body of Christ is presented in perfect symmetry and beauty. We can never imagine a moment when the body should be left without its Head, or the kingdom without its King; but neither can we conceive of the Head existing without the body, or the King without His kingdom. If the kingdom of Christ, in virtue of the creative power which dwells in its Founder, has in Him a sure pledge of its ultimate perfection, then it has also in Him the assurance of an endless duration; and we have no alternative but either to deny that Christ is the true Kink of a real kingdom, or to regard Him as the immortal, eternally reigning King of His eternally triumphant Church.
If what has been advanced in this last part rests upon sound reasoning, Jesus is thus proved to be, in virtue of His sinlessness, the One Being in our whole race in whom Godhead and manhood are personally united, and in whom a man well-pleasing to God, a typical man, has appeared. And if by this very fact He has also perfectly revealed the nature and the will of God in so far as this was needed by the world of sinners, and effected a true reconciliation between them and the holy God; if He has at the same time established upon this foundation a kingdom of God among men, as the highest human community, and as the guardian of His saving benefits, and has assured to this community, and to every living member thereof, a life of eternal happiness and glory,—then has He also fulfilled all the conditions under which alone it was possible for man, separated as he was from God by sin, to be readmitted to blissful fellowship with Him, and has done this in that form in which alone it could be done, in a truly vital and really efficacious manner, in the form of personality, of personal example and personal intervention. A more exalted Being than one in whom Godhead and manhood were united is necessarily inconceivable. He is, and ever will be, supreme in matters of religion, 247—‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’319319 Heb. xiii. 8. His mediatorial work cannot be surpassed, since the restoration of man to fellowship with God was actually effected. thereby. Nor can it possibly be regarded as needing completion. It is a perfected and finished salvation continually offered, that it may be appropriated and lived upon by all who need it.
We have now arrived at that point which we at first designated as the end we had in view, and which we may now describe as the result of what has hitherto been stated. And this was to show that Christianity, of which Jesus Christ is the inalienable vital centre, and all whose essential elements are comprised in Him, is not merely a religion, which may have its own special advantages beside or above other religions, but that it is the religion in a supreme sense,—the perfect and exclusively Divine means and revelation of salvation; and that a supreme and satisfactory, though not the sole pledge that it is so, is offered by the sinless holiness of its Founder.248
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