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THE ARGUMENT FROM HIS CHARACTER TO HIS DIVINITY.
Moral Aspects and outward Facts of Christ’s History.—A Character such as his not once-realized.—Interests of Truth and Virtue.—Moral Condition of Mankind charged on God.—Humanity in Christ peculiarly conditioned.—Idea of Incarnation universal.—A primitive Revelation.—A universal want.—Provision for this Want made once for all.—Higher Nature in Christ, not higher Office merely.—Absolute Divinity.—This secured Aids and Influences incommunicable to others.
THE spiritual individuality of Christ, we have found, is striking as it is manifest. Whether we look to his oneness with God, to the marvelous forms of his consciousness, to the totality of his manifestation, to the motive of his life, or to his unconquerable faith, his character, take it all in all, must be confessed to stand alone in the history of the world. But this character, in its unapproachable grandeur, must be viewed in connection with the outward circumstances of the being in whom it was realized—in connection with a life not only unprivileged, but offering numerous positive hinderances to the origination, the growth, and, most 244of all, the perfection of spiritual excellence. In a Jew of Nazareth—a young man—an uneducated mechanic—moral perfection was realized. Can this phenomenon be accounted for? There is here, without doubt, a manifestation of humanity; but the question is, was this a manifestation of mere humanity, and no more? Can this be interpreted on the common principles, which in other cases explain the facts of history, observation, and experience? It is not maintained, in any quarter worthy of regard, that ordinary principles of interpretation are sufficient here. But, if not, what are the extraordinary principles that are sufficient in this singular case?
This question is met by the suggestion that Jesus needed and received for the mission with which he was charged, extraordinary protection from God—protection for his intellect, his conscience, and his heart; and not only protection, but extraordinary divine influence, in the illumination, invigoration, guidance, and entire culture of his spiritual nature. It is suggested that, by the holy power and under the sheltering care of God, his character was preserved faultless, and rose to the highest perfection of which humanity is capable. Certainly, special powers are demanded for special functions, and it is fitting that unusual honors should attend unusual responsibilities. It is obvious, also, that God has a right to withhold or bestow his own gifts, and to 245bestow them on whom and in what measure he pleaseth. But the question arises, if Jesus was no more than man, why have there not been other men like him? why has there not been one man like to him in the whole course of time? The question is unanswerable, we humbly maintain. If by the spiritual protection and influence of God, Jesus in his peculiar circumstances—with his youth, his want of education, his poverty, and all his hinderances and exposures—reached moral perfection, it is unaccountable that, in far happier combinations of circumstances, such an attainment has never been approached. What God did for one man, God certainly could have done for other men. It is unaccountable that it has never been done, and that not a single individual known to history has risen to the glory of this youthful, untaught, unprivileged Galilean mechanic. The question here, it must be remembered, does not respect merely adaptation to an extraordinary sphere; it does not respect merely official qualifications and endowments it relates to personal excellence, to moral education and culture, to inward goodness; and it is, therefore, vitally connected with the great cause of virtue and truth in the world. If Jesus was man only, and if, therefore, the invigorating and quickening influences of God bestowed on him, could have been bestowed on others, it is impossible without deep injury to the divine character, without 246impeaching either the benignity, or the purity of God, to account for their being withheld in other cases. All is intelligible and consistent if Jesus was essentially separate from men, separate in the very constitution of his person—a being raised up once in all time for a crisis which never could again arise, and for a work never to be repeated. But if not, if he was man only, we ask in the name of that holiness which is the life of the intelligent universe, and in the name of God with whom the interests of holiness are paramount, how it has come to pass, that of all men he alone has risen to spiritual perfection? What God did for piety and virtue on the earth at one time and in one case, God certainly could have done at other times and in other cases. If Jesus was man only, God could have raised up, in successive ages, many such living examples of sanctified humanity as he was, to correct, instruct, and quicken the world. But he did not; and the guilt of the moral condition of mankind is thus charged at once upon God; and the real cause of the continuance of moral evil, and of the limited success of holiness and truth in the earth is thus declared to be in God—that cause is the withholding of his merciful influences.
If such be the inevitable conclusion to which these premises lead, we have no alternative except to abandon them as false and impious. Jesus Christ can not have been merely man. No mere man, 247especially under the outward conditions that environed him—not the most venerable and gifted sage, in circumstances incomparably more favorable than his—ever rose to his moral stature; and unless all analogy and the unbroken testimony of all history are to be set aside, we must believe that Jesus was not merely man. It is morally impossible that the spiritual perfection of his character can have been owing to divine influences, which could have been bestowed as well on others as on him. If they could have been bestowed, we can not doubt, looking to the benignant and holy character of God, that they must have been bestowed. Since they were not bestowed on others, but only on him, there must have been something in him some real and great difference to account for the fact, something which rendered that possible to him which was not possible to any other. Between him and all men there must have been a separation—though there was also as certainly a community—of nature; a separation not incidental and relative only, but constitutional and organic. Humanity in him must have existed under conditions, essentially distinct from those which belong to the universal humanity of the world. Incarnation, but incarnation alone, helps us to the solution of the overwhelming difficulties of this case. It is perceived at once that this involved access to God, and reception from him—involved illumination, protection, guidance, 248and power absolutely and necessarily incommunicable to all others. Man, Jesus certainly was, but not man merely, but God in man.
We can not hope to discover, in the religions of mankind, the method of solving the deepest problem of Christianity, but it is quite possible that they may illustrate, perhaps confirm, the only satisfactory solution which has yet been suggested. In these religions, almost without exception, the idea of incarnation will be found under one form or another. It is related that Paul and Barnabas in the city of Lystra were about to receive divine honors; Barnabas was to be worshiped as an incarnation of Jupiter, and Paul as an incarnation of Mercury. The people of Lycaonia cried, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.”131131 Acts, xiv. 1. The noticeable fact is, that this was not a new and strange thought to them, but one apparently familiar, and generally received, and which, therefore, at once occurred to them as affording an easy interpretation of what they had seen and heard in connection with the two foreigners. The numberless metamorphoses of the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, and in the eastern world the incarnations of Brahm, the avatars of Vishnu, and the human form of Kreeshna, and its reappearance in successive ages, are significant and demonstrative on this subject. Among almost all nations, and from the 249earliest period of which any authentic record has been preserved, down to our own times, the idea of God incarnating himself is found. But mankind do not universally, and for successive ages adopt that which is wholly false. On the most philosophical grounds it may be argued, that the continued and wide acceptance of the notion of incarnation in the world is decisive proof that it must have some basis of truth. The idea, indeed, if admitted by men at all, was manifestly for conscience and reason, in their most reverent and subdued exercise, and not for imagination. It was too awfully sacred for imagination, even in its most chastened movements, to have approached. But imagination unchastened, irreverent, impure, coarse, and wild, dared to violate this sanctity. The result we behold in the contradictions, absurdities, blasphemies, and offenses against all faith and all religious feeling and taste, of which the world is full. But in spite of the humiliating and revolting facts of this kind which abound, it may be argued incontrovertibly, that the idea itself of incarnation must, from its universality, have some basis of truth. One of two things, or both, may be legitimately presumed. Either this idea is the traditionary vestige of some primitive revelation, or there must be some grand necessity of universal human nature which, it is felt, can be met only by the doctrine of incarnation in one form or other, The deep sense of such a 250necessity, all nations and all times have proclaimed. And does not Christianity reveal the only actual provision which has been made to meet this universal want? It was a promise in the beginning, it was a hope and a faith in successive ages, and in the fullness of the times the promise was fulfilled, the faith and the hope were realized. Once for all, a response worthy of God was given to the cry of humanity; once for all, to meet a grand necessity, to achieve what no otherwise could have been achieved, for the redemption of man, God incarnated himself. The union of divinity with humanity is the only principle which harmonizes the outward facts and the moral aspects of the life of Jesus Christ. Disgusted by the absurdities, and shocked by the impurities and impieties of mythological incarnations, conscience and reason find rest in one incarnation for all time.
In the New Testament this awful doctrine stands apart from all the additions which the fancy, or folly, or corrupt taste of men have in other cases introduced. Here is not a baseless invention, but a thing for which numerous and extraordinary proofs can be advanced. This also, instead of creating perplexity, which had not otherwise existed, relieves and removes perplexity, the existence of which is indubitable, and the removal of which by other means is impossible. What is still more, this is not gratuitous mystery, the only purpose of which 251is to embellish or hallow a system. It is not a grand and useless dogma, but a necessity, in order to the solution of facts profoundly interesting, and all-important—a necessity, to which both the course of history, and the laws and experiences of the human mind compel us to bow.
The mystery of incarnation, notwithstanding the considerations which have been advanced, remains as dark as ever. The union of divinity with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, we can not explain, can not comprehend; but that such union existed, we must believe, because it rests on evidence which can not be set aside; and some, at least, of the consequences that follow from the mysterious fact are perfectly intelligible to us. It is clear, for example, as we have sought to prove, that incarnation is sufficient to create, and alone can create, that amount of difference between Jesus Christ and all men, which the facts of his history, otherwise irreconcilable, demand for their solution. Humanity in him, existing under conditions which are found nowhere else, we do not wonder at moral peculiarities which would otherwise be confounding. His spiritual perfection, inexplicable on every other principle, on this principle is intelligible and consistent.
In the personal character of Christ, then, we have the evidence not only of a higher office, but of a higher nature, than ever belonged to man; the 252evidence of an essential, constitutional separation from all men.
In him who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; in Jesus, the son of Mary, the words of the ancient oracle received their beautiful fulfillment—“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”132132 Isaiah, ix. 6.253
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