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§ 48. Had Christ a conscious Plan?

IT is most natural for us, in treating of Christ’s public ministry, to speak first of the plan which lay at the foundation of it. First of all, however, the question comes up, whether he had any such plan at all.123123   We use the phrase “plan of Jesus,” inasmuch as we compare his mode of action with that of other world-historical men, in order to bring out the characteristic features which distinguish him. The exposition which follows will show that I agree with the apt remarks of my worthy friend, Dr. Ullmann, made in his beautiful treatise on the “Sündenlosigkeit Jesu” (Sinlessness of Jesus), p. 71, and that his censures there of those who use the above-mentioned phrase do not apply to me. [See Ullmann’s Treatise, translated by Edwards and Park, in the “Selections from German Literature.”]

The greatest achievements of great men in behalf of humanity have not been accomplished by plans previously arranged and digested; on the contrary, such men have generally been unconscious instruments. working out God’s purposes, at least in the beginning, before the fruits of their labours have become obvious to their own eyes. They served the plan of God’s providence for the progress of his kingdom among men, by giving themselves up enthusiastically to the ideas which the Spirit of God had imparted to them. Not unfrequently has a false historical view ascribed to such labours, after their results became known, a plan which had nothing to do with their developement. Nay, these mighty men were able to do their great deeds precisely because a higher than human wisdom formed the plan of their labours and prepared the way for them. The work was greater than the workmen; they had no presentiments of the results that were to follow from the toils to which they felt themselves impelled. So was it with LUTHER, 80when he kindled the spark which set half Europe in a blaze, and commenced the sacred flame which refined the Christian Church.

Were we at liberty to compare the work of CHRIST with these creations wrought through human agencies, we should need to guard ourselves against determining the plan of his ministry from its results. We might then suppose that he was inspired with enthusiasm for an idea, whose compass and consequences the limits of his circumstances and his times prevented him from fully apprehending. We might also distinguish between the idea, as made the guide and the aim of his actions by himself, and the more comprehensive Divine plan, to which, by his voluntary and thorough devotion to God, he served as the organ. And it would rather glorify than disparage him to show, by thus comparing him with other men who had wrought as God’s instruments to accomplish His vast designs, that God had accomplished through him even greater things than he had himself intended.

But we are allowed to make no such comparison. The life of CHRIST presented a realized ideal of human culture such as man’s nature can never attain unto, let his developement reach what point it may. He described the future effects of the truth which he revealed in a way that no man could comprehend at the time, and which centuries of history have only been contributing to illustrate. Nor was the progress of the future more clear to his vision than the steps in the history of the past, as is shown by his own statements of the relation which he sustained to the old dispensation. Facts, which it required the course of ages to make clear, lay open to his eye; and history has both explained and verified the laws which he pointed out for the progress of his kingdom. He could not, therefore, have held the same relation to the plan for whose accomplishment his labours were directed, as men who were mere instruments of God, however great. He resembled them, it is true, in the fact that his labours were ordered according to no plan of human contrivance, but to one laid down by God for the developement of humanity; but he differed from them in this, that He understood the full compass of God’s plan, and had freely made it his own; that it was the plan of his own mind, clearly standing forth in his consciousness when he commenced his labours. The account of his temptation, rightly understood, shows all this.

With this, also, are rebutted those views which consider Christ as having recognized the idea of his ministry only through the cloudy atmosphere of Judaism; and those which represent his plan as having been essentially altered from time to time, as circumstances contradicted his first expectations and gave him clearer notions. They are further refuted by the entire harmony which subsists between Christ’s own expressions in regard to his plan, as uttered in the two different epochs of his history.

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