By Aaron Hills
THE PERSON OF CHRIST
I. Christianity differs from all other religions in this-that it has a peculiar Person as its center and life. It derives all its significance from One who could say to a troubled and sin-cursed humanity: "I and my Father are One." "Come unto me." "Believe in me'." "I am the way, the truth, and the life." "No man cometh unto the Father but by me." "I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me." No religion is so related to its founder as Christianity is related to Christ. Any other man teaching what Buddha taught and living us he lived, among the same people at the same age of the world, would have had the same influence. Buddhism derives no intrinsic worth from him. The same is true of Confucianism and Mohammedanism. Any lecherous wretch with the same audacity and cunning could have taken the place of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. But what other being that ever appeared on the planet could take the place of Jesus Christ? Who like Him was "the Son of God" and "the Son of Man"? "The Son of God," implying oneness of nature with the Father, used about thirty times in the Gospels; as in Matt. 14: 33: "The Son of Man," not son of a man, or the man, but MAN the generic, race man, showing his universal relation to all mankind, applied to Himself only by Himself, except once, (Acts 7: 56) and used about eighty times in the Gospels! (John 1: 51.)
Gladstone says: "Christ's religion is summed up in His OWN PERSON. CHRISTIANITY IS CHRIST." That great statesman wrote to an inquiring young man, "All I write, all I think, all I hope, is based upon the divinity (deity) of our Lord the one central hope of our poor wayward race." People never did and never could talk so about the founders of other religions. It would have been conscious folly, and self-stultification. "The inner life of Christianity consists not in a body of moral precepts, or of dogmas, or in a ritual, or a system of philosophy, but in a personal history. To this the entire history of man presents nothing parallel." (Row.) "In Him culminate all the previous revelations of God to the Jews and Gentiles. He is the ripe fruit of the religious growth of humanity. In Him is solved the problem of religion, the reconciliation and fellowship of man with God" (Schaff).
Similar tributes have been paid to Jesus even from those who did not profess to be his followers. Even Voltaire stood in awe of Christ. Rousseau wrote: "I will confess to you that the majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the Gospel has its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction, how mean, how contemptible are they compared with the Scriptures! Is it possible that a book at once so simple and so sublime should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage whose history it contains should be himself a mere man? Do we find that He assumed the tone of an enthusiast, or ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity in His manner! What an affecting gracefulness in his instructions! What sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in His discourses! What presence of mind, what subtlety, what fitness, in His replies. How great the command over His passions! Where is the man, where is the philosopher who could so live and so die, without weakness, and without ostentation? When Plato describes His imaginary righteous man, loaded with all the punishments of guilt, yet meriting the highest rewards of virtue, He describes exactly the character of Jesus Christ. Socrates, indeed, in receiving the cup of poison blessed the weeping executioner who administered it; but Jesus amidst excruciating tortures, prayed for His merciless tormentors. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God." Strauss spoke of Him as "the highest object we can possibly imagine with respect to religion." Spinoza saw in Him "the best and truest symbol of heavenly wisdom"; Kant, "of ideal perfection", Hegel, "of the union between the human and the divine."
One day Napoleon had a conversation with General Bertrand about Jesus. The latter praised Christ but pronounced Him a mere man. Napoleon replied: "I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity. Everything in Jesus astonishes me. His Spirit over-awes me, and His will confounds me. Between Him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by Himself. His birth and the history of His life; the profundity of His doctrine, His gospel, His apparition, His empire, His march across the ages and the realms,-everything is for me a prodigy and: mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human."
William Ellery Channing, the brightest light among the Unitarians wrote: "The Gospels must be true; they were drawn from a living original; they were founded on reality. The character of Jesus was not a fiction; He was what He claimed to be, and what His followers attested. Nor is this all, Jesus not only was, He is still, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. I believe Jesus Christ to be more than a human being."
Theodore Parker declared, "It would take more than a Jesus to forge a Jesus." J. S. Mill affirmed, that the skeptic would do will to imitate Him and scouted the notion that His perfections were due to the inventions of his followers.
Ernest, Renan wrote: "Repose now in thy glory noble founder! Thy work is finished; thy divinity is established. A thousand times more alive, a thousand times more beloved since Thy death, than during Thy passage here below, thou shalt become the corner-stone of humanity so entirely, that to tear thy name from this world would be to rend it to its foundations. Between Thee and God there will be no longer any distinction" ("The Person of Christ," Schaff, pp. 293-356).
The knights of old," says Farrar, "saw in Him the mirror of all chivalry, the monks, the pattern of all asceticism; the philosophers, the enlightener in all truth. To a Fenelon He has seemed the most rapt of mystics; to a Vincent De Paul, the most practical of philanthropists; to an English poet (Decker) 'The first true gentleman that ever lived'." Von Muller says, "Christ is the key to the history of the world. Not only does all harmonize with the mission of Christ; all is subordinated to it" (Von Muller).
Scholars and historians never weary of telling us of Jesus as the central event and personage of history. The subtle infidel Gibbon, quite willing to rob Christ of His glory, attributes the spread of Christianity to five causes: 1. The zeal of the early Christians; 2. The doctrine of a future life of rewards and punishments; 3. The power of working miracles, ascribed to the early Church; 4. The pure and austere morals of the Christians; 5. The union and discipline of the ecclesiastical community. "But," says my revered teacher, Dr. George P. Fisher, "he leaves out what was the life and soul of the Christian religion, and the secret of its power, the thought of Christ, the image of Christ, the great object of faith and hope, and the source of all inspiration." Sure enough! What was the mainspring of the early Christian zeal but their loyal devotion to Jesus? "Where did they get their doctrine of a future life and a sure immortality, but from the empty sepulcher of Jesus? Where did they get their power to work miracles but by faith in the miracle-worker, Jesus? Where did they get their purity of morals but by the purifying influence of Jesus, and the cleansing of His blood? And what bound those early Christians together, when wave after wave of persecution swept over the infant Church, but heart devotion to that Jesus, for whom they were willing to suffer or to die?
Yes, Jesus is the central personality of human history.
1. Previous ages looked forward to Him and prepared for His coming. He was connected with the past by fulfilling the Messianic hope of the Hebrew race. To that people God had long been manifesting Himself, and he had promised them a future deliverer. Types and sacrifices foreshadowed Him. Psalmists sang of Him. Law-givers and prophets foretold Him. Even heathen sages and philosophers were expecting Him, and watching for the herald of His coming. The long-deferred hopes of ages of night and sorrow could be realized only in Him.
2. Paul says (Gal. 4: 4): "When the fullness of the time was come. God sent forth His Son." "By the political unity of the part of the world to which He came, by the stage of its intelligence, by the decay of its religions, by the combined hope and despair that affected its people, the age was prepared to receive and transmit His influence." The right time for His advent had come (Christian Theology, by Clarke, p. 261).
3. Jesus was related to all after time, as the founder of the one only universal religion the world has ever had. All events date from His birth. His cross is the fount of a holier life among men; the magnet that draws all men toward God; the source of light that shines to every darkened land. His face has been the inspiration of art, His name the fragrance of literature; His life the pattern for morals, His teaching the basis of our laws. From the leaven of His holy influence come all moral reforms, all social improvement, all political progress, and all human betterment. He is the one uplifting spiritual force that is sufficient to counteract the downward trend of humanity that would engulf us all in hopeless ruin. He fulfills the clearest hopes of coming good that earlier times had cherished; He was so great a character that the world had to be providentially prepared for Him. He has been the source and inspiration of all the best that has come after Him, and His name and life are inwrought into the life of mankind.
II. Now the personality of a being that has such a vital place in history must be accounted for. The subject early engaged the deepest minds. Pious souls studied the question with earnest and even anxious hearts. They felt that everything depended on a correct solution of the problem. They were clearly right. A mere human Christ could not make atonement for sin. He could not be a real Savior of men. Without His Deity and incarnation, without His theanthropic personality, He is another Christ, and Christianity is robbed of its true glory as the religion of the Only Begotten Son of God.
From the very beginning, Christ was the great theme of Christian thought, and the life of Christian experience and hope. In the deepest Christian consciousness Christ was the Savior for whose sake all sins were forgiven, and in whose fellowship came all the blessings of the Christian life. For such a consciousness He could not be a mere man. But how much more was He? And wherein was He more? How did the divine and the human unite? Were there two persons, or were there two natures united in one personality, with one consciousness? Such questions as these stirred reflective minds for centuries. They were the nature and instinctive reaching out of human thought for a definite doctrine about Christ in which the intellect and heart of men could rest.
1. The early Christians went primarily to the Four Gospels for the material for their faith. "The first three portray Christ as He lived among men; the fourth is a special study of Christ in the mystery and glory of His person. The three sprang directly from companionship with Jesus; the Fourth sprang from like companionship, but transfigured by the light of what He is, viewed in adorning reflection. The three minister to acquaintance with Christ; the fourth to spiritual knowledge of Him and high faith concerning Him as the very son of God" (Christian Theology, p. 262).
2. They found in those gospels:
(1) A MIRACULOUS BIRTH. This is found in the first and third Gospels. The second omits it and begins with the public ministry. The Fourth omits it, but gives the pre-existence of Christ, that accords well with a miraculous birth. In Luke "the story is exquisitely beautiful, full of a heavenly purity and sweetness that has captivated the heart of Christendom." Luke was a physician, and to Him the holy mother might have told the truth, as she would not have done to other men. The truth of the virgin-birth is of course rejected by all the infidel critics, who reject everything else that is supernatural. But those of us, who believe in the living God, can accept the story of such a birth of Christ (and of no other) feeling that it perfectly comports with the majesty and glory of His person. If God ever did really unite himself to humanity, (which we gladly believe with all our heart) how could He have done it in a more appropriate way? It is the Deity which He manifested that warrants faith in His miraculous conception. While the critics sneer, we will join with the angels who sang over His cradle the gladness of heaven.
(2) A HUMAN LIFE. The life that followed was a human life. He grew up in the home like any other baby boy. He ate and drank and slept and played and toiled, and was weary and hungry and thirsty, just like any human being. He was a son, a neighbor, a citizen, a toiler, a friend, a companion, a member of his nation. He was subject to His parents and obedient to the religious and civil laws of His time, as any holy young man might be. In other words, He was thoroughly human.
(3) YET UNLIKE OTHER MEN. The wisest and best men since His day have found in Him the ideal of all goodness. He claimed to be sinless (John 8: 29, 46 and 16: 30). He could look His angry foes in the face and say, which one of you convinceth me of sin? His disciples fell at His feet in adoring awe. The Roman officer exclaimed, "Truly this was the Son of God." Neander said: "In all other men we see opposing elements. In Christ, the ideal and the phenomenal never contradict each other." Frequently when walking the streets of European cities, strangers have asked us if we were not an American. Like every other man, we bore the stamp "of our nation. But Jesus did not. "Though a Jew, he was not the product of Judaism, but such a Messiah as shocked Jewish prejudices, abolished Jewish privileges, resembled no prevailing Jewish sect. Only in part can His ideal be found in the old Jewish saints. He was above the Messianic ideas of the period, above the good and holy of every age. He not only surpassed, but reversed the heathen ideals. Plato was great as a Greek, Caesar as a Roman, Paul as a Jew" (Hyde). But Jesus was the race man, perfect by the highest and latest standards of any people. Stanley well says: "The greatest of all miracles is the character of Christ." Wace affirms that "In the person of our Lord Jesus Christ we recognize the ideal perfection of man." Fairbairn points out the dissimilarity between Jesus and other men as follows: "Jesus was born a Jew, lived and worked as a Jewish peasant, without culture or travel, or the opportunities of intercourse that would have lifted Hun above the narrowness, the illiberal passions and prejudices of such a peasant's lot; but He was the least local, the most universal person of history; of all men least the product of His age, and most the child of eternity." It is perfectly evident from the Gospels that His own mother did not understand Him, and He was a perpetual puzzle to His brothers and sisters and neighbors around Him. They could easily have understood a mere man; but Jesus wais more than man.
(4) HE WAS A TEACHER. But He taught not like other men. They reasoned and speculated. He spake with infallible certainty, as if the fountain of all truth was in His own infinite being. God had spoken to the world before, by angels and prophets, who humbly and faithfully brought their message, "thus saith the Lord"; but at last "God spake by His Son," whose language was: "VERILY, VERILY, I SAY UNTO YOU." Men listened and wondered, because "He spake as one having authority, and not as the scribes." And He differed from others in His message as truly as in His method. He forgave sin in His own name, and said, "I and my Father are one." As much as to say, "What He does, I can do; I, too, carry the key "I heaven, and authoritatively grant eternal life." "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."
Pouring out what was in His heart to bless men, He proclaimed the Fatherhood of God. "Prophets had touched upon this truth, but He proclaimed it with unparalleled breadth, freshness and power, as the heart of His message; and He uttered it with special reference to the needs of men in their sinfulness. Prophets had spoken of God, as the Father of Israel, His people, but with Jesus, God was Father to the individual soul; and in the assertion of this personal fatherhood lay the exceptional power of his doctrine. He kindly received Publicans and Sinners and declared that He came to save them. People clamored at it; but He justified it by the Parable of the Prodigal Son-or rather of the True Father. He specially sought to make men feel that His own yearning and eager care for sinful men was a true expression of the paternal heart of God. As He welcomed the greatest sinners to Himself, so, He taught, did God welcome home his prodigals; and his seeking for the lost was at the same time God's own seeking of men whom He had created for Himself. He revealed God's fatherly heart seeking to save sinners" (Clarke, "Theology," pp. 267, 268).
Jesus in His teaching, also unfolded to men the realities of the future world, the resurrection, the judgment, the future destinies of the righteous and the wicked, as if He Himself were to be the Lord of eternity, assigning to the countless millions their everlasting destiny. He told the world about THE HOLY SPIRIT, the Third Person of the Trinity, as if He had been on terms of intimacy with Him for infinite ages.
(5) HE WROUGHT MIRACLES. His marvelous claims were backed by equally marvelous power. Without any jugglery, without Himself touching either the water or the water pots, he turned the water into wine, as if the Lord of all grapes and all vintage was there. He took a few loaves and fishes in his hands and multiplied them so as to abundantly feed the hungry thousands, as if the Lord of all harvests and the fish of the sea was there. He stood before the deaf and the blind, and with an omnipotent word gave them hearing and sight, as if the Creator of all auditory and optic nerves was there. He spake a few words on storm-tossed Galilee and the infuriated winds stopped their moaning, and the roaring billows hushed their noise, as if the God of all winds, and seas was there. He stood before the bier and the sepulcher and called the dead to life, as if the Lord of all life was there. He stood before the demon-possessed and the fallen spirits knew that the Lord of angels and the spirit realm was there. They recognized him us One whom they had known in glory ages before, and they cried out: We know who thou art-the Holy One of God."
He foretold His approaching death with circumstantial accuracy; all of which proved His Divine foreknowledge. The crowning miracle was His own resurrection which "rang the great bell of the universe," and got a hearing for His Gospel. Nobody saw it; but the witnesses to it were the witnesses to His subsequent appearances. Their testimony is absolutely credible. They knew Him well. They saw Him crucified. They took Him down from the cross and placed Him in the tomb. They saw it sealed and watched by a Roman guard. Three days afterward they saw Him on several occasions. They met Him repeatedly for forty days, even five hundred of them at once. They were so familiar with Him before and after death that they could identify Him with certainty. They were not looking for His death and resurrection and were not predisposed to believe in it. They were so honest and so convinced, that they afterward sealed their testimony with their blood, and won a martyr's crown. "The message of the resurrection," says Westcott "sums up in one fact the teaching of the Gospel. It is the one central link between the seen and the unseen. To preach the facts the resurrection was the first function of the evangelist; to embody the doctrine of the resurrection is the great office of the Church; to learn the meaning of the resurrection is the task not of one age only, but of all." "When faith is a matter of life and death," observes Rawlinson, "men do not lightly take up with the first creed which happens to hit their fancy, nor do they place themselves openly in the ranks of a persecuted sect, unless they have well weighed the claims of the religion which it professes." But Ewald declares: "Nothing is historically more certain than that Christ rose from the dead, and appeared to His own and that this their vision was the beginning of their new higher faith and of all their Christian labors." The apostles staked the entire truth of the Gospel upon it, conquered the world by preaching it, and commemorated it in the Lord's Day. Dr. Lyman Abbott well says: There is just as strong a reason for believing that before the end of the first century, the resurrection of Christ was universally accepted in the rapidly growing Christian church, as there is for believing that it is now universally supposed that the Declaration of Independence was agreed upon on the Fourth of July, 1776."
Now when it was all over, when Jesus had ascended to the skies and had baptized His disciples with the Holy Ghost, they looked back upon the marvels that had been crowded into the three and a half previous years. The great truth of the incarnation rose upon their souls like the sun in unclouded splendor after a night of darkness and storm. Jesus at once became to them their life, their joy, their hope, their inspiration, their ideal, their Savior, their Lord, their all in all. He was the altar on which they offered the sacrifice of their lives. His love was their solace in sorrow. His presence was their inspiration in toil. His indwelling was their hope of glory. His approving smile was their supreme reward.
No wonder that the early disciples talked about Him; that when the Gospels were written, the stories of His deeds and sayings were read over and over, and He began to grow in their estimation, and was the theme of their conversation, and the subject of their study, and the object of their devotion. As those early disciples and apostles passed away, one by one, those coming after them and filled with their spirit and faith and devotion, reflected deeply upon the nature of this wonderful personality who had made such a mark upon the world of thought and life. So there grew up a doctrine about Christ-a Christology.
III. There were Two Elements in the Personality. There was, as we have seen, the real HUMAN NATURE of Christ. And there was, also, the DIVINE NATURE of Christ. In and through His human nature He had the necessities, appetites, desires and passions which are common to men. Without them He could not have been our Elder Brother; could not have borne our temptations, could not have been our Perfect High Priest, "touched with a feeling of our infirmities"; could not have been the Captain of our salvation made "perfect through suffering." "The sympathy of Christ, through the law of common suffering with us, as set forth in the Scriptures, is possible only with His possession of a mental nature like our own" (Miley). "It behooved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted" (Heb. 2: 17, 18).
By the DIVINE NATURE all the suffering of Christ for us had an infinite worth. It was possible for a Divine Savior to make an atonement for us, to make amends for the broken law and dishonored government of God in our behalf.
But there was a THIRD FACT of supreme importance, viz., the PERSONAL ONENESS of Christ. Oneness of personality is intrinsic to personality itself. "By the presence of personal facts in the life, und the absence of all facts expressive of duality, we know the Oneness s of His personality, just as we know that of any man of historic eminence. He appears among men as one person, talks and acts as one" (Miley, Vol. II, p. 12).
After centuries of discussion and general agreement with, of course, some heretical disagreement, which will be discussed hereafter, the Council of Chalcedon gave the following noble deliverance in 451 A. D.:
"We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (coessential) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being, preserved, and concurring in ONE PERSON and ONE SUBSISTENCE, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten. God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning Him and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and the creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us."
The Athanasian Creed, that came later was in full accord with the creed of Chalcedon: "For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; perfect God, and perfect man, of reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting, who, although He be God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, by the taking of the manhood into God; one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is One Christ"( Schaff "Creeds of Christendom," Vol. II, pp. 62, 63, 68, 69).
Both these creeds teach the UNION OF TWO NATURES WITH A ONENESS OF PERSONALITY.