DIVINITY OF CHRIST
1.The mystery of Christ.
2.The movement ‘Back to Christ.’
3.Certain results of the movement.
II.Bases of Christological belief.
1.Primarily a new experience.
2.Analysis of the experience.
(a)Christ’s Messianic character.
(b)His self-consciousness: (α) His interior life, (β) His method in teaching, (γ) His sinlessness, (δ) His oneness with God.
(c)His appeal to deeper personality.
(d)His teaching and works.
3.Validity of the experience.
III.Beginnings of the doctrine of Christ’s Person in the NT.
1.General character of the doctrine.
2.Divine names applied to Christ.
3.Divine properties and acts attributed to Christ.
4.Divine relations as to God, man, the world.
IV.Subsequent development of NT ideas.
1.History of the doctrine.
2.Denial of the doctrine.
(a)Its history and motive.
I. Preliminary Considerations
1. The mystery of Christ.—The historic question of Jesus to His disciples, ‘Who do men say that I the Son of Man am?’ (Matthew 16:13, Mark 8:27, Luke 9:18
), was put not to confound, but to reveal, by awakening the desire for knowledge. The intelligent answer to the question preserves the precious truth, which is nothing less than God’s age-long secret about Himself. The disciples had been nurtured on a religious literature in which the whole national and individual future was seen blending in one anticipation, the coming of God to His people to deliver and save. One like the Son of Man comes, and there is given to Him dominion and glory and a kingdom which shall not pass away. This was the figure in which the Jewish imagination clothed the Jewish hope. Modern criticism dwells upon the factors in history which determined the form in which this hope took shape. The Hebrew religion, we are assured, was wrought out under constant pressure of disaster. It was the religion of a proud, brave people, who were constantly held in subjection to foreign conquerors. Hence came a quality of intense hostility to those tyrannous foes, and also a constant appeal to the Divine Power to declare itself. The hostility and the appeal inspire the Messianic Hope. Was there nothing more? Surely behind the history and the imagination lay elemental forces of the soul. What lend essential and abiding worth both to the Hebrew hostility to Gentile oppression and the Hebrew appeal to Jehovah’s righteous right hand are a faith and a passion which, if quickened into power by the vicissitudes of history, were themselves underived from history, and native to the spirit of the nation. Nor in this high conviction do the Hebrews stand alone. Everywhere, wherever thought has advanced sufficiently near its Object, it has come to a yearning, at times poignant, for closer contact. The numerous idolatries of the lower religions are simply the objectivation of this desire. The no less numerous conceptions of Divinity in more cultured peoples are due to the same stress. There has been a ceaseless demand of the human race for an embodiment of Deity. The demand is a product of the hungry human heart for closer communion with God and larger loyalty to Him.
The existence of an instinct so universal is the guarantee of its fulfilment. The two considerations, that the Hebrew race had worked out the conception of the Messiah, and that the ethnic peoples were quite familiar with Divine incarnations, processes both present admittedly to the mind of the Early Church, furnish no evidence to the contrary. In themselves they prove nothing against a true Incarnation historically manifested, if it can be shown that its historical manifestation is not wholly traceable to naturalistic origins in the Hebrew and ethnic genius. The presence, in particular, of many myths parallel to the Christian story need not mean that the Christian story is itself a myth. As has been well said, ‘If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions of the Christian God? If the centre of our life is a certain fact, would not people far from the centre have a muddled version of the fact? If we are so made that a Son of God must deliver us, is it odd that Patagonians (and others) should dream of a Son of God?’ (Chesterton, Religious Doubts of Democracy, p. 18). False beliefs live by the true elements within them. A persistent belief occurring in many false forms is likely to be true, and may reasonably be expected to occur in a true form. Each redeemer of heathenism is a prophetic anticipation of the satisfying of human desires in Jesus Christ, precisely as the Messianic disclosures of the OT were to the people of whom according to the flesh He came. They are anticipations only: since neither the pagan foregleams nor the Hebrew forecasts offered sufficient data for a complete or consistent delineation of an actual Person.*
The earlier experiences of men made the gospel intelligible, but they had no power to prouce it. It satisfies and crowns them, but does not grow out of them. The Person, when He came, did more than satisfy the old instinct by which men had hope, He reinforced and extended it: His advent not only accomplished the past promise, it gave earnest of greater things to come: He thus represented human ideals indeed, but still more Divine ideas. The highest prophecies of His appearance reveal, amid the circumstantial details, the element of mystery; that mystery is not eliminated when the Life appears. It is the singular significance of Jesus Christ that both in the anticipations of Him and in His actual appearance the details always lead on to inquiry as to what is not detailed, the facts to something beyond themselves; the Man and His words and works to the question Who is He? and Whence is this Man?
2. The movement ‘Back to Christ.’—The question is prominently before the present age. The modern mind asks it with revived interest. Modern knowledge in its several departments of philosophy, history, science, has developed along lines and in obedience to principles which appear able to dispense with the old theistic axioms. God and Conscience are not so vividly active. And yet, on the other hand, the ancient instinct of the race for communion with God is assertive as ever. It turns for comfort almost exclusively to the Christian tradition. The Christian tradition, however, it is convinced, needs revision; and here the central necessity is the treatment and true understanding of the Person of Christ. The cry is ‘Back to Christ.’ It is a cry dear to all who desire a simpler gospel than that set forth in the Creeds; all who are wearied with speculation on the elements of Christian truth, or are distraught with the variety of interpretation offered of it; all who are eager to embrace the ethics and as eager to abjure what they term the metaphysics of the Christian system. The movement referred to is natural; and its plea so plausible as to merit attention. The aim is nothing short of recovering the image of the original Founder of the Faith, expressed in His authentic words and acts; to bring back in all the distinct lineaments of a living Personality the great Teacher whom we now see in the Gospels ‘as through a glass darkly.’ It seeks by a study of the original records in the light of all the historical and critical aids now open to us, and guided by the modern idea of evolution, not only to bring us face to face with Jesus of Nazareth, to listen to His direct words of wisdom, but to trace all the steps of His spiritual advance, all the steps by which He grew into the Messiah of Israel and the Ideal of humanity, giving the deepest interpretation to the prophetic dream of His nation, and so lifting it into that higher region in which the freely accepted Cross became the necessary means to the deliverance of man. The ‘Jesus of history,’ it is argued, has been buried in the ‘Christ of dogma’; the Church in handing down the Saviour has presented Him with adoring hands and in idealized form. The more we throw off her encrustments, the nearer we get to the original, the nearer we are getting to the real Jesus, and, in Him, to the truth of our religion.
However natural the hope of such minds, it is based on illusion. It proceeds on erroneous ideas as to what we may learn from the past. ‘What has been done,’ says the adage, ‘even the gods themselves cannot make undone.’ All that historical reversions can do is to suggest that in the onward movement something precious has been left behind which it were well to recover before going further. There is no such Christ, no such Christianity in the first century as is sought for: a Christ and a Christianity purely invariable and true for all time and in every place. That is a conception which, the more it is studied, the more it will be found to be a pure abstraction to which no concrete in rerum natura corresponds. The absolute value of the Christian Faith, the real stature of the Christ, cannot be established by merely dropping the historical surroundings or setting of the traditional truth. The old truth that lived spiritually in the minds of those who first livingly apprehended it, and which has pulsated all through the historical process, has to be caught up again, realized in its essential vitality, and formulated anew in harmony with the modern spirit. We have to ask, Was the Christian Idea given in itself apart, in isolation, abstractly, and may this, as the ‘essence,’ substance, or soul of the gospel, be rediscovered? Or, on the contrary, was the Christian Idea planted as a Life in a company of believers who manifested its power in their lives, so that it cannot be reduced to an invariable essence except by an unreal process of abstraction? Cf., further, art. Back to Christ.
3. Certain results of the movement.—The effort to ‘rediscover Christ’ (the phrase is Dr. Fairbairn’s) is important less in its avowed aim than in its subsidiary results. Through them it yields a real contribution to theological progress. We proceed to indicate three such results: (1) a new idea of the nature of Christian doctrine; (2) the insistence on the distinction between primary and variable elements in doctrines; (3) the deepened consciousness of the extent of variation.
(1) The same divines who have busied themselves in the search for the Christ of history have been instrumental in exhibiting Christian thought on His Person as a process. In that sphere of thought they have rigorously applied the idea of development, not indeed for the first time (since John Henry Newman, fifteen years before Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, had fascinated their fathers by his use of the idea), but with a more thorough insight than Newman, and with better tests, furnishing in consequence widely different results from his. They are enabled to distinguish between Creed and Doctrine, between articles of faith and the whole process of reflexion, even of a conflicting character, by which articles of faith are reached and defined. By them interest is transferred from the result to the process. The forces entering into the process are minutely analyzed. It is discovered that theology has a history; that its history is mixed up with general history; that it has been moulded by a vast deal external to the subject-matter of theology; and not only so, but even, as some (notably Harnack) contend, has been substantially and in its inner essence modified, if not perverted, in the process, It is seen that Christian dogmas were once inchoate; passed through many stages under influences social, political, intellectual; and that they have a constant tendency so to do in adapting themselves to their environment—that, in short, they are not dead formulas, but a living organism.
(2) The emergence of so many factors merely accidental has brought into clearer perspective the reality immanent in the process. Besides the soil and the influences on growth, there is the seed, the Divine Truth on which human thought and earthly event exercised themselves. It is traceable to the teaching and life of Jesus and His Apostles. Only fragments of His utterances have been preserved to us, but the brief discourses and conversations that we read in the Gospels stand unique in spiritual power among the utterances of the world. They represent a large body of teaching, lost to us in form but preserved in its fruits; for out of His spiritual wealth there poured throughout His ministry an abundance of spoken truth that remained to perpetuate His influence and serve as the foundation of Christian doctrine. Together with His life they formed and still form Truth, not simply in a definite invariable quantity, but as a constant fountain and source of truth, ever open and flowing for them who believe. He gave a new light on all things to men; and by an inevitable necessity they proceeded to apply, and still must apply, what He has shown, to the interpretation of all they thought and knew. Thus Christian doctrine bases itself ultimately on two sources: (a) the Facts as to Christ’s teaching and life; and (b) the Experience of believers in Him interpreting life and its problems in the light of those facts. Christian doctrine has grown up as a vital thing in the soil of actual life; in the experience of Christian living. Jesus appeared among men and lived and taught. He gave the Truth by what He was, by what He said, by what He did. Words, Works, Personality: all preached. This rich and various utterance fell into the hearing and the hearts of men and women who became His followers. Into their very being it entered with transforming power, making them ‘new creatures.’ By and by it filtered through their minds and life, and expressed itself in the form which their own experience gave to it. It is this reproduction of the truth Jesus brought that constitutes Christian doctrine. Its fundamental elements are to be kept clearly in view—viz. the Christian Facts and the Experience of Believers.
(3) The origin of variation in doctrinal belief immediately becomes manifest. Believing experience cannot be expected to be invariable. Still less the expression of experience. Variety of views enters. There are differences of mind, of education, of disposition and degrees of sympathy, of ability to apprehend and explain: differences all of them, when given free scope, likely to lead to mixed results. Present-day religious thought is profoundly impressed with the fact and with the necessity of it. And if in consequence the theological mind is infected with a certain sense of insecurity, there is compensation in the new breath of freedom. Obviously it is gain to be able to review the doctrinal process and results of the past, to disentangle the Divine Truth from its temporary formulation, and to elaborate it anew in such wise as will subserve the highest interests of men to-day, as well as do justice to its own ever fresh wealth of content. (Cf. the interesting exposition in Dr. Newton Clarke’s What shall we think of Christianity? Lect. ii.).
II. Bases of Christological belief
1. Primarily a new experience.—The new methods found early application to the doctrine of Christ’s Person. That doctrine is central in the Christian system. It is by Christ, His Person and Work, that salvation is mediated. Historically and experimentally the Church learned it so. A study of the NT and of the two subsequent centuries is chiefly a study of one great fact or truth, to the understanding and interpreting of which the mind and life of the period were devoted, and devoted with absorbing interest—the Person of Christ. That problem soon became at once the impulse and the starting-point of an entire science of God, of man, and of the essential and final relation between God and man. But primarily the question at issue was simply that of His Person. It was provoked by Christ’s own questions and by His claims. Its urgency was enhanced by the experience of believers. Their experience was unprecedentedly novel. Unlike that of Hebrew faith, its ground was individual and personal.
Its origin lay in the revolutionary impression His presence created in the heart, an impression which came as a thing incomparable, and remained as the most precious fact of life. It grew as a new power in the soul to resist and overcome sin, assuring not the promise only but the potency of real holiness, imparting to the latent faculties of the changing heart an increasing plenitude of spiritual force making for righteousness. Concurrently with this feature in the new experience went another, or two others. Awakened by the sense of power in the inner life imparted by Christ, men came to understand what the evil is from which God seeks to save them, and what the good is which He seeks to impart to them. In Christ moral goodness, the righteousness of God, laid its inexorable claims upon man’s life, determining feelings and shaping resolutions as does the real entrance of God into our hearts. The impression of Christ was thus seen to be the power of God. A further step was won when reflexion forced forward the question how it could be so, in what mode the nature of Christ’s Person must be regarded in the light of the above experiences. But the root of the matter was reached when the fact was realized that the more the strength of His character overwhelmed them, the more undeniable was made the reality of God to them. That was reached, however, at the very outset. It was the primary conviction which entitled to the name of believer, and confession of it meant salvation. It formed the fundamental basis of Christological belief. Jesus comes acting on human hearts with winsome gentleness, with a soul-moving sorrow for sin, and with a great enabling power. The high demands He brings raise no fear, for He who demands approaches with the means of fulfilling, which He is ready to impart. Herein rests the real originality of His message, by which His gospel differentiates itself from all other religions on the one hand, and from all merely philosophical or ethical Idealisms on the other; in virtue of which also all interpretations of His Person on humanitarian lines prove inadequate. On this point a clear understanding is indispensable. It is to be insisted that the ‘Christ of History’ and the ‘Christ of Experience’ were not separable to the mind of the disciples; they were one and indivisible. Their Christ is not the Teaching of Jesus alone, or His Works alone; or both together alone, but both together along with what they revealed regarding the inner life of Jesus, and what they created in the inner life of believers. It is impossible to separate the last from the first. It is illegitimate to seek to resolve it into a creation of the religious idealizing faculty of believers in Him. The thought of the Apostles consciously felt itself engaged not in evolving dreams and speculations of its own, but in striving to receive and appreciate a truth which was before, above, independent of them. By no single fact in His biography does His message, in this view, stand or fall, but by Himself whom the facts reveal; the facts come embedded, and are vital because thus embedded, in one cardinal fact, Himself. He came to them not as a prophet, although He had much in common with the prophets; nor as a culture-hero, the offspring of spiritual imagination; but as an inner force of life absolutely unique; an inner experience in which God entered into their hearts in a manner heretofore unparalleled, being borne in on them rather than presented to their imitation, leavening them practically with Himself, and demonstratively in such a way that henceforth to their very existence in God, He, the Revealer, must belong. In the NT we move amid scenes where the common has been broken up by vast events. God from the Unseen has struck into history a fresh note, and a new era has opened. The whole suggestion is of possibilities and resources waiting to be disclosed. (Cf. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity). The beginning of Christianity is neither a theological idea nor a moral precept; it is an experience of a Fact, the Fact of Christ, revealing and imparting the life of God.
The impression Christ made on those who saw and heard Him is a solid fact which no criticism can upset. Is it possible to get behind this fact? The effort is strenuously made by many. What was He who produced the impression reported in the Gospels? Better still, What was He who produced not this or that impression, but the resultant of actual and permanent impressions which He has made upon the world? In seeking an answer, historical and critical research has been lavished on every aspect of the question. Christ’s teaching, career, personality, have been studied as never before. The result is that He is better known to us than to any previous age. It is at the same time being increasingly felt that a naturalistic reconstruction of His life is not possible. Candid students of the anti-supernaturalist camps (e.g., in history, Keim
; in philosophy, Ed. Caird
; in science, Sir Oliver Lodge
and Prof. James
) practically confess the failure of past attempts, and succeed in evading the postulate of Divinity only by attributing to the human life so ample a magnificence as to make it embrace all that Christian thought understands by Divinity. The new rationalism shows how decidedly the old materialism has spent its force. Of special interest is its frank recognition of the presence and vitality of experiences on which hitherto naturalism has set taboo. The more the new criticism endeavours to revivify the dead past and live over again the life of the disciples who enjoyed the personal communion of Christ, the more it sees it must combine in itself all the qualifications necessary for seeing and understanding all that He really was. This conviction, however, involves the finding of a place for criteria for the adjudging of Christ, specifically extra-naturalistic, but not extra-scientific, and spiritual; and where this happens without prepossession, the irresistible sense of Christ’s transcendence impresses. His mystery remains (cf. Contentio Veritatis, Essay ii.; also Rashdall, Doctrine and Development, v. and vi.).
2. Analysis of the experience.—But if we cannot go behind the fact in the sense of reaching something more ultimate, we may analyze its elements. It will be found in content to comprise at least four constituents: His teaching and works; His growing consciousness of His own nature; His response to prophetic promise; His appeal to deeper personality.
(a) Of these the most obvious is the third, the contemporary conviction of His Messianic dignity. ‘That Jesus is the Christ’ is one of the dominating ideas of the Gospels and Epistles. More than one recent writer (Martineau, Meinhold, Wrede, etc.) have sought to show that Jesus did not accept the title of Messiah; but not even these deny its attribution to Him by the disciples, and that as their main view of His Person. Careful analysis indicates that in whatever respects the Synoptics differ in their representations,—and they are not absolutely harmonious,—they yet represent a general agreement of view, and set forth what the primitive belief was. In that belief Jesus stands forth as Messiah, Himself accepting as appropriate what they attribute; a sublime figure, not merely human, or exalted to Messiahship only by self-mastery and self-dedication, but by peculiar nature and special appointment. The endeavour to reduee the Evangelic description of Messiah to human dimensions is ludicrously inadequate to the facts. If it be the case that His disciples ‘caressed Him in the most familiar manner as a fellow-human being’ (Crooker, NT Views of Jesus, p. 25), the statement is crudely one-sided, since the familiar fellowship He vouchsafed, as is very evident, is but the framework of an intimate disillusionment on the part of His followers, and a growing revelation on His part. We can trace the stages by which the higher idea was unfolded to them. It came in a series of disappointments, intended, probably, to wean them from the popular ideas of what the Messiah should be. There is first the death of the Baptist, the prophet of Messiah. Then there is the refusal to commit Himself to the enthusiasm of those who would have made Him a king (John 2:24
; John 6:15
). Again, Christ avoids or evades the challenge to manifest Himself to the world (John 7:4
; John 7:6
). Lastly came the crisis, as it were, the open challenge to prove His Messiahship by a sign and legitimate His claim, a challenge refused (Luke 22:67
; Luke 23:35
). Hand in hand with this progressive disillusionment of all that was contrary to His thought in current Messianic ideas went the progressive revelation of the true Messiah,—a revelation which became at once a testing and a discipline of the character of the disciples, and an unfolding of undreamt of forces in His; so that at last they fell at His feet and worshipped, while others acknowledged Him as ‘Lord and God’ (John 20:28
); and still others plainly felt that He was ‘ascending to the Father’ (John 20:17
). That Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and gave His sanction to the belief on the part of His disciples is certain*
(see next sect.); no less certain (and admitted) is it that the disciples believed Him to be the Messiah. The point of importance for the present is, how the belief originated with the latter. It is a practice among many scholars to reverse the actual facts. They argue as if the belief had been first formulated and officially offered, so to speak, for their acceptance, a formal external idea taken up because it had been put forth by Jesus as a scheme in which to frame His person; in the light of which they are to regard His life and words; exercising a prodigious influence on, and lending a force to, His words and a sanctity to His person beyond that which, but for it, they could possibly have had (cf. such writers as Mackintosh, Nat. Hist. of Christ. Relig.; Percy Gardner, Historic View of NT, ch. iv.; Estlin Carpenter, First Three Gospels, chs. ii., iii.). The actual facts of Christ’s career, i.e., are conformed in the NT narratives to already existing Messianic traditions. And because of this the accumulated sanctities of the old religion were laid claim to by the new, whereby the latter maintained itself in face of the opposition which it encountered at the first and found a soil prepared for its reception. The contention cannot be sustained. It may receive some countenance from the circumstance that the writers of the NT never record any fact or incident merely as fact or incident, but as part of the substance of the gospel, illustrating and conveying spiritual principles. But the very ease with which the NT method of presenting historical circumstance might be turned to account under the influence of Messianic bias becomes valuable evidence against that hypothesis. For although the NT history is presented with a bias, i.e. as bearing and bodying forth a Person, the presentation, whether that of the Synoptics, or of the Fourth Gospel, or of St. Paul and the others, cannot with any measure of success be wholly identified with or wholly summed up in that of the Messiah. The Messianic claims of Jesus may be made (as they are made) to rest on the facts; but the facts are not exhausted in those claims, even in the immensely enriched and original form in which Jesus made them. There are other portraitures of Jesus in the NT besides that of Him as Messiah; and even those writers who set forth to portray Him solely as Messiah cannot be restrained from bursting through their self-imposed limits, in fidelity to the facts, and portraying Him as more than they meant. Moreover, the same writers convey to us the explicit assurance that they have not apprehended all the truth about His Person. Subsequent theology accepted the assurance, departed widely from the purely Messianic portraiture, yet claimed, and with perfect justice, that the new departures were in no sense new additions to the original Gospel, but fresh interpretations, designed to recover and vitalize truths discernible in the Gospels, but imperfectly understood by the Gospel writers.
(b) What has been adverted to finds illustration in another source of Christological idea, the self-conscionsness of Jesus. In the most noteworthy discussion of this subject, that of Baldensperger (Das Sclbstbewusstsein Jesu), only about one half of the work is taken up with determining the sense in which Jesus regarded Himself as Messiah; the second part is devoted to other aspects arising out of His self-designations, His teaching as to the Kingdom, etc. Withal, much that cannot be excluded from Christ’s self-revelation is not even touched upon. Any adequate exposition of Christ’s idea of His own nature will include the following features: His inter