From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914
Christian and Catholic
THE DIVINE TEACHER
THAT Christ was a teacher divinely sent is thus stated in the Acts: "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him." And in the midst of the present tumult and strife of tongues, the cry is not unfrequently heard, "Let us get back to Christ. What we men of the twentieth century want is, not the Christ overladen with dogmas, not the Christ of the churches; we want the real Christ, Christ with His own rich purposes for mankind, with His own inner life, the Christ who having known our nature in all the range of trial and temptation can sympathize with it. Give back to us, O theologians, the Christ you have seemingly taken away; the Christ indomitable in His courage before the Roman governor and Jewish high priest, Who could for others' sake suffer poverty and wretchedness and die on the cross, yet Who loved the flowers and birds and little children."
The writer is very far from being able to set forth that life. He has a feeling that it is a subject the contemplation of an eternity cannot exhaust. He is neither worthy nor able to enter into so holy a sanctuary. He would put his shoes from off his feet, and bow his head to the dust, before the glory of this burning mystery. But as God ofttimes uses the weak things of earth, so it may please Him to let these words be of service.
What has been commonly observed respecting Christ is His freedom from the prejudices of His race and time. On all of the world's great heroes we see more or less distinctly traced their national predilections and those of their age. No child of man is independent of or superior to his environment. The age out of which a man is born is the mother of his mind, and she impresses her features more or less distinctly on the features of her child. The greatest of the world's conquerors are themselves conquered. The Caesar is ever the great Roman conqueror; the reforming Mahomet remains the uncultured Arab. With philosophers or poets, statesmen or seers, it is the same. But of Christ it has been said, "No Jewish sect could claim Him as its adherent; no Jewish teacher has left on Him a narrowing impress. No popular errors among the people received any sanction at His hands. He will not hear of their superstition about Sabbath observance. He will not sanction their intolerance of the Samaritans." Here is one, born amongst the most prejudiced and bigoted of people, with prejudices so bitter and deep that nineteen centuries of oppression have not effaced them, Who rose superior to them all, Who came and announced a religion, which set at naught 'all the intense convictions of the Jewish heart, Who taught a doctrine that swept away all the barriers between Jew and Gentile, Who declared the Fatherhood of God over all the race and the universality of His religion. He, in a word, proclaimed a religion such as had never entered into the mind of Hebrew prophet or Greek philosopher to conceive or dream.
You are ready, in the presence of this great marvel, to say that Christ was the greatest of all religious teachers, that He was the greatest of men. But do we not fall into a logical fallacy in saying this? For the question is whether He was merely a man or no. If He was merely man, why had He not some of those prejudices of age or race, that no other known man has been without? The most logical inference is that this Teacher is in some way different from the children of men. We cannot put ourselves into His category. He stands apart from our own. He is unique.
Gazing also at the beauty and harmony of His character we see why by almost universal acclaim He is recognized as the Ideal Man. "It is impossible," said Liddon, "to maintain with any show of reason that some one particular temperament shapes His acts and words,--that He is cynical, or choleric, or melancholy, or phlegmatic." He is not a sanguine person, who, carried away with His own enthusiasm, sees only a bright future to His enterprise. He calmly foretells His own crucifixion, the martyrdom of His Apostles, and after it has gone throughout the world, the final failure of His religion. "When the Son of Man cometh will He find faith on the earth?" Yet He is not a melancholy recluse. He sits at meat at the publican's table, is a guest at the marriage feast, cheers and gladdens His disciples' hearts with the gift of a triumphant hope. He comes not like a common Reformer, with choleric temper, breaking down with indiscriminate zeal the institutions of the past. "I come not to destroy the law, but to fulfil." He is not of a lymphatic temperament, combining spasmodically energetic action with exhausted periods of sluggishness. As the sun in the heavens, so steadily did He pursue His life's task. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
With this freedom He combines in a wonderful manner the two types of masculine and feminine excellence. We see in Him the fortitude, resoluteness, independence, leadership, government of others, that marks the manly side of character; together with the marked unselfishness, thoughtfulness of others, tenderness, gentleness, which are woman's characteristics. What heroic courage is seen in His very walk as, on His last journey with all that was before, we read "that they were on the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed they were afraid." What moral courage is displayed by His dealings with the high priests and Pilate, what marvellous endurance is seen in His silence during the terrible scourging, what surpassing control in His prolonged agony on the cross. Yet with woman's care He heals the sick, provides for the wants of the multitude; forgetful of self, heals the ear of His enemy, as He is being led away. He is at once the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Lamb of God.
Moreover, we observe in Him a most happy agreement and harmony of the active and the contemplative life. In the religious world we see the greatest diversity between the two kinds of saints. One is more meditative, receptive, retiring; the other more speculative, active, enterprising. The mystic loves the solitude of the hermit or the cell of the recluse. The active spirit loves the crowded mart and the habitations of men. The one gives to the Church the Elijahs and S. John, a S. Theresa and S. John of the Cross; the other a S. Paul, a Howard, a Vincent de Paul. Bound together in practical union were these two principles in the life of Christ. Who more active, immersed in labors, incessant in His toil? In city, in country, in temple and synagogue, by the lake, in the wilderness, by the well-side and in the house, ever was He mingling with men. It was a life of incessant labor and uncertain repose. Yet in the midst of it all He gave nights to prayer, and abode ever in conscious communion with God. The exasperating calumnies of His opponents, the yells of the maddened multitude do not disturb His inward peace.
Moreover, in our estimate of character we bring each man's life to the test of duty. We ask how he performed his work. Knowing also that particular virtues are not tests of character, we ask what was the general underlying motive of his conduct? And here Christ's life shines out with an unparalleled splendor. Where is the man, however great, in ancient or modern times in whom some flaw is not to be found? Socrates is superstitious, Cicero vain, Seneca avaricious, Goethe selfish. Most men have their weak side, and in their strenuous pursuit of some, neglect other duties. But Christ is consistent all the way up and all the way through. He is obedient to His mother and foster-father. He keeps the Church's law. From childhood up He is about His Father's business. He is led by the Spirit. And the one governing motive that animates Him is the desire for the Father's glory and the salvation of men. It makes Him even thirst for the Cross as the means of its accomplishment. "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." It inspires His High Priestly intercession, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
It has been well said of Him that "He is tender without false sentiment, benevolent without a trace of weakness, resolute without passion, decided without obstinacy. His condescension never degenerates into mere familiarity. His incomparable dignity never touches the confines of pride. His lofty freedom from the world's tyranny never becomes contempt for man. His repugnance to man's obduracy never takes on any form of misanthropy. His implacable hostility to sin is always allied to the warmest love for sinners."
Evil in all its forms He condemns. Teaching after the Eastern fashion by an acted parable He condemns the barren fig-tree as a symbol of Israel's unfruitfulness. At the beginning and end of His ministry He purifies the Temple. At the first cleansing, when the cattle are there, He takes to drive them out a whip of small cords. At the last cleansing, when there are only present the money changers and sellers of goods, He does not need one. The buyers and sellers in the temple do not resist Him as they would if it were an act of human passion, but recognize the dignity of His prophetical character and the justice of His action. Acting by that divine supremacy that subordinates individual rights to nature's laws, He destroys the herd of swine which were illegally being kept. He is obliged to speak the word of condemnation upon Jerusalem, though He does it with tears. He must, as judge, pronounce the catalogue of woes upon the scribes and Pharisees, while He bestows the blessings of the Beatitudes on His disciples. He is full of mercy and tenderness to all who will accept Him. The publicans and harlots found access to Him on repentance. He is equally Righteous and strictly Just. He will "reward every man according to his works," and finally divide the sheep from the goats.
Again, every man has his own inner life which self-interest bids him shield from the world's gaze. But we are enabled to gaze into the inner temple of the life of Christ. And what do we find? Like all great saints He had His special maxims on whose lines His life was fashioned. The word of prophecy was His ruling thought, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." It was not His last but His constant prayer, "Not My will but Thine be done." It is the first and emphatic utterance of His boyhood: "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business." And that Father's business He read delineated in every Messianic Psalm, in the details of every sacrifice offered in the Temple. He knew thereby that He was to be, as John the Baptist proclaimed, "The Lamb of God." From the first He had Calvary before Him: "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." It was not an apprehension of how His life might possibly terminate. It was to be the great instrumentality for the world's deliverance. "The Son of man came to minister and to give His life a ransom for many." He came not as other reformers have come, working out some self-designed plan, modifying it according to circumstances or learning by failures. From the first He announced the character of His Gospel. It was "he gospel of the Kingdom." The long-expected King and Kingdom had come. "The Kingdom of God is not within you (as the text is mistranslated), but among you." It was to be a visible organization, like a city or a temple. It would also be a spiritual power, like leaven hidden in the meal, leavening humanity, like a grain of mustard seed growing to a great tree.
The cross also stood out from the very first clearly before Him. Long before the crucifixion occurred He foretold to the disciples the details of His crucifixion. He knew the fruitfulness of self-sacrifice. "Whoso shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it." He saw beyond the horizon of His own day. He prophesied His death and resurrection, the gift of the Comforter, the fall of Jerusalem, the martyrdom of the Apostles, the extension of His Kingdom throughout the world, its continuance till the end of time, His return to judge the world.
He spoke with authority and as never man spake. He argued not as the doctors and scribes, but it was "I say unto you." He condemned not, as the ancient prophets had done, the vices of the people, but laid bare the inner motives of conduct. There is, it is said, a point in a block of stone which being struck the mass parts asunder. He revealed in His condemnation of the Pharisees how vices may be the parent of seeming virtues. He revealed the law of goodness; doing right because it is right. The rationalizing Sadducees and the Pharisaic formalists were indeed scathingly censured. Yet His words were balm to all penitent hearts. As no other teacher has dared to address humanity, He said, "Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden and I will refresh you." His words have gone like morning over the earth. "Whosoever cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out." No wonder the poor, the sick, the publicans, the sinners flocked about Him, for the touch of His garment brought health and His word life to their souls.
And how gradually He led His Apostles on to the recognition of Himself. He taught not as others have done, laying down postulate and premise, argument and conclusion. He drew men to Him saying, "Come and see." And as they dwelt with Him, little by little they came to discern Him as the prophet for whose advent the nation waited; as the Messiah, as something yet more wonderful, till finally Peter made the confession for them all: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
But the culminating characteristic of Christ is His sinlessness. Sin is common to all the children of men. None is so obtuse as to be unconscious of it. According to the old heathen saying, we know the better but pursue the worse. Mea Culpa is our constant plea. The burning invective of S. Paul finds a universal response. We are all guilty before God. Not those only who have lived in defiant rebellion, but those whose moral aim has been highest. The complaint of humanity finds its expression in the Apostle's words, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." But amidst the universal corruption there arises one spotless exception. To His sinlessness His enemies were witness. Pilate could find no fault in Him. "I am innocent of the blood of this just person." Judas' remorse came from his knowing he had shed innocent blood. Peter had felt its power when' Christ wrought the miracle of the fishes. The Apostles have left on record their testimony. "He was the Holy One and the Just." "He was the Lamb without blemish." "He was Jesus Christ the Righteous." "He was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." "He knew no sin." "He was without sin." "He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth."
It has been remarked that it is harder to gain such witness from friends than enemies. "Every considerable man is having materials of his life written as with a pen of iron that never blunts, with an ink that never fades, with a curiosity that never falters. He is watched by unsuspected eyes and reported by unexpected hands. Christ's disciples had been with Him in all circumstances of familiarity. They had tenanted the same narrow chamber; they had rocked in the same little boat. One hasty word, one questionable look, one act of selfishness would have caused the light to fade from His Face and the diadem to pale upon His Brow." Yet it is from those so intimate with Him, that there goes up the universal testimony as to His absolute sinlessness. Moreover, we have Christ's own testimony. The greater the saint, the more he realizes his own deficiencies before God, his imperfections in contrast with God's sanctity, his need of pardon and of help. But the prayers which Christ addresses to the Father contain no acknowledgment of any fault or defect, but assertions such as no created being could make of His absolute obedience to God's will. They are divine colloquies, of an equal to an equal.
We have in this imperfect survey omitted all reference to the miracles or signs wrought by Christ. We have simply examined some of the leading elements of His character. It can but be noticed that we have also omitted reference to S. John's Gospel. The synoptics give us all that our present purpose needs. They reveal Christ's unique and matchless character. It shows Him to be separate from us.
We may then consider what He claimed concerning Himself. What was His own testimony concerning Himself?
Though the temple was God's covenanted meeting-place with man, and there He placed His Name, yet Christ could say "that in this place is One greater than the temple." He was greater than the most sacred manifestation of God because God was in a fuller sense manifested in Him. Again God, in the awful glories of Sinai, had revealed His sovereign will and bade men keep the Sabbath day holy with strict observance. But as of equal authority with the Divine Lawgiver, Christ proclaims Himself to be "Lord also of the Sabbath." John Baptist, greatest of prophets, feels the mysterious element in Christ that separates them. "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire." As showing that He is acting in His own right and not as an agent, Christ baptizes His Church at Pentecost with the unique sign of fire. Who is it that can thus send the Holy Ghost save one who is equal to Him? Again, the angels who are God's servants, are sent by Him. He calls them His angels "whom He will send." He has an equal jurisdiction over them as the Almighty. However, when the high priest solemnly adjured Him "to tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God," Jesus replied, "Thou hast said." He, the Son of Man, had also a higher sonship. He was the Son of God. Speaking of the relation that existed between the Father and Himself, He declared that "no man knoweth who the Son is but the Father and who the Father is but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him." As no one can comprehend God but God, He here declares Himself to be God. He asserts also that He shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall reward every man according to his works. He could no more clearly declare His divinity than by claiming thus to be the judge of all men. For who can judge the acts and thoughts of all men and rightly sit on that Throne but God Himself? No wonder Peter for himself and the Apostles acknowledged Him to be the "Son of the Living God." The evil spirits also with their spiritual discernment so recognized Him. The unclean spirits when they saw Him fell down before Him and cried, saying, "Thou art the Son of God." "Jesus, Son of the most high God." He accepts the homage due to Himself. The holy women when He meets them prostrate themselves. "They came and held Him by the feet and worshipped Him." S. Thomas as he does so exclaims, "My Lord and My God."
There are two ways of looking at a man's life. One that gives the historical setting of it, the other its meaning, its purpose and influence. The first records His acts, the second His character. To some extent we see this division in the Gospels. The Synoptists set forth the first, S. John the latter. These two traditions grew up contemporaneously together and each has its value. If, having seen what the historical account says of Christ, we turn to S. John, we find that his testimony is in accord with it.
There we find that Christ declared that He came down from Heaven and was in existence before Abraham was born. He asserted that He came from being with the Father, and came forth out of God. He is united to the Father by no mere sympathetic or moral agreement, but by a unity of nature He and the Father are one. They work in a co-ordinate equality of ceaseless activity. "The Father worketh hitherto and I work." He calls on the Father to glorify Him, not with some created glory, but with that glory deity alone could sustain. "Father, glorify Thou me with Thine Own Self." Nor was it to be something newly added to His nature, but to be " the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." Men are to give Him divine honor and worship, and to honor the Son even as they honor the Father. Thus the accounts in the Gospels, in relation to the divine character of His person, harmonize.
As we contemplate this unique character we feel no wonder that Renan, unbeliever that he was, felt obliged to declare that Jesus will never be surpassed.
He was, as the Unitarians Channing and Walker enthusiastically championed Him, divine. If the life and death of Socrates, exclaimed Rousseau, with passionate emotion, are those of a philosopher, the life and death of Jesus Christ are those of a god.
If, then, towards a teacher whose fulfilment of prophecy shows He was sent by God we can but entertain a spirit of profound reverence, what ought to be our feelings towards One of so transcendent and majestic a character? Surely it is wise to take Him for our religious Teacher and to trust ourselves to Him as our Guide. Practical wisdom and common sense can ask no less.
Doing so, then from these considerations of His character and His prophetical office one inference may be safely drawn.
First, concerning His character. When we consider the supreme sanctity, sincerity, humility of Christ's character, we can but accept in their full import the assertions He was obliged to make concerning Himself, that He was one with the Father. He was the Son of God. If they were not made by the necessity of their truthfulness Christ sinks below the standard of ordinary morality. He is no longer humble, unambitious, sincere. From such an alternative, every fair and sober mind must shrink. "Disputing Thy divinity, O Blessed Lord, we could no longer clearly recognize Thy human perfections. Gazing on Thy human beauty and listening to Thy words, we cannot deny that Thou art the only Son of God Most High."
Second, concerning His office as a Teacher, there are two undisputed facts we may well remember. God punished the Hebrew nation severely for the sin of idolatry. At last they were delivered from it, and through Israel the world was taught that "the Lord thy God is One God." Men may come to disbelieve in a God, but the world will never go back to Polytheism. There is but one God, and the worship of any other is the sin of idolatry. This was the lesson that God took two thousand years to enforce on the human mind. The other fact is this: that ninety-nine hundredths of Christ's followers have worshipped Him as God, and there is no ground to suppose they will ever do otherwise. As we cannot suppose God would send a teacher into the world to undo His own work and lead the world back into the sin of idolatry, we must either give up Christ as a Teacher in any way sent from God, or else admit that divine worship is rightly paid Him because He is God.
In deed and in truth Thou art the King of Glory,
O Christ; Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.