What We Believe and Why
The Unveiling of Deity
The Incarnation as Christianity's
THE RT. REV. CHARLES FISKE, D. D., LL. D.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
The Unveiling of Deity
There are two tendencies of modern thought in matters of faith that are most significant. The first is, the increasing difficulty of belief in God as a loving Father. The second is, a clear recognition of the fact that unless we can so believe in God we cannot believe in Him at all.
(1) The world is more sensitive about the problem of evil than it has ever been before. We have learned so much about the apparent heartlessness of the universe that a faith which can survive the test of serious thought demands all of a man's honest effort. George Tyrrell once said: "To believe that this terrible machine world of ours is really from God, in God, and unto God; that through it, and in spite of its blind fatality, all things work together for good—that is faith in long trousers! All other is faith in knickerbockers!"
 Faith in long trousers! A man's faith! Indeed, it is hard to believe in a God of love. It is not simply the heartlessness of nature; but everything tends to push such a God into the background. The misery of the world has never been so keenly felt as since the war. The seeming helplessness of God was never so apparent as since we began to strive for peace. All the multiplied doubts which have troubled men's hearts have increased a hundred fold since the world's greatest tragedy broke upon our generation. Never before have men realized as they do now the problem of human suffering and sorrow. Never have they felt so fully the waste of life. And our study of social problems, also, has filled us with dismay; there is such crying injustice, so much moral evil, such glaring inequality, such needless cruelty.
(2) Yet, secondly, if it is hard to believe in a God of love, we cannot any longer believe in any other God. Through the long centuries, the moral instinct has [2/3] become so strong that an Infinite and Eternal Power which lacked the qualities of love and tenderness and pity would no longer be God for us. There have been ages when men could believe in a God like Mars or Moloch or Thor; but they cannot believe in such a divinity now.
Has it ever occurred to you to ask, Why? Because, nineteen hundred years ago a Man appeared in Palestine, whose thought of God has gradually moulded the ideas of men and whose standards of life have changed all our moral conceptions. It has taken a long time for the world to appreciate His teaching, but at last it has so taken hold of our consciences that we can never be satisfied with any kind of a God except the God in Whom Jesus Christ believed. The very difficulties which now oppress our hearts have come to be felt as never before because Jesus Christ gave us ideas of God which alone can satisfy our souls. Not that only; but gave us ideas [3/4] of human life which make us sensitive to all which appears to contradict and destroy faith in such a God.
This is what is expressed for us so clearly in the doctrinal statements about Christ in the Creeds. If God is not the God of Christianity, He ought to be; we can never, now, be content with any other. Men in general do not realize how little they know, apart from the Christian faith, of the kind of God in whom they can believe. Now and then some daring philosopher attempts to elaborate a new idea of God, only to succeed, by contrast, in revealing the perfection of the New Testament conception. Even the most casual study of comparative religion leads to a similar discovery. The world's best thoughts of God are found in Christianity; all that is weak or unworthy has been eliminated from it. In God the Father, as revealed in Jesus Christ His Son, we have the last possible word in religion. Generation succeeds generation and each finds its highest ideal realized in Christianity, [4/5] each sees in it new spiritual appreciations, but none has ever added to the actual content of its faith. All we can ever ask for, it has had all the while to give. Were we to catalogue all the qualities we desire in God, we should find them all in the God of Jesus—and much more beside.
But is Jesus Christ's idea of God a revelation—a literal unveiling of deity—or is it only the last effort, the truest and best conception, of the highest and best of men? Has He given us merely a splendid "interpretation" of God, or has He really drawn aside the curtain of the sanctuary so that we can see the Father's face?
"And man created God in his own image, after his own likeness; in the image of man created he God." So has been expressed the thought that God has never specially revealed Himself, that our idea of Him is but the result of our own reasoning, so that "the best God is the God of the best men."
 Is, then, the God of Jesus a real revelation?
It helps us in answering the question if we take note of the fact which gives to Christianity its real significance. It is not simply that Jesus Christ has given us the "last word" about God. The marvel does not end there. The perpetual miracle is this: that we find in the life of Jesus the God of Jesus. That is the wonder of the Gospel story. We cannot separate the divine character which Christ portrayed from the human character which He made so attractive. Our ideas of God as they have come to us out of the diffused Christianity which colors all our thinking are inextricably interwoven with our knowledge of what Christ was.
To put it in a very simple way: were we to ask any man to think long and carefully of all that he wants God to be, and then describe all that his hungry soul longs for, the description would hardly be other than a picture of what Jesus Christ was in His [6/7] earthly life—not merely a picture of what He tells us that God is, but a picture of what He Himself was. We could not ask for a God other or better than Jesus Himself. We cannot think of any attribute of deity of which we have not the human counterpart in His life. He was all that He taught.
Then there is this further fact: Jesus claimed to be of divine origin. If His claim be true, then all that He asserted of God we know to be fact; for we know what God is in knowing what Christ is. If His claim of divinity be disallowed, or explained away, then we are once more in the dark. We have had a wonderfully beautiful conception of God as the thought of the Best of Men; but—He may have been mistaken. He rose to the heights of human aspiration; but He could not have been sure, any more than we are sure.
Christianity is the religion of the Incarnation. And yet, strangely enough, [7/8] thousands of those who profess and call themselves Christians have the vaguest possible notion of what the Incarnation means. Let us try to state the doctrine. Briefly, it tells us that according to the Christian faith Jesus Christ is both Man and God, perfect God and perfect Man (that is, having every essential element of both natures), but that while He has two distinct and perfect natures He is one divine Person. A simple illustration will help to a clear understanding of this central truth of the Christian religion.
Suppose that a man, for love of some of the creatures beneath him, were permitted to become one of them. Suppose, for instance, that a man had devoted his life to the care of birds, and saw that through some great mistake in their mode of life they were fast dying off. Suppose now (though of course, it is humanly impossible) that he could become a bird, so as to teach birds how to live. He would have to enter into their nature; yet, he would retain his human personality; [8/9] and, having become one of them, he would still be able to see all things from a human point of view. With his man's mind he could see their mistakes. Through the nature which he held in common with them he could teach them the remedy. But he had lived long before he became one of them, and he still remained what he was before, only taking their nature (and taking it completely) that he might help and teach them and come closer to them than before.
So Jesus Christ is God. He had lived from all eternity, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. At the Incarnation He entered through the womb of Mary into man's nature. He saw man mistaking the meaning of life, living for pleasure or sin, and He said, "I, the Son of God, will enter into man's nature; with My divine mind I will see his faults and the remedy; through the nature which I assume I will be able to show him this remedy."
If this is true, then it is also true that [9/10] when Jesus Christ does anything, or says anything, it is God who is speaking or acting. Not that there are two persons in the two natures, God the Son and the Man Jesus; it is the one Person, the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, and He is translating the life of God into our ways of thinking and acting. When an infant is born, a new person comes into the world; but when Jesus Christ was born, no new person entered into life. It was the same Divine Person who had lived from all eternity with the Father, and now took a new nature unto Himself and lived in that nature, manifesting in it the divine truth and beauty that were His before, making God as it were visible to men, and living His new life, our human life, as He would have us live it. No man had seen God at any time; the Only Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, came and declared Him—made Him known.
It seems too good to be true. In reality [10/11] it is too great and splendid not to be true. There is a poem by Browning, a letter of Karshish, the Arab physician, in which he tells of meeting Lazarus of Bethany and of the latter's belief that the One who raised him from the grave was Himself God. Karshish dismisses the tale with amused mockery; yet somehow the idea will not down, soon he speaks of it again—and now it is an interesting delusion, unbelievable, of course, but worth repeating. Then, the letter ended, he comes back again to the tale, in a postscript; he plays about the thought with a strange fascination; he cannot dismiss it from his mind. Suppose it were true!
So it always is. One cannot dismiss the idea of the Incarnation. It grips the imagination. Impossible? But how could it ever have been invented? Too good to be true? No; too splendid not to be true. "The very God! think, Abib;" Karshish writes, "so the All-Great were the All-Loving too."
 If there were time, it would help us to go over the road by which the apostles came to understand this truth. They did not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ in mere credulous craving for marvels. Rather, they saw that nothing less than that could explain all they had seen and heard as they walked and talked with Jesus their Master.
Notice some of the things Jesus claimed for Himself:
He claimed to be perfectly sinless.
He said that He was from above while men are from beneath.
He said that He was the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Good Shepherd of souls, the Light of the world.
He told His followers that no man could come to God but by Him.
He said that to honor Him was to honor God; that if we would believe in God we must believe also in Him.
When Philip expressed a longing to see God, He said: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."
 He claimed equality with God, essential unity with Him; He and the Father were
He declared that no rival claim, however strong, no natural affection, however deep, must be allowed to interpose between Him and His follower. No one must love father or mother, wife or child, more than Him.
He announced that He would come back again to judge the world, because the Father had committed all judgment to Him. To judge men is to claim perfect knowledge of them, so as to know their past and present, their inherited traits, their peculiar temptations, their inner motives, their spiritual struggles, their true self, as only God can know it.
Sometimes people say that it is enough to believe in Christ as a good man. They forget that one who could make such claims as Christ made is either all that He said of Himself or else He is not a good man. [13/14] He is a fanatical imposter, or a self-deceived lunatic; or—He is what He said He was. Our Lord's human perfection would fade before our eyes were we to think of it apart from His divinity. He is perfect as man only because He is truly God, as He claimed to be.
Well, that is what the disciples finally came to see. They were not let at once into the secret of Jesus Christ's divinity. They lived with Him. Day by day they grew to be on more intimate terms with Him. And as they looked they saw that a wonderful secret lay underneath the life upon which they gazed. It was a glory as of the Only Begotten Son of the Father. They came at last to know what it meant. They had seen and heard and handled the Word of Life. They had walked and talked with God.
So God showed men what He is; showed them, in the only way they could have seen.
There is always in men's hearts, [14/15] when they try to "think through" their vague thoughts about God, the longing for a God who is near, real, human. A modern writer, who has stumbled a little towards the light, demands a "finite God" and asks, "How can God be anything that matters to man, unless He is limited and defined and human like ourselves?"
Surely, were the story of Jesus Christ better understood, it would be seen how this human craving for a human God has its answer in the Gospel. Not a finite God—that would be a contradiction in terms—but a God who struggles; who is willing to struggle; a God who cares, sympathizes, agonizes. Long ago Browning, in another wonderful poem, made David tell Saul of a God like that:
'Tis the weakness in strength that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek
In the Godhead! I seek and I find it. O Saul, it shall be
A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me
Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever: a Hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ stand!
 For those who have thought long and deeply of the meaning of Christianity, this has been the real message of the life of Christ. He is the assurance that God does enter into the tragedy of human life and that He understands. He is not a God of lonely majesty and self-sufficiency. Once He came visibly among men, to tell them what He really is, and those who have read aright the story of His coming have light on life's dark mysteries—mysteries that will never cease to be full of clouds and darkness, though they show a silver lining to the eyes of patient faith. It is well that we should make clear to our own minds this essential meaning of the Gospel story; and it is necessary to make it just as clear that unless the traditional understanding of it be correct the real message of Christ is gone. If the Gospel be only an "interpretation" of God and human life, though given by the Best Man the world has ever known, we have no certain revelation. In that case, the Gospel becomes merely [16/17] the story of one more good man—a surpassingly good man—struggling and failing; deserted by God at the last. It is one man's thought about God—better than most men's thoughts, but no sure disclosure. It is only when we accept Christ as what the Christian Church has always proclaimed Him—very God of very God—that the truth of the story holds. Then, and only then, can we feel sure of the God of love; for then we have, not simply wonderful thoughts about God, but a picture, painted in human colors, to show us what, essentially He is.
What Christ was, God is. What Christ did, God does. What Christ said, God says. What Christ felt, God feels. Can there be any doubt about Christ's love? If He were only a good man, that would prove nothing. But if He is God's Son, then we have light on life's dark mysteries. We know that God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, once walked this earth. Does God care for men? See Him, in the Person of [17/18] His dear Son, hanging on the cross. Does God love? He so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son.
That is not argument; it is fact. The statement of it is not dogma; it is life.
So the Christian believer walks through the world with peace in his heart. He has learned the secret of all secrets, that God is love. Whatever seems to contradict it, he knows it to be true; for he has looked into the face of Jesus Christ, and he remembers his Lord's words, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." He has seen "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
This is the great fact for him: the fact which the Bible makes clear beyond all question, not by naming the doctrine, but by telling the story of the Lord who came down from Heaven that men might live.
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