The portrait of Christ presented to us by the Gospel story is not a simple one. It strikes us differently in different lights. It is possible in some lights to see only the exceedingly human form of the Incarnate and to conceive Him as a man among men; a prince of men, yet man. While in other lights we see nothing so clearly as the divinity that manhood cannot conceal; we see Him as superhuman, supernatural, divine.
The problem is to find one light in which we may take in, as in one vision, all the features of the picture, seeing Him whole, in the entirety of His personal life as Incarnate Son of God.
To this end it is necessary to devote time and care to the study of all the features of the Christ that have been represented by the Evangelists; and to watch that no detail be exaggerated in the copy that we make.
St. Mark's Gospel is perhaps the best suited to our purpose. It supplies so much that is common to the other Synoptists that we can gather the main features from it and then fill in what is necessary from St. Matthew and St. Luke.
I. What then is the picture of the Christ presented to us in St. Mark's Gospel?
We see Jesus coming from Nazareth to His baptism; and we are made the witnesses of a supernatural revelation. We see Him driven into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil, and we find angels ministering to Him. He comes into Galilee, calling men to His service; He teaches with a new authority; He casts out an evil spirit by a word; heals a fever with the touch of His hand; and at sunset delivers from their sicknesses all who come to Him. In the morning He resumes His teaching, and heals a leper by a touch. [Ch. 1.]
After a few days He heals a sick man by a word, pardoning his sins. Then He calls Matthew, and declares His mission to sinners. He appears as the teacher of new customs, the authority for which is found in Himself alone; and He justifies Himself in breaking the law of the Sabbath as the Jews held it. [Ch. 2.]
Again, He heals on the Sabbath day, and that by a word only. When He is face to face with the multitude, the sick press upon Him that a touch may heal them, and the unclean spirits own Him as their divine Lord. Next follow His call of the twelve Apostles, His announcement that the Spirit of God is with Him in His ministry of mercy, and His call to new relationships in the service of God. [Ch. 3.]
After this He utters parables proclaiming a new kingdom founded upon obedience to God, visible, objective, and destined to grow. [Ch. 4.]
Then He manifests His power over winds and waves; casts out "Legion," heals a woman of her issue of blood, and raises the daughter of Jairus. [Ch. 5.]
Next we witness the astonishment of the people at His words and doctrine, and we see the Twelve sent forth to fight evil spirits and to teach. Following upon their mission comes the retirement for rest, which is broken for the sake of the multitude. He feeds five thousand men on five loaves and two fishes, walks upon the sea, and on reaching the shore heals all who come to Him. [Ch. 6.]
He refuses to observe certain Pharisaic customs, and lays down new principles of judgement. He heals the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman; gives a deaf man hearing and more certain speech. [Ch. 7.]
Then He gives sight to a blind man. At this point He makes trial of His disciples' understanding, and they confess Him to be Messiah, though they do not at all grasp the meaning of His office as Redeemer. [Ch. 8.]
The next step is the manifestation of His glory in the Transfiguration with the glimpse that it affords of divine power, and the prophecy of a painful death. Descending from the mountain He removes the doubts of His disciples as to His Messianic office. Next He casts out a very powerful devil; and again He warns His disciples of His approaching death. Finding them steeped in selfish views of the coming Kingdom, He corrects their thoughts; and He also warns them of the terrible danger of opposing God's Will. [Ch. 9.]
He next authoritatively corrects the Mosaic teaching about marriage, and blesses little children as if to express His sanction of true family life. He then opens the high path of self-renunciation to a rich young man, pledging His word that in following Him he will find life in its fullness; and He lays down some of the conditions that bind all who wish to enter His Kingdom. Again He foretells His immediate death. He refuses to promise a definite degree of glory to the sons of Zebedee, but emphasizes the law of service. Then He heals a man who had acclaimed Him Son of David. [Ch. 10.]
He is welcomed in Jerusalem as Messiah, shews His power over the fig tree, and exercises authority in the temple against that of the chief priests. He refuses to give any account of the source of that authority to those whose consciences are dumb. [Ch. 11.]
Both by parable and argument He silences His opponents, and holds up their evil motives to general disapprobation. [Ch. 12.]
He speaks of the judgement of God that is to overtake the Jews, treating it as a type of judgement in general and as foreshadowing the consummation of judgement at the last day. [Ch. 13.]
It is at this point that we meet with an evident limitation of His knowledge. For He says that He does not know the hour and the day of the last judgement. [Ch 13:32.]
After these sayings He foretells His death and the embalming of His body, and goes to His last meal with His disciples. He institutes the mysterious "Breaking of the Bread," and passes to His agony in the garden. We see Him in His very real struggle, and hear the prayer that He offers to His Father. [Ch. 14.]
After this we have a picture of His quiet dignity and heroic endurance amidst false accusation, insult, and cruelty. We hear Him confess Himself the Son of Man who shall come in divine glory, and we watch Him in His condemnation and crucifixion. [Ch. 15.]
Then quite briefly we read of His burial, and of His Resurrection from the dead. [Ch. 16.]
What is the picture thus presented to us? We are conscious of a Person whose power is overwhelming, whose very tenderness strikes us with awe. There are no circumstances of which He is not the master, no human needs that He cannot satisfy, no Satanic powers that He cannot subdue. He teaches with a divine authority, correcting Jewish ethics as He pleases, and proclaiming a new reign of God in which He is to be the visible King.
The superhuman characteristics of Christ are emphasized in the stories of His Baptism, Transfiguration, and Resurrection; in the instances of strange insight into men's hearts and His accurate foreknowledge of certain events; in His miraculous powers; in the attitude of evil spirits towards Him; and in His authority as Teacher and Judge. The burden of St. Mark's Gospel is the superhuman nature of the Saviour.
On the other hand, St. Mark is quite clear in his insistence on the true humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he records the story of the Temptation, and the help that the Angels brought Him. He dwells on the Agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the struggle to obey; and he records the cry of desolation on the Cross. He tells us of many of our Lord's questions in which He sought for information; [Mark 5:30; 6:38; 8:5, 23; 9:16, 21, 33. See below, ch. VII.] notices how the Saviour marvelled; [6:6.] and records an instance of His praying. [1:35.] And as we have seen, he tells us that once Christ admitted that He was ignorant of the day of judgement. [13:32.] Other questions there are that were perhaps asked from a didactic motive, [10:3, 18; 12:16.] or were uttered to show surprise, or to give rebuke. [4:13, 40; 7:18; 8:12, 21; 14:37.]
It is only an outline sketch, but it is a sketch of God in human flesh. The Son of God is seen making use of divine power in His battles against unworthy teaching, bodily sickness, and Satanic possession; and He conveys the impression that He is absolute master of all sets of circumstances. Yet all the while He leads an ordinary human life, such that His disciples were not afraid to dwell with Him, and that onlookers were astonished at His sudden exhibition of divine works and teaching.
His manhood is shewn to be the medium by which the divine revelation was unfolded and divine healing brought to all who had faith to receive it; but it is a real manhood, and to the ordinary observer, on ordinary occasions, quite normal.
II. In St. Matthew's Gospel we are again overawed by the powerful Healer whom no power, human or Satanic, can withstand; by the righteous Prophet who is as superior to Moses in authority as He surpasses him in wisdom; [Cf. Sermon on the Mount.] and by the Friend of Sinners who challenges death deliberately that He may slay Sin. We are struck by the tacit claim of our Lord not only to a sufficient knowledge of the secret motives of the Scribes and Pharisees, but to the right to denounce them openly. [Matt. 23.] The assertion of His authority to judge as Son of Man is the culminating proof of His insight into characters and motives, an insight that is plainly not merely human. [Matt. 25:3146.] We are met by His claim to divine Sonship, and a new relation to believers that has no parallel in history, involving as it does a complete knowledge of the human heart and a capacity for simultaneous relationships with numberless souls. [11:2729.]
And as the leading thought the Gospel of St. Matthew depicts Christ as the King of the new Kingdom of Heaven, being careful to record the superhuman character of His birth. [1:182:23.]
On the side of the human characteristics of the Saviour we find two questions that are not recorded by St. Mark, but they are not to be taken as requests for information. [9:28; 14:31.] Also there is a new instance of prayer. [11:25.]
III. The impression produced upon us by St. Luke's portrait of our Lord is made up of the awe inspired by His superhuman power, and of the wonder called out by the beauty and moral grandeur of His new Kingdom. We are amazed at His unerring advance, through a world marked by guile and selfishness, against the combined opposition of men and devils. We find stress laid on the recognition of our Lord by devils; [Luke 4:34, 41; 8:28.] and twice we are told of His power over death. [7:1117; 8:4956.] We are shewn His wonderful insight into the secrets of the heart, [Luke 5:22; 6:8; 9:47.] His miraculous knowledge of the presence of fish, [5:411.] and His power of self-preservation. [4:30.]
On the other hand, we notice the emphasis laid upon the power of the Spirit, [3:22; 4:1, 14, 18.] and upon the power of the Lord that was present to hea1. [5:17.] Further, we are told several times of our Lord's prayers. [3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:29; 11:1.] And in the last place we may notice that the people amongst whom our Lord had grown up were amazed at His sudden display of supernatural powers and gifts. It was not what they had been accustomed to see in Him before He began His ministry. [4:22; cp. 2:50, 51.]
IV. But St. Luke has three special points to put before us that require separate notice.
He tells us that as the Child Jesus grew up He was at every moment being filled with wisdom. He pictures Him as perfect babe, perfect boy, and perfect man. His development was unhindered by any internal flaw or external influence. [2:40 ff.]
Secondly, he records for us an instance of the self-consciousness of the Christ disturbing the ordinary, natural life of Mary and Joseph. Apparently it was an unique occurrence; but it assures us that as a child of twelve Christ was in some measure conscious of Himself as Son of God. There is no hint that the self-consciousness was independent of the human soul; rather the stress is laid on the extraordinary human wisdom and soul-development of the Child. We note that His Mother's heart was moved at what she saw, as if she had suddenly caught sight of something in her son that she had never suspected to be in Him. [Luke 2:4151.]
And thirdly, St. Luke refers to the growth of the Incarnate in stature and wisdom. He says that men were attracted to the Child by this wisdom, and he notes how it developed as the years went by, [2:52.] and clearly has no doubts about the very real humanity of the Lord Jesus.
V. St. John may be said to take for granted the picture of our Lord that we have found in the three Synoptic Gospels, so that all we need do here is to enquire how far he requires us to modify our impressions.
The most important evidence to the divine nature of the Christ is that which is based upon the revelation of His self-consciousness, His knowledge of His pre-existence, and His memory of the state of eternal glory. [John 8:19, 38, 56, 58; 10:30; 18:5, etc.] And along with this must be noticed instances of a superhuman knowledge and insight. [John 1:42, 47, 48; 2:25; 4:16, 17; 5:14; 11:14.]
Also St. John recounts some miracles not mentioned elsewhere, including that of the raising of Lazarus. He is emphatic in pressing home the divine character of the Master's doctrine, [John 5:3747; 7:16; 8:1259; 12:4450.] and he offers Him to our adoration as our Light, [8:12.] our Guide, [10:118.] and our indwelling Life. [5:25, 26; 6:4757; 7:37.] Finally, we may say that the Prologue of the Gospel sufficiently declares that Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
On the other hand, the Apostle records the very human conduct of the Incarnate at the grave of Lazarus, His groans, and His tears; and he tells us of several questions asked to win information. [11:34; 6:5, etc. See below, ch. VII.]
VI. These statements of the Gospel evidence for the two sides of the doctrine of the Incarnation are, I think, sufficient. It seems plain enough that the Evangelists have no doubt at all that the Incarnate Son is Son of God, and that at the same time He is truly, really and completely man. They do not allow for any conception of Him that does not include these two main facts. It is impossible to account for the Gospel picture by any theory that does not provide on the one hand for Christ's consciousness of Himself as Son of God, and on the other hand for His actual human life and limitations.
But if we ask how and in what sense the two opposite facts are to be reconciled, we shall find no answer in the Gospels. The Evangelists do not betray any consciousness of a difficulty, much less do they exhibit any tendency to evolve a rationalized explanation of the unity of the Incarnate. They had come to adore Him as God, they had lived with Him as man, yet they always speak of Him as possessing one single centre of consciousness. But how these things came to be they neither ask nor explain.
The absence of all attempts to rationalize the Incarnation is characteristic of the Apostolic age; and it came to mark a school of thought that included many great names, from Clement of Rome to the great Athanasius.
The distinguishing mark of the school is respect for authority, and belief founded upon authoritative witness. The Apostles themselves had seen and touched and handled the Incarnate. They knew their religion to be based upon the person, Jesus, the Word of God. The dogma of His Divinity required no proof and no philosophic setting to those who had known Him intimately and had seen Him after He had risen from the dead. For them He was alive for evermore, ascended into the glory of the Father, and indwelling their hearts through and in the Holy Ghost whom He had sent.
So, on the other hand, the manhood of Jesus could never be anything but real to the Christian community, among whom were those whose heads had rested on His beating heart, whose hands had been red with His blood as they prepared Him for His burial, and whose eyes had seen Him in His new resurrection life. The revelation was with them, an abiding possession, in the power of which they were content to suffer and to die.
And when they came to reflect upon the bearing of their new faith in Jesus on their Jewish creed they were merely concerned to be true to the facts. From the manifest life and character of the Incarnate they argued back to the attributes proper to His dignity and work; and, having secured Him His due place in their conception of Godhead, returned at once from Theology to moral and personal considerations.
So the Fathers, who may be said to follow the Apostles in this line of thought, put authority before everything. The Apostles bowed before the evidence of their senses; and these Fathers accepted the Apostolic witness. They were content to refute the first heretics by a reassertion of the Apostolic doctrine.
The opposite method, which is in the truest sense of the word rationalistic, dates from the rise of the Alexandrine and Antiochene schools. It is characteristic of men who in finding Christ had also come to their first knowledge of the true God, the One and the Infinite; and whose mental training disposed them to examine every doctrine proposed to them by authority, and to bring all into relation with their general view of the universe. As Christians they found the whole sphere of knowledge opening up to them in new ways. Their desire was to formulate a scheme of things, based upon the ultimate truth of Godhead, that would account for the creative and redemptive activities of the Infinite. God the Infinite is the centre of their systems. From Him they argue towards the Logos, the Word of God, the Christ; and through the Christ they reach their conception of the final goal of humanity.
Of course the rationalizing tendency was found to produce heresies. And the rapid spread of heresy modified in course of time the Apostolic method. Where first the Fathers had only warned men to return to the original doctrine, submitting their minds to the Apostolic teaching, it became the custom to meet the heretics on their own ground to some extent, and to shew that reason and faith go hand in hand. Yet in the main the distinction between the two methods remained clearly drawn; indeed, it remains with us to this day. Both methods have on them the stamp of the Church's approval: both have a work to do in the world. But there is no doubt that the Evangelists must not be classed among rationalists. And that it is so in their case is a matter for much thankfulness, since they have provided us with a simple account of the facts that is not only independent of any passing metaphysical theory, but undarkened by any attempt at interpretation or explanation. The Gospel is a picture, not a treatise upon a picture.
This Apostolic witness may be viewed in three ways. We may consider, first, the strict adherence to authority that marks the mother Church of Jerusalem, under St. James. We may then study the somewhat less strict method of the teachers of the Jewish dispersion, that is followed by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Christology. And thirdly, we may watch St. Paul as he seeks to win the reason of his Gentile converts; for it is he who is the most rationalistic of the Apostles, and his is the bridge that joins the two schools of thought. But let me here repeat that I use the word rationalist only in its true meaning. The true rationalist is not one who exalts reason against authority, but one who receiving a doctrine on authoritative witness seeks to explain it in terms of current thought.
VII. The Church of Jerusalem was composed of Jews, the large majority of whom were zealous in their observance of the Law of Moses. They regarded Christianity as the natural outcome of Mosaism; to them the Gospel was, as it were, a second volume of their sacred Book, inspired by Him who had inspired Moses. Thus the first form in which the new Revelation was clothed and expressed was strictly Jewish. It was so formulated, in the divine providence, as not to puzzle unduly the mind of a sin-stricken Jew. The Cross, indeed, could not be hidden; the shame of the Crucified, which is His glory and our joy, could not be done away, but the fundamental facts of the Faith could be so stated as to cause the least intellectual perplexity to the Jewish monotheist.
The actual line of thought which characterized this Church is well known to us. It is recorded for us in the Epistle of St. James and in the earlier chapters of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Theology is that of the Old Testament, with a second volume asserting as facts the divine nature of the Messiah, His very true incarnation in human flesh, and the personality of the Holy Ghost. There is, however, no appendix of explanatory Christology. The facts are all asserted; they are brought into vital connection with conduct, but there is no attempt to give them a theological setting.
The most striking thing in the doctrine of Jerusalem is that while Christ was undoubtedly worshipped as God, He is spoken of as if He were merely one individual chosen out of the Jewish race to be the Messiah. The stress is upon the very real humanity of the Christ. Of course, in part this must be ascribed to the tact and good sense of the Apostolic preachers whose desire was at first to persuade the Jews, not to alarm them. They laid all the emphasis upon the Messianic office of the Son of Mary, leaving the doctrine of His Divinity to be taught to those who had accepted Him as the Christ. But even so the Humanity of our Lord must have been most real, and must have impressed others as completely natural, to allow of the language in which the Apostles spoke of Him. "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God"; "God hath made Him both Lord and Christ"; "His servant Jesus"; "Thy holy servant Jesus"; "Jesus of Nazareth" whom "God anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, for God was with Him" [Acts 2:22, 36; 3:13; 4:27 (R.V.); 10:38.] These are typical phrases framed to connect the Son of Mary with the Servant of Yahveh of whom Isaiah spoke, [Isa. 42, etc.] and to emphasize the reality of the divine power which He exercised, and the divine choice by which He had been sent to be the Messiah.
But it is not at all true that the Christology of the Church of Jerusalem was one-sided, omitting the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus. For in the first place, prayers were offered to our Lord Jesus as to God; [Acts 1:24, 25; 7:59.] He shares the title of Lord with the Father and the Spirit; [Acts 1:6, 21; 4:33. James 1:1.] He is the Prince of Life; the Glory of the Father; the Lord of all men; and the Judge. [Acts 3:15; 7:55; 10:36. James 5:7, 8.] And it is, in the second place, quite certain that St. Luke, who records this early teaching, considered that all this language was entirely compatible with the Christology of St. Paul.
St. James does not give us much help in the matter, but his epistle is of a piece with the evidence that we have adduced from the earliest sermons of the Apostles at Jerusalem. He is of course the most strictly Jewish of the first leaders of the Church, and appears to have remained quite uninfluenced by the ideas of Philo and the Stoics which were well known in Jerusalem. Professor Mayor [Mayor, St. James, Introd. c. III.] is of the opinion that he had read a little Stoic philosophy, and he has tabulated parallels between St. James and Philo. But no one suggests that Hellenism had laid its hand on St. James. He is a Jew of the Jews, and beyond his belief in the Three Persons of the Godhead [James 1:1, 27.] and in the Messianic office of the Lord Jesus, [Acts 15:28.] we have no clue to his Christological position.
The truth is that the Jews, like the Muhammadans of today, were not concerned to reason out doctrines: they received them on the authority of a God-appointed prophet. "It is written" was their ultimate argument. Thus to Jewish Christians the word of the Lord Jesus, being of higher importance than the Books of Moses, required no explanation. [Acts 3:2026; 4:12. Cf. Matt. 5:22, 28, 34; 7:24.]
St. Peter belongs to the same Church, but his outlook is wider than that of St. James. He was the leader of a large middle party of moderate men who themselves clung to Moses, but were not able to resist the divine guiding in the matter of a common life with Gentile Christians. Fearful they may have been and a little timid, but their mental outlook was less strictly Jewish. Thus by force of circumstances they came into contact with Hellenistic thought, not perhaps in books so much as in conversation. In fact, it seems probable that St. Peter had far less culture and education than St. James. He was certainly quite Jewish in thought and speech; he was devoid both of the desire for and the talent of speculative thought; but he had known and loved Jesus Christ beyond most; and his natural broadmindedness had led him to see the problems of the Church in something of their true light. It is true that a certain timidity, combined with a habit of accepting generously noble ideals without counting the cost, marred his usefulness as a leader in the very early days, but on the whole he marks an advance upon the position of St. James.
His epistles are very full of evidence of his belief in the divinity of our Lord, which it does not concern us to analyse here; [1 Peter 1:2, 3, 11; 3:15, 22; 5:4. 2 Peter 1:1, 11, 17; 3:18. Cf. Acts 2:38; 4:12 ; 10:36, 42.] and he lays very great stress upon His true manhood. St. Peter's love to our Lord leads him to write of the sufferings, the memory of which could never pass from him. Christ's real human blood is our ransom; [1 Peter, 1:19.] and His very real sufferings are our inspiration to endurance. [2:2124; 3:18.] He really descended into Hades, consciously and vigorously, that He might open heaven to the souls that would accept Him; [1 Peter 3:18 ff.; 4:6.] He is really glorified in Heaven, [1:21; 3:22.] and will certainly come to judge. [1:7; 1:4. Acts 10:42.]
But like St. James, St. Peter has no explanation of the union of the divine and the human. The Incarnate is truly man, and He is God the Son. It is not necessary to say more. The manner of the Incarnation it did not occur to them to discuss.
Even St. Jude, who seems to have been on the right wing of the Jewish party, depending to some extent upon Pauline doctrine, has no realization of any need to rationalize the dogma of the Incarnation. At the time he wrote, the fundamental facts of the threefold personality of God and of the divinity and humanity of Christ were already expressed in dogmatic form; [Jude 1, 3, 4, 20, 21.] but there is no hint that the dogmas had been rationally explained in their bearing one upon another.
VIII. The Jewish Christians whose intellectual hone was rather Alexandria than Jerusalem, were of a very different type. From the first they are spoken of as Hellenists; for the distinction long recognized by the Jews themselves passed over into the Christian Church.
The general characteristics of this school were a veneration for Philo's methods of mystical interpretation of the Scriptures, a desire to interpret their faith in a language in which it would be intelligible to the Greek world, and a broadminded view of the purpose of the Law. It must not be supposed that these characteristics were found in every Hellenist equally developed, or that Alexandrine thought was responsible for all the readiness of Jews in foreign cities to assimilate Greek thought. But no doubt Alexandria was the real centre of the movement which spread in all the cities in which Jewish colonies had been founded. Apollos coming from Alexandria as a famous Hellenist had a ready welcome in Ephesus; St. Paul everywhere found Hellenism at work as leaven in Jewish circles; and at the very first Antioch's Hellenism had proved to be the door to its Christianity.
We must then be prepared for a school of Jewish Christianity different from that of Jerusalem; a school that was based upon the Law, the Prophets, and the Sanctuary, but whose building was not strictly in the style of the Scribes and Pharisees. Its Greek Bible gave the tone to its methods of thought.
Of such a school was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. His name is so far unknown to us, but his theological position is of the Alexandrine type, modified to suit those to whom he was writing. Even were he to prove to be the Greek St. Luke, it would still be true to say that his attitude to Judaism and to philosophical reasoning is that of an Alexandrine Jew.
It is not to our purpose to discuss the Christology of this Epistle as a whole. We have only to pay attention to certain points.
First, we meet with an attempt to explain the relation of Christ to the Father in the eternal sphere. Bishop Westcott has summarized this teaching in his note on the Christology of the Epistle. [Westcott, Hebrews, 2nd ed. p. 424 ff.] The Christ is the one eternal Son of God, Son not by adoption but by nature; Who makes God known to us in terms of human life; being His agent in creation, the medium of His revelation, and the heir of the world. He is thus the Creator, Preserver, and Heir of all things. [Hebrews 1:14, 8; 2:5; 3:6; 10:21.] Thus we are shewn the Eternal Son continuously abiding in and with the Father, and exercising His proper functions in the universe. There is no hint of any abandonment of His eternal relationship with the Father, or of any cessation from the functions proper to the Word, to use St. John's kindred term.
But, secondly, equal care is taken to make very clear the reality of the manhood that He assumed. He took real flesh and blood, and passed through the valley of death; [2:14.] His manhood was complete, so that He was able to be tempted through it; [2:17, 18.] and He was made perfect by the development of His soul under the discipline of life. [Heb. 4:15; í. 5:79.] Some of the human qualities that He exhibited are named. He was faithful, merciful, and sympathetic. [2:17; 3:2; 4:15.] He depended on God and prayed to Him; and learned obedience by and in the very sufferings that led Him to His prayers and agony. [5:79.] Finally, He exercised faith: but not the imperfect faith that is marred by ignorance and doubt. His faith was the certain confidence of a perfect soul that sees behind the cloud the invincible will of the Father. Hence came His power to endure, as He saw clearly the joy that was set before Him. [Heb. 12:2. See below, ch. XII.]
Here then eve have a very real attempt to make clear to men's minds the true significance of the terms divine and human as applied to our Lord. On the one hand, there is the Eternal Son become incarnate without ceasing to exercise His powers and prerogatives in the universal sphere, the sphere of glory. And on the other hand, we see Him as perfect and complete man, undergoing growth and development, and so passing to His glory. [1:3; 4:14; 6:20, etc] But at this point the writer stops. It was not in his mind either to feel the need or to find the terminology of an explanation as to the manner of the union of the two natures. Nevertheless we see in this epistle a striking example of inspired rationalism; the consecration to the service of truth of human thought.
IX. Of St. John there is no need to speak at length. For we have already gathered the chief points of his witness to the matter before us. It is, however, interesting to note how in his use of the term Logos, [John 1:1.] or Word, he shews much thought that is common to him and to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. But there is nothing to prove that he owes more to Alexandria than a term that must have been naturalized in Jerusalem long before it was required to manifest the eternal functions of the Son of God.
The striking thing about St. John is that he should have lived so long in the centre of Greek thought, the city of Ephesus, and yet have been so little drawn to philosophical methods and language. He adheres strictly to the Apostolic method of asserting the facts on both sides; shutting out all doubts concerning the deity of Christ, while equally excluding all suspicion of any unreality of the manhood. And his facts, with his method, he handed on to his disciples, who, in their turn, made them over to their followers. Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus are the true successors of St. John.
The final glory of the disciple whom Jesus loved was the accomplishment of this task of bringing to the world, that was beginning to speculate, that record of the Master's words and teaching which has proved to be the salt of human thought. He had meditated on these words, for him they were all-sufficing, he had no need to go beyond them; but it is in the power of these words that Christ has come, the stronger force, upon the pagan world, binding its leaders and spoiling them of their goods. [John 21:22.]
X. It remains to discuss the teaching of St. Paul, the philosopher of the Apostolic band, and the father of the Gentile Church. He comes nearer to metaphysical explanation of the Incarnation than any other writer of the New Testament. But so far is he from adhesion to any system of philosophy that his theology has survived all changes in the thoughts of men, and remains as catholic and fresh today as in the first age.
Saul of Tarsus had been a student in the schools and probably in the university of his native town. He had acquired some knowledge of the classics, measured the Stoic philosophy, and gained some insight into the Hellenistic movement. But he never became an Hellenistic Jew. He left Tarsus for Jerusalem, where he lived the strictest youth of the straitest sect, a Pharisee, being zealous for the Law beyond all of his own standing. He never gave himself up to the influence of Greek education, and the real master of his mind was Gamaliel. His conversion seems to have opened his mind in a marvellous way. In the light of his new faith he was able to recall much that he had learned of old and put away from him; and he went to his work with a width of sympathy in which no other Apostle could rival him. But always Paul the Christian was master of Paul the thinker, just as Saul the Pharisee had dominated Saul the student.
To philosophy he owes some of his terminology, his wide view of the divine government of the world, his singular tact in dealing with Gentile Churches, and his keen apprehension of the meaning of the intellectual tendencies of his age. But beyond this I think that no case can be made out for his dependence on Hellenism.
In his private life he lived as a Jew ; his love for his nation and its traditions was deep and sincere; and his desire to work amongst them was genuine and even obstinate. [See Acts 22:1721; and Rom. 911., etc.]
Thus it is to St. Paul that we naturally look for a combination of the Apostolic method of authoritative teaching of the facts with the rationalistic method of interpreting the facts in terms of human thought. We expect a translation of the dogma of the Church of Jerusalem into language that the people of the Gentile cities could understand and appropriate. More than this we should not expect: for the agreement of St. Paul with the Apostolic body in doctrinal matters must have been very close to enable them to trust him so fully in the matter of Mosaism. They knew that St. Paul might cause trouble by his liberal views on the Law of Moses, and there might be terms in his vocabulary that were unfamiliar, but they also knew that no one could question his loyalty to our Lord Jesus Christ, or his faithful acceptance of the one Gospel. St. Paul was able to do what he did because he was absolutely at one with the Apostolic body in his fundamental creed.
His was the mind of genius, seeing clearly what was but dimly suggested to other men's vision, and expressing plainly what others were only feeling after. His was the representative mind of the early Church, in the sense that along his lines alone did men who had despaired alike of Judaism and Hellenism find their way to God in Christ without violence to their intellectual positions. Both Jews and Greeks were led by him to see the inner meaning of the Incarnation, and rich in the mystical presence of Jesus within them they were able to press forward to the goal of their high calling as sons of God.
Typical of such minds are Luke the Greek; Apollos the Alexandrine; Barnabas of Cyprus; John Mark the once conservative Jew; Crispus the ruler of the synagogue, an Hellenist; Aristarchus the Macedonian; Erastus of Corinth; and Tychicus of Ephesus. Pauline theology it was that gave these men their strong faith. While on the other hand the Apostle could keep the confidence of St. James of Jerusalem, interest St. Peter in his Gentile Churches, win his point at the Council of Jerusalem, and so order the Churches of Asia as to make it possible for St. John to undertake the oversight of them. And all this without a single act of capitulation to any one form of philosophy. St. Paul is indeed the mastermind of the Apostles. His theology covers ground upon which the others did not tread. But cut out that which he taught in common with St. James and St. Peter, and his theology has neither foundations nor walls; it is merely a roofing, lying ruined on the earth.
I fear it may seem that my prefatory remarks are out of all proportion to the amount of evidence that I may be able to adduce from the Pauline writings; but my purpose is to emphasize the value of Pauline evidence as bearing witness to the teaching that was common in the Church of his day.
His main evidence to a belief in the divinity and humanity of the Christ need not engage our attention. We take that for granted as well we may; and we rather ask what he has to tell us about the manner of their union in the one person, Christ.
In the first place he asserts that the Incarnate occupies an essential place in the being of the Godhead, and in the life of the universe. Like St. John and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews he leaves no room for the theory that the divine Son ceased from the performance of divine functions when He became incarnate. To Him the eternal Son is the Image of the Father, the Creator and the Firstborn, the Cause of all things and their End. His work in creation is not that of a deputy who performs his task and goes his way: rather He is the necessary, essential, permanent link between the creative will of God and its actual realization in the universe. So on the same analogy He is shewn to be the necessary, essential, permanent link between the redemptive will of the Father and its actual realization in the Church; He is the King of the redeemed race and the Head of the Church. [Eph. 1 and 2. Col. 1:1219.]
Secondly, St. Paul rejoices that in Christ Jesus dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily. [Col. 1:1219.] Therefore as the divine Person dwells with all His powers in and under the conditions of manhood, so He is the indwelling Saviour of all who come to Him, indwelling them by mystic union and knitting them through His Spirit into the one body, the Church. [Rom. 5 to 8; 12, etc.] But the coming of God in manhood involves an act of profound humility which the Apostle names Kenosis, or self-emptying, and again self-beggary. [Phil. 2:58. 2 Cor. 8:9]
It is in this last point that St. Paul became the forerunner of those who have tried to explain how the divine Son could take manhood into Himself, and live as man. The explanations of his general statement that have been given all down the ages it will be our duty to notice very briefly later on; and in dealing with extreme forms of Kenotic theory we shall have to return to these classical passages of St. Paul for our guidance.
For the present I wish only to suggest the positive statements made by the Apostle.
He says that Christ was eternally one with God the Father; and that with a view to the redemption of men He deliberately entered upon a state that was not equal to the divine state. In order to do so He emptied Himself. Of what he emptied Himself we are not told. This state upon which He entered is the human state; but in His case its chief characteristic is that of bondage. The purpose for which He came He held firmly while living in manhood, and as man He humbled Himself to accept the death of the Cross.
Thus He has become to us an example of humility, for as God He humbled Himself, accepting the humiliation of life in manhood; and as man He chose to die, accepting the humiliation of the death of a disobedient slave.
Three main points, then, stand out in this passage. First, the Incarnation involved a state of being that is quite inferior to the divine state. Secondly, it involved the assumption of a true and permanent manhood. And, thirdly, it involved the acceptance of a state that must be called slavery as opposed to the perfect freedom of the divine state.
Now if we analyse the idea of slavery we find that it implies inability to exercise the powers and prerogatives of manhood apart from the will of a master. It does not at all imply the absence of natural powers, or the absence of the human right to exercise them freely. So that the analogy in no way helps us to determine the nature of the self-emptying of the eternal Son. We leave the Pauline explanation prepared for a wonderful manifestation of divine love; for a voluntary limitation of the powers of the Son within the sphere of the Incarnation; and for a very real self-restraint. But I think that we must accept the verdict of history, which seems to be that the Pauline doctrine of Kenosis is so wide and free from detailed explanation that teachers of almost every shade of opinion have felt justified in sheltering themselves behind the name of the Apostle of the Gentiles. For myself I do not think that his authority may be claimed for anything beyond the three points which I have named.
Thus we leave the New Testament with two sets of facts for which to account, and a statement of the direction in which the reconciliation of them is to be found.
On the one hand, there is all the evidence of the Gospels to the true and permanent Godhead of the Son, which is supported and emphasized in the Epistles: evidence to His dependence on and exercise of powers that are at once His own and divine.
On the other hand, there is a great deal of evidence that the Incarnate never for one moment acted God-ward or manward apart from His manhood; and that this was so is clearly shewn by the picture of Him that was impressed upon the minds of the earliest Christians.
And St. Paul gives us the direction in which to seek the reconciliation of this apparently contradictory evidence, bidding us to dwell upon the self-emptying of the eternal Son and His acceptance of a state of slavery in place of His own proper state of divine freedom and glory.
More than this we cannot claim to find within the covers of the New Testament. The Apostles' method allowed of nothing more; and that not because their inspiration was in itself too limited, but for the reason that the Holy Spirit gives to each generation strictly according to its need; and an answer to the question "How did God become man?" was not one of the needs of the infant Church. In fact, to judge once more from history, such an answer may perhaps be outside the region in which we are illuminated from on high. It may be that here we have to do our best to discover, by analogies and metaphors, some answer that may seem to us to be on the lines of truth. In any case, we are certain that any enquiry we make must concern itself with the two sets of facts that emerge from our study of the Gospels, and must be conducted in the light of the hints that we have received from St. Paul.