NORMAN MACLEOD, D.D.,
One of Her Majesty's Chaplains for Scotland;
AUTHOR OF "WEE DAVIE," "THE GOLD THREAD," ETC.
WITH MUCH AFFECTION,
TO THE PARISHIONERS OF LOUDOUN, DALKEITH AND THE BARONY,
TO WHOM I HAVE MINISTERED
As Their Pastor.
THOUGHTS ON CHRISTIANITY
1. What is Christianity? 2. Who was Jesus Christ? 3. What can we Believe if we do not thus Believe in Jesus? 4. What if Christianity is not True?
THOUGHTS UPON THE FINAL JUDGMENT 1. The Judge 2. Who are to be Judged? 3. "The Books shall be Opened," 4. Results of Judgment
THOUGHTS UPON FUTURE LIFE 1. Our Physical Life in Heaven 2. Our Intellectual Life 3. Our Devotional Life 4. Our Social Life 6. Our Active Life
WHAT AFTER DEATH?
MOMENTS IN LIFE
"LABOURERS TOGETHER WITH GOD,"
REVIVALS— 1. Their Need 2. Objections to Revivals
THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION
THE CURE FOR SCHISM
THE UNION OF MAN WITH MAN
PROGRESS OF MISSIONS
THE MYSTERY OF SORROW
THE BEGINNING OF A YEAR Advices on Entering a New Year
THE CLOSE OF A YEAR
THOUGHTS ON CHRISTIANITY.
WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY?
This question refers to a matter of fact. I do not ask whether the Christian religion is true, but only, What is the Christian religion? What is that religion which has existed for eighteen centuries; which is professed by Christendom; and which has been more precious than life itself to millions who have died in its faith, and is so still to millions who possess it as their peace and joy?
But how are we to obtain a satisfactory reply to this question? Are we to examine the opinions of all the various "churches," "sects," or "bodies," professing Christianity, in order to determine what it is they profess? If we adopted such a process of investigation as this, I believe we would reach, by a longer road, the very same point which may be reached by a shorter and more satisfactory process.
For I suppose it will be admitted that the Christian religion is what Jesus Christ and His apostles taught, and that we may rely upon the information conveyed to us in the New Testament as to the sum and substance of that teaching.
I do not even insist, as essential to my argument, upon the inspiration of Scripture, according to any theory whatever of that doctrine; but assume only that we have in the New Testament a true account of the teaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles, and that we are able, therefore, to ascertain from its pages what their Christianity was as an historical fact, with as much certainty, surely, as we can learn from the Koran what Mohammedanism was as taught by Mohammed, or from any work of philosophy what were the opinions of its author.
Now, if we read the New Testament with ordinary attention, we must, I think, be struck by one feature which is repeated in almost every page, and is manifestly the all-pervading spirit and life of its teaching,—that is, the peculiar place which Christ occupies in relation to all other persons mentioned there. This person, Jesus Christ, whoever He was, stands out prominently before every other teacher of Christian truth. The apostles speak of Him, point to Him, plead for Him, labour for Him. He is not the greatest Teacher merely among themselves, but the only Teacher, and they but His scholars, who glory in having nothing of their own to impart, and in being ministers, "stewards," only of what they have received from Him their Master. The subject of all their preaching is this Person—not a system of morality, or doctrines, or truths, apart from, but embodied in Him who was the Truth and the Life—Jesus Christ. The text of all their teaching is, "God forbid that we should know anything among you save Jesus Christ." In order to see this, take up any epistle, and mark how often the name of Jesus Christ appears as the ever-present thought, the centre of every idea.
Again, consider how this Person is inseparably connected with every motive, every duty, every joy and hope of the Christian as he is described in the New Testament. Christian love is there, not love merely in the abstract, (if such is in any case possible,) but love to Jesus Christ, and to all men because "in Christ" The grand question proposed is, "Lovest thou ME?" Christian obedience is not obedience merely to a code of moral precepts, but to Jesus Christ and "His commandments." Christian faith is not faith in "mysteries," or things unseen, or truths revealed, though such faith may be Christian, but its essence is faith in Jesus Christ the living Person; the supreme command being, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ." The Christian's hope is "hope in Christ;" his joy, "joy in Christ;" his peace, "peace in Christ;" his labour, "labour in Christ;" his strength, "strength in Christ;" his life, "life in Christ;" his death, "death in Christ;" his immortality, "rising in Christ;" his salvation, "salvation through Christ;" and his heaven, "to be with Christ!" On the other hand, all that is evil and disastrous to the soul is summed up in being "without Christ." To reject Christ, not to believe in Christ, to be enemies of Christ, to despise Christ, to be ignorant of Christ, to lose Christ, to be commanded at the last to depart from Christ—these are the characteristics of the wicked and lost: for "there is no other name given among men whereby man can be saved than the name of Jesus Christ."
You will observe that I am not at present discussing what Christ has done for us, but what, as a matter of fact, Jesus Christ claimed from us and from all men, and recognised to be the religion which He came to establish upon earth. I repeat it, therefore, that whether these claims were founded on fact or fiction, whether the religion which He taught was true or false, in accordance with, or opposed to, the will of God, that nevertheless its sum and substance is supreme love to Jesus Christ.
Now, if this, or anything even approaching to this, is true, my reader will, I am sure, acknowledge that it is not possible to separate Christ from the Christianity of the New Testament. The person and the "religion" become, in fact, identical—so far at least that both must be received or rejected. That a code of morals may be extracted from the New Testament, and Jesus himself, as its centre, be put aside, is quite possible; or that the character of Jesus may be recognised as a perfect example of what He taught, a living embodiment of His "beautiful precepts," is also possible, without recognising His claim to the supreme love and unlimited obedience of every human being; but the question still remains, whether this "philosophic" or "rational" system—this Christianity is really the Christianity taught by Christ, or by Peter, Paul, and John? I do not argue as to which "religion," "system," or "Christianity" is the best, but ask only a question of fact, Which do you candidly believe to be the Christianity of the New Testament? If you hesitate ere you reply to this question of historical fact, open again the New Testament, with a manly resolution to examine it, and obtain information, and ask its pages, What is Christianity? Read even such passages as the following:—John x., xiv., and xv.; Acts. first four chapters; the Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians—portions of Scripture which may be read almost in an hour or two. You do not require to master the whole world of truth which is there revealed, but only to notice the Sun of that world; and say, is it not faith in Jesus, love to Jesus, obedience to Jesus as to no one else in the universe except to God Almighty?
I at once frankly express my earnest conviction that this, if true, involves the truth of what are recognised to be the other "peculiar" doctrines or facts of Christianity—such as the divine, as well as holy and perfect character of the Person so loved;—His atoning work, as the grandest expression of His love to us, and that which most of all kindles love in us to Him;—the teaching of the Holy Spirit, through whom alone we, who are spiritually blind, can so perceive the spiritual character and glory of Jesus as to admire and love Him;—and prayer, by which we can hold actual, personal intercourse with, and thus come to know and love Jesus more and more from experience: these, I say, and other doctrines appear to me to be involved in the very idea that Christianity is supreme love to Jesus Christ. But I shall not consider any of them except one, the first and all-important, the very pillar and ground of the truth—viz., the divinity of Christ's Person. Let us therefore inquire—
WHO WAS JESUS CHRIST?
A more important question cannot be proposed for our consideration! Who is this, I ask with absorbing interest, whom I am commanded to honour as I honour the living God? Who is this who claims my unreserved faith, my unlimited obedience, my devoted love? Who is this who promises to pardon my sins through faith in His blood; to purify and perfect my nature through faith in His power? Who is this in whom I am to abide in life; into whose hands I am to commit my spirit, and the spirits of all who are dear to me, in the hour of death; whose voice is to call me forth from the grave when He comes again, and who is finally to judge me, and to determine my eternal condition?
That Jesus Christ does make those claims upon us, and those promises to us, is certain; and it is equally certain that they have been, and are, joyfully acquiesced in by the Christian Church. The question, then, which I have proposed for your consideration, is confessedly one of equal importance with the truth of Christianity. We cannot, with sincerity and intelligence, profess a willingness to examine into the nature of the Christian religion, much less profess faith in it, and yet reject the consideration of the question regarding the Person of Jesus Christ as being unimportant or unnecessary.
But before proceeding further in this inquiry, let me remind you, and be myself reminded, of the moral importance of truthfulness. I do not allude to the truthfulness which despises all hypocrisy in word, and seeks to maintain with sacred care an exact harmony between what is believed in the heart, and confessed with the lip; or which boasts, perhaps, of the honesty that never conceals a creed, however offensive its doctrines may be to others. Let us not undervalue this kind of honesty when real. But, alas! how often is it only apparent, while the real feeling is selfish vanity craving notoriety, or moral indifference which is insensible to the pain of either the existence or confession of unbelief. And thus where that truthfulness of character exists, which cannot give to others a false impression of what is really believed, how often is there wanting the kind of truthfulness, so much rarer and more difficult to attain, so much nobler and more important to possess, which seeks to harmonise not only profession with belief, but belief with truth itself. For it is in the innermost sanctuary of the spirit, into which no human eye can penetrate, and where truth, as a holy messenger sent from God, presents herself, seeking for admission to dwell there, and take possession of the soul's temple for ever,—it is there that the reality of a man's truthfulness, sincerity, and honesty must be tried and decided upon by the all-seeing Judge, who can alone search the heart. How do we deal there with what claims to be truth? With what spirit do we listen to her voice? With what care do we examine her credentials? These are questions settled in the secret of our own personal experience; and just as the process of investigation is conducted before the eye of conscience, can it be determined whether or not we are really honest. But as sure as there is in us a genuine truthfulness of spirit, it will, by a divine instinct, recognise truth when revealed. Like a string rightly tuned by God, the truthful soul will strike an harmonious chord with the note of truth wherever it sounds. The "single" eye will perceive the light from whatever quarter it shines. When, therefore, I ask my readers to consider, with sincerity and honesty, the teaching of the Scriptures regarding the Person of Jesus Christ, I crave from them that kind of honesty which is evidenced by the whole tone and spirit with which they deal with what professes to come from God, and what, therefore, claims their faith because it is true, and their love because it is good.
I. Consider this question in the light of His own teaching. By this I mean, read the Gospels, and from all Jesus said regarding Himself, say what impression did He intend to convey as to His own person. Remember I am not asserting the truth of His claims, but proposing merely to inquire into what His claims as a matter of fact were, in so far as we may fairly gather these from His own words. Nor do I dispute the possibility of giving a different meaning to His words, for I know, and most gladly acquiesce in the righteousness of the fact, that revelation is not demonstration, which necessarily overcomes even the truth-hater, but such evidence as by its nature may satisfy the truth-seeker. The criticism which is essential for our inquiry is that which will receive, and not give a meaning. With such a principle, let the readers peruse any one Gospel—especially the Gospel of St John—and in the presence of God say, Was it the intention of Jesus himself to teach that He was human only, or that He was divine also?
Now, to illustrate what I mean, and to aid the reader to follow out this first branch of Scripture evidence for himself, let us look, for example, at the Sermon on the Mount. This wonderful portion of our Lord's teaching is most frequently referred to by those who profess to admire the precepts of the gospel, but not its "doctrines," and to accept of Jesus as a teacher of morality, though rejecting Himself as divine. Yet is it possible to hear that sermon even without perceiving a consciousness on the part of the speaker of an authority, a power, a dignity, which, belonged to no mere creature? This is not so much brought forward in distinct doctrinal statements, but is assumed by Him, as that which gave to fact and doctrine all the additional authority which could be afforded by the lips of one who had come from God. Consider such words, for instance, as the following:—"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Marvellous words indeed! Who is this, we naturally ask after hearing them, who at the general judgment is to be addressed by "many?" How should He be thought of at all amidst the awful solemnities of that day, and be singled out and appealed to as one of such authority and power? Who is this that is addressed as "Lord, Lord?" What "name" is this in which many prophesied, and by which many were able to cast out devils, and to do marvellous works? Who is this that utters the sentence, "Depart from me?" and who is He that such a sentence should be an object of dread, yea, the very climax of human woe? He who uttered these words was a poor man indeed, a Jewish artisan, at that moment seated on a grassy hill surrounded by many as poor and unknown as Himself! But did He wish to give the impression that He was nothing more? "The people were astonished at His doctrine, for He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes." No wonder! For what scribe—what teacher—what apostle—what mere man who ever lived had authority to utter such words as those we have just read! (Read also in connexion with this, Matt. xxv. 31-46.)
Almost every chapter in the Gospels contains similar assumptions, on the part of Jesus, of a dignity which was divine. Think of the following assertions from the Gospel of John, every portion of which is irradiated by the glory of His person:—"The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." "For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." "Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, 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; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." "Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you." "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
Again I ask, What impression regarding His own dignity were such words as these intended to convey Consider them, and give an answer to God.
2. Consider Christ's Person as it was seen by His enemies and friends. Now, I bid you observe how both received from His words the very impression which I assume He intended to convey by them.
His enemies did so, and alleged that He claimed to be Divine in the strictest sense of that word; accordingly they attempted to stone Him, and in the end put Him to death on the very ground that He was a blasphemer. "Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM." "I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them. Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works; that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him. Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand." "The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die,[A] because he made himself the Son of God." "And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless, I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying. He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands."
[Footnote A: "And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put, to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death."—LEV. xxiv. 16.]
Nor did the friends of Jesus endeavour to undeceive His accusers. They did not say, "You have misunderstood His meaning! He is not guilty of such blasphemy! He is a man like us, and does not claim to be one with God, as you understand Him to do." Instead of this, they too recognised His claims as divine, and worshipped, loved, served, and preached Him accordingly. I will return to this part of the subject afterwards. I remind only the reader of it in passing.
But before the force of such teaching as this of our Lord's can in any degree be appreciated, two things should be borne in mind: one is, the previous training of the Jewish nation with reference to the being and character of God; and the other is, the moral character of Jesus.
As to the first of those points, remember only how, from the very beginning, God had revealed Himself—that men might know the One living and true God; and worship and serve Him alone with heart, soul, and strength. This was the lesson of all lessons. This was the mighty theme of all God's teaching and training of His people, from Adam to Christ, by patriarchs, kings, and prophets; by national blessings and national judgments; by captivities and restorations. On the other hand, the sin of all sins was idolatry; rot the bowing down to stocks or stones merely, but the giving, in any degree, that glory to another which belonged exclusively to the One living and true God. Had not their whole history been determined by their adherence to God, or their falling away to idolatry? Enter, then, into the Jewish mind with reference to this training, think how hallowed God's name was above every other name—how enshrined it was in the very holy of holies of the national faith, and how it had become so only after a discipline of much suffering, prolonged through many centuries, until at last idolatry had been banished on the return from Babylon;—think! of this while you read those utterances I have quoted of a Jew to Jews. Do you wonder that they called Him a blasphemer? for so, indeed, He certainly was unless He was Divine.
But could such a one have been a blasphemer? Was it morally possible that He could have uttered what He did about Himself, unless it was true? To establish His high claims, it might be sufficient to appeal to His miracles, and assert that no such works of power and love could have been done but by one who verily had God with him; as He himself said,—"Believe me for the very works' sake. If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not." Or I might appeal to the witness God gave to His Son at His baptism, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and, above all, when He raised Him from the dead, and thereby declared "Him to be the Son of God with power." But, putting aside all this evidence, I ask you to contemplate the moral character of Jesus, and say, Is it not as impossible that such a person could have spoken untruly or blasphemously regarding God, as that God himself can be aught else than true and holy? Do not let us evade this awful question of Christ's character—He was an impostor unless he was Divine! Either Christ never uttered those things regarding Himself which are here recorded, and so the history which we have assumed as true is false in fact; or, having uttered them, He spoke falsehood, and was a blasphemer, or spoke the truth, and was Divine. To deny the Divinity of His Person is to deny the truth of His character.
If any man replies that those sayings of Christ may be interpreted differently, then I ask, What impression did Christ intend to give? If He was a mere creature, how could He have used language to which it was possible to give such an interpretation as would imply Divinity? Only imagine any other man on earth daring so to speak that his language could, with difficulty be interpreted as not necessarily implying his assumption of Divine attributes! But Jesus certainly did so speak, and did give this impression to friend and foe; and He has left the same impression, in the form of a living faith, more indelibly on the mind of the Church than if it were engraven with a pen of iron on the rock for ever. If this impression is blasphemy. He himself, and none else, is to blame for having given it to the world.
3. Consider Christ's Person as it was seen by the apostles. What did they believe regarding Him? Yea or nay, did they recognise Him as Divine?
While quoting from their writings, I beg my readers to keep in mind the previous education of these remarkable men, in what may be termed the grand fundamental principle of the Mosaic legislation,—viz., the worship of the one living and true God.
But, remembering this, let us hear some of the things said by the apostles about Jesus of Nazareth.
We shall begin with Paul. His education was, if I may so speak, intensely Jewish. He was "a Hebrew of the Hebrews." "After the strictest sect of his religion, he lived a Pharisee." So devoted was he to "the religion of his fathers," so entirely one in his views of Christianity with the priesthood and men of authority, both civil and ecclesiastical, in Judea, that he thus describes his feelings with reference to Jesus:—
"I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and, being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities," (Acts xxvi. 9-11.)
Paul had never seen Jesus while He lived on earth; yet suddenly, and to the utter astonishment of friends and foes, he becomes a believer in His name, and ever after, for thirty years, until his death, preaches that name as the only one given whereby men can be saved. Now, what did Paul say of the dignity of this Person? A full reply to this question can be given only by reading his epistles, and there seeing how saturated they are with the Divine Presence of Jesus in every thought, every doctrine, every command, and every hope; and how His name occupies a place which that of no mere creature could occupy without manifest blasphemy; and how his own past, present, and future were seen by him in the light of Christ, without whom he would have been most miserable. But a very few passages, out of many, may be selected from two or three of his shortest letters, to illustrate his teaching. In writing to the Philippians, he says:—
"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father," (Phil. ii. 6-11.)
To the Colossians he writes:—
"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath, delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son; in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature: for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist: and he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence: for it pleased the Father, that in him should all fulness dwell: and (having made peace through the blood of his cross) by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated, and enemies in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight," (Col. i. 12-22.)
Once more, when addressing Hebrews, he says:—
"God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they," (Heb. i. 1-4.)
Could Paul, I ask, have written in such language as this, or anything approaching to this, unless he believed Christ to have been divine, in the fullest sense of that word? But believing this with all his heart, his whole life and preaching were consistent with such a belief. He preached Jesus as the Person whom all men were to love and obey as God, confide and rejoice in as in God, and to whom they were to commit themselves, both soul and body, for time and for eternity, as to God. What he wished others to do, he himself did. For what was the source and strength of his life? "The life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." "I live; yet not I, Christ lives in me." "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me." What was the one object of his holy ambition? "That I may win Christ." What was his heaven? "To be with Christ." And after thirty years passed in His service, and after having endured such sufferings as never fell to the lot of one man, so far from uttering the language of disappointment or regret, as of one whose early convictions had not stood the test of experience, but had failed to sustain him when most needed, he thus writes, with calm confidence and perfect peace, in his old age, and from a prison, to his dear friend and follower Timothy:—
"For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." "Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen," (2 Tim. i. 12, ii. 1-3, iv. 5-8, 16-18.)
Was that man an idolater and blasphemer,—the dupe of his own fancy,—deceived in his faith and hopes,—or was he the ignorant deceiver of others?
Moreover, let it be remembered that with this mighty truth, as with a hammer, Paul went forth to destroy the idolatries of the world, and gave them such blows, that in Europe they finally tottered and fell. But did he then only substitute one idolatry for another?—did he preach to Greece and Rome love and obedience to a man, a better man, possibly, than any of the persons whom they worshipped, but still a mere creature like themselves? Hear Paul's memorable and glorious words to the Athenians, and believe this if you can;—
"Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars-hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God, that made the world, and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead," (Acts xvii. 22-31.)
If from Paul we turn to the other apostles, we shall recognise in them the same convictions regarding the person of Jesus. Let us hear, for example, some of the declarations of the apostle John:—
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth," (John i. 1-14.)
"But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name," (John xx. 31.)
"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life," (1 John v. 20.)
"Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness, and the first-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last." "And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And, being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death," (Rev. i. 5-8, 10, 12-18.)
Could John have written such things of a mere man? Could a pious Jew have done so without conscious blasphemy? It is in vain to reply that I have quoted much of this from a vision. But would he have dared to record such a vision, unless he believed Jesus to have been Divine?
I am compelled, therefore, to admit that the apostles believed Jesus of Nazareth to have been a Divine Person. I am not asserting, at present, that what they believed was true in fact, but only that they in fact believed this to be true.
And here I might inquire, whether there was anything in their personal knowledge of Christ which could have suggested such a thought to those men. We have seen that the grand lesson of their education as Jews was, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might." Whatever other faith or worship did not harmonise with this was deadly idolatry. It is true that, with the exception of Paul, all the apostles had seen Jesus in the flesh, and John specially pleads for His humanity, and presses it home with every form of expression. "That," says he, "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life." But if we lay aside all supernatural and miraculous evidences of our Lord's person, what was there in His life which could have produced this impression, or awakened this strange conviction of His divinity? Not surely His lowly birth, nor the long years in which He was known only as the carpenter's son; not the sorrow and grief with which He was familiar, or the real though sinless infirmities to which He was subject; not the reception He met with from His countrymen, or the death by which His short earthly career was ended! What was there in an earthly life so intensely human, to convince such true, thoughtful, godly men as the apostles that this man was one with the Holy One of Israel, the Almighty Creator of the heavens and the earth? Yet such was the conviction of John, who leant upon His bosom at the Last Supper, watched Him in Gethsemane, beheld Him in the judgment-hall, and stood by Him at the cross! Such was the faith of Paul also who never saw Him in the flesh, or ever heard His voice while He tabernacled among men. If, however, the alleged supernatural facts in the Bible are true,—including the gift of the Spirit who was to "glorify" Jesus,—we can easily account for those convictions, but not otherwise.
And let me here notice in passing, how beautifully harmonious the facts of this Person's life were as a man, yet also as "Emmanuel, God with us!" These, when "called to remembrance," were such as must have confirmed and established the faith of the apostles. If there were evidences of a humility belonging to Him as the Son of man, there were equal evidences of a dignity which belonged to Him as the Son of God. He was born of the Virgin Mary, yet by Divine power. "The Holy Ghost," said the angel Gabriel to His mother, "shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." He was brought forth in a stable, and laid in a manger, but wise men from the East, guided by a star, came to worship Him, and to present Him with kingly offerings, while the hosts of heaven announced His birth with songs of rejoicing. He was baptized of John, yet a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." During His life, while He submitted to every trial and temptation to which, humanity was liable, "that in all things He might be like His brethren," yet never was evidence wanting of a dignity and glory which were divine. He was hungry, but fed thousands; wearied and asleep amidst the storm, but He rebuked the winds and waves, so that there was a great calm; He was tempted of the devil for forty days, but Satan did homage to His dignity, by offering Him as a bribe the kingdoms of the world, while His grandeur was revealed in the command, "Get thee behind me, Satan." He was so poor that pious women ministered to Him of their substance, and so sorrowful that He often wept; yet He dried the tears of thousands, healed all who came to Him of every disease, and by a word of power raised the dead, from their bed, from their bier, and even when corruption had begun to do its loathsome work. He had His days of darkness, when He could say, "Now is my soul troubled;" yet a voice from heaven even then witnessed to His glory. He washed the feet of His disciples, yet it was at the very moment when, "knowing that God had given all things into his hands, that he came from God, and went to God." He died and was buried, but though, during all the hours which marked that saddest of all tragedies, there were signs of human woe and weakness, as if "Himself He could not save," yet what signs of dignity and superhuman majesty! For He was addressed on the cross as a King by a dying criminal, and as a King He promised to save him; while the darkened sky, the rending rocks, and all the august circumstances which attended His humiliation, proclaimed, with the centurion, "Truly this was the Son of God!" He lay in the grave, and His body received the tears and affectionate ministrations of attached friends; but an angel descended and rolled away the stone; the Roman guard became as dead men; "the Lord was risen indeed!" and He appeared to His disciples, and so overcame the unbelief of Thomas by His very presence, bearing the marks of His human sufferings, that the doubter fell down and "worshipped Him," saying, "My Lord, and my God!" Jesus remained on earth for forty days, and we still "behold the man." He conversed familiarly with His apostles, ate and drank with them, and instructed them in the things pertaining to His kingdom: but He ascended to heaven before their eyes, while angels announced His second coming; and soon the descent of the Holy Ghost, with the great ingathering to the Church which followed, testified to the truth of the apostolic preaching, that Jesus was the Son of God, and that all power was given to Him in heaven and on earth!
Now, in all this eventful history, there was that very combination of earth and heaven, of the human and superhuman, which received an interpretation from the fact only of Christ's divine and human nature, and which, along with Christ's own words, and the teaching of His Spirit, made the apostles accept the doctrine with profound conviction and deep joy; although, without some such overwhelming evidence, the very thought must have been to them a blasphemous idolatry. They believed, because they had sufficient grounds, from facts, for their belief. We cannot, therefore, think that those who rejected the claims of Jesus, and executed Him as a blasphemer, were right, and that the apostles, who acknowledged Him as one with God, were wrong, or that their faith will ever be put to shame!
We have thus considered the Person of Jesus in the light of His own teaching, as that too was understood at the time, both by enemies and friends, and also in the light of the faith and teaching of His apostles.
4. But there is yet another aspect in which we may view this question—viz., the faith and views of the Christian Church.
As to the faith of the Church, using that word as expressing its creed, it is historically certain that since the days of the apostles till the present time, this doctrine has formed a sine qua non of the creed of the whole Church, whether called Popish, Protestant, Greek, Armenian, Nestorian, &c.—of every branch, in short, with the exception of the Unitarians. Amidst all differences, the millions of professing Christians have agreed from age to age in this article. No theological strifes or angry passions, no dissents or reformations, have disturbed this truth as the foundation-stone of the Temple. Now, if Christ is not a divine person, it follows that the Christian Church is one huge institution of idolatry. We do not, observe, attempt as Christians to conceal our faith in Christ's divinity, or to modify it so as to escape, if possible, such an imputation. We necessarily accept this conclusion, unless our faith is grounded on fact. We boldly declare that we believe in Jesus of Nazareth; love Him, trust Him, obey Him, as we do God Almighty, and with the same degree of faith and reverence. In the one name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we have been baptized, and that name we honour as One, ascribing equal glory to each Person in the Godhead. Such a creed as this may startle some and offend others, but it is nevertheless the creed which is and has been the faith of universal Christendom, which millions with ourselves believe unhesitatingly, and confess as boldly as they do their faith in the being of God. Now what we assert is, that if Jesus was a mere man, or was not "God manifest in the flesh," we and all Christians so believing are idolaters in the strictest sense of that word. Our churches are idol temples where a dead man is worshipped; our ministers idol priests, who ever preach and commemorate this man, pray to him, sing praises to him, and consecrate generation after generation to his service; our people commit their souls and bodies to the keeping of this man for time and eternity, and all their hopes are inseparably connected with him as their Lord;—while amidst this universal defection of the human race, this wide-spread idolatry which has taken possession of the most cultivated and intellectual nations, and threatens to overrun the world and absorb all other idolatries into itself, there appears but a trifling number who maintain the pure light of theism, and preserve the truth of God unsullied for the coming, and it is to be hoped, therefore, for better, ages of the world. And who are these? Jews, Deists, and Unitarians. On these depend the world's hopes of its ever becoming regenerated by a theology of truth regarding God. Now, does it seem probable, we ask, under the government of God, that these have discovered the truth on such a fundamental fact in religion, while universal Christendom for eighteen centuries has believed a lie?—and such a lie! As a question of probability, what weight can we attach to this testimony, balanced not against numbers merely, but numbers along with the intellect, culture, and character of those who have believed in, derived their soul's good from, and perilled their soul's existence upon, Christ's divinity?[A]
[Footnote A: Mr Greg in his Essays, which at first appeared in the Edinburgh Review, admits this alternative. His language is, "To a philosophic inquirer there will appeal little doubt that Trinitarianism and idolatry—the worship of Christ as God, the worship of saints, the worship of the golden calf, have one common origin, the weakness of human imagination and the unspirituality of human intellect."—Vol. i., p. 61. Mr Greg also says, in a note to the above—"To accept the orthodox view of the Christian Revelation," (i.e., Christ's divinity,) "is to our apprehension to deny the divine origin of the Jewish religion." But was not "the view" of Jesus himself and His apostles the "orthodox" one? And did they deny the divine origin of the Jewish religion? Who is right—Mr Greg or——?]
Consider also, as I have suggested, the effect produced by such a faith when real upon the religious ideas regarding God of all who really hold it. On the supposition, for example, that the Christian's faith in Jesus is vain—that he is worshipping, loving, serving a creature, or a mere creation of his own mind, instead of the only living and true God,—how can we account for the actual results of a faith so false and blasphemous upon his ideas regarding God?
It is not denied that a vast body of men and women in every age have had sincere faith in Jesus as God, and loved Him with their whole soul. Now, what effect has such faith upon their views of God, and their feelings towards the Supreme Creator and Upholder of all things whom "pure Theists" profess alone to worship? Has this faith in Jesus as divine had the effect of producing false impressions of God on the Christian's heart; of exciting low and degrading views of His being and attributes, lowering as it were the Majesty of the heavens from His throne, bringing Him to the level of our every-day humanity, and presenting Him to the mind and imagination in an aspect which inspires no reverence? Or has it not had the very opposite effect, and that, too, just in proportion as the worshipper has apprehended the oneness, in His divine nature, of the Son with the Father? Has not God, then, appeared more glorious and majestic than ever; His throne more elevated above every other throne; His glory more visible in heaven and earth? Can any Jew, we ask, however devout, appreciate more fully than a Christian the Old Testament descriptions of the unity and perfections of Jehovah, or prostrate himself with a more simple, undivided, and confiding heart before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Can the synagogue sing David's psalms with more truth than the church? or does Unitarianism withdraw any veil which conceals the perfections of God as Creator, Ruler, or Father, from the eyes of him who has intense and undying faith in Jesus as the Eternal Son? Oh! where on earth can we find more exalted and pure thoughts of the one living and true God, as revealed in nature and in the Old Testament, profounder admiration of His character, or deeper reverence for His will, than among Christians who love and honour the Son even as they love and honour the Father? But how is this to be accounted for if they believe a lie? How has an idolatry, a baseless and profane hero-worship, had this remarkable moral power of producing such true and spiritual views of God, as all men must admit to be most worthy? and producing, too, we dare to add, such strong faith and affectionate reverence towards this God, as exist in no other human bosoms? Is it possible that the true God can be thus apprehended and loved through a medium so false as idolatry? On the supposition, however, but on no other, that Jesus is really one with God, the knowledge and love of the Son must necessarily lead to this very knowledge and love of the Father. "He that seeth me, seeth the Father also." "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also." "Ye believe in God, believe also in me."
5. Consider, again, the Person of Christ, not only in the light of Christian character generally, but with the addition of Christian knowledge as to its cause. It will surely be admitted that, to whatever extent the term Christian has been misapplied as indicating character, and in however many cases it has been unworthily or only formally assumed, yet it includes within its widest embrace the best men and women this earth possesses, or has ever possessed. There is a certain kind of character which all men whose moral sense is not blunted recognise as the culminating point and perfection of humanity. They may not themselves attempt to realise it, or they may deem it unattainable, but nevertheless the idea of what constitutes a good or perfect man is no sooner presented to their minds than conscience accepts it as that which ought to be. Now, it is admitted even by the atheist that such an idea is embodied in the historical character of Jesus Christ, and in the life, consequently, of every man just in proportion as he possesses His Spirit, obeys His precepts, and walks in His steps. But there are, and have been in every age, persons who have done this, if not in a perfect, yet in a more perfect degree than by any others among mankind. Or supposing it were admitted, for the sake of argument, that, so far as we had the means of judging, there has occasionally appeared, without faith in Christ, a certain product of character, apparently as pure, lofty, self-denying, loving, and devoted to God as any which ever professed to owe its origin to Jesus Christ; yet, where has there been on earth such a body of living persons as those Christians who, within the bosom of the universal Church, during eighteen centuries, have manifested that kind of character which all men profess to admire and reverence? In vain one tries to conceive the flowers of moral beauty and glory that have sprung up within the garden of Christendom! Being rooted in the earth, they may have been soiled, indeed, by its dust, but they yet expanded in loveliness to the sky, and sent forth a fragrance to the air, peculiar to the plants raised by the Great Husbandman. Number, if you can, the saints of the Christian Church; the young and old, the poor and rich, who in every age and clime have been truthful, simple, sincere, patient, forgiving, and compassionate; who have enjoyed an inward life of peace with God, maintained an outward conduct, and possessed a reality of abiding love to their Father in heaven and to their brethren on earth peculiar to themselves. Their lives have been a blessing to the world, and a happiness to their own hearts; their deathbed has been freed from the fears of a dark future, and brightened by the pure prospect of continued life and joy. The Christian Church, and the Christian Church alone, contains such characters; and these are the lights of our homes, the salt of the earth, and the only security of the world's progress.
Now, to what is this great result owing? How is this product of character, which is affecting the world's history, and gradually leavening the whole lump of humanity, to be accounted for? What power has originated it, or by what has it been sustained? Who are more entitled to give a reply to such questions than Christians themselves? They alone can know by what motives, they have been actuated, by what strength supported, and by what hopes animated. Ask them, then, and what will be their reply? Each and all will but echo the words of Paul, as expressing the secret of their life: "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life I live in the flesh I live through faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." "The love of Christ constraineth us," "I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord, who hath enabled me." "The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me." "The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever!" "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me." This is the experience of the living Church of Christ, of all lands, and of all time,—the creed of each genuine believer; of the early martyr and mediaeval saint; of the pious Protestant and Papist; of the cultivated Christian philosopher and the half-taught Christian negro; of the young man who has overcome the wicked one, and of the old patriarch who departs in peace, because his eyes have seen salvation; of the Christian Greenlander who died yesterday, and of the sweet Christian girl who died to-day, leaving the bosom of her mother for the bosom of her God; of each and all the ten thousand times ten thousand who have so lived and died, with one conviction of truth the strongest in their minds; that whatever strength, peace, or good they possess as true life, they owe all to the One source of life,—the Lord Jesus Christ! What are we to conclude from these unparalleled facts, which can no more be denied than the realities of human history or of human experience? Have all Christians been deceived? Have they been believing a lie, and has this great life of life in them been sustained by a delusion? Is there no such person as Jesus Christ, the Lord of life, the living Saviour of sinners? Is this not a fact but a fiction? Can it be that the moral government of God exists, and yet that it admits of such a moral anomaly as this,—the regeneration of human character by a falsehood! Impossible! I say it with deepest reverence,—as sure as there is a God of truth, impossible! The Christian Church has not been deceived. Unbelievers in Jesus have not had the light of truth given them, while those who have loved and served Him have been permitted to walk in the darkness of intellectual untruth and in the vain belief of an idol! Jesus is Divine as well as human. "He was, and is, and liveth for evermore!"
WHAT CAN WE BELIEVE IF WE DO NOT THUS BELIEVE IN JESUS?
If all this evidence is insufficient to prove the Divine nature of Jesus Christ, it may be well to consider on what religious fact or truth we can fall back, as being based upon surer evidence, and affording, therefore, a surer ground of faith and hope.
1. On what part of Christ's "work" on earth can we fall back? We can no more recognise God the Father as truly revealing Himself in Jesus as his co-eternal Son; and the whole light and life of such a revelation in Christ, as hitherto seen and received by the apostles and the Christian Church, is for ever extinguished and destroyed. We can no more believe Jesus as our Prophet, when we do not accept the very truths to which He gave most prominence: nor can we trust Him as our King, when we believe Him to have been a mere man only, who neither possesses nor could wield power adequate to govern the world: nor can we trust Him as our Priest, for in Him is no longer manifested the love of God in sending His own Son to be a propitiation for the sins of the world. And who, we may add, will believe in a Holy Spirit as a Divine Person, whose very work is represented by Jesus to be that of convincing the world of sin "because it believes not in Him," as "glorifying Him," and taking of His things to shew them to the spirits of men?
2. Can we, then, accept of Christ as a perfect example? How is this possible? For remember, it was the example of one who is assumed to be a man like ourselves, but yet a man who never, by one act of contrition or confession, acknowledged the existence of personal sin or defect of any kind; a man rarely endowed, and yet who never once expressed gratitude to God for His rich and varied gifts; a man who prayed indeed to God, yet as one who was His equal, and who in His last hours uttered such words as these—"All mine are thine, and thine are mine! Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory!" Can we, sinners, follow this example, as that of "our model man, in everything?" Dare we closely follow a life like this, and then end it by voluntarily giving ourselves up as a ransom "for the remission of the sins of many?"
3. Can we even retain the character of Jesus? The atheist admits that Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived on earth. A worshipper of heroes says of Him in his Hero Worship,—"The greatest of all heroes is one whom I do not name here." The character of this wonderful Being has indeed been generally recognised as a bright spot amidst the world's darkness; as the only perfect model of goodness ever seen on earth—yea, as moral beauty itself! But unless the history we possess of Jesus is untrue, and He was, therefore, no historical but a mere ideal person,—or if He was a real person, as represented in the gospel, yet not divine,—we cannot defend His character without losing our own. For we have seen how He certainly represented Himself as one with God,—as one who alone knew God and truly revealed Him,—as one who demanded the same honour and love from man as were due to God,—who required men to be willing to part with their dearest friends, even life itself, rather than with Him,—who asserted His right to assign to mankind their eternal destinies according to the relationship in which each man stood to Him,—who, when standing before an earthly judge, crowned with thorns, insulted by the rabble, with every sign of weakness, and as if literally forsaken by God and man, did not abate one jot or tittle of His claims, but asserted them in all their magnitude, announcing His return to the world in glory as its mighty Judge; and much more to the same effect. Now, can any man, we ask, of common honesty defend such a character as this from the charge of wilful imposition and daring blasphemy, unless what He asserted was true? With reference to all the good words or deeds which His professed friends may claim for Him, yet so long as He falsely claims to be divine, we are constrained to reject Him, as the Jews did, and to say with them, "For a good work we stone thee not, but because thou, being a man, makest thyself God!" It is not possible, therefore, to fall back on Christ's character, if we reject Christ's divinity; for His character was manifest untruth, and His claims an unprincipled deception!
4. Can we preserve the character of the apostles? That, too, has hitherto been considered worthy of our respect and regard. Never did men leave such a record of moral teaching, and such an impress of a holy life behind them, a life so pure, wise, loving, so suited, in every respect, to bless mankind, and to make a heaven below in proportion as it is received. In these men we can detect no trace of avarice, ambition, or selfish aims of any kind. They lived, laboured, and died, that the world should become better and happier, and they have so far succeeded that civilisation can never more be separated from their names. But what was the substance of their teaching, and the one grand object of their existence? I again reply, without fear of contradiction, it was to persuade mankind to trust and love Jesus Christ as God! The first Christian teacher who died a martyr's death resigned his spirit into the hands of this Jesus, as his Lord in glory; and the last and oldest apostle who first knew Him as his friend, represented Him as the Alpha and the Omega, the King of kings and Lord of lords. But if He was not this, how can the character of those teachers be defended? As Jews they could not be ignorant of the being and attributes of God, nor as men of the earthly life and history of Jesus; yet they professed to preach Jesus as divine, and to work miracles in His name! They could not possibly have been themselves deceived, and must therefore, if their faith was vain, have attempted to deceive others. Common sense rejects every other explanation. Anyhow, they were the successful heralds of an idolatry which, we may boldly affirm, will never leave the world, and of a blasphemy whose praises will never be silent on earth. Their character must perish with that of their Master!
5. What, then, have we left us? The morality of the New Testament? No! for all that is peculiar to its morality are the duties which spring out of the assumed relationship of Jesus to mankind. The gospel morality of supreme love to Jesus becomes immorality, if Jesus is not one with God. Prayer to Christ, personal communion with Christ, personal attachment to Christ, hymns of praise to Christ, abiding through faith in Christ, advancing the kingdom of Christ, labouring for Christ and keeping His commandments—in one word, that whole life of the Christian towards God and man, every portion of which is permeated by Christ as the sunlight fills the atmosphere, can never be separated from the morality of the New Testament.
Nor can we any longer rely upon Old Testament facts, or on anything there revealed regarding God, as distinct from what could have been discovered without such a revelation, if our faith has been shaken in the facts and the characters of the New Testament. He who can reject the Christ of the New Testament, must necessarily reject the God of the Old; and he who cannot rely on the apostles, cannot possibly rely upon the prophets. All must be given up, and the Bible become a mere curious record of falsehood.
6. Is this all? Enough one would think! But can we even fall back on God? What evidence has any man of the existence of a living personal God, stronger than what he possesses of a living personal Saviour? Can any revelation of God during the past, and recorded in history, be received as worthy of credit, if this alleged history of Jesus is rejected as unworthy? If the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the only living and true God, where is the true God to be found? If Jesus neither knew Him truly, nor truly revealed Him, who can do either? And when, moreover, we have thus lost faith in the character of Jesus and of His apostles, from what better evidence of moral character or moral design on earth can we henceforth reason upwards as to the moral character of a Divine Being?
In what position do we thus find ourselves? The Church of Christ must be given up as a great falsehood, a huge idolatry, a society of weak, deluded, or bad men. The character of its early founders, and the Person to whom it owes its name, must, for the same reason, be abandoned. The Old Testament can form but a feeble barrier to the flood which has thus swept away the New, with all which has arisen out of the assumed truth of its history. And thus each man, cut off from the past, is left to discover a God for himself, from evidence which, to satisfy him, must necessarily be more overwhelming than that which he rejects, and on which the faith of the Christian Church has rested for eighteen centuries. Can any man be satisfied with such a basis of religion as this? Having rejected God as revealed in Jesus, can he peril his soul in peace on the God discovered by himself? Having fled from Christianity as a religion whose foundations are insecure, can he repose with confidence in the building which he himself has reared? Or, if he moves at all, must he not gradually slide into universal scepticism, and conclude that, since he cannot believe in Jesus, he can believe in no one else,—that if deceived by Him he may be deceived by all,—that if there is no such Person as the Divine Son, there is no such Person as the Divine Father,—that if he must be without Christ, he must necessarily be without God!
He may, indeed, in such a case, profess to believe in a God; but is He the living and true God, or one who is but the product of his own mind, the shadow cast by his own human spirit? Oh! hear the words of Him who is truth itself: "Ye believe in God, believe also in me;" "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him;" "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" May the Lord's last prayer be answered in us: "Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
WHAT IF CHRISTIANITY IS NOT TRUE?
Now to prove the Christian religion untrue, or to prove that the evidences on which it rests are insufficient, is a more difficult task than some of its opponents appear to imagine, if we may judge from the boastful language in which they record their supposed achievements.
Let it never be forgotten, that the Christian religion is founded upon certain alleged historical facts that must be disposed of before it falls.[A] The holy temple of a loving soul filled with the glory of Christ is spiritual, but it is nevertheless based upon facts as on foundation-stones, the chief corner-stone being Jesus Christ the personal Saviour, "who was dead and is alive, and liveth for evermore!" Without these facts Christianity could not exist. The duty, for example, of supremely loving and devotedly serving Jesus Christ, implies the truth of other facts, such as the fulfilment of prophecies, miracles, the life and character of Jesus, His atoning death, resurrection, &c., all of which establish His claims to our faith. But in addition to these, and as their evidence also and result, there is the experience of the whole living Church, derived from faith in Jesus as the resurrection and the life.
[Footnote A: Neander, in his preface to his "Life of Christ," quotes from Niebuhr what he calls "the golden words of one of the greatest minds of modern times." "The man," says Niebuhr, "who does not hold Christ's earthly life, with all its miracles, to be as properly and really historical as any event in the sphere of history, and who does not receive all points in the Apostles' Creed with the fullest conviction, I do not conceive to be a Protestant Christian. As for that Christianity which is such according to the fashion of the modern philosophers and pantheists,—without a personal God, without immortality, without an individuality of man, without historical faith,—it may be a very subtle philosophy, but it is no Christianity at all. Again and again have I said that I know not what to do with a metaphysical God, and that I will have no other but the God of the Bible, who is heart to heart."]
But before Christianity can be destroyed, it is absolutely necessary to destroy the evidences of those historical facts on which it rests. This, as I have said, is no easy task. There are many high walls, many encircling lines of defence around the old fortress, each and all of which must be taken, ere the citadel itself can be reached and laid in ruins. Now this has never yet been done. The enemy has made many attacks during the last eighteen centuries, and on several occasions the last grand assault which was to decide the long campaign has been threatened. Every method has been adopted which critical skill could apply, which the most subtle genius could invent, and the most untiring perseverance execute; but, in spite of all, "the strong city," with "salvation for walls and bulwarks," still remains strong as ever. For, to drop all metaphor, in whatever way we may account for it, the fact is undeniable, that Christianity, in the form of supreme love to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, not only survives, but in no age of the world's past history has it been so strongly rooted in the convictions and affections of so many men, nor has it ever been given such promise of filling the whole earth.
Let us suppose, however, for the sake of argument, that by some process hitherto undiscovered, Christianity, as the religion of supreme love to this living Person, Jesus Christ, is at last proved to be a fiction; that the millennium of infidelity has arrived; that the religion taught by Christ and His apostles has become as dead to the world as that of Buddh or Confucius is now to the mind of Europe; that our Christian churches, like the heathen temples of Greece or Rome, remain but as monuments of a superstition long ago exploded by the light of science and philosophy; that all those supernatural Christian facts and truths, which like a mighty firmament of stars, now cluster around the name of Jesus, have departed as lights from the visible universe; that Christian truth is as silent before the world as Christ himself was when He stood before Herod, and answered him nothing; until even the wailing cry has ceased of the last desponding and disconsolate believer on earth, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where to find him!" Well, then, the work is done! The energetic teachers of the propaganda of unbelief have accomplished their long-cherished purpose, and the professors of an earnest and devoted faith in Christ have perished, leaving no memorial behind them except their "curious books," or their hoary tombstones, which record their old faith in Him as the resurrection and the life.
When such a crisis as this has at last arrived, the world will surely pause, and count the fruits of victory. Wise men will then doubtless consider with an earnest spirit what has been gained to humanity by this tremendous revolution in all those opinions and ideas cherished during so many ages; and the well-wishers of mankind will examine the spoils which the conquerors have ready for enriching the poor and needy as the result of this triumph over a religion that was clung to by the best and noblest men with a tenacity overcome only when earth was old, and time was well-nigh ending. But may we not now anticipate such a solemn review, by asking those who are wishful to destroy Christianity, what they intend to put in its place when their object is accomplished. If they have anything else to give us, let us know what it is, that we may see and judge if it is better than the old religion; if it is better suited to meet the wants of man in every period and condition of his varied life; if it is likely to do better work on earth, and produce better fruit; if its truth rests on better evidence, and if, in short, it is such a gift from heaven that angels with songs of joy might announce this new gospel of peace on earth, and this new message of good-will to man. Strange to say, such questions, though often asked, have hitherto remained unanswered. If there be a something better in store for us than what we profess, the blissful secret has not yet been revealed. Infidelity, often so loud in attacking Christianity, is silent as a god of iron or brass when we ask at its shrine. If I give up faith in Christ, what wouldest thou have me be and do, and how live and rejoice as an immortal being?
What, then, I again ask, would be lost and gained on both sides after the war, in the event of Christianity being destroyed? We Christians know full well what we would gain and lose;—we know that we would gain nothing, and lose everything! We would lose all which we most love in the universe of God,—all which makes us rejoice in existence,—all which enables us to look at the past, present, and future with perfect peace; and of all men we would be most miserable! It is true that in regard to many an object of affection, it may be said—
"Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all!"
But not so in regard to our love of Jesus Christ. Better never to have seen that glory filling the heavens and earth, and making life a constant thanksgiving and praise, than, after having seen it, to be persuaded by any witchery that it was all a dream—a fiction of the imagination—a ghostly superstition—which it is wisdom to banish from the memory. For once we have lost Jesus Christ as our ever-living, ever-present, all-sufficient Friend and Saviour, what are we to do? Can we contentedly fall back upon our own being, or upon any other person, and live on "without Christ in the world!" Or are we in those circumstances to be told that we may still have comfort in "religion without the supernatural," and rejoice in "the eternal and essential verities of morality!" Only think of it, Christians! The living man, the light and hope of the family, is murdered; but a disciple of pure science and calm philosophy enters it, and tells its agonised members that it is folly and ignorance to indulge in such grief, for science has analysed their friend, and preserved in a series of neat phials, which they may easily carry about with them, all his constituent elements, his "essentials," his carbon, his silica, this and that gas—everything, in short, which made up the substance of him whom they were accustomed to call their beloved; therefore they may "comfort one another with these words!" And thus would the enemy of Christianity presume to comfort us with his "essentials," when our living Lord is gone! Comfort indeed!
"Comfort? comfort scorn'd by devils! this is truth the poet sings, That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things!"
But what can the unbeliever himself expect to gain by its destruction? "I have nothing to do with consequences," may be his reply, "but with truth only; let every lie be tested and exposed, whatever may be the real or imaginary gain or loss to myself or others." Brave words! with which we have the deepest sympathy; for if they are the utterance of a truly sincere heart, they evidence belief, and not unbelief; they assume that there is an order and government in the universe, which is on the side of truth, and that we may therefore, at all hazards, discover what is true, and cling to it in the full assurance of faith,—that ultimately the right and true are in harmony with all that is worth loving and worth living for. Amen! we say from our heart. At the same time, it is well to look at some of the consequences which the destruction of Christianity would involve even to him who destroys it.
It is obvious, for example, that should it cease to exist to us as a reality, other realities would remain irrespective of our belief. Existence would remain, and it may be one as eternal as the life of God; sorrow and suffering would remain, to gnaw the heart, darken the world, and cast deep shadows over a life which must end with that dread event, death, and the passing away of ourselves and of all we have from the memories of mankind as if we had never been—and whither I Worst of all, sin would remain—dark, mysterious, and terrible sin! And "obstinate questionings" would remain to disturb and perplex the mind in moments of earnest and silent thought. Men would still ask, What if we are responsible to God for this whole inner and outer life of ours, with its beliefs, purposes, and actions? What if sin and its consequences continue beyond the grave, with no remedy there unless found here? What if there is no possible happiness but in fellowship of spirit and character with God; and what if this is morally impossible for us to attain without a Saviour and Sanctifier What, in short, if all the evils which Christianity professes to deliver us from remain as facts in our history, just as diseases remain though the aid of the physician, who reveals their nature, and who offers to cure them, is rejected? or, as a vessel remains a wreck in the midst of the breakers after the life-boat which comes to save the crew is dismissed? or, as the lion remains after the telescope is flung aside which revealed his coming, and revealed also the only place of safety from his attack? For it is obvious that Christianity does not create the evils and dangers from which it offers to deliver us, and that these must remain as facts should it be proved a fiction. So far, then, the infidel has gained nothing by the overthrow of our religion. "Except truth!" does he exclaim? Yet, I again repeat it, truth in its negative form only, as destroying supposed falsehoods, but not in its positive form as establishing something to rest upon.
Is there any other conceivable gain, then, which would accrue to the unbeliever by his supposed success? Does he wish, for example, to relieve oppressed souls of some great burden which crushes them? But what alleged truths or doctrine of Christianity, if blotted out to-morrow from the circle of belief, would ease a single soul, while it would unquestionably be an irreparable loss to millions? Would a God be more acceptable, and appear with greater moral beauty, who was different from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Would He be more attractive to our hearts if He did not forgive our sins fully and freely, or if forgiveness was not offered through such Divine self-sacrifice? Would it be a relief to our moral being to be freed from the privilege or duty of supremely loving Jesus Christ? Would it lighten our hearts to be freed from the burden of having communion with Him in prayer? Would we have more security for light, life, strength, holiness, peace, or comfort, if there was no such Person revealed as the Spirit of God, who freely imparts His aid to all? Would it be glad tidings to hear that men were not to be born again, nor to repent, nor to deny themselves, nor to do God's will, but their own? What is there which a good man would gain by the destruction of the Christian religion!
I have one question more to suggest with reference to the duty of an unbeliever towards us as Christians, and it is this, Why should he disturb our faith, or, as he might term it, our superstition? If he retorts by asking why we should disturb his unbelief, our answer is ready—because we wish with our whole soul to share with him the blessings which God our common Father has for him as well as for us; because we truly lament the loss to our brother who refuses the eternal good which he may now enjoy with the whole family of God; because we love our God, and his God and Saviour, and desire our brother to know and to love them too; because it is so unjust, so selfish, so hateful, not to love and obey such a glorious Person as Jesus Christ, who knows us, loves us, and has died to gain our hearts! These are some of the reasons, rudely and roughly stated, why we desire, with all our heart, that every man should believe in Jesus Christ. But if any man, for any reason which may be beyond our understanding or sympathy, desires to destroy this faith in all that is most precious to us, then I ask, not in Christ's name,—for it is unnecessary to appeal to Him,—but in the name of common sense and common philanthropy, why he should not only labour to do this, but to do it without apparently any apprehension of the untold misery which he must occasion if he succeeds in his attempt? Do not tell us, with a boast, that "the truth must be spoken, come what may!" Be it so; but surely the kind of truth which must be spoken must ever regulate the manner in which it is spoken? Again, I bid you picture to yourselves a person entering a family whose members were rejoicing in the thought of a father's return, and announcing the intelligence of that father's death, with a smile of pity or a sneer of contempt at their ignorant happiness! Imagine such a one professing to be actuated by a mere love of truth! Oh! if the terrible duty has been laid upon any one with a human heart, of announcing to others intelligence which, if true, must leave a blank to them in the world that can never be filled up, what tender sympathy, what genuine sorrow becomes him who breaks the heavy tidings! And such ought to be the feelings of every man who, from whatever cause, feels called upon to announce that the Christian religion is false. If he must make known that terrible fact to believers in Jesus; if he must tell them that the supposed Source of all their life and joy has no existence, and that their faith in Him is vain, let this be done with the solemnity and the sorrow which a true brotherly sympathy would necessarily dictate. If the missionaries of Christianity are warranted in preaching their gospel with joy, the missionaries of an infidelity which professes only to destroy and not to build up, should go forth on their dreadful vocation with the feeling of martyrs, and with no other notes of triumph than sounds of lamentation and woe! For if Christianity is false, we are "yet in our sins, all who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished, and we are of all men most miserable!"
THOUGHTS UPON THE FINAL JUDGMENT.
There is no "fact of the future" more clearly revealed in Scripture, or more certainly believed in by the Christian Church, than that "God hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead."
No doubt this fact is denied or explained away by many modern critics. But it would be difficult to say what revealed fact, from Genesis to Revelation, is admitted by them, or what things may now be "most surely believed among us." We retain our first faith in the future judgment, and shall endeavour to look at it in a practical rather than in a speculative light.
There is, indeed, among mankind a general anticipation of a coming time when the mystery of God's providence will be cleared up, and His righteousness displayed in the final judgment to be then passed on the evil and on the good. What the human race are led to anticipate, as likely to occur hereafter, from the many unsettled questions here between man and his brother, and between man and his God, Scripture reveals to us as certain.
While, however, every Christian believes in the coming of Jesus to judge the world as firmly as he does in the fact of His having risen from the dead, there seems to us to be very inadequate conceptions in the minds of many as to the designs of this day, or the ends which it is fitted to accomplish in the kingdom of God.
It is hastily assumed, for example, that the day of judgment will be short as the period included between an earthly sunrise and sunset; and that, during this brief interval, the dead shall rise, and be judged before the throne of Jesus Christ, along with fallen angels. It is accordingly asked, with doubt and wonder, what good can be gained, or what purpose served, by this summoning those whose doom has long been sealed to appear at the bar of Jesus, and there to receive a formal sentence? If Judas goes to his own place, and Stephen to the arms of his Redeemer; if the wicked rich man departs to the burning flame, and Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham; if Satan and his angels have long ago experienced the horrors of a state which they know to be unchangeable, because they are themselves unchanged; what conceivable reason can there be for appointing a day in which all the wicked and the righteous are to be assembled, only to receive their respective sentences of condemnation or acquittal?