THIS book is written for those only who believe that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God, very God and very Man, and its object is to place Him before them in that position which befits the dignity of His Person, and the greatness of His work. To those who deny the personality of God, or the Trinity, or the Incarnation, what is here written will have no force, since these are assumed to be true. They lie at the basis of the Scriptures, and have been formulated by the Church in her Creeds. Placing the Incarnation— the union of the Divine and human in the Person of the Son—in the centre, we may see how all the acts of God in creation are related to Him, and what is the place of man in the universe. It is only when the God-man is seen as the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, that we can understand either God's creative or redemptive work. The twilight of unbelief that is settling down upon the Church is because the glory of His Person is hidden; and if faith is to be restored, it will not be by learned discourses about Him, much less by criticisms of the Scriptures, but by having our eyes anointed with eye salve that we may see Him in His Divine Majesty. The more He is hidden from our eyes, whatever may be the causes, intellectual or moral, the deeper the darkness that must come down over Christendom, and the greater the anxiety and fear of the Christian heart.
To put the Incarnate Son, the God-man, in His central place in the Divine economy, as set forth in the Scriptures and in the Creeds, is the purpose of this book. To do this, we must go back to the beginning, ere the creative work began, and see in spirit the only begotten Son come forth from the bosom of the Father to reveal Him; the first step in this revelation being the creation of the worlds. In this, He appears as the Word, the Revealer. All true knowledge of the Godhead, and of the Divine purpose in Creation, and of creature history must come through Him. He is the source of all life, and only through Him as the Mediator can any creature enter into the holy presence of the Father. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
It is evident that the consciousness of the need of giving to the fact of the Incarnation a far higher place than modern Christianity gives it, is deepening in the minds of many. It is felt that Christ must become more and more to us, or He will become less and less. Already He seems to have become to many professed believers little more than a name, a far-off misty star in the twilight of the past; or He is honoured by others as a great ethical Teacher and social Reformer now long dead, upon whose grave we may lay our garlands, and celebrate His humanitarian labours in flowery orations.
We cannot speak here of all the causes concurring to bring about this partial disbelief in the Incarnate Son as the Living Head of the Church, and Lord over all, but two may be mentioned as active and influential at the present time. The first is the growing disbelief in the trustworthiness of the Bible. Let us note this, and consider the relation between the Book and the Incarnate Son, and the place which each should hold in our religious belief and spiritual life.
The earnest contest going on to-day about the Bible, its inspiration and authority, is known to all. Modern criticism has undermined the faith of many in its trustworthiness, and is more and more aggressive. But this contest is, in fact, of far less importance than it seems, and need not affect Christian faith, for this faith does not stand in any written records, but in Him who has caused these records to be made for our instruction. Our interest in them is that they teach us of God's actings in the past, and thus prepare us to understand His actings in the present. They are, therefore, necessary for us, and most profitable (1 Cor. 10: n), but they are not to be overvalued. Their purpose must be kept steadily in view, and their relation to the Living Head of the Church. They tell us who He is and bring us to Him that He may speak to us. It seems to be the belief of many that when the canon of Scripture was closed, no more words from God were to be spoken to men. If His will was to be known by later generations, it must be by studying the past in the sacred records, and drawing inferences for our present guidance from His earlier words. There would be no more utterances through inspired men, the door Heavenward was shut when the Lord ascended. God, who had spoken by the prophets and by His Son, had no further revelations of His will and purpose to make.
Let us now consider more closely the relation of the Bible to the Living Head of the Church in view of the coming of the Spirit. Just before His death, He declared: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." Must they remain unsaid? No. "Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth. . . . What things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak, and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come." (John 16: 12, 13.)
(Note: In a recent commentary on these words, it is said, "We are led to think, not of new revelations, but of earlier teaching deepened by experience. . . . The words, 'He shall declare unto you the things that are to come,' mean only new applications of what had been already revealed.")
It is because the Church is the body of Christ and is indwelt of the Holy Ghost, that it may have continual revelations of the Divine will, and teaching and guidance adapted to the everchanging circumstances of its history. And such teaching and guidance are provided for in the constitution of the Church. Acting and speaking through appointed ministries and ordinances, there is continual light cast by its Head over its pathway, and no dangers, spiritual or temporal, can come upon it unwarned by the Spirit.
1 That the words of the Lord mean much more than this seems clear. That through personal experience the Scriptures are better understood, and that the Lord's words present new and deeper meanings, is a fact well known to all Christians; but the point here is not as to the better understanding of old revelations, but as to the giving of new. The Lord when about to leave the earth promised to His disciples that He would bring to remembrance all that He had said to them,—a promise fulfilled in the Gospels. The Holy Spirit, whom He would send, would speak new truths, truths which He Himself could not speak: "Whatsoever things the Holy Spirit shall hear,"—new things,—"these shall He speak," and He shall also declare the future, the things that are to come. As the work of redemption goes on, the Lord will make known to the Church its special perils, labours, and duties. We have in this promise the foundation of the prophetic ministry as set in the Church for its warning and instruction.
As the Jews were not led through the wilderness by the study of a guide-book, but by the pillar of cloud and fire going before, and marking out the way, so the Church is led through the wilderness of this world, not by a book, but walking in the light of its Head, who goes before it to mark out its pathway, and protect it from dangers. As of old He led His people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron, so would He lead them to-day by His servants till He has brought them in safety into their inheritance (Ps. 77: 20).
Let me be not understood as disparaging the high place of the Bible in making known the Divine purpose and in guiding the Church, and in our individual religious life; but let us not disparage Christ in relation to the Book. He must have the first place, the Book can have only the second. He is the living and acting Head; it is only the record of what has been. The Church can no more be governed by a printed book than can the State. Its contents are of inestimable value, for we can rightly understand the present only as we know the past, both as to its facts and principles; but we live in the present, our trials, our dangers are new, and God will not leave the Church at any period of her history ignorant of the dangers gathering around her, or neglect to teach her her duties from day to day. If to those under the old covenant He could say, "Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day, I have sent unto you all My servants, the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them," -will He do less to His children to-day? (Jer. 7: 25; 2 Chron. 36: 15.) The manna of yesterday did not suffice for to-day.
If we keep the Bible and the Church, as enlightened and guided by her Head, in right relations to one another, we shall not be much troubled at the assaults made upon the Book It is by no means necessary that we affirm the verbal inspiration of the Bible as a condition of belief in Christ. Indeed, to do this shows a rationalistic spirit, a craving for intellectual certainty. There is the certainty of faith, but that can come only by abiding in Him who is the Author and Finisher of our faith. All certainty in the spiritual realm is the fruit of the Spirit, who Himself beareth witness with our spirit. We have reason to fear that with many the Bible holds an abnormal place, and one that limits the Head of the Church in the exercise of His prerogatives, both of guidance and of rule. When they should look to Him they look to the Book; they believe that the Holy Spirit will speak to them through the silent letter, not through the living voice.
The Bible, as a historical record, tells of the Divine actings in a distant past. Whatever of blessing or of judgment has been done in the past abides in its results, and these must affect us though we are not responsible for them. The question before us is: Is it necessary for us to know that the record is in every particular an accurate one? Its accuracy or inaccuracy does not affect the past in itself, but our knowledge of it. If, indeed, it can be said that the record is so false in any of its fundamental statements as to render us uncertain as to the Divine purpose in His Son, and in man, and as to our own duties to God, then the primary step would be to investigate the record and separate the true and false elements. But this is not the case. The great facts of the creation of the world, of man made in God's likeness, of his sin and fall, of the Incarnation, of the Lord's redemptive work,—all these being clearly stated and believed by us, it matters very little if we cannot reconcile all the statements of antediluvian tradition, or of Jewish history, or even those of the Gospels.
Closely analysed, we see that to demand verbal inspiration is really to demand that the Bible must be an infallible book. The reasoning, put in syllogistic form, is simply this: The Bible sets forth the Divine purpose in man, and is given us for our learning the truth. But how can we be certain that it is the truth, except the book be infallible? Therefore, we must accept its verbal inspiration, its absolute immunity from error. It is in the same way that the Church, as a whole, or its chief ministers—the apostles and the prophets—are proved to be infallible. The bibHeal writers must have had a perfect apprehension of the Divine revelation and actings, and have made a perfect record of them. This craving for infallibility both shows the absence of spiritual perception, and is destructive of faith. The Lord when on earth said: The sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and follow Him, for they know His voice, but they know not the voice of strangers. If it were so then, is it not so now? Has the Lord now no sheep who can distinguish His voice from the voice of strangers? Must He remain silent? Must the Holy Ghost forbear to speak because no one can know whether a true or a false prophet is speaking, whether the word is from Heaven or from the pit?
We may, then, read the criticism of the Bible without fear or anxiety. Our faith stands in Christ, our Living Head. If He be not the Living Head, our Teacher and Guide, no book can take His place. Let the most advanced critics prove to their satisfaction that the biblical records are full of discrepancies, and contradictions, and myths; if the Incarnate Son remains, all their criticisms avail nothing, we may safely pass them by. Even destroy the Book, the Son stands behind the veil, and can at any moment manifest Himself. He is His own witness, His existence to-day is the decisive proof of the truthfulness of the Scripture records in all their chief features. The biblical presentation of the whole course of God's dealing with men as given in them, having Him as its centre, is plain and consistent. He is the First and the Last. No intelligent reader can mistake as to the intent of the biblical history as a witness to Him. If we know the fountainhead of a river and its mouth, we need not be disturbed if we cannot follow it in all its winding ways, through forests and thickets and dark ravines. Though hidden here and there from view, we know that it is one and the self-same stream. The Bible is not a patchwork, though many writers of many centuries have part in it, but a unit, because the purpose of God in His Son is one. It is the unity of His Person that gives unity to human history. We can trace its historical continuity from Genesis to Revelation, from the earth as made good to the earth as made new. With this we may be well content.
The second of the causes already spoken of as most influential in undermining the faith of the Church in the Incarnate Son, is the immensity of the universe as made known by the recent discoveries of astronomers. It is said that the place given to man and to the earth in the Scriptures is wholly inconsistent with what we know of other worlds and their probable inhabitants. Some affirm that man is a creature too weak and mean to be the highest rational being in the universe, as the Scriptures imply. There must be others far higher and nobler, but if there are such, it is not credible that the inferior nature of man could have been assumed by the Son of God in perpetual union. We may rather believe that the Hebrews and later the Church in their astronomical ignorance, believing the earth to be the central orb around which the sun revolved, have given man a position far higher than he deserved, and made him the one special object of God's care. Now, through our enlarged knowledge we can see the earth and the universe in their true relations to one another, and as we have given up the earth's central position and man's supreme place, so, it is said, we must give up the Incarnation as having taken place here, and as a fact of vital interest to other creatures.
As the question of the relation of the Incarnation to Creation, and of man to other reasonable creatures will be considered later, we do not dwell upon them here; but we believe that it will be clearly seen that the only explanation of the vastness of the universe, and of its many mysteries, is found in the Incarnation, and that the exalted place given to man in the Scriptures is the necessary result of the Divine purpose that, through humanity as a medium of manifestation, He would make Himself known to His creatures. Neither the worlds nor the Scriptures can be rightly understood except as seen in the light of the Incarnate Son.
If we are sometimes appalled at the vastness of the universe, its many millions of worlds as affirmed by the astronomers, and are led to ask in doubt, "Can man indeed hold so high a place as the Bible gives him?" we are to remember that God, a moral and spiritual Being, can love and regard only those who are moral and spiritual like Himself, and to them only can He really manifest Himself. Mere masses of matter as such, however wonderful in constitution, can have no value in His eyes, nor can they indeed have value in our eyes except as we see in them the proofs of His power, wisdom, and goodness. Only as inhabited by rational beings can they have a moral interest for us.
But we may be reminded here, in entering upon our further inquiries, that as regards both Creation and Incarnation, we are wholly in the region of faith. We have need to cry earnestly and continually, "Lord, increase our faith."
But accepted by faith, we see how through the God-man man is of all His creatures brought nearest to God, and into most blessed communion with Him. But the religious history of the race shows us that man has from the first refused to believe in the full reality of the Divine love. His promises of blessing and communion have been too large for our faith. All generations hearing His words have said in their hearts, "It is not possible that God means what He has said. His words can be fulfilled only in a far lower sense than they read." And to-day, not giving to the God-Man, our Brother, His proper place as the One through whom we draw nigh to the Father, and through whom we learn to know His wisdom and His love, we soon come to distrust the Scriptures, and to doubt the Divine sincerity, The vision of His Person obscured, the Scriptures become to us as the words of a book that is sealed (Isa. 29: 11). Only as abiding in Him can our faith rise to the greatness of His promises.
The Church accepts as a present fact the Incarnation. The Son of God made man is the corner-stone on whom the whole structure of Christianity rests. Let us, so far as we may, follow the fact to its legitimate results, placing Him in the centre of all Divine revelation. To do this is the purpose of the present writing. If we would know God, we must know the Incarnate Son, His Revealer; if we would know the Church, His body, we must know Him the Head; if we would know the true meaning of the Scriptures, we must read them in the light of the Divine purpose in Him; if we would know His Kingdom, we must know Him as the immortal and glorified Lord.
Why, I may ask, in conclusion, should we not take the Old Testament in its plain, obvious meaning as a true account of God's dealings with men from the beginning to the birth of His Son? But in its perusal, two things are to be kept in mind. First: That the knowledge of these dealings, from whatever source derived, comes to us through fallible men. Let us admit, for the moment, that there may be, therefore, as many claim, mistakes, discrepancies, or even contradictions, in the presentation of events so remote; what does it really matter? We may look upon the biblical writers as upon witnesses in a court of justice. The end of a trial is secured when the substantial facts are reached amid the varying details. What is of vital importance in biblical study is to learn the Divine purpose in man, how it has been carried on, and what is its present stage. It is here as with a man's purpose to build a house. This purpose is so far accomplished that we see the house, not, indeed, completed, but standing before us, strong and stately. We do not inquire carefully into all the preliminary stages of its construction. The building is before us, it speaks for itself. Thus in looking upon the Divine purpose in humanity, we know that the essential step to its fulfilment has been reached in the Incarnation of the Son. That purpose is not, indeed, completed; the Incarnate Son has yet much to do to finish His redemptive work. But the great vital fact is before us, the Son has become Man. This authenticates the past and assures the future. He is now at God's right hand, crowned with glory and honour, the everliving Head of the Church; and what He has already done gives us the perfect confidence that He will finish His work. He is the Beginning and the End.
Let it, then, be granted that the old biblical records have been made by fallible men; the Divine purpose is not, therefore, through their errors brought to naught. The accomplished fact of the Incarnation remains. The Virgin's son now lives, God's present Witness. If, in exploring the past in its written records, we walk, as some of the critics tell us, upon the shifting sands of tradition, where is no certain foothold, we now stand upon the solid rock; we hear the voice of the risen Lord saying, "I am the truth." "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." How He makes known from Heaven the truth to His listening disciples will be later considered.
The other point which we are to keep in mind as we read the Old Testament and are tempted to disbelieve its miracles, its far-reaching prophecies, its many marvellous narratives, is that the fact on which all rests—the Incarnation—is a fact so strange, so unexampled, so inexplicable, as measured by any intellectual standard, that we can receive it only by faith. And so receiving it, we are lifted up into a region of thought and action far higher than that of our ordinary life. The history of our race has thus both a human and a Divine side, there is a life within a life. It can be read from two distinct points of view, often spoken of as the secular and the sacred, from one of which it is most credible, from the other, incredible. Let us take, as an illustration, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. A Babylonian historian would have seen in this only an ordinary event, the conquest and destruction of an hostile city, and the captivity of its inhabitants, an event of as little significance as the destruction of any provincial city. To one seeing it in the light of the Divine purpose, the destruction of the Temple and the captivity of the covenant people were most momentous events in the Divine order, determining the whole future history of the Jews, and of the nations to the present hour.
Or, to take another example,—the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, and His crucifixion; what could a Roman historian have seen in them but the rightful rejection and punishment of a false claimant to a Divine commission? Of those gathered around His cross, only the eye of faith discerned the Son of God, or could know the world-wide and eternal significance of His death.
Human history has thus to "spiritual discernment," to the anointed eye, a meaning and significance which it can have to none who see in it only the actings of men, and cannot discern the hand of God working out His own purpose. But those having this discernment are not troubled when they read in the Scriptures of strange and marvellous events, of acts of superhuman power, of angels and devils in fierce conflict. The only question which they ask is whether these events, these actings, these actors, stand in a right relation to the Divine purpose in Christ as made known to us, and are fitting means to its accomplishment. They are to be judged by the heavenly, not by the earthly standard.
From this point of view, we see the error of those who say that we must judge the historical records of the Hebrews as we would the historical records of any ancient people. God, they affirm, is equally present in all history, and, therefore, the distinction of sacred and secular is to be put away. Anything incredible in a history of Greece or Rome is equally incredible in the Bible. God is thus put out of human history, man is constituted the sole judge both of what has been and will be. A Divine purpose is wholly ignored. Faith in the Divine action failing, the Bible becomes more and more unintelligible and incredible.
But let it not be thought that in thus speaking of the Scriptures in their relation to Christ—that it is "in Him that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden," not in a book,—we imply that their meaning and value for us are by any means exhausted, and that we are to rely upon new revelations from the ascended Lord. Far from this. There are doubtless unexhausted treasures of knowledge in the Bible, historic and prophetic, which will in due time be brought to light. The progress of events will cast light upon its pages, and the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writers, will interpret their words in their relation to the Divine purpose in the Son. Not till that purpose is completed, and His redemptive work ended, can the Bible cease to be of the highest practical value to all God's children; and we may believe that through all ages it will have profound significance as a history of God's dealings with men.
If the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of the Virgin is at God's right hand, having all authority and dominion in heaven and earth, the Scriptures are proved to be a true record of God's dealings with men; if He be not, the book is doomed to sink to the level of those sacred books which have no prophetical, but simply an ethical, value—another example of the delusive beliefs which have marked the religious history of our race. Christ will live without the book, the book cannot live without Christ.
Briggs, C. F. Incarnation of the Lord, p. 73.
Browne, Harold, Bishop. An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, 1856, p. 192.
Bushnell, Horace. Nature and the Supernatural, 1858, pp. 106, 114, 196.
Edersheim, A. The Temple, p. 179.
Lodge, Sir Oliver, p. 42, note. Hibbert Journal, April, 1904, p. 193, note.
Lubbock, Sir J. Prehistoric Times, 1865, p. 39, note.
Lyttleton, Bishop. Place of Miracles in Religion, p. 196, note.
Maitland, Chas. Apostolic School of Prophetical Interpretation, London, 1849, p. 298.
Mill, J. S. Essay on Nature, 1874, p. 114.
Mozely, J. B. Lectures on Miracles, 1865, p. 196, note.
Newcomb, Prof. S., p. 81.
Oehler, G. T. Theology of the Old Testament. Trans, by G. E. Day, 1883, pp. 71, 196, note.
Sayce, A. H. Religions of Egypt and Babylon, p. 150; Higher Criticism and the Monuments, 1887, p. 154.
Shaler, N. S. Aspects of the Earth, 1889, p. 43, note.
Trench, R. C, Archbishop. Notes on the Miracles of our Lord, 1850, pp. 196 (note), 209.
Wallace, A. R. Man's Place in the Universe, pp. 79. 82.
G. & T. Lex. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grimm's Wilke's Clavis. Trans, by J. H. Thayer, 1887.
Cremer. Lex. Lexicon of New Testament Greek by Hermann Cremer. Trans, by W. Urwick, 1875.