THE EVIDENCE OP THE DIVINE ORIGIN OP CHRISTIANITY FROM THE PERSONAL CHARACTER AND THE INCARNATION OP CHRIST.
The question which, in history, has agitated the world more perhaps than any other, is that which was asked by Pilate, " What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ ?" (Matt., xxvii., 22). In history the question has been, What view shall be taken of his person? What origin and rank shall be ascribed to him ? What place shall he have among those whose life and teachings have materially affected the condition of the world ? Shall he be regarded as a mere man, " naturally as fallible and peccable as other men ?" Shall he be regarded as a mere man, but, unlike other men in this respect, that he was absolutely perfect and pure ? Shall he be regarded as a phantasm, appearing in the form of humanity, and living, suffering, dying in appearance only ? Shall he be regarded as a being of a higher order actually descending to the earth, and living among men—an angel; an archangel; a loftier being still, as near to God as a created being can be, sent into. the world to accomplish a great work for men ? Shall he be regarded as the most highly endowed in genius of any of our own race; forming some great plan; and accomplishing his work by the mere greatness of his genius ? Shall we regard him as a mythical being, and all that has been said of him as embodying only the conceptions of men forming a system of imposture or
delusion around him as a nucleus, and arranging the ideas of that system as if they had been expressed in his life ? Shall we regard him as God himself in his own essence incarnate; or as a person in the essence of God incarnate; or as a form of the mere manifestation of the Deity in our world ? Shall we regard him as having one nature or two; one will or two; as a perfect man having a " reasonable soul" as well as a body, united with the divinity; or shall we regard him as a man only as he had a bodily form in which God, as such, performed all the functions of the soul ? Has the world come to any settled views on these subjects, or is it likely that it ever will? Enemies and friends; sages, fathers, priests; synods and councils embracing the learning and piety of the world; good men and bad men; historians and philosophers; the orthodox and the heretical, have endeavored for eighteen hundred years to answer the question which so much perplexed Pilate," What shall be done with Jesus ?" Men of profound erudition, assuming that there was a real personage who bore the name, have brought, as Strauss has done, the vast resources of their learning to the inquiry whether all else in regard to him could not be explained on the supposition that his religion is a " myth;" men of brilliant imaginations, entering the field of romance, like Renan, have inquired whether all that occurred in his life can not be explained on the supposition that he was a young man of marvelous genius, awaking gradually to the consciousness of his own great powers, and himself deluded with the idea of a universal empire.. The " orthodox" world has believed that his true place in history can be assigned only on the supposition that he was the only perfect man that has ever trod the earth since the first Adam fell, and that he was the incarnate Son of God.
Pilate was perplexed. An honest man would have settled the question at once. The world has been perplexed. Can we now, after the lapse of eighteen hundred years, so determine what is to be " done" with him as to find evidence in his character and claims that he was sent from God, and that his religion is true ?
The subject of this Lecture, therefore, will be, The evidence of the divine origin of Christianity from the personal character and the incarnation of Christ.
As preparing the way for this argument, it may be proper to refer a little more fully to the nature of the perplexities which have been felt on the subject, and to the various answers which have been given to the inquiry involved in the question of Pilate.
The Gnostics regarded him as an aeon or " emanation" from God," the first and brightest emanation of the Deity, who appeared upon earth to rescue mankind from various errors, and to reveal a new system of truth and perfection."* He was, in their apprehension, neither truly God nor truly man. "Not truly God,because they held him, though begotten of God, to be yet much inferior to the Father; nor truly man, because every thing concrete and corporeal they believed to be intrinsically and essentially evil; so that most of them divested Christ of a material body, and denied him to have suffered for our sakes what he is recorded to have endured." He was a phantasm that appeared first on the banks of the Jordan, and lived, and suffered, and died in appearance only.f
According to Arius, he is "totally and essentially
* Gibbon, Decline and Fall, i., 256.
t Mosham, Eecl. Hist., vol. i., p. Ill, 171-181.
distinct from the Father; the first and noblest of those created beings whom God the Father formed out of nothing, and the instrument which the Father used in creating the universe, and, therefore, inferior to the Father both in nature and in dignity."* " Though the Son of God was united with human nature on the birth of Jesus, yet that Son of God was a xriafia [creation]. He indeed existed long before that birth, but not from eternity."f
To the Monarchians, or Patripassians, he was the true God inhabiting the body of Jesus, the divine nature occupying the place and performing the functions of the human soul—" the man Christ was the Son of God, and to this Son the Father of the universe so joined himself as to be crucified and endure pangs along with the Son."J They asserted "the true and proper Deity in Christ's person, but denied his humanity. The one single person of the Godhead, the true and absolute Deity, united himself with a human body, but not with a rational human soul."§
Nestorius and his followers sought to answer the question by assuming the fact that there were in Christ two natures, a proper divinity and a proper humanity, but that they remained distinct and were not united in one person — "in a single self-conscious personality." " Instead of a blending of the two natures into only one self, the Nestorian scheme places two selves side by side, and allows only a moral and sympathetic union between them. The result is, that the acts of each nature derive no character from the qualities of the
* Mosheim, Eccl. Hist., vol. i., p. 343.
t Shedd's Christian Doctrine, vol. i., p. 393.
t Mosheim, Eccl. Hist., vol. i., p. 182.
§ Shedd's Christian Doctrine, vol. i., p. 394.
other."* The problem to be solved was whether all the statements in the New Testament, and all the acts of the Redeemer, could be explained on this supposi* tion.
The Eutychian or the Monophysite Christology explained, or tried to explain, the statements in the New Testament, and the facts in the life of the Redeemer, on another and an opposite supposition, in answer to the question " what shall be done with Jesus." That system asserts the unity of self-consciousness in the person of Christ, but loses the duality of the two natures. Eutyches taught that in the incarnation the human nature was transmuted into the divine, so that the resultant was one person and one nature. For this reason the Eutychians held that it was accurate and proper to say that" God suffered.^
Sabellius sought to answer the question by supposing that there was but one " person" in the divine nature; that, according to the different manifestations, as Creator, Redeemer; Sanctifier, that one person was designated by different names, implying a distinction not in nature, but in the manifestation that there was a " certain energy put forth by the supreme parent, or a certain portion of the divine nature being separated from it, because united with the Son, or the man Christ; that there was but one divine person; that while there was a real difference between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, that difference was neither an essential nor a personal one; the divine three were not three distinct pefsons, but three portions of the divine nature, all depending on God; and that that portion which united with the man Christ, in order to redeem men, is the
* Shedd's Christian Doctrine, vol. i., p. 397.
t Ibid., vol. i., p. 397.
Son," and that by this theory all that there was in the person and work of Christ can be explained.*
Paul of Samosata and his followers—the Paulians— supposed that they could explain the mysteries of the person of Christ on the theory that the Son and the Holy Ghost exist in God as reason and the operative power do in man; that Christ was born a mere man, but that the reason or wisdom of the Father descended into him, and enabled him to teach and to work miracles ; and that, on this account, it was proper to say that Christ was God, though not in the proper sense of the word.f
Julian, the emperor, greatly perplexed and embarrassed in regard to Jesus, and the progress which his religion had made in the empire, attempted to solve all the mysteries in regard to him by saying that" Jesus, having persuaded a few among you [Galilseans, as he contemptuously called the Christians], and those of the worst of men, has now been celebrated about three hundred years, having done nothing in his lifetime worthy of fame—tpvov 6v$ev a/coije a£iov—unless any one thinks it a very great work to heal lame and blind people, and exorcise demoniacs in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany."!
Socinus sought an explanation by assuming that Christ was a mere man, but a good man; Dr. Priestley
* See Mosheim, Eccl. Hist., vol. i., p. 241, 2. There is 6ome confusion in the statement of Mosheim on this subject, and there has been some doubt whether he has given the correct account of the sentiments of Sabellius. His views are examined in a long note by Dr. Murdock. I have endeavored, from the text and the note, to state, as clearly as possible, what were probably the views of Sabellius.
t Ibid., vol. ii., p. 244.
t Lardner's Works, vol. vii., p. 628, ed. London, 1838.
in the idea that he was a mere man " naturally as fallible and peccable as any other man."
Chubb supposed that he could explain all by the following statement: " In Christ we have an example of a quiet and peaceable spirit; of a becoming modesty and sobriety ; just, honest, upright, sincere; and, above all, of a most gracious and benevolent temper and behavior. One who did no wrong, no injury to any man; in whose mouth was no guile ; who went about doing good, not only by his ministry, but also in curing all manner of diseases among the people. His life was a beautiful picture of human nature in its native purity and simplicity, and showed at once what excellent creatures men would be when under the influence and power of the Gospel which he preached unto them."*
The solution by Rousseau is so well known that it is necessary only to refer to it. " Is it possible," says he, " that the sacred personage whose history it [the Bible] contains should be himself a mere man ? What sweet-i ness, what purity in his manner! What an affectingl gracefulness in his instructions! What sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourses! What presence of mind, what subtlety, what fitness in \ his replies! How great the command over his passions ! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live and so die, without weakness and without \ ostentation ? The death of Socrates, peacefully philosophizing among his friends, appears the most agreeable that one could wish; that of Jesus, expiring in agonies, • abused, insulted, and accused by a whole nation, is the most horrible that one could fear. Socrates, indeed, in receiving the cup of poison, blessed the weeping execu
* True Gospel of Jesus Christ, sec. viii., p. 55, 56, quoted by Dr. Schaff, Person of Christ, p. 282, 283.
tioner who administered it; but Jesus, amidst excruciating tortures, prayed for his merciless tormentors. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God."*
Strauss assumed that Jesus was a real personage— that there was such a living Teacher, but that the things ascribed to him are in the main mythical; that is, that certain ideas and conceptions have been made to have the appearance of a living form and reality by being represented as in connection with him, or as acted out in his life. The problem was, assuming that there was such a real personage, to explain how those ideas could be represented as embodied in his life, or what those ideas would be if represented as acted out by a living man. " This Christ," says he, " as far as he is inseparable from the highest style of religion, is historical, not mythical/ is an individual, not a mere symbol. To the historical person of Christ belongs all in his life that exhibits his religious perfection, his discourses, his moral action, and his passion. He remains the highest model of religion within the reach of our thought, and (no perfect piety is possible without his presence in the hearts As little as humanity will ever be without religion, as little will it be without Christ; for to have religion without Christ would be as absurd as to enjoy poetry without regard to Homer or Shakspeare."f
Renan takes a different view, and aims to explain his life on different principles. ' I will assume,' is the idea —not his exact language—' the main facts about him, as stated by the Evangelists, especially in the Fourth Gospel, to be true, and I will write'his life anew—that
* Emile on de l'Education, lect. iv., quoted at length in Dr. Schaff's Person of Christ, p. 286-296. t Quoted by Dr. Schnff, Person of Christ, p. 340, 341.
life as seen especially by a contemplation of the scenes where he lived and died. I will make that life as attractive as possible by all the charms of fancy, romance, poetry. I will go and visit the place where he was born, the place where he was trained, the places where he dwelt, and there, studying his character, inquiring how it was developed at that time and in those scenes —the influences that bore on his childhood, his youth, and his riper years—the successive ideas which he cherished in regard to his own powers, and the unconscious illusions under which he was brought in regard to himself, and the plans which he formed under those illusions, I will set forth his life as the most beautiful and attractive that the world has seen. I will see what I can do with this ' young man of profound originality' (p. 125); of' perfect idealism' (p. 140); ' who developed his own powers the more he believed on himself (p. 148); this young man of extraordinary genius, awaking slowly to the consciousness of his great powers; forming his plans, under an innocent enthusiasm, on 'false views,' as Columbus and Newton did (p. 138), but deeply and permanently affecting the world.' "In the first rank," says he, "of the grand family of the true sons of God, we must place Jesus. Jesus had no visions; God does not speak to him from without; God is in him; he feels that he is with God, and he draws from his heart what he says of his Father. He lives in the bosom of God by uninterrupted communication; he does not see him, but he understands him without need of thunder and the burning bush like Moses, of a revealing tempest like Job, of an oracle like the old Greek sages, of a familiar genius like Socrates, or of an angel Gabriel like Mohammed. He believes that he is in direct communication with God; he believes himself the Son of God. The highest consciousness of God which ever existed in the breast of humanity was that pf Jesus." " Christ, for the first time, gave utterance to the idea upon which shall rest the edifice of the everlasting religion. He founded the pure worship—of no age—of no clime—which shall be that of all lofty souls to the end of time. If other planets have inhabitants endowed with reason and morality, their religion can not be different from that which Jesus proclaimed at Jacob's welL The words of Jesus were a gleam in a thick night; it has taken eighteen hundred years for the eyes of humanity to learn to abide by it. But the gleam shall become the full day; and after the passing through all the circles of error, humanity will return to these words, as to the immortal expression of its faith and its hopes." "Repose now in thy glory, noble founder! Thy work is finished; thy divinity is established. Fear no more to see the edifice of thy labors fall by any fault. Henceforth, beyond the range of frailty, thou shalt witness, from the heights of divine peace, the infinite results of thy acts. For thousands of years the world will defend thee. Banner of our contests, thou shalt be the standard about which the hottest battle will be given. A thousand times more alive, a thousand times more beloved since thy death than during thy passage here below, thou shalt become the corner-stone of humanity so entirely, that to tear thy name from this would be to rend it from its foundations. Complete conqueror of death, take possession of thy kingdom, whither shall follow thee, by the royal road which thou hast traced, ages of worshipers." "Whatever may be the surprises of the future, Jesus will never be surpassed. His worship will grow young without ceasing; his legend will call forth tears without end; his sufferings will melt the noblest hearts; all ages will proclaim that, among the sons of men, there is none born greater than Jesus."*
Nothing has been, also, more perplexing in secular history than the question what place shall be assigned to Jesus and his religion. Mr. Gibbon, as I have remarked in a former Lecture, found it indispensable to dispose of this question, and he gave the best efforts of his mind to it. The problem with him was how to account for the spread and the power of his religion on the supposition that it was an imposture and an illusion. The course of his history would have flowed much more freely, and the task of the great historian would have been greatly lightened, if it had not been for the difficulties involved in the solution of this question. :
To the world now—to Rationalists; to Socinians; to Unitarians; to skeptics; to worldly men; to the Westminster Review; to philosophers, is there any one subject more difficult than that involved in the question of Pilate, " What shall be done with Jesus ?" Ages have passed away since he lived, and now the question is revived with a power which it has never had before, and more learning is employed on the question than there has been at any former period of the world. At his birth it was said of him, " Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke, ii., 34,35). This was true in his own age; it is true in history; it is true in our own times; it bids fair to be true to the end of the world.
The inquiry as it pertains to us in this course of Lec
* Life of Jesus. New York, 1864, p. 50, 51, 104, 215, 351, 376.
tures, with reference to the argument for the truth of his religion, especially in the nineteenth century—after his character has been before the world for eighteen hundred years—is, whether that character furnishes evidence that he was from God, and that his religion is divine, or whether all that there was in his character can be explained on the supposition that his claims were false, and that his religion is an imposture.
The argument now. divides itself into two parts: that derived from his personal character, and that derived from his incarnation.
L THAT DERIVED FROM HIS PERSONAL CHARACTER.
(1.) The foundation of this argument is, that the character of Jesus, as drawn by the Evangelists, is PerFect. If that were denied, and as far as it was denied, the argument would fail.
It might, at this stage of the argument, almost be assumed that that character is perfect. It has been admitted by all, or so nearly by all, that as in certain mathematical propositions small fractions may be left out of the account as not affecting the result, so here the number of those who have called the perfection of that character in question has been so small, and the points have been so unimportant, if not inappreciable or doubtful, that these need not be taken into the account. The ancients did not call the perfection of his character in question. Neither Celsus, Porphyry, nor Julian expressed a doubt on the subject. The argument which they urged was not based on a denial of the perfection of Jesus; it was founded on the alleged fact that the character of others—of Socrates, and of Apollonius of Tyana—were not less perfect.
It is only in modern times that the perfection of that character has been called in question, and the fact that it has been done, and the manner in which it has been done, have shocked the Christian world.
Dr. Priestley, indeed, asserted that " Christ was naturally as fallible and peccable as any other man," but he did not venture to suggest that his character, in fact, was not actually perfect, or that he was in any sense a sinner, though he would not have been restrained from doing it if there had been any thing in his conduct or character to which he could have referred as proof—for he was not restrained from saying that he had found defects in the reasoning of the apostle Paul. It was reserved for others to take the additional bold step of specifying what they regard as defects in the character of the Saviour. *~
The " acute and candid" author of the w,ork on " The Soul" and the " Phases of Faith"* understood very well that " a perfect type of character is the essence of a practical religion," and that, if the Christian type was perfect, it would be hopeless to set up a new religion beside it. Accordingly, it became necessary to show that there were imperfections in the character of Christ, and the imperfections which he specifies are two in number. The first is the exhibition of indignation against the hypocritical and soul-murdering tyranny of the Pharisees; the second is the absence of mirth, and of laughter as its natural and genial manifestation."f This is all.
Strauss also denies the sinlessness of Jesus. This, however, is done not so much from the specification of any actual facts, as on the a priori philosophical argument of the impossibility of sinlessness, or the panthe
* Mr. Newman.
t Lectures on the Study of History, by Goldwin Smith, p. 139, HO. id='para.290.1.0.box.205.306.968.186.q.50'> istic notion of the inseparableness of sin from all finite existence. The only exegetical proof that he urges is the declaration of the Savior (Matt., xix., 17), "There is none good but one, that is God."*
A French writer—F. Pecaut—(Xe Christ et la Conscience, Paris, 1859) likewise denies the sinlessness of Jesus. He refers to the following facts as evidences of imperfection: the conduct of Jesus toward his mother in his twelfth year; his rebuke administered to her at the wedding feast of Cana; his expulsioni of the traffickers from the Temple; his cursing of the unfruitful figtree ; the destruction of the herd of swine; his bitter invectives against the Pharisees; and his own rejection of the attribute "good" in the dialogue with the rich youth. f
Such objections as these it would not be difficult to answer, and it will be assumed here, in accordance with what may be regarded, with these slight exceptions, as the universal judgment of mankind, that the character of the Savior was perfect. If this is admitted, it will be admitted, also, with exceptions not more numerous, or that will not more vary the judgment of mankind, that the character stands alone. It would be as easy to dispose of the few cases — not more than two or three in number—that have been set up as being also perfect, as Socrates and Apollonius, for example, as it is to dispose of the specified objections in regard to the perfection of the Savior. The general judgment of mankind on the subject of human perfection is undoubtedly in accordance with the expressed opinion of Cicero: "In whom truly there shall be absolute perfection we have not as yet seen; we have seen no one perfect; it has only been expounded by philosophers
* Schaff, Person of Jesus, p. 209. t HM.
what such a one would be, if there should be such a one."*
(2.) To see the full bearing on the argument of the remark now made, it is necessary to keep in mind the fact that that character has been regarded as equally perfect in all those eighteen centuries which have elapsed since his appearing; among all nations where he has been made known; by all ranks and conditions of society. This is an ordeal through which a character claimed to. be perfect must necessarily pass. It is not that the character is regarded as perfect in one age, or among those of a certain rank or condition in life, but that it commends itself to those of every age and of every condition, and that when examined in view of all the phases of opinion which exist among men, and of all the standards of perfection which are set up, in reference to what it would be if reproduced in a parties ular age and among a particular class, it is still found to be without a flaw. For, abstractly, there are great varieties of opinion among men about what is perfect in character; there are different standards of morality; there are different views in philosophy; there are different customs and opinions; there are different things aimed at in life; there are different attempts to draw a perfect character. That which would seem to be perfect in one age, and according to the mode of judging in that age, might be seen to be very far from being perfect when men should have more enlarged and correct views of what constitutes perfection; and that which would come up to the demands of that more advanced age might still show defects in an age still more
* In quo vero erit perfects sapientia quem adhuc nos quidem vidimus neminem; sed philosophorum sententiis, qualis futurus sit, si modo aliquando fuerit, exponitur.—Tusc. Qurest., lib. ii., cap. 22.
advanced, and might fail to meet the general judgment of mankind as to a claim of absolute sinlessness.
The claim set up for the Savior, and universally conceded, with the few exceptions which I have noticed, is that it commends itself equally to every age; to every class of persons; to the learned and the unlearned; to sages, to philosophers, and to those in humble life—to all as absolutely free from sin. On this fact my argument now is based.*
(3.) Assuming now that the character of Christ is perfect or sinless, it will be proper, in order to see the force of the argument, to consider the attempts which have been made to draw or describe a perfect character.
- One of two things is true in regard to the character of Christ, as exhibited in the New Testament:—it was either real, or it was the work of the Evangelists—a work of fiction.
If it was real, then the question is. settled; for if he was perfect and sinless, then he was what he claimed to be, and was the Son of God sent down from heaven— for he undoubtedly claimed this.
If it was the work of the Evangelists, then we have to show how it was that such plain men as they were, and very imperfect men themselves, should have been able to set before the world a perfect imaginary character ; how four or more men of such rank as they were
* The following works may be referred to on the general subject of the character of the Savior: Dr. Ullmann, Die Sundlosigkeit Jesu; Dr. Horace Bushnell, The Character of Jesus; John Young, The Christ of History; I. P. Lange, Leben Jesn ; Dr. Channing's Sermon on the Character of Christ, Works, vol. iv., p. 23 ; Lectures on the Study of History, by Prof. Goldwin Smith, p. 127-167; and " The Person of Christ," by Dr. Philip Schaff.
should have combined, in separate narratives, to produce such a character; how, moreover, they should have done it, not by direct statements, but by placing this imaginary person in a great variety of situations, and bringing him into contact with the world for a succession of years, and under every possible temptation to do wrong; and how they were able so to describe him that he never is represented as uttering a sentiment, or manifesting a feeling, or performing an action, which is not conformable to the highest standard of perfection. It will be seen at once that it is a much more difficult thing for four men to present a perfect character in such details than it would be for one man to carry out his own individual conceptions; as it would be more difficult for four sculptors to produce the Apollo Belvidere, in the beauty of its form and proportions, than it was for the one mind that conceived it and executed it. Moreover, the difficulty is to be explained how, on the supposition even that Christ actually lived, and was perfect or sinless, such men had the ability so to draw his character, and so to represent him, in such a variety of situations, that his character should commend itself to all ages as absolutely sinless.
The simple fact in the matter, whether the character was real, or whether it is the creation of the imagination, is that they have done what was never before done, and what, even with this model before them, has never since been done.
The attempts made by men to draw a perfect character have been of two kinds: from real life; and from the imagination—real characters, and fictitious characters.
The former attempts have failed, because there have been no perfect characters, and because it has been the work of the historian to describe men as they are.
Themselves imperfect "men, and portrayed by imperfect men, they stand before the world as imperfect men.
The design of fiction, in poetry and romance, is to describe men and women as they are, or human nature as it is. Such works, so far as they relate to human conduct, lose all their value when they fail to describe human nature as it is—living men and women—acting their parts on the great theatre of human life. Those works come nearest to perfection, as works of art, when they describe human nature most accurately. Shakspeare does not describe perfect characters; it may be doubted whether he ever attempted it, or designed to describe one. The characters in novels, as the characters in history, are not perfect characters; and if any one has attempted to draw such a character, it is easy at once to see, whatever else it may be, how unlike it is to the character of Jesus Christ. Where is there a character, in fiction, that can be held up to all the world in all ages; that can represent man in all relations and circumstances; that can be a sinless model in conduct alike toward God and toward men; that can be a model for kings and princes, sages and philosophers, the humble, the unlearned, the lowly, the down-trodden—in prosperity and in adversity; in joy and in sorrow; in benevolence, in purity, in gentleness, in the love of truth, in the love of justice; in childhood, in youth, and in middle age; under obloquy and reproach; in dealing with crafty and unprincipled men; in abandonment and persecution; in the severest form of death, and under all that could shake the firmness of virtue—where is there, where has there been, such a character, in reality or in fiction, except in the person of Jesus Christ ? 1
I do not affirm that it has never been attempted. We N
have seen that there has been, in two or more instances, a claim set up to perfection of character that would be a set-off against the claim in favor of Jesus Christ. I do not deny that writers of fiction have designed to draw a perfect character, nor that they have supposed that they have done it—just as artists have designed to present a perfect human form in the Apollo and the Venus de Medici, and perfect beauty in the Madonna. I do not deny that the attempt has been made—where, in fact, it has most signally failed—in the description of the gods appearing in human form, a fact which we shall see in another part of this Lecture bears vitally on the argument before us.
(4.) But let us look a moment at the difficulties which have attended such an undertaking.
(a) First, then, there has been no living model from which men could draw in forming such a character; no one that would be recognized universally as constituting such a model.
(b) There has been no agreement among men as to what would be such a standard of character. The idea would differ in different ages and among different nations. A Hebrew would have set up one standard; an Egyptian another; a Greek another; a Roman another; a Persian another; an inhabitant of China now has one ideal standard, a Hindoo another, a New Zealander another. A nobleman has one idea, a philosopher another, a priest another. A Mandarin has one idea, a Brahmin another, a Turkish mufti another. A Pharisee had one, a Sadducee another, and one of the sect of the Essenes another. Antony in Egypt and Benedict in Italy, founders of the monastic system, one, Ignatius Loyola and Xavier another. A Catholic priest has one idea, a Protestant minister of religion another. A peasant of Galilee could hardly be supposed to have the same standard which would be approved in Corinth.
(c) The ideas of morality and manners change in different ages. There are very low views of morality in one age, and very stringent ones in another; there are things cultivated in one age which«are disregarded in another; there are things which in one age are considered to be lofty virtues, which in another age cease to be considered as virtues at alL In the days of chivalry and knight-errantry there were things regarded as indispensable, as entering into character, which a change of social customs has rendered at best obsolete; things, too, then regardedas lofty virtues, which might now be considered as, at least, of doubtful morality. The remark of Cicero, before referred to (p. 286), may here be borne in mind when speaking of a character in which there would be " perfect wisdom"—perfecta sapientia—he says that such a character had hitherto existed only in the imagination of philosophers: they had described not what had been, but what would be if such a character should appear.
(d) There was this special difficulty in the case, also, that the work was to be done, not by one person, who could carry out his own conceptions, but by several persons, either acting in concert, or acting independently of each other. One man—Homer, Virgil, Milton, Shakspeare, can easily carry out his own conceptions, and secure unity and concinnity in an epic or a tragedy, however long it may be, or however many characters are introduced. The writer of the epic can place his hero in a great variety of situations, and still have before him the same hero, acting in conformity with his character; the writer of the drama can place any variety of characters in different situations, and lead them forth in a great variety of action, and still can so preserve his plan, and keep up the identity, that Hamlet, and Lear, and Othello are always recognized when they speak. But the case would be much more difficult and complicated if it were supposed that the Iliad, the JEniad, the Paradise Lost, or Hamlet, were respectively the production of a society or combination of poets. One sculptor can carry out his own conceptions, and produce symmetry, concinnity, harmony in his statue; for the statue is in his mind, and he can copy it as it is there combined in its proper proportions. But suppose a company of artists to have undertaken to execute the statue of Minerva or the Apollo, it is easy to see how the matter would be complicated, and how improbable it would have been that statues with such beauties of proportion and form would ever have existed.
In the case of the life of the Savior, if no such being ever existed, then the difficulty is in seeing how four, or five, or more persons could combine to form such an idea, and how they could combine in carrying out the conception. If he did really exist, then the difficulty would be to see how four, or five, or more persons could so write his life, with or without concert, as to produce separate and independent narratives, and yet preserve the unity of the idea through the whole.
(e) It is to be borne in mind, also, that the plan was, as appears, not to represent him as an abstraction, or not to present the abstract conception of a perfect man, but to place him in an almost endless variety of situations, and to show how he acted there; with no comment on his conduct with reference to the question whether it was consistent or not, and manifestly with no anxiety on that point; without even saying that he was perfect—for that was not affirmed by the Evangelists themselves, but was reserved for later writers*— but to describe him as acting, leaving the world to judge from his actions whether he was a perfect being. Accordingly, he appears before us in all the variety of circumstances in which a human being can ordinarily be placed; in such an endless diversity that the character, whatever it was, could not but be developed. He makes a thousand speeches; he performs a thousand actions; he meets with thousands of people; he is placed in situations of temptation and of provocation; he is among friends and among foes; he is with the wicked and the good; he is with the sick and the dying ; he addresses great multitudes in public; he warns and denounces the wicked, and he pours consolation into the hearts of those that weep in private.
To see the difficulty, and the nature of the argument, let us return for a moment to the supposition already suggested. The statue of Minerva; the Apollo Belvidere; the Venus de Medici, and the still more complicated Laocoon, are respectively the wqrk of one artist. One mind formed the conception; one hand carried out the conception; one idea runs through the entire work as a work of art.
But suppose that any one of these, either the most simple or the most complicated, were the work of different men—the production of a society of artists, and not of an individual, either with or without a common agreement or understanding. Suppose it be left to one man to form the head; to a second the hand; to a third the foot; to a fourth the body, each according to his different ideas of beauty. Or suppose, in one case, that it was left to independent workmen to carry out an * 1 Pet., ii., 22; Hob., vii., 26; ii., 10; v., 9.
idea of perfection already agreed upon, and to be produced by their joint labors; suppose, in another case, that four men should undertake, without a concerted idea, to form independently, by working on different parts of the statue, the image of a perfect man.
And yet this would present but a small part of the difficulty in drawing such a character as that of the Savior —perfect as a man; perfect and complete as the incarnate Deity. For there is a block of marble to be moulded at will. It is cold; passive; subject wholly to the control of the chisel. It has no will; no passion; no feeling; no character. It has no complications of fancy, intellect, affections. You can make it what you please; and when any part is made, it remains the same. The idea rises before you with nothing to disturb you, and when complete, there it stands as you intended it should. Here there is will, and feeling, and purpose, and mind, and heart, and action, all varying, and all producing endless complications.
(5.) Assuming, then, that it has been done, the question is, How is this to be accounted for or explained ?
(a) It is not a work of fiction. It bears all the marks of real life. The life of Christ is not a fiction. Christ is a real historical personage—as real as Caesar or Alexander. You can make nothing of history; of nations; of opinions; of philosophy; of the world; of any thing in the past, if this is denied. All history is connected with that life; all history, for eighteen hundred years at least, turns on that life. The fact that he lived, and founded the Christian religion, is recognized by Josephus, by Tacitus, by Pliny. It is not denied by Celsus, by Porphyry, by Julian, as it would have been if it could have been done. It is not denied by Mr. Gibbon, but is assumed in his labored argument every where. It is not denied by Strauss; it. is not denied by Renan.
(b) It is not a work of genius. Genius has never drawn such a character; genius has never drawn a perfect character at all. Besides, his biographers, the fishermen of Galilee, were not remarkable for genius, unless the fact of portraying the life of Chrst proves that they were. They did nothing else remarkable. They wrote no poetry. They promulgated no new system of philosophy. They composed no works of fiction, unless this is one. They wrote no dramas to make them immortal, as Sophocles, Terence, and Eschylus did. They gave the world no inventions in the arts. They made no discoveries in science. They suggested no improvements in architecture; in ship-building; in the implements of agriculture; even in their own employment—in the methods of fishing. They would have lived and died unknown—all of them—forgotten just as soon as they had died, if it had not been for their life of Christ. Not a stone would have marked their graves; not one of them would have been heard of a hundred years after their death. Nothing else that they did would have made a ripple on the great flowing stream of the world's events. Fishermen are not commonly immortal.
(c) Moreover, if it were supposed that they undertook, by combination and concert, to engage in such a work as this, we should certainly not have had this life. We should either have had a character intensely and thoroughly Jewish—which the character of Jesus is not —with Jewish conceptions; a narrow, bigoted, Jewish Messiah; a prince; a conqueror; a deliverer; a Judas Maccabseus; a restorer of the pomp and pride of the ancient monarchy, in accordance with the Jewish conceptions of the Messiah, or we should have had a biography full of trifles and small conceits; of foolish marvels; of improbable stories — a biography that might have rivaled the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, such as the writers of the Jewish Talmud would have been likely to produce. We never should have had the Life of Jesus of Nazareth as we have. it now in the New Testament.
(d) It is to be remarked, also, that in thus drawing the perfect character of Christ, the Evangelists, or the disciples who followed him, did not always themselves see that his character was perfect, or that he was always acting in the wisest manner. On that point they often had doubts; but they recorded the facts as they occurred, and time has shown that his conduct was perfect and wise. Thus, on one occasion, they said to him, when he proposed to go to Bethany, where Lazarus was, " Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again f (John, xi., 8). On another occasion, when he announced to his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem and die, it is said, " Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord ; this shall not be done unto thee" (Matt., xvi., 22).
The argument which I have thus far, in this Lecture, submitted to you, relates to the perfect character of Christ—the fact that he had such a character, and that it has been so drawn by the Evangelists, demonstrating that he was from God. That he had such a character proves that he was from God, for he claimed that he was; whether his character was real or whether it was imaginary, it was above the power of such men to draw and describe it. The supposition that it was real, and that they were under a supernatural influence in describing it, explains all.
II . The other form of the argument which I proposed to submit to you is That Derived Peom His IncarNation.
I have occupied so much of the time on the former part of the subject, that what remains must now be presented in few words.
(1.) There has been a general belief or impression among men that an incarnation of the Deity is possible, and would occur. This idea or impression has been so prevalent as to show that somehow the idea does not shock men, or strike them as absurd. At first view it would seem that it would be likely to do this. So far exalted must God be above men; so unlike men must he be; so strange would seem to be the fact that two beings, wholly unlike and distinct, should be combined in one; so impossible is it to explain the mode in which this could be done, that it might be presumed that this would never occur to the mind as possible; that, however exalted one being or one class of beings might be above another, the extremes could be combined in one; that the highest intellect in the universe—God, could be united permanently with the lowest—man. It is to be admitted at once that it requires the highest exercise of faith to believe that this could be so. Yet somehow the belief that the gods do come down in the forms of men has been so common that the idea does not startle or amaze mankind. When, at Lystra, Paul healed a cripple, and the people lifted up their voices and said of him and Barnabas, " The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men" (Acts, xiv., 11), they expressed only what has been in accordance with a general belief They were not shocked; they hastened to bring oxen and garlands, that they might render them appropriate homage as gods.
This general faith of mankind in the doctrine of an incarnation of the Deity has been manifested in every way possible. It has been incorporated into legends, myths, and fables. It has been embalmed in tradition. It has been expressed in the highest conceptions of poetry. It has been made. the foundation of epics and tragedies. It has suggested the noblest conceptions of sculpture. It has been uttered in the profoundest sayings of philosophy. It has been laid at the foundation of most of the religions of the world, for there is scarcely one form of religion among men in which some trace of the conception can not be found.
This universal belief in the doctrine of an incarnation of the Deity may be referred to as one among a thousand arrangements in our nature, and in the forms of belief among men, shadowing the truth; preparing men to expect and to receive the truth—arrangements in our nature which can be explained only on the supposition that there is truth of which this belief is the shadow, and that there is to be revelation for which this faith was to prepare the way. It may be doubted whether the revelation of an incarnation of God would not have so shocked mankind that it would at once have been rejected as impossible if the minds of men had not been prepared for its reception by this universal faith in an incarnation. At all events, this universal belief in what would seem so improbable, proves that the idea is not repugnant to the human mind. The doctrine of an incarnation of the Deity is not to be dislodged from the mind of man. It is not to be driven from it by argument. He does not argue safely, nor will he argue with permanent success, who argues against the universal convictions of men on any subject. The faith will find a substance corresponding to it; the belief is to be satisfied by some revelation in accordance with it; and the only question is whether that is found in Christianity, or whether it is to be in some form of heathenism already existing, or whether it remains to be met in some hitherto undeveloped form of religion.
(2.) The attempt has been made in almost all countries to describe the actions of an incarnate God, or to tell what he would be. It may be said that the highest efforts of genius and philosophy have been exhausted on the attempt. The world has no higher genius to be employed on any subject than has been employed on this. Plato went to the utmost limit of his powers in describing the Trinity of his conception—it may be said to the utmost limit of the powers of man; for who can bring to the subject a mind more richly endowed than his? Homer exhausted the powers of poetry in describing the gods as they came down to mingle in the strifes of battle. The Greeks, in sculpture, accomplished all that, in this respect, the human mind could be expected to do.
In a previous part of these Lectures I have remarked that the highest powers of the human mind have been employed on the subject of religion, in endeavoring to ascertain the truth about God; the immortality of the soul; the plan of recovery for lost men; and the realities of the future world. I remarked, in substance, that it seemed not improper that there should be one national mind created and endowed as if with special reference to such inquiries; one people with whom the solution of the question whether man could accomplish without a revelation all that the race needs, could be safely intrusted. I remarked that such a mind was found eminently in the Greek mind, and that the experiment had been fairly made there. In subtlety; in depth; in acuteness; in the power of analysis; in keenness of penetration ; in metaphysical acuteness; and in the possession of a language unrivaled in its adaptation to such inquiries, I remarked that it seemed as if God had prepared that mind especially for such inquiries; that the question as to what man could do by his unaided powers might be regarded as fairly determined there; that the result was a demonstration* that man was unequal to the task of solving those great questions, and that a revelation was indispensable for the race.
I call your attention now to the fact that God seems to have, in like manner, created and endowed another national mind with special reference to the limitations of the human powers on the subject of an incarnation of the Deity. I refer to the Hindoo mind.
The human race, in modern times, has been divided into certain classes, founded on certain " types" or peculiarities from the anatomical structure, complexion, or form, as the Caucasian, the Mongolian, the Ethiopian, the American " types." A classification not less remarkable, not bounded by the same limits, might perhaps be made from the mental characteristics of men, and it might be found that these are sufficiently marked to constitute a distinction as real among the people of the earth. The classes of mind most distinguished might be arranged in the following order: The Greek mind; the Teutonic mind; the Arabic mind; the Hindoo mind—unless the order of the last two should be reversed, and the Hindoo mind be assigned a place nearer the Greek. In acuteness; in subtlety; in the power of discrimination; in an adaptation to mental and mathematical pursuits; in poetry, the Hindoo mind, commonly supposed to belong to the classes of inferior mind in the world, has its appropriate place, as endowed by nature, with the other three classes which I have mentioned, and has exerted an influence on mankind perhaps scarcely less limited than the others that I have specified.
I have said that the Greek mind seemed to have been created almost with the design to show what the human intellect, unaided, could do in finding out God and the truths of religion, and, by its failure in the inquiry, to show the necessity of revelation. In like manner, I now observe that the Hindoo mind seems to have been made to show what man could learn by nature about the Trinity and the Incarnation, or what the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation would become if intrusted to such a class of mind. For the Hindoo mind has been devoted to the inquiry. Its utmost powers have been exhausted on the subject. The representation of the Trinity and the Incarnation has constituted the very essence of its theology. The system of religion there is perhaps the most perfect system in the world of a theoretical religion carried out into minute details under the power of acute and penetrating genius.
What that system is, the time would not allow me to describe, nor would it be necessary. By the labors of Christian missionaries, it has been made familiar to the world. For puerility, for extravagance, for absurdity, no system ever proposed to mankind on the subject of religion has ever equaled it; and as the Greek mythology, " elegant" as it was, showed the limit of the best type of the human mind on the general subject of religion, so the Hindoo doctrines on the Trinity and the Incarnation show the limit of the human mind when exercised on the problem what God would be if he should become incarnate.
As we, therefore, compare the statements in the Gospels with the writings of the Greek philosophers on the general subject of religion, so we may compare the details of the Hindoo theology on the Trinity and the Incarnation with the statements in the New Testament on the life and character of the incarnate Son of God. If it had been left to man to select the mind that was best fitted to describe what an incarnate being would be, it is probable that no one could have been selected more fitted to the task than the Hindoo mind. The result is before the world.
(3.) What, then, are the difficulties on the subject which have placed it so far above the unaided human powers ? I have, in the former part of this Lecture, adverted to the difficulties in describing the character of a perfect man, and to the fact that all efforts to do this, except the attempt in the Gospels, have failed. I now advert more particularly to the greater difficulties of describing the actions of an incarnate being—of God in human form.
(a) In considering this part of the subject, it is proper to remark that it is undoubtedly the fact that it was the design of the writers of the New Testament to describe such a character; that they had such a character before their minds in portraying the character of Jesus; or that they undertook to write the life of one whom they regarded as God in human form.
This was, beyond all question, the view of the Evangelist John, for he begins his Gospel by saying that " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was 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, L, 1,14). The difficulty was in describing the character of one who was believed to be God, and who was known to be a man.
(b) If there was, as we have seen in the former part of this Lecture, great and intrinsic difficulties in describing the character of a perfect man, there was, in the case of the incarnation, this additional difficulty, which would seem to be almost insuperable, of describing the actions of an incarnate being—of one in whom the divinity and the humanity were united. We know what a man will do; how he thinks, speaks, acts. But how do we know what God will do—how he will think, speak, act ? Still more, how do we know how the divine and the human could be so blended that the actions of each and of both could be represented as the actions of one person ? The difficulty was in putting fit words into the mouth of one regarded as God, and of describing what he would do as the incarnate divinity, and at the same time of describing him as in union with, or in combination with human feelings, tenderness, sympathies, compassions—one who could weep, as a man, over a friend sleeping in the grave, and at the same time, by a word, restore him to life, as God. For this there was no model—no example. None of the descriptions of the actions of the gods in the heathen mythology would do for an example; none of the descriptions in the poets could be the basis for the biography of a combined human and divine person. If it was the work of fancy, it was to be mere fancy; if the life had been real, there was still the difficulty of describing that life so that the divine and the human would appear in the proper proportions; so that in the one there would be nothing inconsistent with the other; so that there would be nothing incongruous, monstrous, or absurd. The difficulty was that of describing God and man as one united being; acting as such; speaking as such; suffering as such; dying as such—the difficulty of describing the things pertaining to his divine nature as naturally as those pertaining to his human nature ; the difficulty of describing this mysterious being performing a miracle as naturally as he performed any other action—making him, if I may so speak—as natural when he stilled the tempest on the sea, or when he raised Lazarus from the grave, as when he broke the bread at the last Passover, or when, in words of sympathy and love, he comforted the weeping sisters of Lazarus: to preserve the individuality, the separate consciousness, the expressions of will, of affection, and of feeling; to describe the actions of the divinity in language appropriate, and the actions of the man in language appropriate; to describe such a mysterious being in language as appropriate when raising the dead as when conversing on ordinary topics of life; when stilling a tempest on the Sea of Galilee by a word as God, and when communing with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Who can describe such a being, in very varied actions in life, and in a great diversity of circumstances, and yet do it so that all shall recognize its fitness ? How could this be done by unlettered fishermen ? How could it be done by four or more such fishermen, not acting in concert, and yet drawing out the details of such a life in a manner that would be harmonious, and so that its concinnity would be preserved ?
(4.) It has not been done elsewhere than in the Gospels; not in the poetry of the Greeks; not in the incarnations of Vishnu. As far as the east is from the west are all those representations from what must be the character and the life of an incarnate Deity; and as it may be presumed that in the efforts of these two classes of mind—the Greek and the Hindoo, the firstminds of earth—the power of man on that subject was exhausted, it may be affirmed now that it can not be done. Among the Greeks there was no bad passion of men that was not represented as developed in their incarnate deities; among the Hindoos there is nothing absurd, puerile, monstrous, extravagant, wild, improbable, or even wicked, that is not represented in their incarnations of the Deity.
On the question respecting the ability of man to describe, in a proper manner, the actions of an incarnate Deity, we are not left to conjecture, for we actually have two distinct classes of biographers of Jesus—both claiming to describe him as incarnate — that of the Evangelists, and that in the " apocryphal Gospels." No writings in the world are more unlike each other than these ; nothing, perhaps, could more clearly demonstrate that there has been a supernatural guidance in portraying the character of Jesus in the Evangelists than a comparison of the one with the other.
One of those " Gospels" relates to the " infancy of Jesus," and the attempt has been made, assuming the fact of his incarnation or his divinity, to describe him when a boy. Of such an attempt, it has been well remarked by Dr. Bushnell (Nature and the Supernatural, p. 280), " If any writer, of almost any age, will undertake to describe not merely a spotless, but a superhuman or celestial childhood, not having the reality before him, he must be somewhat more than human himself if he does not pile together a mass of clumsy exaggerations, and draw and overdraw till neither heaven nor earth can find any verisimilitude in the picture."
" These apocryphal Gospels," it has been well said, " are related to the canonical Gospels as a counterfeit to the genuine coin, or as a revolting caricature to the inimitable original." According to the representation in those Gospels, even dumb idols, irrational beasts, and senseless trees bow in adoration before the infant Jesus on his journey to Egypt; and after his return, when yet a boy of five or seven years, he changes balls of clay into flying birds for the idle amusement of his playmates, dries up a stream of water by a mere word, transforms his companions into goats, raises the dead to life, makes by miracle a piece of cabinet-work which his father Joseph could not make, and performs all sorts of miraculous cures through a magical influence which proceeds from the very water in which he washed, the towels which he used, and the bed on which he slept.*
(5.) But that in which men have failed every where else has been accomplished in the Gospels. No one can show that, on the supposition that Christ was divine— God as well as man—there is in his recorded life, in the sentiments which fell from his lips, in the actions which he performed, in the feelings which he manifested, even one thing inconsistent with such a supposition. That he was, as described, a perfect man, we have seen. The life which he lived was that of a perfect man. The death which he died was that of a perfect man. At the same time, the sentiments which he uttered were such as became God—those profound truths; those perfect rules of morality; those sublime doctrines; those de
* The particulars, with ample illustrations, may be seen in Rud. Hoffman's Leben Jesu nach den Apokryphen, p. 140-236. See Dr. Schaff's Person of Christ, p. 31-33.
scriptions of God; those representations of man; those representations of the future state—the resurrection— the judgment—heaven and hell. The miracles which he wrought were such as God only can perform, and the language which he used in healing the sick, in opening the eyes of the blind, in stilling the storm, and in raising the dead, is as simple and appropriate as that which he employed in his ordinary intercourse with his disciples and friends. For he is described as uttering those great truths as naturally and as easily as conversing on the ordinary topics of life, and the description of his raising the dead is a description of an act as natural and easy as the most ordinary action of life. We may safely challenge any one who denies the fact of the incarnation to- show, on the supposition that there was an incarnation, what there is in the whole of the four Gospels that is inconsistent with such an idea, or that strikes the mind as incongruous on such a supposition. And even with this model before us, let it be attempted again, even by the most cultivated intellect of the world, to represent an incarnate God, and we should have a representation of the gods of Greece and Rome, or the puerilities and absurdities of the Hindoo incarna, tions, or a very imperfect copy of Jesus of Nazareth. (6.) How, now, is this to be accounted for? If the case was real, and if there was a real incarnation in the person of Christ, and if these illiterate men were inspired to give a just account of his life, then the whole matter is explained; if neither of these were true, then the mystery remains as yet unsolved, and will remain unsolved forever.