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HAPPEN to be one of an increasing number of persons who
believe that almost, if not quite, all the great fundamental controversies of to-day must, sooner or later, be determined by what we do really and truly believe about the person of Christ. Many a topic apparently altogether unrelated to Him, and that on the mere surface, would appear to have no possible relation to Him, does, nevertheless, when reduced to a last analysis, oblige us to confront the question, “What think ye of Christ? whose Son is He?' Behind the phenomena of the material universe, which are cognisable by the senses, there are certain unseen forces which give to those phenomena their existence, vitality, and continuance. In whose hands are those forces ? And so with political, philosophical, and moral problems, of so disturbing a kind that men 'go up and down seeking rest'in reference to them, and 'finding none;' it is my assured conviction that, until we have settled, for ourselves at least, this matter of the personality of Christ, we have no sufficient data upon which to go.
For these reasons, and some others which will appear in this present course of articles, I ask the attention of my readers to a small contribution towards the object alluded to, which, however simple, may at last find a natural place in the entire mass of evidence.
No well-instructed mind can, I think, survey the field of theological warfare, as it has existed for the past hundred years down to the present hour, without feeling that nothing more of
any vital importance can be said for or against the ‘Personal Divinity of Christ,' as far as the old texts and the old arguments are concerned, which has not been said over and over again by the very ablest disputants on both sides. You read a volume of to-day in favour of our Lord's personal divinity, or one designed to contravene that hypothesis, and you find at last, what you might have known at first, that you are only having the old materials served up to you in some new shape, and that, like the pieces of glass in the boy's kaleidoscope, they remain the same, the shapes they take, and those only, merely varying as the cylinder is turned. Many of our theological controversies are like 'extinct volcanoes,' thoroughly worked out, and no longer dangerous, their presence amongst us merely. reminding us of the havoc they have made in the past.
Such being my convictions, it may be asked why I should do anything, however elementary and simple, to prolong a controversy which is so regarded by me? My answer is a practical
No doubt some of the texts, especially those of the New Testament, which have always been quoted as 'proof texts' in favour of our Lord's personal divinity, will quite honestly bear any fair strain which has been put upon them. Personally speaking, I myself quite believe they will. But it has often occurred to me that it is in this case, as it is sometimes in questions tried in courts of law, where the circumstantial or indirect evidence is really after all the most important, because the most conclusive, and the most conclusive because it is not direct evidence. Now, after a patient, continuous, prayerful, and, I am sure, independent study of the New Testament, carried on for many years, I am able to affirm unhesitatingly, not only that there are large numbers of indirect testimonies in those pages to the personal divinity of Christ, but that their very indirectness constitutes a large portion of their value. I intend in this series of articles to name a number of such passages, and make brief remarks upon them as I name them, and if I can succeed in accomplishing the object I have set before my mind, I think I shall have provided Christian believers with one more scriptural weapon with which to fight (let us hope they will fight in love) those who are theologically opposed to them.
It will be seen that I speak of the 'personal divinity of Christ,' and I do so advisedly. Many persons who profess and call themselves Christians,' claim to believe in the divinity of Christ, in the sense of believing in His divine mission.' No doubt His mission was divine, but so also were the missions of Moses, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Simon Peter, and St. Paul. I think the Christian consciousness, which bespeaks the Christian need, cannot be satisfied, when it has to deal with Christ, by the acceptance, however devout and earnest, of His divine mission only; for if the personality of Christ was not in some real and important sense divine, as well as His mission, He does but take His place among persons human, and not among persons divine; and, being born 'under the law of sin and death,' He can never be the perfect revelation of what God is, and of what man ought to be; in other words, He fails us just where we most of all need Him.
My readers will now see what it is I am about to attempt, and the point of sight from which my work is to be looked at, and from which I myself shall look at it. They must not expect profound criticism, or if they do they will be disappointed. All I shall aim to do will be to tell, in simplest language, in directest manner, and in a spirit of utter fairness, what I believe to be implied in certain statements in the New Testament, as far as those statements implicate anything about the personal nature of Christ.
But before I bring this series of chapters to an end, I desire to present some considerations on the importance of men's thoughts about God's Christ. In what way does it signify what we think about our Lord's personality ? Does it make any great practical difference whether we hold the Humanitarian theory of His nature, the theory propounded by Swedenborg, or the theory that the Lord Jesus Christ was the eternal Son of God, in and through whom God was pleased to make a personal revelation of Himself?
After our Lord's final entry into Jerusalem, and while the Pharisees were gathered together,' Jesus asked a question, saying, “What think ye of Christ? whose Son is He?' (Matt. xxii. 42). He knew they all looked for the coming of Messiah, and He wished them to express to Him their thought or judgment, not necessarily about Himself, but about the Christ, as such. Of course, He was the Christ, but they had not conceded so much to His claims, and so He would lead them on step by step to some inevitable conclusion.
When it is said, as it sometimes is, that it does not signify what we believe about our Lord's personality, so long as we receive His teachings, obey His commands, and are inspired by His spirit, I should reply that the eternal salvation of a human soul does not depend upon any mere judgment which we may form, even though that judgment be a strictly true and just one. Man's thought about God, about himself, about the entire of existence, may reflect the very thought of God, and yet the thinker be dead in trespasses and sins.' Still our judgments do largely affect our activities. What we think about politics, science, money, art, the sexes, and many other subjects, does determine, to a large extent, what we shall feel and do. Now Christ is a great fact in history, an influential fact, and the totality of our judgment respecting Him will affect the judgments we shall pass upon God, man, human life, human duty, the world of nature, the facts of history, and the future destiny of all things. Thought, feeling, desire, will, act, character, condition, these are all linked together. It is also certain that those who disbelieve, and even those who doubt Christianity, are not at all indifferent to the question of Christ's personality. How can they be if they use their own intelligence ?
If Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of the four Gospels, the Jesus of the New Testament,—and I am not now thinking of any
other Jesus-was a human being, strictly and literally human, human as I am human, as the readers of these lines are human, a man 'born in honest wedlock,' then I maintain that the statements He made about Himself, the claims He made for Himself, and all that the Evangelists and the writers of the Epistles have said about Him and His relations to God and man, are the language of fanaticism, and that it is extremely misleading and injurious. No man has any right to say of a brother man, however highly exalted that brother man may be, what we find in the pages of the New Testament to be said about Jesus Christ. If Jesus of Nazareth was a human being only, human as the rest of us, He is not my absolute Master, my divinely authoritative Teacher, my only Saviour; I do NOT owe Him the unreserved obedience of my whole being; He has no right to demand the complete and constant love of my whole heart; He is not my Judge ; while I am free, with all possible respect for Him, to differ from Him when I cannot see with Him, and to disobey Him when I do not agree with His commands. But if Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, not alone by office, but by nature; if He was, in deed and in truth, of one substance with the Father ;' if, in other words, He was a Divine Being, if the Son and the Father are equal, if Jesus Christ was the incarnate Son of God, the God-Man, 'the Word made flesh,' an outward and visible manifestation of the invisible God; if the Christian doctrine of the Trinity be the revelation of an eternal Father through an eternal Son, and that revelation brought home to our entire consciousness by an eternal Spirit,—then the position Christ occupies towards God, towards man, towards everything, is simply and absolutely unique, and as authoritative as it is unique. 'Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.' I have no right to dictate to another, or to judge another, because he does not agree with me. I judge no man's heart; I can but tell the state of my own.
I at least am bound to look at this question very seriously, and I have done so, as this series of articles will, I think, testify. I bring them to an end with a freshened persuasion of the truth of the theory with which I commenced them, and I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself may be pleased to bless them, to the confirming of those who already believe, to the instruction of those who do not as yet receive the truth of His divine personality,