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“Life and Words of Christ” (pp. 1-3), showing the reverence with which certain great men of the past regarded Jesus, being, too, mostly men of free thought.“We all know,” Dr. Geikie says, “how lowly a reverence is paid to him in passage after passage by Shakespeare, the greatest intellect known, in its wide, many-sided splendour. Men like Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, Newton, and Milton set the name of Jesus Christ above every other. To show that no other subject of study can claim an equal interest, Jean Paul Richter tells us that 'the life of Christ concerns him who, being the holiest among the mighty, the mightiest among the holy, lifted with his pierced hand empires off their hinges, and turned the stream of centuries out of its channel, and still governs the ages.' Spinoza calls Christ the symbol of Divine Wisdom ; Kant and Jacobi hold him up as the symbol of ideal perfection, and Schelling and Hegel as that of the union of the Divine and the human. 'I esteem the Gospels,' says Goethe, ‘to be thoroughly genuine, for there shines forth from them the reflected splendour of a sublimity, proceeding from the person of Jesus Christ, of so divine a kind as only the Divine could ever have manifested upon earth.' 'How petty are the books of the philosophers, with all their pomp,' says Rousseau, 'compared with the Gospels !”
“Jesus Christ,' says the exquisite genius Herder, is, in the noblest and most perfect sense, the realized ideal of humanity.''
Thus we see that even to those who reject entirely
his supernatural character, and care not to claim the appellation Christian (as e.g. Goethe)-even to these, with few exceptions, Jesus Christ is the “Best and Greatest” of mankind. There are, indeed, forming an intermediate class containing many names of eminence, those who still“ profess and call themselves Christians," while avowing their disbelief that Jesus fulfilled the conditions requisite to constitute him the Messiah of Hebrew prophecy; who cannot admit that he wrought any miracle, nor believe in his bodily resurrection from the dead, yet state their belief that he lived a life perfectly sinless, even during the period of youth. The late George Dawson (e.g:) takes his place here, and one of the most recent biographers of Jesus—the late Dr. Theodore Keim-seems to be of this class. He says,* “This true and living image of the human Christ can never again be reconciled with its directly mysterious and superhuman attributes; and on p. 15, “For ourselves, no conviction has become more certain, in the contemplation of this life, than that there where dwelt the truest and noblest humanity, not only a religious genius, but a miracle of God and his presence on earth, was at the same time revealed; himself the person and in no other sense the miracle, the human nature allied with the divine, the corporeal temple of God. That the religious genius will not suffice is most clearly shown by this, that the manner in which Jesus is singled
* “Jesus of Nazara," vol. i. p. 14. Theological Translation Fund Library : Williams and Norgate.
out and distinguished from all others as the sinless one, does not belong to the conception of a genius, in which there is a relative and no absolute great
With this sinlessness not merely the dogmatic, but also the historical Jesus must stand or fall.”
And in vol. ii. p. 67 Keim further says, “We may hazard the conclusion . . . that the tireless wrestling of God after a representation of a perfect, yes, a godlike being, a beloved Godlike image in earthly form”
has “ been crowned with a success worthy of God in the person of Jesus himself.”
A belief mainly similar to the above has been defended by Dr. Martineau, and is held by many Unitarians; see, for example, “The Soul's Way to God," by Rev. Charles Beard, pp. 30, 31. This work is published by the British and Foreign Unitarian Association; and from another publication of the same society, "Conscience and Faith,” a translation from the French of the late Athanase Coquerel Fils, a noted liberal Protestant, we extract the following, see p. 110"When I read again and again his sublime and powerful words, I mark his vast immeasurable superiority to all that surrounded him to the Jews of his age, to the sages of Greece, to the Roman masters of the world, to his own disciples—even the greatest of them, St. John and St. Paul—to all his successors, even the most eminent and most saintly. I find him so superior to modern wisdom, to the morality of our time, to existing religious systems, including those which take their origin from him ; I see him so closely
and so really in union with God; I see him so great, so simple, so good, so pure, so human, that it pains me to hear him called my equal or yours, and I recognize in him with rapture the Head and Master of humanity, the Redeemer or Liberator, the Elder Brother, the King of men, the Son of God par excellence. I cannot help admitting that, while still most truly man, he is as perfectly divine as it is possible to be on earth, and infinitely beyond anything we could ever have imagined."
To Dr. S. Davidson, also, Jesus is “a person such as the world never saw before—the living type of an ideal humanity, pure and perfect.”*
Lastly, we presume that the Rev. Stopford Brooke also belongs to the same class-of those, namely, who have ceased to affirm the physically miraculous, yet who regard Jesus as possessing a really supernatural elevation of character.
Descending from these altitudes, we come to many persons who do not commit themselves to an expression of belief in the absolute sinlessness of Jesus throughout his whole career, yet who employ superlatives in stating his relative height as a man.
The author of the well-known work, "Supernatural Religion," says, in effect, that Jesus never has been and never can be surpassed, while hitherto he has excelled all others. Thus: “The teaching of Jesus carried morality to the sublimest point attained or even attainable by humanity. The influence of his spiritual religion has been rendered doubly great by the unparalleled purity and elevation of his character. Surpassing in his sublime simplicity and earnestness, the moral grandeur of Chakya-Mouni, and putting to the blush the sometimes sullied, though generally admirable, teaching of Socrates and Plató, and the whole round of Greek philosophers, he presented the rare spectacle of a life, so far as we can estimate it, uniformly noble and consistent with his own lofty principles, so that the 'imitation of Christ'has become almost the final word in the preaching of his religion, and must continue to be one of the most powerful elements of its permanence.” And in p. 489 this author remarks of the teaching of Jesus, “ It is too divine in its morality to require the aid of miraculous attributes. No supernatural halo can heighten its spiritual beauty, and no mysticism deepen its holiness. In its perfect simplicity it is sublime, and in its profound wisdom it is eternal.”
* Introduction to " Study of New Testament,” p. 463. + See vol. ii. p. 487.
Mr. Matthew Arnold views him who preached from the Galilean Mount as “the Only;" for he tells us that “Nothing is righteousness but the method and secret and sweet reasonableness of Jesus Christ.” *
Sometimes, in estimating the qualities of Jesus, superlatives are employed only in reference to other great ones of the past and present, and without pronouncing on the future. Thus, the hero of "Sartor Resartus," and vehicle of Carlyle's utterances therein,
* “God and the Bible,” p. 9.