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Thursday, November 30th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Divinity of Christ

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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I. Preliminary considerations.

1. The mystery of Christ.

2. The movement ‘Back to Christ.’

3. Certain results of the movement.

II. Bases of Christological belief.

1. Primarily a new experience.

2. Analysis of the experience.

(a) Christ’s Messianic character.

(b) His self-consciousness: (α) His interior life, (β) His method in teaching, (γ) His sinlessness, (δ) His oneness with God.

(c) His appeal to deeper personality.

(d) His teaching and works.

3. Validity of the experience.

III. Beginnings of the doctrine of Christ’s Person in the NT.

1. General character of the doctrine.

2. Divine names applied to Christ.

3. Divine properties and acts attributed to Christ.

4. Divine relations as to God, man, the world.

IV. Subsequent development of NT ideas.

1. History of the doctrine.

(a) Patristic.

(b) Mediaeval.

(c) Modern.

2. Denial of the doctrine.

(a) Its history and motive.

(b) Its failure.


I. Preliminary Considerations

1. The mystery of Christ.—The historic question of Jesus to His disciples, ‘Who do men say that I the Son of Man am?’ (Matthew 16:13, Mark 8:27, Luke 9:18), was put not to confound, but to reveal, by awakening the desire for knowledge. The intelligent answer to the question preserves the precious truth, which is nothing less than God’s age-long secret about Himself. The disciples had been nurtured on a religious literature in which the whole national and individual future was seen blending in one anticipation, the coming of God to His people to deliver and save. One like the Son of Man comes, and there is given to Him dominion and glory and a kingdom which shall not pass away. This was the figure in which the Jewish imagination clothed the Jewish hope. Modern criticism dwells upon the factors in history which determined the form in which this hope took shape. The Hebrew religion, we are assured, was wrought out under constant pressure of disaster. It was the religion of a proud, brave people, who were constantly held in subjection to foreign conquerors. Hence came a quality of intense hostility to those tyrannous foes, and also a constant appeal to the Divine Power to declare itself. The hostility and the appeal inspire the Messianic Hope. Was there nothing more? Surely behind the history and the imagination lay elemental forces of the soul. What lend essential and abiding worth both to the Hebrew hostility to Gentile oppression and the Hebrew appeal to Jehovah’s righteous right hand are a faith and a passion which, if quickened into power by the vicissitudes of history, were themselves underived from history, and native to the spirit of the nation. Nor in this high conviction do the Hebrews stand alone. Everywhere, wherever thought has advanced sufficiently near its Object, it has come to a yearning, at times poignant, for closer contact. The numerous idolatries of the lower religions are simply the objectivation of this desire. The no less numerous conceptions of Divinity in more cultured peoples are due to the same stress. There has been a ceaseless demand of the human race for an embodiment of Deity. The demand is a product of the hungry human heart for closer communion with God and larger loyalty to Him.

The existence of an instinct so universal is the guarantee of its fulfilment. The two considerations, that the Hebrew race had worked out the conception of the Messiah, and that the ethnic peoples were quite familiar with Divine incarnations, processes both present admittedly to the mind of the Early Church, furnish no evidence to the contrary. In themselves they prove nothing against a true Incarnation historically manifested, if it can be shown that its historical manifestation is not wholly traceable to naturalistic origins in the Hebrew and ethnic genius. The presence, in particular, of many myths parallel to the Christian story need not mean that the Christian story is itself a myth. As has been well said, ‘If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions of the Christian God? If the centre of our life is a certain fact, would not people far from the centre have a muddled version of the fact? If we are so made that a Son of God must deliver us, is it odd that Patagonians (and others) should dream of a Son of God?’ (Chesterton, Religious Doubts of Democracy, p. 18). False beliefs live by the true elements within them. A persistent belief occurring in many false forms is likely to be true, and may reasonably be expected to occur in a true form. Each redeemer of heathenism is a prophetic anticipation of the satisfying of human desires in Jesus Christ, precisely as the Messianic disclosures of the OT were to the people of whom according to the flesh He came. They are anticipations only: since neither the pagan foregleams nor the Hebrew forecasts offered sufficient data for a complete or consistent delineation of an actual Person.* [Note: Westcott, Gospel of Life, pp. 295–297.] The earlier experiences of men made the gospel intelligible, but they had no power to prouce it. It satisfies and crowns them, but does not grow out of them. The Person, when He came, did more than satisfy the old instinct by which men had hope, He reinforced and extended it: His advent not only accomplished the past promise, it gave earnest of greater things to come: He thus represented human ideals indeed, but still more Divine ideas. The highest prophecies of His appearance reveal, amid the circumstantial details, the element of mystery; that mystery is not eliminated when the Life appears. It is the singular significance of Jesus Christ that both in the anticipations of Him and in His actual appearance the details always lead on to inquiry as to what is not detailed, the facts to something beyond themselves; the Man and His words and works to the question Who is He? and Whence is this Man?

2. The movement ‘Back to Christ.’—The question is prominently before the present age. The modern mind asks it with revived interest. Modern knowledge in its several departments of philosophy, history, science, has developed along lines and in obedience to principles which appear able to dispense with the old theistic axioms. God and Conscience are not so vividly active. And yet, on the other hand, the ancient instinct of the race for communion with God is assertive as ever. It turns for comfort almost exclusively to the Christian tradition. The Christian tradition, however, it is convinced, needs revision; and here the central necessity is the treatment and true understanding of the Person of Christ. The cry is ‘Back to Christ.’ It is a cry dear to all who desire a simpler gospel than that set forth in the Creeds; all who are wearied with speculation on the elements of Christian truth, or are distraught with the variety of interpretation offered of it; all who are eager to embrace the ethics and as eager to abjure what they term the metaphysics of the Christian system. The movement referred to is natural; and its plea so plausible as to merit attention. The aim is nothing short of recovering the image of the original Founder of the Faith, expressed in His authentic words and acts; to bring back in all the distinct lineaments of a living Personality the great Teacher whom we now see in the Gospels ‘as through a glass darkly.’ It seeks by a study of the original records in the light of all the historical and critical aids now open to us, and guided by the modern idea of evolution, not only to bring us face to face with Jesus of Nazareth, to listen to His direct words of wisdom, but to trace all the steps of His spiritual advance, all the steps by which He grew into the Messiah of Israel and the Ideal of humanity, giving the deepest interpretation to the prophetic dream of His nation, and so lifting it into that higher region in which the freely accepted Cross became the necessary means to the deliverance of man. The ‘Jesus of history,’ it is argued, has been buried in the ‘Christ of dogma’; the Church in handing down the Saviour has presented Him with adoring hands and in idealized form. The more we throw off her encrustments, the nearer we get to the original, the nearer we are getting to the real Jesus, and, in Him, to the truth of our religion.

However natural the hope of such minds, it is based on illusion. It proceeds on erroneous ideas as to what we may learn from the past. ‘What has been done,’ says the adage, ‘even the gods themselves cannot make undone.’ All that historical reversions can do is to suggest that in the onward movement something precious has been left behind which it were well to recover before going further. There is no such Christ, no such Christianity in the first century as is sought for: a Christ and a Christianity purely invariable and true for all time and in every place. That is a conception which, the more it is studied, the more it will be found to be a pure abstraction to which no concrete in rerum natura corresponds. The absolute value of the Christian Faith, the real stature of the Christ, cannot be established by merely dropping the historical surroundings or setting of the traditional truth. The old truth that lived spiritually in the minds of those who first livingly apprehended it, and which has pulsated all through the historical process, has to be caught up again, realized in its essential vitality, and formulated anew in harmony with the modern spirit. We have to ask, Was the Christian Idea given in itself apart, in isolation, abstractly, and may this, as the ‘essence,’ substance, or soul of the gospel, be rediscovered? Or, on the contrary, was the Christian Idea planted as a Life in a company of believers who manifested its power in their lives, so that it cannot be reduced to an invariable essence except by an unreal process of abstraction? Cf., further, art. Back to Christ.

3. Certain results of the movement.—The effort to ‘rediscover Christ’ (the phrase is Dr. Fairbairn’s) is important less in its avowed aim than in its subsidiary results. Through them it yields a real contribution to theological progress. We proceed to indicate three such results: (1) a new idea of the nature of Christian doctrine; (2) the insistence on the distinction between primary and variable elements in doctrines; (3) the deepened consciousness of the extent of variation.

(1) The same divines who have busied themselves in the search for the Christ of history have been instrumental in exhibiting Christian thought on His Person as a process. In that sphere of thought they have rigorously applied the idea of development, not indeed for the first time (since John Henry Newman, fifteen years before Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, had fascinated their fathers by his use of the idea), but with a more thorough insight than Newman, and with better tests, furnishing in consequence widely different results from his. They are enabled to distinguish between Creed and Doctrine, between articles of faith and the whole process of reflexion, even of a conflicting character, by which articles of faith are reached and defined. By them interest is transferred from the result to the process. The forces entering into the process are minutely analyzed. It is discovered that theology has a history; that its history is mixed up with general history; that it has been moulded by a vast deal external to the subject-matter of theology; and not only so, but even, as some (notably Harnack) contend, has been substantially and in its inner essence modified, if not perverted, in the process, It is seen that Christian dogmas were once inchoate; passed through many stages under influences social, political, intellectual; and that they have a constant tendency so to do in adapting themselves to their environment—that, in short, they are not dead formulas, but a living organism.

(2) The emergence of so many factors merely accidental has brought into clearer perspective the reality immanent in the process. Besides the soil and the influences on growth, there is the seed, the Divine Truth on which human thought and earthly event exercised themselves. It is traceable to the teaching and life of Jesus and His Apostles. Only fragments of His utterances have been preserved to us, but the brief discourses and conversations that we read in the Gospels stand unique in spiritual power among the utterances of the world. They represent a large body of teaching, lost to us in form but preserved in its fruits; for out of His spiritual wealth there poured throughout His ministry an abundance of spoken truth that remained to perpetuate His influence and serve as the foundation of Christian doctrine. Together with His life they formed and still form Truth, not simply in a definite invariable quantity, but as a constant fountain and source of truth, ever open and flowing for them who believe. He gave a new light on all things to men; and by an inevitable necessity they proceeded to apply, and still must apply, what He has shown, to the interpretation of all they thought and knew. Thus Christian doctrine bases itself ultimately on two sources: (a) the Facts as to Christ’s teaching and life; and (b) the Experience of believers in Him interpreting life and its problems in the light of those facts. Christian doctrine has grown up as a vital thing in the soil of actual life; in the experience of Christian living. Jesus appeared among men and lived and taught. He gave the Truth by what He was, by what He said, by what He did. Words, Works, Personality: all preached. This rich and various utterance fell into the hearing and the hearts of men and women who became His followers. Into their very being it entered with transforming power, making them ‘new creatures.’ By and by it filtered through their minds and life, and expressed itself in the form which their own experience gave to it. It is this reproduction of the truth Jesus brought that constitutes Christian doctrine. Its fundamental elements are to be kept clearly in view—viz. the Christian Facts and the Experience of Believers.

(3) The origin of variation in doctrinal belief immediately becomes manifest. Believing experience cannot be expected to be invariable. Still less the expression of experience. Variety of views enters. There are differences of mind, of education, of disposition and degrees of sympathy, of ability to apprehend and explain: differences all of them, when given free scope, likely to lead to mixed results. Present-day religious thought is profoundly impressed with the fact and with the necessity of it. And if in consequence the theological mind is infected with a certain sense of insecurity, there is compensation in the new breath of freedom. Obviously it is gain to be able to review the doctrinal process and results of the past, to disentangle the Divine Truth from its temporary formulation, and to elaborate it anew in such wise as will subserve the highest interests of men to-day, as well as do justice to its own ever fresh wealth of content. (Cf. the interesting exposition in Dr. Newton Clarke’s What shall we think of Christianity? Lect. ii.).

II. Bases of Christological belief

1. Primarily a new experience.—The new methods found early application to the doctrine of Christ’s Person. That doctrine is central in the Christian system. It is by Christ, His Person and Work, that salvation is mediated. Historically and experimentally the Church learned it so. A study of the NT and of the two subsequent centuries is chiefly a study of one great fact or truth, to the understanding and interpreting of which the mind and life of the period were devoted, and devoted with absorbing interest—the Person of Christ. That problem soon became at once the impulse and the starting-point of an entire science of God, of man, and of the essential and final relation between God and man. But primarily the question at issue was simply that of His Person. It was provoked by Christ’s own questions and by His claims. Its urgency was enhanced by the experience of believers. Their experience was unprecedentedly novel. Unlike that of Hebrew faith, its ground was individual and personal.

Its origin lay in the revolutionary impression His presence created in the heart, an impression which came as a thing incomparable, and remained as the most precious fact of life. It grew as a new power in the soul to resist and overcome sin, assuring not the promise only but the potency of real holiness, imparting to the latent faculties of the changing heart an increasing plenitude of spiritual force making for righteousness. Concurrently with this feature in the new experience went another, or two others. Awakened by the sense of power in the inner life imparted by Christ, men came to understand what the evil is from which God seeks to save them, and what the good is which He seeks to impart to them. In Christ moral goodness, the righteousness of God, laid its inexorable claims upon man’s life, determining feelings and shaping resolutions as does the real entrance of God into our hearts. The impression of Christ was thus seen to be the power of God. A further step was won when reflexion forced forward the question how it could be so, in what mode the nature of Christ’s Person must be regarded in the light of the above experiences. But the root of the matter was reached when the fact was realized that the more the strength of His character overwhelmed them, the more undeniable was made the reality of God to them. That was reached, however, at the very outset. It was the primary conviction which entitled to the name of believer, and confession of it meant salvation. It formed the fundamental basis of Christological belief. Jesus comes acting on human hearts with winsome gentleness, with a soul-moving sorrow for sin, and with a great enabling power. The high demands He brings raise no fear, for He who demands approaches with the means of fulfilling, which He is ready to impart. Herein rests the real originality of His message, by which His gospel differentiates itself from all other religions on the one hand, and from all merely philosophical or ethical Idealisms on the other; in virtue of which also all interpretations of His Person on humanitarian lines prove inadequate. On this point a clear understanding is indispensable. It is to be insisted that the ‘Christ of History’ and the ‘Christ of Experience’ were not separable to the mind of the disciples; they were one and indivisible. Their Christ is not the Teaching of Jesus alone, or His Works alone; or both together alone, but both together along with what they revealed regarding the inner life of Jesus, and what they created in the inner life of believers. It is impossible to separate the last from the first. It is illegitimate to seek to resolve it into a creation of the religious idealizing faculty of believers in Him. The thought of the Apostles consciously felt itself engaged not in evolving dreams and speculations of its own, but in striving to receive and appreciate a truth which was before, above, independent of them. By no single fact in His biography does His message, in this view, stand or fall, but by Himself whom the facts reveal; the facts come embedded, and are vital because thus embedded, in one cardinal fact, Himself. He came to them not as a prophet, although He had much in common with the prophets; nor as a culture-hero, the offspring of spiritual imagination; but as an inner force of life absolutely unique; an inner experience in which God entered into their hearts in a manner heretofore unparalleled, being borne in on them rather than presented to their imitation, leavening them practically with Himself, and demonstratively in such a way that henceforth to their very existence in God, He, the Revealer, must belong. In the NT we move amid scenes where the common has been broken up by vast events. God from the Unseen has struck into history a fresh note, and a new era has opened. The whole suggestion is of possibilities and resources waiting to be disclosed. (Cf. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity). The beginning of Christianity is neither a theological idea nor a moral precept; it is an experience of a Fact, the Fact of Christ, revealing and imparting the life of God.

The impression Christ made on those who saw and heard Him is a solid fact which no criticism can upset. Is it possible to get behind this fact? The effort is strenuously made by many. What was He who produced the impression reported in the Gospels? Better still, What was He who produced not this or that impression, but the resultant of actual and permanent impressions which He has made upon the world? In seeking an answer, historical and critical research has been lavished on every aspect of the question. Christ’s teaching, career, personality, have been studied as never before. The result is that He is better known to us than to any previous age. It is at the same time being increasingly felt that a naturalistic reconstruction of His life is not possible. Candid students of the anti-supernaturalist camps (e.g., in history, Keim [Jesus of Nazara]; in philosophy, Ed. Caird [Evol. of Religion]; in science, Sir Oliver Lodge [Hibbert Journal, iii. i.] and Prof. James [Varieties of Religious Experience]) practically confess the failure of past attempts, and succeed in evading the postulate of Divinity only by attributing to the human life so ample a magnificence as to make it embrace all that Christian thought understands by Divinity. The new rationalism shows how decidedly the old materialism has spent its force. Of special interest is its frank recognition of the presence and vitality of experiences on which hitherto naturalism has set taboo. The more the new criticism endeavours to revivify the dead past and live over again the life of the disciples who enjoyed the personal communion of Christ, the more it sees it must combine in itself all the qualifications necessary for seeing and understanding all that He really was. This conviction, however, involves the finding of a place for criteria for the adjudging of Christ, specifically extra-naturalistic, but not extra-scientific, and spiritual; and where this happens without prepossession, the irresistible sense of Christ’s transcendence impresses. His mystery remains (cf. Contentio Veritatis, Essay ii.; also Rashdall, Doctrine and Development, v. and vi.).

2. Analysis of the experience.—But if we cannot go behind the fact in the sense of reaching something more ultimate, we may analyze its elements. It will be found in content to comprise at least four constituents: His teaching and works; His growing consciousness of His own nature; His response to prophetic promise; His appeal to deeper personality.

(a) Of these the most obvious is the third, the contemporary conviction of His Messianic dignity. ‘That Jesus is the Christ’ is one of the dominating ideas of the Gospels and Epistles. More than one recent writer (Martineau, Meinhold, Wrede, etc.) have sought to show that Jesus did not accept the title of Messiah; but not even these deny its attribution to Him by the disciples, and that as their main view of His Person. Careful analysis indicates that in whatever respects the Synoptics differ in their representations,—and they are not absolutely harmonious,—they yet represent a general agreement of view, and set forth what the primitive belief was. In that belief Jesus stands forth as Messiah, Himself accepting as appropriate what they attribute; a sublime figure, not merely human, or exalted to Messiahship only by self-mastery and self-dedication, but by peculiar nature and special appointment. The endeavour to reduee the Evangelic description of Messiah to human dimensions is ludicrously inadequate to the facts. If it be the case that His disciples ‘caressed Him in the most familiar manner as a fellow-human being’ (Crooker, NT Views of Jesus, p. 25), the statement is crudely one-sided, since the familiar fellowship He vouchsafed, as is very evident, is but the framework of an intimate disillusionment on the part of His followers, and a growing revelation on His part. We can trace the stages by which the higher idea was unfolded to them. It came in a series of disappointments, intended, probably, to wean them from the popular ideas of what the Messiah should be. There is first the death of the Baptist, the prophet of Messiah. Then there is the refusal to commit Himself to the enthusiasm of those who would have made Him a king (John 2:24; John 6:15). Again, Christ avoids or evades the challenge to manifest Himself to the world (John 7:4; John 7:6). Lastly came the crisis, as it were, the open challenge to prove His Messiahship by a sign and legitimate His claim, a challenge refused (Luke 22:67; Luke 23:35). Hand in hand with this progressive disillusionment of all that was contrary to His thought in current Messianic ideas went the progressive revelation of the true Messiah,—a revelation which became at once a testing and a discipline of the character of the disciples, and an unfolding of undreamt of forces in His; so that at last they fell at His feet and worshipped, while others acknowledged Him as ‘Lord and God’ (John 20:28); and still others plainly felt that He was ‘ascending to the Father’ (John 20:17). That Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and gave His sanction to the belief on the part of His disciples is certain* [Note: The inquiry into the Messiah-consciousness of Christ has led so far to little agreement. Opinions multiply. The main points under consideration are: (1) Did the Messiah idea enter into His ministry at all? (2) If it did, when? From childhood? at baptism? at some later point in His ministry? and from what causes? (3) How did He conceive of His Messiahship? Was His conception complete at first, or the subject of development? (see art. Messiah). Probably it is true to say that the present popular study of Christ’s self-consciousness is less fruitful for the interpretation of His Person than the older method of studying His God-consciousness. His life is not so much a self-witness as a revelation of the Father.] (see next sect.); no less certain (and admitted) is it that the disciples believed Him to be the Messiah. The point of importance for the present is, how the belief originated with the latter. It is a practice among many scholars to reverse the actual facts. They argue as if the belief had been first formulated and officially offered, so to speak, for their acceptance, a formal external idea taken up because it had been put forth by Jesus as a scheme in which to frame His person; in the light of which they are to regard His life and words; exercising a prodigious influence on, and lending a force to, His words and a sanctity to His person beyond that which, but for it, they could possibly have had (cf. such writers as Mackintosh, Nat. Hist. of Christ. Relig.; Percy Gardner, Historic View of NT, ch. iv.; Estlin Carpenter, First Three Gospels, chs. ii., iii.). The actual facts of Christ’s career, i.e., are conformed in the NT narratives to already existing Messianic traditions. And because of this the accumulated sanctities of the old religion were laid claim to by the new, whereby the latter maintained itself in face of the opposition which it encountered at the first and found a soil prepared for its reception. The contention cannot be sustained. It may receive some countenance from the circumstance that the writers of the NT never record any fact or incident merely as fact or incident, but as part of the substance of the gospel, illustrating and conveying spiritual principles. But the very ease with which the NT method of presenting historical circumstance might be turned to account under the influence of Messianic bias becomes valuable evidence against that hypothesis. For although the NT history is presented with a bias, i.e. as bearing and bodying forth a Person, the presentation, whether that of the Synoptics, or of the Fourth Gospel, or of St. Paul and the others, cannot with any measure of success be wholly identified with or wholly summed up in that of the Messiah. The Messianic claims of Jesus may be made (as they are made) to rest on the facts; but the facts are not exhausted in those claims, even in the immensely enriched and original form in which Jesus made them. There are other portraitures of Jesus in the NT besides that of Him as Messiah; and even those writers who set forth to portray Him solely as Messiah cannot be restrained from bursting through their self-imposed limits, in fidelity to the facts, and portraying Him as more than they meant. Moreover, the same writers convey to us the explicit assurance that they have not apprehended all the truth about His Person. Subsequent theology accepted the assurance, departed widely from the purely Messianic portraiture, yet claimed, and with perfect justice, that the new departures were in no sense new additions to the original Gospel, but fresh interpretations, designed to recover and vitalize truths discernible in the Gospels, but imperfectly understood by the Gospel writers.

(b) What has been adverted to finds illustration in another source of Christological idea, the self-conscionsness of Jesus. In the most noteworthy discussion of this subject, that of Baldensperger (Das Sclbstbewusstsein Jesu), only about one half of the work is taken up with determining the sense in which Jesus regarded Himself as Messiah; the second part is devoted to other aspects arising out of His self-designations, His teaching as to the Kingdom, etc. Withal, much that cannot be excluded from Christ’s self-revelation is not even touched upon. Any adequate exposition of Christ’s idea of His own nature will include the following features: His interior life, His method in teaching, His moral perfection, His oneness with the Father.

(α) The true secret of Christ’s life is not open. Who can ever know His intimate mind? Could He have revealed it even if He would? We know His words and deeds; we distinguish the forces He set agoing in the world’s history; we venture on assertions of growth both of idea and of action in His life; but where was the source of these? or what the process? or when the great choices and decisive operations of His marvellous soul? What were the supremely triumphant and supremely terrible moments of His life? What were the events in which He ‘found Himself’? His abounding energy implies a rich self-consciousness; the completest self-consciousness rests on a plenitude of interior self-relationships. That these last existed in Him we are certain. But in what manner or in obedience to what impulses, who can discern? The records give results not processes, and just at those points where our curiosity is most eager, the limitations of our power to perceive are most urgent. We see but a few things. We observe the self-indulgence of His own consciousness again and again. We have glimpses of its exercise in solitary communings with God, in a life of intercourse with men, in the collision with incident and event. Above all, we know it in its great occasions,—Baptism, Temptation, Discussion with the Doctors, Transfiguration, Agony in the Garden, Resurrection, Ascension,—all of which are equally discoveries of His nature to Himself and revelations to His disciples. Because the meaning of these events seems to lie on the surface, we must be careful not to give them a superficial reception. They must be so received when regarded as parts of a religious idea, and not, as they are, experiences of a real Person. They constitute events which were no mere form gone through to proclaim a spiritual truth to men or to certify to them by wondrous signs a new relation opened for them with God. They were not dramatic: they were as personal to Him as they are instructive for us. He did what He did because He was what He was—from a deeper necessity than any deliberate persuasion that His disciples needed this or that teaching at this or that time. These events are far from summing up His inner life. They are but flashes out of a deep darkness. They reveal a life that is really human, in constant communion with a source of sustenance beyond the human, receiving the fulness of that source and translating it into earthly relations, yet with a self-possession and self-knowledge, i.e. a consciousness differentiated and personal. But the revelation does not uncover all the secrets of that life, leaving nothing to elude or bewilder. There are reservations in the knowledge given (cf. Dale, Atonement, pp. 45, 47). And these are not to be identified with the necessary inscrutabilities inherent in all finite personality. They are the intimations of a glory in His nature which separates it from all common natures, signs that in Him there are abysses of impenetrable splendour into which finite natures may not enter, however closely they may touch.

(β) Christ’s method in teaching was characteristic. He taught neither as the scribes (Matthew 7:29), nor as a prophet (Matthew 11:9). And this because of His own nature and the nature of His message. He came not as a teacher; compelling assent by the complete answer to every difficulty, silencing dispute with arguments. He was more personal and spiritual. His teaching did not profess to offer an absolute intellectual proof of itself which must convince all sufficiently intelligent persons. It claimed the belief of all men, but not on the ground of its incontrovertible evidence; on the ground rather that all men were created to be good, and to know the truth, and would know it if their perceptions were not dulled and distorted by sin. It convinced only by a process which at the same time purified. He made His message not an argument but a force.

Hence His method was both declarative and suggestive; both thought and incentive to further thought. At times He is clear and authoritative; His words are such that men may refuse them but cannot mistake them. At other times He shrouds His doctrine in parables, and, pointing to principles, leaves them to work and unfold their purport as men are found ready to receive them. This was so, because the teaching was not simply of truths but Truth, infinite, inalienable, imperishable; the fulfilment of all partial truths. His ‘Verily I say’ asserts His belief that it was so. The ‘mind of Christ’ which the teaching offers is not mere neutrality but soul, personality—back to which the teaching goes for justification. He appeals to no higher sanction than Himself. For Himself also He assumes a right to revise the law of Moses (Matthew 5:21), and claims authority over every individual soul (Matthew 19:29). For this reason it is futile to found an argument against the final and the revealed character of His message on its fragmentariness or its want of originality, futile also to limit His teaching to any detached portion of its recorded whole, e.g. the Sermon on the Mount. The fragments are numerous enough to enable us with ease to trace His mind. They form a unity which is not a new edition simply of anything preceding. That some of His thoughts and precepts were anticipated by Jewish and ethnie men of wisdom does not detract from His originality (see art. Originality), because that consists, not in isolated truths, but in the remarkable sum of truth in which they take their appropriate and articulate place. That doctrine again explains the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount more fully than the Sermon sums up the doctrine. The method of Christ challenges reflexion and suggests as origin of His teaching His own statement ‘from God’ (Matthew 11:27, John 7:16).

(γ) What is meant by the moral perfection of Christ is at times misconceived, yet embodies a difference in His nature as compared with ordinary men that is perfectly realizable. Ullmann in a treatise of great power has made it familiar under the term ‘sinlessness’ (Sinlessness of Jesus, T. & T. Clark). The term has been objected to as a negative conception, the negative absence of evil, a negative difficult to prove from the limited induction available in a life of a few years. To give the conception a concrete expression may be impossible; but the term is of value as pointing to the stainless purity of Christ. His moral self-witness is in the highest degree positive.* [Note: The passage, ‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God’ (Mark 10:18 ||), is still a difficult question of criticism and interpretation. That it is a self-depreciatory word is the least tenable explanation. That, as a self-depreciatory saying it is the only certainly authentic word of Christ with reference to His moral nature (Schmiedel, Encyc. Bibl, ii. 1881), is perverse (cf. Marcus Dods, The Bible, its Origin and Nature, p. 205).]

It implies not simply the consciousness of flawless conduct, but the consciousness of perfect character as well as the assurance of power to create in others perfect character. Man may fail to meet his moral obligation in three ways: by falling short of his ideal of duty, by forming lower ideals than he ought, by direct transgression. And the witness of the ordinary conscience is that man has failed in all three, and has reason to fear God. The peculiarity of Christ’s moral life is that all suspicion of this is wholly absent. He never confesses sin. He never fears any consequences of His acts either from God or from men. He seeks forgiveness, but only for others. He dreads sin, but not for Himself. He claims to be apart from it. He gives the impression of breathing an atmosphere in which sin cannot be. He is possessed with a holy energy, constant and powerful. Yet His moral life finds exereise not in abstracts but within conditions of earthly existence. He fought His way through those experiences which make goodness difficult. For this reason His goodness is both provable and imitable. The crux of the proof must rest less in special pleading for particulars of conduct than in a central view of His moral personality. Particulars have been contested. He has been charged with harshness to His mother (John 2:4); with petulance (Luke 2:49); with brusque contempt (Matthew 7:6); with discourtesy and personal bitterness (Luke 11:37 ff.); with violation of property rights (Mark 5:13; Mark 11:2-6; Mark 11:15); with underrating family duty and affection (Matthew 10:37, Luke 14:25-26); with defective and impracticable theories as to civic virtue, wealth, almsgiving, non-resistance, etc. (For these and others cf. such writers as Voysey, Dole, Philip Sidney, Goldwin Smith; and the tendency of younger Unitarians). Charges on particulars cannot be met except in the light of character. The above are all defensible consistently with the character of Jesus as that character appears in the record. Nor need we resort to the plea (Martineau) that the blemishes are due to the fault of the delineators. Christ’s moral nature is a unity. It is a unity in virtue of that principle by which He knew Himself to be always doing the will of God. He knew Himself to be in the activity of spirit and will what God in nature gave Him to become. In this respect He felt Himself solitary among men, and acted on the feeling. His perfection thus consists, first, not in any completeness of precepts given or concrete relations sustained in conduct—these flow from it; but in the possession of that spirit and of those principles which not only supply all due regulation as occasion requires, but give unity, consistency, and purity to the moral life. In the light of this consideration we argue for His constant maintenance of moral supremacy in particular acts. His moral consciousness penetrated all His thought and feeling, and all expressions of both. It was the secret, further, of His power over sin, both in the world (cosmic) and in man: His power ‘to overthrow sin’ and ‘to forgive sins.’ He did not disregard sin. He inherited the teaching of His race as to sin, a teaching characteristically striking and comprehensive. He appropriates all its truth, and develops it in His own original spirit. He did this just because He was so pure. Sin was the haunting dread of His days. In meeting its malign force and subduing it, He broke His life. Against it He put forth all His strength, and in so doing rose to the fulness of stature we know, ‘being raised up by God to his right hand.’ More by what He did against sin than by what He declared of sin or of His own goodness did He prove His sinlessness. He did what He was. His presence raised the disciples, as His story raises us, to a level which, like Him, knows no sin (1 John 3:5-6; 1 John 3:9).

(δ) His equality with God* [Note: See below under ‘Divine designations,’ ‘Son of Man,’ ‘Son of God.’] connects itself chiefly (in the Synoptics) with the thought of His sinlessness and His power to forgive sins (Matthew 9:2-6, Mark 2:10, Luke 5:20; Luke 5:23. Less unquestioned is Matthew 28:19, where He includes Himself in the unity of the Divine name). St. John’s Gospel is full of the idea (John 5:22 f., John 6:33-35, John 8:42; John 8:58, John 9:25 f., John 10:9, John 11:25, John 14:1; John 14:6; John 14:9, John 15:5 f., John 15:23), and to this point attacks have in consequence been directed with vigour (cf. in particular Martineau’s Seat of Authority; and for an effective rejoinder, Forrest’s Christ of History and Experience, Lect. i.).

(c) As remarkable a factor as any in the spell Christ laid on man’s spirit has been His appeal to the deeper forces of personal being. There have been those whose presence seemed to lower for the time being the vitality and intelligence of those who came into contact with them, and so acted as to destroy their self-possession. Some men overawe and paralyze others who come within the field of their influence. The power of Christ acted contrariwise. It empowered. He revealed men to themselves in revealing Himself to their inner sense. In receiving Him into their hearts new powers therein arose, reserve forces showed themselves; His influence was that of reason begetting reason, love begetting love. In fellowship with Him men came to higher ideals. From Him, in fact, mankind has learned to know itself as it ought to be, and to estimate its own best possibilities. He has lifted up human aspiration more than any other. The reason of this may be found in the fact that He appealed persuasively to human instinct. To appeal to such instinct is often to create it. When a child is told a story of heroism, when rough untaught natures are sottened by the beauty of tenderness seen or pictured, there is a creation of courage or gentleness where it was not before. When the instinct is quickened we know that it is native. The movement Christ initiated has proved of unrivalled creativeness in the history of human instinct and in every direction of human activity. ‘The idea of Jesus is the illumination and inspiration of existence’ (Phillips Brooks, whose Bohlen Lectures, 1879, are an eloquent exposition of Christ’s creative influence, in moral, social, intellectual, emotional life). The first perception of this fact glows through the NT writings: not one of the writers fails to make us understand that the One he writes about is One who has opened new powers in, and disclosed new horizons to, his own soul. This is their witness—a witness corroborated by every succeeding age—that He called them, and in communion with Him, He made them ‘a new creation,’ disciplining and elevating character, calling out a higher faith, creating profounder emotions, inspiring with ever-increasing reverence, and bringing into play those higher and more creative faculties of the soul that see the things of God in a wide perspective impossible to the reason.

(d) The specialities of Christ’s teaching and works may be briefly indicated. Their speciality has been challenged. The opinion of a recent Gifford lecturer is shared by many, that ‘it is difficult, if not impossible, to select any special article of religious faith which is in its general aspect a doctrine peculiar to Christianity. Its uniqueness lies rather in what some would call the personality of the founder’ (Wallace, Lectures, iii.). That is true; but its suggestion is not true, that there is no uniqueness in the teaching of Christ. The uniqueness of the Teacher draws with it uniqueness in the teaching; and that both in its method (see above) and in its substance. Similarly His works exhibit higher potency than the ordinary human. A strong feeling to this effect is resulting from the minute analysis which at the present time both the ‘Words’ and the ‘Miracles’ are undergoing (cf. Wendt, Teaching of Jesus; Dalman, Words of Jesus, et al.). His dependence on others, His anticipations by others, are less confidently asserted. It is difficult, if not impossible, to discover any form of Gentile culture which is likely to have entered into the formative influences of His mind. From Greek philosophy He probably lived remote as much by natural temperament as by patriotic interest. He was not beyond its range, but then as now the Jew had a wonderful power of living in the fire without suffering the smell of it to pass upon his garments. Every Jew appeared in his own eyes to stand morally and intellectually on a higher level than the Gentile; his system of education seemed less destitute of vivifying and invigorating ideals. He was nurtured on the history, the scenery, the religion of his land, all of them of exquisite interest, stimulating the fresh mind in the highest degree to habits of independent wisdom (cf. Ramsay, Education of Christ, ch. 3). Of Jewish sects and teachers three have been suggested as contributory forces: the Pharisees, the Baptist, the Essenes. The first proved His worst foes; they had an influence, but it was solely negative. The second is remarkable for his consciousness of his own inferiority, of Christ’s higher range in mission and higher rank in Person. Of the third let Hausrath judge: ‘From the Essenes His whole conception of the world separated Him.’* [Note: It hardly comes within the scope of this article to consider the alleged influence of Buddhism or Mithraism.] There can be little question that the impulse to reflexion was fostered in Christ by study of the sacred books, the Law and the Prophets, under the usual Rabbinical direction. The master-words of His teaching are drawn thence. The substance of His teaching, in numerous details, is defined negatively by contrast with the comments of the scribes and positively by ‘fulfilment’ of the Law through a clearer discernment and profounder enrichment of the proper principles of the Law. The substance of His teaching in its main positions is intrinsically so separate from even its closest approximations in previous prophecy as to be justly entitled to the claim of originality. The source of its originality was in Himself. Christ’s teaching is His own exposition of the Divine life which was revealed in Himself [Note: Perowne’s Hulsean Lects, pp, 93, 94.] (Matthew 11:25-27). ‘Out of a perfect relation with God flows His teaching like a crystal stream.’ Its form is drawn from the religious vocabulary of the time; its matter from His own mind. In this connexion the following is admirably put, and meets a common objection:

‘It is not enough to show that particular statements of our Lord may be found embedded in earlier writings which consist mainly of foolish superstitions and childish conceits. It would be strange indeed if, with the Scriptures in their hands, the great teachers of Israel never said, or never uttered in pregnant phrase, any of those lofty spiritual truths which shine forth from the pages of the prophets. But if we find, on referring to contemporary literature, that such references are only like rare jewels shining among vast heaps of error and superstition, that they are only like flashes of lightning in an all-embracing night, then their concurrence in nowise diminishes our wonder. The problem only takes another shape. How is it, we ask, that out of all this spiritual lumber the soul of Jesus only selected what was good and great, and rejected all the rest? How is it, e.g., that from the teaching of Hillel He took (if, indeed, He took anything directly theoce) only what was eternally true, rejecting at the same time all the frivolous ritualism and puerile casuistry in the consideration of which Hillel spent his life? Remember again that it detracts in nowise from our Lord’s claim to originality, that even His master thought had been partially or casually expressed by those who went before Him. The question to be decided in our Lord’s day was this, Which of all the thoughts about God that have passed through the mind of saints and prophets should become the master-thought of religion, which should condition and determine all the rest? It would not be true to say that Jesus selected one, as though He had been passing all in review and comparing them. No, the truth is that Jesus laid hold of one by His Divine intuition, in virtue of His direct insight into the nature of God’ (Moorhouse, Teaching of Christ, p. 66 f.).

When we add that Christ’s teaching was given, so to speak, casually; not systematically, in no ordered or finished statement; that the whole is comparatively small, and yet that it is easy to draw up from the scattered sayings a sum of doctrine coherent, self-consistent, and completely satisfying to the needs of the soul, further cogency is lent to the witness, ‘Never man so spake’ (John 7:46), and point to the question, ‘Whence hath this man this wisdom?’ (Matthew 13:54). See artt. Originality and Uniqueness.

To His words have to be added His works. His ordinary doings were those of a good man (Acts 10:38). His miracles proved a special presence of God with Him (John 3:2). There is a crude view of the Gospel wonders which has made many see in them an unimportant part of the Gospel story, and even feel it desirable to do without them. So long as they are looked upon as thaumaturgic signs or violations of Nature’s sequence, so long will both religion and science reject them. If, however, they are considered as indications of laws which embrace and in a sense unite the seen and unseen worlds, it is of immense importance to Christianity that they should occur in connexion with the foundation of that faith. As a matter of fact, in face of all attempts to explain them or explain them away, a certain robust sense of the general mind has refused to concur in any view that denies their reality or their essential place in the history. They reveal Christ no less than His doctrine. They constitute warrants of His Divine power: they also form part of the Gospel. They stand as a real item in the list of testimonies to His impression. They are one of the modes in which His life found utterance, ‘an anthentic element of the original gospel offered to faith’ (A. B. Bruce, Apologetics, p. 376; Miraculous Elements in Gospels, chs. vi. and viii.). In this respect they are on a different plane from the prodigies credited to pagan heroes. That men might see the will of God at work, Jesus did the works of His Father. A reckless historical scepticism evaporates the miracles partly into odd natural events, partly into nervous healings, partly into gradually growing legends. Sane criticism, however, admits their congruity with the record, their naturalness to His Person, and their value to faith. The supreme miracle of the Resurrection (wh. see) is of primary import.

3. Validity of the experience.—The lines thus traced converge in one picture. Their effect is striking, and of the cumulative kind. They may not produce infallible certainty of the truth of Christ’s Divinity. But no infallible certainty can be given. The Christ they portray is not absolute in the sense of abstract; He is absolute in the sense of the fullest concrete; all the elements, therefore, which go to make up this impression of His Person contribute to the proof of its power: by exhibiting what He is they testify to Him: their witness is, ‘This is the Son of God.’ It was men’s experience of Christ as Divine that gave them the right to affirm His Divinity. Is the witness true? The contention here made is that what we know along many lines as the Christian experience is a new and distinctive development, and demands a new and unique factor introduced to the human consciousness. Is the contention verifiable? The witness is an interpretation: can we trust it? Has the impression an exact equivalent behind it of objective fact? What were the dimensions of the objective fact capable of producing this inner effect? The answer must be that the same law of rationality holds here as in other parts of knowledge. The effect must have an adequate cause. What the soul realizes as the highest in its inner feeling is proof of reality that the reason may recognize. If the soul attains the vision of a Reality whose authority over it is absolute and from whom it receives a power that masters all other powers, then it knows the meaning of God. The finality of such experience cannot be questioned, when its source is personality (personality being the only full reality of which we have knowledge), and its seat the moral disposition and not individual temperament. Now to those conditions the impression of Christ recorded in the Gospels conforms. Behind the records He stands, greater than themselves, and that by their own showing; and because of this they furnish to their readers a vision which does not fade but grows, a power that is new and permanent, a command from which the conscience cannot dissent, a mastery that sets free. He Himself had this effect on men as they companied with Him; the record of their intercourse with Him has the same effect. The effect is a fact of continuous experience fundamentally identical in kind throughout the Christian centuries. Both are the envelope that enwraps Truth transcending time and place. Only the universal and everlasting can transcend the limitations of our separateness and speak in the same manner to thousands of different souls. The phenomena of Christian history are so diverse in kind from those of other historic faiths as to require the supposition of a supernatural origin (cf. Illingworth, Personality Human and Divine, p. 200). The witness that God Himself is here stepping into the history of the race must be accounted true.

III. Beginnings of the doctrine of Christ’s Person in the NT

1. General character of the doctrine.—It has been necessary to make the above analysis of the bases of belief in Christ as presented in the Gospels and to justify it, because it is only by understanding them fully that we gain any test by which to determine the character and worth of the belief itself, or reach the point of view for appreciating aright its beginnings and its growth. It is a doctrine that has no finality. It is based on an experience which cannot rest, but must grow with the growth of all life, and pervade all other experience of life. It is a doctrine therefore that has a history down to the present, and which is destined to continue beyond the present. We are now in the midst of a new growth of its meaning. In moving on we can purchase security only by retracing our steps, unravelling the web of the past and weaving it over again. Recurrence to the original will reinvigorate like the touch of earth to the feet of Antaeus. In the first expression there is a universality which is apt to be lost in the divisions of later opinion: there is an implicit fulness in the beginning which is not completely represented in any subsequent stage. To that beginning we now advert. In the conviction that ‘in Christ’ they were ‘a new creation,’ ‘partakers of a Divine nature’ (2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 1:4), the Apostles must seek expression of their conviction. The expression runs over into every phase of their thought and life. It breeds in them a sense of new relation to Christ akin to that felt towards God, originating a new thought of His Person. We see it in the Names they give to Him, in the Properties and Attributes they ascribe to Him, in their acceptance of wonders attending His Origin and His passing from sight, in the relations they proceed to institute between Him and previous history as well as future ages. The NT idea of His Divinity is not to be built up as an induction from these particulars; these, on the contrary, are the reflexions, inevitable and faint, of the experience of His Divinity; they are the inward seeking utterance.

It is an utterance that is quite spontaneous. It is the outcome of religious faith not of philosophic interest. The speculative instinct is wholly secondary to the spiritual facts. But while this is so, the philosophic interest is there, and that of necessity. While the Person hidden behind the life of the NT is vaster than the NT record of Him, it remains true that if that Person were to survive and His impression, they must be shown to ring true to the intellect. What happens to the emotions suggests problems to the mind. Proved facts, even those ‘deep-seated in our mystic frame,’ have to formulate themselves in thought. And so the moral life created by Christ furnished material for new great convictions fitted to be at once its expression and its safeguard. The doctrine of His Person was the necessary correlate of the impression of His Personality.

In the facts thus noted is to be found the answer to two inquiries of rationalism. On the one hand, it is asked, Why is He never called God? and on the other, Why such diversity of view among the writers? Take the latter first. The criticism here has been carefully made by Dr. Martineau (Seat of Authority, p. 361) and others, who urge that

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Divinity of Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​d/divinity-of-christ.html. 1906-1918.
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