« AnteriorContinuar »
due time, and to characterise His present and continuous Activity on the lives and experience of His people, we would have no idea at all of His Risen Glory. Any certainty we have that what we now receive from communion with the Ascended Saviour is really due to His influence upon us, and is a part of the Blessing He is exalted to give, is based on the perception of its correspondence with the activity of the historical Christ. The effects of His present working on His people must coincide with the characteristic activities of His personal life on earth. And His Divine Glory and Functions as Exalted are intelligible to us only as the reproduction in His people of the personal attributes of His historic life.
Hence the chief value of the Gospels consists in the light they throw on the religious worth of the Christ of Glory. As material for the construction of a biography they are insufficient. Our so-called lives of Christ must always exhibit lacunae that demonstrate their failure to realise our idea of the biography of a historical character. But the Gospels were not given us to be put to the use that has become so common since Renan's Life of Christ led the way in this department of theological literature. Their value lies in the aid they furnish to the understanding of the Christ of Glory, and of the benefits that flow from present fellowship with Him; and their preciousness in this point of view cannot be exaggerated. The elucidation of this point is one merit of the Christology of Albert Ritschl, and is a service to the cause of truth by that much abused theologian that deserves acknowledgment.1
All this must be emphasised against a tendency to depreciate the value of the Historic Picture as compared with that of the Heavenly Christ, which has found expression in the writings of certain authors of the present day. 1 See Note C on The Christology of Ritschl and his School.
The sifting to which the Gospel history has been subjected in late years, and the doubt that has been cast on the truthfulness of many details, have caused a feeling of uncertainty and distrust in regard to the Historic Picture in many minds. Is it wise to base our faith on the facts of history? Do we not expose it to the danger of being undermined in the course of critical inquiry? This doubt has led the writers to whom I refer, in the interest of truth, to magnify the Christ of Experience at the expense of the Christ of History. Thus in his otherwise admirable work on Christ and the Four Gospels, Dr. Dale says: "If Christ does, in answer to faith, redeem us from sin, impart power to vanquish it, cause us to love God and transform us into new creatures, what further or stronger evidence can we have that He is Redeemer and Son of Man? What though we were ignorant of parts of His earthly history, it would still be possible to believe in Him as our Lord, and the experience of the Church throughout the centuries would take the place of the Gospels, and confirm our faith in His power to redeem from sin all who trust in Him." And Weiss, in his Life of Christ, puts the case even more strongly: "The Christian faith would remain much the same and would suffer no material loss if it had pleased God to leave us only the apostolic announcement as it lies before us in the Epistles of the New Testament, and with the Gospels to deprive us of all the records from which we may construct a detailed picture of the earthly life of Jesus."1 One can sympathise with the desire of these writers that the truth of the Gospel, by being made to rest on its own authority, should be seen to be independent of questions of historical criticism. But it appears to me to be a very hazardous position; nor do I see how any lasting results could be accomplished by a faith in the Exalted Christ that knew little or nothing of 1 Das Leben Jesu, i. 15.
the life and walk of Jesus on earth, or of the Spirit that characterised His Earthly Activities. I believe that Weizacker is nearer the truth when he says: "But for that Gospel which was speeding its way by the apostle's side, rendering immortal the wonderful words of this Jesus, and perpetuating His Image in all its human grandeur and Divine inwardness (Gottinnigkeit), this preaching of the Cross of Christ, the Sent of God, who destroys the flesh and inaugurates the reign of the Spirit, would have remained a message for thinkers, an edifice of conceptions."1
But after making the fullest acknowledgment of the
value of the history of Christ, we turn now, on the other
hand, to emphasise the truth and supreme importance of
the principle which such writers as Dale and Weiss only
carry to excess: that it is to the Heavenly Christ, to what
He is as Exalted, that we must look for the full and proper
experience of the salvation that He came to give. Viewing
the earthly history of Christ as a whole, and as culminating in
His death, Paul interpreted it as a preparation for His
entering on His proper Messianic activity in glory, in
which He was to manifest Himself in the experience of men
as the Author of their restored fellowship with God, the
Conqueror of sin and death, the channel to them of
the gift of God's Spirit. This higher view is excluded by
1 Das Apostolische Zeitalter, p. 150. In an article in the Theological Review on "Christ in Modern Thought," Dr. Bruce sees evidence of the partiality and one-sidedness of Paul's representation in his limited interest in the Historical Christ, and adds, in a strain similar to the quotation from Weizacker : "While not reflecting on him, one may be thankful that other tendencies were at work in the apostolic age, that within the same Christian community, side by side with Paul's subjectivity and at peace with it, there flourished a simple, healthy objectivity which desired to know the facts about Christ, to ascertain as far as possible what He said and did, to get a clear, vivid picture of His life and human personality —to know Christ, in short, not doctrinally merely but historically, as the Synoptist Gospels in part enable us to know Him.''
many in these days, and we have forced upon us the question, Is this Pauline interpretation true or not? Is it in communion with the Spiritual Christ, Supreme, Victorious over sin and its consequences, the Source of new Life to men, that we come into the possession of the real Divinely ordained issues of His Mission? Or, is it in a fellowship with the Jesus of History, whose virtue upon us takes effect, and is exhausted in the enlightenment of our minds by the truths He taught, and in the encouragement of our wills by the Pattern of goodness and nobleness of life He has left us? We know what Paul's answer was. He believed that no idea of the Christ did justice to the prophecies that bore on the Messiah, save that which He saw fulfilled in Him who died for our sins and rose again. He believed that no other met the real need of human nature, the craving for a revelation of God—for a token that God has done something by which His Holy Love can find access to human souls so as to destroy the power of sin and bring to an end the reign of death. He believed that this conception of the Divine purpose and aim of Christ's life-work had been communicated to him by the living Lord Himself, who had appeared to him from glory, and had originated in his personal experience great moral and religious changes which pointed directly to saving issues wrought by the death and Resurrection of Jesus. And he preached this Christ to men, and had in the regenerating effects that followed abundant testimony to its truth and power. The Gospel he announced was the Gospel of the Risen and Exalted Lord, in whom, by the grace of the Father, a new life of sonship and holiness was offered to sinful men. There is no evidence that any such saving effects would have followed had he been content to be the expounder of Christ's words, had his preaching been simply the recital of the Sermon on the Mount, or the proclamation of such truths as the Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of men, and the glory of service. The question that really interested men was, whether God had spoken and made accessible to them a new life, including forgiveness, power over temptation, victory over death; and Paul's declaration that God had raised up His Son from the dead, and that in Him this New Life had been secured, and was offered, met their case, and was welcomed because it did so.
In his brilliant Yale lectures, recently published, on the Gospel for an Age of Doubt, Dr. Van Dyke insists that the prophetic work of Christ is the aspect of truth that must now be preached if we are to speak with effect to the age in which we live. "We must get back," he says, " to the unity and integrity of the thoughts of Jesus, the creed of Christ, the broad outline of His vision of things human and Divine, the central verities which appear firm and unchangeable in all the reports of His teaching, the point of view from which he discovered and interpreted the mystery of life, that is what we must seek. And when we find it, we must take our stand there, as men who feel the solid ground beneath their feet. The Rock of certainty is the Mind of Jesus expressed in His living words and in His speaking life. Beyond that we need not, and we cannot, go. Here is the ultimatum. This is the truth we say to men, because Jesus knew it, and said it, and lived it."1 The author puts into emphatic language an impression that is shared by very many, who feel the incomparable beauty and power of Christ's teaching: that it is from the preaching of His doctrines and example that we are to expect a revival of the Christian faith. That this result would follow were the proclamation of the Gospel to be limited to, and to stop short at, the reiteration of the truths Jesus taught, and the commendation of His character for our imitation, is, I think, exceedingly doubt
1 Page 200.