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Chapter Three - The Christ
"AND many other signs truly
did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this
book. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."--John
xx, 30, 31.
Two sharply contrasted views
concerning Christ have prevailed, the one that Jesus was the unique Son
of God from eternity, wholly perfect and entirely divine; the other that
he as a man attained the wisdom and power indicated in the Gospels as anyone
might strive to realize a spiritual ideal. The one errs by over-emphasis
on the divine, leaves no room for temptations and victories as we know
them. The other assigns such importance to the human self that it fails
to account for the universal wisdom and the far-reaching love of the Christ.
Nor is the situation improved when we try to adopt one of those elusive
midway positions which stand, now for the divine, and now for the human,
but which afford no clear idea of the divine as manifested in the human
according to a universal ideal. We seem to be imposing our own limitations
on the Christ when we conceive of the wisdom and love displayed by Jesus
as results of merely finite endeavor. What we need is an approach which
does not intrude upon the infinite but yields the conviction that through
the incarnation the divine love and wisdom dwelt with men in a human self
not too far removed from the imperfections which we know.
We may begin by regarding the
Christ as universal divine love and wisdom, taking our clue from the Gospels
as they read. Such a reading of the Gospels is possible if we deem the
recorded words parts only of the eternal Word of God, written in the hearts
and minds of men throughout the ages. If the Christ is universal, surely
no statement in any book can limit this wisdom so that there shall be nothing
more to say.
Anyone reading the Gospels without
theological predispositions must admit that there is a prevailing contrast
between passages which pertain to the historical Jesus and those that imply
special claims in his behalf as Messiah, Christ, the Lord. By the term
"the Christ" we shall here mean Messiahship or Christhood, however
it may be interpreted. If Jesus were "merely human," as some
say, the special claims would seem preposterous indeed. If these claims
bespeak the Christ or universal divine love and wisdom, they involve the
conviction that God has a universal way of making Himself known to men.
The difficulty usually encountered
rests on the fact that Jesus speaks sometimes as man struggling to be faithful,
and sometimes as love or wisdom implying all faith and all triumphs. Distinguishing
between the personality and the love or wisdom for the moment, we may consider
those passages which would be almost devoid of meaning unless we should
think of the Christ as universal. Note how numerous are those passages
which look beyond the man who speaks to the universal principle which he
"He that loveth father
or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter
more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take up his
cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life
shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it"
(Matt. x, 37-39). "He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that
receiveth me receiveth him that sent me" (x, 40). "Come
unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (xi, 28, 29). The wisdom thus
speaking is declared to be greater than the temple, greater than Solomon
or Jonah, and "Lord of the Sabbath." This wisdom was prior to
the historical incarnation, it is one with the Father in the works and
teachings recorded in the Gospels, and is able to be with the disciples
always, "even unto the end of the world."
The Gospel of John from first
to last expresses this universal wisdom in such a way that it can hardly
be identified with or limited to a personality in a certain time or place.
It is first associated with the Word, then with the Light both in the sense
of the enlightenment of every man born into the world and also in the sense
of life. Then follow passages in which the Christ is brought before us
as "the living water'' which quenches the thirst of men, as the bread
of life which shall appease all hunger even unto the life eternal, as the
flesh and blood which symbolize the immortal spirit, the divine plenitude,
and other passages which have no meaning unless understood universally.
The Christ as thus brought vividly before us in the greatest incidents
recorded in the Gospels is indeed the universal Giver of life, the way,
the truth, the surpassing power, triumphing over death, over space and
time, over all limitations or conditions.
"And Jesus said unto
them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh unto me shall never hunger;
and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. . . . This is the bread
that cometh down from heaven. . . . I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly. . . . I am the resurrection
and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he
live. . . . And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto
me. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the
Father but by me."
Then follow still more intimate
passages in which Jesus, while speaking in part as a person, utters statements
which could be true only of a universal spirit or principle. Thus we have
the figure of the vine as the symbol of all effective life in the Spirit,
all true discipleship and service. The Christ is here a principle such
that it can abide in all who are faithful to the precepts and the love
set before the disciples as an ideal. It is not alone the spirit manifested
in Jesus in his fidelity to the Father, but one capable of extension such
that others shall receive it and abide in it. The self that speaks is not
limited to the man of flesh and blood.
"I am the true vine,
and my Father is the husbandman. . . . Abide in me, and I in you. . . .
I am the vine, ye are the branches. . . . If ye abide in me, and my words
abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
. . . Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. . . . As
the Father hath loved me, so I love you: continue ye in my love."
Even this the infinitely tender
thought of the love which is symbolized by the vine is surpassed in the
great prayer of the seventeenth chapter. For here Jesus is speaking to
the disciples in statements addressed to the Father expressive of a oneness
which is not the oneness of identity, nor that of two beings whose association
is unique; but the spiritual relationship which may become true of all.
"Neither pray I for these
alone, but for them also that shall believe on me through their word; that
they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they
also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them: that they may be
one, even as we are; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected
into one." The "I" or being who here speaks also says, "for
thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." It is not a temporal
self or merely historical being who speaks. A spirit or life is here expressed
which can bring all men together who receive spiritual life as Jesus speaks
of his oneness with the Father. This passage carries our thought back to
that of the apparently unqualified statement of Chapter X in which Jesus
says, "I and my Father are one."
This saying is often taken to
mean the absolute identity of the historical person Jesus with the Father,
and it is put with the passage in Chapter XIV in which Jesus says, "He
that hath seen me hath seen the Father," with the understanding that
the two are absolutely one. But this passage in Chapter X is followed by
the explanatory statement, ". . . the Father is in me, and I in him."
In the sense of this surpassing truth Jesus now prays that all may be one,
"as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be
one in us." Plainly the oneness refers to unity of spirit in universal
wisdom. We are to understand the figure of the vine and the branches as
a symbol implying ineffable nearness which no words can express but which
the heart knows; not as an exact theological statement involving absolute
identity of substance.
Christ then is a unifying spirit
or life which brings men into the most intimate relationship with the divine
love, the relationship of Father to son, Master to disciple, disciple to
disciple as brother with brother, and thus ever on and on as far as this
love shall be preserved in its purity. This supreme relationship brings
to completion the promises of the preceding chapters in which the Christ
is symbolized as the door, the light, the truth, the way, and the life,
each one being universal. These characteristics are never mentioned in
an exclusive sense, but always with reference to the power going forth,
the bond of union, the guiding wisdom. We are not led into a confined and
narrow world when Jesus assures us that no man comes to the Father save
through him, for he is speaking of the universal way, truth, and life,
the way of the Christ. "All things are delivered unto me of my Father:
and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the
Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him"
(Matt. xi, 27). The power speaking is at once the bread, the blood, the
resurrection, the life, the light, the way, and the truth. Each of these
is universal, and only through the Christ may they be understood. Each
of these is given that men may have life more abundantly. "I am the
resurrection and the life . . . because I live ye shall live also."
All men thus knowing and living by the Christ will be quickened.
Again, we note the clearness
of vision and surety of knowledge with which Jesus performs works of healing
and other "mighty works." These are plainly not the works of
one who performs miracles or mysteries, as if by special privilege and
by the aid of concealed powers. He who performs these works proceeds as
one who knows precisely what he is doing and why, who grasps the implied
laws and understands the forces employed. They are works given by the Father
for the Master to do, as hearing witness that the Father has sent the Son
(John v, 36). Thus they have intelligible meaning, and the disciples, if
unable fully to understand, are bidden to believe "for the very works'
sake." The efficient principle is not only stated, namely, that the
Father dwelling in the Master does the works; but assurance is given that
those who believe shall perform such works also. The disciples had already
been sent forth to perform similar works, with explicit instructions concerning
this form of spiritual service.
It might confidently be said
therefore that the works were wrought according to a spiritual science,
so that Jesus could foretell the accomplishing of greater works when this
science should be more extensively applied. That is, these works were wrought
out in the open, in the light of divine truth universal in scope and meaning,
for the purpose of making that truth known which brings spiritual freedom
and establishes the kingdom of God in the minds and hearts of men. Hence
Jesus said to critics who sought to turn the matter aside from the main
principle, "But if I by the spirit of God cast out devils, then is
the kingdom of God come upon you" (Matt. xii, 28).
Furthermore, the extent of the
principle is shown by the fact that these works involve the overcoming
of all the adversities to which the flesh is subject in man's ignorance
of the power of the spirit. The carrying out of the principle involves
the mastery of diseases of all kinds, the casting out of obsessions, and
the overcoming of death as death is understood by those who know not the
power of the spirit. The emphasis is everywhere put on the life or spirit
which overcomes, just as in the case of the crucifixion and resurrection
the emphasis belongs on the triumphant life which the Master lived. There
is a fundamental difference between occult power which an adept might acquire
and display through magic, and a universal spiritual science implying divine
laws capable of being understood through interior enlightenment. The first
calls for special training in arts which man has acquired, arts which even
the unprincipled might employ; the second calls for a consecrated life
into which man is guided by divine light in his soul.
The same fidelity to a principle
over and above special privileges is shown in passages in which Jesus,
refusing to allow any credit to be given, invariably refers to works given
him to do, words given him to speak, light to be made manifest, truth that
will bestow freedom. No words could be more emphatic than the utterances
of Jesus in this connection. "And he said unto him, Why callest thou
me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" (Matt. xix, 17).
"The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do
. . . I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment
is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father who
hath sent me. . . . If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
. . . There is another that beareth witness of me. I am come in my Father's
name. My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. . . . I do nothing
of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things."
These are not the words of one
who takes credit unto himself. When Jesus says, "Before Abraham was,
I am;" "Search the scriptures . . . they are they which testify
of me;" "Come unto me ail ye that labor and are heavy laden,"
he is plainly not calling the weary and distressed to him as a man only.
Jesus teaches from first to last that all wisdom, life and power have a
single source. It is the Father who gives according to our needs, who guides
us along life's pathway, who sustains, provides, bestows life and light.
All the words of wisdom proceed from Him. The works of healing are His.
It is His mission that saves, quickens and establishes the kingdom. The
divine plan of this mission antedates Abraham. Jesus fulfils it step by
step, that all things may be accomplished according to divine law, that
the human may not intrude. Hence he is able to say without qualification
that he is faithful in word and deed to the Father's will. He knows that
the Father's love and wisdom are so disclosed that the disciples actually
hear and see the Father in the Son: ". . . and the word which ye hear
is not mine, but the Father's who sent me." "He that hath seen
me, hath seen the Father. . . . The Father and I are one." It is these
statements which disclose to us the Christ, which show that a universal
wisdom and love were made manifest in Jesus.
We may state the universal principle
as follows: There is one right attitude toward the Father, whose wisdom
and love constitute the real efficiency in the minds and hearts of men,
namely, that we should seek first the purpose or forward movement of the
divine life in process through us, adopting this the divine trend of life
as our own, serving and living with the realization that it is the Father
who accomplishes in each of us the work He would have us do. Jesus is the
living representative who not only teaches but proves this Christ-wisdom
which he came to bring to men. As exemplifier of the Gospel he turns
attention away from himself. We must "see the Christ stand,"
saying with John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God." We should
discern the universality of the way, the truth, and the life. The Christ-wisdom
is in a sense separable and capable of being taught by itself. Having discerned
this universal principle, we are ready to consider the selfhood of God
as Father on the one side and the personality of Jesus in the historic
sense on the other.
The practical consequences
are plain. We have before us a universal spiritual science involving "the
way, the truth, and the life." We know its source, the universality
of its provisions, and of the guidances accessible to each. We know that
no man alone can save his fellow men, that the true Saviour is God the
Father, is the Christ. This wisdom is in a sense over and above each one
of us as a person, inasmuch as we may all abide in the divine love as branches
of the true vine. Hence it includes not only all men as sons of God, but
the Father too; it is the abiding relationship throughout all eternity.
We may then say unqualifiedly
that Christ is divine; not merely "the anointed one," or the
enlightened one, but enlightenment itself. Hence we see the value and meaning
of impersonal forms of expression, such as the spirit of truth, the Comforter,
the Holy Spirit. This is the universal element foreseen in the Scriptures
as a whole. All spiritual history points forward to it. It is discoverable,
at any time when men receive the essential enlightenment. It speaks as
it were to all men, in all time, this central word of appeal reaching beyond
all historical events: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock."
"No man cometh unto the Father but by me." "Neither doth
any know the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth
to reveal him." "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he
shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture."
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