1. The genuineness and uncorrupt preservation of our four canonical gospels having been established, the presumption in favor of their authenticity and credibility is exceedingly strong. In truth, few can be found who, admitting their apostolic origin in essentially their present form, will venture to deny that they contain an authentic and reliable record of facts. We may dismiss at once the modern theory which converts the gospels into myths -- pure ideas embodied in allegorical narratives which have no historic foundation. Myths do not turn the world upside down, as did the preaching of Christ and his apostles. Myths do not inspire the souls of men and women by thousands and tens of thousands with heroic zeal and courage, enabling them steadfastly to endure persecution and death for the truth's sake. It was love towards a crucified and risen Saviour in deed and in truth, not towards the mythical idea of such a Saviour, that made the primitive Christians victorious alike over inward sinful affection and outward persecution. To every one who reads the gospel narratives in the exercise of his sober judgment, it is manifest that they are intended to be plain unvarnished statements of facts. The question is, Are these statements reliable? Here new arguments can hardly be expected; the old are abundantly sufficient. Reserving for another place those general arguments which apply to the gospel system as a whole, let us here briefly consider the character of the authors and their records; of the events which they record with the surrounding circumstances; and especially of Jesus, their great theme.
2. It is natural to ask, in the first place, Were these men sincere and truthful? Here we need not long delay. Their sincerity, with that of their contemporaries who received their narratives as true, shines forth like the sun in the firmament. With reference to them, the Saviour's argument applies in all its force: |How can Satan cast out Satan?| |If Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.| The life-long work of the evangelists and their associates was to cast out of the world all fraud and falsehood. If now they attempted to do this by the perpetration of a most astounding fraud, we have the case of Satan casting out Satan. But we need not argue the matter at length. By what they did and suffered in behalf of their doctrines, as well as by the artless simplicity of their narratives, they give full proof of their sincerity and truthfulness.
3. We next inquire: Were they competent as men? that is, were they men of sober judgment, able correctly to see and record the facts that came under their observation, and not visionary enthusiasts who mistook dreams for realities? This question admits of a short and satisfactory answer. No proof whatever exists that they were visionary men, but abundant proof to the contrary. Their narratives are calm, unimpassioned, and straightforward, without expatiation on the greatness of Christ's character and works and the wickedness of his enemies, as is the way of all excited enthusiasts. What Paul said to Festus applies in its full force to them and their writings: |I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.| If any one will condemn them as visionary, it must be on the sole ground that all belief in the supernatural is visionary -- a position that will be noticed hereafter.
4. A further inquiry is, Were these men competent as witnesses? that is, had they the requisite means of knowing the facts which they record? With regard to the apostles Matthew and John, this matter need not be argued. With regard to the other two, Luke states very fairly the position which they occupied: |It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things,| (|having accurately traced out all things,| as the original signifies,) |from the very beginning, to write to thee, in order,| etc. Luke had in abundance the means of accurately tracing out all things relating to our Lord's life and works, for he was the companion of apostles and others who |from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word;| and from them, according to his own statement, he drew his information. The same is true of Mark also.
5. We come now to consider the character of the works which they record, and the circumstances in which they were performed. Here it may be remarked in the outset that it is not necessary to examine in detail all the miracles recorded in the gospel history. Though they all proceeded alike from the direct agency of God, they are not all alike open to human inspection. If upon examination we find the supernatural origin of many of them raised above all possibility of doubt, it is a legitimate inference that the rest of them had the same divine origin. Not to insist then upon the miracles ascribed to our Lord within the sphere of inanimate nature, such as the conversion of water into wine, the feeding of many thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and walking upon the sea, all of which were done in such circumstances that there is no room for questioning their reality, let us examine some that were performed upon the persons of men. Palsy, dropsy, withered limbs, blindness, the want of hearing and speech, leprosy, confirmed lunacy -- all these were as well known in their outward symptoms eighteen hundred years ago as they are to-day. Persons could not be afflicted with such maladies in a corner. The neighbors must have known then, as they do now, the particulars of such cases, and have been unexceptionable witnesses to their reality. Persons may feign blindness and other infirmities among strangers, but no man can pass himself off as palsied, deaf and dumb, blind, (especially blind from birth,) halt, withered, in his own community. The reality of the maladies then is beyond all question; and so is also the reality of their instantaneous removal by the immediate power of the Saviour. Here we must not fail to take into account the immense number of our Lord's miracles, their diversified character, and the fact that they were performed everywhere, as well without as with previous notice, and in the most open and public manner. Modern pretenders to miraculous power have a select circle of marvellous feats, the exhibition of which is restricted to particular places. No one of them would venture to undertake the cure of a man born blind, or that had a withered limb, or that had been a paralytic for thirty-eight years. But Jesus of Nazareth went about the cities and villages of Judea for the space of three years, healing all manner of disease. With him there was no distinction of easy and difficult, since to Divine power nothing is hard. With the same word he rebuked a raging fever, cleansed from leprosy, gave strength to the paralytic, healed the withered limb, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the dumb, and raised the dead to life. The same voice that said to the man at Bethesda, |Rise, take up thy bed, and walk,| said also to Lazarus, who had lain four days in the grave, |Come forth.|
6. It is with reason that we lay special stress upon the fact that Christ performed many of his greatest miracles in the presence of his enemies, who had both the means and the will to institute a searching investigation concerning them, and who would have denied their reality had it been in their power to do so. Sad indeed is the record of the perverse opposition and calumny which our Lord encountered on the part of the Jewish rulers. But even this has a bright side. It shows us that the Saviour's miracles could endure the severest scrutiny -- that after every means which power and wealth and patronage and official influence could command had been used for their disparagement, their divine origin still shone forth like the unclouded sun at noon-day. If any one doubts this, let him read attentively the ninth chapter of John's gospel, which records the investigation instituted by the Jewish rulers respecting the miracle of healing a man blind from his birth. In no modern court of justice was a question of fact ever subjected to a severer scrutiny. And the result was that they could not deny the miracle, but said in their blind hatred of the Redeemer, |Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.| So when they could not deny that Jesus cast out devils, they alleged that he did it by the help of Satan; when it was manifest that he had by a word healed a man that had lain thirty-and-eight years a helpless paralytic, they blamed him for working on the Sabbath-day; when Lazarus had been called out of his grave in the presence of all the people, they said, |What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.| And then they consulted not to disprove these miracles, but to put both him and Lazarus to death. Thus, in the good providence of God, we have for the reality of our Lord's miracles the testimony of his enemies and persecutors.
7. The resurrection of Jesus is the miracle of miracles, of which we may say with truth that it comprehends in itself all the other mighty works recorded in the gospel history. We cannot but notice the condescending care with which our Lord himself certified to his disciples its reality. When he had suddenly appeared in the midst of them, |they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.| To convince them of the reality of his bodily presence, he said, |Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet,| that they might see in them the prints of the nails. Finding them still incredulous, |believing not for joy and wondering,| he added another conclusive proof that he was not a spirit, but a true man: he asked for meat; |and they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb; and he took it, and did eat before them.| Luke 24:36-43. To the unbelieving Thomas he offered the further proof which he had demanded: |Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.| The certainty of this great event the evangelist Luke sets forth in his introduction to the Acts of the Apostles: |To whom also,| (to the apostles,) |he showed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.| The apostle Peter, in his address to Cornelius and his friends, says: |Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.| Acts 10:40, 41. The apostle Paul, in his enumeration of our Lord's appearances to his disciples after his resurrection, 1 Cor.5-8, mentions that on one occasion |he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom,| he says, |the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.|
It was not the greatness of the miracle, considered simply by itself, but its relation to the gospel, that made our Lord's resurrection from the dead the central fact of the apostles' testimony. It was, so to speak, the hinge on which the whole work of redemption turned. Our Lord's expiatory death for the sins of the world and his resurrection from the dead were both alike parts of one indivisible whole. It was not his claim to be the promised Messiah alone that was involved in the fact of his resurrection. His completion, as the Messiah, of the work of man's redemption was also dependent on that great event. |If Christ be not risen,| says the apostle, |then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain;| and again, |If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.| 1 Cor.15:14, 17. We need not wonder then that the apostles, in their testimony to the people, insisted so earnestly on this one great fact in our Lord's history; for by it God sealed him as the Prince of life.
8. The character of Jesus of Nazareth, as drawn by the four evangelists, is the highest possible proof of the authenticity and credibility of the gospel narratives. Of this it has been justly said, |The character is possible to be conceived, because it was actualized in a living example.| (Nature and the Supernatural, p.324.) The inapproachable excellence of Christ's character places it high above all human praise. The reverent mind shrinks instinctively from the idea of attempting to eulogize it, as from something profane and presumptuous. We do not eulogize the sun shining in his strength, but we put a screen over our eyes when we would look at him, lest we should be blinded by the brightness of his beams. So must every man look at Jesus of Nazareth with reverence and awe, who has any true sense of what is great and excellent. What is now to be said of this character is not eulogy. It is part of an argument for the reality of the events recorded in the gospel history. Here it is important to notice not only the character itself, but the manner of the portraiture, and its power over the human heart.
The character of Jesus is perfectly original. Nothing like it was ever conceived of by the loftiest minds of antiquity. Nothing like it has appeared since his day, in actual life, or even in the conceptions of the most gifted writers. As there is one sun in the firmament, so there is one Jesus Christ in the history of the world. His character has a human and a divine element; and these two interpenetrate each other, so as to constitute together one indivisible and glorious whole. Jesus could not be, even in idea, what he is as man, unless he were God also. And what he is as God, he is as God made flesh, and dwelling as man among men. It is the God-man which the gospel narratives present to us. If we consider the qualities which belong to our Saviour as man, we notice the union in full measure and just proportion of all those qualities which belong to perfect humanity. In the case of mere men, the abundant possession of one quality implies almost of necessity deficiency elsewhere, and consequently one-sidedness of character. Not so in the case of Jesus. He has all the attributes of a perfect man in perfect fulness and in perfect harmony with each other. Let us reverently look at some particulars.
His character unites the deepest tranquillity with the deepest fervor of spirit. Our Lord's tranquillity shines forth through the whole course of his ministry, and manifests itself alike in great things and small. It is evident to all who read the narratives of the evangelists that he performed his mighty works as one conscious that divine power belonged to him of right, and that the exercise of it, even in its highest forms, was nothing new nor strange. In connection with his greatest miracles he calmly gave directions, as if they had been ordinary occurrences. When he had fed many thousands with a few loaves and fishes, he said, |Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.| When he had raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus, |he commanded that something should be given her to eat.| When he had called out of the grave one who had lain there four days, he directed, |Loose him and let him go.| Even in Gethsemane, when oppressed with agony too great for human endurance, his self-possession remained as perfect as his submission to his Father's will. That his serenity never left him for a moment during the process of his arrest, trial, sentence, and lingering death on the cross, is a truth which shines forth from the sacred narrative as his own raiment did on the mount of transfiguration, |white and glistering.| Any attempt to describe it would be but mockery. And yet this deep composure of spirit is not that of indifference or of a cold temperament. It is the composure of one in whose bosom burns a steady and intense flame of zeal for the glory of God and good will towards men, by which he is borne forward with untiring energy in the work committed to him from above. It is the composure of a spirit whose depth of emotion none can measure.
We notice again the union in our Lord of perfect wisdom with perfect freedom from guile and double dealing. That his wisdom was never at fault all must admit. He was surrounded by crafty adversaries, who contrived all manner of plans to entangle him in his talk. Yet in the twinkling of an eye he turned their wiles against themselves, and they found themselves taken in their own net. Meanwhile he always pursued the straightforward course of sincerity and truth. Not the slightest trace of deceit or cunning artifice appeared in his ministry from first to last.
Closely allied to the above-named qualities are prudence and boldness, both of which met in full measure in our Lord's character. That he feared no man and shrank from no peril when it was his duty to encounter it, is too obvious to be insisted on. Yet he never needlessly encountered opposition and danger. He was never bold for the purpose of making a show of boldness. When the Jews sought to kill him, he |walked in Galilee| to avoid their enmity. When his brethren went up to the feast in Jerusalem, he would not go up with them, but afterwards went up, |not openly, but as it were in secret.| When, at a later day, after the resurrection of Lazarus, the Jews sought his life, he |walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence into a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples.| Not until the time had come that he should die for the sins of the world did he expose himself to the rage of his enemies; and then he went boldly into Jerusalem at the head of his disciples. His own precept, |Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves,| he perfectly exemplified throughout his ministry.
We cannot but notice once more the union in our Lord's character of the greatest tenderness with unbending severity whenever the cause of truth demanded severity. He opened his ministry at Nazareth by reading from the prophet Isaiah a portraiture of his own character: |The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.| Isa.61:1, 2. The execution of this mission required a tender and forbearing spirit, that would not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax; and such was the spirit of his whole ministry. For the penitent, though publicans and sinners, he had only words of kindness. Towards the infirmities and mistakes of his sincere disciples he was wonderfully forbearing. When a strife had arisen among the apostles which of them should be the greatest, instead of denouncing in severe terms their foolish ambition, he called to himself a little child and set him in the midst, and from him gave them a lesson on the duty of humility. Yet this tender and compassionate Jesus of Nazareth, who took little children in his arms and blessed them, who stood and cried, |Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,| and who wept at the grave of Lazarus -- this same Jesus could say to Peter when he would deter Him from the path of duty, |Get thee behind me, Satan!| and could denounce in the presence of all the people the scribes and Pharisees who sat in Moses' seat. In truth, the most severe denunciations of hypocrisy and wickedness contained in the New Testament and the most awful descriptions of the future punishment of the impenitent fell from our Saviour's lips. In his tenderness there was no element of weakness.
Our Lord's perfect meekness and humility need no human comment. They shine forth with serene brightness through all his words and actions. He described himself as |meek and lowly in heart,| and his life was a perpetual illustration of these qualities. |When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.| But the point to be particularly noticed is the wonderful harmony of this meek and lowly mind with claims more lofty than were ever conceived of by any man before him -- claims everywhere boldly asserted, and which, as we shall see hereafter, implied the possession of a divine nature. It is not that he claimed and exercised power over nature or outward power over men, even power to raise the dead, that fills us with awe and amazement; but that he went within the spirit, and offered inward life, light, strength, peace -- in a word, life eternal -- to all who would come to him; and that he asserted, in a way as decisive as it was calm, his absolute control over the everlasting destinies of all men. When we read the account of these superhuman claims, we have no feeling that they were incongruous or extravagant. On the contrary, they seem to us altogether legitimate and proper. And yet, as has been often remarked, were any other person to advance a tithe of these pretensions, he would be justly regarded as a madman. The only possible explanation is, that this meek and lowly Jesus made good his claim to be the Son of God by what he was and by what he did.
Another quality very conspicuous in our Lord's character is his perfect elevation above this world. |Ye are from beneath,| said he to the Jews; |I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.| It was not in his origin alone, but in his spirit also that he was from above. As he was from heaven, so was he heavenly in all his affections. His own precept to his disciples, |Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,| was the law of his own life. He had no treasures here below but the souls of men; and these are not earthly, but heavenly treasures. Satan plied him in vain with the offer of |all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.| In him |the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life| could find no place for a single moment. He kept the world always and perfectly under his feet. Yet this perfect elevation above the world had in it no tinge of stoicism or asceticism. He made no war upon the genuine passions and affections of human nature, but simply subjected them all to his higher spiritual nature; in other words to the law of God. Except temporarily for meditation and prayer, he never withdrew himself, nor encouraged his disciples to withdraw themselves from the cares and temptations of an active life, under the false idea of thus rising to a state of superhuman communion with God. He did not fast himself systematically, nor enjoin upon his disciples systematic fastings, but left fastings for special emergencies. In a word, he ate and drank like other men. His heavenly mind lay not in the renunciation of God's gifts, but in maintaining his affections constantly raised above the gifts themselves to the divine Giver. It took on a human, and therefore an imitable form.
And what shall we say of our Lord's spotless purity of heart and life? We cannot eulogize it, for it is above all human praise. But we can refresh the eyes of our understanding by gazing upon it, as upon a glorious sun, until we feel its vivifying and transforming power in our own souls.
In contemplating the above qualities, it is of the highest importance to notice that, though they exist in such fulness and perfection, they are yet human, and therefore imitable. They are not the virtues of an angel in heaven, or of a king on the throne, or of a philosopher in his school, or of a monk in his cell; but of a man moving among men in the sphere of common life, and filling out common life with all the duties appropriate to it. His example then is available for the imitation of the lowest not less than the highest. It offers itself to all classes of men as a model of all that is good in human nature. We may boldly affirm that such a character as this could never have been conceived of, if it had not actually existed.
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If now we look at our Lord's character as a teacher, we find it equally original and wonderful. Writers on the gospel history have with reason laid great stress on the fact that he stood high above the errors and prejudices, not only of his own age and nation, but of all ages and nations. He saw intuitively and perfectly what God is, what man is, and what are man's relations to God and to his fellow-men; and was therefore able to establish a religion for men, as men, that needs no change for any age, or nation, or condition of life. He has sometimes been called a |Galilean peasant.| The phrase sounds unpleasantly in the ears of those who adore him as their divine Lord and Master. Nevertheless it is in an important sense true. He was educated among the common people of Galilee, and had no special human training. It was an age of narrowness and formalism. The scribes and Pharisees, who sat in Moses' seat, had covered up the true meaning and spirit of the Old Testament beneath a mass of human traditions that substituted |mint, and anise, and cummin| for |the weightier matters of the law.| Yet in such an age Jesus came forth a perfect teacher of divine truth. He swept away at once the glosses of the Jewish doctors, unfolded to the people the true meaning of the law and the prophets as preparatory to his coming, and gave to the world a religion that meets the wants of all classes and conditions of men in all ages and nations. Considered as the good leaven which Christ cast into the lump of humanity, the gospel has continual progress. But considered as the plan of salvation which he revealed, it cannot have progress, for it is perfect. It needs no amendment or change, that it may be adapted to our age or any other age. As air and water and light meet the wants of all men in all ages, so the gospel, when freed from human additions and received in its original purity, is all that fallen humanity needs. Here is a great fact to be explained. The only reasonable explanation is that given by the Saviour himself. When the Jews marvelled at his teaching, saying, |How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?| he answered, |My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.| Such a religion as that described in the gospels could not have been conceived of unless it had actually existed; and it could not have existed without God for its author. Gifted men may be in advance of their own age; that is, they may see before others what is the next thing indicated by the present progress of society. But mere men do not rise at once above all the errors and prejudices by which they are surrounded into the region of pure light and truth. All the work that men do is imperfect, and needs emendation by those who come after them. A religion that remains from age to age as perfectly adapted to the wants of all men as it was at the beginning, must be from God, not from man.
Our Saviour's manner of teaching was also as original as the teaching itself. He saw through the world of nature and mind at a glance, and it stood always ready at hand to furnish him with arguments and illustrations -- arguments and illustrations as simple and natural as they were profound, and by means of which he unfolded the deepest truths in the plainest and most intelligible forms. Take, for example, the parables of the mustard-seed and the leaven. They contain within themselves the whole history of Christ's kingdom in its inward principle. They unfold views of its steady progress from age to age, as a growth from an inward vital force, on which the most philosophical minds especially love to dwell; and yet they are perfectly intelligible to the most unlettered man. To teach by parables, without any false analogies, and in a way that interested and instructed alike the learned and the ignorant, this was a wonderful characteristic of our Lord's ministry. In this respect no one of his apostles, not even the bosom disciple, attempted to imitate him. Yet in the great fact that his teaching was not for a select few, but for the masses of mankind, so that |the common people heard him gladly,| all his servants can and ought to imitate him.
Thus far we have considered mainly the human side of our Lord's character, though through it all his divinity shines forth. Let us now look more particularly at his divine mission and character. On the fact that his mission was from God we need not dwell. Nicodemus expressed the judgment of every candid mind when he said, |Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.| If there is one truth which our Lord asserted more frequently than any other, it is that he came from God: |The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.| |If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.|
But Jesus had not only a divine mission, but a divine person also; and the manner in which he manifested his divinity is, if possible, more original than any thing else in his history, and bears in itself the impress of reality. A company of men who should attempt to give a portraiture of a divine being simply from their own conceptions would doubtless put into his lips many direct assertions of his deity, and make his life abound in stupendous miracles. But it is not in any such crude way that our Saviour's divinity manifests itself in the gospel narratives. It is true indeed that in the manner of his miracles he everywhere makes the impression that he performs them by virtue of a power residing in himself; that while the commission to do them comes from the Father, the power to do them belongs to his own person. In this respect the contrast is very sharp between his manner and that of the prophets before him and the apostles after him. In their case the power, as well as the commission, was wholly from God, as they were careful to teach the people: |In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.| |Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?| |His name, through faith in his name, hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know.| |Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.| But not to dwell on this, let us look at some very remarkable ways in which our Saviour manifested his divine nature.
He called God his Father in a peculiar and incommunicable sense. He never said, |Our Father,| by which he would have classed himself with other men, but always, |My Father,| showing that thus he stood alone in his relation to God. As the son has the same nature with the father, and when acting under his authority, the same prerogatives also; so Jesus, as the Son of God, claimed the power and right to do whatever his Father did, and to receive the same honor as his Father: |My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.| This the Jews rightly understood to be an assertion of equality with the Father; for they |sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his own Father, (so the original reads,) making himself equal with God.| To this the Saviour answered: |The Son can do nothing of himself| -- acting in his own name, and without the concurrence of the Father's will -- |but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man; but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father which hath sent him.| John 5:17-23. Here the Son, though acting under the Father's commission, claims equality with the Father; for without this he could neither share all the Father's counsels, nor do all the Father's works, nor receive from the Father authority to judge all men -- an office which plainly implies omniscience -- nor be entitled to the same honor as the Father. The point to be especially noticed in the present connection is the originality of the way in which our Lord here asserts his divine nature. We cannot for a moment suppose that such a way would have occurred to one who was writing from his own invention. The only possible explanation of the existence of such a passage in the gospel of John, (and the same is true of many other passages,) is that it is a true record of what actually took place in our Lord's history.
Again: our Lord represents himself as the source of light and life to all mankind. To the Jews he said: |I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.| John 8:12. In comparison with what he here claims for himself, the outward work of opening men's bodily eyes dwindles into nothing. That was only the seal of his divine mission. But in these and other like words, he does, as it were, draw aside the veil of his humanity, and give us a glimpse of the glory of the Godhead that dwells within. So too he says, |I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.| John 6:51. The resurrection of Lazarus, stupendous as that miracle was, does not fill us with such awe and amazement as the mighty words which he uttered to Martha: |I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die,| John 11:25, 26; for in these words he represents himself as being to the whole human family the author of all life, natural, spiritual, and eternal. He connects the particular act of giving life which he is about to perform with the final resurrection, |when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.| John 5:28, 29. These utterances, so calm, so lofty, so original, do not sound like the inventions of man. They wear a heavenly costume. When we read them, we feel that the only explanation of their existence in the gospel narrative is the fact that they were actually uttered by our Lord.
And the same is true of another kindred class of passages, in which the Saviour asserts his inward dominion over the human spirit. Hear him, as he stands and proclaims: |Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.| Matt.11:28. |Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.| John 14:27. The world gives peace at best outwardly, and often only in empty words; but Jesus has direct access to the inmost fountains of feeling. He gives peace inwardly and efficaciously. When he turned into songs of joy the tears of the widow of Nain by raising her son to life, that was a wonderful instance of his giving peace; but far greater and more glorious is the work when, by his inward presence in the soul, he makes it victorious over all |the sufferings of this present time.| This is what he meant when he said to his disciples: |These things have I spoken unto you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulations; but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.| John 16:33. In his name, apostles raised the dead to life; but no apostle -- no mere man -- would have ventured to say, |In me ye shall have peace.|
These last words naturally lead to the consideration of another very peculiar form of speech first introduced by our Lord, and passing from him to the church; that of the mutual indwelling of himself and his disciples: |Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.| John 15:1-7. It is a vital union of the believer's soul with Jesus, through which he receives from Jesus life and fruitfulness, as the branch from its union with the vine. Here is an assertion of deity. The Jews regarded Moses with the highest reverence; but no one of them ever spoke of abiding in Moses, or having Moses abiding in himself. Had any Christian disciple represented himself as dwelling in Peter or Paul, the apostle would have rent his clothes at the blasphemy of the words.
Other peculiar ways in which our Lord manifested his deity could be specified, but the above will suffice as examples. Let any candid man consider all these examples in their connection, each of them so original and so majestic, so simple and natural, and yet so far removed from anything that could have occurred to one sitting down to draw from his own imagination the picture of a divine person; and he will be convinced that such a record as that contained in our four canonical gospels was possible only because it is a simple and truthful history of what Jesus of Nazareth was and did. Plain men can give a straightforward account of what they have seen or learned from eye-witnesses; but it transcends the genius of any man to invent such narratives of such a character. The gospel narratives are marked throughout by artless simplicity. Each of the writers goes straightforward with his story, never thinking for a moment of what his own genius is to accomplish, but intent only on exhibiting his Lord and Master as the Saviour of the world. The apostle John, in giving the design of his own gospel, gives that also of the other evangelists: |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 20:30, 31.
And because this glorious and divine person is a living reality, he possesses from age to age an undying power over the human heart. Love towards him is the mightiest principle on earth, both for doing and for suffering. It makes the soul of which it has taken full possession invincible. When Jesus of Nazareth is enthroned in the castle of the human heart, not all the powers of earth and hell can overcome it. See farther, chap.12:8.
9. Since, as we have seen, the gospel narratives are an authentic record of facts, it follows that in the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth we have a supernatural revelation from God in the fullest sense of the words. That his origin was both superhuman and supernatural, the gospels teach us in the most explicit terms. He says of himself: |I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go unto the Father.| John 16:28. |And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.| John 17:5. That the appearance on earth of One who dwelt with the Father in glory before the world was, and after the fulfilment of his mission returned to the Father again, was supernatural, is self-evident. His person was, as has been shown, divine. He was God manifest in the flesh; and wherever he went, his supernatural power displayed itself. The miraculous element is so interwoven into the very substance of the gospel history, that there is no possibility of setting it aside, except by rejecting the history itself. It is the fashion with a certain class of writers, after denying our Lord's divine nature and explaining away his supernatural works, to be profuse in their eulogies of his character. If they can first rid themselves of the obligation to believe on him and obey him as their divine Lord, they are willing to bestow upon him, as a man like themselves, the highest commendations. But the attempt is hopeless. What will they do with the fact of his resurrection from the dead -- the most certain as well as the greatest miracle in his history, and which includes in itself all the rest? Had Jesus not risen from the dead, as he so often affirmed that he should, then he would have been what the Jewish rulers called him -- a deceiver, and no Saviour; but since the miracle of his resurrection must be admitted by all who do not reject the whole gospel history as a fable, why deny the lesser miracles connected with his history? The assumption that miracles are impossible can only go with the denial of God's personality; and this, by whatever name it is called, is atheism. If there is a personal God, who is before nature, above nature, and the author of nature in its inmost essence, he can manifest himself within the sphere of nature in a supernatural way, whenever he chooses to do so. If God who made us cares for us, and is indeed our Father in heaven, it is reasonable to suppose that he may reveal himself to us in supernatural forms, when the end is our deliverance from the bondage of sin, and our preparation for an eternity of holiness and happiness. To deny this, would be to make nature the highest end of God -- to put the world of God's intelligent creatures under nature, instead of making nature their servant and minister.
10. The objections that have been urged against the gospel history are of two kinds. The first class relates to its doctrines, as, for example, that of demoniacal possessions, that of eternal punishment, etc. To enlarge on this subject would be out of place here. It is sufficient to say that the only reasonable rule is to argue from the certainty of the record to the truth of the doctrines in question. He who first assumes that a certain doctrine cannot be true, and then, on the ground of this assumption, sets aside a history sustained by overwhelming evidence, exalts his own finite understanding to be the supreme rule of faith; and to him an authoritative revelation becomes an impossibility. The second class of objections relates to alleged contradictions and inconsistencies between the different writers. The explanation and reconciliation of these is the work of the harmonist. We need not wait, however, for the result of his labors, that we may rest confidently on the truth of the record. These apparent disagreements do not affect a single doctrine or duty of Christianity. They all relate to incidental matters, such as the time and order of the events recorded, the accompanying circumstances, etc. Had we all the missing links of the evangelical history, we might reconcile all these differences; but without them, it is not in all cases possible. Nor is it necessary; since, where different writers record the same transactions, substantial agreement, with diversity in respect to the details, is everywhere the characteristic of authentic history.