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The Person Of Christ by Philip Schaff


WHEN the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he was commanded to put off his shoes from his feet; for the place whereon he stood was holy ground. With what reverence and awe, then, should we approach the contemplation of the great reality -- God manifest in the flesh -- of which the vision of Moses was but a significant type and shadow!1

The life and character of Jesus Christ is truly the holy of holies in the history of the world. Eighteen hundred years have passed away since he appeared, in the fullness of time, on this earth to redeem a fallen race from sin and death, and to open a never-ceasing fountain of righteousness and life. The ages before him anxiously awaited his coming, as the fulfillment of the desire of all nations: the ages after him proclaim his glory, and ever extend his dominion. The noblest and best of men under every clime hold him not only in the purest affection and the profoundest gratitude, but in divine adoration and worship. His name is above every name that may be named in heaven or on earth, and the only one whereby the sinner can be saved. He is the Author of the new creation; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Prophet, Priest, and King of regenerate humanity. He is Immanuel, God with us; the Eternal Word become flesh; very God and very man in one undivided person, the Saviour of the world.

Thus he stands out to the faith of the entire Christian Church -- Greek, Latin, and Evangelical -- in every civilized country on the globe. Much as the various confessions and denominations differ in doctrines and usages, they are agreed in their love and adoration of Jesus. They lay down their arms when they approach the manger of Bethlehem or the cross of Calvary, where he was born and died for our sins that we might live for ever in heaven. He is the divine harmony of all human sects and creeds, the common life-center of all true Christians; where their hearts meet with their affections, prayers, and hopes, in spite of the discord of their heads in views and theories. The doctrines and institutions, the worship and customs, the sciences and arts, of all Christendom, bear witness to the indelible impression he made upon the world; countless churches and cathedrals are as many monuments of gratitude to his holy name; and thousands of hymns and prayers are daily and hourly ascending to his praise from public and private sanctuaries in all parts of the globe. His power is now greater, his kingdom larger, than ever; and it will continue to spread, until all nations shall bow before him, and kiss his scepter of righteousness and peace.

Blessed is he who from the heart can believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and the fountain of salvation. True faith is indeed no work of nature, but an act of God wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost, who reveals Christ to us in his true character, as Christ has revealed the Father. Faith, with its justifying, sanctifying, and saving power, is independent of science and learning, and may be kindled even in the heart of a little child and an illiterate slave. It is the peculiar glory of the Redeemer and his religion to be co-extensive with humanity itself, without distinction of sex, age, nation, and race. His saving grace flows and overflows to all and for all, on the simple condition of repentance and faith.

This fact, however, does not supersede the necessity of thought and argument. Revelation, although above nature and above reason, is not against nature or against reason. On the contrary, nature and the supernatural, as has been well said by a distinguished New-England divine, |constitute together the one system of God.|2 Christianity satisfies the deepest intellectual as well as moral and religious wants of man, who is created in the image and for the glory of God. It is the revelation of truth as well as of life. Faith and knowledge, pistis and gnosis, are not antagonistic, but complementary forces; not enemies, but inseparable twin-sisters. Faith precedes knowledge, but just as necessarily leads to knowledge; while true knowledge, on the other hand, is always rooted and grounded in faith, and tends to confirm and to strengthen it. Thus we find the two combined in the famous confession of Peter, when he says, in the name of all the other apostles, |We believe and we know that thou art Christ.|3 So intimately are both connected, that we may also reverse the famous maxim of Augustine, Anselm, and Schleiermacher: |Faith precedes knowledge,|4 and say: |Knowledge precedes faith.|5 For how can we believe in any object without at least some general historical knowledge of its existence and character? Faith even in its first form, as a submission to the authority of God and an assent to the truth of his revelation, is an exercise of the mind and reason as well as of the heart and the will. Hence faith has been defined as implying three things, -- knowledge, assent, and trust or confidence. An idiot or a madman can not believe. Our religion demands not a blind, but a rational, intelligent faith; and this just in proportion to its strength and fervor, aims at an ever-deepening insight into its own sacred contents and object.

As living faith in Christ is the soul and center of all sound practical Christianity and piety, so the true doctrine of Christ is the soul and center of all sound Christian theology. St. John makes the denial of the incarnation of the Son of God the criterion of Antichrist, and consequently the belief in this central truth the test of Christianity. The incarnation of the eternal Logos, and the divine glory shining through the veil of Christ's humanity, is the grand theme of his Gospel, which he wrote with the pen of an angel from the very heart of Christ, as his favorite disciple and bosom-friend. The Apostles' Creed, starting as it does from the confession of Peter, makes the article on Christ most prominent, and assigns to it the central position between the preceding article on God the Father, and the succeeding article on the Holy Ghost. The development of ancient Catholic theology commenced and culminated with the triumphant defense of the true divinity, and true humanity of Christ, against the opposite heresies of Judaizing Ebionism, which denied the former, and paganizing Gnosticism, which resolved the latter into a shadowy phantom. The evangelical Protestant theology, in its sound form, is essentially Christological, or controlled throughout by the proper idea of Christ as the God-Man and Saviour. This is emphatically the article of the standing or falling Church. In this, the two most prominent ideas of the Reformation -- the doctrine of the supremacy of the Scriptures, and the doctrine of justification by grace through faith -- meet, and are vitally united. Christ's word, the only unerring and efficient guide of truth; Christ's work, the only unfailing and sufficient source of peace; Christ all in all, -- this is the principle of genuine Protestantism.

In the construction of the true doctrine of Christ's person, we may, with St. John in the prologue to his Gospel, begin from above with his eternal Godhead, and proceed, through the creation and the preparatory revelation of the Old Testament economy, till we reach the incarnation and his truly human life for the redemption of the race. Or, with the other evangelists, we may begin from below with his birth from the Virgin Mary, and rise, through the successive stages of his earthly life, his discourses and miracles, to his assumption into that divine glory which he had before the foundation of the world. The result reached in both cases is the same; namely, that Christ unites in his person the whole fullness of the Godhead, and the whole fullness of sinless manhood.

The older theologians, both Catholic and Evangelical, proved the divinity of the Saviour in a direct way from the miracles performed by him; from the prophecies and types fulfilled in him; from the divine names which he bears; from the divine attributes which are predicated of him; from the divine works which he performed; and from the divine honors which he claims, and which are fully accorded to him by his apostles and the whole Christian Church to this day.

But it may also be proved by the opposite process, -- the contemplation of the singular perfection of Christ's humanity; which rises by almost universal consent, even of unbelievers, so far above every human greatness known before or since, that it can only be rationally explained on the ground of such an essential union with the Godhead as he claimed himself, and as his inspired apostles ascribed to him. The more deeply we penetrate the veil of his flesh, the more clearly we behold the glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father shining through the same, full of grace and of truth.6

Modern evangelical theology owes this new homage to the Saviour. The powerful and subtle attacks of the latest phases of infidelity upon the credibility of the gospel history call for a more vigorous defense than was ever made before, and have already led, by way of re-action, to new triumphs of the old faith of the Church in her divine Head.

Our humanitarian, philanthropic, and yet skeptical age is more susceptible to this argument, which proceeds from the humanity to the divinity, than the old dogmatic method of demonstration which follows the opposite process. With Thomas, the representative of honest and earnest skepticism among the apostles, many noble and inquiring minds refuse to believe in the divinity of the Lord, unless supported by the testimony of their senses, or the convincing arguments of reason: they desire to put the finger into the print of his nails, and to thrust the hand into his side, before they exclaim, in humble adoration: |My Lord and my God!| They can not easily he brought to believe in miracles on abstract reasoning or on historical evidence. But, if they once could see the great moral miracle of Christ's person and character, they would have no difficulty with the miracles of his works. For a superhuman being must of necessity do superhuman deeds; a miraculous person must perform miraculous works. The contrary would be unnatural, and the greatest miracle. The character of the tree accounts for the character of the fruit. We believe in the miracles of Christ because we believe in his person as the divine Man, and the central miracle of the moral universe.

It is from this point of view that we shall endeavor, in as popular and concise a manner as the difficulty and dignity of the subject permit, to analyze and exhibit the human character of Christ. We propose to take up the man, Jesus of Nazareth, as he appears on the simple, unsophisticated record of the plain and honest fishermen of Galilee, and as he lives in the faith of Christendom; and we shall find him in all the stages of his life, both as a private individual and as a public character, so far elevated above the reach of successful rivalry, and so singularly perfect, that this very perfection, in the midst of an imperfect and sinful world, constitutes an irresistible proof of his divinity.

A full discussion of the subject would require us to consider Christ in his official as well as personal character; and to describe him as a teacher, a reformer, a worker of miracles, and the founder of a spiritual kingdom universal in extent and. perpetual in time. From every point of view, we should be irresistibly driven to the same result. But our present purpose confines us to the consideration of his personal character; and this alone, we think, is sufficient for the conclusion.

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