NEBICULA est; transibit,| -- |It is a little cloud; it will pass away.| This was said first, I believe, by Athanasius, of Julian the Apostate who, after a short reign of intense hostility to Christianity, perished with his work, |leaving no wreck behind.|97 The same may be applied to all the recent attempts to undermine the faith of humanity in the person of its divine Lord and Saviour. The clouds, great and small, pass away; the sun continues to shine: darkness has its hour; the light is eternal. No argument against the existence or attack upon the character of the sun will drive the king of day from the sky, or prevent him from blessing the earth. And the eye of man, with its sun-like nature, will ever turn to the sun, and drink the rays of light as they emanate from the face of Jesus, the |Light of the world.| |God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ| (2 Cor. iv.4).
With its last and ablest efforts, infidelity seems to have exhausted its scientific resources. It could only repeat itself hereafter. Its different theories have all been tried, and found wanting. One has in turn refuted and superseded the other, even during the lifetime of their champions. They explain nothing in the end: on the contrary, they only substitute an unnatural prodigy for a supernatural miracle, an inextricable enigma for a revealed mystery. They equally tend to undermine all faith in God's providence, in history, and ultimately in every principle of truth and virtue; and they deprive a poor and fallen humanity, in a world of sin, temptation, and sorrow, of its only hope and comfort in life and in death.
Dr. Strauss, by far the clearest and strongest of all the infidel biographers of Jesus, seems to have had a passing feeling of the disastrous tendency of his work of destruction, and the awful responsibility he assumed. |The results of our inquiry,| he says in the closing chapter of his large |Life of Jesus,| |have apparently annihilated the greatest and most important part of that which the Christian has been wont to believe concerning his Jesus; have uprooted all the encouragements which he has derived from his faith, and deprived him of all his consolations. The boundless stores of truth and life which for eighteen hundred years have been the aliment of humanity seem irretrievably devastated, the most sublime leveled with the dust, God divested of his grace, man of his dignity, and the tie between heaven and earth broken. Piety turns away with horror from so fearful an act of desecration, and, strong in the impregnable self-evidence of its faith, boldly pronounces that -- let an audacious criticism attempt what it will -- all that the Scriptures declare and the Church believes of Christ will still subsist as eternal truth; nor need one iota of it be renounced.|98 Strauss makes then an attempt, it is true, at a philosophical reconstruction of what he vainly imagines to have annihilated as an historical fact by his sophistical criticism. He professes to admit the abstract truth of the orthodox Christology, or the union of the divine and human, but perverts it into a purely intellectual and pantheistic meaning. He refuses divine attributes and honors to the glorious Head of the race, but applies them to a decapitated humanity. He thus substitutes, from pantheistic prejudice, a metaphysical abstraction for a living reality; a mere notion for an historical fact; a progress in philosophy and mechanical arts for the moral victory over sin and death; a pantheistic hero-worship, or self-adoration of a fallen race, for the worship of the only true and living God; the gift of a stone for the nourishing bread; a gospel of despair and final annihilation, for the gospel of hope and eternal life.99
Humanity scorns such a miserable substitute, which has yet to give the first proof of any power for good, and which is not likely ever to convert or improve a single individual. Humanity must have a living Head, a real Lord, and Saviour from sin and death. With renewed faith and stronger confidence, it will return from the dreary desolations of a heartless infidelity, and the vain conceits of a philosophy falsely so called, to the historical Christ, the promised Messiah, the God incarnate, and exclaim with Peter: |Lord, where shall we go but to thee? Thou alone hast the words of eternal life, and we believe and are sure that thou art the Son of God!|
Yes! He still lives, the divine Man and incarnate God, on the ever-fresh and self-authenticating records of the Gospels, in the unbroken history of eighteen centuries, and in the hearts and lives of the wisest and best of our race; and there he will live for ever. His person and work are the book of life, which will never grow old. Christianity lives and will continue to live with him, and because he lives, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
Jesus Christ is the most certain, the most sacred, and the most glorious, of all facts; arrayed in a beauty and majesty which throws the |starry heavens above us and the moral law within us| into obscurity, and fills us truly with ever-growing reverence and awe. He shines forth with the self-evidencing light of the noonday sun. He is too great, too pure, too perfect, to have been invented by any sinful and erring man. His character and claims are confirmed by the sublimest doctrine, the purest ethics, the mightiest miracles, the grandest spiritual kingdom, and are daily and hourly exhibited in the virtues and graces of all who yield to the regenerating and sanctifying power of his spirit and example. The historical Christ meets and satisfies all our intellectual and moral wants. The soul, if left to its noblest impulses and aspirations, instinctively turns to him, as the needle to the magnet, as the flower to the sun, as the panting hart to the fresh fountain. We are made for him, and |our heart is without rest until it rests in him.| He commands our assent, he wins our admiration, he overwhelms us with adoring wonder. We can not look upon him without spiritual benefit. We can not think of him without being elevated above all that is low and mean, and encouraged to all that is good and noble. The very hem of his garment is healing to the touch. One hour spent in his communion outweighs all the pleasures of sin. He is the most precious and indispensable gift of a merciful God to a fallen world. In him are the treasures of true wisdom, in him the fountain of pardon and peace, in him the only substantial hope and comfort in this world and that which is to come. Mankind could better afford to lose the whole literature of Greece and Rome, of Germany and France, of England and America, than the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Without him, history is a dreary waste, an inextricable enigma, a chaos of facts without a meaning, connection, and aim: with him, it is a beautiful, harmonious revelation of God, the slow but sure unfolding of a plan of infinite wisdom and love.; all ancient history converging to his coming, all modern history receiving from him its higher life and impulse. He is the glory of the past, the life of the present, the hope of the future. We can not even understand ourselves without him. According to an old Jewish proverb: |The secret of man is the secret of the Messiah.| He is the great central Light of history, as a whole; and, at the same time, the Light of every soul: he alone can solve the mystery of our being, and fulfill all our intellectual desires after truth, all our moral aspirations after goodness and holiness, and the longing of our feelings after peace and happiness.
Not for all the wealth and wisdom of this world would I weaken the faith of the humblest Christian in his divine Lord and Saviour; but if, by the grace of God, I could convert a single skeptic to a child-like faith in Him who lived and died for me and for all, I would feel that I had not lived in vain.