Chapter I


Christ a Reality

Whatever view may be taken of Jesus  Christ, he cannot be excluded from  history; He is not a legend, or a  superstition or a theory that may be brushed  lightly aside. He is one of those “stubborn things”  that men call facts. You may ignore him, but you cannot expunge him. You may neglect him or  misinterpret him; but you cannot get rid of the fact,  and whatever may grow out of the fact, that he has  appeared and enacted a part among men which has  left an indelible impress on their condition in all  civilized lands.

To the most casual observer, he towers the most  conspicuous figure in the backward sweep of the eye.  To the acutest mind of philosophy, he is the most  palpable and indubitable problem of history. His  historical verity is now conceded on every hand. An ingenious learning has abandoned the vain attempt  to make him out a myth. Whatever he be, he is no  myth. Every church and chapel is in some way a  memento of him. Every organised Christian State in Europe is a monument to his historical memory.  Hoary ecclesiastical Rome filling the centuries, though with but the merest travesty of his doctrine,  and for ages manacling the human intellect in a name that was never intended to import anything  but life and liberty to the human race, is at least  a guarantee to all the world that that name had a  personal reality for its foundation.

We are indebted for our knowledge of him  to a piece of writing which is quite extraordinary,  and which may be said to be his most stupendous  monument on earth, namely, the four gospels,  bearing the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and  John. The antiquity and literary quality of these  productions combine to impart to them a value  and a significance that cannot be overstated, though  familiarity interferes with perception a little. By all  the ordinary rules of literary transmission, they are  the indisputable productions of Christ’s friends  and companions, they having been in the hands of  the Christian community with that reputation ever  since the beginning of Christianity. But it is their  character that gives them their chief weight. They  are unlike all biographical performances in this, that  they make no effort to commend their subject to the  reader. There is no attempt at panegyric; there is no  extolling of Christ’s virtues; there is no pointing out  of heroic qualities; there is none of the customary  praise or commendation of his hero that is natural  to a biographical writer. There is nothing even in the  nature of a complimentary allusion. All we have is  a plain ungarnished recital of what Christ said and  of what he did—and this in the simplest language.  This is wonderful when we consider the scope  there was for hero worship, and the temptation to  indulge in it on the part of enthusiastic disciples.  But how much more wonderful it is that this bald  recital of facts conveys to the mind the impression  of a personality unapproached in the whole range  of human thought or writing—a character such  as is never seen among men for godlike dignity,  purity, beneficence and power, a figure as far above  men as the heaven is above the earth. What is the  explanation of this unique literary phenomenon?  If we accept the view exhibited by the apostles,  there is a complete explanation: that the whole case  was a divine manifestation, and that the Spirit of  God employed the gospel narrators in its literary  exhibition. If we reject this view, we are in the  presence of a fact that defies explanation, on any  known principle. The New Testament is a fact: the  figure it exhibits of Jesus Christ is as much a fact  as any superb picture in a gallery. That the human  authors were with one exception illiterate men, is a  fact. If a superhuman agency were not at work, how  are we to account for this superhuman performance,  that without human praise or human paint of any  kind, these illiterate writers have produced in the simplest language such an ideal character in Christ  as transcends even the most gifted of human  imaginations?

There are two ways of dealing with the subject.  It can be discussed from what might be called the  newspaper standpoint, as a doubtful problem on  which, as judge and jury, we bring to bear what  information we may possess. Or it may be stated  and illustrated and argued from the New Testament  writers’ point of view, with the ardour that naturally  springs from appreciation and faith. If the latter  course is chosen in the present case, it is because,  while it surrenders none of the critical advantages  that may belong to the former, it admits of a fuller  statement and a more satisfactory result. The cold  impartiality of the critic, however correctly applied,  only leaves you at the door of the subject when you  have done. When you have conciliated unbelief to  the utmost; when you have gone the utmost length  in your deferences to critical acumen or unfriendly  bias, you have failed to do more than establish a  probability, which has little influence on human  motives. The better plan is to assume the historical  verity of the subject in all particulars, and harmonise  this view of the subject with all objections as you go  along. The logic and polemics of earnest conviction  take you inside the house, and set you down before  the cheerful fire in the pleased society of hospitable  inmates.

The wisdom of this line of treatment is forced  on the mind when the nature of the subject is  fully apprehended. It is not like ordinary subjects,  which you may attend to or leave alone without  compromising your well-being in any way. If  Christ is what he is represented in the apostolic  writings, it is at our hazard if we neglect him. Other subjects may be interesting, but this is of solemn  and urgent moment. We may or may not attend to  other things: the claims of this are imperative. The  subject of Christ alone deals with personal futurity  and eternity.

Astronomy appeals overpoweringly to our  sense of the stupendous, the exact, the infinite: the  face of the earth stirs our love of the fair and the  beautiful; her rocky depths excite our curiosity as  to past conditions of the globe. Agriculture supplies  us with the useful: chemistry with the theoretical;  history, with the actual working of things among  men in their present situation. Christ alone deals  with the ever-pressing problem of the meaning of  existence and the destiny of human life. All other  subjects are here as dumb as the stars; dark as the  night; or incoherent as the roar of the storm-tossed  waters on the desolate strand.

If we are to accept Christ as apostolically  exhibited, there is no extravagance in the words  which declare him “worthy to receive power and  riches and wisdom and strength and honour and  glory and blessing.” It is not only as Pilate was made  to record, that “there is no fault in him;” but as Paul  declared, that “in him are hid all the treasures of  wisdom and knowledge;” that “in him dwelleth all  the fulness of the godhead bodily.”

Men glory in men. They see and praise greatness  in the successful leading of soldiers, as in Napoleon;  they admire the ability that can tell a graphic story,  like a Dickens; or that can clearly delineate quickeyed  discernments and impressions of men and  things, as a Shakespeare; they extol the capacity  that can hold the political helm in stormy weather,  like a Gladstone; or that can jingle composition  in measured cadences, like a Scott or a Tennyson.  But what is all this excellence but the exhibition of  perishing mortal faculty in picturesque relations—  impressing human mentalities, tickling human  fancies, flattering human vanities, but futile in the  eternal issues of things? At the best, it is the exercise  of creature gift—like the strength of a horse, the  constructiveness of a bee, the scent of a bloodhound,  the instinct of a beaver. If we are commanded not to  glory in man, it is reasonable we should not. Man  is but a creature—a transient blossom of eternal  power—no more to be adored for his qualities than  a rose for its fragrance, a peach for its bloom.

But with Christ, it is otherwise. We are not only  not forbidden, we are commanded to glory in him.  The very angels were ordered to do obeisance: “Let  all the angels of God worship him.” And the reason  which tells us it is out of place to glory in men, tells  us it is fitting we should glory in the Lord. If we  are to accept the New Testament exhibition of him,  the Father has planted in him intrinsic excellence,  life, authority, and power; and where these are,  the recognition of them in praise and deference is  reasonable.[1]

[1] Roberts, R. Nazareth Revisited. Birmingham, UK: The