The person and character of Christ

A. The conception of Christ’s person as presenting deity and humanity indissolubly united, and the conception of Christ’s character, with its faultless and all-comprehending excellence, cannot be accounted for upon any other hypothesis than that they were historical realities.

The stylobate of the Parthenon at Athens rises about three inches in the middle of the 101 feet of the front, and four inches in the middle of the 228 feet of the flanks. A nearly parallel line is found in the entablature. The axes of the columns lean inward nearly three inches in their height of 34 feet, thus giving a sort of pyramidal character to the structure. Thus the architect overcame the apparent sagging of horizontal lines, and at the same time increased the apparent height of the edifice; see Murray, Handbook of Greece, 5th ed., 1884, 1:308, 309; Ferguson, Handbook of Architecture, 268–270. The neglect to counteract this optical illusion has rendered the Madeleine in Paris a stiff and ineffective copy of the Parthenon. The Galilean peasant who should minutely describe these peculiarities of the Parthenon would prove, not only that the edifice was a historical reality, but that he had actually seen it. Bruce, Apologetics, 343—“In reading the memoirs of the evangelists, you feel as one sometimes feels in a picture-gallery. Your eye alights on the portrait of a person whom you do not know. You look at it intently for a few moments and then remark to a companion: ‘That must be like the original,—it is so life-like.’ ” Theodore Parker: “It would take a Jesus to   V 1, p 187    p 187  forge a Jesus.” See Row, Hampton Lectures, 1877:178–219, and in Present Day Tracts, 4: no. 22; F. W. Farrar, Witness of History to Christ; Barry, Boyle Lecture on Manifold Witness for Christ.

(a) No source can be assigned from which the evangelists could have derived such a conception. The Hindu avatars were only temporary unions of deity with humanity. The Greeks had men half-deified, but no unions of God and man. The monotheism of the Jews found the person of Christ a perpetual stumbling-block. The Essenes were in principle more opposed to Christianity than the Rabbinists.

Herbert Spencer, Data of Ethics, 279—“The coëxistence of a perfect man and an imperfect society is impossible; and could the two coëxist, the resulting conduct would not furnish the ethical standard sought.” We must conclude that the perfect manhood of Christ is a miracle, and the greatest of miracles. Bruce, Apologetics, 346, 351—“When Jesus asks: ‘Why callest thou me good?’ he means: ‘Learn first what goodness is, and call no man good till you are sure that he deserves it.’ Jesus’ goodness was entirely free from religious scrupulosity; it was distinguished by humanity; it was full of modesty and lowliness.… Buddhism has flourished 2000 years, though little is known of its founder. Christianity might have been so perpetuated, but it is not so. I want to be sure that the ideal has been embodied in an actual life. Otherwise it is only poetry, and the obligation to conform to it ceases.” For comparison of Christ’s incarnation with Hindu, Greek, Jewish, and Essene ideas, see Dorner, Hist. Doct. Person of Christ, Introduction. On the Essenes, see Herzog, Encyclop., art.: Essener; Pressensé, Jesus Christ, Life, Times and Work, 84–87; Lightfoot on Colossians, 349–419; Godet, Lectures in Defence of the Christian Faith.

(b) No mere human genius, and much less the genius of Jewish fishermen, could have originated this conception. Bad men invent only such characters as they sympathize with. But Christ’s character condemns badness. Such a portrait could not have been drawn without supernatural aid. But such aid would not have been given to fabrication. The conception can be explained only by granting that Christ’s person and character were historical realities.

Between Pilate and Titus 30,000 Jews are said to have been crucified around the walls of Jerusalem. Many of these were young men. What makes one of them stand out on the pages of history? There are two answers: The character of Jesus was a perfect character, and, He was God as well as man. Gore, Incarnation, 63—“The Christ of the gospels, if he be not true to history, represents a combined effort of the creative imagination without parallel in literature. But the literary characteristics of Palestine in the first century make the hypothesis of such an effort morally impossible.” The Apocryphal gospels show us what mere imagination was capable of producing. That the portrait of Christ is not puerile, inane, hysterical, selfishly assertive, and self-contradictory, can be due only to the fact that it is the photograph from real life.

For a remarkable exhibition of the argument from the character of Jesus, see Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural, 276–332. Bushnell mentions the originality and vastness of Christ’s plan, yet its simplicity and practical adaptation; his moral traits of independence, compassion, meekness, wisdom, zeal, humility, patience; the combination in him of seemingly opposite qualities. With all his greatness, he was condescending and simple; he was unworldly, yet not austere; he had strong feelings, yet was self-possessed; he had indignation toward sin, yet compassion toward the sinner; he showed devotion to his work, yet calmness under opposition; universal philanthropy, yet susceptibility to private attachments; the authority of a Savior and Judge, yet the gratitude and the tenderness of a son; the most elevated devotion, yet a life of activity and exertion. See chapter on The Moral Miracle, in Bruce, Miraculous Element of the Gospels, 43–78.

B. The acceptance and belief in the New Testament descriptions of Jesus Christ cannot be accounted for except upon the ground that the person and character described had an actual existence.

  V 1, p 188    p 188  (a) If these descriptions were false, there were witnesses still living who had known Christ and who would have contradicted them. (b) There was no motive to induce acceptance of such false accounts, but every motive to the contrary. (c) The success of such falsehoods could be explained only by supernatural aid, but God would never have thus aided falsehood. This person and character, therefore, must have been not fictitious but real; and if real, then Christ’s words are true, and the system of which his person and character are a part is a revelation from God.

“The counterfeit may for a season Deceive the wide earth; But the lie waxing great comes to labor, And truth has its birth.” Matthew Arnold, The Better Part: “Was Christ a man like us? Ah, let us see, If we then too can be Such men as he!” When the blatant sceptic declared: “I do not believe that such a man as Jesus Christ ever lived,” George Warren merely replied: “I wish I were like him!” Dwight L. Moody was called a hypocrite, but the stalwart evangelist answered: “Well, suppose I am. How does that make your case any better? I know some pretty mean things about myself; but you cannot say anything against my Master.” Goethe: “Let the culture of the spirit advance forever; let the human spirit broaden itself as it will; yet it will never go beyond the height and moral culture of Christianity, as it glitters and shines in the gospels.”

Renan, Life of Jesus: “Jesus founded the absolute religion, excluding nothing, determining nothing, save its essence.… The foundation of the true religion is indeed his work. After him, there is nothing left but to develop and fructify.” And a Christian scholar has remarked: “It is an astonishing proof of the divine guidance vouchsafed to the evangelists that no man, of their time or since, has been able to touch the picture of Christ without debasing it.” We may find an illustration of this in the words of Chadwick, Old and New Unitarianism, 207—“Jesus’ doctrine of marriage was ascetic, his doctrine of property was communistic, his doctrine of charity was sentimental, his doctrine of non-resistance was such as commends itself to Tolstoi, but not to many others of our time. With the example of Jesus, it is the same as with his teachings. Followed unreservedly, would it not justify those who say: ‘The hope of the race is in its extinction’; and bring all our joys and sorrows to a sudden end?” To this we may answer in the words of Huxley, who declares that Jesus Christ is “the noblest ideal of humanity which mankind has yet worshiped.” Gordon, Christ of To-Day, 179—“The question is not whether Christ is good enough to represent the Supreme Being, but whether the Supreme Being is good enough to have Christ for his representative. John Stuart Mill looks upon the Christian religion as the worship of Christ, rather than the worship of God, and in this way he explains the beneficence of its influence.”

John Stuart Mill, Essays on Religion, 254—“The most valuable part of the effect on the character which Christianity has produced, by holding up in a divine person a standard of excellence and a model for imitation, is available even to the absolute unbeliever, and can never more be lost to humanity. For it is Christ rather than God whom Christianity has held up to believers as the pattern of perfection for humanity. It is the God incarnate, more than the God of the Jews or of nature, who, being idealized, has taken so great and salutary hold on the modern mind. And whatever else may be taken away from us by rational criticism, Christ is still left: a unique figure, not more unlike all his precursors than all his followers, even those who had the direct benefit of his personal preaching.… Who among his disciples, or among their proselytes, was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels?… About the life and sayings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality combined with profundity of insight which, if we abandon the idle expectation of finding scientific precision where something very different was aimed at, must place the Prophet of Nazareth, even in the estimation of those who have no belief in his inspiration, in the very first rank of the men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast. When this preëminent genius is combined with the qualities of probably the greatest moral reformer and martyr to that mission who ever existed upon earth, religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching on this man as the ideal representative and guide of humanity; nor even now would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete than the endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life.   V 1, p 189    p 189  When to this we add that, to the conception of the rational sceptic, it remains a possibility that Christ actually was … a man charged with a special, express and unique commission from God to lead mankind to truth and virtue, we may well conclude that the influences of religion on the character, which will remain after rational criticism has done its utmost against the evidences of religion, are well worth preserving, and that what they lack in direct strength as compared with those of a firmer belief is more than compensated by the greater truth and rectitude of the morality they sanction.” See also Ullmann, Sinlessness of Jesus; Alexander, Christ and Christianity, 129–157; Schaff, Person of Christ; Young, The Christ in History; George Dana Boardman, The Problem of Jesus.

 Strong, A. H. (1907). Systematic theology (pp. 186–189). Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society.

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