« PreviousContinue »
raised in his presence of the need that he should be traced, as the Christ, not from Galilee, but from Bethlehem and David ; but the matter is left unsolved (vii. 41-43). There is, in fact, no note of his being of human descent. The paternity he ever lays claim to is a divine one. Of the Jews he says, “I know that ye are Abraham's seed," but he associates himself with a heavenly Father, of which connection, he remarked to them, “ Ye neither know me, nor my Father.” When they ask him whether he was "greater than their father Abraham," he disassociates himself from Abraham, pointing to him as their father, without acknowledging him as his. On the contrary, he boldly asserts that “Abraham rejoiced to see his day," adding, “Before Abraham was, I am.” There is no Jewish exclusiveness in his doctrine. It was out of love to “ the world” at large, and that “the world” might be “saved” by him, that the Father “sent” him. He came as “the light of the world,” “the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” He “ came down from heaven," he declares, to give “life unto the world.” So far from restraining his disciples from preaching to the Samaritans, as the synoptic gospels have it, he visited this region, there proclaiming himself as the Christ, and gaining over many of the place to believe in him; and he announced to them that neither on the mount of the Samaritans, “nor yet at Jerusalem,” was God to be specially sought out for worship, but that "the true worshippers” were those who should worship him “in spirit and in truth,” independently of all locality. Jesus is thus entirely free of Judaism, whether by descent or in doctrine. His frequenting the temple at the stated festivals, and purging it of those who made it a place of traffic, are apparently concessions made to the Judaism of the day in which the life of Jesus is cast, for the sake of maintaining a consistent history.
The writer himself, it may be gathered, was a Gentile. A Jew could not have shown the visitation of the Christ, in the era described, in a form so devoid of Judaism. He refers to Jewish ordinances as himself not one of the people, speaking of “the Jews' passover,” “ a feast of the Jews,” “ the passover, a feast of the Jews," “ the Jews' feast of tabernacles," “ the Jews' preparation day,” “the manner of the purifying of the Jews," " the manner of the Jews to bury,” and, when addressing Jews, saying “ your law,” or referring to it as “ their law.” He erroneously describes Bethany as “beyond Jordan," and gives a miraculous power to the pool of Bethesda which no inhabitant of Jerusalem could have alleged ; and he imagined that Annas and Caiaphas were high priests together, and, again, that the high priest was an officer annually elected.
That the death of Jesus was a sacrifice enacted as a propitiatory offering in expiation of sin, we are assuredly not told in this gospel. There is an attempted but questionable association with Jewish ordinance in styling Jesus “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (the animal in the Jewish rites fulfilling this office being a goat), and in applying to him the circumstance that the bones of the paschal lamb were not to be broken, as prophetic of the preservation from breakage at death of his bones, which might be taken as indicative that his death was of sacrificial import; but so important a characteristic, fraught with such serious doctrinal consequences, should not be left to bare inference, if the death had really been incurred in the sense of a sacrifice. The solid teaching ascribed in this gospel to Jesus supports no such inference. It is true he says he gives his “flesh ” for “the life of the world,” but this is not in the way of an atonement for sin. It is the provision by him of a life-giving element. “I am that bread of life,” he declares ; “this is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” He represents himself also as “laying down his life for the sheep,” but it is as “the good shepherd ” dying in defence of the sheep when attacked by the wolf. The saying ascribed to Caiaphas that he was to die, “not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one” all “the children of God," does not necessarily involve a sacrificial offering. He might die as a martyr, or as a devoted leader, for conscience sake, to attract men to the truth for which he suffered, and rally them around him. So he appears to declare when saying, “signifying what death he should die,” “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all inen unto me.” The mediatory office of Jesus consisted in his being the power of God for the salvation of the world. He declared himself to be “ the light of the world,” “ the door of the sheep,” “ the true vine,” “the resurrection and the life,”
“the way, the truth, and the life.” “No man cometh unto the Father,” he maintained, “but by me.” “The Father,” he said, “ loveth the son, and hath given all things into his hand.” “For as the Father,” he more specifically alleged, “ hath life in himself; so hath he given to the son to have life in himself.” “The son,” therefore, "quickeneth whom he will.” “This is the Father's will which hath sent me,” “that every one which seeth the son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” “He that believeth on me,” he assured his hearers, “hath everlasting life.” To “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” “He that believeth on the son hath everlasting life ; he that believeth not the son shall not see life ; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me : and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
The pre-existence and divinity of Christ, which are involved in the above teaching, are clearly announced. “In the beginning” he was “ with God.” “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” He thus ante-dated the whole visible creation, of which in fact he was the constructor. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him.” “He came down from heaven.” “He was come from God,” and after death “ went to God.” “I came forth from the Father,” he stated," and am come into the world : again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” “Father,” he says, addressing himself to the Almighty, “I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am ; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me;" that glory, he declares, “which I had with thee before the world was.” In consistency with these supreme attributes, the exhibition made of Jesus when in the flesh is still that of a divinity. He was the revealed Word of God, or the Alexandrine Logos. “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.” “I and my Father,” he declared, “are one ”-one possibly in nature, essence, and power, for so the surrounding constituents seem to require, and not merely one in spirit, to which sense some would limit the expression. “Believe,” he said, “ that the Father is in me, and I in him.” Philip desired to see the Father, on which Jesus put himself before him, and said, “ Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou, then, Show us the Father ?”
In a religion professing to be a divine revelation, we are entitled to expect completeness in all its essential enunciations, and certainly not contradiction. Such, we see, is not the character of the Christian scheme. While matured Christianity requires the acceptance of Jesus Christ in the entirety of his attributes, the actuality has been that he has been put before the world in detached morsels, which morsels, moreover, have not exhibited unity, but discord. If, for example, the scheme was primitively arranged to be appropriate only for the Jewish family, as such, it was a marked alteration of the plan to adapt it to the Gentiles. Nothing is more clearly apparent than that there has been such change of counsel and design. Then, if repentance could secure free forgiveness, as taught in the first instance, it was an essential alteration in the terms to introduce the requisition of a sacrificial offering, making of this the paramount condition. And if it was of importance to apprehend the pre-existence or the divinity of Christ, it was a misleading representation to describe him as a mere man, with holding to a later time the declaration of his divinity.
What a snare was here presented to the Jewish mind ! Thousands of Jews at a time, we are told, accepted Christ when offered to them, in the first days, in Jewish type. What a deception, when he had been so accepted, to surround him with Gentile circumstances, impossible for a Jew, as such, to face! The fruits are apparent. The Jews are rarely to be met with in the fold of Christianity, which is substantially occupied by the Gentiles.
It is obvious that, through the opening of the door for the admission of the Gentiles, these anti-Judaic elements flowed in. One by one, as the invading body grew in strength, the things precious to them were introduced, and imposed upon the image of Christ. The process of the adaptations may be readily conceived. The disciples had dwelt much on the death of Jesus. It was a life forfeited in the cause of righteousness. It was represented that the wicked, who could not abide such a testimony against themselves, killed him, as they had done the prophets of old. The patient and faithful sufferer, being, in point of fact, the Christ, was, as a consequence, exalted to glory. He was endowed with mastery over his enemies, and, at the end of the dispensation, was to rule them with a rod of iron. Those who confessed him in the interval were to be associated with him in this glory. To a Gentile mind, accustomed to believe in the efficacy of a human sacrifice as the most valuable offering that could be made to appease an offended Deity, it was easy to convert the death of Jesus into an expiatory offering. The blood had been poured out, and they believed in the atoning value of such blood. This, perhaps, was the earliest alteration made in the primitive scheme of Christianity. The next, apparently, was to elevate Jesus to the position of an Æon, or emanation of the Deity—one who existed with him in the remoteness of time, before the world was created, and who was used as his instrument in constructing the material creation. Such beings were known of to the Gentiles, and, in accepting the Christ as the medium of their temporal and spiritual welfare, it was natural to convert him into a chief Æon. His whole work, as well as position, was thereby magnified, and those who had their standing in him partook of the exaltation. The doctrine was of Oriental origin, and had taken root in Alexandria. Lastly, the absolute divinity of Jesus was insisted on. He was a God incarnate, in a form familiar to the Greek mythologists. Their minds were habituated to such a stretch of thought, and it was natural they should exercise it in favour of the object of their mental adoration.
But there was a difficulty in the adaptation of his divine essence to the death he had undergone. Could a being of immortal mould give up his life after the manner of a mere mortal? And how was the sacrificial character of the death to be maintained ? The deposition of the material bodily substance, and its dispersion in decomposition, if effected, would be a poor offering to make for the redemption of the universe. The essential life itself must be forfeited, to produce a value,