“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” —John 1:1
I WANT to present to you, as best I may, the grounds upon which Christians receive Jesus Christ as God manifest in the flesh. Beyond all question, Christianity as a religion is committed to that proposition. Whatever it may call itself, anything less than that is not Christianity. Eliminate that and there is left a marvelous story, indeed, but like a box of wonderful gems to which the key is missing; there is left a wonderful ethic but without adequate authority; there is left the promise of a great spiritual kingdom, but the kingdom is without a king.
Christianity stands or falls by the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth was more than man; in other words, while being man, that He was God manifest in the flesh. That is a stupendous assertion, but God, my dear friends, does not ask us to believe it without proof. What then are the reasons why we Christians receive Jesus Christ as God manifest in the flesh?
Now, I shall feel more comfortable as I go on, if I say at the outset that the merits of my cause should not be judged by my ability in presenting it. Truth itself transcends the ability of any man to present it. All the more then, if thereasons themselves shall seem to you to be convincing and the proofs shall seem to you to be adequate, will you as honest nun be under compulsion to accept them. Give me, then, your attention to that cumulative body of truth which establishes beyond all question this proposition, that Jesus of Nazareth, the historic Christ, was God manifest in the flesh.
First, the four Gospels present the record of a life and the impress of a character which are absolutely unique. The Jesus of the Gospels stands alone. He makes a class by Himself. There are points of resemblance between Cincinnatus and Washington; between Caesar and Napoleon; between Chaucer and Shakespeare; between Hesiod and Homer; between Dante and Milton; but Jesus is alone unique.
I will not stop to prove that, because no one denies it, but I ask you to take note of three respects in which the character presented in these four Gospels stands solitary among men. First, in that it is absolutely without sin. Now, neither in Scripture, nor in history, nor in fiction, nor in our own observation, do we find another of which that can be said. History gives the record of no sinless men. Fiction has never yet presented a perfect character. The effort has been made a thousand times, but upon the most perfect character ever constructed by the genius of man is some fatal defect, some taint of imperfection. Did it not lead too far from the subject, it would be interesting to take up some of the most perfect characters in the Bible, in history and in fiction, and show how true it is that, tested even by our own imperfect standards, there is, in the best of them, some obvious defect. They are too strong or too weak; they are too tender or too severe; they are all marked by excess in one direction and limitation in another. Not one but bears the mark of human frailty and imperfection. But the four Gospels present a sinless life. It is not merely that the four Evangelists assert that fact; they give us the life itself, so that we may see for ourselves that it was sinless.
Again, the man of the Gospels is unique in that He is the only absolutely universal man, the only catholic man, the only man with no race mark upon Him, and who, as He reaches the differing families of men, interposes no race barrier. We know as a matter of history that He sprang out of Israel, that He was a Jew, and we are called to account for the fact that out of that most exclusive, most distinctive, most peculiar of all peoples, should have come the one universal man, who has no mark of race upon Him. You know how instinctively this has been brought out in art.
As the gospel spread through Europe, there sprang up great schools of Christian art. Men strove to put on canvas and to carve in stone, their conception of the Christ. A very remarkable thing about it was that a Scandinavian always painted the Christ as blue of eye and fair of hair, just as an Italian always painted Him with dark locks and olive skin. It never seems to have occurred to them that He was not of their own race.
One of the missionaries in Africa tells us that native converts in the heart of that country were greatly surprised when they were told that Christ was a white man; it never occurred to them that He was not black like themselves. Now, this universality would be singular enough if Christ came of Rome, or of Greece, if He had been born in one of the world empires; but He came out of a little nation which has ever had the strongest marks of race distinction and race peculiarity. More than this, He grew to manhood in a remote village of Galilee, far from the slightest cosmopolitan influence. Try to imagine a Scotchman two hundred years ago, who had grown to manhood in Inverness, having no marks of the Scot upon him. Shakespeare, who has been called the most impersonal of all men, was an Englishman to his fingertips, and Homer was a Greek through and through. No human being, save Christ, ever escaped a race mark.
The third respect in which the man of the four Gospels is unique, is that He was as perfect in the balance and proportion of His qualities as He was in His sinlessness. Not only was He a sinless man, but He was a perfect man, a rounded man. Now all other wisdom has been marred by some folly, all other strength has gone over into excess or violence, all other sweetness has degenerated into weakness. But Jesus was wise without folly, strong without violence, sweet without weakness.
In these three respects, this man of the Gospels stands alone among all men, the records of whose lives have come down to us, or which have been invented by the genius of man.
Leaving the Gospels now, and coming on down the stream of time for the last 1900 or more years, we find the influence of Jesus in human history has been as unique as his sinlessness, his catholicity, or his perfectness. In all history, no one else has influenced the course of human affairs or the trend of human lives just as the man of the four Gospels has influenced them.
Napoleon, speaking of Alexander, Caesar and himself, said: “We founded great empires, but we founded them on force. The principles upon which we founded our kingdoms were natural principles, but Jesus founded an empire which is indestructible, which is growing day by day, which is ruled over by an invisible king, and which is founded upon love. I,” said he, “know man, and I tell you that Jesus was more than man.” In history then we have the impress of Jesus Christ, and that impress is just as unique and peculiar as all else which concerns Him. These things are indisputable.
Now, the startling fact concerning this entirely unique impress of Himself upon humanity is that Jesus said it would be so. He said for instance:
“I am the light of the world:” John 8:12
Think of the audacity of that statement. A young Jewish peasant, a carpenter by trade, without learning, without acknowledged rank, without wealth, announces to a little group of converted fishermen and harlots and tax gatherers, that lie is the “Light of the World.” When uttered, it was a mere assertion, but alter 1900 years have passed, it is a statement which admits of disproof if it is not true, or of verification if it is true. Think of the audacity of it! Not Homer, not Socrates, not Plato, not Moses; it is no one of these, but a peasant, who says:
“I am the light of the world.” John 8:12
Well, after more than 1900 years, you may take the map of the world, and shade that map according to the degree of enlightenment, moral and intellectual, which prevails today among the nations, and you will find that where your map comes nearest to perfect whiteness, there Christ is most known and most honored; and where your map shades off into absolute blackness, where the human mind today is in chains and darkness, where there is no picture, no statue, and no book, right there Christ is not known at all.
Dear friends, here are these undisputed phenomena. No one can or does dispute them, and they are to be accounted for. That explanation which adequately accounts for them all, is the one upon which reason will set her seal. Is not that a reasonable statement? You may be interested to know that that formula belongs to the vocabulary of the exact sciences, not to theology. In the investigation of nature certain material phenomena are to be accounted for, and science says: “That explanation which adequately accounts for them all, is the true explanation,” and reason says “Amen!”
It can scarcely be necessary to refer to the various theories which have been propounded to account for the phenomena which we have been considering, but which have been abandoned as inadequate. It was said for instance, that Jesus was invented by the Evangelists; that the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John invented the character which they present. It was pointed out long ago, by the unbeliever Renan, that “only a Jesus could invent a Jesus.” How does it happen that what the strenuous efforts of patriarch, prophet and priest failed to achieve, what the sublimest human genius failed to invent, these four writers accomplished with an ease, precision and naturalness to which every page of the artless narrative bears witness? It puts a greater strain upon credulity to believe that four men could have created such a character as Jesus than to believe the simple, sublime and rational Biblical explanation of Jesus. How did it come that four different accounts, written by different men at different times, in a different style, and selecting for the illustration of this character different incidents very largely, should all succeed in producing identically the same impression? If you read Matthew, you get the impression of a sinless Being, perfectly wise and universal. If you read Mark, there comes to you the impression of the same sinlessness, the same universality, the same perfection of character; and if you road Luke and John, the impression is precisely the same.
It does violence to reason and probability to say that such men could invent such a character. But the theory has passed out of the minds of men as inadequate and irrational, and I refer to it merely to show how men have striven to avoid the only reasonable conclusion concerning this character.
Another theory which had possession of unbelieving minds for a time was the mythical theory of Strauss, the theory which said that the Jesus of the Gospels was a myth; that the Gospels, as we have them, were slowly built up through some 400 years; that the first crude record was subjected to numberless prunings and increased by numberless inventions, until finally there came out the picture which we have of Jesus of Nazareth. Well, even Strauss abandoned this theory before he died, and he did it for this reason, that the severest hostile criticism was compelled to concede the authenticity of at least four of the Epistles of the apostle Paul; that they were written within thirty or thirty-five years after the death of Christ; and because of these Epistles of Paul there is the impress of the same character. There are the same affirmations concerning His personality; the same doctrine concerning His work and the purpose that brought Him into the world, and Strauss admitted that thirty years was too brief a time for the development of a myth. So that theory was abandoned. Just recently, as many of you know, there has been discovered a work, known once to have existed, but believed to have perished, the Diatesseron of Tatian, the work of a man who was born in the year in which the apostle John died, and this work proves that the four Gospels, as we have them, were then in existence. Exit, then, the mythical theory.
But the problem remains: we have to account for Jesus. How shall we do it? You know the Biblical solution: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,” John 1:1 and “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” John 1:14
That is the Biblical solution. Now, no one can question the adequacy of this solution; it perfectly accounts for all the phenomena. If this unique Being were indeed God, “manifest in the flesh,” His sinlessness is accounted for, the absence of all race mark is accounted for, the rounded perfection of all the attributes of His character is accounted for, and His unique influence in the world is accounted for. No one questions that; it is a complete solution of all the phenomena.
Now we are prepared to see how perfectly this solution harmonizes with adequate motives for an incarnation. First, if God was ever to be fully revealed to man, there lay upon Him the inevitability that He should do precisely that thing. All of nature, all of history, all of the Bible is in truth the unveiling, the self-disclosure of God. If you look out upon the universe you see His handiwork. You remember how short, and il seems to me unanswerable, is the apostle Paul’s argument from the universe for the existence of God.
“Every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.” Hebrews 3:4
If we see a house we do not think that it was built by anything less than a man. We look out upon this great universe and say, “Nothing less than God has been here.” From the universe we get a revelation of God’s power. We get a revelation of His wisdom. But how far off that God is from a mortal being on this earth, stumbling along a dark path which he never trod before, and will never tread again, to fall at last into an unexplained grave!
When God puts His self-revelation into words, there is of course an immeasurable advance, yet after all, a kind of incompleteness. You know how we try sometimes to describe a thing in words. Then we do better than that; we make a picture of it. But when we are able to lead the person to whom we are endeavoring to communicate the idea, to the very thing itself, then the description becomes intelligible, the picture full of meaning.
Suppose I were trying to describe to you the beauty of the sunset, and you had never seen a sunset. I might pile words upon words and fill them with color, yet I should give a very imperfect idea of a sunset. But if I could take you to some western slope, and let you stand there while the sun sank behind the cloud-palaces of the sky, fusing their dull greys into purple and scarlet and gold, and the glory and beauty of the sunset gave themselves to you, you would no longer need my words, you would know for yourself. Now there is God, infinitely tender and beautiful and glorious, and here are we, finite and stupid and earthly â€” can you think of any by which it would be possible for God really to make Himself known to us, except to enter into a human life and translate Deity in Its power and perfection, Its light and Its love, into the terms of human experience? That this is the only perfect divine manifestation is felt dimly by all races; and there is no false religion (except Mohammedanism) which has not the thought of incarnation in it, the thought that the God they seek and whom they serve and worship, has at some time incarnated himself in a human life. Incarnation inheres in the very necessity of the case; and when you think of God adopting this expedient and really clothing Himself with human flesh for the revelation of that which He is, through the stress and trial of a human life, you have a motive which is at once God-like andadequate. If God had never been manifested in the flesh, if no prophet had ever predicted it, reason would compel us to anticipate the incarnation.
Now this very thing is declared to have been the purpose of the incarnation. John says:
“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” John 1:18
IF you think of Jesus Christ in this way, if you go back to the tour Gospels and study them with the thought of Jesus Christ as God making Himself known to man, you find that the manifestation satisfies every demand of your heart and of your reason. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is the God who answers in every respect to human need. He is felt to be at once a God worthy of adoring worship. He is felt to be a God of power and a God of wisdom, and a God of matchless, inexpressible love. No one has ever contemplated the character of Jesus Christ as the manifestation of God and has felt repelled from God by that manifestation. The power of God in nature may terrify, and an imperfect revelation of God through written words may perplex, but when we stand before God unveiled in Jesus Christ, we love and adore Him. It is impossible not to do so.
Again, the prophets foretold the incarnation:
“And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:13, 14
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah g:6
Thus beyond all question, hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a prediction was uttered that there should be born into the family of David, one who in some mysterious way should also be God. We may or may not believe that the prophecy was fulfilled, but that it is there no one can dispute. Now when we invoke prophetic testimony, my friends, we bring into court a witness never yet discredited. We have not only this prophecy that the Messiah should be in some mysterious way The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace, but we have literally hundreds of other predictions, minute and specific, relating to nations, to countries and to individuals; and these predictions invariably have been literally and precisely fulfilled.
The prophets foretold the place of the Messiah’s birth and no one ever questioned that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They foretold the family in which He should be born, the family of David, and no one ever disputed that He was born in the family of David. They foretold the tribe of which He should come, the tribe of Judah, and no one ever denied that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah. If in the life-time of Jesus Christ, or in the years of the first proclamation of the gospel, while the records were still in existence, the Jews had shown that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, that He was not of the tribe of Judah, and not of the family of David, every disciple would instantly have forsaken Him. They were not able to do it; they never disputed it -never.
Of the many prophetic details concerning Jesus, I have called attention to three particulars which were literally fulfilled, and therefore reason compels us to give great weight to the prediction concerning His Deity. If a witness has always testified truthfully, the presumption is that all of his testimony is true. A third incontestable proposition is, that Jesus Himself claimed to be God manifest in the flesh. Read the following passages upon that point:
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then they took up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” John 8:56-59
There then, was the distinct assertion upon the part of Jesus Himself that He existed before Abraham, and that He was the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord,” Matthew 22:41-43
Another assertion of His Deity:
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufneeth us. Jesus saith unto him, 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;” John 14:6-9
You will remember that not once, but many times, this humblest of men, this meekest of men received the worship of His fellow men, an act of unspeakable blasphemy, a shocking violation of the First Commandment, did Jesus not know Himself to be divine. We have a marked instance of that in the twentieth chapter of John:
“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.” John 20:26-28
Here let me anticipate an objection. You are saying that this is what Jesus says of Himself. Very true; but it shuts a candid investigator up to one of two alternatives. Either Jesus was the Son of God or He, the only sinless Being of whom any record has come down to man, was a conscious impostor, a blasphemous wretch, or he was a deluded enthusiast, one or the other. It does not matter which of these latter alternatives you take, the position is abhorrent to reason. That a sinless Being would consciously, deliberately commit the most flagrant of all sins in the violation of the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have none other gods before me” (Deut. 5:7) could be explained only on the ground of insanity.
But the whole record of Jesus’ life impresses a candid observer with His sanity, His strength of mind. His perfect wisdom and self-poise; and the effect of faith in Him as divine has ever been to purify the character and lift it up and sanctify it. On the other hand, were Jesus a weak religious enthusiast, you have to account for the undeniable fact that a self-deceived fanatic was the author of the only perfectly pure religion which when applied to sinful lives has demonstrated its power to transform them into holiness.
By either alternative, we are shut up to a greater inconsistency and to a greater demand upon our credulity than to receive as true the simple and sublime statement of the Word of God; that for the purpose of making Himself known to a race which had gone astray from Him, He in His infinite love and pity clothed Himself with flesh and lived among men that they might know Him, come to Him, trust Him and love Him.
Remember, too, that other all-compelling motive to incarnation which grows out of our guilt. The most evidently God-like thing in all Scripture is the record of self-sacrifice of Jehovah for the sins of His creatures. Only a sinless one could make that sacrifice; only Deity could gather all sins into one expiatory act; only in the flesh could Deity become a sacrifice.
Well, you have here a great mystery, and if the doctrine is true, that needs must be.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
There is one mystery – God. How much do we know about God after all? How much are we, under human limitations, capable of knowing about God?
“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” John 1:14
another mystery. We know a little more about man than we do about God, but men are great mysteries. Two mysteries – the mystery of God and the mystery of man, and these brought together in the Incarnation. Indeed it would be a difficult religion to believe if there were no mystery in it. That there are mysteries in Christianity is the very mark of God upon it.
We have, then, the fact of the Deity of Jesus Christ and it accounts perfectly for all the phenomena of His life and His character and of the influence of that life and character upon personal experience and human history. No other theory will account for all those phenomena. Furthermore, it agrees with the predictions of the prophets and the testimony of Christ Himself. Are we not, by these very processes of reasoning, shut up to the necessity of believing that this explanation is the only one credible to sound human reason? Philosophy and Scripture agree in the consent that this explanation is adequate; it accounts for all the facts and accounts for them perfectly.
There remains the testimony, upon which I will not dwell, of personal experience. Suffice it to say, that for 1900 years, faith in Jesus Christ as a divine Saviour and Lord has laid hold upon the most degraded human lives and lifted them up into purity. Faith in the Drily of Jesus Christ has transformed barbarous into civilized nations. It has established a new standard of right and wrong. Even those who do not accept the personal authority of the Divine Jesus know that that human personality is the fountain head of every blessing of light, liberty and law under which they live. As we stand before that gentle and loving and mighty Jesus, shall not our hearts confirm with trust and love the verdict of our reason, which compels us to proclaim the Deity of Jesus Christ to be the essence of Christianity?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1