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MODERN THEOLOGY AND THE PREACHING 

OF THE GOSPEL 

V. THE DEITY OF CHRIST IN THE LIGHT OF 
MODERN THOUGHT 

WILLIAM ADAMS BROWN, PH.D., D.D. 

Roosevelt Professor of Systematic Theology in Union Theological Seminary 

Author of Christian Theology in Outline" 



Anyone who thinks there is no interest in the question of the Person of Jesus is 
certainly unacquainted with the temper of Christianity. The desire of the intelligent 
Christian is not to believe less, but more intensely, in Jesus. The difficulty which he 
finds is not with him, but with the interpretations which may have been put upon him. 
Ee wishes to make Jesus real to himself in terms of Jesus' highest value. 

That is the state of mind in which tens of thousands of thoughtful men and women 
find themselves. In the May number of the Biblical World we printed an article 
by Professor Miller, of Princeton University, discussing the New Testament concep- 
tion of Jesus' divinity, but this article by Professor Brown faces the same issue from 
the point of view of a theologian rather than that of a student of the New Testament. 
Both of these articles will of course be read discriminatingly, but both alike cannot fail to 
make an impression of a vital trust in Jesus as the supreme revelation of God, which 
is superior to any formal assent to inherited creeds. In both cases we see how thought- 
ful men, by different methods, are seeking to re-express to their day those fundamental 
religious valuations of Jesus as Divine Savior which found expression in earlier centu- 
ries in philosophical terms then current. 

In the preceding articles we have have been looking at the great realities 

considered the Christian answer to the of religion as it were through his eyes. 

three great questions of religion: the We have been trying to see them as he 

question as to the source of faith, or the sees them and to think of them as he 

seal of authority in religion; the ques- would have us think of them, and in 

tion as to the object of faith, or the doing this we have been studying Christ 

nature of God and our relation to him; himself. 

and the question as to the effect of faith, But we have been doing so by indi- 

or the kind of help that we can expect rection, as one might study the sun by 

from God in the practical needs of our observing the effects which it produces 

daily lives. We have asked ourselves upon the growing grain, or the light that 

what modern theology has to tell us shines to us out of the eyes of a friend, 

about the Bible, about God, and about It is time to make our study more inten- 

salvation. In this study Christ has sive and to ask ourselves who and what 

been our constant companion. We is this Christ who has been our com- 

382 



MODERN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL 383 



panion, and what place he is likely to 
hold in the religion of the future. 

We know the place that he has held 
in the faith of the past. Christ has 
been the very center and heart of the 
Christian religion. No term that lan- 
guage can coin has been too exalted to 
express the reverence and devotion with 
which his disciples have regarded him. 
To them he has been not merely man — 
even the best and purest of men — but 
God himself incarnate for our salvation. 

The doctrine which expresses this 
faith is the deity of Christ. This is the 
test by which men's Christianity has 
commonly been judged in the past. 
What do you think of Christ? Is he 
your master, your example, your ideal ? 
That is well, but it is not enough. Can 
you say with Thomas, "My Lord and 
my God"? If not, you have no right 
to a place in the ranks of his disciples. 

Is this an attitude which we can still 
hold today? Shall we take over into 
the new world the old faith in the deity 
of Christ, or is it something that we 
must leave behind ? 

At first sight, indeed, it might seem 
as if it were difficult to take it over. 
When we contemplate Christ as he is 
presented to us in the older theology 
there is something about him that seems 
remote and unfamiliar. He is in our 
world, yet not of it. Through our 
human life of sorrow and limitation and 
sin he moves as a figure from another 
planet. He wears the face of a man. 
He speaks to us from human lips. He 
eats and sleeps and wakes and labors 
as we do. He weeps when Lazarus dies; 
he cries out in the garden, "If it be 
possible, let this cup pass from me." 
But we feel instinctively that these 



experiences are not like ours. Human- 
ity is only a mask which he wears, a 
garment that he has put on to cloak the 
immanent deity. But the divine Christ 
who hides behind the human Jesus, and 
to whom alone our worship is due, shares 
none of these experiences. He does not 
suffer or pray; he knows no limitations 
of knowledge or power. Through all 
the changes of the changing humanity 
he remains unchanged, "God over all, 
blessed forever." The Christ of the old 
theology is not a human individual like 
you and me. He is the God-man, one 
person with two natures, one divine and 
one human, each distinct and separate 
from the other. 

The Jesus who is pictured for us by 
modern theology is a different figure. 
He is a human individual, child of his 
race and of his time, only to be under- 
stood in the light of his environment and 
of the antecedents, physical and spirit- 
ual, from which he came. It is not that 
modern theology makes any less of 
Christ. On the contrary, we saw that 
one of its effects has been to emphasize 
even more strongly than before his 
central place in Christianity. But it 
looks at him from a different angle; and 
this difference may be expressed by say- 
ing that whereas the older theology was 
content to affirm the humanity of Jesus 
in general terms, modern theology tries 
to realize in detail the human individ- 
uality of Jesus. 

This change is not due simply to the 
fact that we know more about Jesus 
than earlier generations knew. That 
is true, but of itself it would not account 
for the difference. It is the result of 
a far-reaching change in our concep- 
tion of reality. The older theologians 



384 



THE BIBLICAL WORLD 



thought of reality in abstract terms. 
Human nature was more real to them 
than any particular man. When they 
wished to conceive of God as entering 
into humanity they thought of him as 
assuming human nature as a whole. To 
picture him as incarnate in a single indi- 
vidual passed their imagination. Even 
as it was, the contrast between Creator 
and creature was so great that it could 
never be wholly transcended. In the 
person of Christ, as elsewhere in the uni- 
verse, the finite and the infinite might 
touch, but they could not blend. Be- 
tween God and man there stretched a 
gulf which even incarnation could not 
span. 

But the world in which we modern 
men live is the world of the individual 
and the concrete. We know human 
nature only as it meets us in particular 
men. If God is really to enter human- 
ity we must be able to find him in lives 
like ours, lives that are limited and con- 
ditioned, inwardly as well as outwardly, 
and that appropriate the spiritual real- 
ities that transcend time, in forms that 
are determined by some particular en- 
vironment. It is not because we would 
make less of Jesus that we magnify his 
likeness to ourselves. It is because we 
feel our need of him so much. 

At the heart of the critical research 
of the last two generations, then, we 
find not simply an intellectual but a re- 
ligious motive. Modern theology has 
been studying the setting of the life of 
Jesus in detail in order that it might 
restore his personality to our imagina- 
tion. 

Some years ago I stood on the summit 
of the hill that rises behind Nazareth. 
In front rose Mount Tabor, cutting the 



view into two unequal parts. Behind 
the hills to the northeast, nestling in its 
sheltered basin, lay the Sea of Galilee. 
On the more distant horizon rose the 
snowy peak of Hermon. To the south 
opened the fertile plain that stretches 
without interruption to Jenin, and 
behind it the hills amid which lies Sa- 
maria; and still farther, the tableland 
of Judaea, where David built his city 
on the heights which he had won with 
the sword. Back of me was Mount 
Carmel, with its memories of Elijah, and 
the Mediterranean, where Solomon had 
sailed his ships. At my feet lay Naza- 
reth, amid its encircling hills, and Mary's 
well, where the boy Jesus must often 
have gone with his mother as she went 
to fetch the water for her household 
tasks. 

In a well-known passage in his his- 
torical geography of Palestine, George 
Adam Smith has used this scene as a 
framework to make real to us the inner 
life of Jesus. One by one he pictures the 
sights that Jesus must have witnessed as 
he lived his boy's life from day to day — ■ 
the caravans wending their slow way 
from the desert, as you can still see 
them doing today; the Roman legions 
on their way to take ship for home; the 
pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the 
Passover. As you follow the descrip- 
tion you forget the flight of time and it 
seems as if you were back again in the 
first century and mingling with the 
crowds who gathered about the new 
teacher whose words had so persuasive 
and winning a charm. 

What George Adam Smith does for 
the boyhood of Jesus, modern theology 
tries to do for the life of Jesus as a whole. 
It puts it in its setting as part of a larger 



MODERN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL 385 



environment. We know today as we 
have never known before the world in 
which Jesus lived. We can picture to 
ourselves the habits and customs of the 
time, the life of synagogue and temple, 
the books Jesus must have read, the 
men and women he must have known, 
the topics of thought with which he 
must have been familiar, the conflicting 
ideals between which he was obliged to 
choose. 

Nor is it only the outward environ- 
ment that we are able to reproduce, but 
the inner conditions under which Jesus' 
life was lived. We understand better 
than we once did what it means to be a 
man. Psychology has been studying 
the inner life and formulating its laws; 
the law of growth, for example, under 
which the mind, like the body, appro- 
priates to its use that upon which it 
feeds; the law of limitation, by which 
we are shut up to choice between alter- 
natives, paying for each new increase of 
knowledge by some new restriction of 
attention and deliberate forgetfulness. 
We know that personality is a social 
creation, that we think in forms inherited 
from our ancestors and defined for us 
by our time, and that we put the treas- 
ures of divine truth in the earthen vessel 
of a limiting environment. 

All this reacts upon our view of Jesus. 
We see him subject to this law, sharing 
our limitations of knowledge and of 
power, growing day by day into larger 
insight, entering into the lives of others 
by sympathy, made partaker of our in- 
firmities, learning obedience by the things 
which he suffered. 

And as a result of this new realization 
there has come to us as never before a 
consciousness of Christ's brotherhood. 



I suppose there has never been a time 
in human history when so many men 
have realized as realize today that Jesus 
Christ is their brother, bone of their 
bone, and flesh of their flesh, very man, 
with all that that implies, and for this 
we may well thank God. 

It would be strange indeed if this new 
emphasis on that which Christ shares 
with us should not lead some to question 
whether there is any difference between 
him and other men. Unitarianism is 
only the most conspicuous example of 
a tendency which is widespread— the 
tendency to think of Christ in terms of 
humanity pure and simple, and to regard 
the historic Christian faith in his deity 
as a superstition, beautiful if you will, 
helpful — even indispensable — in its day, 
which we have outgrown. 

And yet there is something in each 
one of us that rebels at so negative a 
conclusion. When we realize how deeply 
this faith in the divine Christ has rooted 
itself in the Christian experience; when 
we recall how early it began and how 
long it has persisted; when we try to 
measure the devotion and the loyalty it 
has called forth in generations of Chris- 
tian believers, from Paul and John in 
New Testament times down to critical 
German theologians like Schleiermacher 
and Ritschl, we feel that it must stand 
for some truth of vital practical impor- 
tance which we can ill afford to let go. 

Here modern theology comes to our 
aid and this in three ways: In the first 
place, it shows us what Christ's deity 
has meant to those who have held it in 
the past. In the second place, it reminds 
us that the motives which led them to 
this faith are still operative with us. 
In the third place, it makes clear the 



386 



THE BIBLICAL WORLD 



kind of evidence by which the validity 
of this faith must be tested for the future. 

And first of what the doctrine has 
meant in the past. I have spoken of the 
contrast between the older conception of 
Christ's deity and that which we hold 
today. But it is easy to exaggerate this 
contrast. The deity of Christ has never 
been simply an intellectual belief. It is 
more than a dogma received on author- 
ity. It is the confession of faith in a 
reality with which men have believed 
themselves to have contact at first hand. 
They have explained that reality in dif- 
ferent ways, but their differences have 
been differences of interpretation and 
not of experience. Side by side with 
the changing opinions about Christ cer- 
tain permanent convictions persist which 
express his practical effect upon human 
lives, and these practical convictions the 
doctrine of his deity sums up. 

This distinction between the per- 
manent reality, which is the object of 
our faith, and our own changing defi- 
nition of it is familiar enough, and yet 
it is one which we are constantly tempted 
to overlook. We confuse our thoughts 
of things with the things themselves. 
And the more important the things are, 
the more they mean for our practical 
life, the easier it is to do this. We need 
constantly to be reminded that theology 
exists for the sake of religion; that our 
definitions are designed to make the 
objects of our faith more real, never to 
serve as a substitute for them. 

The masters of theology have always 
understood this. They have been in- 
terested in theology because they were 
interested in religion; they were first 
of all Christians, then theologians, and 
they were able to think helpfully about 



religion because they had first experi- 
enced the realities of which they talked. 

The difficulty began with their suc- 
cessors, who no longer shared this intense 
personal experience and who tried to 
live on the experience of the past. 
These men took over the old definitions 
and presented them to the new gener- 
ation as if they were the realities they 
were meant to describe. They branded 
any departure from the old language as 
heresy, and so promoted that confusion 
of religion and theology which has done 
so much harm. 

Take that old debate between the 
Arminians and the Calvinists that has 
continued through so many centuries 
without either being able to convince 
the other. What is the root of the 
trouble? It is the confusion of reality 
and theory. We have to do with two 
great facts, each rooted in experience, 
both essential to a vital piety — the free- 
dom of man and the sovereignty of God. 
But the theologians have begun to 
speculate about these facts and have 
identified their speculations with the 
realities they were meant to explain. 
They have said, No one can believe in 
freedom who does not hold my theory of 
the will. No one can hold divine sov- 
ereignty who questions my doctrine of 
the decree. And the result has been 
division where there should have been 
union; suspicion where there should 
have been sympathy. 

The difficulty is aggravated by the 
fact that we use definitions for different 
purposes. The interest of the scientist 
is not the same as that of the man of 
affairs. Science defines by a process of 
elimination. It tries to analyze the 
particular object it studies into its sim- 



MODERN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL 387 



plest elements and to express these in 
a logical formula so condensed that it 
will not need to be revised. But the 
definitions of practical life need constant 
revision, for they are descriptions of 
realities that must be experienced in 
order to be understood, and experience 
is always changing. 

How shall I define water? Let me 
ask the chemist and he will tell me that 
water is H 2 — and by that he means 
that whenever I put together two parts 
of hydrogen gas and one of oxygen I get 
water. And that is true. But suppose 
I am trying to describe water to a man 
who had never seen it, what good would 
such a definition be ? 

What is water ? Water is something 
you drink when you are thirsty. It is 
something you wash with when you need 
cleansing. It is something that irrigates 
your fields and that feeds your flowers. 
It is something that will carry you from 
St. Paul to the Gulf, and from New York 
to Liverpool. It is Niagara Falls and 
the Yosemite. It is the stream that 
ripples under the alders. It is the deep 
pool where you caught your first trout. 

We must make a similar distinction 
in our interpretation of Christ. How 
shall I define Jesus Christ? That 
depends upon your purpose in asking 
the question. Are you a theologian, with 
a specialist's technical interest, wishing 
to know the elements which enter into 
the making of our thought of Christ, 
and the proportions in which they are 
compounded ? Then I will answer you 
in the terms of the Chalcedonian creed. 
Jesus Christ is very man and very God 
— two natures in one person, each com- 
plete and perfect. You cannot express 
what he means for your life in any less 



comprehensive terms. He is not partly 
man and partly God. He is not some- 
times man and sometimes God. He is 
both God and man everywhere and al- 
ways. He is God in man reconciling the 
world unto himself. 

But suppose the man who asks the 
question is one whom I am trying to 
win to Christian discipleship. What 
good will it do to quote him the Chal- 
cedonian creed? I do not give the 
thirsty man the chemist's formula, but 
a drink of water. So I do not bring the 
thirsty spirit a formula about Christ, but 
Christ. 

But I must know what Christ can do 
for human needs if I am to present him 
intelligently. I do not offer the thirsty 
man a bath. So, in presenting Christ 
as God's answer to man's need, I 
study the particular need that requires 
help, and show how Christ meets it. 
And the intelligent and systematic 
description of the way in which the 
divine Christ answers human need all 
along the line is my theology. 

What is Jesus Christ? He is the 
friend who has revealed to me as no one 
else has ever done my own better nature. 
He is the helper from whom I have 
drawn comfort in sorrow and inspira- 
tion for duty. He is the leader whom 
I have promised to follow to the death, 
and in whose service I have found per- 
fect freedom. He is the window through 
which I have looked into the face of God. 
This, too, is a definition, and in its way 
as scientific as the other. Only it is a 
definition that will never be finished. 
For it is a definition to which each new 
generation is adding as it brings its own 
experience and lays it as a tribute at the 
feet of Christ. 



388 



THE BIBLICAL WORLD 



Let us apply these principles more in 
detail to the particular aspect of Christ's 
many-sided personality with which we 
are here concerned. What does it 
mean to believe in the deity of Jesus 
Christ? For the theologian it means 
that whatever your idea of God may be, 
that idea in its completeness must enter 
into your explanation of Jesus Christ. 
But for the Christian believer it means 
that you have had certain personal ex- 
periences with Christ which irresistibly 
suggest to your mind the thought of 
God. It means that Christ has done 
for you what you are sure that only God 
can do. 

But what does God do for us ? What 
does it mean to believe in him, not as 
a doctrine of the mind, but as a reality 
personally experienced. It means three 
things. It means, in the first place, 
that we trust him for the supply of all 
our needs — the need of forgiveness, of 
guidance, of comfort, of inspiration. It 
means, in the second place, that we sub- 
mit our wills to him without reserve as 
to an authority who has the right to 
command. It means, finally, that we 
look up to him in reverence as the being 
in whom all our ideals are realized, 
and all our aspirations fulfilled. Trust, 
loyalty, reverence — these are the three 
notes of religion everywhere and always, 
and these are the three characteristic 
marks of faith in God. 

To believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, 
then, must mean that in some unmis- 
takable way Christ fulfils these three 
functions in human life: that we are 
conscious of dependence on him for the 
supply of our deepest needs; that we 
own his right to command; that he is our 
supreme standard of excellence. And 



this is what we find to be the case as a 
matter of fact. 

What does it mean to believe in the 
deity of Jesus Christ ? It means in the 
first place to obey him. It means to 
make him master of one's own personal 
life; to judge questions of right and 
wrong by the standard he has revealed; 
to measure progress, whether of the indi- 
vidual or of society, according to the 
extent to which each approaches his 
ideals, and reproduces his character. 

Again, to believe in the deity of Jesus 
Christ means to trust him. It means 
to put our life and destiny in his keep- 
ing, confident that both will be safe. It 
means to find in him assurance that our 
sins have been forgiven, and ground for 
hope that they will finally be overcome. 
It means to see in him the revelation in 
human form of that unseen power on 
whom we all depend, who is guiding the 
world in ways we cannot understand 
to the far-off end he has decreed. It 
means to be sure that however for the 
time he may seem to fail, yet in the end 
he will have his way, and the kingdoms 
of the world become the kingdom of our 
Lord and of his Christ. 

Above all, to believe in the deity of 
Jesus Christ means to worship him: 
not simply to obey him, but to yield 
him a willing obedience; not merely to 
trust him but to rejoice in our trust. 
It means to see in Jesus Christ the most 
wonderful and adorable thing in the 
whole world; to accept his law of love 
as the divine law; to look up into his 
face as he hangs on the cross and to have 
kindled within us a passion for sacrifice 
that will send us out in self-forgetful 
service to our brothers and sisters who 
are in need. 



MODERN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL 389 



These great experiences of trust, of 
loyalty, and of reverence find concise 
expression in the doctrine of Christ's 
deity. It is the formulation for thought 
of a reality verifiable in experience — 
the experience, namely, of the trans- 
forming influence of Christ in human 
life. To say that I believe in the 
deity of Jesus Christ means, if the con- 
fession be genuine, that I find in him 
my Master, my Savior, and my Realized 
Ideal. 

This practical attitude toward Christ 
is consistent with a great diversity of 
theological opinion. There are many 
questions about him which it leaves 
unanswered. How shall I conceive the 
relation between the human Jesus and 
the unseen God who is manifest in him ? 
How shall I understand the presence in 
time of the eternal that transcends 
time? These are questions on which 
men's minds have been at work for cen- 
turies, and on which they are still far 
from agreement. It would be interest- 
ing, if there were time, to consider the 
different answers which have been given 
and to estimate their value. It would 
be instructive to point out why the the- 
ologians of the ancient church, trained 
in the Platonic philosophy, found it 
most natural to describe the relation 
between humanity and divinity in Christ 
in the abstract formula of a union of 
natures; whereas, we of the modern 
world, with our more vital metaphysics, 
express the same reality most readily in 
terms that are ethical and spiritual. 
But we are concerned here not with the 
speculations on which men differ, but 
with the experiences on which they agree. 
We wish to know the meaning of Christ's 
deity for personal religion, and this can 



be summed up in these three words: 
power, authority, character. 

Thus far we have been concerned with 
interpretation. What I have just given 
is not a modern invention — a new theory 
of Christ's deity to be added to others 
which have gone before. It is the sum- 
mary of certain personal experiences 
which have been called forth in man by 
contact with Jesus Christ. Whether 
we look at the first century, or the fifth, 
or the sixteenth, or our own, we find that 
as men have come to know Christ they 
have begun to trust him, and this trust 
has borne fruit in loyalty and in rever- 
ence; and these experiences of trust, of 
loyalty, and of reverence have voiced 
themselves in the historic faith in his 
deity. 

The first contribution of modern 
theology, then, to our understanding 
of Christ's deity is a reminder of what 
this faith has meant to those who have 
held it in the past. But our interest is 
not primarily historical. Jesus Christ 
belongs not simply to the past, but to 
the present. He is a factor in our 
modern world, and we have to decide 
as to our own personal attitude toward 
him. Here, too, modern theology has a 
contribution to make. It shows us that 
the motives which led the first Christians 
to their faith in his deity are still oper- 
ative with us. 

When we inquire as to the motive 
which first led men to emphasize the 
deity of Jesus Christ we shall find that 
it was their sense of having found in him 
a satisfying revelation. And by this I 
mean a revelation that should be at once 
definite and permanent, able to meet the 
present need of guidance and assurance, 
and at the same time to hold its own 



890 



THE BIBLICAL WORLD 



through the changes of the passing 
generations. 

This need of a definite revelation 
recurs again and again in human expe- 
rience. However exalted may have 
been men's thought of God, however 
much they may have emphasized the 
contrast between him and themselves, 
they have never been satisfied with a 
religion that left him permanently at a 
distance. They have wanted God to 
enter into their own personal experience 
and evidence his presence there in ways 
that were unmistakable. The history 
of religion is the story of man's search 
for God, and of the ways in which they 
have believed that God has answered 
their quest. Sometimes in strange nat- 
ural phenomena — the earthquake, the 
lightning, the fire, the pestilence — • 
sometimes through the word of prophet 
or lawgiver or seer, and again in the 
silence of his own spirit, man has heard 
God speaking to his own soul, and has 
been satisfied. 

This need for a self-revealing God is 
not simply intellectual. It springs from 
man's consciousness of his own limita- 
tions and failures. It is not merely that 
he is curious to know what God is like. 
He wishes to know what is God's dis- 
position toward him as a helper in the 
personal problems of which his life is 
full. He needs comfort in his sorrows, 
forgiveness for his sins, guidance in his 
perplexities, an answer to his unan- 
swered questions. Above all, he needs 
enfranchisement, the personal renewal 
in which the bondage of habit is broken 
and the spirit made free for the larger 
life of service. And the greater his 
practical need, the more numerous and 
the more distressing the disabilities 



under which he labors, the more hopeless 
his situation, measured in terms of 
human strength and wisdom alone, the 
more acute his longing for some clear 
word from God on which he can rely. 
To appreciate Paul's answer to the 
Philippian jailer, you must first under- 
stand the question that prompted it: 
"What must I do to be saved?" 

If we analyze the ways in which men 
have thought of God as answering this 
need for definite self-revelation, we find 
that they fall into two groups: they 
have thought of God as speaking to 
them from without, in signs and wonders 
that evidence his power; and they have 
thought of him as speaking to them 
within, through some redemptive expe- 
rience that reveals his love. The con- 
trast runs through the whole history of 
religion. It meets us in the New Testa- 
ment, in the demand of the Pharisees 
for a sign, and in Jesus' refusal to give 
any sign but preaching, like that of Jonah 
at which the men of Nineveh repented. 
It persists down to our own day in the 
contrast between the apologetic, which 
rests its case upon miracle, and that 
which finds its convincing proof in the 
evidence of Christian experience. It 
goes back at last to the conception of 
God, whether we make power or char- 
acter determinative for our thought of 
deity. 

One need not undervalue God's power 
to feel that the second method of ap- 
proach is more truly Christian. Al- 
mighty though he be, the Father whom 
Jesus revealed cannot be described in 
terms of power alone. He is wisdom and 
righteousness and love, and if he is to 
enter human life at all, he can do so 
completely only in terms of the perfect 



MODERN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL 391 



character. The revelation that is ade- 
quately to express him must present 
him as the just judge, knowing the heart 
of man and understanding the motives 
by which it is swayed; as the loving 
father, sympathizing with his child in his 
sorrows and temptations, and believing 
in his ultimate home-coming in spite of 
waywardness and sin; as the good shep- 
herd, giving his life for the sheep. Could 
we find a man who realized this ideal of 
character, a man so pure as to convict 
us of sin, so understanding as to reveal 
to us our own better nature, so self- 
sacrificing as to give his life that others 
might live, we should have the condi- 
tions under which, and under which 
alone, God could adequately reveal 
himself to man. 

Such a man the disciples found in 
Jesus. In him they saw one who ex- 
pressed in human form their highest 
ideal of God — a man so pure that when 
they touched him they were conscious 
as never before of their sin, yet at the 
same time so full of faith as to inspire 
in them the hope that they too might 
some day become like him. In Jesus 
they found the complete answer to all 
their needs — understanding, sympathy, 
forgiveness, inspiration, power. He was 
to them God's clear and final word to 
man. 

We, too, share their need of some clear 
word from God. And for us, too, Jesus 
provides the answer to this need. Less 
introspective than our fathers, more 
concerned with the problems of social 
than of individual sin, we find in Jesus 
our leader in the struggle for social 
righteousness, the prophet of spiritual 
democracy, the preacher and founder 
of the kingdom of God. But for us, too, 



as for earlier generations, his personality 
retains its perennial freshness. For us, as 
for them, he is Savior as well as leader 
the one in whom we find the answer 
to our individual as well as our social 
need. If we are to define God in terms 
of a single character it is to Jesus that 
we must turn. 

This appeal is independent of the 
fluctuations of critical opinion. How- 
ever the critics may reconstruct the 
story that lies back of the Gospels, they 
cannot alter the picture the Gospels 
present. Here in the pages of the 
evangelists we meet a figure so indi- 
vidual and distinctive that after all the 
lapse of centuries he still speaks to us 
with a spiritual authority as direct and 
compelling as that which won him his 
first disciples by the lake shore. For 
us as for them he expresses in terms of a 
human life our highest thought of God. 

But, we may be asked, why confine 
God's revelation to a single individual ? 
Why should not God express himself 
through many men? Why may not 
humanity as a whole be his progressive 
self-manifestation ? 

It might be sufficient to say that 
humanity as a whole is not such as to 
suggest to most men the thought of 
God. Men as we know them today are 
sinful and unlovely, still under the 
dominion of the selfishness and passions 
from which Christ came to set them free. 
Even the best of men are imperfect, 
differing not only in their ideals, but in 
the extent to which they have realized 
them. It is just because we meet such 
diversity of belief and of character that 
our need for a definite and authoritative 
revelation is so great. 

But such an answer does not quite 



392 



THE BIBLICAL WORLD 



meet the point of the question. Those 
who ask it are not thinking of man as he 
is, but as he is to be when God shall 
have completed his redemptive work. 
And they wish to know how that con- 
summation can most speedily be reached. 
Why should God deal with us indirectly 
by pointing us to a figure in the past? 
Why should he not impart himself di- 
rectly to each individual? When all 
are his children, why separate one from 
the rest as "the Son"? 

It is the spirit of democracy which 
voices itself in the question. One of the 
notes of our day is a new consciousness 
of the worth and of the possibilities of 
the individual. Men are no longer will- 
ing to take things on authority. It is 
not enough for them to know that it has 
been so in the past. They wish to test 
things for themselves, and live their own 
lives in the freedom of independent per- 
sonalities. If they are to have a gov- 
ernment, it must be one of their own 
choosing. If they are to have a God, it 
must be one whom they have tried for 
themselves and found satisfying. 

And there is much that is splendid in 
this spirit. It is responsible for many 
reforms in church and state. It is our 
hope of progress in the future. Without 
independent personalities conscious of 
their own worth and willing to take the 
risks of liberty, you cannot have either 
a free state or a free church. 

But, after all, this is only one side of 
democracy. The democratic spirit is a 
spirit of freedom, but it is a brotherly 
spirit as well. And brotherhood requires 
self-discipline. It means the willing- 
ness to learn as well as to teach, to serve 
as well as to rule. Democracy is not 
the dissolution of societv into the indi- 



vidual units that compose it. That 
would be anarchy. Democracy is the 
extension to humanity as a whole of 
those ideals of beauty and goodness and 
truth which have hitherto been the pre- 
rogative of the select few. 

There is a peril here against which we 
need to be on our guard. I have spoken 
more than once of the disintegrating 
tendencies that are abroad, the loss of 
efficiency which comes with the break- 
ing down of standards. The tendency 
is natural, inevitable perhaps, but none 
the less dangerous. If we are to realize 
the ideal of brotherhood there must be 
some counteracting influence, some com- 
mon test, to which we can all refer, 
some principle of integration strong 
enough to resist the divisive tendencies 
of individualism. 

All the more, then, if we share the 
democratic ideal do we need Jesus. We 
need him to define for us the kind of life 
which we desire all men to share. We 
need him to reveal to us the kind of God 
with whom each one of us may have di- 
rect personal communion if we will. We 
need him to inspire us to common serv- 
ice and form a bond of union between 
men who but for him would be separated 
from one another. 

It is a great mistake to think of the 
doctrine of Christ's deity as designed to 
separate him from other men. That has 
never been its purpose. It was designed 
to bring him near to men, to show us 
what are the kind of blessings which 
through him God plans to impart to us 
all. If men pictured Christ in abstract 
terms, one person with two natures, that 
was because they thought of God and 
man in abstract ways, not because they 
designed to keep them apart. To the 



MODERN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL 398 



mind, indeed, incarnation might involve 
a contradiction, but to the heart it was 
the expression of the fundamental expe- 
rience of all religion, God's presence with 
men in redemptive and triumphal love. 
"He became what we are," wrote 
Irenaeus, "that we might become what 
he is." 

This is the meaning of that old truth 
of the Messiahship of Jesus which holds 
so large a place in the New Testament. 
It is the assertion of the continuity of 
the divine revelation. To call Jesus 
Messiah is to assign to him a place in 
the larger drama of history. He is not 
an isolated figure who comes to us out 
of the clouds, without relation to the 
past or the future. He is the center of a 
progressive revelation which began with 
the dawn of human history and will not 
be complete till all mankind own his 
sway and conform to his ideals. He is 
the expression in individual form and 
under particular historic conditions of 
what God purposes for humanity every- 
where and always. 

We, too, share the need of an interpre- 
tation of history. Looked at from the 
surface, our life is like the sea that is 
always in motion. Creed follows creed 
and leader replaces leader in ceaseless 
succession. Yet underneath, the great 
tides of faith and hope and love sweep 
their resistless way to their appointed 
goal. Whither are they moving ? Who 
will interpret for us the trend of the ages ? 
In contrast to the ideals of race and na- 
tion and school, who will embody for us 
the ideal of humanity as such? Who 
if not Jesus who knew what was in man, 
and who for that reason speaks always 
to that which is eternal in man ? 

There have been critics who have 



found fault with Jesus because of his 
aloofness from the special tasks of call- 
ing or class. What interest, they have 
asked, did he ever show in science or 
art or politics ? What great book did he 
write? What picture did he paint? 
What discovery did he make? What 
lasting reform is labeled with his name ? 

Is there then no task for humanity 
more important than writing books, or 
painting pictures, or enacting laws ? Is 
there no common ground on which artist 
and scientist and statesman can meet ? If 
not, all our talk of brotherhood is empty 
words. But if there is such a common 
ground; if to be man is more than to 
follow any of the special callings which 
engage the energy and divide the inter- 
est of individual men, then we need 
someone to incarnate this common 
human ideal and to remind us, when we 
are tempted to forget them, of those 
universal aspirations which all men 
alike share. This unifying function 
Jesus fulfils in supreme degree. Just 
because of his aloofness from that which 
is local and divisive, he is fitted to be the 
representative of humanity as a whole. 

We are dealing, not with theory, but 
with experience. I have spoken of 
Jesus as a Jew of the first century, and 
it is true that he is this. But he is far 
more than this. He is the central figure 
of human history, numbering among 
his disciples men of every age and of 
every land, the common meeting-ground 
of civilizations and of races. Here is 
a fact which needs explanation. And 
what better explanation can be found 
than that which was given centuries 
ago by Paul that "God was in Christ 
reconciling the world unto himself"? 

We have considered the meaning of 



394 



THE BIBLICAL WORLD 



Christ's deity for the past. We have 
seen that the motives which led the first 
disciples to their faith are still operative 
with us. It remains to ask briefly what 
is the kind of evidence by which its 
validity must finally be tested? 

At no point is the contrast between 
the older and the newer methods in 
theology more apparent. The older 
apologists attempted a proof of Christ's 
deity which should have the force of a 
mathematical demonstration. They ap- 
proached the problem as a problem of 
logic in which the important thing was 
to put your argument in such a form 
that the conclusion followed irresistibly 
from the premises. God is a being who 
possesses certain known qualities. Jesus 
Christ possesses these qualities; there- 
fore Christ is God. In some such fashion 
the apologist constructed his syllogism. 
When the syllogism was complete his 
work was done. Henceforth the respon- 
sibility rested on those who refused to 
act upon the conclusion which he had 
established. 

But we see today that the matter is 
not so simple. The proof of Christ's 
deity can never be independent of the 
personal religious experience, because 
in the nature of the case the argument 
involves the appeal to a continuing 
experience. For what is it that we wish 
to prove? Not simply that centuries 
ago God was incarnate in Christ (that 
might conceivably be established by 
purely historic arguments), but that 
Christ, in what we know of him today, 
represents what God is everywhere and 
always, and therefore remains forever 
the revelation of God. This is a far 
more important and more difficult 
matter. To do this we must be able 



to show that the Spirit of Christ is still 
the world-conquering spirit. This in- 
volves an appeal to present experience 
as well as to the experience of the past. 
To believe in Christ's deity means, as 
we have seen, to trust his power, to own 
his authority, and to reverence his char- 
acter. But I cannot do this in any true 
sense until I have tested Christ in my 
own life and found him trustworthy, 
righteous, and adorable. There is no 
argument which can take the place of 
experiment. The most that one man 
can do for another is to tell of his own 
experiment and point him to Christ, that 
he may test the matter for himself. 

This does not mean that we have not 
sufficient evidence for our faith. If what 
I have said is true of the transforming 
power of Christ in human life, we have 
evidence of the highest value, amply suf- 
ficient to justify our confidence and form 
the basis of our appeal. But it means that 
the appeal must be made. My experience 
cannot take the place of my neighbor's. 
If he is really to share my faith in the 
divine Christ he must put Christ to the 
proof in his own life. 

This is the uniform assumption of the 
writers of the New Testament. To 
prove Christ's deity as Paul and John 
believed in it, it was not enough to estab- 
lish the fact that for a few short years 
God had made his home in a human life. 
From the very beginning he had planned 
to make men like Christ, and the life that 
was led in Palestine was only an episode 
in a continuing ministry. Before the in- 
carnation, the Word had been enlighten- 
ing every man that came into the world. 
And after the resurrection the living 
Christ continued to draw all men to 
himself by his Spirit. 



MODERN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL 395 



The same large conception of Christ's 
work lives on in the later theology. It 
lies at the heart of the doctrine of the 
Trinity. God is not simply the Father, 
infinite and eternal, ever contrasted 
with his creatures in majesty and power. 
He is not simply the Son, who lived and 
suffered and died, the Word made flesh, 
incarnate in Jesus for our salvation. He 
is the Spirit, who ever lives and works 
in the hearts of men, witnessing to them 
of Christ, their Savior, and transforming 
them, as they will receive him, into 
likeness to himself. 

What kind of proof, then, must it be 
which shall convince all men of the deity 
of Jesus Christ ? Clearly it can only be 
an all-embracing Christian experience. 
When Christ has really shown himself 
master of the world, when his ideals 
have proved themselves the conquering 
ideals, when humanity as a whole has 
owned his sway and is conformed to his 
character, when all men see God in him 
with the same clearness and certainty 
as is now the case with those who are con- 
sciously his disciples, then, and not till 
then, will our proof of his deity be finished 
and the apologist's work be done. 

If, then, we would win men to our 
faith in the deity of Christ, our faces 
must be turned, not to the past, but to 
the future. You remember how it was 
with the disciples in those memorable 
hours which followed the crucifixion. 
Their thoughts were on the past, in 
those unforgetable days by the lake 
shore, when they had walked and talked 
with the Master who spake as never man 
spake. They were no less loyal to 



Christ than they had been before. But 
their loyalty was a sorrowful loyalty, 
for they never expected to see their 
Master's face again. Their Christ was 
a Christ of the past. They worshiped 
a Savior whose work was finished. 

And then came Easter morning, and 
they realized that the Christ they had 
thought dead was alive. What a trans- 
formation it wrought in their whole out- 
look on life! Instead of looking back- 
ward they now looked forward to the 
new triumphs still to be won as they 
went out to proclaim that Jesus, once 
crucified, whom God had raised up and 
who now lived with him to reign forever 
and ever. 

The church, too, like those early dis- 
ciples, has often turned its face to the 
past. It has been tempted to think of 
God's work as all finished in what Jesus 
did nineteen hundred years ago in Pales- 
tine. In its adoration of the crucified 
Jesus it has sometimes forgotten the 
living and reigning Christ. 

But thank God we are finding out our 
mistake. God's revelation did not stop 
with Calvary. It includes Easter and 
all that followed it. In our modern 
world of aspiration and struggle and 
longing, with its unanswered questions 
and its challenging opportunites, he is 
still at work, revealing and redeeming. 
He is calling us by his Spirit to be his 
interpreters to the new age, preparing 
the way for that better day when all 
men shall share our faith in the divine 
Christ because all shall share our 
experience of his transforming and 
enfranchising power.