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- Religious Reality - 3/25 -
"Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy": but to-day a more popular maxim is, "Be not merciful unto them that offend of malicious wickedness."
"Blessed are the pure in heart"--and how many of us are that?
"Blessed are the peace-makers": but in a time of war they are not very favourably regarded.
"Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake"--is that _your_ ambition, or mine?
"Ye are the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world"--then the earth, it is to be feared, is a somewhat insipid place, and its light comparable to darkness visible. "If any man will come after Me, let him take up his Cross, and follow Me": but most of us make it a tacit condition of our Christianity that we shall _not_ be crucified.
Is it not true that we habitually refuse to take seriously His teaching about man; that we water down His paradoxes and conventionalize His sayings; that we blunt the sharpness of His precepts, and shirk the tremendous sternness of His demands?
And does His teaching about GOD fare any better? GOD was to Jesus Christ the one Reality that mattered; is that in any serious sense true of us? GOD, He taught, cares for the sparrows, numbers the hairs of our heads, sees in secret, and reads our inmost hearts. GOD knows all about us, loves us individually, thinks out our life in all its relations, and makes provision accordingly. There is nothing which He cannot or will not do for His children.
He is near and not far off: He is also on the throne of all things-- the Universe is in our Father's hand, and His will directs it. "O ye of little faith, wherefore did ye doubt?" Fear, on the ground that things are stormy, is a thing Christ simply cannot understand.
GOD, moreover, is loving and generous, royal and bounteous: forgiving sinners: sending His rain with Divine impartiality upon the just and the unjust alike. "His flowers are just as beautiful in the bad man's garden." He loves even His enemies, for He is equally the Father of all.
And man is made for GOD, and belongs to GOD. GOD and man need one another: all that is requisite is that they should find one another: and that is the Good News. The discovery of GOD is the Pearl of great price, a Treasure worth the sacrifice of everything else: the experience of a life-time, and a life-time's acquisitions, apart from GOD, are not worth anything at all.
We who call ourselves Christians, do we seriously believe these things? Do we really share Christ's outlook upon GOD, or His hope for man? Is our view of life centred in GOD, as was His? Or do His words of reproach fit us, as they fitted S. Peter--"You think like a man, and not like GOD"?
"The way to faith in GOD, and to love for man," it has been said, "is to come nearer to the living Jesus." If we would learn Christ's great prophecy about man and GOD, we must read the Gospels over again, with awakened eyes. We must take seriously the man Christ Jesus. We must hear the words of His prophecy, and face honestly the challenge of His sayings. We must confront the central Figure of the Gospels in all its tremendous realism, watering down nothing, explaining nothing away; "wrestling with Jesus of Nazareth as Jacob wrestled with the angel, and refusing to let Him go except He bless us." In the end He does bless those who wrestle with Him, and we shall not in the end be able to stop short of confessing Him as GOD.
For the message of the Gospel story is ultimately not even the teaching of Christ: it is Christ Himself. He, alone among the world's teachers, perfectly practised what He preached, and embodied what He taught. And therefore the truth of GOD and the ideal for man in Him are one. In Him we see man as he ought to be, man as he is meant to be. And because we instinctively judge that the highest human nature is divine, and because also we feel that GOD Himself would be most divine and worshipful if we could conceive of Him as entering in and sharing our human experience and revealing Himself as man, those who have reflected most deeply about the matter have commonly been led to believe that so indeed it is. They have felt that in Jesus Christ man, as the mirror and the Son of GOD, reflects the Father's glory. They have felt that in Jesus Christ GOD, the Eternal Source of all things, has expressed and revealed Himself in a human life: that GOD has spoken a Word, a Word which is the expression of Himself: and that the Word is Christ. "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." For there is, in truth, something in Jesus of Nazareth which compels our worship. And if we will take seriously the human Jesus we shall discover in the end Deity revealed in manhood, and we shall worship Him in whom we have believed.
But that, of course, is dogma: in other words, it is the deliberate judgment of Christian faith. It is the expression, as a truth for the mind, of the value which a soul which is spiritually awake comes to set upon Jesus because it cannot do otherwise. A judgment like that is the conclusion--it ought not to be taken as the starting-point--of faith. There are many, of course, who are willing to begin by assuming provisionally that it is true, upon the authority of others who bear witness to it: and that is not an unreasonable thing to do, provided a man afterwards verifies it in the experience of his own life. But belief in the divinity of Jesus is too tremendous a confession lightly to be taken for granted by mere half-believers of a casual creed. Convictions worth having must sooner or later be fought for: they must be won by the sweat of the brow. And if a man is not content permanently to defer to the authority of others, he ought not to begin by taking for granted the doctrine that Jesus is GOD. He ought to begin as the Apostles began, by taking seriously the _Man_ Christ Jesus.
THE REVELATION OF THE FATHER
It was characteristic of the ancient Jews that they had a vital belief in the living GOD: and belief in GOD, and that of a far more real and definite kind than the modern Englishman's vague admission of the existence of a Supreme Being, was a thing which Jesus was able to take for granted in those to whom He spoke. GOD to the Jew was the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, holy and righteous, gracious and merciful: active and operative in the world, the Controller of events: having a purpose for Israel and for the world, which in the process of the world's history was being wrought out, and which would one day find complete and adequate fulfilment in the setting up of GOD'S Eternal Kingdom.
What Jesus did by His life and teaching was to deepen and intensify existing faith in GOD by the revelation of GOD as Father, and to revive and quicken the expectation of GOD'S Kingdom by the proclamation of its near approach. The application to GOD of the term "Father" was not new: but the revelation of what GOD'S Fatherhood meant in the personal life and faith of Jesus Himself as Son of God was something entirely new: while in Jesus' preaching of the Divine Kingdom there was a note of freshness and originality, and a spiritual assurance of certainty, which carried conviction of an entirely new kind to the minds and hearts of those who listened.
All the more overwhelming must have seemed to the disciples the disaster of their Master's crucifixion. It was not merely that the hopes which in their minds had gathered about His person were shattered: their very faith in GOD Himself, and in the goodness of GOD, was for the time being torn up by the roots. Nothing but an event as real and as objective as the Crucifixion itself could have reversed for them this impression of sheer catastrophe. The resurrection of Jesus, which was for them the wonder of wonders, not only restored to them their faith in Him as the Christ of GOD, now "declared to be the Son of GOD with power by the resurrection from the dead"; it also relaid for them the foundations of faith in GOD and in His goodness and love upon a basis of certainty henceforth never to be shaken. "This is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you, that GOD is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."
Meanwhile what of Jesus Himself--this Christ, through their relationship to whom they had come by this new experience of the reality of GOD? In symbolical vision they saw Him ascend up into the heavens and vanish from bodily sight: in pictorial language they spoke of Him as seated at GOD'S right hand. They were assured nevertheless-- and multitudes in many generations have echoed their conviction--that He was still in their midst unseen, their living Master and Lord. Instinctively they prayed to Him. Through Him they made their approach to the Father. He had transformed for them their world. He was the light of their lives. In Him was truth. He was their way to GOD.
All the great movement of Christian thought in the New Testament is concerned in one way or another with the working out of this experienced significance of Jesus. The maturest expression of what He meant to them is contained in the great reflective Gospel--an interpretation rather than a simple portrait of the historical Jesus-- which is ascribed by tradition to S. John. The Christ of the Fourth Gospel is man, with all the attributes of most real and genuine manhood: but He is also more than man. He is the self-utterance--the Word--of GOD. He came forth from GOD, and went to GOD. He is the revelation of the Father, the expression of GOD'S nature and being "in the intelligible terms of a human life." To have seen Him is to have seen the Father, because He and the Father are one. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: the Bread that came down from heaven: the Fountain of living water: the Lamb of GOD, that taketh away the sin of the world.
Later Christian orthodoxy never got farther than this. All that the formal doctrine of the Incarnation--as expressed, for example, in such a formulary as the Athanasian Creed--can truly be said to amount to is just the double insistence that Christ is at once truly and completely man, and also truly and completely GOD. The paradox is left unreconciled--"yet He is not two, but one Christ." The Godhead is expressed in manhood: in the manhood we see GOD.
What does it mean to confess the Deity of Christ? It means just this: that we take the character of Christ as our clue to the character of GOD: that we interpret the life of Christ as an expression of the life of GOD: that we affirm the conviction, based upon deep and unshakable personal experience, that "GOD was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself."
What is the real question, the most fundamental of questions, which arises when we seek to interpret the world we live in? Is it not just
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