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Oliver Chase Quick

Chapter II


It is more than chance which has placed together in the synoptic narrative the two incidents of our Lord’s Transfiguration and of His healing of the epileptic boy. The contrast and the connection between them struck the fancy of more than one mediaeval artist, and we find the two scenes depicted together on the same canvas. The artistic instinct here draws its inspiration from a profound theological truth. The double picture corresponds to two points of view from which the person and work of our Lord may be regarded. The uplifted Christ upon the mountain reveals the glory of God and of the Manhood which that glory transfigures. The Christ engaged in a work of healing amid the throng below is the same Saviour and Redeemer coming down to cast out the devils of evil with which the earth is vexed. Yet the two aspects of our Lord’s Person cannot be separated from each other. For the work of redemption is itself the greatest revelation of the Divine glory. And, equally, our Lord’s whole power to redeem and save springs from the reality of the Godhead in Him revealed.

This latter truth is one which modern ways of thought have especially tended to obscure. There has been almost a craze for “humanism” in religion, to which many causes have contributed. Partly no doubt, as our last chapter has suggested, it is due to man’s subconscious need for reassurance in face of a world increasingly oppressive in its complex immensity. Whatever the cause, however, the effect is plain. The popular mind and the prophets which it delights to follow have concentrated their attention upon the human attractiveness of the Man who went about doing good. They have rather tended to ignore the transfigured Son of God, and even to accuse of narrow‑minded traditionalism those who have been most zealous in their witness to His glory. It is often forgotten that if our Lord brings a gospel of eternal life at all, He can bring it only as the revealer of the nature of God, in the fullest sense of which those words are capable. What does His life tell us about God? There is the only real question, the only vital issue for religion. It is only if the revelation of God in Christ is unique, that Christ’s life is of unique religious importance. It is only if Christ brings to us God Himself, that His message is a gospel of salvation.

Revelation and Redemption are therefore two aspects of one indivisible gospel. For convenience of exposition alone they must be handled separately, and then the aspect of revelation will naturally take first place. Let us make some attempt to define the meaning of the teaching of our Creeds about the Incarnation. We shall then be at least in a more favourable position to face its difficulties.

1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is a revelation of God to Man. There must be depths and heights in the Divine Being which our minds cannot approach. But in so far as God’s nature can be interpreted to man at all, that revelation is complete in the Person of Jesus Christ. We know that if we want to explain anything to a child, we have to speak in language which the child can understand. There may be much which cannot be explained at all as yet, but if we use terms with which the child is already familiar, we may convey to him as much as he is able to receive, and, as his capacity grows, he will find an ever fuller significance. It is, of course, the essence of good exposition to use language at once simple and profound, language, that is, which has a meaning immediately apparent and yet also a meaning inexhaustible in the longest course of study. Such a perfect exposition of God is the life of Christ, Who is His living Word. In Him we find God explaining Himself in human terms to the limit of man’s capacity to receive Him.

To say this is to say that the character of Christ is the very character of God Himself. The love for men which Christ displayed on earth is the love of God. His insight into their souls is the wisdom of God. His wrath against evil is the wrath of God. His power to cast out evil and conquer it is the power of God. And surely we cannot stop even there. We must go on to say that the humility, the willingness to serve and suffer which we see in Christ, are themselves part of God’s own self‑giving which is the very proof of His power, His wisdom and His love.

We shall never have any grasp of the Sovereign Majesty of God until we realise that Christ has taught us a new way of regarding it. The Jews thought of Jehovah as an infinitely wise and powerful and righteous human potentate, an infinitely greater David Who held the world in the hollow of His hand. The picture was not wrong, but it was very incomplete. Our Lord came to earth to show mankind that there is a greater power than that which dashes its enemies in pieces by superior force, a deeper wisdom than that which silences its opponents by superior logic. There are the power and the wisdom of love, a power which works through patience, and a wisdom which shows itself in trust. Our human power and wisdom are not sure of themselves. We must strike at once, or we cannot be sure we are strong enough. We must justify ourselves at once, or we cannot be certain we are right. But the infinite power and wisdom can work in the loving humility of service, and wait for that character so revealed to win the fullest victory of all, the victory which converts and convinces from within instead of coercing and confuting from without. We can even in our human experience see that in self‑sacrifice are found the strongest force and the most persuasive appeal that this world knows. And, looking at Christ, we declare that He Who was God revealed the Divine Nature itself by being born at Bethlehem and by suffering upon the Cross‑that Cross which St. Paul affirmed to be the wisdom of God and the power of God. St. Paul himself uttered only half the truth when he taught that the Son of God “emptied himself” in coming to earth to take upon Him the form of a servant. St. John uttered the other half in a paradox more startling and more profound. “The Word,” he said, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.”[1] It is no mere flight of sentimental fancy which has depicted the three royal sages offering their costliest treasures before the cradle. That story is a parable of the great truth which St. Paul is making an almost despairing effort to express, when he says that the weakness of God is stronger than men and the foolishness of God is wiser than men. The authority of king and sage must do homage to that other wisdom and power of love revealed in defencelessness and innocence.

The first purpose then of the revelation of Jesus Christ is to make definite our idea of God. Apart from Him our conception of the divine character is lost in vagueness. Mysterious, incomprehensible that character must always be, but in Christ the luminous dark of mystery is substituted for the blinding fog of confusion. Believing that Jesus Christ is God, we ascribe to God a definite character, the character of love, wisdom and power which we find beneath the manhood of our Saviour.

The life of Christ therefore becomes for the Christian a test and standard of all the ideas about God which are current in the world. We can discover whether men’s thoughts and actions are in correspondence with the character of God revealed in Christ. We can say: “Here they are right, for they follow Christ,” and “Here they are wrong, for they reject Him.” It would not be easy to overstate the need of our world for some such clear standard of right belief and conduct. The more we reflect and enquire, the more appallingly various men’s ideas about God are found to be. This is an age of what we call freedom of thought, a phrase which means in practice that everyone believes what he likes. No variety or shade of tenet but finds its adherents and its champions, and those teachers, perhaps, are most widely commended who in the name of liberal views leave every man to the undisturbed enjoyment of that particular form of mental confusion which he happens to prefer. The end of it all must be sheer bewilderment, unless we strive to keep before our minds the standard which the life of Christ provides. To Him the Christian can turn in all perplexities, if in Him it is the very God Who stands revealed.

Breadth of mind, we may notice in passing, is assuredly not an over‑rated virtue, but it is one which is woefully misunderstood. There are many who win a cheap reputation for it, simply because their views are easy‑going or ill‑defined. But there could be no greater mistake than to suppose that to be definite in belief is to be narrow. True breadth of mind stands in the capacity to recognise and to appreciate goodness and truth wherever they are found, even in most unpromising surroundings, even in people who appear most ignorant and most misguided. But this most Christian of gifts can only flourish where there is a very definite ideal of what truth and goodness are. If, like our Master, we are to find the signs of God’s presence everywhere in the world, even where it is most deeply hidden beneath the accumulations of folly and of sin, we must first have a quite definite idea of what God’s character is. If Christ is God, then that definite idea is ours, and like Christ we shall be able to trace God's handiwork in the sinner and the outcast, and even in those from whom we differ on comparatively petty points. That is breadth of mind. To be careless about beliefs is not breadth of mind; it is only a form of spiritual sloth, more dangerous because so readily disguised. Surely we have not so learned Christ.

2. The life of Jesus Christ is therefore the revelation of God to Man. But this statement does not exhaust its significance as a revelation. In it we find God revealed not only to man but through man, and thereby it reveals also man to himself. Christ is true man as well as true God, man just as truly when He was transfigured on the mountain, when he rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, as when He walked the streets of Capernaum or Nazareth. God therefore has used the manhood of Christ as the means and the vehicle of His revelation of Himself.

Now we are all of us men as Christ was man. That is the truth that theologians have been concerned to emphasise in teaching that the Manhood of Christ is universal and representative. His manhood is the same as ours, in the sense that through Him our manhood is taken up into His. If therefore God showed Himself through Christ, he can also show Himself through us. If God exalted Christ to Heaven, he can also exalt us. Christ therefore not only reveals to us God, He reveals to us also our true selves - that is, he reveals to us what we in Him are capable of becoming.

Let us consider how Christ came to be exalted to the right hand of God, the steps which led up to the final glory of the Ascension. First, He lived the outward life of an ordinary human child. St. Luke tells us that He was subject to His parents at Nazareth, that He increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man. Then came a period of early manhood which to us is veiled in obscurity. Apparently He shared the common work and pleasures of those around Him, and did nothing very strange or startling. Then he entered upon what we call in a special sense His ministry. He worked among men, teaching them about God, saving them from their sins, healing their diseases, comforting them in their sorrows. Also He shared their joys as well. We find Him a welcome guest in the houses of rich and poor alike. The Pharisee and the publican are equally his hosts; or He pays a quiet visit to the country home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Then finally our Lord suffers for men. He is misunderstood, persecuted, tortured and killed, and after that comes the final consummation - the resurrection of the same human Christ from the grave and His ascension into heaven.

The recapitulation of the various activities of our Lord’s earthly life emphasises the truth, that they are all, manifold as they are, necessary stages in the path to the final glory. It was the whole way which He trod on earth, not any one part of it alone, which led up to the right hand of the Father. And because we are men, the story of our lives is meant to be the same. From Christ’s life springs the glorious vision of what we ourselves in Him are capable of becoming. If a man's life is spent, for the main part in a dull round of commonplace occupations, if often he has opportunity of sharing others’ joys and sympathising with their sorrows, if at times he is called upon to give definite help and guidance, if finally he has to suffer and to face the last terrible solitude of death, in all these aspects and incidents of life met, entered, and lived through after Christ’s example, his manhood is one with Christ’s, and the dullest and most difficult and most trivial hours mark necessary steps taken on the road towards the glory of the final Kingdom beyond the grave. That is the human hope anchored in the Incarnation, a hope of the possibilities of mankind made like to its Saviour. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when it shall appear we shall be like Him.”

3. And therefore if we would safeguard this double significance of Christ’s life, we are driven to assert that He is God and man. His revelation is the joining of two natures. He brings God down to man so that man may see what God is. He raises man up to God, so that man may be used in God’s service and glorified in His Presence. The revelation in Himself of that communion between two distinct natures is the whole meaning of Christ’s Person, the fulfilment of that communion in the world is the whole purpose of Christianity. There, in a sentence, is the Christian gospel.

Let us notice more closely how that gospel depends upon the old affirmation of the Creed, that Christ is both perfect God and perfect Man. In our Lord, as we are bidden believe, we find two natures united yet retaining their proper characters. In Him they are joined, but not fused; they remain distinct, but not separate. They are one “not by confusion of substance but by unity of Person.” That is the orthodox doctrine, like all orthodoxies of today far less often and less ably defended than assailed. If we would appreciate its true significance, we must first ask the question, against what errors is it intended to be a safeguard?

It is a tendency in all ages natural to the human soul to seek to interpose between itself and God some intermediate form of being. As we should expect in the case of a tendency so common, the motives from which it, springs and the purposes at which it aims are by no means wholly discreditable to the minds which entertain them. The mystery and awe surrounding the inmost shrine of Deity make men hesitate to bring thither prayers wholly occupied with the daily needs of ordinary life. Their soul seeks after some being divine enough to be able to satisfy their wants, and human enough to be willing to respond to them. In the more highly developed religious consciousness the sense of distance from God takes shape in a conviction of defilement or sin, which makes man shrink from drawing near easily to the fount of holiness itself. In modern times, the same hesitation has been intensified for different reasons. Man’s increasing distrust of his own powers of knowledge has operated powerfully in causing reluctance to claim approach to God Himself. What can we know of the Maker, Governor or Immanent Spirit of the Universe, if such an one there be? Let us rather be content with less ambitious aspirations, let us find the object of our religious thought, the aim of our religious endeavour, in something we can be certain of, something we can grasp and understand. God is too big and dangerous a word, but doubtless there are spiritual realities beyond our mere individual selves, wherewith we may satisfy our need for an ideal, our imperative longing after worship. Thus in all ages, though for various reasons, man has tried to put from him the very God and to substitute for Him some being who seems more within reach of his humble attainments and commonplace desires. The heathen of old bowed down before his demigod. The modern philosopher extols his superman. The man, or more often the woman, of the world dabbles in spiritualism or plays with the unsubstantial hierarchies of theosophy. The ignorant Roman Catholic addresses his prayers to Virgin or to saint, because he fancies them more sympathetic to his weakness than the Almighty. There is a common motive leading to all these aberrations. It is the old motive of idolatry, the old desire for some service less austere than that of the holy, unseen, eternal, One. The type of idolatry in all ages is Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made Israel to sin by setting calves in Bethel and Dan and saying to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem to worship.” Such an appeal will never fail of its response while humanity remains a fallen race.

Therefore there is great danger lest our Lord Himself become the object of a worship which is in its essential nature idolatrous. Our attitude towards Him is idolatrous the moment we begin to think of Him as neither quite God nor quite man, but as something between the two. The temptation to do so is inevitable. When our thoughts start from the Godhead, it seems impossible that the lowly Jesus of Nazareth should be very God. When our thoughts start from manhood and all that the life of Jesus has meant to it, Jesus seems to stand absolutely by Himself above the level of common humanity altogether. Mid so the result is too often a compromise instead of a reconciliation. We think of our Lord as neither fully God nor fully man, but as a being interposed between the two, combining elements of each. The essential heresy of Arianism lay in its attempt to regard our Lord as a lesser deity, and there is a modern Arianism or a tendency towards it, which prefers to address all its prayers and hymns to Jesus rather than to God, and yet feels vaguely uncomfortable when any direct assertion, not of the Divinity of Jesus merely, but of His Deity, is forced upon its attention.

Such idolatry, however skillfully dialectic may commend, however attractively sentiment may disguise it, misses utterly the significance of the Christian gospel. In proportion as Christ is inferior to the Godhead we cannot see God revealed in Him; our faith is left in the dark. In proportion as Christ is superior to manhood, it is not our humanity which He has exalted; we cannot see in Him the revelation of our own possibilities; we doubt our capacity to follow. Evade the issue how we will, a Christ Who is intermediate between God and man, merely emphasises their separation. The Christ of the Gospels only unites God and man because He is perfectly both. The result of the false view will be to acquiesce in an object of worship less than the very God, and in a standard of conduct lower than that of perfect man. The result of the true view is to worship the very God and to follow the perfect man, both in Christ revealed.

But when we have thus insisted on the union of the two natures in Christ, we must go on to emphasise the vital importance of maintaining their distinctness. There is after all a sound instinct behind that sense of the otherness of God, which has led man into the idolatrous worship of intermediate beings. God is not man, nor man God even “in the germ.” Ideally, God is in man and man in God; it was to restore that communion to fallen humanity that Christ came to earth to be the perfect Mediator. But even in Christ manhood is not itself deified. To make the distinction between God and man into an insuperable barrier is the sin of idolatry; to seek to remove it altogether is the sin of a perverted mysticism. The full communion between the Divine and the human is hindered just as much by identifying them or confusing them with each other, as by holding them apart.

Religious mysticism of recent years has aroused a new attention for which we may be rightly thankful. Unluckily the interest shown in mysticism has increased rather than diminished the difficulty of defining the term itself, which, like socialism, is in danger of losing all real value from the very variety of its abuse. Speaking generally, belief is, in the spiritual sphere, distinguished from mystical experience in the same way as in the physical sphere belief is distinguished from direct perception. I know London, where I live, by direct perception; I know Australia, where I have never been, partly by believing what I am told, partly by the inferences of my own reason. Similarly I may believe in God partly on the strength of what I am told partly as the result of my own reflection upon the facts of life. But mysticism offers something more, something which may almost be called a direct perception of God’s being, a form of experience in which my own faculties may apprehend His presence and nature immediately. Such experiences are often spoken of as though they were confined to those who possess special faculties of the spirit carefully trained for their high purpose. This is, no doubt, to some extent the case; yet many perhaps would discover in themselves gifts for such inward converse with the Divine, if the exercises of prayer and meditation were more widely and assiduously practised. The mysterious sense of the Divine Presence, which takes hold on most religious people with an added conviction at certain times and in special circumstances, should no doubt be classified as falling under the head of mystical experience, though we should by no means assume that such feelings are unrelated to physical conditions, or that they are less liable to error and misuse than our ordinary perceptions of sight and hearing.

Be that as it may, the mission of mysticism is to proclaim God as a living presence in the soul, and thereby to make religion the experience of a communion instead of merely the assent to a formulary, the inference of an argument, or the obedience to a command. And no doubt our mystical faculties, like others, demand, and will repay, cultivation. The mystic saints, who may be considered experts in the matter, have subjected themselves to most exacting and prolonged discipline, and all authorities are agreed that some such exercises of a devotional aim ought to form part of our religious education. But like all the arduous achievements of humanity, mysticism is highly dangerous. We need a guide along the path who is familiar also with the surrounding country. We are on the edge of an abyss, the moment we emphasise the reality of the inner communion with God in such a way that God Himself begins to be represented simply as an inward presence pervading human life or the life of the world as a whole. It is well to assert that the Word of God is very nigh unto us, in our mouth and in our hearts, and that He Himself is closer to us than our own bodies. Yet it is fatally easy to pass from that assertion to the thought that we are ourselves divine, that to vex ourselves over our sins and limitations is waste of energy, that all we have to do is to realise how great and good we may be - and forthwith the mists of our doubts and the shadows of our failures will vanish in the new light shed by the revelation of our own higher and diviner Self. It seems a long way from the extravagant self‑abasement of Christian mystics like Francis of Assisi, to the teaching of the latest American apostle, who would have us cure our toothaches by remembering that we are conscious parts of the Deity.[2] In reality the step from one to the other is just as long, and just as short, as the step from the top of a precipice to the bottom.

There are not a few modern teachers who seem to have taken such a step in sublime unconsciousness of the fall which it involves. They are those, generally speaking, who magnify experience in order to belittle dogma. The very different types of thought which are represented by Eucken in Germany, by Royce and James in America, and by Evelyn Underhill1 in England, besides the far less profound theology of the Mind‑Cure Movement,[3] all tend to the baneful identification of the soul in its highest experiences with the Divine Being which those experiences present. In making religion begin and end with human experience, in representing its claim simply as an appeal to us to realise our own spiritual capacities, they are in grave danger of inviting men to part among them the garments of a dishonoured Deity.

Perhaps the recent course of history with the emphasis it has laid on the persistence of all that is basest in man’s nature, will have the salutary effect of exposing the hollowness of the pretence that man can in his own right claim any sort of divinity for himself.[4] Many of the recent peformances of humanity furnish rather a caustic commentary on such aspirations. But heresies, like decimals, may always recur at the longest intervals, and it is well to see clearly, if possible, the point of departure from which this form of error has set forth, so that we may mark its path as a deviation from the line of true progress in the knowledge of God. We are on the wrong track the moment the distinction between the two natures united in Christ’s Person is forgotten or disparaged. The moment the Godhead and manhood are confused it becomes easy and almost inevitable to assert that since His Manhood is ours, His Divinity is possible for us also. Ideally, we shall begin to say, we are all as divine as He; it will only need an effort on our part to realise the Deity which is already ours. In using such language we may believe that we are only claiming a direct access to God for ourselves. But we cannot escape the practical result, that the centre of gravity in our religion shifts from our Lord to our own souls. We shall, in effect, soon Jesus Christ behind.[5] It will be to our own experiences, our own feelings, our own achievements, that we shall turn in our search for communion with God. We shall judge Christ by them, instead of judging them by Christ. The last stage will be reached when we regard the Godhead Itself as no more than an experience of our own; and just when we think we have scaled Heaven itself, we shall in reality have done no more than drag down with us into the pit where we have fallen a god of our own imagination. For our religion will be sell‑centred, and nothing can draw us, out of the morass save the divine compassion of the

Saviour we have misunderstood.

We cannot then appreciate the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation unless we keep before our minds the two opposite errors which it is intended to exclude, the error of idolatry and the error of pseudo‑mysticism. Yet it may be truly said that the exposure of the fatal consequences to which such heresies lead, does not in itself make the Church’s teaching of the two natures any more intelligible. How are we to think of Christ as God and man? How is such a union in distinction conceivable to our mind?

That is a question which is left for our human intelligence to answer, guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the dogmas of our creeds are intended primarily as safeguards against error, not as expositions of new truth.[6] The Incarnation is the mystery of a gospel, proved in the experience of centuries. The Church is not concerned to explain the mystery, but to preserve it from being explained away. So long as we protect the evangelical significance of the union of God and man in Christ, no speculation of ours can dishonour His Person. For the purpose of His revelation is to be a gospel; and by its evangelical value its truth must stand. There will therefore be abundant room for variety of interpretation and treatment, when we come to consider, so far as we reverently can, the manner of the union of God and man in Christ. The creeds do not tie us down to any one theory; they may be interpreted by all.

Such speculations do not come within our present scope. We must, however, attempt some reply to one or two obvious objections. It will be said: “You have already confused the divine and human natures in our Lord by saying that in the human characteristics of Jesus we see the character of God. If the man Jesus reveals and mediates God to us, how can we any longer distinguish in Him the human from the divine?”

The authors of the Athanasian Creed seem to have been aware of this difficulty, and they point the way to what is perhaps the best answer that has yet been devised. “For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.” The value of this article of the creed has often been misunderstood. It is not intended to draw a complete parallel between the relation of soul to body and the relation of the divine to the human nature of our Lord. The analogy may well be put forward as an answer to objections of the type we are now considering. The objector points out that the faith which enables us to see God in Jesus prevents us from separating His human from His divine attributes. We cannot say, “This in Him is God, not man,” or “That in Him is man, not God.” For, in knowing Him as man we are to know God. How then is it possible to distinguish in Him the divine from the human nature? This argument is met by an analogy. In every man we distinguish a spiritual or psychical from a physical element; yet both are involved in all his thoughts and words and acts in such a way that it is impossible to analyse completely any one of them into separate psychical and physical components. We talk of physical strength, but the strength cannot be used or shown apart from the psychical force which controls it. We talk of mental dispositions, but we have no knowledge of them apart from the physical organism through which they are expressed. Yet the distinction remains perfectly real. For we do not identify the spiritual life with that which transmits and embodies it, any more than we identify the light of the sun with the atmosphere and ether which alone transmit it to our vision. We are then to think of the union of two natures in our Lord in the manner which such analogies suggest. His human nature transmits and expresses the divine. Both are involved, or may be involved, in all His acts and words. In each we see the divine nature transmitted by a human medium, but we can never separate the Deity which is expressed from the humanity which expresses it.

But this answer, it will be said, only leads to fresh difficulty. For all human nature, in so far as it is good and Christlike, transmits and expresses the nature of God. How, then, is Christ unique and different from all other men? Is it only because His humanity is sinless and therefore transmits the divine nature perfectly? In that case, all human nature potentially shares the Deity of Christ Himself and the way is open to the disastrous errors we have already pointed out. There is, however, an ultimate difference between the indwelling of the Godhead in Christ and the indwelling of the Godhead in an ordinary human being, however truly redeemed and perfected. Christ is God from the beginning. In His Incarnation He takes up manhood into Himself and reveals Himself through it, but the Godhead remains His own proper and essential nature. In the ordinary man, on the other hand, the indwelling of the divine nature is a gift from without bestowed by the grace of God. The man’s own nature is not divine, but because the Godhead of Christ has exalted manhood, man himself is taken up in Christ and by Christ into communion with God. In so far then as a man is redeemed from sin, God dwells in him and reveals Himself through him to the utmost limit of possibility. Sin is the only barrier to that union. But the union only takes place in and through Christ. It is the Incarnation and Ascension of Christ which bestow the gift. Man does not attain to it in his own right or by virtue of his own nature. It is Christ and Christ alone Who takes up the manhood into God. It is as a member of Christ alone that a man can both reveal and live in union with the Godhead. In proportion as his faith gains clear expression, it will be entirely centred in Christ, not in any capacity of his own.

The distinction just drawn fits in exactly with what the greatest followers of Christ tell us of their experience, and with what the gospels tell us of our Lord. The most characteristically Christian men have always been the most eager to insist that their whole spiritual attainment has been something given them by God, not something which they themselves either possessed from the beginning or achieved by their own efforts. It has all been a gift which somehow came to them through Christ. That is the truth which they seek to convey in passionate declarations of their own unworthiness and insufficiency. But as far as the Bible record goes, there is certainly no hint of any such feeling in our Lord Himself. He declares the purpose and counsel of God with complete assumption of His full right and authority to do so. He accepts the highest titles without question or demur, alike when they are bestowed on Him by His disciples and when His claims are made the subject of an accusation by His enemies.[7] The old dilemma, “aut Deus aut homo non bonus,” has never been fairly rebutted.

Our attempt has been to give some reasons why our creeds ask us to accept their doctrine of the Person of our Lord. We have dealt with it, as the creeds deal with it, from a strictly theological standpoint. To the historical aspect and the difficulties which surround it, only a bare allusion has been made. Mid to many therefore it will seem that the main issue has been shirked. Yet it may be that the one‑sidedness of our discussion has not been without its value; for possibly modern thought has in part perplexed itself through stating the problem in an imperfect form.

We live in an age which has gone so far towards substituting psychology for metaphysics and historical criticism for theology, that it has often ceased to be aware of the transition. In ancient Greece and on into the Middle Ages the main question of philosophy took the form “What really exists?” or, “What does real existence mean?” From Descartes onwards the centre of interest began to shift from the object to the subject, and the question became, “What can I know?” or, “What conclusions as to the nature of the world does the validity of my knowledge imply?” Finally, the object of knowledge has retired into the background altogether, and pragmatism harps insistently on the question, “What do I mean by ‘knowing’?” or “What is the actual process which knowing involves?” Technically speaking, the transition has been from ontology through epistemology to psychology. The question, “What is?” has passed into the question, “What can I know?” and this again into the question, “How do I know?” This latter question, which falls within the province of psychology, has of late been the chief centre of interest. The result has been that all problems and theories are stated in terms of human consciousness. The human mind has occupied itself with the study of its own processes, even at times to the neglect of the objects towards which those processes are or should be directed. Pragmatism, for instance, has tried as far as possible to avoid stating conclusions as to the nature of the world, its ostensible aim being to set forth a philosophic method which may be used by thinkers of differing views. In effect, however, it has often represented “reality” and “truth” (which are the objects of knowing) as means whereby we gain successful knowledge, instead of representing knowledge as a means whereby we reach reality and truth.

But the change has spread far outside the immediate province of philosophy. In education, for instance, the study of and the response to the mental processes of the child (essentially questions of method) have often superseded the consideration of the prior problem, What is the aim of education? What is it really desirable that the child should be taught? In religion, as we have frequently noticed, “experience” is valued often to the depreciation of the particular object of belief to which the experience points. Belief in an object is valued solely for the contribution it makes to “satisfactory” experience, rather than experience judged by its bearing upon true belief. Discussions about the Person of our Lord have been drawn into the stream of the same general movement. The problem has been approached entirely from the psychological and historical side. In other words, consideration of the method and manner of the Incarnation has excluded the consideration of its objective reality. “How are we to conceive the actual consciousness of Jesus?” has been the one question asked. If He be God, what precise difference did that fact make to His consciousness while He wore our mortal flesh? God, for instance, is omniscient: are we therefore to suppose that all conceivable knowledge was always present to the mind of Jesus? What did He think of Himself, His mission and His nature? In particular, did He suppose that He was to come again in the clouds to herald the end of the world a few years after He had left it? It is assumed that the whole solution of the problem of our Lord’s Person lies in the answer to these questions. As soon as we have answered them, and not before, we shall know what to believe about our Lord’s Deity; and unless we know all about the consciousness of Jesus upon earth, we cannot believe rightly about the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such have been the assumptions underlying much recent controversy and criticism. And even on the orthodox side the tendency has sometimes been to argue that if our Lord was both God and Man, then, while on earth, He must have had both a divine and a human consciousness, that He used either at will, and that researches into the phenomena of multiple consciousness, the discovery of the subliminal self, and other studies of the psychologist, provide the true and only key to the whole enigma of the combination of the two natures. When the facts seem to show that our Lord’s human knowledge was limited, or even liable to what looks like error, then forthwith we are invited either to abandon our belief in His Deity as an impossible figment, or to stake our whole faith on some new psychological theory of consciousness.

In these circumstances it is imperative to distinguish clearly between the revelation which is the central object of belief, and the particular methods and processes through which we may or may not believe the revelation to have been transmitted. The creeds require us to believe that in our Lord’s Incarnate Person two natures, divine and human, are made one; but the mode of their union is left, as it must always remain, a mystery. The general meaning and value of the theological belief in the union of the two natures has already been sketched; it does not of itself necessarily involve any particular theory of the manner in which they were combined, or of the effect of that combination upon our Lord’s consciousness in the days of His flesh. Certainly such theories have a bearing on the theological belief; all suggest ions as to the possible manner of the Incarnation have a real value as illustrating the central fact; and ultimately, no doubt, some such theory must be included in a completely adequate knowledge. But meanwhile the theological belief in our Lord as God and Man must be kept independent of particular explanations. The central faith of our creeds is an eternal possession, far too precious and too sacred to be staked on any particular doctrines of philosophy or science, which must of their nature vary from age to age in accordance with the shifting outlooks and interests of successive generations. Only if this distinction is preserved, can faith in the Christian revelation safeguard and receive witness from the fullest measure of the free speculation which it should inspire in every branch of human thought.

It is not at all implied however that the problem of our Lord’s earthly consciousness can or ought to be wholly shelved, and we may proceed in conclusion to outline a few tentative suggestions upon the subject. The union of the two natures does not necessarily correspond to anything that can be called duality of consciousness in the Jesus of the Gospels. And if our interpretation of the Church’s doctrine is the right one, we shall be very careful how we allow ourselves to suggest that on earth He possessed consciously a knowledge as God, which He did not possess consciously as Man, or that He performed certain actions as God, while He did and endured other things as Man. Rather the Godhead through Manhood is revealed in all that He thought and said, all that He wrought and suffered.

Perhaps we shall be able to face all the difficulties connected with our Lord’s earthly consciousness and actions with greater freedom and assurance, if we start from the thought that the earthly life of Jesus is only one act of the eternal life of the Word of God. It is an act in which the whole nature of Christ is revealed, just as our whole selves may be revealed in one supremely characteristic action. By calling an act “characteristic” we mean that it points beyond itself to a personality which in a sense is wholly present in it, but which it does not in itself exhaust. A man’s whole character may live and express itself in one word or look, but only because that word or look points beyond itself to a personality wholly revealed yet not wholly contained within it. Technically speaking, the act is characteristic, because it is self‑transcendent. Should we not look on the Incarnation (including in that word the whole earthly life of Christ) as, in a similar sense, a self‑transcendent act of the Word of God? It is an act supremely characteristic, because in it dwells all the fulness of God’s Nature, and because therefore it points beyond itself to the Godhead which in it is revealed, yet not contained or comprehended. Surely much of the difficulty connected with our Lord’s earthly consciousness springs from attempting to suppose that in His Manhood His Godhead must be comprehended. Against this attempt our creed expressly warns us; we should rather enquire how through His Manhood His Godhead is revealed. The two ideas are totally distinct, and the confusion between them has been disastrous. It is not only heretical but also silly to suppose that the divine omniscience and almightiness can be contained or comprehended in the “reasonable soul and human flesh” which were born of Mary. It is hardly less incredible that they existed as a superadded and separate consciousness present, either constantly or on occasions, to our Lord’s incarnate mind. This is an attempt to think what is in the long run impossible and meaningless. Whatever our Lord on earth may have known, He cannot have been conscious of every irrelevant detail of possible human knowledge. Whatever may have been His mysterious powers, there must be many things which, in the tabernacle of the flesh, He could not do. The probable limitations of His knowledge and power may be a subject for reverent enquiry. But it does not at all follow that the omniscience and almightiness of God are not fully revealed through the whole incarnate life of Christ, which is their characteristic act.

Let us take a fuller illustration. Suppose some professor desires to teach a child the elements of the subject in which he is an expert. If his teaching is to be ideally good, the first essential must be that he put himself at the ignorant child’s point of view, so that he sees things with the child’s eyes and feels the child’s perplexities. In other words, he must in some sense take on him the nature of the child. And this will involve what we may call a self-limitation of sympathy. He must put out of his mind the problems with which he has been grappling for his forthcoming book; he must forget the phraseology of his classic article in the latest technical encyclopaedia. He must put himself back at the beginning of the subject, that he may guide another beginner along the first stages of his journey. And yet the one thing he must not do is to forget the way. His own more recondite knowledge will not occupy his attention, yet it will reveal itself surely and clearly in the certainty with which he surmounts the initial obstacles and avoids the first easy by‑paths which lead to nothing. The exposition of a teacher less expert could not be at once so simple and so true to the deepest principles of the subject. No doubt the greatest experts in any art or science are seldom the best teachers of it, just because the gift of sympathetic self-limitation is so rare. But when this gift is present, no depth of knowledge in the teacher is really wasted in his teaching.

May we not in all reverence apply this analogy to the incarnate consciousness of our Lord? At Bethlehem the Word of God was born as a human child that by so limiting Himself He might guide other children in their first faltering steps along the path which leads to the knowledge of Himself. On Calvary He suffered that He might light up for other sufferers the dark and narrow highway to His eternal throne. In a true sense He emptied Himself that He might do these things. Yet in Bethlehem and on Calvary and at every point in His earthly ministry the Divine Power and Wisdom act and are glorified through the very limitations which the Divine Sympathy has imposed. No wisdom less than that of God could have devised a manner of self‑revelation so perfectly adapted to man’s need. No power less than that of God could have enabled man to win so complete a triumph over the powers of evil.

In such an interpretation of the earthly life of Jesus much remains beyond our comprehension, much is left for reverent enquiry to search out. But surely we have found a guiding truth. And since it is the revelation of a mystery which we desire to show forth, we must not seek to dispel all the mystery of the revelation.


[1]This contrast between St. Paul and St. John is brought out by Mr. William Temple in Foundations, p. 219.

[2]In Miss Underhill’s case the tendency is only implicit and apparently unconscious. Cf. e.g. The Mystic Way, p. 73.

[3]Cf. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 102, etc.

[4]This hope is hardly justified by such a discussion of our Lord’s Divinity as that contributed by Mr. Harold Anson to Faith Or Fear? (Macmillan, 1916). The author, indeed, quotes with approval the teaching of the Athanasian Creed that the Incarnation means not the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but the taking of the manhood into God; but on the subject of “confusion of substance,” he is significantly silent. Mr. Streeter’s argument (Restatement and Reunion, pp. 12 and 13) that we may infer our Lord’s Divinity simply from the ideal perfection of His humanity, is also dangerous, in that it may lead us to suppose that the Godhead of Jesus Christ is not another Nature than His Manhood. I have here tried to explain the value of the “orthodox” distinction.

[5]Herrmann (Communion of the Christian with God, p. 30, English Edition) maintains that the mystic in “finding God” is bound to “leave Christ behind.”

[6]For a further discussion of this point see Ch. VI. I have also dealt with the same subject in Modern Philosophy and the Incarnation (S.P.C.K., 1915), Ch. IV.

[7]The solitary and quite superficial exception in Mark 10:18 is really insufficient to bear the weight of argument which distressed critics have been obliged to lay upon it.


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