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Chapter 1: The Person as Interpreted in the Apostolical Literature

IN the synoptic Gospels we have the record of a life distinguished by many miraculous acts, but we have no explicit philosophy of the Person who performed the acts; in the apostolical Epistles we have a doctrine of the Person, but no history of His life. In the former we have the representation of a real individual who lived, suffered, and died, and who, as regards His character, words, and acts, may be criticized and appreciated like any other historical person; in the latter we have this Person regarded sub specie æternitatis, interpreted according to His place and function in universal history and as the central term in a theology or system of religious thought. The name of the uninterpreted person, the hero of the spontaneous biographies, is Jesus of Nazareth, but the name of the interpreted person, the Being who exists to thought and for it, is Christ; and these two are as distinct yet as indissolubly related as the mathematical diagram on the blackboard and the mathematical truth in the mind, which is by the diagram made explicit and applied to the interpretation of nature. In other words, Jesus is a symbol which the Epistles explicate for human belief and apply to human experience, individual and collective. The local and transient supernaturalism of the Gospels becomes in their hands a supernaturalism universal and transcendental. But without the local the universal could not have been.

§ I. Paul and the Pauline Literature

1. We have already recognized a very significant fact: the literature which defines and determines the doctrine of the Person is older than the literature which tells the story of the life. The oldest Pauline Epistle is divided by little more than twenty years from the death of Jesus; and the latest by a still shorter interval from the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse. Within a period which may be thus roughly denned the doctrine of the Person had been elaborated, and, in its main lines, fixed by minds which were at once varied in type and quite distinct in their tendencies. Nor does this fully state the case. The authorship of the Gospels is a pure matter of tradition or of critical inference. We do not know with any degree of certainty by whom, for whom, when or where they were written. But there is nothing more certain in ancient literature than the authorship of the more important of the Pauline Epistles; and we may add that the author himself is better known to us than any other writer in the New Testament, or probably even than any other person in antiquity. There is nothing so perfectly autobiographical as the expression he has given to his thought; or anything so unconsciously characteristic of the writer and descriptive of himself and his world as the literary forms he has employed and the allusions he has made. He has so written his thought as to write history; he has told us what churches he founded, what difficulties he encountered and what differences he provoked; who helped him and who hindered. He has described the morals of the time in language of unparalleled plainness and power; he has shown us the obstinacy of the Jew, the instability of the Gaul, the frivolous and disputatious temper, the intellectual subtlety and ethical obtuseness of the Greek; and the part played by the wandering merchant or mechanic in the intercourse of the peoples, in the distribution of ideas and the diffusion of religion. He has informed us as to the kind of men that were made into Christians and the sort of Christians they made, the questions they discussed, the discipline they needed and the Churches enforced; the ideals they lived for, and their effect on their lives. He has made us understand the minds of the men who founded the Church, the fears, the jealousies, the tendencies that divided them, the faith and hope that united them and made them better and greater builders than they knew. He has told us how he himself was judged, what he was in appearance, in speech, in writing; how he suffered and what he suffered from; how he persuaded the Jew and the Gentile to live together and to help each other; how his converts and how the men who were “reputed to be somewhat” esteemed him. In a word the questions that lie beneath phrases he lets almost unconsciously fall, carry us right into the heart of the constructive historical criticism of the New Testament.

2. Now let us confess that Paul, as he lives before us in his Epistles, is a man who holds many men within him,—so many indeed that we may describe him as the most unintelligible of men to the analytical reason of a critic who has never warmed to the passion or been moved by the enthusiasm of humanity; but the most intelligible of men to the man who has heard within himself the sound of all the voices that speak in man. He is a Jew, proud of his blood, but ashamed of its hot intolerance; a Pharisee who has studied in the schools till he has learnt their formulæ; a convert who finds in his conversion the meaning of his own and his people's past; a lover of righteousness who fears his own sin; a believer whose will to obey God is crossed and weakened and thwarted by the passion which will lust; a brother who would die for his brethren, yet holds a faith which exposes him to sufferings worse than death at their hands; a kinsman disowned of his own kin, who could not then, and have never since been able to forgive his desertion of their tribal banner and contempt for their racial vanity, though he has done more than any other son of the fathers to redeem their name from its worst vices, and shed upon it a more beneficent light than streams from the Ghetto or the Exchange. He is a man who despises life, yet endures all things that he may save men from death; a person without sentiment, yet of the most commanding affection, mixing with the most obscure and illiterate, yet speaking to them with the courtesy which ought to be cultivated by the sons of God; a man hated, hunted, persecuted, denied the comforts of home, the cheer and the joy of woman's love, the tenderness and trust of children he could call his own, yet writing the grandest words in praise of love which ever came from human pen; a man who was mean outwardly, yet inwardly endowed with such strength as to lift the solid earth of religious custom, prejudice, and convention from off its axis. He uses a tongue which is in its words Greek but in its most distinctive idioms Hebrew, an inchoate dialect spoken by mixed peoples, which his thought, too massive and molten to be easily articulated, burdens with technical terms, exceptional usages and broken sentences hard to be understood or subdued into grammatical continuity, but which his imagination so charges now and then with splendid images as to lift it into the highest poetry, breathing the hope that neither suffering nor death can shame, the love that is as high as God and vast as eternity. So potent is he that he makes out of the tongue he uses a sacred language, compelling, almost in spite of itself, the religion he has embraced to forget its native speech and speak the Gentile tongue he speaks, that it may be the more quickly communicated and become the more readily intelligible to the civilized world. In him the past of his faith is epitomized and its future is foretold. He starts as a Jew, a zealot in “the Jews' religion,” becomes a disciple of the Jesus he had persecuted, an apostle of the Christ he had despised; and he is driven by a logic which is not so much his servant as his master to “preach among the Gentiles” “the faith of which he had once made havoc.”1 And he not only foresaw the end, but he even began to garner the fruits of the land towards which he was leading the Church. Among the last of his words these stand written: “All the saints salute you, especially they that are of Cæsesar's household.”2

Paul, then, is the greatest literary figure in the New Testament; round him all its burning questions lie. Looked at as an historical question, say certain minor critics, Baur spared too much when he argued that the four great Pauline Epistles were authentic, for they leave all that is most supernatural in Christianity standing in its oldest period and attested by its oldest monuments. They leave also Paul in a position too large for any man, and force us to conceive him to be as large as his position. Hence a strained hypercriticism has of late attempted to reduce to intelligibility one who is not so much a single man as a multitude of men, though the multitude form only a many-sided personal unity; and so they have analyzed the multitudinous unity into a number of atoms, each in size and shape convenient and comprehensible. And so we have had the Paul of our documents decomposed into three men, (α) the authentic portrait of the “We-sections” in the Acts, (β) the man of the fragments saved from the wreckage of the Epistles, and (γ) the man of the completed Acts, the creation of primitive harmonistic. And then the Epistles have to be so decomposed as to assent, as it were, to the decomposition of their author. But, happily, this criticism is sporadic and incidental; the main body of critics who are also scholars holding that the authenticity of the greater Pauline Epistles is beyond doubt. And beyond doubt we may hold them to be. There are no writings so little capable of being explained by conscious or unconscious invention, or any trick of the pseudonymous imagination. They are filled by one mind, the personality is one; so are the speech and the mode of argument The attitude to friend, to foe, to beliefs held and renounced, to Church and world, to the brothers he had forsaken, to the brethren who had but half welcomed him, to the disciples who would have plucked out their yes and have given them to him, remains throughout consistently one and the same. This higher consistency is only emphasized by the minor inconsistencies of mood and moment; for these were certain to come to one who lived so strenuous a life, so changeful in those outward circumstances which most affect a man's heart and imagination, so unchangeable in those tendencies and inner convictions which most govern the mind. We must, therefore, content ourselves with simply affirming the point that there are no questions in ancient literature more certainly determined than the authenticity of the Epistles which first formulated the belief in Christ's supernatural person and their priority to all the written Histories of His life.

§ II. The Person of Christ in the Pauline Epistles

Now when we come to compare the Pauline literature with the Synoptic Gospels, we find, as respects the treatment of the Person of Christ, two remarkable points of contrast.

1. The biographical matter of the Epistles is, on the whole, simpler than that of the Gospels. The miracles which play so great a part in the latter have, with one conspicuous exception, no place in the former. Our reason is not perplexed by any narrative of the supernatural birth, or any incident like that of the Gadarene swine; we do not read of hungry thousands being fed, or of fish being charmed into a net or money extracted from one just caught in the lake; of this woman being healed of an issue of blood, or of that paralytic man being made whole; of a widow's son raised from the dead or a buried brother called back from the tomb. In a word, no attempt whatever is made to array Jesus in the garments of miracle or to make Him live and move in a cycle of wonders. On the contrary, He is set amid a sordid poverty of incident, and lives a life which is more remarkable for its humiliation and feebleness than for its majesty or manifest divinity. He is born of a woman, and born under the law.3 He springs from Israel, and is, according to the flesh, from the tribe of Judah and the seed of David.4 He lives in the form of a servant,5 and is unknown to the princes of this world.6 He is poor, hated, persecuted, crucified.7 He is betrayed at night, just after He had instituted the Supper.8 He dies on the cross, to which He had been fastened with nails, and is buried.9 There is no attempt to idealize these things, to veil their squalor, or soften their harsher features; rather are they emphasized and magnified as if they added lustre to the Person and were matters in which His admirers found their proudest cause for glorying.

2. But this poverty of outward incident in the life lends all the more significance to the remarkable contrast between the local and particular supernaturalism of the histories and the universal and absolute supernaturalism of those apostolic Epistles which originated so soon after His death. What stands there is a miracle of act and incident; what appears here is a Person so miraculous as to change the whole face of nature and history, and make it as miraculous as Himself.

(α) He is so conceived that the race by His presence in it becomes a stupendous organism, with a continuous history, a common life, realized by its units yet incorporated in the laws, customs, and tendencies they all obey. But the life of the race is not simply physical, it is, though absolutely different in quality from His, yet as ethical as He Himself is; and indicates that man, as regards the constituent elements of his nature, falls under the law which in the case of Jesus made His character of the very essence of His being. And the character He bears is creative and normative; it institutes a type and propagates the type it institutes. While all men have sinned,10 He alone knows no sin.11 The sin which all men know entered the world by the first man, and death so came in with sin that the two reign together over mankind; but by Christ came righteousness and through it the life which cancels death.12 And so over against the sinning Adam and his sinful posterity stands the sinless and quickening Christ with His household of faith.13 The flesh of man is sinful and mortal, but He assumed flesh that He might condemn sin and create life.14 While Adam, the first man, was but a “living soul,” the second man was “a life-giving Spirit”; while Adam was of the earth, earthy, Christ is of heaven and heavenly.15 And as He is His shall be. To be joined to Him is to be “one spirit” with Him.16 To be “in Christ” is to be “a new creature”17 “conformed to His image,”18 and “to the body of His glory,”v for as “we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”19 And these “new creatures” are not a multitude of disconnected grains; they are built into an organism and become “one body,” “the body of Christ,”20 the home of His Spirit, the agency by which He accomplishes His will and shows Himself unto men.21 To be Christ's is to be God's, to enjoy liberty, and to see God face to face.22 Hence collective man is represented as, apart from Him alienated from God, sinful and dying because of sin; but through Him men can be reconciled to God, learn obedience, and be built into a new humanity, exercised in righteousness, and ruled by love.23 Now this was an idea without any parallel in the history of human belief; so it has the most manifest right to be called a new idea. No one in any prior philosophy or scheme of thought had been conceived as so affecting the notion and life of humanity, so determining its constitution, so defining its character, so giving value to each separate unit, unity to its whole being, community to its interests, and continuity to its history; in other words, as creating by his very being order and coherence in the chaotic and heterogeneous mass of conscious but unconnected atoms which we call mankind.

(β) But this is the least wonderful aspect of this audacious endeavour at the interpretation of an historical individual as a universal, i.e. as an absolutely supernatural and creative personality. For His relation to man has its counterpart and complement in His relation to God. Here the same singular and transcendental qualities are made to distinguish Him. He is to God what no other being has been before Him or can be after Him. He is the Son of God, the firstborn, begotten before all creation.24 He is the image of the invisible God; He sits at God's right hand; He upholds all things by the word of His power, constitutes all things into order or system; in other words, His cosmical relations are as absolute and creative as His historical are directive and judicial.25 And His work is one which is worthy of the highest God: it is to create a new humanity and to be its Head.26 His appearance is no chance or happy accident, but fulfils an eternal purpose.27 And His coming is His own act, for though rich, it is for our sakes that He became poor,28 or, to use the graphic phrase of another Pauline text, that He “emptied Himself” (ϵ̔αυτὸν ϵ̓κϵ́νωσϵν)29 And so He is conceived, not as one who begins to be, but as one who has ever been and will ever be; He through Whom are all things.30 The very dignity and prerogatives of Deity are claimed for Him. He is said to be so in the form of God as to be under no need of counting it a prize to be on an equality with God,31 and does not this mean that to Paul He already possessed the divine nature and majesty? In all things He has the pre-eminence.32 Even the unity which is the ultimate attribute of Deity is not denied Him. As there is but one God and Father, so there is but one Lord Jesus Christ;33 in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;34 in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,35 and His love can as little be measured as the love of God,36 for He is indeed in very truth God's love towards man.

§ III. The Idea in Hebrews and the Apocalypse

But the interpretation of the person is not peculiar to the Pauline theology; if it were, it might be regarded as the illusion of a mind intoxicated with metaphysics, or accustomed to the dreamland of an ecstatic mysticism. But the idea, so far from being singular, pervades a whole literature, though all we can do here is to select its most representative types.

1. The Epistle to the Hebrews is not Paul's, but it has many Pauline affinities. It is the work of a man who knew Philo and Alexandria as Paul knew Jerusalem and Gamaliel. Its outlook is less wide and more special; it thinks more of the Jews and less of man. But its philosophy, if narrower, is more reasoned in its principles and detailed in its application. The rhetorical style, the technical terms, the occasional preciosity of phrase, the love of analogies, the interpretation of history as allegory and of institutions as symbols or parables, speak of the school in which the writer had studied. But the marvellous thing is the way in which the new idea lifts the man above his school, enlarges his outlook, and completes his thought The Epistle to the Hebrews may be termed the most finished treatise of the Alexandrian philosophy; it grapples more successfully than any other with the problems of nature, mind and history. And it does this in the strength of its new idea: what the person of Christ signifies for God, for man and for religion. On the speculative side it re-interprets God and makes creation intelligible; on the historical, it exalts man and turns his life into a process of growth and education; on the religious, it finds a unity of idea within diversity of form, and it proves faith to be universal and constant, for its object is “the same yesterday, to-day and for ever.”37

The author was indeed no ear- or eyewitness of the Lord,38 but he speaks as one familiar with His history on both its brighter and its darker sides. He knew of His descent,39 of His preaching and the signs and wonders which accompanied it,40 of the temptations He endured,41 of the contradiction He had to bear from sinners,42 of the agony in the garden,43 of the death upon the cross,44 of the hill “outside the gate” where He suffered,45 and of His being raised from the dead.46 His humanity is real,47 and He is distinguished by being unblemished,48 by “godly fear,” docility, amenability to discipline;49 by mercy, grace and fidelity towards men,50 and by obedience, faith and patience towards God.51 Jesus is “without sin”;52 He is “holy, guileless, undefiled, and separated from sinners.”53 The author so speaks of the historical person as to show that his knowledge was equal to his love, and his love of the intensest and most commanding order. And yet without any sense of incongruity, or of intellectual discord, or of rational violence, he speaks of this Jesus as “the Son of God,”54 and of this Son as the Maker of the worlds, the effulgence of God's glory and the very image of His substance; as the heir of all things, begotten of God, His firstborn, to whom He said, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.”55 Jesus is indeed described as having been made “a little lower than the angels”;56 but though He becomes partaker of “flesh and blood”57 He does not cease to be Son or lose His high prerogatives; nay, He becomes this only that He may on a new and higher plane carry out His divine creative and administrative functions. The Mediator of creation becomes “the Mediator of the New Covenant”;58 “the heir of all things” becomes the builder of God's house,59 and so the architect of an edifice whose material is “living stones” and not dead “things.” Hence new titles come to Him: He is “the High Priest of our confession,”60 and as such He is “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.”61 As such He is the essence or Spirit of all religious institutions, the Creator of the men of faith and sanctity under the old covenant, the inaugurator who is also the sum and substance of the new. His concealed presence in the old was the reason of its being; His revealed presence in the new is the cause of its life. In Him God and man, eternity and time, creation and history, the ancient and transient religion of sense and the perennial and permanent religion of the Spirit, find their unity. It is a high dream and a spacious philosophy, cast perhaps into a form congenial to minds which thought concerning the New Testament in the categories of the Old, but representing truths which the speculative reason has unweariedly felt after without being able to find. And the whole is the spontaneous creation of the new idea as to the person of Christ.

2. The Apocalypse is in form, occasion, standpoint, method, purpose, the very antithesis of both Paul and Hebrews. Under one aspect it is the most Jewish, under another it is the most anti-Judaic writing in the New Testament. It is possessed of the idea that the spiritual Israel is to supersede the Israel of the flesh, and that the new Jerusalem is to displace and supplant the old; but it holds the idea in the face of a recent and most imperious dread. In place of Paul's fear of the Judaizer, of the alarm which the author of Hebrews feels lest his kinsmen should draw back, there has come terror of Rome. The seer has watched the giant awaken from his sleep, and dye his hands in the blood of the saints. And it is not the majesty of Rome that has awakened, but the ferocity of her emperor. And a ferocious man is more terrible than any wild beast, most terrible of all when he sits on a throne which enables him to indulge his lust for blood. It is this fear of the brute who has reigned and is to reign that fills the Apocalypse; but over against it stands the hope that stills terror. Above the masters of the earth sits the King of kings, and He shall compel even the wrath of man to praise Him.62 He, too, has shed His blood like a martyr.63 His blood is real, for He is of the tribe of Judah and the house of David.64 He died, but now He lives for evermore.65 He redeems and governs the new Israel.66 He is Alpha and Omega,67 occupies the throne of God,68 is worshipped and adored,69 judges the nations, and is terrible to the kings of the earth.70 We have so little sympathy with the Apocalyptic spirit, so feel its elaborate visions, its violent ecstasies, recondite metaphors, and mystic numbers to be alien to the modern mind, that we can hardly discover the imagination that penetrates and illumines it But one thing is obvious: all it has of foresight and permanent worth it owes to its idea of Christ and the place it assigns to Him.

§ IV. The Idea in the Gospel of John

But the most significant and picturesque presentation of the idea is to be found in the history ascribed to the Apostle John. The Fourth Gospel seems in form, in style, and in tone a work of lucid and ingenuous simplicity, but in matter and idea it is, speculatively, the most audacious book in the New Testament. It ventures to do what neither Paul nor Hebrews had attempted—to bring the speculative idea of Christ into direct relation with the history of Jesus; yet without this their discussions wanted the touch of reality. For the ideal Christ represents a thesis comparatively easy to expound and defend; but the actual Jesus as the embodiment of the ideal presents a problem infinitely more complex and difficult. To conceive a transcendental ideal which is the unity of Deity and humanity, to seek a prophecy for it in history and a need for it in nature, to find in it the end towards which all religions yearn, and the latent thought which all philosophers have laboured to express—is simply to charge oneself with the elaboration of a system which is none the less intellectual that it is dedicated to a religious purpose. But the Fourth Gospel essays a mightier problem, viz. to connect the person and the history of Jesus, on the one hand, with the inmost being of God, and, on the other, with the course and end of the universe.

1. The idea and purpose of the writer can best be under stood through the prologue which introduces the history.71 He begins at a higher altitude than the ancient seer who saw God “in the beginning” create the world, for he attempts to define the sort of God who created. Eternity was not to him a solitude, nor God a solitary. God had never been alone, for with Him was the Logos, and the Logos was at once God, and “in the beginning face to face with God.” (Οὑ̑ττος ἠ̑ν ϵ̓ ἀρχῃ̑ πρὸς τὸν θϵόν.) And He was organ of the Godhead in the work of creation: “all things were made by Him.” And the life He gave He possessed; in Him the creation lived, and His life was its light. But this light was confronted by a darkness which would not be overcome, though it was not possible that the Logos should consent to have His light overcome of the darkness. In brief but pregnant phrases the author describes the method and means which the Logos used in this supreme conflict. His relation to the creation never ceased; at every point and every moment He was active within it. In this way he stood distinguished from the prophet or preacher, who had his most recent type in the Baptist. John was a man sent from God for an occasion; before it he had no being, after it he had no function; his sole duty was to be a witness, to testify concerning the Light “in order that all men through him might believe.” Over against this ephemeral witness-bearer, who appears, lives his brief day, does his little work, and then departs, stands the true, the Eternal Light. He shines for ever and everywhere; illumines all men, even though they be held to be heathen. With threefold emphasis the idea is repeated: “He was in the world,” did not enter or come to be within it, but abode in it, was as old as it, is as young as it, unaffected by birth, untouched by death. He was, and had always been, for “the world was made by Him”; Man—no selected people simply, but collective Man—was made by Him, and how could He desert the work of His own hands? But it had deserted Him: “the world knew Him not.” The peoples loved the darkness and knew not the Light. Even those who claimed to be the elect were blind. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” The children of the covenant, the heirs of the promise, had been no better than the heathen: the Logos who lived and worked in their midst they did not know. But in one respect they had greater excellence: sight was granted to some, a remnant saw and believed, and He of His grace gave them the right to “become children of God.” And this adoption came not of blood or descent or act of man; it was “of God.” It was a vain boast to say, “We have Abraham to our father”; the only title to divine sonship came of divine grace. And now there arrived the supreme moment in human experience; the Logos, who was Creator and uncreated Light, who had never ceased to be related to all men or to be without His own even among the Jews, “He became flesh.” The phrase is peculiar; he does not say, as in the case of John, ϵ̓γϵ́νϵτο ἄνθρωπνς ἀπϵσταλμϵ́ νος ταρὰ θϵου̑, “there came a man sent from God”; but he says, ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ϵ̓γϵ́νϵτο, “the Word became flesh,” There is no break in this continuity; it is the same Word who was with God, who was God, who made the worlds, who was the true Light, who shone in the darkness, who continued to shine among the heathen, who visited His own, and graciously made those who believed sons of God, who now becomes flesh. And what He becomes (σάσξ) emphasizes the visible mortal man, man not in contrast to animal, but in antithesis to God, the invisible, eternal, impalpable Deity. Paul loved to express the sacrifice or renunciation of the Son—”though rich, yet for our sakes He became poor,” “though in the form of God He emptied Himself”; but John here expresses the unity of the Being within the difference of the acts and relations. He who did all these high things is the self-same Logos, as He who now becomes flesh. And in this form, in contrast to His previous invisible though illuminative universality, He dwells among men, lives face to face with them even as in the beginning He had been with God. But lest the intellectual term Logos should be resolved into an abstraction or mere figure of speech, a significant change is made in the terms employed. “The Word become flesh”is described as “only-begotten from the Father,” the bearer of “grace and truth” to men. And as such He is identified with Jesus Christ. And this marvellous conception is finally explained and justified by a principle of widest reach: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” This principle we may paraphrase and explain thus: “Monotheism has failed because men have found the invisible to be an inaccessible God; they feel after Him, and want to handle Him; but one who is simply the negation of all their experience they can neither conceive nor believe. And so He has stooped to their need, and has sent out from His own bosom, clothed in palpable flesh and blood, His only-begotten Son, that He might declare Him, make Him actual, visible, tangible to the dwellers in the world of sense.” That was the principle the gospel was to illustrate; whether it has been confuted or confounded by collective experience, is a matter of too common knowledge to need to be here discussed.

2. But the remarkable thing in the gospel is not so much the Prologue as the History which it introduces, and by which it is explicated. Analytical criticism has much to say as to the Hellenic and Hellenistic sources of the terms and ideas which the Evangelist makes use of.Λόγος is one of the dark terms we owe to Heraclitus; from him it passed into the school of the Stoics, and was there stamped with their image and superscription. In the Hellenism of Alexandria it played a great part, and was made by Philo a mediator between God and the universe, with a vast variety of names and functions: He conceived it now as abstract, now as personal; described it now as archangel, now as archetype; here as the Idea idearum which is ever with God, there as “the everlasting law of the eternal God, which is the most stable and secure support of the universe.” Philo's logos is now the image of God, now His eldest or firstborn Son, and again the organ by which He made the world. Here God is light, and the Word its archetype and example; and there God is life, while all who live irrationally (ἀλόγως) are separated from the life which is in Him. It is not to be doubted, then, that John neither invented his transcendental terms nor the ideas they expressed. But he did a more daring and original thing—he brought them out of the clouds into the market place, incorporated, personalized, individuated them. He distinctly saw what the man who had coined the terms had been dimly feeling after—that a solitary Deity was an impotent abstraction, without life, without love, void of thought, incapable of movement, and divorced from all reality. But his vision passed through the region of speculation, and discovered the Person who realized his ideal. Logos he translated by Son, and in doing so he did two things—revolutionized the conception of God, and changed an abstract and purely metaphysical idea into a concrete and intensely ethical person. And then he made this person take flesh and become a visible God; but with the most singular audacity he restricted this incarnation to a single individual whom he identified with Jesus of Nazareth, and then straightway proceeded to tell His history. And he told it simply, directly, as one who was only concerned to place on record things he him self had seen. It is significant that he does not descend from his transcendental to his historical idea, but, conversely, he rises from the historical to the transcendental. It is because he has heard with his ears, seen with his eyes, handled with his hands that he knows the Word of Life.72 The thing he most fears is the denial that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.73 The personal name Jesus is the one he most loves to use; and His human qualities—sympathy, tenderness, simplicity, courtesy, friendliness, love—are those he most emphasizes. He likes to think of Him as “Jesus Christ the righteous,” sinless, yet our example, who constrains us to purify ourselves even as He is pure.74 The Fourth is, indeed, the most human of all the Gospels, whose hero is the veritable Son of Man.75

Yet within the biography John skilfully enshrined his transcendental idea. The Person was to him a symbol as well as a fact, His history was at once allegorical and real. His purpose is expressed in one of his most distinctive terms, “true” (ἀληθινος), “true light,” “true worshipper,” “true Bread,” “He that sent Me is true”; “My judgment is true,” “I am the true vine,” “the only true God.” The term denotes not simply the true as opposed to the false, but the real as opposed to the apparent, the original as distinct from the derived, the genuine in contrast to the counterfeit. And these antitheses help to define each other, and to make the history articulate the author's thought. Hence he sees Jesus, not merely as a man, or historical person, but as a form under which the eternal ideal has been so realized as to turn the scenes and shapes around Him into shadows that now hide, now outline, and now counterfeit the reality. Thus the supreme need of the created order is, because of its ignorance and evil, reconciliation with the Creator; and this reconciliation is conceived as coming through the light which illumines, the life which quickens, the love which saves. And these are incarnate in Jesus. The Word who became flesh is as it were the tabernacle of a universal religion; in Him God came to men, and men met God, and the glory which they beheld was His very visible presence.76 As the one real place-of meeting He is the ladder which connects heaven and earth, keeping open God's way down to man, man's way up to God,77 He is the genuine temple, which men will seek to destroy, but He will reconstruct;78 and over against Him stands the local temple, which is the shadow of the real and universal, good if taken as a type, but bad if regarded as sufficient in itself, and still worse if conceived as a final and abiding reality. And as He is the true Temple, He is also the true Sacrifice—“the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”79 Other sacrifices are of man's providing and offering; He alone is of God. And so from Him comes life, through Him streams light; the light is the shadow of His truth, the life the fruit of His death.80 And He who is at once the true temple and the true sacrifice is also the true Priest, the Mediator through whom the “righteous Father”reaches the world, and the sinful man finds his way to God.81 The priests around Him are, like their temple and sacrifices, shadows—good if they speak of another, but bad exceedingly if they attempt to become the very form and being of the Eternal, and seek to suppress the manifested God as if He were the semblance and they the supreme reality. And so the Fourth Gospel may be termed a tragic parable narrated of God and His universe under the form of an actual transaction in time and space. There has come within the experience of man the most transcendent of all mysteries: the mind of God is translated into his speech, the life of God assumes his shape; and in a history which is all the more terribly real that it is so supremely ideal we see the characters, relations, and behaviours of God and man explicated by being realized.

  • 1.

    Gal. i. 16, 17.

  • 2.

    Phil. iv. 22.

  • 3.

    Gal. iv. 4.

  • 4.

    Rom. ix. 5; i. 3.

  • 5.

    Phil. ii. 7.

  • 6.

    1 Cor. ii. 8.

  • 7.

    2 Cor. viii. 9; Gal. vi. 14; I Cor. i. 23–25, ii. 2.

  • 8.

    1 Cor. xi. 23.

  • 9.

    1 Cor. xv. 3, 4; Col. ii. 14.

  • 10.

    Rom. iii. 23.

  • 11.

    2 Cor. v. 21.

  • 12.

    Rom. v. 12–21.

  • 13.

    I Cor. xv. 21, 22; Eph. Ii. 19–22

  • 14.

    Rom. viii. 3, II; 2 Cor. iv. 10, II.

  • 15.

    1 Cor. xv. 45–49

  • 16.

    1 Cor. vi. 17.

  • 17.

    2 Cor v. 17.

  • 18.

    Rom. viii. 29

  • 19.

    I Cor. xv. 49; cf. Eph. ii. 5, 6.

  • 20.

    I Cor. xii. 12, 27

  • 21.

    Eph. iv. 16, i. 23; Col. ii. 19.

  • 22.

    I Cor. iii. 23; 2 Cor. iii. 17, 18

  • 23.

    Rom. v. 12–21.

  • 24.

    Rom. i. 2, viii. 29, 32; cf. Col. i. 15.

  • 25.

    Col. i. 15–17; 1 Cor. xv. 24, 25; 2 Cor. v. 10.

  • 26.

    Eph. ii. 19–22; Col. i

  • 27.

    Eph. i. 4, ii. 9–11.

  • 28.

    2 Cor. viii. 9.

  • 29.

    Phil. ii. 7.

  • 30.

    I Cor. viii. 6

  • 31.

    Phil. ii. 6.

  • 32.

    Col. i. 18.

  • 33.

    I Cor. viii. 6; Eph. iv. 5.

  • 34.

    Col. ii. 3.

  • 35.

    Col. ii. 9

  • 36.

    Eph. iii. 19

  • 37.

    xiii. 8.

  • 38.

    ii. 3

  • 39.

    vii. 14

  • 40.

    ii. 3, 4

  • 41.

    ii. 18, iv. 15

  • 42.

    xii. 3

  • 43.

    v. 7

  • 44.

    xii. 2

  • 45.

    xiii. 12

  • 46.

    xiii. 20

  • 47.

    ii. 14, 17

  • 48.

    ix. 14

  • 49.

    v. 18

  • 50.

    ii. 17, iv. 15

  • 51.

    iii. 2, v. 8, ii. 13, x. 5–7, xii 2

  • 52.

    iv. 15.

  • 53.

    vii. 26.

  • 54.

    v. 5

  • 55.

    i. 2–8

  • 56.

    ii. 9.

  • 57.

    ii. 14

  • 58.

    xii. 24

  • 59.

    iii. 3.

  • 60.

    iii. 1

  • 61.

    vii 3

  • 62.

    Rev. xvii. 14, xix. 16.

  • 63.

    i. 5.

  • 64.

    v. 5.

  • 65.

    i. 18.

  • 66.

    i. 6.

  • 67.

    i. 17, 18.

  • 68.

    vi 16.

  • 69.

    v. 8–14; cf. vii. 12.

  • 70.

    ii. 26, 27.

  • 71.

    i. 1–18.

  • 72.

    I John i. I.

  • 73.

    I John ii. 18, iv. 2, 3.

  • 74.

    1 John ii. 1, iii. 3–7.

  • 75.

    Ante, p. 326

  • 76.

    i. 14

  • 77.

    i. 51.

  • 78.

    ii. 19–21.

  • 79.

    i. 29.

  • 80.

    iii. 16–21; x. 7–18; viii. 12.

  • 81.

    xvii. 25.