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Chapter X: Salvation in a Name

§ 42

I wish now to revert to the decisive part played in Dr Barth's account by ‘the name of Jesus Christ’, and at the risk of repetitiveness I must remind you what this part was. Having insisted that all religion, including the Christian, is false and sinful and the very essence of unbelief, he then paradoxically (or should we rather say dialectically?) went on to speak of the Christian religion as the true religion. This, however, is not because of any superiority which the latter has in itself, but because God has chosen it from among the other religions to be the recipient of his forgiveness, accepting it and adopting it in spite of its own inherent unworthiness. Thus the Christian believes that he is saved by free and unmerited grace and by that only. But, said Dr Barth, he is not alone in believing this. There are other religions of grace; and most notably of all Yodoism, which likewise teaches that our salvation does not depend on any merit of our own gained ‘by the execution of so-called good works and religious practices’, but wholly upon the gracious willingness of Amida-Buddha, the Yodo deity, to grant it even to the greatest sinners if, calling upon his name, they pin their faith to him alone; while this faith itself is also acknowledged to be ‘ultimately a gift of God’. Hence, Dr Barth went on, nobody who knows anything of Yodoism and of ‘a whole range of other religions’ which teach something not entirely dissimilar, can say that Christianity is the true religion because it is a religion of grace. It is the true religion because, and only because, while Yodoism calls on the name of Amida, and other religions of grace on the name of their own deities, the Christian calls on the name of Jesus Christ. ‘Only one thing is decisive for the distinction of truth and error.… That one thing is the name of Jesus Christ. The truth of the Christian religion is enclosed in the one name of Jesus Christ and nothing else. It is actually enclosed in all the formal simplicity of this name as the very heart of the divine reality of revelation.’ That the heathen nations call upon other names and put their trust in the grace conveyed through them ‘does not mean that they are any the less heathen, poor and utterly lost’. Christians are what they are, and their religion is the true religion, not in virtue of their religion of grace, but ‘in virtue of the fact that God has graciously intervened for them… in virtue of His free election’. There follow in Dr Barth's account many pages in which he rings the changes on this single theme—that of his own good pleasure and from no other motive God has elected the name of Jesus Christ to be the name which constitutes the truth of religion. ‘For the Christian religion is true, because it has pleased God, who alone can be the judge in this matter, to affirm it to be the true religion. What is truth, if it be not this divine affirmation?’1

If, in spite of the decisive significance which we ourselves shall presently be found attaching to the name of Jesus Christ, we find Dr Barth's statement of it perplexing, I believe this is due to the almost parrot-like manner in which throughout many pages he repeats the phrase ‘the name of Jesus Christ’, understanding that name ‘in all the formal simplicity’ of it, without enlarging even in the least degree on its concrete content or indicating what it stands for. He makes no reference to what Jesus Christ was like as he appeared in the flesh. If he does this in other parts of his many-volumed work, he makes no appeal to it here, but merely affirms that God has affirmed that, from among the many names on which men have relied for their salvation, he has chosen the name of Jesus Christ to be the only true name. He does not tell us how he knows that God has done this, but is content to affirm that he has in fact done it. Here as always he eschews any sort of apologetic in favour of dogmatic assertion. He passes too easily from the certainty necessarily attaching to whatever the all-knowing God has affirmed to the certainty of his own judgement as to what in fact God has affirmed. One is reminded in spite of oneself of the story told about A. K. H. Boyd and a friend who, when walking in the country, started a wild-fowl. ‘That's a woodcock,’ said Boyd. ‘It's not my idea of a woodcock,’ said the friend. ‘Perhaps not,’ retorted Boyd, ‘but it's God's idea of one.’ Probably it was a woodcock. Judging from what one knows about Boyd, it is likely he was right as regards the facts. Perhaps also his friend did not know enough about birds to entitle him to a judgement in the matter, so that the rebuke was not undeserved. But in theological debate it is surely arrogant to assume such incompetence on the part of one's fellow disputant. This is what Bonhoeffer had in mind in making it his chief ground of complaint against Dr Barth that he had set up a positivist doctrine of revelation which says in effect ‘Take it or leave it’.2 Dr Barth would surely not say simpliciter (as some others might) that we know the name of Jesus Christ to be the only saving name because the Bible says it is; for since we should have at once to add that only through faith in Jesus Christ can we become convinced of the authority of the Biblical witness, we should then be involved in a circular argument such as would get us no further. There is clearly no escape from this impasse except by acknowledging, as all good Calvinists do, the ‘inward testimony of the Holy Spirit’ to the truth of the Biblical affirmation, but this inward testimony can find nothing to feed upon if we are presented with a bare name and not at the same time told anything about the Person whose name it is. One is tempted to say that this would be like asking us to accept the teaching of the Epistles about the significance of Jesus Christ while withholding from us all that the Gospels tell us about what manner of Person he was, what he did and what he said; though in fact our case would be even worse, since the Epistles themselves are not all that silent about these things.

But further: when Dr Barth contends that only those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ ‘in all the formal simplicity of this name’ can attain either to truth or to peace with God, many will want to ask, what then about the saints of the Old Testament period? Whatever else these knew, they did not know the name of Jesus Christ. From about the middle of the eighth century onwards they did indeed know the name ‘Christ’, i.e. in their own language ‘Messiah’.3 But they did not know the name of Jesus, and moreover their conception of the Messiah was for the most part ironically different from him who came. Were they therefore without any true knowledge of God and strangers to his salvation? I remember how Wilhelm Herrmann of Marburg, at whose feet both Dr Barth and I sat half a century ago, seemed always to find this question peculiarly difficult to answer. He would not for a moment deny that God had worked both revealingly and savingly in the minds of the Israelites prior to our Lord's advent, and indeed not in their minds alone but in those also of other peoples; but he professed not to know how this could be. Some of us Scots used to think this profession of ignorance strained and exaggerated on his part, and we would say that the difficulty was one he made for himself through his particular version of Christocentrism in which everything was made to turn on the ‘inner life’ of the historical Jesus. Yet Baron von Hugel went too far when he wrote that:

There is an insufferable defiance to history, and to the affinities and genius of Christianity itself, in the restriction (so emphatic in Herrmann's scheme) of every degree of genuine religion, of all true prayer, to those who explicitly know and formally acknowledge the historic Jesus’ earthly life. Here even the Spanish Inquisitors were larger and more truly Christian.4

Herrmann's real view is well expressed in the following sentences from his best-known book, The Communion of the Christian with God:

We by no means wish to assert, even for a moment, that the savages of New Holland have no knowledge of God, no pulsations of true religion, and therefore no communion with God. But we do not know through what medium such knowledge and such communion reach them. We cannot enter fully into the religious life even of a pious Israelite, for the facts which worked upon them as revelations of God have no longer this force for us.5

Our own answer was, as mine still is, that on which we had been brought up, namely, that such knowledge of God and such acceptance with him as was enjoyed by the men of the Old Testament were mediated through the eternal Son of God, though he had not yet been made flesh and none could yet call upon his name. Here I may quote the statement of the Confession on which we had been reared:

Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed and signified to be the Seed of the woman, which should bruise the serpent's head, and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, being yesterday and today the same, and for ever.6

But some of us at least were inclined to ask why, if this be indeed the true answer, we should not apply it also to adherents of other religions than that of Israel—perhaps even with Herrmann to ‘the savages of New Holland’—and say that some of these, instead of remaining as ‘poor and utterly lost’ as Dr Barth affirms them to have been, may likewise have found acceptance with God through the mediation of One whose name it was not given them to know. Such an extension of the principle, though allowed by the Roman Church, was indeed condemned in the most violent possible language by our own Confession. We read in Cardinal Gasparri's Catholic Catechism that ‘God, who wishes all men to be saved, grants to all the graces they need for obtaining eternal life’, and that God has accordingly made exceptional provision whereby one who has not had the opportunity of being baptized into the Christian faith may nevertheless obtain eternal life ‘if through the operation of God's light and grace, he is—despite his invincible ignorance of the true religion—prepared to obey God and has been careful to keep the natural law’;7 while it is at the same time taught that this grace operates, not through the merit of such obedience, but through the efficacy of the sacrificial atonement that was to be made by the incarnate Christ.8 Thus M. Jacques Maritain is able to write, with the closest and even verbal relevance to our present point at issue, that ‘Under many names, names which are not that of God, in ways only known to God, the interior act of a soul's thought can be directed towards a reality which in fact truly may be God.’9 It was, however, in pointed opposition to this Roman teaching that the Westminster Confession declared:

… much less can men not professing the Christian religion be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they ever so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess; and to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious and to be detested.10

Fortunately, however, we of the Church of Scotland also have in our standards two later so-called Declaratory Acts, dating from 1879 and 1892 respectively, which lay it down:

That while none are saved except through the mediation of Christ, and by the grace of His Holy Spirit, who worketh when and where and how it pleaseth Him; while the duty of sending the Gospel to the heathen, who are sunk in ignorance, sin, and misery, is clear and imperative; and while the outward and ordinary means of salvation for those capable of being called by the Word are the ordinances of the Gospel: in accepting the standards it is not required to be believed that… God may not extend His grace to any who are without the pale of ordinary means, as it may seem good in His sight.11

Just, then, as Christians speak of the eternal Son of God, so also they must speak of an eternal atonement; and here I shall allow myself to quote some words of my late brother Donald:

To reduce the importance of the historical event would be contrary to every instinct of the Christian faith; and yet it seems impossible to say that the divine sin-bearing was confined to that moment of time, or is anything less than eternal… As God was incarnate in Jesus, so we may say that the divine Atonement was incarnate in the passion of Jesus. And if we then go on to speak of an eternal Atonement in the very life and being of God, it is not by way of reducing the significance of the historical moment of the Incarnation, but by way of realizing the relation of the living God to every historical moment. God's reconciling work cannot be confined to any one moment of history. We cannot say that God was unforgiving until Christ came and died on Calvary; nor can we forget that God's work of reconciliation still goes on in every age in the lives of sinful men, whose sins He still bears.12

Only in the sense provided by these considerations can we find justification for Dr Barth's declaration that ‘in the New Testament faith is always faith in Jesus Christ’.13 Only in that sense can we possibly say, for example, that the faith by which, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, Rahab the harlot did not perish was faith in Jesus Christ;14 and only so can we understand the same Epistle's contention that when by faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, it was because he considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt.15

§ 43

It is reported by St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles that, speaking of the significance of Jesus before the Jewish supreme court within a few weeks or months after his death, St Peter declared, ‘He is the stone… which is become the corner headstone. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name16 under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved.’17 After what has been said it is very necessary that we should face up squarely to the full import of this declaration.

The first thing to do is to ask what exactly is meant by salvation or being saved? It is to be feared that many will return the simple answer that it means going to heaven when we die. But that is certainly not what the Bible means by salvation. Clearly it is not what the Old Testament, the prophets and the psalmists, mean by it when they speak about it as often as they do; for these had no idea that anybody went to heaven when he died. But neither is it what the New Testament means by salvation though it consistently teaches that those who are saved will continue to enjoy the blessings of salvation in an eternal life beyond the grave.

Rather I should like to begin by quoting the opening words of a little book written in 1920 by the philosopher Bernard Bosanquet, a former Gifford Lecturer who was not himself a professing Christian:

‘What must I do to be saved?’ The old monosyllable, which since the coming of Christ has sounded so clearly the S. O. S. call of humanity, utters, it would seem, an ultimate need. And yet what is it? Saved from what? The old word does not say; and this, I think, is very significant. We are to understand without telling, and I suppose we do.18

Yes, I suppose we do. The Latin word salus, from which our English word ‘salvation’ is derived, yields also such other English words as ‘salutary’, ‘salubrious’, ‘eye-salve’, etc.; and is cognate with the Greek word holos, with our English words ‘whole’, ‘hale’, ‘health’, and with the German word ‘Heil’—which does duty for both our English words ‘health’ and ‘salvation’. The Greek word sōtēria used by St Peter is from a different root, but Souter's Pocket Greek Lexicon to the Greek New Testament has it that, while in extra-Biblical usage it ‘has a reference generally to bodily health, welfare, especially as recovered after illness, but also as deliverance from every calamity, victory over enemies,… in purely Christian terminology [it is] far fuller in content, including complete recovery of health from the disease of sin, release from captivity to it’.

Thus we do no violence to the term if we say that salvation means wholeness, health, well-being. And it means well-being of the whole man, body, soul and spirit. The New Testament makes no such separation of body and soul as we have inherited from Greek philosophy, but thinks of a man, as we have recently learned again to do, as an essentially single psychosomatic organism. It is significant that it was in answer to a question about the healing of a cripple that St Peter spoke the words we are now considering. The Jewish high priest and his party had asked, ‘By what power and in what name have you done this?’ St Peter replied, ‘If we are being asked… by what means this man has been healed (or saved, se,swstai), (let it be known unto you… that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene… he now stands before you healthy (u`gih,j)… Neither is there healing (or salvation, swthri,a) in any other; for there is no other (or no second) name under heaven given among men whereby we must be healed (or saved, swqh/nai).’19 It is significant also that the evangelists record Jesus as having on four different occasions spoken the same identical words—to a woman whose haemorrhage he had stanched,20 to a blind man whose sight he had restored,21 to a leper whom he had cured,22 and to a woman of the streets whose only recorded disease was that of sin;23 and the words were ‘Thy faith hath healed (or saved, se,swken) thee’. The difficulty of knowing whether, if we are to be consistent in our choice of the English equivalent of the Greek verb, we should say ‘healed thee’ or ‘saved thee’ has been overcome by many translators through the rendering ‘made thee whole’.

It will further have been noted that St Peter in his reply used also another Greek word for ‘whole’ or ‘healthy’—the word hygies which yields our English word ‘hygienic’. This adjective in its participial form is frequently applied in the pastoral Epistles to the accepted Christian doctrine, and our Authorized Version usually translates it as ‘sound’24 but once as ‘wholesome’.25 But if I were not to render the phrase ‘sound doctrine’ as ‘hygienic teaching’, I would be even closer to the original (u`giainou,sa didaskali,a). It no doubt sounds very modern if I say that faith is the secret of spiritual hygiene, but in fact it is not modern at all—it is in the New Testament! I once heard a man say that the Gospel narratives are more redolent of the atmosphere of a hospital than of that of a meeting-house; and indeed Jesus seems to have spent as much time during his short ministry in healing diseases of the body as in healing the dis-ease of the soul. When John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask him whether he were indeed the expected Messiah, Jesus answered, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have Good News given to them.’26

We do then know what St Peter means by salvation, as Bernard Bosanquet said; and I think we also know that we need it. At least one phrase in the General Confession we can all make our own: ‘There is no health in us.’ We know that the world is sick and needs to be made whole. We know that the world is all wrong and needs to be put right. And you and I know that all is not well with our individual selves. Each of us stands in need of being made whole; though in acknowledging this we have lately preferred to use a somewhat more pedantic Latin word for ‘whole’, the word integer, and to say that our personalities are not properly integrated—perhaps it makes our condition sound a little more respectable. Those who have taken their lives seriously have at all times been aware of this need. The story of world religion in every age and every land is the story of an ardent and tireless and even desperate quest of salvation. We Christians cannot for a moment claim to have been more diligent than others in the quest. If we are tempted so to think, a visit to the banks of the Ganges or to the shores of the Red Sea will swiftly disillusion us. And if we believe that in Jesus Christ we have found that which all men have sought, is it not rather that he has found us? If he should say to us ‘I was found by them that sought me not’, what is there that we could reply?

§ 44

But do I now believe with St Peter that this wholeness and well-being and health and salvation, whether individual or social, whether in time or in eternity, is to be found only in Jesus Christ? I am going to say that I do. I am going to say that I see no ultimate hope for our distraught and fevered world or for our distraught and fevered selves save as we follow the Way of Christ—save as we adjust ourselves to the new situation created by his advent and, as he himself began his preaching by saying, change our hearts and minds and put our trust in the Good News he brought us (metanoei/te, kai. pisteu,ete evn tw/| euvaggeli,w|).27

As I have already argued, however, this does not mean that prior to the advent of Jesus Christ, and among those who did not yet know his name, God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—was not already moving in the hearts of men for the healing of the nations, nor does it mean that even now he has ceased so to move. Therefore we must not say that in the pagan religions there is no apprehension of God's healing and saving power and no measure of trustful acceptance of it. The ardent seeking which is there manifested bears witness to minds that have already been invaded by the presence of God, whom none can seek unless he has first been seeking them or even, as Pascal said, unless they have in some measure found him.28 Each one of the pagan religions has some light in it, but it has also much darkness—and how great is that darkness! There is something in each that makes for spiritual health, but there is much also that makes for spiritual disorder and sickness. I have already repudiated the view that the pagan peoples would be better without any religion than with those they profess, yet I cannot be blind to the havoc these religions have often wrought in the lives and societies of those who professed them. I have thus no hesitation in reaffirming my conviction that only by following the Way of Christ is there any hope for the ultimate salvation of mankind, and I make my own the words of Christina Rossetti:

None other Lamb, none other Name,

None other Hope in heaven or earth or sea,

None other Hiding-place from guilt and shame.

None beside Thee.

It is often asked—and this is of course a separate question—whether the Christian whose hope is thus already fixed on Christ has himself anything at all to learn from what he knows of other religions than his own, from their sacred books, or from his observation of the piety of those whose lives are guided by them. It will be remembered that even Dr Barth declares that there is one thing he can learn: he regards it as providential that there should exist in the world other religions that speak of the free and unmerited grace of God shown to sinful men, since in this way we are warned against the mistake of supposing that Christianity, even in its Protestant form, is true because it is a religion of grace, instead of realizing that the only thing which ‘is really decisive for the distinction between truth and error’ is whether the name on which men call is or is not the name of Jesus Christ. The late Heinrich Frick of Marburg bases himself more broadly, and surely more wisely, on the declaration that ‘The service which we ought to expect from other Faiths, in their encounter with us, is that they should shake up our Christianity and turn it into an authentic bearer of the Divine message’;29 so that ‘It is from other Faiths that we learn how great is the gulf between our Christianity and the Gospel’. In this way alone, he writes, can ‘we hear God speaking to us through the other Faiths’.30 Thus nothing is added to the revelation of God in Christ by what we know of the partial revelations of himself which he vouchsafed in other ways to other peoples. The former is complete in itself and includes the latter within itself. Yet our encounter with the piety of those other peoples can do much to awaken us Christians to serious shortcomings both in our traditional understanding of the revelation of God in Christ and in our obedience to it. The difference between the two statements is that while the service which Dr Barth conceives to be rendered to Christian thinking by certain other religions is one which can be rendered in spite of there being no revelation and no truth-value in them, the service of which Dr Frick speaks is rendered by the presence in them of some ‘general revelation’ and some limited insight into the truth. I am sure the latter view is the right one, but I believe Dr Frick is also right in adding that only in the light of the fuller revelation are we able to recognize and assess the fragmentary apprehensions of truth in the non-Christian religions and distinguish them from the disastrous errors with which they are there intermingled. The explanation that the questing of all nations is a questing for Christ ‘can be given only because the fulfilment has come. When we designate the non-Christian religions as general revelation, we are applying our knowledge of the Gospel.’31 Dr Tillich expresses himself not dissimilarly, yet to my mind less judiciously, when he writes as follows:

If Christianity derives salvation from the appearance of Jesus as the Christ, it does not separate salvation through the Christ from the processes of salvation, i.e. of healing, which occur through all history.… What then is the peculiar character of the healing through the New Being in Jesus as the Christ? The answer cannot be that there is no saving power apart from him but that he is the ultimate criterion of every healing and saving process.… Therefore whenever there is saving power in mankind, it must be judged by the saving power in Jesus as the Christ.32

This is for the most part well said. Yet I should not myself care to speak of any saving power ‘apart from Christ’, but should rather insist that the Eternal Christ who was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, and the Eternal Atonement which was made event on Calvary, were and are the source of every ‘saving process’ which has at any time proved to be for the healing of the nations. In Jesus these found their only satisfying fulfilment. In him they are all summed up and brought to a head—as part of that avnakefalaiw,sasqai ta. pa,nta evn tw/| Cristw/| of which the New Testament Epistle speaks.33

Yet there are those who would still give us contrary advice. The ancient Stoics advised us to extract as it were the Highest Common Factor from all the religions of the world and rest content with that—which would be a sort of Esperanto religion! The same prescription was widely adopted by the rationalist thought of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as in Herbert of Cherbury and Spinoza, and is not yet without its champions. But the truth is that, while such a common factor does indeed exist, it is far too exiguous and indeterminate to be of any use to anybody. It would leave out what has in fact been the effective strength and drawing-power of each of the positive religions from which it has been extracted. Hence from the beginning of the Romantic period another prescription has commonly taken its place—that of an eclectic syncretism. What appealed to the Romantics was the rich variety of religion rather than its distilled essence. Thus Hegel protested that there is no such thing as religion but only religions, just as one cannot eat fruit in general but only apples, pears, plums, etc.; and Schleiermacher that ‘religion is real only in religions’.34 There are accordingly still many among us who, believing that each one of the world's great religious traditions has been granted, in addition to what is common to them all, some characteristic insight of its own such as is hardly to be found elsewhere, hold that the way of enlightenment is to gather up these partial apprehensions into a single comprehensive outlook which they hope will be the religion of the future. This was the main argument of Dr Arnold Toynbee's Gifford Lectures, which he thus concluded:

A time may come when the local heritages of the different historic nations, civilizations and religions will have coalesced into a common heritage of the whole human family… The missions of the higher religions are not competitive; they are complementary. We can believe in our own religion without having to feel that it is the sole repository of truth. We can love it without having to feel that it is the sole means of salvation.35

Well, I have already disclaimed the view that Christianity is the sole repository of truth or that no measure of healing and saving power is present in the teaching of other religions. But I have at the same time declared that what is true in the latter can be assimilated by the Christian only so far as he finds it also given in the Christian revelation, it being only in the light of that revelation that he is able to distinguish such fragmentary truth from the welter of error by which it is surrounded. Moreover it is surely difficult to think of (for example) Buddhism and Islam as complementing one another. Rather do they, as regards the most characteristic teaching of each, flatly contradict one another. Every one of the world's so-called ‘higher religions’ has its own special genius, if that word be allowed. Each is a logical whole by itself—a Gestalt, as the psychologists might say, with an internal self-consistency of its own. It is quite fanciful to suppose that you can take a piece of one, and then of another, and then of still a third, and glue them together. This again is something that we have most effectively learned from Dr Kraemer, from whom I cull the following further sentences:

Every religion is an indivisible, and not-to-be-divided, unity of existential apprehension… Every part of it—a dogma, a rite, a myth, an institution, a cult—is so vitally related to the whole that it can never be understood in its real function, significance and tendency, as these occur in the reality of life, without keeping constantly in mind the vast and living unity of existential apprehension in which this part moves and has its being… No element in a living system of religion or culture can ever be taken in isolation.…36

§ 45

On the other hand we have to face the fact that the exclusive nature of the Christian claim—what German writers call the Ausschliesslichkeitsanspruch—is a very real stumbling-block for a large number of our contemporaries. The Greek word for stumbling-block is skandalon, and the feature of our Christian confession to which objection is here taken is very commonly spoken of as ‘the scandal of particularity’. It is one aspect of the scandal of which Jesus himself spoke when he said to the disciples of John the Baptist ‘Blessed is he who shall not be scandalized by me’,37 and which St Paul spoke of as ‘the scandal of the Cross’.38 It must at once be said, however, that the only exclusive claim which Christians are justified in making is not for what we call ‘Christianity’, not for their own brand of pious practice as empirically observable in the history or contemporary life of the Church, but in the revelation and ‘unspeakable gift’39 of God in Jesus Christ our Lord—a very necessary distinction which, as will be remembered, Dr Barth exaggerated into a complete disjunction.

More particularly, objection is taken to the Israelites’ self-consciousness as being the Chosen People and to the claim of the early Christians to be the New Israel to whom this divine election has now passed. Dr Toynbee has the severest possible things to say against such a conception. He speaks of the evil ‘that is inherent in the belief that there is a “Chosen People” and that I and my fellow-tribesmen are It’.40 He also ventures on the prophecy that ‘the spiritual struggle in the more exclusive-minded Judaic half of the world to cure ourselves of our family infirmity seems likely to be the most crucial episode in the next chapter of the history of mankind’.41 Now, I do not doubt that there was a strong admixture of sinful national and racial pride in the minds of most Israelites when they thought and spoke of God's choice of their nation—a pride which manifested itself in their frequently shocking mistreatment of the surrounding nations; but on the other hand we must not forget that their great prophets, when they had finished their work, did not leave this pride a leg to stand on. They protested that it was not for any virtue or superiority in itself that Israel had been elected:’ It was not because you were greater than any other nation that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you; for ye were the least of all nations.’42 Nor did the prophets ever tire of pressing the accusation that, as time went on, Israel proved more and more unworthy of its election, betraying the trust which God had reposed in it. Furthermore it is made clear that this election was not to any privilege such as could nourish self-esteem but to heavy responsibility and arduous service. The Second Isaiah, who perhaps dwells more than any other prophet on God's choice of Israel, declares that the service to which Israel has been called is the enlightenment of other nations: ‘I the Lord have taken you by the hand, and kept you, and given you as a covenant to the people, to be a light to the Gentiles, to open blinded eyes.’43 Dr Toynbee knows this, but still insists that the evil inherent in consciousness of being a Chosen People

is not exorcised by rising, as the prophets have risen, to a sublimely austere conception of the mission to which the ‘Chosen People’ have been called. They may accept the hard doctrine that they have been called, not to enjoy unique power, but to bear unique burdens and to suffer unique tribulations for the fulfilment of God's purposes: but, even then, their abiding belief in their own uniqueness still orients them towards a centre that lies in themselves and not in the God from whom their uniqueness derives.44

But, while I do indeed believe that to the very end there was a strong intermingling of self-regarding nationalistic pride in the Jewish self-consciousness, I am sure that Dr Toynbee here goes too far. If he believes in Providence at all, as he certainly does, how can he say that there is inherent evil in the conviction of an individual or people of being providentially called to a particular destiny, to a particular mission, and to the fulfilment of a particular office in the world of men? The truth rather is that the total disappearance of this kind of conviction from men's minds would itself be an evil of the most tragic kind. There can be no apprehension of the divine presence that is not at the same time a summons to a divinely-appointed task. ‘Every revelation’, says Dr Martin Buber, ‘is a calling and a sending.’45

When the New Testament speaks of Israel as the people chosen of God, it thinks of it above all as the people whose divinely-guided history prepared the way for the gospel, the people who, when the time was ripe, gave birth to the Saviour of the World. It is this New Testament claim for the uniqueness and finality of Christ's mission and ‘finished Work’, which of course carries with it the claim for the unique calling of the Hebrew people, that is chiefly in men's minds today when they speak of ‘the scandal of particularity’. We remember the much-quoted saying of the German philosopher of the Aufklärung, David Friedrich Strauss, that ‘The Godhead loves not to pour its whole fulness into a single instance and to be niggardly towards all others (Die Gottheit liebt es nicht ihre ganze Fülle in ein Exemplar auszuschütten und gegen alle andere zu geizen)’. Why, it is asked, should things be ordered thus? Why should all men everywhere have to depend for their salvation on the occurrence of a single event or event-sequence? Why should God have chosen to reveal the fulness of his being and the fulness of his grace in only one historical figure, through only one people, and in only one age of the world's long history? And some would add, especially that people and that age?

How odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews.


Why should he elect that little land of Palestine, that obscure backwater within the great Roman Empire? And that backward provincial people so little versed in the higher arts of civilization? And then from among them all a village carpenter's son?

Well, there are two things I should like to say in answer.

The first is that when we ask ourselves why these things should be, we have to answer simply that we do not know. But then, why should we expect to know? We have to take experience as we find it. We have to take history as we find it. Above all, we have to accept the action of God as we actually discover it to be. We cannot pretend to know in advance how God ought to act for the enlightenment and salvation of the human race. We are not in a position to lay down rules or conditions. The only question which—shall I say, as a good empiricist?—I have a right to ask is: Do I in fact find God coming to meet me in Jesus Christ as nowhere else, or do I not? Am I or am I not constrained, in spite of all my evasions and hedgings and reluctances, to regard this encounter as a ‘paradigmatic experience’ which must henceforth be the light of all my seeing? To this question the Christian can do no other than return an affirmative answer. So when the German philosopher, who was no empiricist but a Hegelian transcendentalist, tells me that ‘The Godhead loves not to pour His whole fulness into a single instance’, I cannot but wonder how he knew this. I have elsewhere47 cited a letter of Rousseau to his friend de Beaumont in which he asked, ‘Is it simple, is it natural that God should have gone and found Moses in order to speak to Jean Jacques Rousseau?’ We must indeed allow that it is not simple, but what right have we to assume that truth is simple or that God governs his universe on a simple plan? And as to whether it is ‘natural’, have we any knowledge of what would be natural to such an encounter apart from the witness of the encounter itself? If we believe in God at all—and if we do not, cadit quaestio—we must allow him to bring us his enlightenment and salvation in ways of his own choosing, and it would indeed be surprising if these were not very different from anything that we, from our limited perspective and with our limited wisdom and intelligence, could have foreseen. The private soldier—and we are no more than private soldiers in God's battles—cannot expect to have much insight into the strategy of a great campaign. It would be a weak enough strategy if he could, and one that the enemy could too easily anticipate and circumvent. Our Puritan forefathers used to say, and there is great wisdom in the saying, that God cheated our great enemy the devil by coming to us ‘in the form of a servant’.

Thus when we ask ourselves why it should be ordained that there is only one Name by which all men everywhere must be saved, our first answer had to be that, if we do not know why, we do not need to know and could hardly expect to know. Nevertheless—and this is my second answer—we are able to say a little more than that. We could not be wise before the event, but perhaps we can be a little wiser after it. Perhaps the event itself has so enlightened us that we can now see something of the reason why things should stand thus. Is it not contained in Christ's own word, ‘that they all may be one’—the word thrice repeated in his prayer to the Father before he crossed the brook Kedron into the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion: ‘that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one…’48 For if it had been so that each could find God in his own way, each would be finding him without at the same time finding his brother. If the love of God were revealed to each in a different place, then we could all meet him without meeting one another in love. If the various tribes of mankind could find their ultimate enlightenment and salvation in different names, the human race would for ever remain divided. Men might still attempt to unite on the level of certain secondary and prudential interests, but are we not learning today from bitter experience how fragile and unstable this kind of association must always be, if in their ultimate concern, which is the concern for salvation, men remain apart and strangers to one another? Modern science has indeed given us a fine lead in its endeavour to transcend all barriers of race and nation and colour and language, so becoming international, but it becomes clearer every day that this will avail us little until we are of one mind about the ultimate good which our scientific skills should be made to serve.49

Was it not then a gracious ordering of things on God's part that there should be ultimate salvation for us all in only one Name; that we can meet with him only by meeting with one another; by betaking ourselves all together to one place—to one ‘green hill far away’; by encountering there a single Figure to whom we offer our united allegiance; by listening to the selfsame story; by reading in the same sacred book; by being baptized into the same fellowship; by eating and drinking at the same Holy Table; so that ‘there is no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all’,50 and ‘here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free man, but Christ is all and in all’.51 Is it not true that we cannot have real unity until we all have ‘the same Lord’?

§ 46

By hindsight then, if not by foresight, we have been enabled to understand something of the reason why God has given us for our salvation only one Name. But by hindsight also we may know something of the reason why it should be just this Name and no other. Men had indeed long known that they needed a Saviour, but they did not know what kind of Saviour they needed until he came. H. G. Wells once said, when speaking of the universality of religion throughout the world, ‘There seems to be a god-shaped gap in human nature.’ Yes; but none of us really knew the shape of the gap until Christ came to fill it—and perhaps that is not the only case in which we do not know what we are seeking until we find it. It is Christ himself that has created the world's desire for him. The Wise Men of the East did not know what kind of Saviour they were going to find when the star came to rest. The men of the Old Testament had long awaited the coming of Messiah but, as I have already said, when he came he was ironically different from all their preconceptions of him. Not just that a Saviour came, therefore but the kind of Saviour he was—not just that God was incarnate in a man, but the kind of man in which he was incarnate, constitutes the essence of the Good News. A baby in a horse's stall, a village boy playing about a carpenter's bench, a wandering layman who had not where to lay his head, a condemned man hanging on a gallows-tree between two common thieves—these are the great archetypal images that have been given us by the event; and now by hindsight we have been given to understand why they should be so and not otherwise.

Consider here also another prayer of our Lord's, and the call to mankind with which he followed it:

I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to the untaught; yea, Father, that such was thy design.… Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.52

Consider with this St Paul's further interpretation: ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are’; and notice that he is bold to give the reason for God's choice, which by hindsight he thinks he now knows—namely ‘that no human being might boast in the presence of God’.53 Thus nothing stands nearer to the centre of the Christian gospel than the lowliness of Christ, his humility and his humiliation. This it is that robs us of the last shred of justification of that human pride which is the very root of the disease from which we need to be made whole.

But finally, there are two complementary points that must be made with reference to our Lord's humility and humiliation. The Christian teaching is not simply that among the sons of men one Man was found who, being meek and lowly of heart, has left us the perfect pattern of humble demeanour. It is also, and more profoundly, that God humbled himself to be found in fashion as a man. It is that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’.54 This is not the lowliness of a man but the condescension of God.

Yet the two cannot be separated. In reality they are not two facts but a single fact; or they are two facts conjoined, as we theologians say, in ‘hypostatic union’. St Paul cannot separate them. ‘Christ Jesus’, he says, ‘though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men [and there we have the condescension of the divine]. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross [and there we have the lowliness of the human].’55 The significance of this conjunction for our present argument is that, while the deepest truth of the gospel lies in the condescension of God, this latter would have remained, if not a meaningless, at least a problematic concept for us, if the Man in whom he condescended to become incarnate had not himself, and as a man, been a humble person—one whose every act and impulse and whole temper of mind showed that he had indeed come not to be served but to serve. If we speak only of God becoming man and do not at the same time speak of the kind of man he became, men will inevitably ask us why we believe that particularly this Name rather than some other should have been given us for our salvation. Nor can we then give them any satisfying answer, for we know that if we ourselves were ignorant of the narrative of the four Gospels, we should have found it impossible to accept the theology and Christology of the Epistles. The faith that through the death of Jesus God's love towards sinners was communicated and revealed, could not have arisen apart from the fact of Jesus’ own love for sinners or indeed from the fact that it was his love for sinners that led his enemies, the Scribes and Pharisees, to seek his death. Hence this fact and this faith are likewise conjoined in hypostatic union.56