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I COME now to the belief in our Lord in Apostolic times. If you want to know what a man was like, you study not only the record of his deeds and words, but also the impression that he created on his contemporaries. That is what the writings of the Apostolic period give us. Some of them come from those who had actually been with and known our Lord. Others from those who had known his disciples. One or two perhaps from writers of the second generation of Christians. All of them present to us the conception of the person of Christ which prevailed in the first and second generations of the Christian Church. They enable us to learn what our Lord seemed like to those who had known him.
In studying the New Testament our attention will be drawn to the fact that there is in it a certain development of doctrine. That development may be looked at from two points of view. Those who believe that our starting-point must be a humanitarian, or almost a humanitarian, conception of the person of Christ, are very anxious to point out to us how new elements gradually came in, and that the later view of Christ's person was an artificial compound of elements derived from various sources, from the theology of the Rabbis, the conception of the Divine Wisdom, Alexandrine Platonism, and even contemporary Greek philosophy. It is an artificial compound, and much has been added to the primitive simplicity of Christian teaching.
The second view recognizes that the belief in our Lord's divine nature existed in the Church from the beginning, but reminds us that the whole implication and meaning of the revelation in Christ would not be at first realized. One writer brings out one point, another brings out another. The development consists not in any fundamental change in conception, but in learning the full meaning of what was already held. There were two causes of this development. One was the need of dealing with erroneous teaching. That would tend to make thought clearer and more exact. The result of controversy, if properly conducted, is to give us more exact conceptions. It stirs up the mind to thought as nothing else. The influence of controversy is well shown in St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians. He is faced with a tendency to angel-worship, which had appeared in the Church and looked on our Lord as a sort of superior angel. In answer to that he sets forth clearly and definitely the true conception of the nature of Christ, using language drawn from the Book of Wisdom. In the same way the Arian controversy compelled the Church to think more clearly and exactly what was really implied in the belief in the divinity of our Lord.
The second line of development is the illumination of Christian doctrine by the general advance of human thought, or by using some particular phase of human thought to illustrate it. An admirable instance is the use of the term LOGOS or THE WORD – a current philosophical expression of the time – in the Preface to St. John's Gospel to illustrate and bring out the meaning of Christ's person. In our own day the modern conception of evolution has contributed to the elucidation of the doctrine of the Incarnation. The criticism of the Old Testament has enabled us to understand more fully Old Testament history. Modern ideas of the development of the human race help us to understand more fully the ethical implications of Christianity. The Positivist creed, itself a deduction from Christian teaching, has helped to bring out a particular element in Christianity. All through the ages Christian doctrine has been developed and illuminated by the free working of the human intellect.
At the beginning of the history of the Church, the disciples possessed the following knowledge: the remembrance of our Lord's words and actions; the fact of his death and Resurrection; and the Old Testament, which they believed foretold the Messiah, and therefore enabled them to understand and interpret the Messiah who had come. This was their material, and they interpreted and taught it as illuminated by God's Holy Spirit.
The teaching of the Apostolic age may be studied under the following headings:
1. The rudimentary theology of the earlier chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, with some of the smaller epistles.
2. The teaching of St. Paul.
3. The teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
4. The Johannine writings.
Each of these groups shows how different aspects of thought bring out more fully what are the implications and meaning of the divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We begin with the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. I do not think that I need dwell long on the question of the historical character of these chapters. There were and perhaps are some critics who placed the Acts of the Apostles very late, in the second century, and supposed the whole work to be of a legendary character. The greater number of critics now would consider that it is the work of the same author as the Third Gospel, and that its composition is not much later than the year A.D. 70, and might be earlier. There is a general tendency also to recognize that the author had some sort of written source for the earlier chapters. For a careful examination of them shows that whether you look at them from the point of view of doctrine or organization or Christian life, they bear all the characteristics of a primitive age of the Church.
We know, for example, that the author of the Acts of the Apostles lived at a time when the organization of the Church already showed signs of considerable development, when, if there were not Bishops in the later sense, the local Churches were regularly governed under the Apostles by a college of Presbyters. In these early chapters there was no organization except the rule of the Apostles. The author is writing historically ; he does not read back into earlier days the customs of later times. That is also apparent in the interesting account of the primitive communism of the Church.
It is still more apparent in the matter of doctrine. Notice particularly the contrast between the speeches of St. Peter and the epistles of St. Paul in their presentation of the death and crucifixion of our Lord. What do you suppose would be the state of mind of one of the disciples of our Lord immediately after the Crucifixion ? Surely a feeling of hopelessness and failure. The great body of his followers had fled at the time of the Crucifixion, and no doubt many had begun to lose their faith. Then came the Resurrection. It revived their waning faith. It convinced them of the truth of the Messiahship which they had already begun to accept; but the full meaning of the death of Christ could not be at first grasped. The attitude taken would naturally enough be apologetic, and that is exactly the attitude of these speeches. While St. Paul puts forward the Cross of Christ not as something to be apologized for or explained, but as the most fundamental and glorious fact of the Gospel, St. Peter proves the Messiahship of Christ by the Resurrection. The Crucifixion is still a difficulty which requires explanation. In the same way we have another primitive characteristic in the fact that the word Christ is not used as a proper name, but as a title, for example: 'that his Christ should suffer';'and that he may send the Christ who hath been appointed for you, even Jesus.'
What then do these speeches teach us about the Church's belief in Christ?
On the human side 'Jesus of Nazareth' (we notice the early form of expression) is spoken of as 'a man approved of God unto you by mighty works, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you'.There is a full reference to the life of our Lord, which seems to imply a knowledge of the Synoptic traditions:
'The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all) – that saying ye yourselves know which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; even Jesus of Nazareth, how that God anointed him with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed with the devil; for God was with him.'
And emphasis is laid on the witness of the Apostles to these things.
You will notice the names by which our Lord was spoken of; 'Ye denied the Holy and Righteous one', 'Ye killed the Prince of life',and, most interesting, the designation παῖς θεοῦ which may be either an early form of 'Son of God', or may mean 'Servant of God' and refer directly to the suffering servant of Isaiah. Great stress is laid on the Crucifixion, and the contrast between the crucified and exalted Christ is emphasized: 'God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.' His sufferings and death had been foretold by the prophets: 'The things which God foreshewed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.' He had been raised from the dead: 'Whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death.' Of all these things were the Apostles witnesses: 'Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. And we are witnesses of these things: and so is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.'
Through Jesus thus exalted comes salvation: 'He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner. And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.'
of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.'
I would describe this teaching as rudimentary. It represents a natural transition from the teaching of the Gospels and the words of Jesus to later Christian teaching. It implies the acceptance of the Messiahship and Lordship of Jesus, the proof of it by the Resurrection, the gift of the Spirit, the exaltation of Jesus at the right hand of God, the source of salvation. There is nothing which in a later sense could be called theological or philosophical, but the religious belief is there, not fully developed or completely understood, but yet with all the elements implied in the later development.
With these early speeches I would couple two documents which were certainly a good deal later, the First Epistle attributed to St. Peter, and the Epistle attributed to St. James. They both represent a more mature stage of religious teaching, but they are interesting as being unaffected by the theology of St. Paul or that of other later writings.
I do not myself feel that there is any reason for denying that St. Peter wrote the first Epistle attributed to him, but in any case it is an early Christian document. The interesting point is that whoever wrote it was quite well acquainted with St. Paul's writings. He had clearly read the Epistle to the Romans. But he was untouched by Pauline theology. It was written while persecution was actually raging, or was impending over the Church, and it looks on the life of our Lord as an example, and particularly as an example of the sufferings which mankind has to endure:
'For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; who his own self bare our sins in his own body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.'
If we assume that this epistle comes from the same person as the speeches of the Acts – which is not an unreasonable assumption, for it is the statement of our authorities – we find, as we might expect, an advance in thought and greater maturity. Peter has been taught by his own sufferings and those of other Christians to realize the meaning of the sufferings and example of Christ. Throughout the epistle the sufferings of Christ are his great theme. When he speaks of the prophets he is developing the teaching of the speeches of the Acts.
'Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them.'
St. Peter tells us that he was a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. He thinks the end of all things is at hand. He believes in the salvation which will come by the suffering and death of Christ, who is our Saviour and our example.
Even more definitely a representation of a rudimentary Christology is the Epistle of James. It is primarily ethical and prophetic. It is not very early. There is a certain maturity about it which is not incompatible with the authorship of St. James, but suggests that it was not a very early work. The author is probably acquainted with St. Paul's teaching, but not with his writings, and clearly represents a not very developed standpoint. But although the Christology is undeveloped it is not meagre. Jesus Christ is the Lord, associated with the Father, the Lord of glory, the object of our faith, we await his coming, and are confident in his power. The prayer of faith will save the sick anointed in the name of the Lord, and the Lord will raise him up.
This same rudimentary Christology remained in the Church. We find it in the Didache, where the expression mu? 0eoC is found. We find it in many later works. It is the Christology
still of many religious men. It is the faith of those whose religious life is simple and strong, and who are not troubled with theological or philosophical questions. It is a mistake to look upon it in any way as a rival system of theology which was submerged at Nicaea. It represents the religious belief which Nicaea interpreted.
We pass now to the Christology of St. Paul. I need not remind you of the extreme importance of the study of the Pauline Epistles. They are the earliest records of Christianity, and as regards the more important of them there is no reasonable doubt as to their authenticity. There are considerable doubts as to the Pastoral Epistles, but for our purpose that is unimportant. There have been doubts about the Ephesians and Colossians, but I do not think that they were valid doubts, and not many theologians nowadays reject these books. About the earlier epistles there are no reasonable doubts at all, and in them we have a solid foundation on which to build our historical study of Christian doctrine. Careful study of the teaching of St. Paul must be the basis of our theological knowledge.
The first point that we have to recognize about St. Paul is that the new element that he brought into Christianity arose from the fact that he was one trained in the schools of the Rabbis. The earlier Apostles were Galileans. They may not have been, although they are sometimes described as ignorant persons, but they were certainly not trained theologians according to the fashion of the time. That is what St. Paul emphatically was. The distinctive note of his teaching is that in him we find the Christian tradition expounded by one whose mind had been trained in the technical theology of the day.
On the other hand it is not, I think, correct to say, as has been maintained, that he introduced Hellenic influence. Any Hellenism there is in his writings is purely superficial. Naturally enough an able man travelling about the Roman Empire was brought in contact with many varied phases of thought and life, and reflected them in his language. He alludes to the Greek games; he alludes to Greek mysteries; but none of these things affected the structure of his thought. His mind was essentially Hebraic, not Hellenic.
The starting-point of St. Paul's teaching was personal experience. More definitely than any other person in history he was converted. After having been a persecutor of Christianity there came upon him the overwhelming conviction that what he had attacked so bitterly was the true religion. He has told us in different places in his writings how that conviction brought to him a peace of mind which he had never known before, and how he had found salvation through Christ. But although his starting-point was a personal experience, that does not imply that his religion was evolved out of his own consciousness, or was independent of the Christian tradition. He must have known a considerable amount about Christianity before he could attack it, and he himself tells us that the teaching which he gives is based upon the common apostolical tradition. He tells us that he delivered that which he also received 'how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures'.
It is I think generally recognized that the right method of studying St. Paul's teaching is to arrange his epistles in chronological order, and that they fall naturally into four groups.
The earliest is that of the two Epistles to the Thessalonians;
then secondly come the four Epistles of the Jewish controversy – the Galatians, Romans, and the two to the Corinthians;
thirdly there are the four Epistles of the Captivity – Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon;
fourthly the Pastoral Epistles. We begin then with the development of St. Paul's teaching.
The two Epistles to the Thessalonians do not contain much definite doctrinal teaching. They deal expressly with one particular subject, eschatology, the difficulty that has arisen from the expectation of the speedy coming of our Lord. But although there is no formal teaching, they incidentally bear witness to a very definite belief about our Lord. Jesus is the Lord, the Christ, the Son of God. He is associated with the Father on terms of apparent equality, and the source with him of grace and peace. With the Father he rules our life. Our faith, our love, and our hope are centred in him and the Father. He was killed by the Jews, but God had raised him up. He delivereth us from the wrath which is to come. He will come again revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. He will destroy the wicked and reward the good. He will be glorified with the Saints, and we shall be ever with him. Even now there is the closest union between us and him. We are his followers and he is our example. The Church is one in Christ Jesus. Our life is to stand fast in the Lord. All rule and authority is in his name.
This teaching is put together from incidental allusions. It is in line with the rudimentary teaching which we have just considered. Undoubtedly in St. Paul there is development, but whatever doctrinal definitions and teaching there may be I do not think they imply more than is contained in these simple statements of the religious life.
We turn next to the second group of Epistles, those dealing with the Jewish controversy. Here the fundamental thought is that through Christ comes salvation. St. Paul has to deal with a difficulty that had arisen from the fact that some believed that a man cannot win justification before God except by the fulfilment of the whole Jewish law. St. Paul's teaching is a great fight for Christian freedom, and it necessarily implies a lofty idea of the significance of the person of Christ, and of the power of his work. That is stated most explicitly in the words: 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.'Incidentally we are told much of the conception of Christ which lies behind this teaching. We learn of his pre-existence. 'God sent forth his Son.' Christ is 'the image of God'. His origin is in heaven. All Christians are united with him in corporal unity: 'Ye are the body of Christ.' But the fundamental thought of St. Paul is that Jesus Christ has accomplished our salvation and destroyed the power of the Jewish law, and what a conception of his person does not that imply?
Then we come to the third group – the Christological if you like. The first passage to refer to is a well-known one in the Epistle to the Philippians:
'Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the Cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him.'
This passage tells us that Jesus Christ was in the form of God, that means possessed the essential nature of God. The term μορφή is the technical term implying communityof essence. He was in his essential nature God. He did not think this equality with God something he must grasp hold of or cling to, but laid it aside, emptied himself of it – this is a term, ἐκένωσεν, which has played a large part in Christian theology. He laid aside his divine attributes and took to himself the essential attributes of a slave – μορφὴν δούλου. He took upon him the appearance and fashion of a man and humbled himself even to death.
This passage clearly implies the reality of both the divine and human natures of Christ. Like so much of St. Paul's teaching, it comes in incidentally. It is introduced not with any dogmatic purpose, but as part of his ethical teaching, as an example of Christ's humility. This makes it much more significant.
In the Epistle to the Colossians we have a definite exposition of what St. Paul thought about Christ. This had become necessary because some sort of false teaching had begun to appear, either the worship of angels, or some form of primitive Gnosticism. This teaching apparently placed Christ on the same level as other spiritual beings, and so St. Paul emphasizes the transcendent dignity of Christ. There is one other point of interest. St. Paul uses language drawn from the Book of Wisdom, where it is employed in the description of wisdom – certain technical terms which could only be properly understood by one who thought in Greek. We know that St. Paul had read and been influenced by the Book of Wisdom. He uses it in the Epistle to the Romans as well as in this Epistle. These technical terms have been held to support the theory of St. Paul's Hellenism. But the Hellenism is derived. The phraseology is taken from a Jewish Greek book.
I think that the best thing that I can do is to give you Light-foot's paraphrase of the great Christological passage of this Epistle:
'He is the perfect image, the visible representation, of the unseen God. He is the First born, the absolute Heir of the Father, begotten before the Ages; the Lord of the universe by virtue of primogeniture, and by virtue also of creative agency. For in and through him the whole world was created, things in heaven and things on earth, things visible to the outward eye and things cognizable by the inward perception. His supremacy is absolute and universal. All powers in heaven and earth are subject to him. This subjection extends even to the most exalted and most potent of angelic beings, whether they be called Thrones or Dominations or Princedoms or Powers, or whatever title of dignity men may confer upon them. Yes. He is first and he is last. Through him as the mediatorial Word, the universe has been created; and unto him, as the final goal, it is tending. In Him is no before or after. He is pre-existent and self-existent before all the worlds. And in Him, as the binding and sustaining power, universal nature coheres and consists.'
This puts before us sufficiently I think the teaching about Christ of the Epistle to the Colossians.
The third Epistle of this period is that to the Ephesians – one of great interest. It deals with the conception of the Catholic Church – a natural outcome of the controversies concerning Judaism. These had broken down the barrier between Jew and Greek, the separation of one race of mankind from another. It had been made clear that Christianity was for the whole world, and for every nation and people. So St. Paul develops the conception of the Church in which all mankind should be united. Christ had broken down the middle wall of partition. He had abolished the enmity. Those who were far off had been made nigh in the blood of Christ. Through the Cross had come peace. All peoples were united together as the household of God. They are the temple of God, the habitation of God in the Spirit. They are the Church which is the body of Christ.
As always in St. Paul there is a definite practical issue, and a mystical spiritual belief. On the political side, if you like to put it so, the Church represents the union in one religious society of all peoples and nations. That was what was meant by the Catholic Church, a term not contained in St. Paul's writings but which came in no long time later. But St. Paul is not content with that political thought; there is a mystical spiritual idea behind the external manifestation. The Church is the body of Christ. Christ is the head. In Christ all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. The Church is the fullness of him that filleth all in all. It is God's good pleasure to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heaven and the things upon the earth. We attain our unity in the Catholic Church just so far as both individually and in our corporate life we are united with Christ and living in him.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians there are the human implications of that conception of Christ which is expounded on its divine side in the Colossians.
The fourth group, the Pastoral Epistles, need not detain us long. They do not add anything to what the earlier Epistles give us, but the many incidental allusions to our Lord imply in the mind of the writer a conception as lofty as that in the other Epistles of St. Paul.
I have thus sketched the story of the development of St. Paul's theology. The simpler teaching of the Thessalonians under the influence of controversy and religious experience is worked out more fully as his life goes on. The contest for Gospel freedom obliged him to think out the implications of the supremacy of Christ, and led to great fullness of statement. St. Paul's own spiritual experience taught him what Christ meant for the life of the Christian. But no development added to the belief in the person of Christ which existed from the beginning.
We have traced the development of St. Paul's thought. We must now approach his teaching from the dogmatic side. What did St. Paul think about Christ?
The best statement to start from is that at the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans:
'The gospel of God .... concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, Who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord.'
St. Paul believes in one person whom he names Jesus Christ, our Lord; according to the flesh, that is in his earthly aspect, he was born of the seed of David; according to the spirit of holiness, that is on the spiritual or divine side, he was declared by the Resurrection to be Son of God. What was the relation of the earthly and heavenly Christ ? I think St. Paul's technical Christology must be studied in relation to his technical psychology. It is very important in reading St. Paul's Epistles to remember that his psychology is fundamentally Jewish. There is no fundamental dualism. In the Old Testament man is always represented as one; all his different faculties are but aspects of the one unity. In Greek thought the tendency was to look upon the soul and body of man as things distinct or separate from one another, and the seed of evil was believed to lie in a man's material nature. There is never anything of that sort in Jewish thought except perhaps when it is influenced by Greek ideas. To the Jew the flesh does not represent an evil principle, although it may represent weakness. A man's body is not something apart from his soul, but is the way in which his soul is presented. Therefore you will find that all the different technical terms, if we may call them technical, used in Jewish psychology, such as heart, flesh, body, spirit, are almost interchangeable. This means that there is here no scientific psychology; to apply the terms of scientific psychology to Jewish thought is really absurd. What it does mean is that the unity of man in all his aspects is assumed. Man's spiritual nature is not something separate from the rest of his nature, but something which might permeate his whole being. It might permeate for example his flesh. A psychology such as this you find in the Old Testament. It is implied in our Lord's words, as in St. Paul's teaching. So St. Paul's teaching about our Lord must be looked at from this point of view. To St. Paul a man was a unity; he might indeed be looked at from different aspects, the spiritual or the fleshly; it was possible that the one aspect might overpower the other; but there was no dualism.
So Christ is one, but he may be looked at from different aspects, from the earthly or the heavenly aspect. Looked at from the earthly aspect he was the Son of David, a man who lived in the world as a man. Looked at from the heavenly aspect, the same person was the Son of God. There was no fundamental distinction between the earthly and heavenly Christ.
There are some writers who tell us that St. Paul was indifferent to the earthly Christ, that he did not care for his human nature, that he was indifferent to his teaching. This opinion is based upon the following passage:
Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more.'
These words have been taken to mean that St. Paul was indifferent to Christ's human nature and cared only for his divine nature. I do not think that that is what he means. He had just before been speaking of the way in which he himself had been judged according to the flesh; his adversaries had considered him meek and contemptible. So when St. Paul speaks of no longer knowing Christ according to the flesh, he means the sort of opinion that he had of Christ before he became a Christian. To know according to the flesh means 'worldly judgement'. St. Paul had originally judged Christ as a man of the world would judge him, from external experience – he had died a malefactor's death on the cross and therefore it was absurd to think of him as the Messiah. Now St. Paul knows that this is not the right way. Jesus Christ was the manifestation of God, and his human life like everything else was a manifestation of God in the flesh. Therefore St. Paul henceforth does not make any distinction between the earthly and heavenly Christ. He sees the heavenly Christ in the earthly. There are, as a matter of fact, many references to the life of Christ and his teaching. St. Paul speaks often of the divine nature of Christ, but he did not make any fundamental distinction between the two. They were both different manifestations of the same Jesus Christ. What theologians call the unity of the Person is the teaching of St. Paul. There is no incompleteness of human characteristics, but the whole being is dominated by the divine Sonship, just as in a good Christian there is no incompleteness of human characteristics, but the whole being is dominated by his spiritual life.
St. Paul thinks about Christ from many aspects. He is the Son. He pre-existed. There is a special relationship between him and the Father. He is the equal of God. He is the image of the unseen God. In and through him all things have been made. There is indeed no certain instance of the word God being directly applied to him, but there are several where it may have been. The most interesting passage is in the Epistle to the Romans: 'Of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever.' This is by far the most natural translation, and it is only timidity or perversity that prevents its adoption. St. Paul could quite well speak of Christ as God.
But while Jesus Christ is the Son of God, he has also a special relation to mankind. He is the representative man. He is the man who came down from heaven, and thereby he is contrasted with Adam. Adam was the first man – Christ is the second man. In Adam life came into the world, in Christ spiritual life. In Adam sin, in Christ conquest over sin. He is the first born of many brethren, the first to rise, the beginning of the new life. So the Church is his body. As he is exalted, so the Church is exalted in him. He is the representative of God to man on earth. The work that Christ did was the work of God in the world. 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.'
The Epistle to the Hebrews represents a more advanced stage in Christological development. Not only is it not the work of St. Paul, it is written by some one of quite different intellectual presuppositions. St. Paul represented Rabbinical Judaism, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (whoever he may have been) was one inspired by the Jewish Platonism which we know of as a characteristic of Alexandrine Judaism. He looked upon the whole phenomenal world as a copy of reality. 'By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which do appear.' Here we have the language of Platonism; the distinction between the world of appearance and the world of reality, and the creation of the world by the divine reason. Here is a new system of thought used for the interpretation of the doctrine of Christ. Another new element is the interpretation of our Lord's person in terms of the priestly element of the Old Testament. This represents an advance not derived from our Lord's own teaching. He had spoken of himself in terms which might lead the Church to look upon his death as sacrificial. He had not spoken so that men might think of him as a priest.
The Epistle begins with one of the great Christological passages of the Bible:
'God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they.'
Christ is the Son in contrast alike to the prophets who had spoken in times past, and to the angels whose position was one of subordination. As Son he is the embodiment of the divine essence – definite philosophical terms now first used to describe his person. He is the true image of God. All things are dependent upon him. He has made purification for sins. He is exalted to the place which he rightfully holds through his Sonship – the right hand of God.
Throughout the Epistle the real humanity of Christ is emphasized. He is related to mankind as a brother. He has suffered. He has been tempted. So he can help those who like him have suffered and been tempted. His humanity is real, perfect, representative. All this implies some maturity of thought, it is unlike the simple teaching of the first preachers of Christianity. Then there is a very remarkable statement. He was made perfect through suffering. He was tempted in all points as we are, but without sin. He learned obedience by the things that he suffered.
What do we mean by saying that he became perfect through suffering? Does that mean that beforehand he was imperfect? I do not think so. The adjective perfect or complete, means the attainment of the final stage of development. It is used of human growth. A man is perfect, a child is not so. It is used of the mysteries, the perfect mystic is he who has been through all the stages of initiation. The word is not used with reference to goodness or badness of character, but of completeness. Christ became a complete or perfect man, with everything which humanity implies, because he suffered as other men, because of his fellowship with us through his sufferings. It is just because of this absolute sympathy with other men that he is able to help them in their weakness and failure.
Christ then had become perfect man. Then follows his exaltation. You will notice that it is the Ascension, and the sitting at the right hand of God, rather than the Resurrection that is emphasized. Christ enters not into the holy place made with hands, but into heaven itself. For the joy which was set before him, he endured the Cross, he despised the shame. He hath sat down at the right hand of God.
The particular point which the writer of this epistle emphasizes is the universal priesthood of Christ. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. We are not concerned with the very difficult question who Melchizedek was or what was the nature of his priesthood. The writer found this non-Jewish priest mentioned in the Old Testament and in accordance with the method of interpretation of the time made use of it for his argument. While the Jewish, the Aaronic priesthood, was for a particular people, Christ was for the whole human race, and he could exercise this priesthood because of his complete human experience. When the Son of Man took human nature to himself he did not take the nature of any particular individual, whether Jew or Gentile. The divine Christ took human nature in its fullness and perfection and universality. He was the supreme representative of humanity, and therefore High Priest for the whole world.
Then next Christ exercises his priestly functions in spiritual things, while the priests of the Old Covenant did so in the earthly copies of the heavenly realities. Every thing in the Old Testament is symbolical. Christ as human and divine exercises his high priestly functions in the sphere of heavenly things and therefore his influence is spiritual. The priesthood and sacrifice of the Old Testament were temporary. The new High Priest is one whose work is everlasting. He did his work once and it need never be repeated. What was the work he did? He made an offering, just as the priest of the Old Testament did, but that offering was himself, and in that fundamental difference lay the characteristic of his work, the peculiar efficacy of his sacrifice. Everything then which the Levitical High Priest did was done by our Lord, but he did it universally for humanity, and what he did was real and not symbolical.
The High Priest had two functions. The first was the offering of sacrifice, the second the entrance into the Holy of Holies. In both respects Christ fulfils the legal types. As High Priest he offers a sacrifice – the sacrifice of himself, a sacrifice which was necessary, efficacious, eternal. Then secondly as the Jewish High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood – not his own, so Christ entered into the presence of God bearing his blood. The Jewish High Priest entered once a year only to make intercession. Our Lord makes a permanent and continuous intercession for us, and hence he has become the mediator of a better covenant.
Now what do we mean when we say that Christ offered himself? Why was his sacrifice efficacious? This will demand fuller treatment when we speak of the doctrine of the Atonement. I will only treat of it so far as is necessary to understand the writer's conception of the person of Christ. Christ's death was efficacious because it was a sacrifice. It is difficult for us nowadays to put ourselves in the position of people of those days. Sacrifice means to us something quite different now from what it meant then. To us the word has been transformed by the sacrifice of Christ's death, and it means primarily self-sacrifice. That conception was not in people's minds when Christ died. It was believed that the penalty of sin could be removed by the actual sacrifice of bulls and of goats. That was the traditional idea, but people had begun to doubt it. A time comes when people begin to doubt the efficacy of religious ordinances. Doubts had begun to arise as to whether the old sacrifices had any real value, and just at this time came the death of Christ. The natural term to use to describe his death was sacrifice, and when this was done its meaning became comprehensible. If it was a sacrifice its purpose must be to take away sin. The word was full of meaning because it corresponded to the traditional religious ideas of Jew and Gentile alike.
But it was not only a sacrifice, it was an efficacious sacrifice. It was efficacious because it was a right sort of sacrifice. It was the sacrifice of a will, the willing obedience of a person offering himself for others. It was an act of self-sacrifice on the part of one who in his person represented the whole human race and therefore was efficacious. This thought was quite clearly present in the mind of the writer.
'For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?'
'Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not. ... Then said I, Lo I am come to do thy will, O God. ... By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.'
The old sacrifices had no meaning or value. The new sacrifice was the voluntary offering of Christ in conformity with the will of God. Christ's sacrifice therefore is an ethical act of great value and represents the most perfect, that is a spiritual sacrifice.
The work of the High Priest is dependent on his nature. By his spiritual sacrifice of willing obedience he enters the heavens, he makes intercession for mankind as the perfect representative of humanity and thus inaugurates a better covenant through his blood. The author expresses his thoughts in the religious symbolism of his own time, but always transcends it and brings out the ethical significance which lies behind the current religious forms. And he applies Christ's work to the conditions of human life. As Christ is made perfect through suffering, so he brings many sons into glory because they share in his Sonship and he shares in their humanity. The human life of Christ thus explains much that was difficult in the lives of the people to whom this Epistle is addressed. They were expecting, if they had not gone through, a period of persecution, and therefore the duty was before them of suffering for Christ's sake. So the writer of the Epistle gives us the great roll of the saints of the past who by their suffering foreshadowed the work and suffering of Christ. We, like him, attain the completeness of our humanity through suffering, toil, and affliction, because in that way we fulfil the will of God and offer up ourselves as a sacrifice of willing obedience to his will. Just as Christ's sacrifice was efficacious because it was ethical, so the value of our sacrifices lies in the fact that they are ethical.
Here then is the transformation of the idea of sacrifice, implied in Christ's teaching and initiated in his death. He had warned his disciples that they must take up their cross and follow him; he had said that they could only find their life by losing it; he had clearly taught that his death was for others. When his death began to be spoken of as a sacrifice, it necessarily implied the transformation of the idea of sacrifice, so that when we think of a sacrifice it is not the killing of an animal that we mean, but the ready offering of our lives. So the word attained a new significance.
Christ is the Son of God. His death was a sacrifice. It is the example of the sacrifice which every man has to offer in the world. The sacrifice and suffering of mankind are not in any way a mistake, because sacrifice is part of the nature of God himself. Christ reveals to us the nature of God. So the
Christian looks upon the infirmities and difficulties of human life, not as anything to be explained away, but as essential to human life in its highest form. Sacrifice is a part of the divine nature. The death of Christ is the revelation in human form of the obedience and sacrifice and love which are the essential nature of the Godhead.
The next group we have to study is the Johannine writings. I do not propose to trespass on the work of those who lecture on the New Testament and discuss the question of authorship. I am concerned with two things, the record of the life of Christ and the theology of the author.
Does the record represent something historical?
Has it been rewritten to harmonize with the writer's theology?
What is that theology?
I will begin with the second question, the theology of the writer which is contained most conspicuously in the prologue. This puts before us the conception of Christ and his work which the author had arrived at based on the narrative of the Gospel. At once we are introduced to a technical term which has played a large part in Christian theology. 'In the beginning was the Word.' What does 'the Word' mean? It is a term which has had a varied ancestry, and we must trace its history in the Old Testament, in Rabbinical writings, in Greek philosophy, and in the Jewish philosophy of Philo.
In the Old Testament the expression is used with various significations. It is used in the Psalms of creation. 'By the word of the Lord were the heavens made',and other similar passages. Here the language is poetical. The term 'word' is used of the divine will, either in creation or in divine mediation and help. In the prophets it is used of divine revelation. 'The word of the Lord came to me.' It is the regular phrase used for God revealing himself through the prophet. So far there is no personal meaning. It is not hypostatic. But there are passages in the Old Testament which seem almost to speak of a personal representative of God. This is particularly the case of language in relation to the divine wisdom in later works. So in Job, 'Where shall wisdom be found ? and where is the place of understanding?', and especially in Proverbs: 'Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? ... The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.' No doubt the language is poetical, but there is a tendency towards personification which became stronger in later writings. So in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon: 'For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; yea, she pervadeth and penetrateth all things by reason of her pureness. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a clear effluence of the glory of the Almighty. ... She is an effulgence from everlasting light, and an unspotted mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness, and she, being one hath power to do all things.' Here we have language used of Wisdom which was adopted by St. Paul in describing the person of Christ. The Old Testament provides the phraseology, the teaching of the New Testament responds to the needs which had become manifest.
We come now to another influence. When the Rabbis read the Old Testament with that conception of God in their minds which was the consummation of Jewish thought, much of the language seemed to them too anthropomorphic. 'God walked in the garden in the cool of the day.' So we find in the Targums a tendency to paraphrase such expressions. The Targums were the Aramaic translations or paraphrases of the Old Testament books which were used in the Synagogues. At the time of our Lord the Scriptures were read in Hebrew but interpreted in Aramaic. How early these paraphrases were written down is doubtful, but they may be taken to be the nearest presentation we can find of the Aramaic used in the time of our Lord. In these paraphrases we constantly find the expression 'the Word of the Lord', in Aramaic Memra, used for the divine name, so it is the 'Word of God' which walks in the garden, it is the Word of the Lord which holds the heathen in derision. A similar expression is the Shechinah, the divine glory personified.
In passages like these we feel that there is a desire for some personal presence of God upon earth, some mediator between God and man. As the conception of God became more lofty, so the need became stronger. The Israelites in early days felt that their God was near them, as primitive man does. Under the influence of the prophets Israel learnt to think of God as God of the whole earth, as transcendent and separate from the world, and therefore they could no longer think of him in the same way as the primitive people had done. As God could not be on earth, some representative of God must be there. They wanted to be brought nearer to him. So their religious instinct made them personify the Word or the Wisdom or the Glory of God.
Now let us turn in another direction. One of the earliest and most interesting of Greek philosophers was Heracleitus of Ephesus. He lived in the sixth century before Christ. He was the first man to discover the eternal principle of the world, not in its material but in its spiritual significance. The earliest Greek philosophers had sought the unity of the world in some one of its physical constituents – earth, or water, or fire, or the four elements. That was the beginning of Greek speculation. Heracleitus advanced a step farther. His first thesis was the eternal flux and change of the world. 'Everything is becoming, all things are in motion, nowhere is there permanence. The world is like a great river continually flowing on, and when you go down to it you never find the same water.' Where then is the principle of unity or permanence? This he found in a principle of reason lying behind the appearance of the world, the Logos or reason immanent in the world. Heracleitus was the first man who ever conceived a reason or Logos as the great principle of the world. Just as the water in the river to which you go down is always changing, yet the river remains, so in the world behind the eternal flux and change, behind all phenomena and variation, there is a great rational principle. People had thought of the world as something capricious. He thought of it as something rational. And the rational principle he called the Logos – the Reason or the Word.
These conceptions once started had a long history in Greek philosophy. We occasionally find the term Logos in Plato, more often he uses the plural Logoi. His problem was to combine unity and variety. Behind the things of appearance are the pre-existent ideas, and all these ideas were summed up in the idea of the good, which might almost seem to correspond to λόγος, reason, or θεός, God. The term Logos was used by the Stoics, and in their philosophy are many terms which influenced Christianity. They used it either from a logical or metaphysical point of view. Logically Logos meant reason and speech – reason or the expression of reason, the idea which lies in the breast as thought becomes the Word in expression. Hence they made a distinction between the Logos endiathetos, the word which is hidden within the breast, and the Logos prophorikos, the word which comes forth into the world as speech. These technical terms passed into Christian phraseology.
From a metaphysical point of view the Stoic laid the greatest stress on universal law as the cause of the world. Everything comes into being, everything is destroyed. Creation and destruction alike are the work of a rational principle which sometimes they call destiny, sometimes fate, sometimes reason, sometimes universal law, sometimes nature, sometimes providence. This is the Logos, and when universal reason begins to operate in the world it is called generative reason, Logos spermatikos. This phrase again was taken up into Christian thought, and used to express the work of Christ in the world before he came as man.
From Greek philosophy then comes the idea of a rational principle in the world, spoken of as the Logos.
We now come to the point where these two strains of thought, Judaism and Hellenism, meet. They are combined by Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, who was a contemporary of our Lord. He was an old man when he went on an embassy to Rome in the year A.D. 40. He was born, therefore, about 30 to 20 B.C., and wrote most of his books between the Christian era and the year A.D. 40. His aim was to express the Jewish religion in terms of Greek thought and to find Greek philosophy in Judaism, and this he succeeded in doing by allegorizing the Pentateuch just as contemporary Greek thinkers allegorized Homer. As they found all philosophy in Homer, so he found it in the stories of the Patriarchs.
He starts with a lofty conception of God, but his description tends to be purely negative. It is a characteristic of those who analyse the idea of God from a speculative and rationalistic standpoint to be thus negative. Any positive attribute has the appearance of being anthropomorphic. So the tendency is to say not what God is but what he is not. God is neither in time nor in space, infinitely remote and transcendent. When this position is attained the religious instinct of mankind begins to demand a mediator between God and man. Philo, taking up the many various threads of thought which he inherited, combining the Logoi of Plato with the Logos of the Stoics and the Word of God of the Old Testament, reaches a definition of the Logos which almost seems to represent it as a hypostatic, a personal revelation of God. While God is the Absolute, τὸ ὄν, he is represented to mankind by the Logos, and in describing the Logos a great wealth of imagery is employed. He is spoken of as the image of God, as the elder son. God is his Father and Wisdom his Mother. He is the eldest of all things that have birth, and puts on the universe as a garment. By the Logos God made the world. The origin of the world is described as follows. God is the cause of the universe. Matter is that from which, ἐξ οῦ. The Logos is that through which, δἰ οῦ. Divine goodness is the end on account of which, δἰ ὅ. Such was Philo's doctrine of the Logos, but if we ask what it was in itself, whether it was personal or impersonal, we get no satisfactory answer. Philo never asked or answered the question. He remains always vague and poetical.
It is obvious that in thoughtful Jewish communities at the time when the Fourth Gospel was written conceptions such as these must have been in the air. Their origin no doubt was mainly Alexandrian, but they need not have been confined to that place; there were several influences which had combined to make this word Logos one of the leading theological terms of the day. It was habitually used in Greek philosophy. We find it in Jewish-Alexandrine theology. We find it in Palestinian theology. We may assume, therefore, that it existed in Jewish theological speculation generally. It was at that day a necessary instrument of thought, as a means of reconciling a transcendent conception of God and an absolute monotheism with the religious needs of mankind. Some intermediary had to be found, so the Logos doctrine grew up. Whether the Fourth Gospel was influenced directly by Philo or not we cannot say. What all our evidence proves is that in the last half of the first century the Word, the Logos, must have been a current theological conception, and the writer of the Fourth Gospel uses a term current in the philosophy of the day to describe his conception of the person and work of Jesus the Christ.
We now come to the doctrine of the Logos in the Fourth Gospel. It occurs four times in a technical sense in the first chapter. It occurs in the form the Word of life in the First Epistle of St. John, and in Revelation as the Word of God, in a passage describing Christ going forth to conquer and to judge. In the Prologue of the Gospel we are told that The Word was eternally existent, 'in the beginning was the Word', it was eternal in relation to God, and therefore a distinct personality, and it was divine, 'the Word was God'. It was the agent of creation, 'all things were made by him', and the medium through which God exercises his activity in relation to the finite universe. He is the source of all life. In the history of the world up to the Incarnation, he had been the source of life and light to mankind, though that light had been obscured by the darkness that overwhelmed it. At the Incarnation we have the actual coming of the Word into the world. 'The Word became flesh.' He came into a world which he had created. He came unto those who might be described as his own, because he was the source whence they derived their life. They understood him not, nor received him, but through his coming power was given to those who did receive him to become the sons of God.
What was the relation of this teaching to that of Philo? It is suggested that St. John had taken this teaching from Philo, and that it was Philo's teaching about the Logos which made the Christian Church look upon Christ as divine. The other way, I believe the right way, of putting it is that St. John used the language of current philosophy in order to express the religious experience of the Church concerning the person of Christ. That the latter is the true interpretation may be shown for the following reasons.
In the first place there is a marked difference between the two conceptions of the Logos. We cannot say that Philo's Logos is really personal. In St. John the personification is definite and consistent. In Philo we cannot say whether the Logos was created or uncreated. In St. John it existed from eternity with the Father.
Then secondly it was quite impossible for Philo to have said 'the Word became flesh'. And here we have a fundamental distinction. In St. John the incarnation of the Word is the bringing of God to man. In Philo the Word means the separation of God from man.
Therefore even if St. John derived his phraseology from Philo, his doctrine came from another source. Although St. Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews are content with the traditional phraseology, yet the divine Son-ship with them means just what the Logos means to St. John. The Son of God in these two groups of authorities has every attribute in relation to God that the Logos has in St. John. He is the agent of creation, he is the revealer of the Father. While these writers have the same conception of the work of Christ, they do not express it in the same way. It could not then be that the Logos doctrine created the Christian belief about Christ, it was the belief about Christ which found expression in the Logos. Our inference then must be this. We have various writings in the New Testament which differ widely from one another in many ways, and express the conception of Christ in different phraseology, yet they have the same fundamental idea about his person. We find it in St. John, in the Hebrews, incidentally too in the Synoptic Gospels. What was the source of this same teaching in such varied writings? The inference must be that it comes ultimately from Christ himself.
What St. John did was to take up a word current in Jewish Synagogues and Jewish thought; a word which may have been used by Cerinthus and other false teachers in an improper sense. It is as if he had said:
'You talk of the Logos and try to explain things with your philosophy. You are fond of what you learn from Alexandrian speculation. You speak of the Logos as God's agent in creation, the source of light and life to man. Very good. I will tell you the true philosophy. The Logos was incarnate in Jesus Christ. He is God's agent in creation. He is the bond which unites heaven and earth. Your Alexandrian philosophy will teach you the truth as regards God's revelation to mankind.'
I do not think then that the use of the term Logos added anything substantial to what the Christian Church had already taught about our Lord, but the fact that the Fourth Gospel contained this word, and that Christianity had in this way been brought into contact with current philosophical thought was of the greatest importance in the next two centuries of Christian thought. The use of the word by St. John was what we should now call a stroke of genius. It enabled Christianity to express itself in terms of Greek thought, and to take its place side by side with the other interpretations of the world and God in the philosophical thought of the time. It is used by the Apologists. It is used by the Alexandrine theologians. It enabled a Christian philosophy to be built up in harmony with current thought.
Let us sum up as shortly as we can the teaching of St. John's Gospel. Jesus Christ is described as the Word and the Son, thus signifying his inherence in God, his revelation of God, his distinction from the Father, but his perfect community of nature and work. All this is constantly taught in the Gospel 'I and my Father are one'. He was also the Messiah sent by God to reveal God. But while in the Fourth Gospel the divine nature of Christ is taught, equally clearly the human nature and especially the reality of the Passion is emphasized. The narrative of the Gospel is a continuous condemnation of any form of Docetism, but the Passion is seen always through the glory of the Resurrection.
The work of Christ is summed up in two favourite phrases, Life and Light. Christ is 'the true light which lighteth every man coming into the world'. 'I am the Resurrection and the life.' 'I am the light of the world.' These phrases represent the typically Johannine point of view, but equally are we told Christ brings salvation, therefore he is our Saviour. 'I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.' This salvation comes through the sacrificial sufferings of Christ, therefore he is the Lamb of God.
Now if we compare the teaching of St. John and St. Paul we notice the difference of proportion. In St. John Christ is the revelation of light and life. This conception assumes the first place. In St. Paul the chief emphasis is laid on Christ's sacrifice for sins. But each writer bears witness to the teaching of the other. This is characteristic of the New Testament. Different sides of Christian doctrine are emphasized by each group, but that does not destroy their unity. It is the same in Christian history. These two conceptions, which we rruiy rail the Johannine and the Pauline, the one that Christ is the life and light of mankind, the other that he is the salvation, have been emphasized, one in one period, <>nr in another. Sometimes it is put in the form that one period is attracted by the religion of the Incarnation, another by the religion of the Atonement. The full conception of the teaching of Christ is always potentially present, hut the religious needs of the day demand that now one, now another aspect be emphasized.
The chief characteristic of the First Epistle ascribed to St. John is that it is more Johannine than the Gospel. That is natural, for in the Epistle the writer is expressing his own thoughts, in the Gospel he is interpreting the words of Christ. The Epistle also is more definitely practical. It assumes the Gospel and on that basis builds up the practical life of Christians.
The starting-point of the Epistle is the nature of God. God is unknowable. 'No man hath beheld God at any time', but the idea is worked out differently. What is the main characteristic of this God whom man hath never seen ? ' God is love.' We know God by loving him. How do we know that God loves us? 'Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.'So there is greater stress laid upon Redemption than in the Gospel: 'The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.' Our knowledge of God is dependent on what we are. There is no reality in our belief or knowledge, unless we keep his commandments, and do his will. We know the nature of God, love, because the Incarnation is the revelation of divine love. We can know God best by being like him and doing what he wills. 'If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.'
The main thought of the Gospel as of the Epistle is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, but whereas in the Gospel the emphasis is theological, in the Epistle the primary aim is the practical realization of the knowledge of God which is revealed in Jesus Christ.
The study of these two writings makes it clear that the theology of St. John is an interpretation of the Christian tradition to meet the need of the writer's own times. The question to be determined is how far it is interpretation and how far tradition. The whole question of the authenticity or the historical character of St. John's Gospel would take us very far afield, although it is intimately connected with our subject. I will content myself with the following observations.
First, the ultimate basis of the Gospel is the Christian tradition. The writer was acquainted with the other Gospels – personally I believe with all of them – and had other sources of information.
Secondly, he shows a tendency to correct silently what he considered to be the mistakes or inaccuracies of the Synoptic Gospels.
Thirdly, he interprets the language of our Lord to suit the thought of his time. For instance the expression 'the kingdom of heaven' was one full of meaning when our Lord taught in Palestine but quite meaningless to the Greek people of the province of Asia. Following suggestions in the Gospel of St. Matthew he interprets it as life or eternal life, which was part of the significance which it had when used by our Lord. Now the question is whether the teaching about his own person and mission which St. John ascribes to our Lord was genuine or not. We would recognize at once that in language and phraseology there may be change or advance, but did our Lord make the claim about himself which is here ascribed to him? I believe that we ought to consider it to be an interpretation of what our Lord taught about himself for this reason. Though the phraseology and method of expression may be different, we find just the same conception of our Lord's person in all the different groups of New Testament writings. We find it taught or implied in St. Paul, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews. We find it in another form in the Apocalypse, and implied, rather than expressly taught, in St. Peter's Epistle. If our Lord had thought and taught of himself as a mere man, this agreement would have been impossible.
Moreover, in the Synoptic Gospels, as has already been pointed out, it is always implied and sometimes expressly stated:
'All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'
It may be said that teaching such as this is infrequent. That may be true, but some of the most important teaching in the Synoptic Gospels occurs very infrequently. There is no word that created a greater transformation in human thought than our Lord's use of the word agape, love, but it only occurs in one passage in St. Mark's Gospel, and in two or three passages in the other Gospels. Yet we find it permeating Christian literature. It is exactly the same with the Christian belief in the person of our Lord.
The Book of Revelation need occupy us only a short time. It was written by some one of the name of John towards the close of the first century, and is a typical example of the Apocalyptic literature which was a characteristic of Judaism during the last two centuries of its history as a nation. As an isolated book it seems strange and unique. Our opinion about it must change when we realize that a whole collection of such works exists. The language, the framework, the symbolism are simply illustrations of the literary habit of the time. To lay stress on this imagery as containing a secret history concealing or revealing the future history of the world is entirely to misrepresent the purpose of the writer. There is no book which has been more completely misused and misinterpreted. The writer intended under the imagery and symbolism that he used to teach us spiritual truths and not to instruct us about the future.
The theology is fundamentally Hebraic. It is based upon the belief in the sovereignty of God. 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, which is and which was and which is to come, the Almighty', and this is expressed very fully in the great doxologies of the book. 'Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.'And this leads on to the thought which is always present in the writer's mind, that of the judgement of God. The belief in the power, the judgement and the unerring righteousness of God supports the writer in all the troubles and afflictions of earthly life.
Concerning the Person of Christ there are two elements, that of subordination to the Father, and that of equality. It is from the Father he has received his authority. But though there is, as in all the books of the New Testament, this element of subordination, the most conspicuous idea is that of equality. The same language which is used to describe the eternity of the Father is used also to describe the eternity of the Son. 'I am the first and the last and the living one: and I was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.' 'I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end', is used alike of the Father and the Son. The same description of praise is given to the Lamb as to the Father. 'Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever.'
The Lamb is our Lord Jesus Christ, and this implies that the great thought in the writer's mind is the redemption of mankind by the blood of the Lamb, and these thoughts are connected with the writer's view of the history of the world. There is the same contrast as in the Gospel and Epistle between good and evil, but what is presented there in an abstract form is here put before us symbolically. There is the great fight between the Lamb and the evil powers of the world. There is the same struggle for us as there was for Christ. We need salvation from evil, but that salvation can only come through suffering. The blood of the Lamb was shed for us. The victory of God over evil is through suffering. Those who come forth victorious must suffer as Christ did. As Christ died on the Cross and conquered through death, so the Church will be victorious through the sufferings of the martyrs. Good will be victorious over evil in the world through suffering.
We are concerned with the conception of the person of Christ in this work. I do not think that it is inferior to that of any other book of the New Testament. There is no Ebionite element, nor is there anything to be said for those who think it is a Jewish work interpolated by a Christian. It is the work of a Christian writer making use of the literary forms of Judaism, to express just the ideas which are found in the Gospel and Epistle, with which there is a close connexion. The mode of representation, however, is so different that I have great difficulty in believing in identity of authorship. I think we have another independent witness to the Christian tradition.
We have completed our survey of the New Testament, and I would commend to you these conclusions:
1. With very great variety of expression there is throughout the New Testament a unity of belief concerning the person of Christ.
2. The origin of this belief must go back to the teaching of our Lord himself.
3. The development of belief is not the gradual building up of the conception of a divine Christ by thoughts and ideas drawn from different sources, but the interpretation by the Church of its experience concerning Jesus Christ with the help of philosophy and language drawn from very varied sources, Rabbinical, Hellenistic, and Apocalyptic.
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