SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
THE LORD FROM HEAVEN
INTRODUCTORY: THE QUESTION AT ISSUE
"THE great English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, has
somewhere observed that mankind cannot be too often reminded that there was
once a man of the name of Socrates. That is true; but still more important is
it to remind mankind again and again that a man of the name of Jesus Christ
once stood in their midst."
These are the opening sentences of a well-known work from the pen of the greatest of living Rationalists. But in this twentieth century such a reminder is an anachronism. For infidelity has changed its ground, and the facts of the life and ministry of Christ no one now denies. The only question in dispute today relates to His personality. Who and what was the Great Teacher whose advent changed the history of the world?
As the result of the controversies which raged around that question in the early centuries, the creed of Christendom proclaims His Deity. But in these days the creed of Christendom has been thrown into the melting-pot. And the real aim of the Christianised Rationalist, concealed beneath a cloak .of Christian terminology, is to prove that the "Jesus Christ" who once stood in our midst was but a man. And the great problem of the ages has today assumed a new and subtle phase. For that which was formerly the issue in the Unitarian controversy is no longer in dispute. The divinity of Christ is now, acknowledged even by the infidel. "Rest now in thy glory!" Renan exclaims in an outburst of enthusiastic homage. "Thy work is achieved, thy divinity established. . . . Between thee and God men shall distinguish no longer." Indeed it is accepted even by the base apostasy which masquerades as "the New Theology."
For, we are told, God is "immanent" in human nature, and we are all His sons. The Nazarene's title to divinity therefore is not only undisputed, but it is admittedly preeminent, albeit it is not exclusive. Every prince of the blood is a royal personage. But not even the Prince of Wales, unique though his position be, has either the power or the dignity of kingship. The parable needs no interpreting: the question at issue today is not the divinity of Christ, but His DEITY. In dark days now past, when the avowal of "heretical" beliefs involved suffering and loss, men thought deeply before they strayed from the beaten tracks of "orthodoxy." They knew what it meant to "gird up the loins of their mind." But slovenly-mindedness is a marked characteristic of religious thought in this shallow and silly age of ours. The catch phrases of the fashionable pulpit or the popular press are accepted without any sort of mental struggle; and "historic beliefs" are jettisoned without the slightest exercise of heart or conscience. And yet, having regard to the transcendent importance and solemnity of the questions here at issue, such levity is intolerable. For if the "historic beliefs" are true, the coming of Christ was the crisis of the world.'
While then, with the Rationalist, the Great Teacher was "a man of the name of Jesus Christ," the Christian maintains His Deity. This belief, moreover, is based on the writings of His first disciples; and if the beliefs of the Apostles and other writers of the New Testament on a subject of such supreme importance do not reflect the teaching of their Lord, and of the Holy Spirit who was given to guide them into all truth, faith in Christianity is mere superstition.
That the New Testament teaches the Deity of Christ is so indisputable that the infidel accepts the fact, and the task he sets himself is to disparage the testimony of the writers. In Baur's day this was achieved by maintaining that most of the sacred books were not written by the men whose names they bear, but belong to a later age. It is achieved in our day by insisting that, just because the writers were His disciples, they were not impartial witnesses, and their evidence is therefore unreliable.
Such are the ways of those who attack the Bible. "The Tubingen school" implicitly allowed that if the New Testament had been written by the Lord's contemporaries, the evidence would be valid. The Schmiedel school to-day insist that, just because the writers were His personal disciples, they were not impartial, and their evidence should be rejected! To put it tersely, no one who believed in His claims should be allowed a hearing in support of His claims.
The conception of a tribunal which acted on this principle would be delightful in a "nonsense book" or in a farce to be acted on the stage. It is a theory of evidence unknown in any civilised community - ancient or modern. And no less absurd would it be if applied to history. Suppose, for example, a life of Queen Victoria written on the system of excluding everything derived from those who knew and honoured her!
How, then, does the matter stand? Upon the question here at issue, the testimony of the disciples is so clear that even the infidel acknowledges that it would deserve acceptance if it were confirmed by independent evidence. But no confirmatory evidence is more convincing than that of hostile witnesses, and the fact that the Lord laid claim to Deity is incontestably established by the action of His enemies. We must remember that the Jews were not a tribe of ignorant savages, but a highly cultured and intensely religious people; and it was upon this very charge that, without a dissentient voice, His death was decreed by the Sanhedrim - their great national Council, composed of the most eminent of their religious leaders, including men of the type of Gamaliel and his great pupil, Saul of Tarsus. That He was of the royal house of David was proved by the official genealogies. That He did great miracles was universally acknowledged, and not even His enemies denied that all His acts and, save on one vital point, all His words, were Worthy of His Messianic claims. How, then, can the fact be accounted for that good men - men who had a zeal for God- condemned Him to death as a blasphemer? The answer is not doubtful. It was not for His good deeds that He had been threatened with stoning, but because, said they, "Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God." And upon this charge it was, I repeat, that He was arraigned. Had that charge been false, had it been due to a perversion of His words, He would, as a devout Jew, have repudiated it with indignant earnestness, whereas His acceptance of it was unequivocal.
"Not so," the Unitarian will object, "the accusation was not that He claimed to be God, but that He called Himself the Son of God; and the answer He gave- that He was yet to sit 'on the right hand of power '- was in keeping with all His teaching. The very assertion of His Sonship was itself an acknowledgment that He took a subordinate place, and owned the Supreme as His Father and His God."
Are we to conclude, then, that the crucifixion of Christ was due to a misunderstanding which any one of us might have put right, if only we could have gained a hearing before the Sanhedrim on that fateful day? The alternative to this absurd suggestion is that the assertion of His Sonship was essentially a claim to Deity. And this suggests an inquiry of extreme interest and importance respecting the use and meaning of the word " son" in the New Testament.
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