There is a fact, personal to Jesus, that not only enters vitally into this argument, but more than anything else explains the power of his words on the conscience: what was considered in another relation in the outsetthe perfection of his own character; his sinlessness: his absolute purity.
A perfect doctrine will no doubt affect the conscience, but a perfect doctrine uttered by one who lives a holy life has tenfold the power of the mere statement of doctrine. And it is not simply that the hearer recoils from a doctrine stated by an inconsistent or insincere man because he is inconsistent and insincere, but such a man cannot so much as utter the truth in its fullness; he cannot conceive the truth in its completeness.
When Jesus utters a truth it lays hold upon the conscience and life not simply because it is the truth, but because he is the "Truth and the Life." His conscience goes with the word and it enters into our conscience. It was this quality in him, more than aught else, that led his hearers, when the Sermon on the Mount was ended, to "wander at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority." It is living a truth more than learning about a truth that gives the teacher authority.
An illustrative incident may help us here. The late Mr. Wray was a Baptist missionary in India. He was a man of known consistency of religious character. A child who knew him well was asked the question: "What is holiness?" A man would have done as so many do with lamentable failure, attempted a "definition;" the child answered "Holiness is the way Mr. Wray lives." The child was nearly, if not quite, at the bottom of the subject.
The learner in the school of Jesus may find here a truth of first importance. It is twofold: 1. The best way to learn more truth is to live the truth he does know. 2. The only way to rightly teach any truth in morals, in things spiritual, is to live it. Religion, like science, believes in experiment and teaches by facts. The incarnate truth is the truth that has life in it. It is said with reverence, but with confidence, Jesus teaches what spiritual life is more by living it than by his words. His life expounds his doctrine, and without his life we could not understand his teachings.
Try the principle by any test of him. For example, he teaches us that forgiveness is a duty and that revenge is a sin. What does he mean? What he did. You remember his last prayer: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." He teaches us to love our enemies. What does he mean? What he did; always blessing them when he could. He teaches that we best serve God by doing good to men, and that the best proof and only proof of loving God is in loving men. What does he mean? What he did. He was always doing good. And so his life expounds his teachings, and is the one safe and true commentary upon his words.
Contemplate that life for a moment. Begin at Bethlehem and follow him to Bethany, where, it is said, he ascended to heaven. That life is blameless, flawless. He did not lack abuse, denunciation, defamation, persecutions. Men called him a drunkard and a glutton because he was not an ascetic; they said he "had a devil" because they could not understand how any man would do a thing only because it was right. Some called him a lunatic; "he is beside himself," they said, because he was unworldly, was what they considered "unbusinesslike," because they, with their selfishness and pride, could not imagine themselves as he did unless they had lost their reason. Many hated him then, as they do now, because he was, as he is, in the way of their self-seeking and their sins. Bad men cannot be at rest where he is.
No wonder the perfect teaching of a blameless man has power upon the human conscience. To this hour good men indorse Pilate's verdict; bad men can find no error in it.
When we look more closely into his innermost character we will find qualities that difference him from mere men broadly and unmistakably. We see in him no fault that we can name as attaching to his life; but we do see in him two manifestations of all others most marvelous and out of the range of mere human life. 1. There does not appear in him any, the very least, consciousness of fault. 2. In his religion there is no effort.
Now these things appear in no others who are sincerewho know what they are and what goodness is. The best men and women are conscious of faults, and the best men are most conscious of them. If a man should say, "I am faultless," we would question his sincerity, his sanity, or his knowledge of words, or his conception of goodness. And we would be right. No sane man, with any high ideal of goodness and knowing the meaning of words, ever yet used of himself words that fit only Jesus.
It is like a true artist's ideal: the better artist he is the less he satisfies his own conception in what he does; so in religion, the saintliest most realize the distance between them and the Christ. A unbeliever has said that Mary at the sepulcher idealized him, and so made Christianity possible! He supposed he had accounted for the most stupendous fact of all time. Why is it that only Jesus has become the highest ideal that ever filled the human soul? That nineteen centuries have added nothing to himtaken nothing from him?
As to men, religion is war with nature. Saint Paul teaches us. It was his experience; the holiest men best understand this and most frankly confess it. Paul's writings are full of terms that illustrate religion from agnostic struggles. When Jesus himself urges men to seek the life of religion he says, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." The word translated strive is the Greek form of our word of pain and conflictagonize.
But the religion of Jesus was effortless; there was never in his heart antagonism to goodness. His religion shines like the sun because it is full of light; it is a going forth from fountains that, in his inmost soul, were in spontaneous and perpetual play. He did have conflicts, but with the evil and that was without him; there was none in him.
The story of his temptation does not at all militate against this statement. The force of the attack from without he felt, for it is said, "He suffered being tempted." But when we read the story we feel that it was not only right for him to resist, but natural. We see so clearly that we never doubt; there is in him nothing in sympathy with the evil to which he was solicited.
What does Jesus say of himself as to these things? What does he claim for himself? He says to Pilate, "I am the truth;" and it does not shock us to hear him say this. He says in one place, "I do always the will of my Father;" and we believe himnot only that he thinks he does, but that he does. In trying to give to his disciples the one true ideal of humanity he says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Then he offers himself as an example to the human race, and we are satisfied that he is what he says, for we can "find no fault in him." And with it all we recognize perfect sincerity, simplicity, humility. If a mere man were to say such things to us we would despise him; the scorn of the world would drive him from the presence of men. But he says such things and we feel that it is right; it is the truth; he is what he says.
In the same way we feel that he is entitled to make upon us the most tremendous claims for human service, devotion, and love ever put into words. He says, "If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me." "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." All must be in abeyance to his will. We are to forsake lands, homes, parents, children, wives, all for him. Nothing in the universe must come between him and the loyal, all-sacrificing love of his disciples. He must be first in our hearts; whatever comes between him and our love forfeits all claim upon him. If a mere man made these demands the world would despise him, and the world would be right.
But he sets up other claims of a sort no sincere and sane man, who is only a man, can think of for a moment. He claims the right to forgive sins. His critics were rightassuming him to be only a man. "Why does this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?"
He not only claims, as no other prophet ever did, to represent the eternal Father, but he claims a perfect knowledge of God that no mere man can claim. "All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." The night before he died he said to his disciples: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."
He says in many ways and in many places that he is, in origin and character, more than a man; that he is supernatural. He says, "I and my Father are one." He says that he is divinethat he is God.
If Jesus was only a man such claims cannot be reconciled with his sanity or his sincerity. Augustine was right when he reduced this argument to its last analysis: "Christus, si no deus, non bonus"Christ, if he be not God, is not good.
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