The Christ, the Son of the Living God
What has been set forth concerning the power of the teachings of Jesus to stir and stimulate and enlighten the conscience; what has been said of his own character and life as incarnating, and thereby expounding, making clear and enforcing, his doctrine; what has been suggested concerning the absolute universality of his character, making him brother to every human being and therefore as much to one as to another, all this brings us to speak briefly of a wonderful but very common fact of daily observation and experience, a fact that cannot be dissevered from the character, nature, and personality of Jesus himself: the effect of his doctrines and of himself upon men.
It is not meant that all who are called Christians show these results; that all who are Christians show all these results; that any man or woman who ever was called Christian has shown all the results possible to humanity as the natural sequence of receiving fully the doctrine of Jesus and living up to it. No more than I will plead for counterfeit coins; no more than I would say that all coins that have pure gold in them are of full weight and without alloy of baser metal. But this I do say: we do find, and always find, in those who receive and obey the teachings of Jesus the results he pointed out as following their reception; that the results follow in proportion to the thoroughness with which these teachings are observed; that those who best keep them become most like him, the one blameless and perfect Man.
We will not enter into any theological discussions; we do not touch the metaphysics of the subject; but this may be affirmed roundly and without qualification: those who believe and receive and obey his words are not only changed in their manner of life, they are, so far as we can have any means of judging men, changed in their spirit of life. So it does come to pass in those who keep his words; old things become new, not only in the sphere of action, but also in the sphere of thinking, feeling, willing.
As it seems to me, there can be nothing in this world harder to do than to change, not men's external lives merely, but men themselves. Changing men's hearts is like making worlds.
Who else who ever taught, lived, or died, does this? Does this while among men? Does this, being for nearly two thousand years gone out of the sight and hearing of men? But Jesus works this miracle now, and in men of all races and conditions, civilized and savage, learned and unlearned. And their number is as the sands by the sea-shore and as the stars of heaven for multitude.
Candid thinkers in accounting for Jesusin characterizing and classifying himmust take account of the effects produced in human character, as well as in human lives, and in human lives because in human character.
The men of science tell us we must take account of facts in forming our conclusions; and they are right. It was Jesus who taught this principle long before Bacon; "By their fruits ye shall know them." In studying Jesus we must take account of those facts in human life which seem to be connected with him.
We have spoken of the change in charactercall it by any name or nonethat follows obedience to Jesus. In this connection there is another most wonderful thing to be considered. What I am to mention now is, on the mere grounds of common sense and worldly reasoning, the most marvelous and inexplicable of all facts observed among men in relation to any being not with them in visible, tangible form; I refer to the matchless love his true disciples feel toward him, not as a teacher, but as a person.
None can deny it. Who, if Jesus was only a man, can explain it?
No man who knows history, or the world today, will doubt for one moment that millions on millions of human beingsmen, women, and little childrenhave felt and shown for the person of Jesus the most absorbing love; a love that drove out all fear and mastered every other love. Some great teachers and leaders while they were yet in the flesh have had followers and friends who loved them well enough to hazard life for them and to die for them. We can understand the soldier who, on one occasion, when a shell fell close by the first Napoleon, while it was just exploding flung himself between the fatal bomb and his loved chief, and throwing his arms about him died in his stead. But when Napoleon was an exile in St. Helena he complained one day that, among all those he had befriended in the days of his power, there were none to draw sword for him when he was an exile. Who would die for Napoleon now?
There have been thinkers, poets, orators, philosophers, who have enthusiastic admirers who contend for them in the pretty war of words. Shakespeare has as many such admirers as the foremost in all the world. But who loves himthe manin any such deep, absorbing fashion as untold millions have loved and to now love the ManJesus of Nazareth? It surprises you to hear such a question. If Jesus was only a man the question should not surprise. How does it come about that such love as the great army of martyrs and confessors have shown was never felt for any except this Galilean peasant?
There is not now, there never was such love for Buddha or Mohammed. Such love was never professed for the founders of Buddhism or Mohammedanism. Such love was never felt for any person long gone from the midst of men.
This love is not like the fanaticism that fights for one's own idea; it is the love of a person for a person. This love for Jesus has shown itself to be the master love that ever held sway in the human heart. For this love all other loves have been given uphave been crucified.
Do men and women, in their senses, give their strength and life-long service for any other name? Die cheerfully for any other name? Die for one long gone away from themgone out of the world and, so far as sense and reason know, gone forever? But neither lapse of centuries, distance by separating seas, distances unknown between this world and the world men do not know, or separation by differences of race, cools his love. What the martyrs did in Jerusalem they soon afterward did in Rome, in Alexandria, in every city and country of that age and that part of the world. They did the same thingdied with songs on their lips for this Man of Galileein after centuries. So did they in the Middle Ages in every country of Europe. So they have done in our own time in that great island, Madagascar, that has shown in the dark sons of the tropics, whose fathers were heathen idolaters, the overmastering love of men, women, and children, for the Jesus they had never seen; who lived on the other side of the world from them, and taught men how to be saved nearly two thousand years ago. They died in Madagascar as they died in Rome, "the love of Christ constraining them."
And the best people in the world today would so die for him in every country where his word has gone. And this love grows fuller and stronger; Jesus is more in the thoughts and love of men than he ever was before.
If you would in some sense realize the wonder of which we are now speaking, try to imagine such a passion coming into the hearts of millions of men today as would impel them to die with rejoicings for Socrates, or any other born of woman, save the Man who was once a carpenter in Joseph's shop in Nazareth of Galilee. You cannot imagine such a thing. As to Jesus, and love for him, it is not left to imagination; we have history. And we know a great multitude who would gladly die for Jesus now if to them should come the martyr's test.
When Jesus disappeared from the sight of men there was not a human probability that his name would be other than a reproach, till, like any common felonlike the forgotten thieves between whom he diedhis name and fate should drop out of the memory of men. Humanly speaking, it was certain that he would never have a solitary follower. No sane man, reckoning on the ordinary probabilities of human motives and action, could have conceived the possibility of a vast body of disciples, ever growing, and pushing on his conquests round the world, holding together through passing centuries, enduring all manner of opposition and bitter persecution, and now, in this year 1889, the master-force of the world; a force that, beyond all cavil, is now the most active, aggressive, and revolutionizing influence ever set going among men.
It could not have been conceived; every dominant power of the world was arrayed against him; there was not a star shining for Jesus if he was only a man.
But Jesus crucified lives on. Around his cross has been the battle-ground of the ages. All that human skill and bitter hate could do has been done to put out the light he kindled on Calvary. But he lives onlives in men today; single-handed he goes on his conquering way. His servants, because they love him, are pushing his cause in every nation under heaven. As in the old days, in the lands that bordered the Mediterranean, so now among the great pagan nationsin India, China, Japan, Africa, and in the islands of the sea, they are telling the story he commanded them to repeat till he should come again. And, telling it, they are now, as in the days of his first apostles, "turning the world upside down."
In every land his children are building up his kingdom. They die for him, and others take their places; and so the work begun in Jerusalem never ceases. History confirms his promise, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
Such a character could not have been conceived had not such a life been lived; such a life could not have sprung out of Hebrew soil; no mere man ever new the deepest truths without investigation or taught them without proving them; no mere man ever conceived of such a work as Jesus proposed to himself, and no mere man would have adopted the methods Jesus used; no mere man ever conceived so vast an undertaking as the moral conquest of the race; no mere man ever took such masterful hold upon the conscience, love, and will of mankind.
What Simon Peter said stands today as the faith of the Church: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The great words of St. John stand firm as the teaching of Scripture and the verdict both of reason and history: "The Word was with God, and the Word was God....And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."
The facts of his humanity and of his work and influence in the world forbid us to classify Jesus with men, and the recognition of his divinity alone explains the facts of his humanity. Considered as God-man all is in harmony; miracles take their proper place in the records of his history, and mind and nature, heaven and earth, God and man meet in Jesus, the Christ.
Butif he be only a manhe is such a man as were a thousand times worth dying for and following forever, through time and eternity.
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