From “History of the Christian Church, Volume One”
by Philip Schaff, 1819-1893
When “the fullness of the time” was come, God sent forth his only-begotten Son, “the Desire of all nations,” to redeem the world from the curse of sin, and to establish an everlasting kingdom of truth, love, and peace for all who should believe on his name.
In Jesus Christ a preparatory history both divine and human comes to its close. In him culminate all the previous revelations of God to Jews and Gentiles and in him are fulfilled the deepest desires and efforts of both Gentiles and Jews for redemption. In his divine nature, as Logos, he is, according to Saint John, the eternal Son of the Father, and the agent in the creation and preservation of the world, and in all those preparatory manifestations of God which were completed in the incarnation. In his human nature, as Jesus of Nazareth, he is the ripe fruit of the religions growth of humanity, with an earthly ancestry, which Saint Matthew (the evangelist of Israel) traces to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, and Saint Luke (the evangelist of the Gentiles), to Adam, the father of all men. In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily and in him also is realised the ideal of human virtue and piety. He is the eternal Truth and the divine Life itself personally joined with our nature. He is our Lord and our God, yet at the same time flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. In him is solved the problem of religion, the reconciliation and fellowship of people with God. We must expect no clearer revelation of God, nor any higher religious attainment of humankind than is already guaranteed and actualised in his person.
But as Jesus Christ thus closes all previous history, so, on the other hand, he begins an endless future. He is the author of a new creation, the second Adam, the father of regenerate humanity, the head of the church, "which is his body, the fullness of him, that fills all in all." He is the pure fountain of that stream of light and life, which has since flowed unbroken through nations and ages and will continue to flow until the earth shall be full of his praise and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The universal diffusion and absolute dominion of the spirit and life of Christ will be also the completion of the human race, the end of history and the beginning of a glorious eternity.
It is the great and difficult task of the biographer of Jesus to show how he, by external and internal development, under the conditions of a particular people, age and country, came to be in fact what he was in idea and destination and what he will continue to be for the faith of Christendom, the God-Man and Saviour of the world. Being divine from eternity, he could not become God, but as a human, he was subject to the laws of human life and gradual growth.
“He advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people.”
Though he was the Son of God, “yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
There is no conflict between the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the ideal Christ of faith. The full understanding of his truly human life, by its very perfection and elevation above all other men before and after him, will necessarily lead to an admission of his own testimony concerning his divinity.
Who would not shrink from the attempt to describe the moral character of Jesus, or, having attempted it, be not dissatisfied with the result? Who can empty the ocean into a bucket? Who (we may ask with Lavater) “can paint the glory of the rising sun with charcoal?” No artist’s ideal comes up to the reality in this case, though his ideals may surpass every other reality. The better and holier people are, the more they feel their need of pardon and how far they fall short of his own imperfect standard of excellence. But Jesus, with the same nature as ours and tempted as we are, never yielded to temptation; never had cause for regretting any thought, word or action; he never needed pardon, or conversion or reform; he never fell out of harmony with his heavenly Father. His whole life was one unbroken act of self-consecration to the glory of God and the eternal welfare of his fellow men and women. A catalogue of virtues and graces, however complete, would give us but a mechanical view. It is the spotless purity and sinlessness of Jesus as acknowledged by friend and foe; it is the even harmony and symmetry of all graces, of love to God and love to man, of dignity and humility of strength and tenderness, of greatness and simplicity, of self-control and submission, of active and passive virtue; it is, in one word, the absolute perfection which raises his character high above the reach of all other people and makes it an exception to a universal rule, a moral miracle in history. It is idle to institute comparisons with saints and sages, ancient or modern. Even the infidel Rousseau was forced to exclaim: “If Socrates lived and died like a sage, Jesus lived and died like a God.” Here is more than the starry heaven above us and the moral law within us, which filled the soul of Kant with ever-growing reverence and awe. Here is the holy of holies of humanity, here is the very gate of heaven.
Going so far in admitting the human perfection of Christ (and how can the historian do otherwise?) we are driven a step farther, to the acknowledgement of his amazing claims, which must either be true or else destroy all foundation for admiration and reverence in which he is universally held. It is impossible to construct a life of Christ without admitting its supernatural and miraculous character.
The divinity of Christ and his whole mission as Redeemer is an article of faith and, as such, above logical or mathematical demonstration. The incarnation (the union of the infinite divinity and finite humanity in one person) is indeed the mystery of mysteries.
"What can be more glorious than God? What viler than flesh? What more wonderful than God in the flesh?"
Yet aside from all dogmatising which lies outside of the province of the historian, the divinity of Christ has a self-evidencing power which forces itself irresistibly upon the reflecting mind and historical inquirer, while the denial of it makes his person an inexplicable enigma.
It is inseparable from his own express testimony respecting himself, as it appears in every Gospel, with but a slight difference of degree between the Synoptists and Saint John. Only ponder over it! He claims to be the long-promised Messiah who fulfilled the law and the prophets, the founder and lawgiver of a new and universal kingdom, the light of the world, the teacher of all nations and ages, from whose authority there is no appeal. He claims to have come into this world for the purpose to save the world from sin, which no mere human being can possibly do. He claims the power to forgive sins on earth; he frequently exercised that power and it was for the sins of humankind, as he foretold, that he shed his own blood. He invites all people to follow him and promises peace and life eternal to everyone that believes in him. He claims pre-existence before Abraham and the world, divine names, attributes, and worship. He disposes from the cross of places in Paradise. In directing his disciples to baptise all nations, he coordinates himself with the eternal Father and the Divine Spirit and promises to be with them to the consummation of the world and to come again in glory as the Judge of all people. He, the humblest and meekest of men, makes these astounding pretensions in the most easy and natural way; he never falters, never apologises, never explains; he proclaims them as self-evident truths. We read them again and again and never feel any incongruity nor think of arrogance and presumption.
And yet this testimony, if not true, must be downright blasphemy or madness. The former hypothesis cannot stand a moment before the moral purity and dignity of Jesus, revealed in his every word and work and acknowledged by universal consent. Self-deception in a matter so momentous and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound is equally out of the question. How could he be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of his mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted his death on the cross, his resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of his Church, the destruction of Jerusalem (predictions which have been literally fulfilled)? A character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would, in this case, be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus.
We are shut up then to the recognition of the divinity of Christ and reason itself must bow in silent awe before the tremendous word: “I and the Father are one,” and respond with sceptical Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
This conclusion is confirmed by the effects of the manifestation of Jesus, which far transcend all merely human capacity and power. The history of Christianity, with its countless fruits of a higher and purer life of truth and love than was ever known before or is now known outside of its influence, is a continuous commentary on the life of Christ and testifies on every page to the inspiration of his holy example. His power is felt on every Lord’s Day from ten thousand pulpits, in the palaces of kings and the huts of beggars, in universities and colleges, in every school where the sermon on the Mount is read, in prisons, in almshouses, in orphan asylums, as well as in happy homes, in learned works and simple tracts in endless succession. If this history of ours has any value at all, it is as new evidence that Christ is the light and life of a fallen world.
Truly, Jesus Christ, the Christ of the Gospels, the Christ of history, the crucified and risen Christ, the divine-human Christ, is the most real, the most certain, the most blessed of all facts. And this fact is an ever-present and growing power which pervades the church and conquers the world and is its own best evidence, as the sun shining in the heavens. This fact is the only solution to the terrible mystery of sin and death, the only inspiration to a holy life of love to God and neighbour and only guide to happiness and peace. Systems of human wisdom will come and go, kingdoms and empires will rise and fall, but for all time to come Christ will remain “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”