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people what cannot be done without a better-informed imagination than ordinary instruction gives them. We must take the principles of the New Testament into bold application to circumstances and events, and relations of duty, and forms of idea, that constitute the staple of modern interest, but which in many particulars were not, and could not have been, in the minds of writers so far removed in antiquity from ourselves as were the authors of the sacred books. Most of the common errors of the churches have arisen from the want of this adaptive power in the interpreters of Scripture. They read the whole Scripture as one book, and of course in the light of their own creeds. It has often appeared to me almost impossible for an ordinary reader of our present Bible to arrive at other than the ordinary judgments upon Christianity, which interpreters of greater pretension have so servilely and so minutely copied from their predecessors.
There is besides in the current religious opinion an incoherent mass of pretended philosophy, which, in our view, the leaders and thinkers of the church of Christ must displace, putting a sounder philosophy in its room, and one in proved clearer harmony with Christ's own gospel. Surely we have not unnecessarily exaggerated the great work that remains for an enlightened church to perform, if it should appear that the business of improvement must begin with ourselves, and no opinion hold ground amongst us that will not harmonize with the clear and blessed way to the Father in Jesus Christ !
One thing, however, we are especially bound under every form of thought to maintain, as we have always done, that whatever Christians may hold in opinion besides, according to the light in which they are able to read the New Testament, the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is this, the doctrine of our text, that Jesus does not, could not, in any sense assume to be the absolute Father, but is “the way to the Father.” It relieves no mystery in the relations between man and God; it adds to the difficulty an artificial impossibility, a mere play upon words, to divide the Supreme Godhead with the view of rendering the access to Him more easy. The solemn mystery of the Creative Father must not be made the subject of a profane and curious ingenuity. Jesus himself made no attempt to solve that mystery; the revelation of God's love in his heart sufficed his perfect trust, as it may amply content ourselves.
Nor was he instead of the Father, according to the common theological idea that the absolute God is an unapproachable terror. Christ laboured surely to little purpose in his teaching, if we still conceive the God of creation so ignorantly. Of whom but of this terrible Father of theology was he speaking when he urged His tender care of the sparrow as an argument for human trust in God's greater solicitude for man? He who was sent to this very end of rectifying our ignorant thought of the Father, and who therefore trusts and proclaims God's inexhaustible love, nade an obstacle in the way to God, being displaced from his natural office.
We do not pause to illustrate this error in all its painful consequences. It places the light as a hindrance before the very object it was given to illuminate, and renders the Father's love confessedly an inference merely, and not the subject of direct sight.
Nor does Jesus effect any kind of change in the Father. He unveils the Father for what He is,—with a Father's considerate justice, Himself respecting the laws which He desires His children to obey,-loving them all as His, though yet with appreciating discrimination as they learn to love and please Him,-ever seeking their best good, though in ways often which they may not understand. Men do not naturally so think of the Almighty : if we entirely believe this doctrine, especially if we trust and act upon it, we have received from the Father's messenger the happy inspiration, the true doctrine of reconciliation of our untrained and rude and sinful hearts to the constancy of the Divine love.
But never in his whole representation of the Father does Jesus degrade the absolute Godhead by affecting to humanize His nature to the feebleness and materialism of our conceptions. God may be seen in nature, and in signs or words of a prophet we may be conscious that we hear His voice, as we sometimes listen to its monitory speech within us. In all these forms the Divine action limits itself to what it works in. Thus is He perceived in the Son of Man, filled with the Spirit to the full measure of a man's capacity ; but His own nature remains unchanged and, as it must be, untransferable and unchangeable. Not less the absolute God when Jesus names Him the Father, though operating in this relation conformably to the nature of humanity, with all its limitations of subjection to wise, definite law. Not below the absolute could any man reveal the Supreme God, but only teach us, as we have learned through Jesus, what proper ideas of His moral nature and purposes to associate with His necessary infinitude. We can have no thought of the Divine love which this conception of His sublime and absolute nature will not render more dear and more intense.
Is this grand thought of God a speculation with us, a tenet merely, unfelt, unfruitful, without deep interest for ourselves, without manifest result towards others ? Then are we faithless to the example of Jesus, with whom it was the centrethought of his life.
Not only in his language was the doctrine of the absolute Father jealously conserved; he felt and acted under its solemn, happy impression. Let us remember that the living truths of religion can only be maintained and preserved as written upon the tablets of the heart, and read by the world in the spirit of the Christian life.
We should not be satisfied to prove the doctrine of Jesus even from his own lips. Not only does he point the way to God, but in his own life leads and attracts us towards the Father. We discover in many ways what men really think, which their language often fails to represent. But he who is our way to the Father ever acts in this obvious faith, suffers and trusts with its clear support, speaks thus in the name of God as well as thus respecting Him. We see it in the life we aim to follow, which everywhere assumes and implies the consolation and assurance of this belief. “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.” Could any identification have been more complete ? Could any formal statement of the truth appeal more strongly to the utmost human interest, or any part of the great Teacher's example prove worthier of imitation? To maintain and propagate such truth, we must cherish in heart, as he did, the deepest love for it, the fullest trust in its entire purport and results.
Now the want of this sentiment and example of Jesus impressed upon the popular mind we hold to be the true cause of the comparatively feeble grasp of religious dogma upon society. Society appreciates an order of religious sentiment beyond its accepted creeds, and conceives this due to enlightenment and civilization independent of Christianity. Ignorant scepticism, on the other hand, boldly denies the divine source of all religious thought whatever. This is the state of present opiñion. The most active sects do not hold the truth in such a manner as to commend it to the popular intelligence; while many who really respect the faith of Christ cherish with regard to it a certain repugnance to distinct dogmatic illustration of it, a certain affected latitudinarianism as to verified religious doctrine. There should be no need to urge here that the popular theology hinders men from approach like Christ's to the Father. It is enough to say, that if the true doctrine of the Father is not taught, the work of Jesus is unaccomplished. The influence of his holy trust in the Father is nullified. The age grows, then, naturally careless of the truth, or sceptically rejects it, and its religious teachers are not prepared to meet the doubts and wants of the time. If only through Jesus men come to the Father, as we find in fact to be true, how sad is it that he should be presented as something besides, and not truly “the way” to their practical thought of the Almighty !
Yet see how effectually the great wants of our time are satisfied in the doctrine of Jesus. The modern thought, for example, divided between science and speculation, hesitates as to the Divine goodness on the one hand and the Divine holiness on the other. It asks how pain and sin can exist consistently with the perfect beneficence of the absolute God. The Scriptures reply in the life and death of Jesus. If any man deserved to suffer less than others, surely it was he “who did no wrong, neither was guile found in his mouth.” Yet this was the man “ acquainted, for our sakes, with grief,” despised and rejected of those whom he lived and toiled to save. We may indeed deprive pain of half its sting when we are able to perceive that it is not always penalty. We may adopt the New-Testament phraseology, and speak of even Jesus as becoming “perfect through suffering.” We may convert our present ills into an element of holy trust, when we reflect that life and immortality have been brought to clear light in the gospel. But there is no thought nor argument upon this sorrowful theme that comes so closely home to our necessities as this example of the self-sacrificing pains of the Saviour. For he who bore them never faltered in his trust. They were from the hand of the loving Father. And if so, if his sufferings were not out of harmony with God's love, can we conceive ours to be who involve ourselves in so many of them ? For he teaches at the same time the Father's loving care for all, and His prompt readiness of mercy to the penitent petition.
Let me add, that only as we find them in the life of Jesus could the absolute God make clear to us those personal characteristics of His will and nature which the revelation in Christ discovers. “God manifest in the flesh.” We find nothing to shrink from in this striking expression. “God was reconciling, in Christ, the world to Himself.” Then if we seek in this manifestation of Him what it allows us the right to expect, it will become to us the more perfect and effective, the more devoutly, the more trustfully, we regard it, and the more zealously we seek in it the Father whom it purports to reveal. When we say of Jesus that he is the way to the Father, we can only rightly mean that he discovers to us God's moral nature and purpose, and gives thus to the work of creation its due complementary interpretation. What we