BY I. M. HALDEMAN, D.D.
"Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God" (Matthew 9:17).
THE world has accepted Jesus Christ as a good man.
The evidences of his goodness are manifold.
He was full of compassion.
He never looked upon the people as a crowd. He never thought of them as a mass. He saw them always as individuals. His heart went out to them. All his impulses were to pity them, sympathize with, and help them.
He went among them. He entered into all conditions, accepted all situations. He was present at a wedding, he ate with publicans and sinners and, anon, was guest at a rich man's table.
He saw the ravages of disease, the shame of sin, the tragedies in life.
He knew there was torture in body and anguish in spirit.
He took the mystery of pain and laid it upon his heart, until tears were his meat and his drink, by day and by night. He became a man of sorrows and an expert in grief. He took upon him the woes of the world till he was bowed and bent, as with the weight of years. The tears of sympathy grooved his cheeks, as when streams carve their way down mountain sides. Because of this men looked at him and saw neither form nor comeliness; neither was there any beauty in him that they should desire him.
He was a beneficent man.
Multitudes of men are benevolent, but not beneficent.
Benevolence is well wishing. Beneficence is well doing. He was always well doing, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, cleansing the leper, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, unloosing the bonds of Satan -- unwinding the serpent's coil.
He was absolutely unselfish.
He emptied himself and made room in his soul for other lives. He had no office hours and never interposed secretaries or major-domos between himself and the people. He received all who came unto him -- ministering without money and without price.
There is one scene that might well be painted by a master hand.
It is evening. The western sky is all aglow with the glory of the setting sun. Far up in the dome of the infinite blue, the evening star swings golden, like a slow descending lamp let down by invisible hands. The street is in half-tone. It is packed by the strangest of throngs, by the blind, the lame, the halt, the paralyzed and the leper-derelicts of humanity -- borne thither on a surging tide of life in which every wave is an accent of pain; they are driven and piled up in great, quivering heaps against a door which is partly shut, as in self-defence, by the sweltering crowd within.
Jesus of Nazareth is in that house.
He is healing the sick. He is giving health, and strength, and peace to all who seek him. He turns no one away. Compassion, sympathy, beneficence, the tenderness of a mother for her helpless babe -- these are the characteristics which his daily ministry revealed.
No one ever brought a charge of evil doing or evil speaking against him.
The people who followed him said, "He hath done all things well."
Police officers sent to arrest him as a disturber of the peace found him in the midst of the people, speaking words that hushed their tumult, quieted their murmurings and gave them rest; and the officers returning to them who sent them, said, "Never man spake like this man."
Pilate's wife dreamed a troubled dream of him, and sent word to her husband not to lay hands on him -- seeing that he was a just man. Thrice before heaven and earth -- in a testimony that still echoes through infinite spaces, and is heard by listening worlds -- Pilate himself proclaimed, "I find no fault in this man."
He lifted up his voice against sin and unrighteousness.
Against nothing did he so much speak as against religious hypocrisy. Nowhere, in any record, is language so terrible, so penetrating, so hot, so full of the flame of fire and scorching analysis, scorching and burning in its denunciation of those who on the outside (in their religious profession) were like whitened sepulchres, but on the inside (in their actual lives) were full of dead men's bones and corruption -- nowhere, outside the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, does language fall with such tremendous vibration of thunderous indignation, and the accent of aroused and fully angered justice. "Ye serpents," "ye generation of vipers," are some of the phrases; and the words, "fools," "blind hypocrites," mingle again and again with the far-sounding, judicial menace, "Woe, woe unto you."
He seemed to be dominated and controlled by one idea -- the idea of God. The God thought held and moved him. He could not go anywhere, or see anything, or utter the shortest discourse, that he did not, in some fashion, connect it with the infinite Father. Was a sower sowing seed, he saw in that incident an illustration of the fact that the true seed is the Word of God, and the true sower he who casts it into the mightier ground of the human heart. Did a flock of sheep lie at rest upon the hillside, guarded by a shepherd's care, at once he would unfold the shepherding of a Father's love. A tiny sparrow, flying an unnoticed speck in the distant sky, or falling ground-ward with its weary flight, was a winged witness that the Father knew and saw even the smallest details of human life. A lily in its lowliness, and yet a lily in its beauty shaming a king's array, a lily, toiling not, but upward growing, furnished him a text from which to preach the providence of God; and a wandering beggar boy far away from home and kindred, stained with sin and dark with sorrow, gave occasion for the wondrous story of the Prodigal Son and a father's changeless and tender love.
God! God! God! this was the supreme note of his life.
On the cross he gave utterance to words which reveal the inner character of his soul.
When a man has been lied about, falsified, his good evil spoken of and his reputation assailed (as was his before the Sanhedrin -- in the mock trial given him there), when such a man has been hounded from one end of the town to the other, spit upon and jibed at and, finally, nailed through hands and feet to a torturing cross; when such a man with his heart bursting (because of the impeded circulation, driving the surging, tumultuous blood back upon it), with the sun scorching his bare temples, a crown of thorns stabbing him at every helpless turn of his restless head; when such a man, under such circumstances, can rise above the wickedness, cowardice and cheap treason that have nailed him to the cross, and pray (and pray sincerely) that his guilty murderers, villainous detractors and unscrupulous slanderers may be forgiven, that man bears witness that he has, at least, a heart of good.
And it was just such a prayer which came from the parched, dry, cracked lips of this man of Nazareth as he hung upon the cross and cried out,
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Again he spoke from the cross.
There was standing near, a woman who had been chosen of God to give him birth. She was sobbing convulsively. She was realizing what had been foretold of her more than thirty years before -- "a sword shall pierce through thy own soul, also." Mary, the mother of Jesus, stood there, brokenhearted. Jesus turned his head and looked at John, his cousin, bidding him take that weeping mother to his home, his heart and care, and be unto her henceforth a loving son.
O the man who, in the hour of his own agony, shall remember his mother, and crown her, make her the queen of his life, and ordain that others shall love and reverence her, proclaims for himself the lustre of a manhood without spot.
Once more he spoke from the place of anguish -- that moment on the edge of death. There his soul, rising from the depths of the overwhelming waves of agony, cries:
"Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit."
He who in the hour and article of death can face God and eternity, and commit himself to the hand of supreme justice as a confident child to the arms of a loving father, bears witness that in his soul there is no ghastly memory of sin, no sharp, remembered pang, no fear of offended law. Such a confidence and such a committal of triumphant calm bear witness that the heart is at rest with God, and is conscious of its own good.
For two thousand years the world, without a dissenting voice, has borne witness that he is the one man who came into the earth and walked through it superlatively good.
Among the voices in the common consent of the world that Jesus Christ was a good man, there are those who with equal insistence deny that he was Almighty God.
They agree that he had the spirit of God; that he had it in measure such as no other man before or since. They announce their belief that he is the mightiest advance on humanity ever known; that all other religious teachers pale before him as the stars before the sun. They speak of his spotless life with fervent admiration, and draw special attention to his discourses as models of exhortation to righteousness and truth. To them the sermon on the mount is a chef d'oeuvre. Out of that sermon they take the maxim about doing unto others as you would they should do unto you. They take that maxim and frame it about and make it the "Golden Rule" of human life. They exalt Jesus as the perfect example, telling us that if we shall govern our life by him, make him our constant copy, imitate him, we shall fill our daily existence with righteousness and truth. In fact, if we seek a panegyric on the humanity of Christ; if we desire to see his goodness exalted to the heavens, and his humanity put beyond compare with the sons of men -- we must needs go to the Socinian, the Arian and the Unitarian -- those who deny the deity of Christ. But this exaltation of the human Christ is simply setting up a man of straw that with one blow of deific discount he may be knocked down again. He is set up as man that he may be cast down as God.
They will not accept him as God.
God Almighty (we are told) cannot be confined or shut up in any one man. Man as man and, therefore, every individual man in his part, is the avatar of God. Each man is in some sense the incarnation of God. God is more or less enthroned in all men. God is to be found in all men as he is to be found in all nature.
A good man -- call Jesus a good man -- set him up as high as you please, build as lofty a pedestal for him as you will, but Almighty God -- Never!
Over against this exaltation of Christ as a merely good man, and the persistent denial that he was God, stands the unmistakable claim which Jesus Christ himself made -- that he was God.
He made that claim in many ways.
He claimed it by declaring his power and authority to forgive sin.
That was a striking moment when he proclaimed it for the first time. Four men had brought a paralytic to the house where he was preaching. When they could not get in because of the crowd, they climbed up on the roof, took off some of the tiling, and by means of ropes or corners of the mattress let the man down to the very feet of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he turned to the sick man and said, "Son (son of Abraham), thy sins are forgiven thee."
At once there was an uproar. The leading men, sitting round and watching him, burst out with a protest, charging him with blasphemy, saying that God only could forgive sin.
And they were right.
No mere man can forgive sin. Again and again the Scriptures teach us that forgiveness is with God that he may be feared.
In announcing the man's sins forgiven, Jesus clearly claimed the prerogative, power and authority, which belong to God.
He claimed this equality by declaring himself to be the Son of God. To the Jews, "Son of God" was equivalent to "God the Son." It meant to them, the moment he styled himself by that name, an unqualified claim to essential equality with the Father. Because of this they raged against him and would have killed him, crying out that he had made himself equal with God.
He made this claim in terms which admit of no misunderstanding. He said:
"I and my Father are one."
When Philip said, "Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us," he answered and said:
"Hast thou been with me so long time and hast thou not known me, Philip? From henceforth ye know him and have seen him."
To Philip he had also said:
"I am the way and the truth and the life -- no man cometh unto the Father but by me."
By this statement he deliberately shut out all other men as the ground and means of approach to God. He declares that God, the Father, can be found in and through him alone; that he is the supreme way, the very truth and the very life; not that he knows some truth and has a measure of life in common with men, but that he is the truth -- the absolute life. Such attitude, such claimed rights, privileges and powers, belong alone to God.
But he goes beyond this.
He testifies that he has been from all eternity the manifestation of the very selfhood of the Father. Hear what he says:
"And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was."
He traces his personality backward beyond the hour when the world was launched into space, before the stellar systems were created. He goes beyond time, he takes us into eternity, and in that unbegun and measureless distance declares with all the calm assurance of accustomed truthfulness that he had the glory, the visibility, the outward manifestation and splendor of the Father's own essential selfhood; that his relation to him was that of one who was from all eternity his determination, definition and utterance.
Such claims as these are the claims of one who declares himself to be, and without restraint, nothing less than Almighty God.
On one occasion when talking to the Jews he said that Abraham had rejoiced to see his day, had seen it and was glad. They turned upon him and reminded him that he was not yet fifty years old, how then could he have seen Abraham, or Abraham him -- that Abraham who had been dead nearly two thousand years?
He faced them and said:
"Verily, verily I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am."
The striking thing in the statement is not the claim of pre -existence -- great as that is -- not that he claimed to have been in existence already -- not fifty years merely, but two thousand -- no! all these utterances are remarkable enough, but these are not the astounding thing he said. The astounding, the unspeakably extraordinary thing he said is found in just two words:
There is one place in Holy Scripture where this phrase is supremely used. In the third chapter of the book of Exodus it is recorded that God manifested himself to Moses at the burning bush, and there declared himself to be the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He commanded Moses to return to Egypt, appear before Pharaoh and demand the release of the Children of Israel from their cruel bondage; and when Moses inquired by what name he should speak to the people, he answered:
"Say unto them, I AM hath sent me unto you."
To the Jew these two words set forth the supreme name and title of the eternal God.
In saying, therefore, "Before Abraham was -- I AM," Jesus announced himself to be the eternal, self-centred, supreme being, Almighty God. When he said this, and because they understood him, because they knew exactly what he meant by these words, the Jews took up stones to stone him.
If I were seeking to demonstrate by object lesson, and in a fashion that would admit of no reply, that Jesus claimed to be Almighty God, I would summon the mightiest and most masterful artist the world knows to come and paint for me the scene which takes place a little later as a consequence of that moment when he emphasizes his claim by saying:
"I and my Father are ONE."
The picture would represent a great crowd of scowling, fierce, angry Jews, their hands filled with stones -- some of them drawn back, the whole figure intense with readiness to cast the fatal stone -- and Jesus, standing a little distance apart, looking calmly on.
Underneath the picture I would have written in great golden letters (letters so artistic, so startling, so wonderful in form, that at the risk of art itself -- almost at the risk of minimizing the picture at the first glance, subordinating it to interest in the letters and dividing the mind of the onlooker between the actual scene and the letters themselves) -- I would have written in letters that should smite the eye and the innermost thinking of the beholder, the words recorded in the tenth chapter of John's Gospel, given by the Jews in reply to the demand of Jesus when, speaking with amazement, he asks, "For what good work do ye stone me?" I would have every gazer at the picture read these words till they rose up in vastness against him, smiting his attention as the very stones in the hands of the Jews -- these words:
"For a good work we stone thee not but for blasphemy; and because that thou BEING A MAN MAKEST THYSELF GOD."
The Jews were not deceived.
They knew what he had done.
They knew that he claimed to be no less than very God himself.
There can be no doubt that he claimed to be God.
There need be, really, no discussion about it.
The New Testament records the claim.
I am not making any issue as to whether the New Testament is true, or reliable. I am saying thus far, only, that the New Testament (the Gospels of the New Testament), in language concerning which there can be no possible mistake or even ground for misinterpretation, records the fact that Jesus Christ did claim to be Almighty God.
If Jesus Christ were not Almighty God (as he claimed to be) he was not a good man (as it is said he was).
The proposition ought to be self-evident.
No mere man can claim to be God and be good.
He who, as mere man, claims to be God, robs God of the glory that is exclusively his.
He who thus claims to be God, and bids men go into eternity trusting him as God, is a deceiver.
No man who robs God of equality, and who deceives men into believing that he is God, can be good -- he is a wicked and blasphemous deceiver.
There is only one way in which the character of Jesus Christ can be saved on this claim of his to be God -- if that claim were not true.
It can be saved only by assuming that he was self-deceived; that he sincerely believed himself to be God, but was blinded and held fast by his own mistaken concept.
But the man who claims to be Almighty God, and claims it as he did, can be self-deceived only when he is a mental weakling, unbalanced in mind, or absolutely insane.
None of these things can be predicated of Jesus Christ.
On the contrary, he was the most intellectual man the world has ever known.
Mark how he met the wisdom and the genius of the men who surrounded him. Again and again they came to him with crafty and perplexing questions. With a word he solved their problems, flashed truth into their shame-smitten faces, and silenced them. In all the universe there is no soul meaner, more contemptible, more cowardly, and utterly lost to every sense of decent manhood than the man who, for the sake of entangling a good man in his speech, asks him questions in public, before an audience ready at every turn to misquote and misinterpret his slightest utterance; and that is what they did. They came to him, not with the desire to know the truth, but to confound him, cast him down and destroy his prestige with the people. To every question he gave an answer having in it spiritual truth, but bearing the unmistakable stamp of rare wisdom and intellectual superiority.
His words, the simple speech he used in the midst of them, or alone with his disciples, have been the impulse of the mightiest intellectual activity the world has ever known. Out of his words have grown systems of theology that may well call for all there is of brain power and capacity in those who study them. Here are to be found the keenest speculations and the farthest outreach of metaphysical suggestion and the most detailed analysis of which the human mind is capable. Book after book, treatise after treatise, discourse after discourse, have been produced out of the simplest and most detached things he said. No man can read his speeches and not find the mind stimulated, shocked, quickened and impelled forward even upon the most daring lines of thought.
It would be easy to call the roll of the princes and kings in the realm of intellect, men whose thoughts burn and flame like great quenchless lights; men whose minds are the storehouses of knowledge, and whose utterances by word and pen have moved the quickest and most forceful lives in the world. It would be easy to call the long roll of these names shining like stars and constellations in the firmament of thought -- princes and kings of intellect who acknowledge that Jesus Christ is not only superior to them morally and spiritually, but intellectually.
What man is there to-day with any degree of mental self-respect who would dare to stand up and assert himself the equal of Jesus Christ intellectually?
Without necessity of demonstration, it ought to be a truth beyond question that Jesus Christ was the most intellectual man the world has ever known.
Such a man as that could not be self-deceived.
If he were not Almighty God he knew it.
He knew it as well as these good Unitarians, and these wondrously advanced scholars who cannot get beyond the glamour of his humanity.
He knew it at first hands.
If he were not Almighty God -- if he were only a man -- he knew it, knew it through and through, in every fibre of his being.
There is no possibility then whatever for him to have been deceived.
If he were not deceived, if he knew he was not God, then --
HE WAS NOT A GOOD MAN.
This is his own argument:
A young man came to him and said, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? and he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God."
The argument is simple enough.
"You call me good. God alone is good. If I am not God, I am not good."
Nay! If he were not God, he was the most wantonly wicked man of whom I ever heard.
If he were not God, not only does disaster fall upon himself in the total destruction of his character, and in the consequent and final driving of him from the suffrage and consideration of men, but the disaster falls upon all who have put their faith in him.
If Jesus Christ were not God, then he never forgave the sins of a single soul, and all those throughout the two thousand years who have gone into eternity trusting in his name have gone into that eternity unforgiven and unshrived of God.
If Jesus Christ were not God, then he has not forgiven the sin of a single human being alive to-day.
You had sinned! There were memories of the sins you had committed. They allowed you no rest. They gave you anguish of mind. Others could not forgive you. You could not forgive yourself. The consciousness that you stood naked before the all-seeing eye of a holy God; that he knew the circumstances and every detail thereof, down to the very intents and purposes lying behind your deeds, and even your thoughts; that he looked into and saw all that was in your heart; in the consciousness growing clearer and stronger and more terrible each day that you had no excuse, no place that you could hold for a moment; that if he summoned you to his presence, you would stand in the white light of his unmixed holiness, and the inexorable and unrelenting wrath of his essential antagonism and just hatred against sin; all this consciousness taking voice in you and through you, cried out in your soul, "I am guilty and undone." And this filled you with a horror of great darkness and the utter blackness of a hopeless despair. Then you heard the voice of Jesus Christ saying, "Come unto me." "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." You came. You fell at his feet. You owned his death as your atoning sacrifice. You claimed him as your substitute. You claimed forgiveness through his blood. He said to you, as he said to the paralytic, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." You rose and went away as when one is released from a galling chain; as when a burden that was crushing to earth has been lifted from the sore, bleeding shoulder; as when one who has been tossed on a midnight sea enters the haven while the dawn is breaking, casts anchor and touches shore. For years you have had peace. The memory of your sins are there (for though God when he forgives forgets them, you cannot). Like David, perhaps, you cry, "My sin is ever before me!" The sin marks are there as the nail holes in the wall, but you have been able to look at them and have peace because you have said to yourself, "I am not an unwhipped of justice, my sins have been punished in my substitute; they have been fully answered for in his blood. He has forgiven me and justified me and made me clean. In him I stand clothed in the very 'righteousness of God.' I hate my sin and despise it for what it is in itself, for what it made him, my redeemer, to endure, but I have peace because he has fully satisfied in my behalf. I have actually satisfied in him and am delivered before God's court of holiness both from the guilt and the demerit of sin. I have, in short, gone through the judgment with Christ on the cross. He has pronounced forgiveness -- absolution -- upon me, and he has done so by virtue of his power and authority as the living one in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily -- as my saviour and my God he has forgiven me and I am at peace."
All this you have said within yourself and testified.
But I ask you now to face the terrible fact -- if Jesus Christ were not God -- this terrible fact -- that you have been deceived.
You have had a false peace.
You have been living in a fool's paradise.
You are before God an unpardoned and as yet unpunished criminal awaiting your doom. All this is absolutely your state --
If Jesus Christ were not Almighty God.
If Jesus Christ were not Almighty God, he had no authority nor power to forgive your sins. NO! And if Jesus Christ were not God I know not where to bid you turn. You must carry the load of your sins all your days; and when you die, go into eternity and face a holy God who tells you by every law and fact of nature that he never forgives in a single case till he has first punished the sin and with it the sinner.
If Jesus Christ were not God, his death was not an atonement.
And this surely should be plain enough.
Only God can atone to God.
Only an infinite being can satisfy an infinite being.
If Jesus Christ were not God he could not make an atonement.
If he did not make an atonement, then the world has never been reconciled to God nor brought up on mercy ground. Instead of being lifted up to the plane of grace and mercy, the world is still under the condemnation and judgment of God, no longer under a suspended sentence, but sheer and defenceless, with nothing to hinder the crash of doom at any moment.
There is no hope. There is no daysman. There is no one to offer unto God what he demands, and unto man what he needs. There is no mediator between a holy God and a sinful man.
If Jesus Christ were not God, then he did not rise from the dead. He did not bring life and immortality to light, and, as for me, the preacher, I have no light to hold out to you in the all-embracing gloom and night of death.
There is no hope.
If a man shall tell me there is no hereafter, that death ends all, I shall take up the law of induction and argue him to a standstill along the line of unfathomable mysteries and inexplicable psychological phenomena in the constitution of man, and the inexplicable absence of the phenomena in the state of death, inexplicable upon any known materialistic ground, and I shall laugh at his inability to maintain his thesis beyond the poor shred of a hypothesis. If a man shall tell me as the result of pure reasoning that he concludes for the endless existence of the soul after death, and shall do this even upon the plane of induction, I shall turn and tell him that all his argument is based upon inference and not fact, finding its largest emphasis in the region of the unknowable and guessable -- in the things he cannot explain, where certain conclusions can neither be successfully affirmed, nor successfully denied, and where, by consequence, he may console himself, if he wish, with his side of the guess; and I shall feel a keen sense of sorrow at his inability to hold his premise in the final region of the sure.
And what does all this mean?
Is it playing fast and loose with the mind? Am I turning in upon myself and playing the mere harlequin in the arena of mental gymnastics?
No! there is sane meaning to this double method -- it is this: as much may be said along one line of reasoning as the other. Each is a non-sequitur to the other. Each negatives the other and leaves us with reason's torch inverted -- the light out, the darkness deeper than ever; and standing on the threshold of the grave we are forced to cry out in the sharp agony of a continual self-smiting perplexity:
"To be or not to be -- that is the question."
Question it is -- always a question -- always coming back from the side of every dead body -- always coming back from the clod-filled grave -- coming down from age to age, coming back a question no man, not the wisest mere man who ever lived, could answer, or any living wise man can answer to-day.
If Jesus Christ were not God it cannot be answered; for if Jesus Christ were not God, he did not rise from the dead and by divine power carry himself out of the region of death forever.
If Jesus Christ were not God, you may go and sit by the tomb of your dead and weep bitter (because hopeless) tears.
If Jesus Christ were not God, then he was not a redeemer and saviour. All the beautiful things that have been taught about him as such are false. All the hopes of heaven, the beauty of the celestial city, the tree of life, the river of crystal, the company of the saints, the arch-angelic song, the meeting and the knowing of those who long ago have left us -- none of these things are so.
If he were not God, then it is not true that he sits upon the throne, high and lifted up, listening to the plaints of the weakest heart that shall trust him, and hearing the sound of every falling tear.
If Jesus Christ be not God, then the whole system of Christianity built upon his person and work falls to the ground, is broken into fragments, and like wind-swept dust can never be gathered.
If Jesus Christ be not God, the New Testament record of him is untrue. The New Testament impeached in its prime particular becomes a worthless book -- a book full of exhortations to holiness and truth, in the name of him who is proven to be (if he ever lived at all) a blasphemer, a deceiver of men and the concrete of human wickedness. If the New Testament is not true, neither is the Old; for the Old Testament finds its meaning and value only in the Christ of the New Testament. Take Jesus Christ out of the Old Testament (which you must do if you set aside the New; for he alone fulfils the types, the symbols and the prophecies of the Old Testament; he alone makes its testimony and history intelligible; he alone gives unity, harmony and authoritative meaning to its exhortations) -- take Christ out of the Old Testament and you take away its one and only key.
And mark you -- when Christ goes out of the Bible as God -- God goes out of the Bible. The deity which has preserved it, the power which has made it living and unchangeable in the midst of change and death, will have been dethroned.
Without Christ as God you are without any sane and satisfying knowledge of God.
Where will you turn to find God and know him to your comfort? You might as well look into the bottomless pit as into your own heart.
No more satisfactory will it be to look into the heart of others. We are all built on the same plan.
The difference is only in degree or extension.
The basilar fact is, God cannot be found in any natural man.
You cannot find or know him to your heart's content in nature.
What kind of a God does nature reveal to you?
I will answer for you -- a God who puts you in this world and does not tell you whence you come, whether from the all mud or the Almighty, from an angel or a devil, from jelly or genius, from the heights of heaven or the depths of hell. A God who puts you here and fills you with questions he alone can answer and -- refuses so to do. A God who calls you into the world and gives you eyes to see everything but yourself. A God who hides you from yourself, so that you do not know whether you are a function or a soul; whether you are matter or spirit; whether you are a personality or a cellular part of a general whole -- called man. A God who gave you mind with seemingly infinite possibilities in thought, and gave you a body that is finite and temporary in construction. A God who gives you an intellect which grasps after eternity, and is always saying on the summit of any endeavor achieved, "What next?" and yet is limited to a few inconsequent years. A God who sets you face to face with the imminency of death, and never allows you to know at what moment you must go, and gives you no hint of the beyond -- or whether there is a beyond.
In France they do not tell the man who is to be guillotined till a few moments before the fatal hour. He is sleeping on his couch. He is dreaming of pleasant fields, of running streams, of boyhood's days, of to-morrows that shall be better -- a heavy hand is laid on his shoulder -- he starts up in bed -- the gray light of early morning is filtering in through the barred window of his cell -- stern-faced men are standing before him -- they say, "Your hour is come; follow us."
It is terrific.
But this is the case of every human being.
No one can tell when the summons may come -- or where.
A man was sitting in his room at close of day. It had been (so he said) the best day of his life. He had said to his wife that he never loved her more than he did then (and they had been married many years), never did he feel more content that they had chosen to walk together through life than then. He was full of plans for himself and for her (saying with great earnestness that their last days should be their best days). She answered back that she was glad with a great gladness that it was so. She turned away for a moment to glance in another direction, still speaking to him. When she looked back he was gone -- gone while the love words and the hope words were still on his lips -- the finger of death had touched his heart -- a voice had whispered in his ear, "Come." There was only a lifeless bit of clay where a moment before had been a body pulsing with life, with love, with hope.
It is terrific -- doomed -- and not knowing how soon the bolt will strike. What sort of a God is this who laces your body with a network of laws, the breaking of the slightest of which -- all unknown to you -- may send you forth upon a path of diseased and tortured existence -- in which the body from whence you cannot escape shall be to you as a chamber of horrors -- a place of the thumbscrew, the rack and the fagot. What kind of a God is that who allows the aged to linger out in a miserable prolongation of wretched days, a burden to themselves, a burden to others, and takes away the widow's only son -- her only support? Who is the God who creates one man with all the equipment for life, and another man with all the lack of it? What kind of a God is this who looks down out of the heaven of day and the heavens of night, and sees all the sorrow, the anguish, the pain, the unspeakable tragedies, and sends no wing of angel to cleave the pitiless sky, no voice out of the silence to console, no hand to help?
What man is there of you, if he had the power, would not banish sickness, sorrow, pain and death?
What man is there of you who, if he could, would not make every human being well and happy?
What then? What is the conclusion of the matter concerning you? Simple enough -- you have the heart to do it, but not the power.
What is the conclusion concerning this God of nature? He has the power -- but does not manifest the heart.
What will you say of this God of nature in such a scheme?
What can you say but that your heart is better than the heart of the God which nature reveals?
Can you hear, understand and love a God like that?
Can you climb through nature up to nature's God and say, "I have found him, I know him?"
You can climb up, but where will you find him?
You will find him wrapped in the black thundercloud or girded with the robe of the lightnings: You will find him the God who splits the earth in twain with the earthquake's riving blow, loosens the bands of the sea, sends tidal waves in surges of destruction, pours out the lava streams from the volcano's cone, as kings pour wine from an earthen cup, spilling the wine and breaking the cup; the God who turns an earthly paradise (like Messina) into a fire-smitten desert, and a city of the living into a cemetery of the unburied dead.
When your heart aches, will such a God care for you? Will his thunders console you? When your soul is dark, will his lightnings illumine it? When you yearn for love, will his inexorable law supply it?
Ah, sirs, without Christ you are without a God whom you can love, whom you can trust, to whom you can go, and in whose strength you can lie down and -- at last -- be folded in peace.
If Jesus Christ is not God, if the only God to whom you can go is the God of nature, then you might as well fall down in the sand at the base of the far Egyptian sphinx, open your eyes for a moment to the blue sky that spreads away to the horizon before its staring face, its cold, chiselled, inscrutable smile, and the next moment shut your eyes against the pelting dust the idle winds blow thither.
Ah! Nature is a sand-dune -- and the God of nature is a Sphynx.
Do you care to kneel and worship there?
If Jesus Christ be not God the disaster is not alone to him, but to you -- to me.
If he were not God, then we are in a world where the very day is no better or brighter than a starless midnight.
If Jesus Christ were a good man, a supremely good man and a supremely intellectual man, then he was and is (as he claimed) Almighty God.
The New Testament says he was a supremely good, and a supremely intellectual man.
For two thousand years the most brilliant men in the world have corroborated this record by freely testifying that Jesus Christ was a supremely good and a supremely intellectual man; all this being so, I change the conditional form of the proposition to the indicative and declarative and now say:
Since Jesus Christ was a supremely good and a supremely intellectual man, he was, therefore (as he claimed), Almighty God.
He could not be a supremely good and a supremely intellectual man and claim to be God unless he were God.
Since he claimed to be God, therefore, he was God.
Yes; he was God.
The evidences are manifold.
He was sinless.
"Which of you convinceth me of sin?"
For two thousand years he has been in the concentrated light of a hostile world's merciless investigation. The light has been turned on the land in which he lived. Every rod of ground over which he travelled has been dug up, or surveyed, or trodden. His words have been weighed, balanced to a nicety against any probability of error, mistake, imagination, fancy or misquotation. His words have been split open as men break open rocks. All the contents of his words have been put in the crucible of criticism. Every thought has been insistently and unsentimentally assayed for, even, the suspicion or the slightest hint of an alloy. His teachings have been chemically dissolved and turned into their component parts. The saline base of truth has been sought for at any risk to the compounded speech he made.
And after all! not one self-respecting, authoritative lip has uttered a charge against him.
In the hush of a world that cannot even murmur, he steps forward and once more rings down his challenge:
"Which of you convinceth me of sin?"
He stands out among his fellows as a white shaft under a starless midnight. He rises above the passions of men as an unshaken rock in the midst of a wild, lashed sea. He is to man's best character as harmony is to discord, as a smile is to a frown, as love is to hate, as blessing is to cursing, as a garden of lilies to a desert of sand, as heaven is to earth, as holiness is to sin and as life to death.
If he were sinless, he was absolutely holy; he was so holy that his very presence brought out the sin in others. Sinful men and women fell at his feet and confessed their sins. At sight of him demons tore their way out of the bodies they possessed and fled as clouds of darkness before the sun, crying as they fled, "Thou art the holy one of God -- hast thou come to torment us before the time?" Tormented as they were even then, as sin always is when confronted by holiness; as vice is before virtue; as a lie is before the truth.
He was sinless.
He was holy.
His sinlessness and holiness cannot be accounted for on natural grounds.
All his natural ancestry were sinful.
His sinlessness cannot be accounted for unless he were God; for, sinlessness and holiness come alone from God and, as essential qualities, take their rise alone in God.
His power over nature proved him God.
His look changed water into wine, his word gave sight to the blind, healing to the deaf, speech to the dumb. At his word the lame man leaped as a hart, the leper was cleansed. He said, "Peace, be still," and the wild tempest of the sea was hushed, and there was a great calm, a calm like unto the stillness of the unruffled rest of God.
For two thousand years his regenerative power in a world of sin has been the proof that he was God.
For two thousand years, in every age, in every clime, among all classes of men, from the refined infidel to the vilest sinner, from the cold atheist to the brutal idolater, men have been changed -- transformed. Men who have been the bond slaves of passion, whose daily lives have been the output of iniquity, whose deeds have been for destruction, whose words have been poison, and whose inmost thoughts have been as the vapors of miasma -- these all -- have been transformed into fountains of purity, into angels of mercy, or as illuminated missals have been written full of the name and the glory of God; men whose every fibre was as the coarse and tangled threads of a brutal unrefinement have become men whose every line of character was as the woven gold of Ophir -- and the speech that once smote with discord the ears that heard it has become as the sound of singing across silent waters and under listening stars. And you ask these transfigured human beings, as you find them travelling along the highway of twenty noteful centuries, what it was that so changed them, put such new force and impetus in them, making them to be as men new created, and they will tell you that Jesus Christ came along that way, they saw in his face the stain of blood, the marks of nails were in his hands and feet, he had the appearance of one who had been cruelly slain. He stopped, looked at them and said: "Come unto me." They obeyed, they fell at his feet. He touched them, a strange, keen sense thrilled through them. He said to them, "Arise." They arose and found themselves new men -- men twice begotten.
Ask the drunkard who tried to be sober, broke every pledge and drank in his cup the very life blood of those he loved and who loved him -- how at last he found strength to say a final "no," turn from the accursed thing, and enter a world all new in which to live, a freeman and no more a slave -- he will tell you, "Jesus Christ did it all."
Ask any of the bond slaves of passion, men who have been gripped by every form of human desire, and whiplashed, and stung, and tortured by their gratification, and driven to fresh and maddening excess by the never satisfied and always burning lust within (ever crying like the horseleach's daughter, "Give, give"); ask them how it is that to-day they are freemen and walk as kings, and they will tell you that Jesus Christ laid hold of them, and by the might of his power, the tenderness of his love, and the wealth of his grace, made them free.
And this has been going on for two thousand years.
The story has recently been told of a great thinker lecturing one day before a large audience of medical students -- some eighteen hundred men who pressed in to hear him. He took from his desk a letter, and holding it up before him, said something to this effect:
"Gentlemen! I have here a letter from one of your number, in which he tells the story of his life -- a record of shame, of sinful indulgence, that makes me shudder even to look at the letter. At the close of this fearful confession he asks, 'Can your God save such an one as I am?'"
Stopping for a moment and surveying his audience, the speaker said: "When I came to the city this afternoon (it was the city of Edinburgh) there was a beautiful, fleecy cloud spreading itself like a thing of glory in the upper sky, and I said, 'O cloud, where do you come from?' and the cloud answered me and said, 'come from the slums and the low, vile places of the city. The sun of heaven reached down and lifted me up and transfigured me with his shining.'"
Looking about upon the now deeply impressed throng, the speaker, after a solemn pause, said:
"I do not know whether this young man is here or not, but if he is, I can say to him that my Saviour and my Master, Jesus Christ, he who is our great God and Saviour, he can reach down from the highest heaven to the lowest depths into which a human soul can sink, and can lift you, and lift you up and up, till he shines in you and through you, and transfigures you with the light of his love and glory."
He is doing it now.
And who is he who can do this but the living God alone?
That Jesus Christ was God is the testimony of the men who lived in intimate communion with him and knew him best.
John leaned on his breast at supper. John heard and knew the beating of the Master's heart, and John says:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (God was the Word). The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. . . . 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."
Again this same John writes:
"Jesus Christ . . . THIS IS THE TRUE GOD."
Writing to the Philippians, Paul declares, that Jesus Christ was in the "form of God," laid aside his glory as such, took upon him the "form" of sinful man, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, carried his humanity through hades and the grave, rose out from among the dead, and took that humanity to the throne of the highest. There God the Father reclothed him with the unbegun and uncreated glory which he had laid aside, gave him a name which is above every name, even the name of Jesus, and has highly and eternally ordained that every knee in the wide extended universe shall bow, and every tongue confess, that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
In his epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul announces that this "same Jesus" is the "image of the invisible God; by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers; all things were created by him, and for him."
To the same Colossians he further writes:
"In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
To the Hebrews he says: "He is the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person" (the word "image" is charakter and signifies an "engraving," the very engraving of God in the flesh, the engraving of God in humanity) and upholding all things by the word of his power. "Upholding all things!" this earth in its orbit about the sun; the sun in its orbit about some other sun; all suns and systems in their orbits of splendor, whirling onward in ever-widening distances over highways of infinite spaces, through extensions that are measureless, and where time does not count. In that unmeasured expansion where the points of the compass are lost and "dimension" is a meaningless term; in that incomprehensible and indefinable vastness, filled with the might and the majesty of form, of weight, of motion and limitless power -- all things -- are hanging on his word and obeying his will.
Not only does the New Testament proclaim him God -- the Old Testament does likewise, and with unmistakable speech.
The prophet Isaiah says:
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father."
Micah, the prophet, glorifies the little town of Bethlehem, least as it is among the thousands of Judah, and foretells that he who shall be born there, and is to be ruler in Israel, is he "whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting." He who has been the outgoing and the forth-putting of the invisible God; and who is, and who alone can be, the visibility of God.
When we turn to the New Testament once more, we are given a vision of him, in Patmos, where he appears to that beloved John who had leaned so heavily on his heart in the days of the earthly pilgrimage. It is a vision of wonder, of glory, and divine splendor. He is seen as a man -- as one who had become dead, who was now alive, who had conquered both death and the grave. His face shone with the light of the noonday sun, his eye glances were as a flame of fire, and when he spoke, his voice was as the sound of many waters; and this is what he said for himself:
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty."
This is the climax.
He claimed to be Almighty God while on earth.
He claims it from heaven.
He says I am God -- he says that because he declares himself as embracing the whole extent of being.
"I am he that is" -- that is to say, the self-existing one; for the statement is the cognate of that, "I am that I am," which is the pre-eminent appelative of deity.
"I am he which was" -- and this extends being into the past; that past he himself defines. He does not say I am in the beginning, but I am the beginning -- beginning itself -- the origin of things and, therefore, himself unbegun, eternal, from everlasting. It is the echo of that far-flung phrase of old: Even "from everlasting to everlasting thou art God."
"I am he which is to come" -- this includes eternity future -- the unendingness which stretches without a horizon beyond the present.
Here is fulness -- and the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
In saying these words upon Patmos, then, our Lord Jesus Christ says:
"I am God -- I am Almighty God."
Nor is this a mere conclusion from the premise here!
He says it directly, plainly and squarely himself.
He says not only that he is, and was, and is to come -- but he says --
"I AM THE ALMIGHTY."
And Paul, the special apostle of the Church, unites with Thomas (the believing, but material evidence demanding representative of the elect remnant in Israel) in proclaiming the deity of God's Christ.
Thomas falls at his feet and cries:
"My Lord and My God."
Paul bows his head in adoration before him and writes:
"Our great God and Saviour -- Jesus Christ."
Upon the august throne of the universe he is seated.
He who lay a babe upon a woman's breast; who, although he was infinite, became an infant; who being in the form of God, did not hesitate to put off the divine glory and put on mortal humanity that (as an infinite person) he might, through the "prepared" body of his mortality, offer an infinite sacrifice for men; who died under a malefactor's doom, but with his nailed hands, in the hour of his agony, saved a thief from hell -- opening to him the gates of Paradise; he who refused the deliverance of angels when they bent above his cross, that by his cross he might give to men the deliverance angels could not give; lie who was buried in a borrowed grave; who rose as an immortal man, ascended as the Second Adam -- the New Head of Humanity -- the Life Giver to a world, and took his seat on the Father's throne, as witness of redemption achieved and salvation secured -- he sits there now, and having taken to himself the glory which he had with the Father before all worlds were, having clothed his immortal humanity with that "form of God" which ever was his, now sits the centre of a world's adoration and heaven's amaze, as the GOD MAN -- the highest form of God and the ultimate form of man; the proclamation that man in Christ is the archetype of God and God in Christ the archetype of man.
As we thus gaze upon him in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; as we meditate upon him, seek to reason about him, are touched by his love, held by his power, and filled with his life, we say with the inspired apostle: "Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh."
"Our great God," repeats Paul, and he adds, to balance the wonder of it, "and our Saviour Jesus Christ;" he who, in some glad day nearer than we think, is coming back to this old, sin-stained, grave-digged world -- to be owned and saluted by all nations, peoples, kindred and tongues as --
"THE GOD OF THE WHOLE EARTH."
With all this glory and this wonder he is, as the angels said, (who spoke of his ascension, session and Second Coming), "THIS SAME JESUS," full of tender mercy, and loving compassion; by virtue of his perfect sacrifice able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God the Father by him; saying from heaven as he once said on earth: "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out"; but saying at the same time, and with unfailing faithfulness: "No man cometh into the Father but by me"; saying it faithfully because, of a truth, only in the Son can the Father be found.
Let me exhort all who may read these lines, if you have not already done so, to fall down at his pierced feet, and with deep contrition for all your transgressions and for your very nature of sin which helped to nail him to the accursed tree, say with voice of unfailing love and unfaltering faith:
"My Saviour and my God."
If you have already owned him as your Saviour, then, as Thomas of old, with the voice of deep devotion say:
"My Lord and my God."
To those of you (if there be such) who still deny his deity and persist in calling him good, he, himself, is asking you from heaven as he asked it aforetime upon earth:
"Why callest thou me good?"
In asking you that he is putting upon you the responsibility of the terrible conclusion of your own premise:
IF NOT GOD -- NOT GOOD!
Are you willing to face him in eternity with that inexorable alternative:
"IF NOT GOD -- NOT GOOD?"