This testimony challenges at once our highest regard and belief from the absolute veracity which no one ever denied him, or could deny, without destroying at once the very foundation of his universally conceded moral purity and greatness.
Christ strongly asserts his humanity, and calls himself; about eighty times in the Gospels, the Son of man.50 This expression, while it places him in one view on common ground with us as flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, already indicates at the same time that he is more than an ordinary individual, -- not merely a son of man like all other descendants of Adam, but the Son of man; the Man in the highest sense; the ideal, the universal, the absolute Man; the second Adam, descended from heaven; the Head of a new and superior order of the race, the King of Israel, the Messiah.51 The same is the case substantially, though less clearly, with the cognate term, "the Son of David," which is frequently given to Christ as an official title of the promised Messiah, the King of Israel, as by the two blind men, the Syrophenician woman, and the people at large.52
The appellation the Son of man does not express, then, as many suppose, the humiliation and condescension of Christ simply, but his elevation rather above the ordinary level, and the actualization, in him and through him, of the ideal standard of human nature under its moral and religious aspect, or in its relation to God. This interpretation is suggested grammatically by the use of the definite article, and historically by the origin of the term in Dan. vii.13, where it signifies the Messiah, as the head of a universal and eternal kingdom. It commends itself, moreover, at once as the most natural and significant, in such passages as, "Ye shall see the heavens open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John i.51); "He that came down from heavens even the Son of man which is in heaven" (John iii.13); "The Son of man hath power to forgive sins" (Matt. ix.6; Mark ii.10); "The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day" (Matt. xii.8; Mark ii.28); "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you" (John vi.53); "The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father;"53 "The Son of man is come to save " (Matt. xviii.11; comp. Luke xix.10); "The Father hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man" (John v.27). Even those passages which are quoted for the opposite view, receive, in our interpretation, a greater force and beauty from the sublime contrast which places the voluntary condescension and humiliation of Christ in the most striking light, as when he says: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Luke ix.58): or, "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. xx.27, 28). Thus the manhood of Christ, rising far above all ordinary manhood, though freely coming down to its lowest ranks with the view to their elevation and redemption, is already the portal of his Godhood.
But he calls himself at the same time, as he is most frequently called by his disciples, the Son of God, in an equally emphatic sense. He is not merely a son of God among others, -- angels, archangels, princes and judges and redeemed men, -- but the Son of God as no other being ever was, is, or can be; all others being sons or children of God only by derivation or adoption, after a new spiritual birth, and in dependence on his absolute and eternal Sonship.54 He is, as his favorite disciple calls him, the only-begotten Son, or, as the old catholic theology expresses it, "eternally begotten of the substance of the Father." In this high sense the title is freely given to him by his disciples,55 without a remonstrance on his part; and by God, the Father himself, at his baptism and at the transfiguration.56 It is significant too, that, while he directs us to address God as "our Father," he himself always addresses him: "My Father," because he sustains a peculiar relation to him far above the level of human children of God, who are made such only by regeneration and adoption.
Christ founds his whole doctrine and kingdom on his own person. His divine-human person is his constant theme, his cause. He is himself the gospel. All this he does without the remotest sense of pride or ambition or vanity, but with the simplicity and authority of self-evident truth. Hence his words have such an overwhelming power over the hearts. "Verily, verily, I say unto you." So God speaks in the Old Testament, but no man. "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins " (John viii.24). What a majesty is implied in this declaration!
Christ represents himself constantly as being "not of this world," but "sent from God," as having "come from God," and as "being in heaven" while living on earth (John iii.13). He not only announces and proclaims the truth as other messengers of God, but declares himself to be "the Light of the World" (John viii.12); "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John xiv.6); "the Resurrection and the Life" (John xi.25). "All things," he says, "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."57 He invites the weary and heavy-laden to come to him for rest and peace (Matt. xi.28); he promises life in the highest and deepest sense, even eternal life, to every one who believes in him;58 he claims and admits himself to be the Christ, or the Messiah, of whom Moses and the prophets of old testify, and the King of Israel.59 When, in view of his approaching death, and under a solemn appeal to the living God, he was challenged by the Jewish high priest, in the name of the venerable though corrupt theocracy, with the question: "Art thou the Christ (the promised Messiah), the Son of God?" he calmly and deliberately answered in the affirmative, and pointed him to his glorious return in the clouds of heaven; thus proclaiming himself, in the moment of the deepest humiliation and in the face of the apparent triumph of the powers of darkness, the God-like Ruler and Judge of mankind!60
The only choice here is between a truly divine man and a mad blasphemer. The high priest understood the meaning of this solemn affirmation better than many modern commentators: he rent his sacerdotal garment, and exclaimed in indignation and horror: "Thou hast spoken blasphemy!"
Jesus, moreover, repeatedly represents himself as the Lawgiver of. the new and last dispensation (Matt. v.22-24; xxviii.19, 20); as the Founder of a spiritual kingdom co-extensive with the race, and everlasting as eternity itself;61 as the appointed Judge of the quick and the dead;62 as the only Mediator between God and man; as the Saviour of the world.63 He parts from his disciples with those sublime words, which alone certify his divinity: "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world" (Matt. xxviii.18-20).
Finally, he claims such a relation to the Father as implies both the equality of substance and the distinction of person, and which, in connection with his declarations concerning the Holy Spirit, leads with. logical necessity, as it were, to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. For this doctrine alone saves the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, without affecting the fundamental truth of the Unity of the Godhead; and keeps the proper medium between an abstract and lifeless monotheism and a polytheistic tritheism.
Christ always distinguishes himself from God the Father, who sent him, whose works he came to fulfill, whose will he obeys, by whose power he performs his miracles, to whom he prays, and with whom he communes, as a self-conscious personal being. And so lie distinguishes himself with equal clearness from the Holy Spirit, whom he received at his baptism, whom he breathed into his disciples, and whom he promised to send and did send on them as the other Paraclete, as the Spirit of truth and holiness, with the whole fullness of the accomplished salvation. But he never makes a similar distinction between himself and the Son of God: on the contrary, he identifies himself with the Son of God, and uses this term, as already remarked, in a sense which implies much more than the Jewish conception of the Messiah, and nothing short of the equality of essence or substance.
For he claims, as the Son, a real, self-conscious pre-existence before man, and even before the world: consequently, also, before time; for time was created with the world.64 Hence the Arian notion of a temporal preexistence of Christ is metaphysically untenable. It assumes a creature to have existed before the creation, and a finite being to have begun existence before time. Before the act of creation, there was nothing but God and eternity. Time is the necessary form under which the world exists successively, as space is the form under which all material substances exist simultaneously. Time, before the world, could only have referred to God, who does not exist in time, but in eternity. "Before Abraham was," or began to be, says Christ, "I am;" significantly using the past tense in the one and the present in the other case to mark the difference between man's temporal and his own eternal mode of existence.65 In the sacerdotal prayer, he asks to be clothed again with the glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world.66 He assumes divine names and attributes as far as consistent with his state of humiliation; he demands and receives divine honors (John v.23); he freely and repeatedly exercises the prerogative of pardoning sin in his own name, which the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees, with a logic whose force is irresistible on their premises, looked upon as blasphemous presumption;67 he familiarly classes himself with the infinite majesty of Jehovah in one common plural, and boldly declares: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John xiv.9); "I and the Father are one" (John x.30).68 He co-ordinates himself, in the baptismal formula, with the Divine Father and the Divine Spirit (Matt. xxviii.19); and allows himself to be called by Thomas, in the name of all the apostles, "My Lord and my God!" (John xx.28.)
These are the most astounding and transcendent pretensions ever set up by any being. He, the humblest and lowliest of men, makes them repeatedly and uniformly to the last, in the face of the whole world, -- even in the darkest hour of suffering. He makes them, not in swelling, pompous, ostentatious language, which almost necessarily springs from false pretensions, but in a natural, spontaneous style, with perfect ease, freedom, and composure, as a native prince would speak of the attributes and scenes of royalty at his father's court. He never falters or doubts, never apologizes for them, never enters into an explanation: he sets them forth as self-evident truths, which need only be stated to challenge the belief and submission of mankind.
Now, suppose for a moment a purely human teacher, however great and good; suppose a Moses or Elijah, a John the Baptist, an Apostle Paul, or John, -- not to speak of any church-father, schoolman, or reformer, -- to say: "I am the Light of the world;" "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life;" "I and the Father are one;" and to call upon all men, "Come unto me;" "Follow me," that you may find "life" and "peace," which you can not find elsewhere: would it not create a universal feeling of pity or indignation? No human being on earth could set up the least of these pretensions, without being set down at once as a madman or a blasphemer.69
But from the mouth of Christ these colossal pretensions excite neither pity nor indignation, nor even the least feeling of incongruity or impropriety. We read and hear them over and over again without surprise.70 They seem perfectly natural, and well sustained by the most extraordinary life and the most extraordinary works. There is no room here for the least suspicion of vanity, pride, or self-deception. For these eighteen hundred years, these claims have been acknowledged by millions of people of all nations and tongues, of all classes and conditions, of the most learned and mighty as well. as the most ignorant and humble, with an instinctive sense of the perfect agreement of what Christ claimed to be with what he really was.
Is not this fact most remarkable? Is it not a triumphant vindication of Christ's character, and an irresistible proof of the truth of his pretensions? And can we deny the truth, and refuse to acknowledge his divinity, without destroying his veracity, and overthrowing the very foundation of his moral goodness and purity, as universally acknowledged even by heretics and unbelievers? If he, the wisest, the best, the holiest of men, the greatest teacher and benefactor of the race, -- acknowledged as such by the common consent of the civilized world, -- declares himself one with the Father, and so identifies himself in will and aim, in essence and attributes, with the infinite God, to an extent and in a sense as no man or angel or archangel could do for a moment, without blasphemy or insanity, and if he receives the divine adoration fro-m his own intimate disciples, how can we, in logical consistency, as well as in harmony with the deepest moral and religious instincts of our nature, refuse to fall down before him, and, with Thomas, -- the representative of honest, truth-loving skepticism among his disciples, -- to exclaim from the depths of our soul: "My Lord and my God"?
This is the "testimonium animæ naturaliter Christianæ," to use a celebrated expression of Tertullian. It is the testimony of the soul which is originally made for Christ, and longs for him, and finds no satisfaction of its infinite desires for truth, beauty, and goodness, until it believes in Christ, -- the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the divine Man and the incarnate God in one undivided person for ever.