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NYPL RESEARCH LIBRARIES



3 3433 07955923 7



THE T3EDELL LECTURES, 1889



THE HISTORICALCHRIST.THE
MORAL POWER OF HISTORY



BY THE

Rev. DAVID H. GREER, D.D.

RECTOR OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S CHURCH, NEW YORK



NEW YORK
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

31 WEST TWENTY-THIRD STREET
I89O



THE NEW

PUBLIC L

783287

ASTC3, LENOX AND
TILD1N FOUNDA1 IONS

R 19 17



Copyright,
E. P. DUTTON & CO.

1890.



Press of J. J. Little & Co.
Astor Place, New York.



EXTRACTS

From the communication of the donors
to the Board of Trustees of the Theolog-
ical Seminary of the Diocese of Ohio and
Kenyon College.

Cleveland, June 21, 1880.

Gentlemen:

We have consecrated and set apart for the ser-
vice of God the sum of $5,000, to be devoted to
the establishment of a lecture or lectures in the
Institutions at Gambier, on the Evidences of Nat-
ural and Revealed Religion; or the Relations of
Science and Religion.

We ask permission of the Trustees to establish
the lecture immediately, with the following pro-
visions:

The lecture or lectures shall be delivered bien-
nially on Founders' Day (if such a day shall be
established), or other appropriate time. During
our lifetime, or the lifetime of either of us, the
nomination of the lectureship shall rest with us.

The interest for two years on the fund, less the
sum necessary to pay for the publication, shall be
paid to the Lecturer.

3



4 Extracts.

The Lecturer shall also have one half of the
net profits of the publication during the first two
years after the date of publication. All other
profits shall be the property of the Board, and
shall be added to the capital of the lectureship.

We express our preference that the lecture or
lectures shall be delivered in the Church of the
Holy Spirit, if such building be in existence; and
shall be delivered in the presence of all the mem-
bers of the Institutions under the authority of the
Board.

We ask that the day on which the lecture or
the first of each series of lectures shall be deliv-
ered, shall be declared a holiday.

We wish that the nomination to this lecture-
ship shall be restricted by no other consideration
than the ability of the appointee to discharge the
duty to the highest glory of God in the completest
presentation of the subject. We desire that the
lectures shall be published in uniform shape, and
that a copy of each shall be placed in the libraries
of Bexley Hall, Kenyon College, and of the Philo-
methesian and the Nu Pi Kappa Society. Asking
the favorable consideration of the Board of
Trustees,

We remain with great respect,

G. T. Bedell,
Julia Bedell.

The Board accepted the gift, approved
the terms, named All Saints' Day, No-
vember the first, as Founders' Day, and
made it a holiday.



LECTURE FIRST.



" The former treatise have 1 made, O Theophilus, of
all that Jesus began both to do and teach y until the day
in which He was taken up."— Acts i. I.

The author of the Acts was the au-
thor also of the third gospel. Both of
them were written by St. Luke, and both
are biographical. In the gospel he has
given a biographical sketch of Jesus
Christ. In the Acts he has given a
biographical sketch of some of the apos-
tles of Christ, but more particularly of
the apostle Paul. He had come into
close, personal contact with these two
remarkable lives, and from his personal
knowledge he tells us he has written out



6 TJje Historical Christ,

these two descriptions of them; and yet,
although they are two lives, and very
widely separated from each other, as we
shall presently see, St. Luke seems to
speak as though they were but one, as
though the life of St. Paul and of the
other apostles were but a continuation
of the life of Jesus Christ. "The for-
mer treatise have I made," he says, " of
all that Jesus began both to do and
teach, until the day in which He was
taken up," intimating thus that in this
latter treatise he is about to tell what
Jesus continued to do and teach after
His removal in bodily form from the
earth. And this suggests the subject to
which I will ask your attention in these
lectures; namely: The Historical C/irist
as the Moral Power of History. Or, the
two lives of Christ; one of them in the
gospel record, and which, as there pre-
sented, is a unique and finished life; and
the other in human history, which is not
finished yet, and will not be until the



The Moral Power of History. 7

story of human existence in this world
has been fully told. I hope in this man-
ner to be able to suggest, if not to elab-
orate, a cumulative argument in behalf of
the Christian religion, which may not be
unworthy of the occasion.

In the present lecture I will ask you to
consider the life of Jesus Christ in the
gospel record. In order to appreciate
the uniqueness of that life, it is only
necessary to put it alongside of other
lives and note the impression produced
by the comparison, or, rather, by the
contrast. I do not mean that the life of
Jesus Christ, as described in the gospel
record, has a supernatural element in it,
and is in that sense unique, for that is a
uniqueness which some persons do not
concede to it, and I will not therefore
assume it. I mean rather that it is
unique in its moral character and that it
displays a form of goodness to us which
has no parallel in the whole field of biog-
raphy. Take, for instance, the life of St.



8 The Historical Christ,

Paul himself, certainly one of the best
and most exalted lives of which we have
any knowledge, and bring it close to that
of Jesus Christ, and then with a quick
transition glance from one to the other.
In St. Paul we see, notwithstanding his
fine and superior character, a man like
ourselves, who has our human defects,
our human faults and failings, who, after
all, is made of our common clay, who,
like us, at times repents of what he has
done and tries to do better, crying out:
" O, wretched man that I am ! " and
pressing on toward the goal. That is
our method, our fashion; we understand
it. Then suddenly look from St. Paul to
Jesus Christ, and it is like going at once
from the darkness into the daylight, or
as though some cloud hanging before the
face of the sun, had, in an instant, melted
away into glory; for there in Jesus Christ
is a life, which r from first to last, has no re-
pentance in it, which never acknowledges
an error, never has a regret. Think, if



The Moral Power of History, g

you can think it, of a goodness which has
no contrition in it, no sense of sin and ill
desert, no feeling- of personal unworthi-
ness, no consciousness of having made a
mistake in either speech or action, no
self-reproach and upbraiding, no asking
for forgiveness. That is not our fashion.
There is something strange, awful, in
the goodness of Jesus Christ; something
that makes us stand with bated breath
and uncovered head before it. Other
men have had to fight for * goodness;
their story is a story of conflict, of la-
bored pursuit, and effort; and as they
have advanced in goodness they have be-
come more painfully conscious of the evil
in them, and have been made to realize
more keenly their moral defects and fail-
ures. " As an individual," says Dr.
Strauss, " becomes morally purified, the
moral feeling itself is more acutely sen-
sitive to the slightest impurity of motive
and to the slightest deviation from the
ideal." St. Paul, the great Christian



jo The Historical Christ.

apostle, although so good to us, is, to
himself, at times, the very chief of sin-
ners. St. Augustine, the great Christian
theologian, as he draws near to the end
of his illustrious career, finds his princi-
pal solace in reading repeatedly the peni-
tential Psalms. Tertullian, the great
Christian purist, is forever lamenting his
" fever heats of impatience," and saying
how unworthy he is, "being a man of
no good," to preach to others of good-
ness; while Origen, the great Christian
mystic, discoursing in the City of Jerusa-
lem on the message of God to the
wicked, bursts into such a storm of tears
over his own shortcomings that he is un-
able to proceed. This is a feature that
we find in all Christian biography, and
not only in all Christian biography, but
in all the best biography outside of
Christendom. "In letters," says Con-
fucius, "I am perhaps equal to other
men, but the character of the superior
man, carrying out in his conduct what he



The Moral Power of History. 11

professes, is what I have not yet attained.
It may simply be said of me that I strive
to become such." Mohammed in the
Koran confesses his sins repeatedly; so
does Zoroaster; so does Sakyi Mouni;
for the life of the Buddha is a struggle
with evil desire, and the tree is pointed
out in the east to-day where his anguish
was at last appeased, and under which
he is said to have gotten the victory.
Measured by our standard, these were
good men, but like other men, better and
worse, they grew by degrees in goodness.
They began with the consciousness of
moral defect, and became good after
awhile. They started in the valley and
worked their way through many slips
and failures gradually up to the summit.
They reached the top by climbing. But
Jesus Christ does not climb; He is there,
without climbing, on His distant moun-
tain-top when we first behold Him. He
grows, to be sure, in wisdom, and waxes
strong in spirit, but v as Dr. Bushnell sug-



12 TJje Historical Christ,

gests, it is not a growth effected by a
process of rectification, in which we see
confidence checked by defeat, passion
moderated by reason, smartness sobered
by experience, and the gradual mending
of follies and removal of evil distempers.
It is like the growth of a flower, har-
moniously unfolding, complete at every
stage — childhood, youth and manhood
— and perfect from the beginning. His
goodness as we see it in the gospel story,
does not look like an evolution, but like
a revelation. As though it were not so
much the result of a victory over sin as
the exhibition, rather, of a life that knew
no sin. It does not seem, like other
forms of goodness with which we are fa-
miliar, to have come up out of the ground,
but, in some mysterious manner, to
have been let down from above; and this
we say, not because we have been taught
to apprehend it so, through the medium
of a dogmatic philosophy, but simply be-
cause this is what we see, because it is



The Moral Power of History. 13

the impression which it makes upon us,
as though it were indeed the full-orbed
manifestation in our human sky of that
ideal goodness; that perfect love; that
spotless purity; that immaculate vir-
tue ; that absolute and eternal right
in which the heart of man instinctively
believes, but which it nowhere finds on
the earth, and which it attributes to God.
Again, not only is the goodness of Je-
sus Christ differentiated in quality from all
other goodness, but also in its quantity ;
that is, it has more in it, is more compre-
hensive in its reach and scope, and
marked by a greater variety of moral
traits and ingredients. Other men have
represented certain types of goodness;
Jesus Christ represents them all, and is
the best illustration of each. His char-
acter is not one sided, but full and many
sided, and no one excellence is sacrificed
to or abortived by another. Single in
His purpose, and yet He is not narrow ;
broad in His sympathy, and yet He is



14 The Historical Christ,

not indifferent ; zealous in His devotion
to truth, and yet He is not partisan; char-
itable in His thought and speech, and yet
He is not unjust. Every conceivable
virtue is exhibited by Him, and yet in
perfect balance with all other virtues.
Hence it is no single adjective can set
Him off; no single word describe Him ;
no single definition of any creed exhaust
Him ; and whatever the path of moral
excellence in which men try to move,
they discover sooner or later that Jesus
Christ is there before them, and are made
to hear His voice saying " Follow me."
Hence it is, also, that all types of virtue
have appropriated Him as their model ;
that all forms of philanthropy have rec-
ognized Him as their guide ; that all
sects have adopted Him ; that all parties
have appealed to Him ; that all ages
have admired Him ; that all nations have
been able to serve Him ; that all estates
and conditions of men have found their
hope and inspiration in Him. The knights



The Moral Power of History. i?

of old, as Dr. Farrar remarks, saw in
Him the mirror of all chivalry ; the monks,
the pattern of all asceticism ; the philoso-
phers, the enlightener in all truth. To a
Fenelon He has seemed the most rapt of
mystics ; to a Vincent De Paul, the most
practical of philanthropists ; to an English
poet,

'* The best of men that e'er wore earth about Him,
Was

The first true gentleman that ever breathed; "

And amid all the confusion of the present
age, with go many babel voices sounding
in our ears ; so many teachers teaching ;
so many prophets prophesying ; so many
conflicting oracles clamoring to be heard;
one thing at least is clear, and that is
that the ideal life which every one feels
instinctively he ought to live is found in
Jesus Christ, and that there is no rule of
conduct so excellent in itself, so noble in
its effects upon the individual and society



1 6 The Historical Christ,

at large, as that which He both illustrates
and enjoins.

Looking, then, at the story of Jesus
Christ which St. Luke has given in his
former treatise, not in its miraculous
features, which by some are questioned,
and which therefore I will not introduce
into this discussion, but simply in that
goodness which it discloses, in that
moral excellence which is admired by all
and questioned by none, and we are made
to perceive how widely it is differentiated
toto ccelo, by the width of the whole
heavens from all other lives. Those
other lives are more or less like our own,
and although in some instances they ex-
hibit a goodness which is far beyond us,
yet, as has been observed, we can see the
steps, we can trace the path between
them and ourselves, whereas around
Jesus Christ " there is a vacant space "
where the continuity of the path is
broken, where no steps appear, and "over
which no man yet, in this life, has trod."



The Moral Power of History. ij

Here then we find, in the literature of
the world, a moral portraiture which has
no parallel in the whole field of biography,
and to which all civilization appeals as
the highest conceivable standard of all
moral excellence. This, at least, is a
fact in regard to which there is no dis-
pute. " No perfect piety will ever be
possible," says Dr. Strauss, " without the
presence of Jesus in the heart." " Thou,
O Christ," says Renan, " shalt become
the corner-stone of humanity so com-
pletely, that to tear thy name from the
world, would be to rend it to its founda-
tions." "When I come to consider His
life," says the French critic La Mennais,
"the marvellous mingling in Him of
grandeur and simplicity, of sweetness and
force, that incomprehensible perfection
which never for a moment fails, neither
in the intimate familiarity of confidence
nor in the solemnity of instructions ad-
dressed by Him to the people at large,
neither in the joyfulness of the festival at



1 8 The Historical Christ,

Cana, nor amid the anguish of Geth-
semane, neither in the glory of His
triumph, nor in the ignominy of His pun-
ishment ; when I contemplate this grand
marvel which the world has seen only
once, and which has renewed the world,
I do not ask myself if Christ was divine,
— I should be rather tempted to ask my-
self if He were human." " About the
life and sayings of Jesus," says Mr. John
Stuart Mill, " there is a stamp of per-
sonal originality combined with profun-
dity of insight, which must place the
prophet of Nazareth in the very first rank
of the men of sublime genius of whom our
species can boast. When this pre-emi-
nent genius is combined with qualities of
probably the greatest moral reformer and
martyr to that mission who has ever ex-
isted upon earth, religion cannot be said to
have made a bad choice in pitching on
this man as the ideal representative and
guide of humanity ; nor even now would
it be easy even for an unbeliever to find



The Moral Power of History. 19

a better translation of the rule of virtue
from the abstract into the concrete, than
to endeavor so to live that Christ would
approve our life." This then, I say, is at
least a fact in regard to which there is
no dispute, that the ideal life for all
mankind has somehow found its way
into the literature of the world.

And now, let us take another step in
the development of the argument: How
did it come to be there, this ideal life, in
the world's literature? In what manner
can we explain its existence there ?
These are inquiries which cannot be
avoided: inquiries, too, which at the pres-
ent time are receiving much attention;
and it is not surprising. Reason has been
defined as "a relation seeking impulse,"
an impulse that is to trace the connection
of things, to find out how they originated,
the source from which they proceeded,
the antecedent influences which N have
called them forth and which alone can



20 The Historical Christ,

explain them. It is not strange therefore
that this "age of reason" should be
studying so industriously such a unique
and exceptional fact as the appearance in
literature of the character of Jesus Christ
and trying to find how it has come to be
there. It is indeed — not only because of
its scientific interest, but because also of
its practical bearing — the question of the
hour, and is coming more and more to be
so regarded. The finest thought, the
sharpest acumen, the ripest scholarship,
are being devoted to it, and there is
scarcely an author of note today who is
able to keep Jesus Christ out of his manu-
script.

Here let it be observed that the problem
which is thus presented to modern thought
by the Christian Religion is different from
those presented by all other religions-
Those other religions are studied with
the neuter pronoun. What doctrines do
they teach, what duties do they enjoin ?
Their influence is not due to the person-



The Moral Power of History. 21

ality of their founders: they would in fact
survive without their founders. Take
away Mohammed, and Islam still remains:
take away Buddha, and the Light of Asia
— such as it is — still shines: take away
Zoroaster, and the fire still burns with
unabated brightness on the Persian altar
and hill-top: take away Confucius, and the
religion of the Celestial Empire is in no
wise impaired: but, take away Jesus
Christ, and Christianity is gone. His
name is stamped on every page of the
New Testament writings, on every chap-
ter of ecclesiastical history; it is found
explicitly or implicitly in every creed, in
every liturgy, in every form of worship:
for Christianity in its essential and dis-
tinctive character is simply Jesus Christ
and the influence which He exerts. And
so from the outset, wherever the great
tidal wave of the Christian Religion swept
in its propagandist path, among the
peoples of the earth, from the shores of
Palestine across the waters of the Medi-



22 'The Historical Christ,

terranean, through the mountains of Asia
Minor, along the banks of the Danube
and the Tiber, to the far-off coasts of the
British Isles, it is the form of the Personal
Christ that is always seen on the top-
most crest of the wave, commanding
attention, exciting wonder and provoking
thought. While therefore there are other
religions in the world of venerable age —
older some of them than the Christian
Religion, and having more disciples — it is
none the less true, as Mr. Lecky remarks,
that, "It was reserved for the Christian
Religion to present to the world an ideal
Character, which through all the changes
of 1800 years has filled the hearts of men
with an impassioned love, and shown
itself capable of acting on all ages,
nations, temperaments and conditions."
The problem therefore presented to mod-
ern thought by the Christian Religion
is a unique problem: it has no parallel
in any other religion. The problem is
this : where did the Character of Jesus



The Moral Power of History. 23

Christ come from ? That is the ques-
tion. We do not meet it by an attempt
to show that religion in general is the
natural product of fear or the sublimated
residuum of a belief in ancestral ghosts.
It is not religion in general we are called
upon to consider, but the Christian Re-
ligion in particular: and the particular
thing that confronts us in the Christian
Religion is the Character of Jesus Christ.
Where did that Character come from:
how did it get into literature: by what
rational process can we explain most sat-
isfactorily and with the least number of
difficulties its existence there ? That is
the problem upon which modern thought
is so industriously working; and with
what result ? Let us see.

Haifa century since, when the science
of historical criticism was in its infancy,
the theory was advanced by certain Ger-
man critics that the character of Jesus
Christ as portrayed in the New Testa-
ment books does not rest upon an histor-



24 The Historical Christ,

ical basis ; that it has no fact commensu-
rate with or corresponding to it, and that
it has come into literature, not as a liter-
ary fraud exactly — for even the wildest
criticism would hardly make that asser-
tion — but as a literary growth and ex-
pansion, or, in other words, as a late and
gradual mythopceic development. To
substantiate this theory the attempt was
made to show that the New Testament
books are not the product of the apostolic
age, as had been up to that time believed,
but of a period very much later, when
sufficient time had elapsed for the Prophet
of Galilee to have become idealized by
mythical accretions and exaggerated
stones about Him. The Christian world,
it was said, had acquiesced in the claim
of the apostolic origin of those New Tes-
tament books simply because that claim
had not been critically examined. Like
many other books purporting to be an-
cient of date, they had been accepted as
genuine, so it was alleged, for the sole



The Moral Power of History. 25

reason that they had a venerable look
about them and had always been so re-
garded, and that, like those other books,
the New Testament writings, when
weighed in the balance of historical criti-
cism, would be found wanting. The
statement was startling and revolution-
ary, and coming from men of recognized
ability and scholarship, it created no little
uneasiness. Christian people were smit-
ten first with fear and then with indigna-
tion. Historical criticism, they declared,
was going a little too far, was becoming
too bold and presumptuous ; the Christian
writings were sacred, their apostolic ori-
gin must not be called in question, must
not even be investigated, and whoever
ventured to do so, was laying profane and
violent hands upon the Ark of God, and
liable to have his Christian faith im-
peached. Spite of this remonstrance,
however, the critical investigation of the
Christian writings went on. Those writ-
ings were a part of the world's literature,



26 The Historical Christ,

and must be examined, therefore, in regard
to date and authorship in the same man-
ner precisely as other writings. The
fact of their being sacred and dealing
with sacred subjects was not sufficient to
exempt them. The Christian world
might dig a trench and build a wall about
them, and blocking up the way of ap-
proach, exclaim, " No Thoroughfare," but
historical criticism was not to be deterred
by such vain devices. It recognized no
distinction between sacred and profane:
all writings to it were alike, and the apos-
tolic claims of the New Testament books
must be investigated by the same canons
of inquiry applied to other books, let the
consequences be what they might. Well,
what have they been ? The experience
which Mr. Leslie Stephen relates as hav-
ing happened to himself in the Alps, has
happened here also : " As I fell back," he
says, " my foot missed its former support,
and I was falling through the air. All
was over with me now, the mountain



The Moral Power of History. 27

sprang upward with a bound, but before
the fall had well begun, before the air had
begun to whistle past me, my movement
was suddenly arrested ; with a shock of
surprise I found myself lying on a broad
bed of deep moss, as comfortably and se-
curely as in my bed at home." With an


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