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i Theological Seminary,



BR 45 .H84 1866

Perowne, Edward Henry, d.

The Godhead of Jesus |






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That so great a title should preface so small a book
may seem to require justification. Of the dispro-
portion between them no one can be more sensible
than the Author himself. The object contemplated
in the following Lectures is not a full discussion of
the subject proposed, but a contribution to the study
of it. The two Sermons which are subjoined bear
upon the same subject, though the reference is spe-
cial, and the treatment somewhat different.

Upon the central truth of Christianity many lines
of proof converge. If in the following pages one of
these lines is made clearer, the pious design of Mr
Hulse, the Founder of these Lectures, will not have
altogether failed of its accomplishment. For this
result we would humbly ask, in the spirit of his own
prayer, '' May the Divine blessing for ever go along
with all my benefactions, and may the greatest and
the best of Beings, by His all- wise providence and
gracious influence, make the same effectual to His
own glory and the good of my fellow-creatures !"





Matthew XVI. 13.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Csesarea Philippi, He asked His

disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am ? i



John VII. 12.

And there was much murmuring among the people concerning Him : for
some said, He is a good man : others said. Nay, but He deceiveth
the people ........... 22



I Peter II. 22, part.
Who did no sin . . . . . . . . . . 4^



John I. 14.

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His
glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) fuU of grace
and truth ...........61




(Preached on Good Friday, 1866.)
John I. 29.


The next day John seetli Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the

Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world . . 83



(Preached on Easter Day, 1866.)

Philippians III. part of v. 10.

The power of His resurrection loa

Appendix (A) u^

Appendix (B) 121




When Jesus came into the coasts of Coisarea Philipjn, He
asked his disciples, Saying, Whom do men say that /, th^
Son of man, am ?

The question which I propose to consider in these
Lectures may be briefly stated as follows : Is there
reason to believe that the Jesus of the Gospels is
very and eternal God ?

To those who are in any degree acquainted With
the religious thought and the religious literature of
the day, the choice of this subject will appear not
only obvious, but (I had almost said) necessary.
For, whatever form religious discussion may take,
the question I have proposed really lies at the root
of all our controversies. And while many shrink
from giving a decisive answer to it, and try to keep
it out of sight, others more bold, or (as they term
it) more advanced, have elaborated an answer in
the negative. I do not know whether avowed and
formal Arianism has many adherents in England.
Some such doubtless there are. But between the de-
liberate denial of the Godhead of Jesus of Nazareth
p. H. J


and a hearty intelligent belief in it, there are many
stages and degrees of doubt. There is a neutral
ground of uncertainty and hesitation, shading off
imperceptibly into unbelief, which is only too thickly
peopled. And this neutral ground is not a level,
but a slope. There is no logical standing: alas!
how often is there no practical resting-place between
the two extremes*.

The doctrine of the Godhead of Jesus, whether
true or false, is the keystone of the arch of Chris-
tianity. So long as it remains unshaken, the whole
fabric of the Christian system is secure. Loosen or
dislodge it, and not only will the theology of the
New Testament become disintegrated, but its mo-
rality as a power will vanish, however it may sur-
vive as a code.

The opponents of this doctrine have not failed
to perceive its pre-eminent importance. They have
been cautious for the most part in their approaches
to this citadel of Christianity. One outpost after
another has been assailed by battery, or artfully
undermined ; and the beleaguering hosts have pushed
forward their lines, and closed in upon the fortress,
which is the object of final attack. The inspiration
and authority of Holy Scripture, and its historic
value; the truth of the Mosaic cosmogony; the
eternity of punishment; the possibility of miracles;
and, lastly, the reality of the Atonement — each in

' See page 16 for furtlier remarks on this jioiut.


turn has been made the subject of free discussion
by men who have mistaken hostility for candour,
or at least have assumed the position of critics
rather than of disciples. But it was not difficult to
foresee that all these discussions, so far as their re-
sults were adverse to established Christian belief,
would serve to clear the way for the discussion in
which we are now engaged, and to render it inevi-
table. When the king's charter is pronounced a
forgery, his royal prerogative abolished, the justice
of his decisions questioned, his pardon and his bounty
alike neglected and despised, then little remains save
the empty title of sovereign; and we are not sur-
prised that the annihilation of his power should be
followed by ^^iolence to his person.

In dealing with the question I have proposed,
I feel that we ought clearly to recognise the limita-
tions under which alone it can be considered. Of
these, some are common to all such investigations,
others peculiar to our own. To these preliminary
topics I have to invite your attention to-day.

I . Many modern writers refuse assent to a doc-
trine, however clearly stated in the Epistles, unless
they find it as clearly laid down in our Lord's own
discourses recorded in the Gospels. St Paul is too
logical. St John too subjective. St Peter too im-
petuous. Only St James is left. But, for consist-
ency's sake, they cannot retain him while rejecting
the other three. So they appeal to the Evangelists.



But one of these, St John, is found to be so explicit
in his statements of doctrine, that his evidence must
be got rid of He is again found to be too subjec-
tive to be trustworthy. His Gospel, it is alleged,
was written long after the events which it records,
and the narrative of those events, and especially of
our Lord's words, is coloured and distorted by the
medium through which the Apostle looked back
upon them. Hence we are required to draw all our
materials for a life of the Founder of our relisfion
from the first three, or Synoptic Gospels, as they
are called'. In submitting to this demand, I would
not be understood for one moment to allow its jus-
tice. I have a conviction of the truth, the inspi-
ration, and the equal authority of the whole New
Testament and every part of it. Additional study
of the Book deepens this conviction. Increased
acquaintance with the allegations and arguments of
objectors serves also to deepen it. I cannot pro-
fess (as some profess) when treating of the topic
which I have proposed, that my mind is a tabula
rasa, free from all bias or prejudice. If to abandon
my most cherished hopes, to uproot my strongest

^ Even aa regards the first tliree evidence, and there may be exaggera-
Gospels, the anonymous author of tion in its details ; but," &o. For a
Fere Homo tells us (p. lo), " Nothing fulk-r discussion of this strange state-
is more natural than that exaggera- nicnt see Lecture lir. It is quoted
tions and even inventions should be now to shew how meagre and how un-
mixed in our biographies with genuine certain is the residuum of historic fact
facts." Of the "story of ("hrlst's left us by this free handling of the
temptation," he says (p. 17), " It rests sieve,
indeed on no very strong external


belief, to mistrust those spiritual intuitions which
to a Christian man are more certain than logical
conclusions — if this is to be free from prejudice, I
cannot pretend to be unprejudiced. Nor again do I
think that a Christian preacher ought to put himself
on the level of the doubter or the sceptic, in the
hope of winning such to the faith. If he has doubts
himself, he is so far disqualified for discharging the
office which he holds, while such doubts remain i. It
is the duty of the Christian minister to resolve the
doubts of others, not to engender them by parading
his own. True philosophy aims at certainty. It
regards a state of doubt as a morbid not a healthy
condition of mind. It seeks not to stifle doubt with
the 'ipse dixit' of authority, but to throw the light
of truth on what is obscure, and to confirm what is
wavering. I would, in passing, urge on the younger
members of our academic body the importance of
attaining to certainty on all the leading truths of
Christianity, before they take in hand to instruct
others either as writers or preachers. It is now too
much the fashion to entertain or to affect doubts
even on subjects in which from their very nature
no new discoveries can be made^ Do not confound

1 2 Cor. iv. r3. not, pursue in imparting it? On this,

2 "Amid the manifold improve- however men may delude themselves,
ments and developments of our time, like most of the schoolmen, with mere
who will say that any fresh light has terms, no step is gained by mere rea-
been thrown on the antecedent proba- soning without data : and our age has
bilities of revelation, or the methods discovered, it can discover, nothing.
which the Almighty might, or might Our best course will be found at last


partial knowledge or ignorance with uncertainty.
In reference to all the profounder truths of revela-
tion you must be content to say with St Paul,
'^ We know in part, and we prophesy in part ;" but
you may also say with him, '' I know in whom 1
have behoved," and with St Peter, ^' Lord Jesus, we
believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the
Son of the living God."

Without, therefore, conceding the authority of
any part of the New Testament, or admitting that
jr doubt in matters of religion may be safely acqui-
esced in, I shall endeavour to shew from the Gospel
narrative that the Jesus, of whom the Evangelists
wrote, is very and eternal God.

Though, as has been observed already, attempts
have been made to set aside the historic truth of
St John's Gospel, yet I think that to yield to such
attempts would be to yield to the claims of a cre-
dulity from which an honest and inteUigent man
might well shrink. I will however make the con-
cession which the author of Ecce Homo^ has made,

to revert to the sound maxim, that in ^ This author has well said (Pref.

the things of God Fides prcccedit intel- to 5th ed. p. vii.), "The detection of

ledum: the maxim which — however discrepancies in the documents esta-

deiided by these writers under the Wishes a certain degree of independ-

name of "the religious view, quand ence in them, and thus gives weight

meme," or as an appeal to faith which to their agreement ; in particular the

at once does away with the character wide divergence in tone and subject-

of pliilosophy in the man that makes matter of the Fourth Gospel from the

it — doe.s in fact stand connected with other three affords a strong presump-

the highest intellectual development tion in favour of all statements in

of modern Europe." Mill, Mythical which it coincides with them."
Interpretation of the Gospels, p. 84, ed. 2.


and in the discussion of the question before us will
not appeal to the Fourth Gospel, ^'except in con-
firmation of statements made in the other Gospels,"
or in cases ^' where its testimony seems in itself pro-
bable and free from the suspected peculiarities ^"
But while making this concession I am well aware
that it is one which many persons of moderate views
would repudiate. The author of Phases of Faith
tells us that the late Dr Arnold rested the main
strength of Christianity on the Gospel of John.
'' Arnold," he says, ''regarded John's Gospel as
abounding with smaller touches which marked the
eye-witness, and altogether to be the vivid and
simple picture of a divine reality undeformed by
credulous legend 2." Such was the opinion of one
who was well versed in this kind of criticism ; whose
eye had detected, and whose firm and fearless hand
had weeded out 'credulous legend' from the field of
Roman History

1 Preface to 5th edition, p. xii. tributes to him. This manner of in-

2 6th ed. p. 81. Contrast with cessantly preaching? and demonstrat-
this statement the reiterated contempt ing himself, this perpetual argumen-
thrown on St John's Gospel by M. tation, this stage-effect devoid of sim-
Reaan in his Introduction : "Far re- plicity, these long arguments after
moved from the simple, disinterested, each miracle ; these stiff and awkward
impersonal tone of the synoptics, the discourses, the tone of which is so
Gospel of John shews incessantly the often false and unequal, would not be
pre-occupation of the apologist, the tolerated by a man of taste compared
mental reservation of the sectarian, with the delightful sentences of the
the desire to prove a thesis, and to synoptics." Ibid. p. 19.

convince adversaries." P. 17, Eng, '^ All the arguments agcdnst the

ed. "I dare defy anyone to compose authenticity of St John's Gospel are

a Life of Jesus with any meaning, to be found in Bretschneider's work,

from the discourrfes which John at- Probahilia de Evanrjelii et Epistolarum


2. But if the Jesus whose claims we are to con-
sider is to be the Jesus of the Evangehsts, as dis-
tinguished from the Jesus whom Paul preached and
John loved, at least let us understand clearly the
limits of the documents which are the sources of
our information respecting Him. If our ground is
narrowed, at least it should be accurately defined.
One result of the critical activity brought to bear of
late years on the text of Scripture, has been to
produce in the minds of many who have no op-
portunity for such studies, an impression not only
that the Enghsh version is unsatisfactory, but that
great uncertainty attaches to the original text. They
hear of a mass of various readings, of certain passages
being pronounced spurious, the record of one or two
incidents more than suspected, and they conceive of
the New Testament as of some old picture, so tam-
pered with by being cleaned and repaired and re-
touched, that the traces of the painter's hand, and
the lines and colour of the original picture are lost
beyond recovery. And yet this is to do injustice both
to Scripture and to textual criticism. The work of the
critic when honestly done, has been to restore, not to
efface, to render secure, not to undermine, the sacred
text. I would compare that text to some grand cathe-

loannis, ApostoU, Indole ct Oriyine. wholly surrendered the geuuineuess

Tliough puhlished as long ago as of the first three Gospels, refers to the

1 820, it still furnishes weapons for Fourth as ' the Sanctuary and the

assailants of the fourth Gospel. Ou Truth.'" Tholuck, Introduction to

the other hand, " Lucke, who in Commentary on St John, § 6.
his history of early Christianity has


dral erected by the pious munificence of a former age.
The fabric in its suhstaiitial parts has been maintained
by those who in succeeding times have had the
charge and the use of it. But the skill which reared
and adorned the edifice is not transmitted; and as
here a moulding decays and is dislodged, and there a
pinnacle falls to the ground, or the fair tracery of a
window crumbles or is mutilated, there is no cunning
hand to replace the stone as it was before. The gap is
not filled up, or is filled up with an unsightly mass of
common brick. But at length the study of ecclesias-
tical art is revived, and men think on the stones
of that noble Church, and it pitieth them to see it so
disfigured and defaced. And a skilful architect sets
himself to pick out the fragments from that heap
of long neglected rubbish, to compare the claims
of each portion to a place in such a wall or on such a
buttress. And as his labour of honest love proceeds,
guided and encouraged by others skilful and devoted
as himself, we see our grand Cathedral gradually
restored J i.e. brought back in all its details of grace
and beauty to its first condition; and we look not
upon an edifice of our own creation, but on that
glorious work which on the morning of its completion
gladdened the eye and the heart of the architect who
long centuries ago designed and built it. The labours
of critics have in like manner tended to restore the
text of the New Testament to the state in which it
left the hands of the inspired writers. And while, as


regards matters of detail, such as the forms or order
of words (for it is with such minutiae that textual
criticism chiefly concerns itself), each year of research
brings us nearer to an accurate text, those who are
employed in such research know better than other
students, that beneath the surface and ornament of
the building on which they are engaged, there is a
great fabric of substantial truth which the lapse of
centuries bas not availed to weaken or impair. They
know that while in other writings of the same age
as the New Testament, there are passages so corrupt,
that editors are compelled to abandon the Manu-
scripts and have recourse to conjecture, there is no
such instance to be found in the Gospels or the Epi-
stles. This is a fact, which however accounted for,
has always struck me as having an important bear-
ing on the results of textual criticism and on the
genuineness of the New Testament.

3. If then our copies of the Gospels may be re-
garded as approaching so near to the autograph, that
the difference is ever becoming smaller and smaller,
and may be practically neglected, the enquiry at once
suggests itself, ^ Are the accounts given of Jesus by
the Evangelists true and trustworthy biographies?'
To answer this question fully and completely would
be to repeat the arguments which from early days of
the Church to the present time have been adduced by
Christian apologists in refutation of attacks made on
the Gospel narrative. These attacks have varied


in outline with the ever-shifting modes of human
thought and the outward circumstances of the Church.
But one principle underlies all the various objections
which have been urged, whether by Celsus, by Paine,
by Hume, by Strauss, by Newman, or by Renan —
and that principle is an invincible repugnance to ad-
mit the possibility of a miracle. The difficulty of
eliminating the miraculous element has been felt to be
so great, that some modern biographers of Jesus have
found it necessary to draw largely on their imagi-
nation to supply the rents thus made in the simple
narrative from which they profess to derive their
information. The old, the hackneyed sophism is
still propagated as confidently as ever: 'It is not
contrary to experience that human testimony should
be false, but it is contrary to experience that a mira-
cle should be true.' Renan says, " In the name of
universal experience we banish miracle from history.
We do not say, * a miracle is impossible;' we say, 'up
to this time a miracle has never been proved \'" This
sophism (for it is nothing better) has been anticipated
and refuted by Paley in his work on the Evidences of
Christianity — a work, which, amidst many changes in
our course of education, has been wisely retained by the
University as a subject which every student is required
to read. To this, among other causes, we may doubtless
attribute the sobriety which has generally characterised
the religious investigations of Cambridge men. To say

^ Introd. p. 29.


this, is not to ascribe to Paley's treatise freedom from
defects. We only desire that it may retain its place
in our course of study till a better book is written \

But it may be questioned whether, after all, the
miracles of the New Testament constitute the chief
obstacle to the acceptance of the narrative as histo-
rical. It is not merely the supernatural, of which the
miracles are the exhibition, at which offence is really
taken. The real 'stone of stumbling' is the super-
human which is displayed in the life and character
and acts of Jesus, and which He is represented to
have claimed as attaching to Him. Men will not
have this man to reign over them. Feeling that the
Jesus of the Gospels occupies a moral and spiritual
stage far above themselves, they have either sought
with Arius and Socinus and Professor Newman to
bring Him down to their own level, or with Strauss
and the followers of Hegel on the continent and some
of their more cautious imitators in England, they have
elevated humanity into a Christ, raising man's nature
to that to which no individual could be supposed to
attain. In one word, if we will honestly probe the
various infidel and semi-infidel theories which have
been propounded since the beginning of the Christian
era, we shall find the real disease to be the pride of
man's heart refusing to own a superior — the sin by
which he at first lost Paradise and which evermore
hinders his return. This pride of humanity has been

1 See Appendix, Note (A).


variously developed. It has shielded its attacks upon
Christianity, now by a denial of miracles — a refusal to
allow the operation of any law which man cannot
trace; at another time, by seeking for moral defects ^

and imperfections in the character of Jesus; at an-
other, by regarding the human race as the truest efflux
and manifestation of the Divinity, the only real
corporeal Christ, animated by and at one with an all
pervading Deity. But the tendency is one and the
same. And if we are satisfied that such is the case,
we can account for the rejection of a narrative, which,
if only as deserving of credit as ordinary biographies,
requires our belief not only in the miraculous and the
supernatural, but in the superhuman too — a belief in
One who being in the form of man was yet more than
man, and who though truly man claimed to be the
eternal uncreated God. We thus convict objectors of
prejudice which is fatal to the impartial estimate
of the value of testimony. But on the other hand
it has never been shewn that the four Evangelists
were not '^competent judges of the facts to which
they give concurrent testimony," or that they were
all ^' alike actually under some indirect influence in
giving it." And, to adopt the words of Bp. Butler,
'^ Till this is made out, the natural laws of human
action require that testimony be admitted'."

4. In conducting our present enquiry, it may be
necessary, especially in this place, to remind ourselves

^ Butler, Analogy, p. ii. c. 7.


of the nature of the proof v^hich alone is applicable to
questions of this kind. We cannot demonstrate the
Godhead of Jesus, as we establish a proposition in
pure mathematics; and if we could, the result for
moral and spiritual ends would in itself be altogether
useless. In abstract science a proposition not only is
either true or false, but it is apprehended as such by
all men alike, whose previous training enables them

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Online LibraryEdward Henry PerowneThe Godhead of Jesus : four sermons (being the Hulsean lectures for 1866) → online text (page 1 of 9)