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of His life, separated either by distance or time, the weaker
became the impression of Him. But the contrary is the
fact.

B. Well, but that upsets any explanation, surely.

E. No. If we bear in mind the saying that " there
is a veil over all beginnings," and not expect so great a



106 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

matter to be plain as a proposition of Euclid is plain, I
think you will admit that the following statement is a
truer way of putting the case.

As a matter of history, not of philosophy, or psychology,
or modernism, or the like, we find that the " Good News "
preached to the world by the Apostles in the dawn of
Christianity, was a fact interpreted by a subsequent fact
in a particular way. The first fact was that Jesus of
Nazareth died on the Cross : the interpretation was that
He did so to save men from their sins, and the subsequent
fact which corroborated this interpretation was the
Resurrection on the third day. Suppose we imagine
things happening in that way : and then proceed to
think how such an appeal, or rather statement, affected
different people. As we are specially told, the inter-
pretation became to the Jews a " cause of offence " :
perhaps because they thought it assumed too large a
place for sin. The prevailing view was that the covenant
nation needed no special cleansing, or, maybe, they could
not reconcile the death with the idea of Christ's Messiah-
ship. Probably those who accepted Christ as their
Messiah became Christians, but many of them only did
so because of the Resurrection, and the power of spiritual
life which the early Christians showed. Their national
pride prevented them from thinking much of the Death,
anyhow in relation to themselves, as an Atonement.
When we are further told that the Cross was " to the
Greeks foolishness " we gather that the conventional
feelings among the majority of Gentiles, or at the least
Greek-speaking peoples, was equally antagonistic to the
Gospel message. This may have been partly because
it transcended reason, but the main objection must have
been that they felt no particular need for what the



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 107

Apostles called the Remission of Sins. But along with
these two large groups there were others. Can you not
picture them ?

B. I suppose you mean those who were inclined to bewail
their sins ? Surely not the best specimens of humanity ?

E. They were those who were saved from underrating
the fact of sin. They felt its profound mystery, its awful
penetrative power, its close personal grip in the pheno-
mena of remorse, guilt, and sense of individual responsi-
bility ; and, further, they felt its consequences, not only
in widespread havoc and wreckage of life, in poisoning
of relationships, in collapse of high endeavour, in dulling
of hope, in defilement of innocence, in perplexities, silent
anguish, drifting and despair ; but in something more
inward and searching than these, the prevailing sense of
the loss of communion with God : a certain indescribable
consciousness of crumbling ruin in the centre of man's
spiritual being, touching not the understanding only —
though there it transformed the thinking powers into empty
bewilderment and contradictory negations — but the very
dayspring of the highest region of man's being, his feeling
of contact with the Source of all power, all growth, all
joy. This deadly and disabling sickness was due to
the tremendous fact that personal responsibility, bound up
with freedom of the will, asserted itself against all pallia-
tions, subterfuges, doubt or denial, with an irresistible
strength utterly and decisively victorious against man's
reasoning and the assurances of his philosophical systems,
empty, comfortless and unmeaning. Hence it was true
for them as it undoubtedly is for us, that there is no pro-
blem in life worth mentioning, except the fact of sin,
and when man looks forward to the strife which lies before
him against ceaseless temptation and increasing weakness,



io8 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

or back on the woful record of failures, accounted for,
but not in any way mitigated by, theories of heredity and
a whole swarm of cheap fatalistic nostrums, there he finds
himself faced by guilt in the past and the certainty of
fresh collapse in the future.

B. Please go on. This is no mere historical statement,
but true at the present day.

E. Imagine then an ordinary man possessed by such
consciousness as this suddenly startled by the news of
the Divine Son bearing this load of sin away, taking on
to Himself all the guilt, the unspeakable horror and burden
of the penalty of death inevitably attached to sin as its
outcome and inevitable expression : when such a man
heard that this amazing victory was wrought in the past
as a finished triumph he would, of course, look upon life
with new eyes of hope, and on this baffling world as a
place redeemed by its Maker. But further, as he real-
ized the challenge to himself that was involved in the
story, that he should never again yield himself a victim
to the fascination of sin or error, he would become aware
of the cogent parsimoniousness of the message, in that
it illustrated the three pregnant and uplifting words
" God is Love " so powerfully that from thenceforth there
was for him a motive of the most transforming potency
in his life, the motive of free, willing service as the re-
sponse of gratitude — simple gratitude for the proof of
infinite love. Along with all this, which worked in him
a completely new set of conceptions as to the why and
wherefore of his own existence and the purpose of his
being, there were also the grand assurances as to
the truth of the revelation, in the manifestations of new
life, cleansed hearts, braced up wills, and joyous confi-
dence of self-surrender, shown by the members of the



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 109

new community in which he was enrolled. Is it not
fairly clear now that there were influences at work which
would establish and quicken and inspire the faith within
him till nothing could undermine it for all time ?

B. And Humility ?

E. I have not forgotten it. You see there are two
ways in which the appearance of a new virtue might be
accounted for. No Christian can refuse to believe in
some kind of special interposition on the part of the
Deity in human affairs at that time. One way of seeking
an explanation, therefore, would be to assume a special
activity of the Holy Spirit working on men's minds and
souls, so that Humility appeared and was reverenced by
all who came across it, just as a new form of courage and
self-devotion appeared and was reverenced. Nor can
any student of the narratives fail to notice that such must
have been the case. But I cannot rest content with any-
thing so mystical, unless we can point at the same time
to the change in men's minds operating in a natural way.
You see the difference ?

B. You mean that you wish to arrive at something
like a psychological explanation instead of resting on one
simply supernatural.

E. Just so. I have little doubt that, in reality, the
normal way in which the Divine Spirit works is in accord-
ance with psychological laws ; and that the supernatural
is really in agreement with nature. But, leaving that on
one side, let us consider the new view of life which must
have dawned upon the converts from heathenism. In
the first place you would agree, I think, that as long as
salvation was presented to men as a thing to be won by
their own efforts, so long there is room for what St. Paul
calls " boasting," as the efforts appear to succeed ?



no CHARACTER AND RELIGION

B. Yes, but surely you don't mean that salvation is
ever offered to man without effort on his part being
required ?

E. No, but the effort is not what is commonly sup-
posed. Imagine a Jew, brought up by Rabbis to believe
that in the Mosaic law, and its accretions through centuries,
lay his guidance for life and hope of being finally saved.
The first grand lesson he had to learn from the Apostles
was that his salvation was already wrought — his sins
already put away — his access to God freely opened. The
marvel was already accomplished in the unseen world
by One Who lifted the burden on to Himself in this world.
On the part of the sinner all that was required was to
" receive the reconciliation." Now if the matter went
no further than this, is it not clear that he would be in
the position of a child who realizes suddenly that through
his father's love everything has been done for him ?

B. Certainly : but is not that the exact description
of a spoilt child ?

E. Not at all. A spoilt child has everything done for
him without realizing the element of love in the parents.
He takes all the lavishness as a matter of course. But
supposing he realizes that he deserves nothing of it, but
that it is given as a free gift because his father loves all
that is best in him, the effect would be to make him realize
his own un worthiness.

B. I have long contended that the effect would be
exactly the opposite. But I fancy I see that it must
depend on the greatness of the gift, and the department
of life to which it refers.

E. You are right. If the bounty were merely in the
form of heedless pampering, no such effect would follow.
But supposing it concerned the highest matters of which



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST in

the child could conceive, and revealed at the same time
not only the father's love but his wisdom, his justice,
his power and forethought, what then ?

B. Why, if the boy were of a good disposition and cared
for these things he would, of course, feel himself unworthy
of so much kindness.

E. There we have it. If the boy cares about such
things ; how much depends on that ! But there, is infi-
nitely more in the Death of Christ than any illustration
can possibly touch. The Apostles in their first lessons
to the converts must have put the matter before them in
this way : Think Who it was Who hung upon the tree
in shame, helplessness and agony, all voluntarily under-
gone for you. He, the Divine One, bore your sins and
the cost to Him was death ; the death of the Son of God.
You have first to realize the victorious love, and then take
in the unutterable horror of sin which required such a
ransom. That sin is the same sickening, depressing
influence which bears down your life and poisons your
soul, and which you deliberately encourage within you.
It is supremely necessary for you to understand that the
deliverance thus wrought was totally undeserved, in the
sense that mankind had done nothing to earn it. All the
heavenly life is now yours, if you care to have it : all your
best hopes are fulfilled, if you will only believe what we
say, because what we say was told us by the Eternal God
Who cannot lie. Would not the effect on him be either
that he would reject the whole message, or feel within
himself an unworthiness such as he could not have con-
ceived of before ; and for two reasons. He would have
to own his fellowship with the horrible thing sin, the
malignity of which he was beginning to know : and
further he would understand that nothing whatever in



112 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

his life or conduct entitled him to claim the tiniest
fragment of the gift which God so freely bestowed.

B. I think I see. You mean that if he rejected it, it
would be because of his self-satisfaction : if he received
it, it would mean a conviction of deep abasement and the
very opposite of anything like self-congratulation ?

E. Exactly.

B. I freely admit that your statement answers my
original objection that the more God does for man the
more the latter will be puffed up. But I have been so
steeped in ideas as to man rising by his own efforts that
your picture of a salvation, first accomplished by Christ
and then merely received by man, is alien to all my ordi-
nary thoughts. Somehow it strikes me as if true Chris-
tianity according to this should be an easy matter. Was
Browning wrong when he called it hard ?

E. He was undoubtedly right. But the hardness
consists not, as people think, in dogged daily wrestling
with temptation, or even with suffering, but in the changed
view of life and its issues which alone makes it possible
to face the temptations and the suffering. The Greeks
gave the suggestive name of ^eravola to that change of
view, and we have grievously impoverished the word by
rendering it " repentance," which is only one department
of fjueravoia, though the most essential.

B. But why should the welcoming of this explanation
of life be so difficult, when it speaks from beginning to
end of a wonderful joy and hope, and of victory to which
we mortales aegri are admitted ?

E. It is difficult because it involves the uttermost
self-abasements, the foregoing of every claim, the refusal
to have recourse to any single form of human merit, as we
call it (as if merit could be thought of as doing anything



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 113

for us which Christ's work has left undone). It is true
that when we look at the two things in fair perspective
it is borne in upon us that there is something grotesquely
presumptuous and insanely arrogant in man's first whit-
tling down the supreme power of the Atoning Sacrifice
offered by the Son of the Most High, and then inflating
the importance of his puny strivings to better the world,
or purify his own character, as if they were, in some sense,
supplementing the deficiencies of Calvary. That is true :
but the deceptiveness of the world's voices, its cajoleries,
its flatterers and busy mockers combine together, with
devilish skill and knowledge of the poor conceited human
heart, to stir its pride; and among the agencies which
are active in this bewildering warfare must be mentioned
the presentment of Christianity, to the mass of people all
over the world, under certain subtle perversions and dis-
proportions, which allow of some mitigation of the self-
abasement and self-conquest demanded by the New
Testament teaching.

B. I am not sure that I follow you here.

E. {after a pause). If you attentively consider the
temporary forms of popular Christianity, and all one-
sided statements of the Gospel, I think you will find that
they either flatter man's vanity directly by appealing to
his natural instincts and congenital powers, or they tend
indirectly to diminish the sense of dependence on God
which is obviously the very foundation of humility.
- B. As regards many of these — the modern ones at
least — I have discussed them in regard to this very virtue,
and found that they give no warrant for it whatever.
But there is one variation, if I mistake not, on your pre-
sentment of the central teaching of Christianity, which
is very commonly offered to the thoughtful public of



ii 4 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

to-day both in pulpits and numerous writings, and cer-
tainly there is a great deal of warrant for it in the New
Testament. I am inexpert in theological phraseology,
but I will try to explain.

The teaching I mean makes much less of the Death
of Christ, but more of the spiritual renewal of mankind
by a kind of union between the Risen Christ and the
believer. Now clearly there is much said on this subject
in the New Testament : and Christ's work so viewed is
a theme which can only be sincerely published by a con-
vinced Christian. Clearly it involves a belief in Christ's
divinity. He is spoken of always as present with us
now and helping men's infirmities by the infusion of a
new life into his inner being.

Now why should not this renewal, this participation
in the life of the True Vine be made conditional upon
humility in the receiver ? It seems reasonable to suppose
that self-satisfaction in any shape would be a bar to the
reception of grace : at least we are often told that Christ
could only dispense His bounty on earth where there was
a sense of need.

E. I am glad you have raised this question, since
there is no doubt that a great deal of modern Christianity
tends to exalt the work of the Ascended Christ at the
expense of the Sacrifice offered in His Death, and this in
a way not consonant with the teaching of the New Testa-
ment and the practice of the Apostles. It would take
a very long time to discuss the proportion of space and
emphasis allotted to the two subjects in Holy Writ, but we
must restrict ourselves to noting that the place occupied
by humility, self-abasement, etc., if the Ascended Life sub-
ject is taught in isolation from the Death of Christ, is very
different from the place it occupies if the two are taught,



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 115

as I am convinced they ought to be, in harmonious relation
to each other. For, as you have clearly seen, the history of
man's estimate of Humility requires some explanation of
the sudden deepening of that estimate at the time of the
introduction of Christianity. If it can be shown that one
form of teaching would explain that phenomenon and the
other would not, we have a solid argument in favour of
the theory that the first form of teaching was delivered
and believed by the earliest Christians.

B. Yes, that I suppose is so, and it adds a new
interest to the subject.

E. Well, then, let us take the subject of the mystical
union between Christ and the believer, and consider how
much it makes of a claim for self-abasement on a convert
to Christianity. Is it not fair to say that it is exposed
to the difficulty you have seen from the first, viz. that
man must think himself of great account if God thinks
him worth renewing with His divine life through Christ ?
All exposition of the Love of God is exposed to this mis-
understanding, except that which is based on the Atoning
Death. For consider : in the one case man is told that
he is daily being sanctified by the infusion of God's Life
into his inner being. But plainly this might be true if
there were no such thing as responsibility for sin, no
haunting sense of guilt, in short, no Fall of Man, or what-
ever the epouvantable mystere, as Pascal, I think, called
it, ought to be named.

B. You mean that according to the teaching of the
mystical union only, no provision is made for the guilti-
ness of each man's past.

E. You see we must make clear under what aspect
we regard sin. If you can persuade yourself that it is
only a falling short of an ideal, simply an evidence that



n6 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

man is well-disposed but weak, then plainly there is no
need to trouble your head about the meaning of the
Atonement. But if you recognize that sin is wilful
defiance of the highest thing the sinner knows, viz. law
as the utterance of God's love and severity, that it is a
choice of horrible evil by one who knows its horror, its
deadliness, its stealthy poison, then it is impossible to
acquiesce in the sufficiency of any theory which treats
this heinous rebellion of God's children as if it had never
been and merely explains


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Online LibraryEdward LytteltonCharacter and religion → online text (page 9 of 19)