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language lay an accurate idea of the develop-
ment of truth. First of all some one more re-
ceptive and imaginative than his fellows is
haunted by the conviction that God must
be One, and sets out in the great quest. He
dies and leaves the legacy of his faith to the
generation following. Some kindred spirit re-
ceives the torch and blows it into flame, and
so the knowledge of God grows till men make
Him the strength of their life. This is the age


of discovery. At last a man appears on earth
who reahses all that saints have longed for and
prophets have foretold, from whose face God
looks, through whose will God speaks, beyond
whom no clearer revelation can be expected
or imagined. This is the age of possession.
Lastly comes the long aftertime when men
begin slowly to understand what they have
received, and make it their own. This is the
age of assimilation. Isaiah looked forward and
anticipated Christ, St. John saw Jesus and laid
his head on the Master's bosom. We hold
Jesus' words and history in our hands ; we are
learning what He intended and what He was.
We live, therefore, in a very true sense, in the
dispensation of His Spirit.

Whatever words be used to distinguish the
three periods, it seems at least clear that the
teaching of Jesus must have a solitary value
and authority, and it is at least likely that the
other two periods will be subordinate. Jesus
delivered Himself on this important matter be-
fore He departed, and as He once claimed the
authority of Master when He said, * One is
your Master, even Christ,' so He now claimed
the monopoly of truth by such a passage as this;


* Howbeit when He the Spirit of truth is come,
He will guide you into all the truth ; for He
shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He
shall hear that shall He speak: and He will
shew you things to come. He shall glorify me ;
for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it
unto you.' Again, Jesus said, * The Comforter,
which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will
send in my name, He shall teach you all things,
and bring all things to your remembrance, what-
soever I have said unto you.* And once more,

* Henceforth I call you not servants ; for the
servant knoweth not what his lord doeth : but
I have called you friends ; for all things that I
have heard of my Father I have made known
unto you.' This may be accepted as Jesus'
deliverance on the development of truth,
and the statement of His relation to His

One notices in the face of the words that
Jesus makes a most distinct and also a most
guarded claim as the prophet of God. He
does not assert that He has compassed the
length and breadth of human knowledge. Vast
domains were left untouched by Jesus, and any
one who goes to our Master for instruction,


say in science or philosophy, can only be disap-
pointed. His sphere was religion — the charac-
ter of God, the principles of the spiritual life,
the forgiveness of sins, the discipline of the
soul, the life to come. Those are the themes
of Jesus, and on them He has said the last
word. He cleansed away the mists that hung
round the loftiest reaches of truth, and has
made plain the soul's way unto God. No one
can deny that Jesus has given to mankind what
deserves to be called the truth.

Nor does Jesus mean to say that He has in-
structed His disciples fully in the truth, for this
had been an impossibility. Within three years
He could not follow out to its conclusions the
revelation He made of God and man, nor apply
His laws to every side of human life. His ser-
vice was to lay down the infallible principles on
which we could think rightlv on religion. They
can be all found in the Gospels ; they lie to any
man's hand. Jesus gave the few axioms of
the spiritual science on which its whole reason-
ing can be surely built. He placed us in pos-
session of the mine, leaving the ages to mint
its contents and make the gold current coin.
Within the same discourse Jesus assures His


disciples that He had told them everything He
knew, and also that there were many more
things that they were not yet able to receive
which He would tell them afterwards.

When Jesus explained that He had kept
nothing back, and yet had much more to give,
He was not contradicting Himself, but only
distinguishing between the substance and the
development of truth. One might say with
perfect accuracy that a seed contains the plant
— stem, ears and full corn — and that when one
gives the seed he gives all. Yet this is not the
denial of the spring, and the summer, and the
autumn time. After the same fashion it may
be truly said that if any speaker should sow a
living idea in the mind of a receptive hearer,
and that idea were afterwards cast into various
forms and carried into great actions, both words
and deeds ought to be assigned to the orig-
inal giver. The germ has the potency, it has
also the very shape of all the coming life.
Whatever, therefore, is said by St. Paul or
St. John, by Augustine or Clement, so far as it
conforms to type, may be assigned to Jesus, so
that while He said little, if one goes by volume
of speech, and wrote nothing, He has been


speaking in every after-age where any disciple
has thought according to His mind. So it was
right to say that Jesus gave the Evangel with
His own Hps, right also to say that the Evangel
has been continued by Him through other
lips unto this present.

What has to be laid down in the strongest
terms and held in perpetual remembrance is
that Jesus gave in substance final truth, and
that no one, apostle or saint, could or did add
anything to the original deposit, however much
he might expound or enforce it. This is the
only position which secures a consistent and
authoritative standard by which later teaching
can b^ judged, and, apart from Jesus* own
words, it is established by two arguments.
One is probability or the fitness of things. Is
it likely that Jesus, who came to declare the
Divine Will and reveal the Father, would leave
any truth of the first magnitude to be told by
His servants ? It is to be expected that proph-
ets should anticipate Jesus' Gospel and that
apostles should apply it ; but it were amazing
if either should supplement Jesus. When any
person imagines revelation in Holy Scripture
as a l^vel plain wherein Abraham or St. PauJ


stand as high as Jesus, he gives one pause ;
when any person conceives of revelation as an
ascending scale, wherein the apostles stand
above Jesus, he astounds one. If it be not an
impiety, it is surely an extravagance.

Perhaps the argument from fact may be still
more conclusive, and can be very easily grasped.
It has happened that certain doctrines of theol-
ogy have aroused fierce repugnance, and have
been a grievous stumbling-block to faith.
Most people have accepted them against the
instincts of the heart and the light of reason,
because the alternative seemed to be the re-
fusal of Christianity. Many people have aban-
doned the religion of Jesus because they could
not accept even its blessing with monstrous
views of God annexed. Both classes would
have found vast relief if they had only ex-
amined the source from which the texts in
favour of those doctrines were drawn. Doc-
trines of reprobation may have some slight
support in passages, for instance, of the Old Tes-
tament and the Epistles, wrested for the most
part from the context and general spirit of the
writer, but they have none in the discourses of
Jesus. They are ideas out of the line of Jesus'


thought, branches tied on to the vine, withering
and ready for the burning. One may accept it
as a rule that the doctrines which rest on the
Gospels are reasonable, and are living, and that
the doctrines which have no support in the
Gospels are less than reasonable and are dying,
which surely goes far to shew that Jesus*
words are the truth.

There was a day, to illustrate this point from
ethics, when good people defended slavery from
the Book, and were understood to make out a
strong case. Certainly they did find many
passages in their support, and made fine play
with St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon. No Chris-
tian man now believes that a word can be said
for slavery. No one now would be moved by
a hundred texts in his favour. Slavery has
been condemned both by the spirit and by
the teaching of Jesus. When He taught the
Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man
followed, and the end of slavery became merely
a matter of time. It is growing clearer that
many doctrines of Christian men are not last-
ing, but that every word of Jesus is eternal.

It has been urged that Jesus was unable to
give certain truths of the first order to His dis-


ciples, because they would have been before
the event and therefore unintelHgible at the
time. Their statement had to be left to the
Apostles, and without St. Paul we had not
possessed to-day a complete Gospel. If there
be two truths of this kind, surely they are the
sacrifice of Jesus and the presence of the Holy
Ghost. How could Jesus expound His death
before He died, and explain the indwelling of
His Spirit before He came? As it was, how-
ever, Jesus did refer to His death, its purpose
and effect, in images so lucid and convincing
that they admit of no improvement. After all
the reasoning of the Epistle to the Romans,
one still turns to the incident of Zacchaeus and
the utterance of Jesus with great and final sat-
isfaction. When Jesus declared that He had
come to lay down His life a ransom for many,
and in order that every one might understand
in what sense he ransomed men from their sins,
took the salvation of Zacchaeus as an illus-
tration, one understands the atonement. St.
Paul has touched excellently in various letters
on the work of the Holy Spirit, and his words
have fed many, but all the words that ever
came from that inspired man are not to be


compared with the promise of the Comforter
given in the upper room.

When one affirms the subordination of the
Old Testament Scriptures to the Gospels, it
sounds a commonplace, and is indeed only a re-
minder of an obvious fact. The thought of
the Old Testament moves forward to the life
of Jesus. Its conduct is revised by the com-
mandments of Jesus ; its piety is crowned in
Jesus* last discourses. We read the 53rd chap-
ter of Isaiah in order that we may visit Calvary.
The Ten Words are only eclipsed by the Law
of Love. There is one passage dearer than
the 23rd Psalm, and that is the 14th chapter of
St. John's Gospel. The faith that would seek
its guidance from the Patriarchs rather than
from the Apostles, and quotes from history to
qualify the Gospels, is elementary and unde-
veloped. The massacre of the Canaanites may
have been a little better in its purpose than
the morals of the day, but it is an impossible
action for any Christian ; and the idea of the
Messiah as the head of a righteous Jewish
state was a noble dream eight hundred years
before Christ, but something less than the
Kingdom of God. One part of the Old Testa-


ment is Christian in spirit and intention, — that
is justified and remains, receiving new Hfe from
Jesus. One part is less than Christian — that is
abrogated and disappears — replaced by Jesus.

The relation of the Apostles to Jesus is a
question of much greater difficulty, and de-
mands very careful treatment. When any one
writes as if St. Paul were, in the affair of teach-
ing, not only the equal of Jesus, but His
superior — giving to the world more precious
truth than the Gospels, — he has surely somewhat
failed in reverence for the Master. When
some other writer feels himself able to correct
the Apostles with a light mind, as if they were
ordinary theologians, he may fairly be charged
with disrespect for the Master's chief servants.
It is exasperating to be offered a choice be-
tween accepting the Gospel of St. Luke, with
its three great parables of Jesus, and the ist
Epistle to the Corinthians, with its ascetic
treatment of marriage, as of exactly the same
authority for faith and marriage, or reducing
St. Paul to the level of Tertullian or Calvin.
One is haunted with the idea, as he reads both
the Old and the New Testaments, that there
must be a centre from which this varied litera-


ture can be judged, — a Master whom its writers
acknowledged — to whom they approximate.
As there have been centuries of the past when
art reached a lovely perfection — never again
approached, — so there have also been centuries
when religion was touched by the Divine
Spirit. The fifth century before Christ was
such an one in Greece, when the Parthenon
was built : the eighth century before Christ was
such an one for religion in Judaea. If this was
true of Isaiah's period, what shall be said of the
century that was opened by Jesus Himself,
wherein St. Paul wrote, which St. John closed?
It may be allowed to give the Holy Apostles a
place at the feet of Jesus, and al the same time
to place them above the saints of the genera-
tions that were to come. Paul was to Jesus a
slave, — he must ever be to us St. Paul.

When one studies the Epistles he arrives at
two conclusions, and they help to clear up the
situation. It is surely evident that between
the Apostolic writings and those of the after-
time, from the Fathers to present-day theo-
logians, there is a gulf fixed. Certain scholars
may question, without profanity, the inclu-
sion of the Book of Esther in Holy Scripture;


certain others may deny, with less show of
reason, any useful function to the Book of
Ecclesiastes. Many value the Imitation next
to their Bible, and more might give this
place to the Pilgrinis Progress. But no one
in his religious senses, however he may be
tempted to undervalue some minor books
in the canon, or honour above their value
some books of the later time, would seri-
ously propose to add A Kempis and Bun-
yan to the Epistles. It would be an im-
possible action, equivalent to alternating Mr.
Holman Hunt and Mr. Long with Perugino
and Andrea del Sarto. There is a difference
between the old masters and the modern which
does not need to be put into words, because it
is felt by people quite ignorant of art. This is
not a depreciation of the moderns : it is an ap-
preciation of the ancients.

In the same way it must surely strike any one
passing from the Gospels into the Epistles, and
comparing the words of Jesus with the writings
of St. Paul, that the Apostle is less than his
Master. Between the Thessalonian and the
Philippian Epistles there is of course an im-
mense advance in vision and charity, and


throughout every letter there is a profound
spiritual genius. St. Paul's devotion to the
Person of Christ, his grasp of his Master's teach-
ings, his power in working it up into impressive
dogma, his skill in applying Jesus' principles to
the conduct of life, his unaffected love for man,
are so evident, and so exacting, that one shrinks
from suggesting that the Apostle as a teacher is
less than the greatest. It seems almost profan-
ity to criticise St. Paul, but one may not make
him equal to Jesus, without removing Jesus
from His judgment-seat, and destroying the
proportion of Holy Scripture. If one may be
pardoned his presumption in hinting at any im-
perfections in the Apostle of the Gentiles, is not
his style at times overwrought by feeling ? Are
not some of his illustrations forced ? Is not his
doctrine often rabbinical, rather than Christian?
Does not one feel his treatment of certain sub-
jects — say marriage and asceticism — to be some-
what wanting in sweetness ? One only makes
this rebate from the Apostle's excellency in
order to magnify the divinity of Jesus' Evangel,
which is never local, never narrow, never unin-
telligible, which is ever calm, convincing, human.
It is a grave question whether, indeed, St.


Paul claimed to be on the same level of author-
ity as Jesus, and this can be settled, not by the
production of passages, but rather by reference
to the whole tone of his letters. Was he not
ever the reverent student and faithful expositor
of the mind of Jesus, declared to him by heaven
and by the inner light ? Was he not constantly
overcome by the impossibility of entering fully
into its fathomless depths ? Did he not at every
turn bring his converts face to face with Jesus
and leave them at His feet ? Could one imag-
ine St. Paul declaring that he had added
to the teaching of Jesus, and that without
his Epistles the Gospels would have had little
value ? The question comes really to this :
Ought we to read St. Paul in the light of Jesus,
or Jesus in the light of St. Paul ? and it is
difficult to see how any one can hesitate in his
reply who believes either in the divinity of Jesus*
person or the divinity of His teaching.

When Jesus finally committed His divine
teaching into the hands of the eleven apostles
in the upper room, it is superfluous to inquire
whether they understood Him. With the pos-
sible exception of St. John, none of them had
more than a faint idea of Jesus' Evangel. What


a pathetic spectacle it was — Jesus pouring forth
those eternal words that have opened heaven
to faith, and been the bread of the soul in
all ages, and those honest, dense children of
Judaism interrupting with their hopeless ques-
tions. Did Jesus suppose that they were enter-
ing into His mind or could expound His words?
He was under no misconception. Why did He
place this priceless treasure in those uncon-
scious hands, and charge such men to be His
preachers ? Because He was going to the Father,
and must leave His word in the hands of stew-
ards who were His faithful friends. Because,
notwithstanding their slowness of understand-
ing and various imperfections, the eleven were
the most spiritual and receptive men of His day
and race. Because, although they had then
only a very poor grasp of Jesus' Evangel, and
were immediately to forsake the Master, they
would yet enter into its heart and do greater
works with Jesus' words than He had been able
to do Himself.

It must be remembered that when Jesus had
said His last word on earth and ascended unto the
Father, it was not to cease from teaching any
more than from working. He was only to de-


part in the flesh, having given the letter, that He
might return by the Holy Ghost to open up the
spirit. Like a father He placed in the hands of
His children the sum of all His wisdom, not ex-
pecting them at once to understand it, but
charging them to study it, in the good hope that
one day they would enter into its fulness The
Church has been the child, and the long history
of doctrine and morals has been the attempt to
possess Jesus' words, while all the time He Him-
self was the Saviour of every one that trusted in
Him. Her history as the disciple of Jesus has
been a progress from the second century unto
this present. After the Apostolic days, still
bright with the after-glow of Jesus, there was her
childhood, simple, poetical, audacious — a time
of allegories ; her manhood, strenuous, reason-
able, comprehensive — a time of doctrines ; then
will come her maturity, calm, charitable, cer-
tain — a time of fellowship. We have not seen
this last period, and must remind ourselves at
every turn that the Church has not yet com-
passed the mind of the Master.

Her progress in the understanding of Jesus
has been most confused — sometimes disap-
pointing in its arrestments, sometimes amazing


in its rapidity. Prophets have suddenly arisen
with a quite wonderful insight into Jesus'
meaning, and have made a permanent contribu-
tion to the knowledge of the Church. They
were doubtless wrong somewhere, but some-
where they were right, and their words remain
a footnote on the text of Jesus. Afterwards
came times when the intelligence of the Church
simply went to sleep, and no true strong word
was spoken to the world, or her brain grew de-
lirious, and the Church raved, to the offence of
the world. There have been times of paralysis
and times of inspiration, but, through both, the
Church has still been, on the whole, ad-
vancing and entering into truth. It may be
claimed that we have a more certain and
spiritual apprehension of Jesus than our fa-
thers had, for which we deserve no credit ; it
may be hoped that our children will know more
than we do — of which they may not boast.

It must be frankly acknowledged that the
Church, as the teaching body of Christianity,
has often been wrong, and the list of exploded
errors suggests various reflections. Who
would now believe such doctrines as the rep-
robation of human souls by God, the denial of


the divine Fatherhood, and the identity of pun-
ishment with vengeance? But one must not
forget or undervalue the discoveries made by
Christian thought and piety. For instance,
the fourth century wrought out a theory of
Jesus* person which may be misused so that it
becomes a stumbling-block to reason instead
of a help to faith, but which stands until this
day the most satisfactory key to a great mys-
tery, and the most complete proof of the unity
of the spiritual universe. The Reformers faced
the problem of the sinner and God, and lodged
in the minds of most thinking men that no
other Mediator had ever existed or was needed
save the Son of Man, and this spiritual fact
can be held apart from all theories of the atone-
ment, which come and go with different ages.
The Church is now asking what Jesus expects
His disciples to do for their fellow-men, and no
one doubts that we are being led into the
Divine Will. The service of man has always
lain hid in Jesus* words, but now it has been
made manifest and is taking hold of us like a
revelation. There is no finality in this devel-
opment, although from time to time the Church
herself has tried to set a bound. Year by year


Jesus* teaching yields new doctrines, new du-
ties, new motives, new hopes, as the soil turned
over and exposed to the sun fertilises dormant
seeds and brings them to perfection.

This progress is a convincing evidence of the
indwelling Spirit of Jesus, whom the Master
promised to send into His disciples' hearts, and
whose guidance we unhesitatingly recognise in
the Acts of the Apostles. Many persons seem
to believe that the operations of Jesus' Spirit
closed with the apostolic period, and would not
hold that the modern Church is under the same
divine influence as the Church of Judaea. But
this surely is an untenable, and, if one go into
it, an unbelieving position. No doubt the
Council of Jerusalem, which had to decide
whether Christianity was to be a Jewish sect or
a world-wide religion, had a critical duty to dis-
charge, but not more serious than the Council
of Nice which affirmed Christ's deity ; and if
the former Council was justified in saying, ' It
seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us,* the
latter had as much right to use the same pref-
ace. If the Church at Antioch was moved by
the Holy Ghost to send forth Barnabas and
Paul on the first foreign mission, surely it was


by the inspiration of the same Spirit that half
a dozen faithful men met in an English town
and sent Carey to India. Why should we
question that the Spirit of Jesus was in the
Council of Trent and in the Westminster As-
sembly ? It was disappointing that Trent did
not give relief from the tyranny of the priest-
hood ; yet it did reform the discipline of the
Roman Church : that Westminster ignored the
evangelisation of the world ; yet it conceived a
very majestic idea of God. One does not for-
get the blazing mistakes of Church Councils,
from that which ordered the celibacy of the
clergy to the one which declared the infallibility
of the Pope ; from the Swiss Synod which as-
serted the inspiration of the vowel-points in
Hebrew, to the Scottish Assembly which cast
out as a heretic M'Leod Campbell. This does
not mean that the Spirit of Jesus has forsaken
His disciples ; it only means that He is con-
stantly hindered by His instruments. It is not
wonderful that the Church has erred ; it is won-

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Online LibraryIan MaclarenThe mind of the Master → online text (page 2 of 15)