O Divine human mystery! Can Infinity be contained in finite form? O supreme wonder! old, yet ever new. Thou art wrapped in our mantle, and we see Thee as one of us. We look into Thine eyes, and feel the loving presence of an Elder Brother. As we fondly gaze upon Thy divine lineaments our own hard features are transformed into Thy likeness. Our vision is clarified and our courage quickened. We turn confidingly to Thee, and are not abashed at Thy glory. The overflowing of Thy love arouses a kindred response and awakens new life in us.
When the world was shrouded in darkness a Star arose. Its dazzling light revealed the deep hidden lines of Divinity in humanity. Old and young were entranced by its beauty. Wise men from afar hastened to yield their homage, and shepherds hailed the Prince of peace. The radiance of the Star lighted the faces of all who turned towards it, and its warm glow dried their tears. Its beams penetrated into souls, illumined their dark recesses, and quickened in them the germs of their divine nature. Its light made a bright pathway before those who had lost their way in dark mazes and bogs. Its rays transformed the briers which lined the pathway of weary feet into roses which filled the air with their fragrance. Under its genial influence the hardness of life's duties and pursuits softened. It shone into prison-houses, and the chains of captives melted away, and they went free. The illumination left no dark hiding-places where gloom and pain could find a lodgment. The air vibrated with song, and was redolent with the fragrance of heaven.
To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death;
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
—Luke I 78, 79
The morning dawned after a long, long, wearisome night, and the great undercurrent of earnest expectation found fulfillment. Who is this that gathers both the divine and human life-currents, and is known as the Son of God and Son of man? Jesus was the eternal Christ in outward expression. "God is Spirit; and therefore the Son of God was, and is, Spirit, as are also all sons of God. Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, says, "But we have the mind of Christ." This was true, but only Jesus had it in perfect fullness.
The demonstration of God's character is the supreme lesson needed by the human race. To know God is eternal life, and the impartation of that knowledge opens the way of salvation. There has always existed in the depths of man's nature an intense yearning for some medium through which God could be comprehended. There have been "saviors" who have risen up among all nations, and in all ages. Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel were among the long list of demonstrators of God in different periods of Jewish history, but none of them fulfilled the expectation of a supreme Mediator who would be the Messiah. The anticipation was general, but yet the prevailing ideal of Israel was a low one. The "Anointed" was to be a powerful king, who would deliver his chosen people from their enemies, and restore their national glory and prestige. He would establish a magnificent temporal kingdom. Only a few who were upon the "watchtowers of Zion" caught any glimpses of the light of that broader spiritual kingdom of whose dominion there shall be no end. The true nature of the Christian economy could hardly be discerned, except by those lesser saviors whose eyes were open to the heavenly ideal. They alone were able to look from the mountain-tops of spiritual attainment and catch the sublime significance of God manifested in the flesh. But with the entire popular misapprehension, the expected advent was the loftiest theme of law, poetry, and prophecy. The light of the Christian dispensation in the hearts and consciences of men shone backward as well as forward. Its anticipation kindled and quickened spiritual aspiration. The patient waiting at length blossomed into glorious realization, and this forms the great theme of Evangelistic and Apostolic inspiration.
The interchangeable use of the terms Jesus and Christ, and their seeming identity in theological statements, has caused much misapprehension. Christ signifies the eternal outflow of God's love toward man, as we view it on the man-ward side. This Love is one with God, and is God; but to our vision it has the aspect of a separate personality. God being absolute and unknowable to material sense, it follows that men of undeveloped spirituality must have some material expression to enable them to get glimpses of the divine character. We speak of love and faith as abstract entities, and yet the human mind can hardly grasp them except through forms of personal manifestation. God's love flows out toward His children as naturally as light and heat are radiated from the sun. He fills the universe, and He is Love; and Love is therefore the one all-inclusive principle. Christ is the name, not of the material Jesus, but of the principle or spirit that expressed itself through His organism. Jesus is called "the Christ;" the latter term signifying his office or quality. Jesus was the name of a Judean peasant, whose conditions were material, local, and temporal, while Christ is from everlasting to everlasting. Prevailing materialism, now as in the times of Jesus, is ever dwelling upon forms and expressions. The key to the mystery of the Incarnation is found in the comprehension of the fact, that perfect, ideal manhood signifies complete oneness with God. The intrinsic man (God's image) is spirit, and his physical organism forms no part of him. Its use is for expression on the present plane. But man has built up a false personality out of his material consciousness, so that his absolute or divine selfhood is obscured and often unrecognized.
It is unprofitable to dogmatize about the Incarnation, but we may try to interpret it by its own light. The attempt of scholastics to technically analyze the nature of God and man united ends in an unfathomable sea of speculation. Intellectually the most earnest and honest observers see it on opposite sides. Some look upon Jesus as "very God," and others as very man, and still others as one distinct person of the three who comprise the Trinity. Some believe that, in consequence of a great emergency, "a plan" was formed in the deep councils of the Godhead for the redemption of the world, and that Christ volunteered to undertake the mission. He came from a far-away heaven, and by substitution put his righteousness in the place of man's sinfulness, thus vindicating the divine justice and satisfying the claims of broken law. The threefold aspect of God thus becomes Christian polytheism. How dogmatic, hard, and mechanical!
What is more natural and reasonable than that the substance of the divine Father should be incarnated? Nearly all religions have held that in some way God, or the gods, have assumed material embodiment as a means of lifting up humanity. The imperfect incarnations of the ancient heathen nations were but the out croppings of this universal soul-craving. We long for Fatherly sympathy and communion. The tendrils of our common nature reach out toward God to feel after and know Him, and such a demand is a natural prophecy of supply. The beauty and perfection of the divine economy are found in the harmonious adjustment of supply and demand. Infinite wisdom has fitted these elements for each other in perfect proportion, whether in the spiritual, intellectual, or physical realm. May we not regard the embodiment of the Christ-mind in Jesus as the divine creative response to that very craving which He has implanted in the soul of man?
How can the limitless omnipresent Deity manifest Himself through such a puny channel as the human organism? Infinity cannot be diminished, but is not a drop of ocean spray one with its parent source? An unworthy similitude, for spirit is measureless and incomparable.
A quickened spiritual nature may know God directly through its own consciousness, but unregenerate and material selfhood must have a message in its own language. God's substance must be cast into human form, else sensuous understanding cannot encompass it; therefore the "Word was made flesh." Other sages and saviors have taught the loftiest morality, but none have perfectly embodied it. They gave intellectual expression to truth, but Christ was Truth itself. Jesus the Christ was "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," perfectly filling the divine type. The branches of the human vine are loaded with clusters which are shrunken and acrid, but here was sweet and perfected fruit. In slow, wearisome stages we are pressing on toward that ideal which in Him was actualized. He was perfected through suffering, and made manifest that law of self-abnegation, through the experience of which men must pass before they can become "sons of God."
But we must not forget that Christ, though living in the material Jesus, really dwelt in the kingdom of spirit. The outer shell of humanity softened that light, in order that its brilliancy might not be too dazzling. Though of perfected type, he was yet man, and understood the meaning of human imperfection, and experienced its trials and temptations. With a perfect command of divine law, and a mental environment of ideal roundness and purity, he was able to project such conditions into the minds of others, and thus perform wonderful works. Right in the midst of this restless, sensuous world there is existent an unseen but veritable kingdom of spiritual harmony. In this ideal domain he lived, and the purpose of his incarnate life was to introduce his followers into its delectable realities. Its beautiful conditions are possible while we dwell in the present state. "Behold the kingdom of Heaven is within you." Christ came to establish a rule of spirit, in comparison with which earthly thrones and dynasties are barren forms of organized selfishness. "He that loseth his life shall save it." What an enigma such a declaration has been to a world that judges from outside appearances! "God manifest in the flesh"—presents the perfect human pattern. With archetypal purity placed before us, material attainment is found to be hollow and unsatisfying.
The Incarnation was not necessary to show that God could take the form of man, but that man can become like God. The divine quality of the Christ-life cannot be believed unless it be felt.
The fullness of the Father in the Son is a sublime truth that is above dependence upon historic or miraculous evidence, because the vital force of the "mind of Christ" in man is self-attesting. It is not a mere re-enforcement along lines already occupied, but a turning, a changed direction, regeneration.
The vital fact of the Christly embodiment is not affected by the non-acceptance of any particular theory of the manner in which it took place. Even were it to be conceded that Joseph was the natural father of Jesus, it does not in the least affect the spiritual truth of the Incarnation, and the same free solution is as applicable to the material resurrection. If the Spirit of God, in its fullness, seeks human embodiment for our spiritual enlightenment, why should it not incarnate itself in accordance with existing order? Without dogmatizing upon this point, how can it be unreasonable to think that it was wholly human, for otherwise it would hardly be upon our plane. Of the material resurrection, the author of a recent able work, "A Washington Bible Class," says, "If in some tomb, hewn out of solid rock, there should be discovered today the unquestionable body of our Lord, wound in the linen clothes, with the hundred-pound weight of myrrh and aloes wherewith loving friends had laid it to rest—none the less, Christ the Lord is risen today. Nothing can be more narrow than to limit the ways, the modes, by which God shall enter His World, by which spirit force shall impress itself upon matter, by which the ever-immanent shall reveal itself to the finite. We are to study the incarnation as we find it in the unbroken sequences of nature, in the long history of man, through that infallible revelation which God constantly makes of himself in his works of creation, providence, and redemption."
The vital truth of the Incarnation is a thousand fold more important than the method of its outward details. The unsoundness of other than traditional views upon these doctrines has been recently affirmed by an ecclesiastical court, and the event has caused much discussion, as to the proper boundaries for liberty of opinion. Christianity is grievously wounded in the house of its friends when its essential life is bound up with any particular aspect of non-essential circumstances. The cause of pure religion has received untold injury from the assumption that its superstructure rested upon such foundations. Infidelity, materialism, and atheism find their vitality in the natural reaction from narrow restrictions, rigidly enforced by misdirected zeal.
The Christian economy being spiritual, the material appearance of the Christ was brief and local. Even His Apostles but dimly caught the significance of His mission, believing, as they evidently did, that He would return in the flesh during their lifetime and begin a temporal reign. The materialism of many sincere but misguided men still leads them to expect another "coming" in bodily form. Christ is all the time coming in the hearts of His spiritual followers, and such an advent is far more grand than any visible approach through the clouds with archangels and trumpets.
Jesus the Christ did not make use of the channels of traditional systems in His ministry, nor did He deal with problems of civil government or material progress. He touched the springs of life, but gave no direction as to the form of their activity. He formulated no system of theology, constructed no creed, and originated no plan for the preservation and dispensation of His own teachings. He was not a scientist, philosopher, nor an inventor; he sanctioned no particular system of education, and expressed no opinion upon the burning questions of the day. He was not even a reformer in the modern sense of that term. He began at the human center, and not upon its circumference. He took little notice of those things upon which modern civilization is supposed to depend. He did not concern himself with different ethical systems, nor make any attempt to correct evils through improved legislation. His seed-sowing was below the surface of intellectual accomplishment, and its fruitage appears in motives rather than in forms of human life. He came to break bonds and open prison-houses; to relieve beating hearts from the pressure of artificial systems, ceremonies, and traditions, and to energize them with new life. He was unconventional in his tastes and habits, and in the choice of his social environment. When he came, religion had degenerated into a hollow mockery of ceremonial rites and rituals. He saw and condemned the hypocritical righteousness of the Pharisees, and exposed their spiritual deadness. He satirized their sanctimonious countenances, ostentatious fasts and alms, and their long and loud public prayers. The letter of religion had killed its spirit.
The Son of man came to teach men how to bring the spiritual realm into this life, without waiting to find it in the next. He showed that death did not consist in laying off the material body, but in dropping into a condition of animalism. He came to awaken man from a false dream of sense, to a consciousness of the Real, and to demonstrate that spirit is substance, and flesh only its shadow. The heavenly treasure is not bound, but its exuberant life overflows and fills every valley that is open to its crystalline current. How different from scholastic systems! Truth needs, not statement but embodiment. Men are inclined to feel that the proper place for God is in heaven, and that they, being upon earth, must be earthly, though they expect to be spiritual in the next world; but a correct theology cannot supply the place of unfolding eternal life.
—Johannes Scheffler (Angelus Silesius)
The revelation of God through Nature is in full harmony with that which comes through the Son. Christ looked through the mantle of Nature and saw meanings, laws, and analogies which were invisible to those around him. He translated the spiritual significance of the sea, mountains, fields, trees, and vines, and through them interpreted truth to his dull learners. The spontaneity and unstudied character of Christ's teachings, as shown in their natural childlike simplicity, was in strong contrast with the sophistry of intellectual logic. His illustrations and parables were as graceful as the opening of the leaves in Springtime. The unperverted type of the natural man, in his purity, as seen in Christ, confirms the inherent oneness of God and his children. If the image! of God in man had not been marred, the whole race would now be in the same position as that which was occupied by "the last Adam." The beautiful proportions of the perfect human Model demonstrate that a full influx of the divine life tempers all the fancies of the imagination, and the impulses of the will, to a heavenly shaping. Christ and Nature reveal the same Father, but each on a different side. Jesus was a perfect man, because he was completely filled by the Christ-mind. "Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
That the Evangelists give no description of the personal appearance of Jesus is significant. By a uniform and deep intuitive sense of what was fitting, they delicately avoided any reference to his features, bearing, and personal appearance. For all such details we have only misty and doubtful tradition. The outer personality is veiled in the Scripture narratives. "The flesh profiteth nothing." The opaque shadows of outward shaping must be hid, else homage would be paid to "the letter."
The nature of the miracles of Christ is a theme which has been the occasion of much controversy. There has been cloudiness of interpretation and a lack of exact definition. A miracle is any wonderful event, but many limit it to events which they believe to be the result of some suspension or violation of natural law. Nature's laws are nothing more nor less than God's methods of action, and He does not contradict Himself. He who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever," is orderly in His manifestations. The miracle transcends the powers and experiences of the observer, and to him it is miraculous. But the observer is very limited in his knowledge, and has but an infantile comprehension of the beautiful regularity of the Father's operations. Telephonic communication for a distance of a hundred miles, or a sight of the "limited express," would, doubtless, have been a far greater wonder to Christ's auditors than any one of the miracles which he performed. There has been a long and bitter conflict upon the subject of miracles between pseudo-science and pseudo-religion, while, in fact, true science and real religion are in perfect accord. Each has occupied a false position, and thereby seen its supposed opponent in a false light. The scientist denies the existence of the supernatural in the sense of defining that which is special, or not uniformly the same under the same circumstances. So far he is correct, but his mistake is in limiting natural law to the material realm. Natural law loses none of its naturalness in the higher domains, and is no less uniform in its reign. On the other hand, the religious dogmatician draws a hard and sharp line between the natural and spiritual, and so fails to connect them. Unless the miracle transcends all law and order, it is no miracle to him. The battle of the knights over the question of the gold or silver shield illustrates the nature of the conflict. It is impossible for two truths to be in collision. God is the Author of Truth, and therefore in every realm it is sacred. Transactions which have seemed miraculous are losing that aspect just in proportion as knowledge of God and His methods broadens. Under an improved understanding of spiritual law in our own times, miracles of healing are becoming common. To that degree in which we make our wills plastic and at one with the Divine Will, we have God's power combined with our own, and His will is always good. Christ claimed no superior power to that possessed by his disciples, provided they were perfectly at one with the Father. "Greater things than I have done, ye shall do." He declared that all believers—those who come into an understanding of divine law—should exercise the same power that he did.
Who use it in His name!
The power that filled His garment's hem
Is evermore the same.
—John Greenleaf Whittier
"These signs shall follow them that believe." If "them that believe" were limited to age, race, or condition, then would the word of the Lord be "bound." It is proper, however, that we exercise some discrimination in regard to the so-called miracles of the Bible. Those which have spiritual utility, and are in accord with the natural course of human progress, have everything in favor of their historic accuracy. Wonderful occurrences, which are beyond the evident range of such utility and naturalness, we may look upon as illustrative or allegorical. Miracles of mercy prompted by love and service have every element of reasonableness. Those like the arrested sun, Balaam's ass, and the story of Jonah, we can hesitate to accept in their literal sense, without in the slightest degree impairing the spiritual integrity of the Bible. A prominent evangelist once said that "if the story of Noah and the ark must go, the Gospels would go with it." A thousand times no! The living gospel has an infinitely broader foundation than any such transaction. Not that we need to deny that such events took place, but that we should disconnect them entirely from all that is vital and indispensable in Sacred Writ. Our reason is more directly God-given than the Scripture records. Touching this subject an eminent divine recently said, "If men persist in linking faith to a mechanical accuracy, historical criticism will overthrow that accuracy and faith together."
Did Jesus forgive sins? "And Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven." What is the forgiveness of sin? Not the remission of penalty, nor a suspension of the law that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." It is rather the putting away of sin, and only by and through that means, an escape from penalty. All the sin of the world is eternally forgiven by God. Our sins are unforgiven—to us—when we are unconscious of such forgiveness. Anyone who can bring his brother into a consciousness of the divine forgiveness—forgives—brings pardon into manifestation. Forgiveness is the loving interpretation of the divine Mind by the Son. The sense of forgiveness awakened in the sinner kindles new love and life, and this turns him away from his sins, or rather, from his love of sinning. Following in the footsteps of the Son of God, any son of God may announce the divine pardon; that is, forgive. If forgiveness were not an eternal act on God's part, it would imply alteration in His Mind. So long as the human idea of God was that of a jealous Monarch, He was seen with human limitations. God is never less than perfect, so He cannot change His attitude. Our own imperfect states are reflected in the God of our consciousness, therefore we see what seems to be unforgiveness and even anger in Him. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you." That temper of mind which forgives others their offences against us clarifies the spiritual vision so that God is seen in His true character of eternal Love and Pardon. The forgiving spirit characterizes the presence of the "Mind of Christ." The forgiveness of sin includes its abandonment. Not that we can, or would, be rid of its penalty; for that is disciplinary, in fact, indispensable. Discipline is beneficent because it destroys the love of sin. It is divine to forgive without limit. A recent writer in commenting upon the false views of forgiveness and salvation which have grown up in the Church, says, "And as a means of escape from this unspeakable doom, she (the Church) has devised a doctrine of God's righteousness, and of the propitiation of its wrathful demands, which makes the sinner so much the subject of its 'scheme of grace ' as to weaken his sense of responsibility, and deaden the consciousness of God within him as his power of recovery, so that salvation has come to be viewed as something done for him by proxy, and not wrought in him by the power of God. The idea of an imputed righteousness has supplanted that of personal righteousness as indispensable to salvation."
The great central and growing thought of the present time is, "The brotherhood of man." It is becoming clear that men cannot selfishly "save their own souls" out of relation with the salvation of others. The ties which bind the race into one bundle are divinely strong and close. That view of the visible Church which makes it an "ark of safety," or a salvation assurance society for the individual soul, is passing away. Christ came to light not only "the elect," but "every man that cometh into the world." Every child of God is a link in the great golden chain of His love. The harmonious vibrations of human progress, as divinely instituted, are from within, outward. Service is the active manifestation of the indwelling Christ. True service is not menial, but willing, joyous, spontaneous. As men live outside of self,—have their life in their fellows and in God,—the divine image in them is uncovered. The false ego of sensuous personality is lost, and the true self found. God is Love; and love is the giving out of good. The Son, being a perfect expression of the Father, gave His service, His life, Himself.
Love that gives not, is not; it must bestow.
And God is love; hence, going forth must know
The power creative of itself; perceives
In action only all that love can be.
Who most can love, to him most love is given—
Unmeasured love is all there is of heaven!
The multitudes were filled, and had a surplus, from a few loaves and fishes; and so, good, given out, multiplies. The great soul is he that forgets that he has a soul, in his efforts for the salvation of others.
O glorious mystery of the Incarnation! Thou art a prophecy of that greater and general Incarnation when the "Christ-mind" will dwell in the whole brotherhood of humanity. O bright and joyous Christmas-time—never-ending Holy-day! Thou art a witness to the ever-recurring birth of the Prince of peace in the hearts of men.