The Son of God naturally must be a living image of the Father. "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Sonship, latent, potential, or dynamic therefore must include the whole human family. The image may be shaded, obscured, or even covered with rubbish, but its lineaments are deeply engraved in the background of man's nature. The Son, otherwise called the Christ, is the divine type in man, generic and universal. Jesus was an actualized and concrete demonstration of the spiritual humanity.
Man's birthright includes a divine oneness and this is the normal ideal. Superficially observed, and in the lower consciousness, the divine and the human are two, while in the enlightened or spiritually developed soul they converge and finally become one. The dualism apparent in the utterances of Jesus was employed only to accommodate the capacity of his hearers, for his affirmations of absolute unity were repeated and emphatic. "I and my Father are one." Undeveloped humanity is oblivious to this great truth. The inner and profound reality is hidden from sensuous gaze.
The accurate use of terms is very important. Many of the misunderstandings of the world might be avoided were there a medium of communication for ideas more precise than words. The names Christ and Jesus, furnish a striking example of uncertain definition. In common theological usage they are employed interchangeably, or as having the same significance. We will venture to suggest the evident definition of each term, with a just discrimination, and then note some of the reasons for the same. We may think of the name, Christ, as defining the eternal divine sonship in man, a vital and intrinsic oneness, fundamental and universal. It involves an inner quality, life, ideal, and temper. It is the divine image and likeness in the soul. In its essence it is impersonal, and it is latent in man until recognized, awakened, and brought into individualized manifestation. Above utter passivity there are many degrees of its personal development, from feeble foreshadowings up to its full rounded local and historic expression, as seen in Jesus. He was the prophecy and ideal of what mankind is to be. Men are struggling on and upward toward the Pattern of the human filled with the divine in actuality and articulation.
The general propositions which have been briefly outlined will be found, upon examination, to have abundant evidence and proof. All are aware that in the recorded sayings of Jesus he spake from two different standpoints. It should be easy to discriminate between them. One is from that of the universal, the divine, and the unhistoric, and the other from the local, temporary, and personal. Note a few of the former: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad. The Jews therefore said unto him, Thou are not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." (John viii, 56-58) "There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world." (John i, 9) "If therefore the Son (Christ mind) shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John viii, 36) "If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John viii, 31-32) "All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, save the Father; and who the Father is, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him." (Luke x, 22) "For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." (John xvii, 24) These few examples might be multiplied. It seems evident that they are uttered by the Christ mind or Spiritual Principle, through personality rather than by it. A few instances also follow from the local viewpoint, or from the son of man in his finite capacity. "And he did eat nothing in those days: and when they were completed, he hungered." (Luke iv, 2) "For the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John vii, 39) "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark xv, 34) "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the ghost." (Luke xxiii, 46) In general these two points of view are designated as the Son of God and the son of man. It logically follows that as any one is conscious of the inner divinity, or Christ, he is warranted in speaking ideally, or from the universality of the inner Light. In many instances, prophets and poets, both ancient and modern, have assumed and expressed such a potential oneness and authority. A familiar example of such breadth may be quoted from Emerson:
"l am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Caesar's hand and Plato's brain,
Of Lord Christ's heart and Shakespeare's strain."
It is the God consciousness or Word — the Logos — in man, rather than the limited personality which thus finds expression. The latter is the mouthpiece. As man comes into conscious ownership of his higher birthright, all God's possessions belong to the Son, which is the deeper selfhood. Said St. Paul from the inner consciousness, for himself and others: "All things are yours." The Christ in man is the most profound and real ego but he is commonly unrecognized. "And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?" (Mark iv, 38) He has not yet been awakened. So long as there is no "storm" it is forgotten that he is on board. When the outward or material self — the seeming man — finds himself likely to "perish" he is led to turn within and to find his real being.
The world restlessly waits for, and toils upward toward the larger truth of the Divine Mind in which we share. With its emergence from latency toward full incarnation, the crucifixion of the material claimant takes place. Then the conscious resurrection and final dominance of the higher in man are realized. As this is an eternal and universal law, the heritage of all men as well as one seemingly favored one, it follows that as soon as the truth is realized, humanity will rise rapidly to the altitude of Spiritual Principle. Every man has his part in the potency of the higher law, and he may exercise it in a way which is orderly and make it available. "All things are yours" is not merely a poetic sentiment but a statement of truth which is practical, psychological, spiritual, and even scientific in an exact sense. The ownership of moral and spiritual verities, including also subordinate blessings, requires only developed capacity. All ideals which one will firmly hold are his, and their actualization is but a matter of time. But ownership is not exclusive, for the same may be possessed by all. Even God, who is our God, actually belongs to all to the degree that a conscious oneness has been developed.
Glancing at past history, we may observe the occasional outcropping of man's divinity during the gradual course of human evolution. In the early Greek theology the inner divinity was a fundamental idea but not long after a more materialistic faith gained the ascendency. The great Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325, was called by Constantine to settle the many complicated and disputed points pertaining to the nature of Christ and his office. A great controversy was raging, led on differing sides by Athanasius and Arius. The main questions at issue, were: Has man real and normal kinship and oneness with God, or are they separate and unlike in nature and being? Was Jesus a formal ambassador — intermediate in nature between God and man — sent from a far-away Deity, or did he represent essential God in man? The latter statement was maintained. But the triumph and high-water mark of that Spiritual Principle was short lived and gradually the Incarnation came to be regarded as a single and exceptional act, a matter of formal legalism. This cold doctrine, as might be predicted, soon became devoid of vitality and destitute of spiritual fruitage. The evolutionary ripeness for the larger and inner ideal had not arrived. The conditions seemed to demand something outwardly stronger and more dogmatic, and that great leader and exponent, St. Augustine, among the early Church fathers became its leading authority. The ideal of God which soon prevailed, was largely inspired by the concept of an infinite Caesar, a Monarch who rules the world from afar and issues formal edicts. The age seemed to demand that man should be governed by some force more definite and tangible than the spiritual and unseen. Sensuous man must feel external power and bow before outward force because love and the inner Christ were yet too feebly developed to gain a hearing. The faith and zeal of the Primitive Church had waned and intellectual dogma and speculative theology were in evidence. With Church and State united and with alien races to be formally, if not forcibly "Christianized," religion must be a power outside of man to be respected, and naturally the idea of the deity became kingly and arbitrary.
In modern Protestant theology there has continued a persistence of the dogma that the divinity in Jesus was something unlike the divinity in mankind. It still is authoritively taught that he was not a normal man but a unique interposer or mediator between God and man. This virtually means an abnormal being. He was one who came to make a treaty of peace between disconnected and discordant parties but was practically unlike either one. But Jesus says: "In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." (John xiv, 20) The dogma of the deity of Jesus — "very God" — instead of his moral and spiritual divinity has occupied and still holds a basic position in Protestant systems. This either causes, or is the cause, of the claims of his unique preexistence, miraculous birth, and physical resurrection. These effectually put him out of touch with mankind, and so to them he could not be a human ideal, "the first born among many brethren," or a "first fruit." Does it seem possible that one so utterly unlike man could be, "in all points tempted like as we are?" A divinity in which all may share is all that he ever claimed for himself. A normal Christology which would find the Son or divine image at the soul center of man, is quite unlike the anomalous grade of being usually assumed for Jesus. Harnack, one of the greatest of modern theologians, denies that the miraculous birth and physical resurrection are necessary to or essentially within the limits of a well-defined Christian faith. It is indeed fortunate that the glorious and living gospel rests upon a broader and stronger foundation than traditional strange occurrences. Theoretical judgments may be very unlike value judgments.
Is the Christian experience of today some supernatural revelation from the historic embodiment, or is it a conscious sonship, the life of God in the soul of man? Is intrinsic Christianity — love, spirituality, and a divine trust — universal in its adaptability or confined to a single channel? Is not a grand truth larger than any single demonstration of the same, however perfect and attractive? Is our experimental knowledge of Christ limited to the earthly career of the son of Man? The present value of the greatest historic fact must lie in the transcendent truth or principle which is back of it and of which it is the product. If God is Spirit, the Son or likeness must also be spirit rather than flesh. Whatever is of time and place — which are sensuous conditions or limitations — cannot in its essence be eternal but rather a manifestation of the eternal. No single life or experience can be absolutely unique unless the moral order be fragmentary and capricious. Correspondence and relation are everywhere. If the most supreme fact, as such, be not the expression of a general law, it can hardly convey practical value or vital adaptability.
The use of the two names under consideration as having exactly the same outlines and limitations, is clearly misleading and belongs to an immature state of Christian consciousness. The two have the same relation which truth bears to its articulation. The essential Christ, the divine human ideal is beyond time and was existent before the advent of the great Exemplar. Christ, the living truth, is the Savior.
It is true that the Christ ideal which was supreme in the seen Embodiment, has only a faint and partial expression in other souls. But the everlasting truth is, God in man. The divine aspiration is kindled at the soul center. It may have but a gestative, obscured, or hidden life, but it never will die. There is its home. Jesus proved the Christ for us and indexed his full-orbed power. But as a practical ideal, this power ever was. The Old Testament worthies were alive to it and gave it partial, concrete, and visible incarnation. Some of their embodiments were so faithful as to deserve the name of savior in their day and generation. Who would affirm that the life of Jesus manifested the full breadth of the "Light of the World"? Its radiance must illumine every soul, and so its fullness must include humanity at large.
The interpretations of the divine Embodiment vary with different ages and are not quite the same with any two individuals. Any one's divine concept, though having Jesus for a perfect objective Pattern, must be subjective. Hence Christ to everyone is always within, while the historic material Personality is without. With the higher evolution of man the indwelling Son will ever have an increasing significance.
The outward life and acts of the great Exemplar have been more or less clouded by the mists of tradition and superstition, but nothing can distort the Spiritual Principle. It is an inner creation, and the highest in every man which his growing capacity will allow. The Messianic expectation of the ancient Jews was centered upon a powerful king and national deliverer, and apparently contained but little of the spiritual element. The biography of the son of Man is but fragmentary and incomplete, and this lack of actual detail leaves all the more room for idealization. The scanty outlines which history and tradition have handed down are filled in and receive their subjective shading — often unconsciously — by each individual. As standards of all that is highest in human life enlarge and move forward, the genera] concept of Christ is ever expanding in correspondence. The synoptic gospels and all other records of the visible Personality, as if by a subtle spiritual intuition of what was fitting, cast a veil of silence and mystery over the supreme incarnation, and thus the divine light in each soul sheds its own brightest beams upon it. Then, as now, the materialistic inclination is strong to worship the seen form rather than the larger spiritual Presence, so that Jesus plainly said to his disciples, "It is expedient for you that I go away." The homage was bestowed upon the embodiment instead of that which was embodied.
The most inspiring consciousness which is possible to the human soul is God within, for this is "the Son." Its absence means separateness, darkness.
"Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, If he's not born in thee thy soul is all forlorn.
"Could but thy soul, O man, become a silent night, God would be born in thee, and set all things aright."
God's immanence in man as exemplified in the Personality is rightly called the Christ. This does not predicate an outward individuality, but defines that divinity within, which is dynamic in quality. Every man is inmostly divine, but no one is deific. God embodied a sample of himself in the man of Nazareth, and such an indwelling is a law which runs through all human life. The "plan of salvation" is not a formal scheme to repair the unexpected failure of some original purpose, but redemption, as demonstrated in the specific Example, is an evolutionary spiritual accomplishment. But it is never quite finished in man. Even at the loftiest point supposable, there is no stop, no stagnation. As a procedure, it will never become, but is eternally becoming. The Exemplar was not a spiritual process, but the first fruit of one. In him was the articulation of an eternal, orderly law. The divine indwelling never had a beginning and will have no end. Incarnation is in the nature of things. Moral indirection is not the result of "a fall," but rather the frictional and gradual elimination of animalism. It includes the growing pains of spiritual enlargement.
The humanity of God is too large to be contained within or confined to a single life, however exalted. The sonship which was incarnated was full but not exclusive. The essence of moral and spiritual beauty is diffusive, and ever increasingly so. The stream of divinity man-ward is broad enough to fill every human craving and capacity so far as they are opened. If the Model of the gospels were more than human, men are normally barred from the powers and privileges which he manifested. The passing of the dogma of a limited atonement must logically be followed by its twin misapprehension of a limited sonship. Divinity and humanity are but two sides of a unit.
"More near than aught thou call'st thy own ,
Draw if thou canst the mystic line,
Severing rightly His from thine,
Which is human, which divine?"
It is usually assumed that certain familiar sayings and sympathetic acts of the Master attest his humanity, while his miracles form the evidence of his divinity. But the real proof of his spiritual sonship is not contained in a theoretical miraculous birth, resurrection, and ascension, and in "works" which to dull materialistic vision seemed wonderful, but in his unbounded love, pure spirituality, and divine self recognition. He claimed the birthright so universally unrecognized by other men. The foundation of the living gospel is too broad to stand upon such a narrow and uncertain basis as a few unusual occurrences.
Christianity is a free universal force playing through man's nature, independent of time, circumstances, or ecclesiastical limitation. It found beautiful and full expression in the Pattern of the gospels and is ever seeking new forms of outward blossoming and fruitage. It is no finished depository of a body of truth, once for all handed down, but a living and abounding assertion of the divine image. If the Absolute could descend and fully contain itself in one concrete form, the gospel narrative would be finished. Christianity, as a term, has come to signify many things to many men. Its simple proportions have been buried beneath a great mass of accretions with which it has no vital relation. Why should it be burdened with some peculiar form of baptism, sacrament, ordinance, theory of nativity, or unique church polity? The wine of modern thought and scholarship regarding the divine indwelling cannot be put in "old bottles."
The Master receives his true glorification through the race. Were he superhuman in his being and essence his example would be beyond our aspiration. Theologically, if the crucial point of the gospel be the cross, suffering, and death, instead of the life, it is plain that he could not have proclaimed it during his earthly embodiment. Only an invalidated Christianity would rest upon such a basis. The ecclesiastical and Nicene interpretation of the son of Man, as a definable part of a Trinity, puts him outside the human family, and from its very nature must ever remain an abstraction in the minds of men. But the Christ or Son will ever be Immanuel. The miracles recorded in the Bible, wherever they have not been colored or enlarged by tradition, show that man, as a normal repository of spiritual forces, is a far greater and diviner being than we have thought possible. With the shadow of a theoretical native depravity before our eyes, the vision of ideal humanity has been distorted. Unusual works which cause wonder need not be regarded as beyond the realm of orderly law, but possible to human accomplishment through the divinity which may work in man in ways rarely appreciated. It is God within, and not outside, who doeth the works. The older view of miracles, which interpreted them as examples of suspended or violated law does not honor God or his established methods. He is neither disorderly nor capricious.
The Christ mind did not first begin in Bethlehem, though there was its first complete manifestation. The Master gave utterance to truth that was eternally true, but he laid no claim to originality. Says Professor Benjamin Jowett, former master of Balliol College, and eminent interpreter of the Bible:
"An ideal necessarily mingles with all conceptions of Christ: why should we object to a Christ who is necessarily ideal? Do persons really suppose that they know Christ as they know a living friend? Is not Christ in the Sacrament, Christ at the right hand of God, Christ in you the hope of Glory, an ideal? Have not the disciples of Christ, from the age of St. Paul onwards, been always idealizing his memory?
"Each age may add something to the perfection and balance of the whole. Did not St. Paul idealize Christ? Do we suppose that all which he says of him is simply matter of fact, or known to St. Paul as such? It might have been that the character would have been less universal if we had been able to trace more defined features. What would have happened to the world if Christ had not come? What would happen if he were to come again? What would have happened if we had perfectly known the words and teaching of Christ? How far can we individualize Christ, or is he only the perfect image of humanity?"
The evident lack of vital power in the intellectual concept of the Christ of the confessions and creeds is giving rise to a modern cry: "Back to Jesus!" Is this conventional and ecclesiastical son of God like the real inner quality which was so perfectly demonstrated? It were well if an ideal of Christly embodiment might take the place of the theological speculations concerning him and his unique powers. Each of the world's great religions has had its great exponent who has been divinely idealized by his followers. It does not dishonor the Demonstrator of Christianity to say that we could hardly expect him to be an exception to the rule. When he speaks from the depths of Sonship, he says: "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life." (John xiv, 6) Joseph may have been his natural father, but no less the eternal Spirit was in him. What was embodied was universal and spiritual, while the embodiment was material and historic. If Jesus was not the son of Joseph, and descended from Abraham in the genealogical line given in Matthew, what is its historic significance?
The current concepts of the personality of the son of Man, which have prevailed through the ages, have varied with the temper of environment and the theological media through which it has been observed. Among the Hebrews his lack of material power and leadership was an early disappointment. But he also was the centre of converging expectation and later of apostolic devotion. Upon his name has been built a vast structure of theological speculation, ecclesiastical authority, and much asceticism as well as idealism. He remains the grand focal point of moral, religious, and spiritual life. With but a limited knowledge of the Demonstrator, it remains that that which was demonstrated is the ever expanding and inspirational Pattern of mankind. Upon him we are ever lavishing our "gold, frankincense, and myrrh." A diviner unfoldment of sonship will be the unceasing aspiration of generations yet unborn.
"Not further off, but further on,
Such is the nature of thy guest;
They heaven find who heaven win,
The one true Christ is in thy breast."
It is the nature and purpose of the inmost to seek expression. The "Word" must become flesh, for that is its normal tendency. It is the unending purpose of the world to conceive the Christ. The higher or historic criticism is useful in removing obstructions so that the divinity in man may grow brighter. If intellectual speculation interposes itself between the Ideal and its concrete manifestation it must be cast aside.
Mistaking the material Personality for the Son, men are looking backward and outward for him instead of within. Objective pictures, ideals, and descriptions of that which was visible are ever variant, and will be uncertain guides until everyone finally recognizes his image as the highest within himself. Each at length must come to his own. Theological dogma clothes the central figure with unreal and misleading aspects. These appearances promote agnosticism and skepticism. The image presented from the outside being untrue does not attract, while the highest subjective in every man draws him and calls out his aspiration.
Someone has well said that the "Light of the World" comes modified by stained-glass windows, and that the prevailing pigments were Roman law and Hebrew sacrifice. The office of Christ is biological, and not that of legal formalism. The real Son sits serene at the center of the being of man, while dogmatic opinions about him tell of expiation and substitution.
The general search for Christ — in the highest degree laudable — is too closely confined to the details of the robe of flesh. Unbounded effort has been put forth to reproduce every circumstance and accessory. The seeker for truth becomes hopelessly involved in uncertain and complex citation and is lost in by-paths. The clinging tendrils of anxious souls which need support are pushed back and bewildered. It is not an embalmed body or a tragic death which is needed in this unbelieving age but life more abundant.
It is true that the seen Exemplar, as a unit of the human race, had a definite personal history, and so far as it can be truly set forth it is of great interest. To be a way-shower he must have had the same powers, emotions, and faculties as are common to mankind. But in him the New Man was fully awakened. On the Godward side he was open for a full and free influx of the Spirit. His was no life of asceticism, but of contact with the world, including all its exposure and reactions. But beyond its incidental surroundings it was so far involved in a larger environment, that it must of necessity be largely misunderstood even by his most intimate disciples.
After what we call death by crucifixion, and following the resurrection, the recorded appearances of Jesus are few, fleeting, and apparently not subject to the laws of the plane upon which he had previously lived, and which pertain to the physical career. Paul says: "It is sown a natural (material) body and raised a spiritual body." Passing through closed doors, partial and uncertain recognition, and appearance in unexpected places, indicate a more refined and immaterial organization than that which would have resulted from a preservation of the form of clay. No speculative consideration of these appearances need here be entered upon or comparison made with similar manifestations numerously claimed now and through the past ages. But we may well ask, why should Jesus, even if of supreme spiritual attainment, have an experience outside of universal and beneficent laws, and thus be put beyond the pale of mankind? Whatever the character of the post-resurrection appearances, we may infer that they were normal and not beyond the possibility which is the privilege of spiritually developed humanity. The higher life includes capabilities for its own satisfactory demonstration. There is an unappreciated potency and true mysticism in spiritual things which is beautiful and orderly, and it may be kept clear of superstition and fanaticism. The higher consciousness is divinely natural.
God is love, and love, therefore, must be the substance of sonship. Love was the vital flame of the Primitive Church. It is the length, breadth, and height of ideal Christianity, for it includes all the subordinate virtues. It is a developed relation and temper toward all environment, far and near. "For love is of God, and every one that loveth is begotten of God. He that loveth not knoweth not God. And the witness is this, that God gave unto us the eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son hath not the life. These things have I written unto you that ye might know that ye have the eternal life."
If the New Man be a vital outgrowth in human nature, he is not a matter of time and place. What of Moses and Daniel and Isaiah? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not the God of the dead but of the living. Life can become neither confined nor inert, else it is no longer life.
Sonship is an inspiring and beautiful mystery. Can the infinite Father occupy the human form? A transcendent truth, ancient, yet ever new. Thou art wrapped in our fleshly mantle and we feel thee as our very self. Jesus was the "Elder Brother" of the spiritual family of man. The divine lineaments within are to shine through our own hard features and transform them. We will not be abashed at the glory of sonship. The “star of Bethlehem" is ever rising in human hearts and its light dispels the darkness from receptive souls.
"The dayspring from on high shall visit us, To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace."