For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.
We profess to believe that the system of doctrine and ethics set forth in Scripture is true. It is our business to prove it.
1. We may use a priori method; that is, we may take an antecedent probability and proceed to verify it. If there is a God, He would probably reveal Himself.
2. The a posteriori method; that is, reasoning from facts to conclusions. There are certain facts for which it is impossible to account otherwise than by attributing a supernatural power to religion.
3. Our case may be substantiated by external evidence.
4. Internal evidence or personal experience.
5. In demonstrating the truth of Christianity we may use the testimony of its friends. An army of such witnesses is ever marching past.
6. There is still another view point, however, to wit, the testimony of the enemy. It is our purpose to pursue a brief argument from the concessions made by unbelievers as to the divineness of Jesus and the power of the religion which has its living centre in Him.
I. Our first witnesses shall be A GROUP OF THREE WHO WERE ABLE TO TESTIFY FROM MORE OR LESS INTIMATE ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE LIVING CHRIST.
1. Pilate. "I am innocent of the blood of this just person." The word rendered "just person" is used by Plato in characterising the ideal man.
2. The Centurion who had charge of the crucifixion of Jesus. "Truly this was the Son of God!" He knew the hopes of Israel respecting the coming of Messiah. one of whose distinctive titles was "the Son of God," and he was persuaded that "those hopes were realised in this Jesus whom they had sentenced to the accursed tree.
3. Judas. "I have betrayed innocent blood!"
II. We now come to THE POST-APOSTOLIC PERIOD, AND SUMMON A COTERIE OF STALWART ENEMIES OF CHRIST.
1. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who wrote in the first century of the Christian era. In his Antiquities he says, "About this time lived Jesus, a wise man — if it be proper to call Him a man, for He was a doer of wonderful works. He was a teacher of such men as receive the truth. He was called the Christ. And when Pilate, at the instigation of our principal men, had condemned Him to the Cross, those who had loved Him did not forsake Him. And He appeared to them alive again on the third day, the prophets of old having foretold these and many other wonderful things concerning Him. And the sect of Christians, so named after Him, is not extinct unto this day."
2. Celsus, a Greek philosopher of the second century, who wrote vigorously against the sect of Galileans. He quotes liberally from the New Testament, and concedes the genuineness of the miracles of Christ.
3. Porphyry, of the second century, a Neo-Platonist, who wrote fifteen volumes against Christianity. He says, in speaking of the oracles, "The goddess Hecate hath declared Jesus to be a most pious man, His soul, like the souls of other pious men, favoured with immortality after death. The Christians do mistakingly worship Him. And when we asked at the oracle, 'Why then was He condemned?' she answered, 'The body is liable to suffering, but the soul of the pious dwells in heavenly mansions. He hath indeed been the occasion of error in leading others away from the acknowledgment of the immortal Jove; but, being Himself pious, He is gone to the dwelling of the gods."
4. Julian, the apostate emperor of the fourth century. He was a bitter enemy of Christianity. In a campaign against the Persians he fell, pierced with a spear. Clutching the dust in his agony, he cried, "Galilean, Thou hast conquered!" He says, "Jesus, having persuaded a few of the baser sort of Galileans to attach themselves to Him, has now been celebrated about three hundred years. He did nothing in His lifetime worthy of fame, unless it be counted a great work to heal lame and blind people and exorcise demoniacs." A splendid tribute, this, to the beneficent work of Christ!
III. WE LEAP A THOUSAND YEARS AND COME TO ANOTHER GROUP OF UNBELIEVERS. We are now in the midst of influences which are ultimately to provoke a social and political upheaval throughout the civilised earth.
1. Spinoza. He is referred to as the father of modern pantheism. He did not believe in the personality of God, but regarded Him as an all-pervading something with the attributes of extension and thought. As to this God, however, he says that "Jesus Christ was the temple. In Him God has most fully revealed Himself."
2. Thomas Chubb, a leader of the modern deists. He was a tallow chandler in his early life, and his sympathies were with the common people. Though he rejected the divineness of the Gospel, yet he was pleased to compliment it as a religion for the poor. He says, "In Christ we have an example of a quiet and peaceable spirit, of a becoming modesty and sobriety — just, honest, upright, and sincere, and above all, of a most gracious and benevolent temper and behaviour — one who did no wrong, no injury to any man, in whose mouth was no guile; who went about doing good, not only by His ministry, but also in curing all manner of diseases among the people. His life was a beautiful picture of human nature in its own purity and simplicity, and showed at once what excellent creatures men might be under the influence of His Gospel."
IV. And now we present three malignant spirits, than whom no others in history have probably exercised a more disastrous influence on human thought, THE MASTER SPIRITS OF THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.
1. Diderot, father of the Encyclopedic, which was the dragon's egg of the Reign of Terror In a conversation with the Baron de Holbach he is represented as saying, "For a wonder, gentlemen, I know nobody, either in France or elsewhere, who could write as these Scriptures are written. This is a Satan of a book. I defy anyone to prepare a tale so simple, so sublime and touching, as that of the passion of Jesus Christ."
2. Jean Jacques Rousseau, brilliant, erratic, inconsistent. Here is a remarkable saying of his: "I will confess to you that the majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the Gospel has its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction — how mean, how contemptible are they compared with the Scriptures! Is it possible that a book so simple and at once so sublime should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage whose history it contains should be Himself a mere man? What sweetness, what purity in His manner! What an affecting gracefulness in His instructions! What sublimity in His maxims! What profound wisdom in His discourses! What presence of mind, what subtlety, what fitness in His replies! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live and so die without weakness and without ostentation? When Plato describes his imaginary just man, loaded with all the punishments of guilt, yet meriting the highest rewards of virtue, he describes exactly the character of Jesus Christ, and the resemblance is so striking that all the Church Fathers perceived it. The death of Socrates, peacefully philosophising among his friends, appears the most agreeable that one could wish: while that of Jesus expiring in agonies, abused, insulted, and accused by a whole nation, is the most horrible that one could fear. Socrates, indeed, in receiving the cup of poison, blessed the weeping executioner who administered it: but Jesus, amid excruciating tortures, prayed for His merciless tormentors. Yes, verily, if the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus were those of a God."
3. Voltaire. No man ever lived who wrote more bitterly of the Christian religion than he; yet hear this letter, the last he ever wrote, expressed in an honest hour, and worthy of consideration as the utterance of a dying man: "I, the underwritten, do declare that for these four days past, having been afflicted with vomiting of blood — at the age of eighty-four — and not being able to drag myself to church, the reverend Rector of Sulpice having been pleased to add to his many favours that of sending me the Abbe Gautier, I did confess to him, that if it please God to dispose of me, I would die in the Church in which I was born. Hoping that the Divine mercy will pardon my faults, I sign myself in the presence of Abbe Mignon, my nephew, and Marquis de Villeville, my friend, VOLTAIRE. March 2, 1778,"
V. We here introduce A WITNESS WHO STANDS ALONE, THE MOST COLOSSAL FIGURE IN HISTORY. Napoleon. If not an unbeliever in the radical sense, he was certainly a fatalist. His star of destiny was his only providence. On one occasion, during his exile, Genesis Bertrand said to him, "I cannot conceive, sire, how a great man like you could believe that a Supreme Being could exhibit Himself to man in human guise." Napoleon answered, "I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ was not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity. Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and His will confounds me. Between Him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by Himself. His ideas and His sentiments, the truth which He announces, and His manner of convincing are not explained either by human organisation or by the nature of things. His birth and the history of His life; the profundity of His doctrine, which grapples the mightiest difficulties, and which is of those difficulties the most admirable solution; His Gospel, His apparition, His empire, His march across the ages and the realms — everything is for me a prodigy, a mystery insoluble, which plunges me into reveries which I cannot escape; a mystery which is there before my eyes, a mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human...And what a mysterious symbol, the instrument of punishment of the Man-God! His disciples were armed with it. 'The Christ,' they said, 'God has died for the salvation of men.' What a strife, what a tempest, these simple words have raised around the humble standard of the punishment of the Man-God! On the one side we see rage and all the furies of hatred and violence: on the other there are gentleness, moral courage, infinite resignation. Everywhere Christians fell, and everywhere they triumphed. You speak of Caesar, of Alexander, of their conquests, and of the enthusiasm which they enkindled in the hearts of their soldiers; but can you conceive of a dead man making conquests, with an army faithful and entirely devoted to his memory?...Now that I am at St. Helena, now that I am alone, chained upon this rock, who fights and wins empires for me? who are the courtiers of my misery and misfortunes? who thinks of me? who makes effort for me in Europe? Where are my friends? What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved, adored, and which is extending over all the earth! Is this to die? is it not rather to live? The death of Christ — it is the death of God."
VI. We summon now TWO WITNESSES FROM AMONG THE POETS, both of whom, gifted with extraordinary genius, rejected the Gospel of Christ.
1. Goethe. "I consider the Gospels to be thoroughly genuine, for in them is the effective reflection of the sublimity which emanates from Jesus, and this is as Divine as ever the Divine appeared on earth."
2. Jean Paul Richter, worshipper of the beautiful. "Jesus of Nazareth is the purest among the mighty, the mightiest among the pure, who with His pierced hand has raised empires from their foundations, turned the stream of history from its old channel, and still continues to rule and guide the ages."
VII. The two who are now to appear and bear testimony ARE REPRESENTATIVE LEADERS OF THE RIGHT AND LEFT WINGS OF MODERN UNITARIANISM.
1. Dr. Channing, leader of the conservatives, says, "I maintain that this is a character wholly remote from human conception. To imagine it to be the production of imposture or enthusiasm shows a strange unsoundness of mind. I contemplate it with a veneration second only to the profound awe with which I look upward to God. It bears no mark of human invention. It belongs to and manifested the beloved Son of God. I feel as if I could not be deceived. The Gospels must be true. They were drawn from a living original. The character of Jesus is not a fiction. He was what He claimed to be, and what His followers attested. Nor is this all. Jesus not only was, He is still, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. He has entered the heaven to which He always looked forward on earth. There He lives and reigns. Let us, then, by imitation of His virtues and obedience to His Word, prepare ourselves to join Him in those pure mansions where He is surrounding Himself with the good and the pure, and will communicate to them forever His own spirit and power and joy."
2. Theodore Parker, leader of the radicals, says, "Jesus combines in Himself the sublimest precepts and divinest practices, thus more than realising the dream of prophets and sages. He puts away the doctors of the law, subtle, learned, irrefragable, and pours out a doctrine beautiful as the light, sublime as heaven, and true as God. Shall we be told that such a man never lived? Suppose that Newton never lived. But who did his works? and thought his thoughts? It takes a Newton to forge a Newton. What man could have fabricated a Jesus? None but Jesus."
VIII. THE TWO WITNESSES WHO REMAIN HAVE BEEN FOREMOST LEADERS OF MODERN UNBELIEF.
1. David Strauss, the author of the mythical theory of the story of Jesus — perhaps the most conspicuous figure in recent German thought. A few years ago he was buried without a prayer or word of Christian song. He says, "If in Jesus the union of self-consciousness with the consciousness of God has been real, and expressed not only in words but actually revealed in all the conditions of His life, He represents within the religious sphere the highest point, beyond which humanity cannot go — yea, whom it cannot equal, inasmuch as everyone who hereafter should climb to the same height could only do so with the help of Jesus who first attained it. He remains the highest model of religion within our thought, and no perfect piety is possible without His presence in the heart.
2. Ernest Renan, author of the legendary theory. He rejected the supernatural from the Gospel record. His romantic biography of Jesus concludes in these words, "Repose now in Thy glory, noble Founder I Henceforth, beyond the reach of frailty, Thou shalt witness, from the heights of Divine peace, the infinite results of Thy work. For thousands of years the world will defend Thee! Thou shalt be the banner about which the hottest battle will be given Whatever may be the surprises of the future, Jesus will never be surpassed. His worship will grow young without ceasing; His legend will call forth tears without end; His sufferings will melt the noblest hearts; all ages will proclaim that among the sons of men there is none born greater than Jesus."CONCLUSION — In view of these concessions made by the leading representatives of unbelief all along the centuries, it is submitted that thoughtful people cannot pause in a partial or qualified rejection of Jesus Christ.
1. As to His person. Was He man? Ay, grandly so. But He was either less than a true man or more. His enemies themselves being witnesses, He was either an impostor or the Divine Man, as He claimed to be.
2. As to His character. He was the one bright particular star in a firmament of imperfect lights. He alone is worthy to be the exemplar of character, for He alone meets the conditions of the ideal manhood.
3. As to His teaching. There have been other sacred teachers — Seneca, Confucius, Zoroaster, Sakya-Muni — but these were in comparison with Him as glow-worms to the noonday sun. Never man spake like this Man.
4. As to His work. "He went about doing good." And since His crucifixion He has continued the building up of a kingdom of truth and righteousness on earth. Its outward form is the Church, "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."
5. As to the manner of His death. Ah, here the mystery thickens! Under His Cross we learn the truth, justice, holiness, and mercy of the living God. And here Christ comes into vital relation with our souls. Our God is the God of salvation. What, therefore, shall we say? As for me, I do believe this Jesus is destined to reign even unto the ends of the earth. The story of His Church is an unbroken record of triumph. The government is upon His shoulders. He is King over all and blessed forever. What more? As for me, this Christ shall be my Saviour. Shall He be yours?
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.