Jesus Christ

Explain it as we will, in the history of the world one influence stands out unique. There have been many great and good men; there have been some founders of great and permanent movements - religious, political, moral; great ideas have been started, great principles enunciated, which have altered the whole course of civilization and thought. But no single man, no single idea, has so revolutionized the world, its trend of life and its interpretation of itself, as the Person and teaching of Jesus Christ. A few would class Him with other reformers; they know that by so doing they deprive Him of His due. He stands alone. "Anno Domini - the year of the Lord," is no accidental and convenient means of dating; we do not speak of the year of Confucius, or the year of Buddha, or the year of Luther, or the year of Napoleon. It stands for a great upheaval, greater than any that these have made; for the coming of One Who has transcended all others in His teaching, and in the effect His teaching has produced, and therefore Who surpasses all others in His life and being.

But that is not the whole of the matter. It is not even the most important part. Not only does the present state of man upon the earth drive me back to a point at which, and to a person in whom, the whole human race began again, but the momentum of that revolution is evidently not yet spent. In spite of the many back-waters, in spite of countless reactions, that force which is understood by Christianity has never worn out, indeed, was never stronger than now; to deny this, or even to ignore it, is a greater folly than to deny the fact of Christ Himself. And to this there is no parallel at all. Do what its enemies will, this faith in Jesus Christ goes everywhere, permeates everything, rouses slumbering embers today as much as ever it did, more than ever it did, in any generation before. Is a new country opened up? The followers of Christ pierce into it, if, indeed, they are not found to have anticipated the explorer. Is a new nation formed? Every day, in proportion to its growth in greatness, does its Christianity grow. Is a new philosophy thought out? Immediately it is tested on the anvil of Christianity. Does a new enemy of law and order lift up its head? The one and immediate object of its attack is the fact of Jesus Christ and the spirit that He has sent into the world.

One goes back, then, to examine this beginning; and here the discovery is still more startling. Given the most stirring description of this Christ that His most devoted follower has drawn, given, if you like, the most exaggerated picture that the stoutest enthusiast has painted, what an insignificant cause it offers to explain so stupendous an effect! To say that the movement had none but a fancied founder is portentous enough; to say that this and no more was the founder seems almost more portentous. And yet it is the matter of fact. Whichever way I turn, however I may search, whatever explanation I may devise, all my paths converge upon this common centre. I may accept it or I may leave it. I have no other escape. If I leave it I do violence to my reason, and to all my first principles of knowledge; if I accept it, whatever consequences may follow in its train, however hard may be their details, I am at least consistent with all my other axioms of thought. Startling as it may appear, impossible as it may seem, an unknown carpenter of an unknown village, who wrote no books, who built no monument, who assembled no army, who conquered no country, who founded no school, who developed no philosophy, who made no addition to science, who invented no machinery, who explored no strange land, the most noteworthy event of whose life was the fact that He died a convict's death, has been the reformer of the world; nay, more, is the world's reformer today.

Evidently, then, whether I see it or not, there is something in this Christ more than appears, something behind, whatever there may be outside. In shape and behaviour I see Him to be as other men. He eats and drinks, He grows and matures, He works and rests, like the rest of us; there is that in His speech and in His manner so entirely ordinary, common, that He is classed as insignificant by those who knew Him best, and they were only village labourers. And yet with all this insignificance there is no man more noticed than He. He is noticed so as to make many friends. Wherever He goes, into whatever city, among whatever class, among rich and poor, innocent and sinful, learned and ignorant, rulers and ruled, He has some who make Him their all-in-all. In His own age, in every age since, and in our own, whether or not men deny Christ Himself, they cannot deny the unbroken line of His friends, who have lived for Him, have laboured for Him, have died for Him, have found their one glory in Him - a line to which there is no end, and in comparison with which there is no parallel. And he is noticed, on the other hand, so as to make many enemies. If Christ had always, and still has, the longest line of the former, He has the largest number of the latter also. "Behold, all the world goes after Him," in the one company or in the other. He who is not with Him is against Him; there is no neutral attitude possible.

What is it that makes this difference? What else can it be but something which sets Him apart from all others? This Jesus Christ, if He has done what He has done, if He is what He is, is not merely unique among men. He is, He must be, something more than man. Then what is He? What is that being which never dies? What is that life which so outpours itself and yet is never exhausted? "Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and the same for ever," was said of Him now nineteen hundred years ago; the same is said of Him still. They are shut up in a deep and dark cavern who think it is not so. When we are dead and gone, and the best and greatest of us is forgotten, when His enemies are dead and gone, and all their ammunition has been spent, it will still continue to be said of Him, He will still be the force that will count, for the resurrection and for the fall of many, and for a sign to be contradicted; still will He be making friends, still making enemies. At times the world will recover itself and own Him, and will rejoice and be glad and go forward in the knowledge; at times and in places - though never wholly, as it has never done - it will go backward and disown Him, and those will be days of falsehood and unrest. But in either case it will always be, as it has always been since He came, the acceptance or the rejection of this Christ, this obviously living Christ, that will characterize every succeeding generation, and every soul that it contains.

Once more, then, who and what is this Christ? This is not the argument. Strictly speaking it is not one of the arguments by which the Divinity of Christ is proved; but surely it is one of the signs by which it is manifested. It is not the argument by which we show that having loved His own who were in the world He has loved them unto the end, but surely it compels us to cry out: "Behold, how He has loved." It is not the basis commonly given of the heroism of the Saints; but surely it is the secret of their superhuman strength, and the fulfilment of that promise: "Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." And if so, it justifies that portentous charge: "Go, therefore, and teach all nations," and it explains that commission's fulfillment. What no human power could have done, the Divine Man of Nazareth has effected. What the mightiest of emperors with his legions could not hope for has been accomplished by a band of fishermen, with this Divine Leader at their head. What today combined science and learning, armies and navies, alliances and agreements, would not dream of taking in hand, that same is being carried through before our every eyes by the unknown disciples of this unknown Master, without money to help them, without a sword to defend them, in almost every unknown corner of the world. And when present empires have passed away, and the learning of our time has come to be smiled at as old-world simplicity, the work they are now doing will still abide, and will still be spread by others fired with the same unutterable craving that He may be known, and loved, and served.

To know this Jesus Christ as He is now, living, and active, and fascinating by His perfect self, not merely as He was in the days of His pilgrimage, this is the secret of the Saints. For to know Him is now, as it was then, either to love Him or to hate Him; to love Him with a boundless love, or to hate Him unto death. It is a matter of proportion. The man who says he neither loves nor hates, does not yet know Jesus Christ as He is. That which he knows is but a shadow, but a feeble imitation of the truth; the true Jesus Christ compels. "The love of Christ drives me," says the Apostle Saint Paul; it drives every man that comes within its thrall, and it is a thralldom whose yoke is sweet and whose burthen is a glory.