JESUS IN CHRISTIAN THOUGHT
Jesus Christ came to men as a great new experience. He took them far outside all they had known of God and of man. He led them, historically, into what was, in truth, a new world, into a new understanding of life in all its relations. What they had never noticed before, he brought to their knowledge, he made interesting to them, and intelligible. In short, as Paul put it, “if any man be in Christ, it is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). The aspects of things were different; the values were changed, and a new perspective made clear relations that were obscure and tangled before. Why should it have been so? Why should it be, that, when a man comes into contact, into some kind of sympathy with Jesus Christ, some living union with him, everything becomes new, and he by and by begins to feel with St. Paul: “To me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21)? Why has Jesus meant so much? Why should all this be associated with him?
Plato, in the sentence already quoted, tells us that “the unexamined life is unliveable for a human being, for a real man.” Here, then, came into man’s life a new experience altogether, like nothing known before altering everything, giving new sympathies, new passions, new enthusiasms—a new attitude to God and a new attitude to men. It was inevitable that thought must work upon it. Who was this Jesus that he should produce this result? Men asked themselves that very early; and if they were slow to do so, the criticism of the outsider drove them into it. The result has been nineteen centuries of endless question and speculation as to Jesus Christ—the rise of dogma, creed, and formula, as slowly all the philosophy of mankind has been re-thought in the light of the central experience of Jesus Christ. In spite of all that we may regret in the war of creeds, it was inevitable—it was part of the disturbance that Jesus foresaw he must make (Luke 12:51). Men “could do no other”—they had to determine for themselves the significance of Jesus in the real world, in the whole cosmos of God; and it meant fruitful conflict of opinion, the growth of the human mind, and an ever-heightened emphasis on Jesus.
An analogy may illustrate in some way the story before us. One of the most fascinating chapters of geography is the early exploration of America. Chesapeake Bay was missed by one explorer. Fog or darkness may have been the cause of his missing the place; but he missed it, and, though it is undoubtedly there, he made his map without it. Now let us suppose a similar case—for it must often have happened in early days—and this time we will say it was the Hudson, or some river of that magnitude. A later explorer came, and where the map showed a shore without a break, he found a huge inlet or outlet. Was it an arm of the sea, a vast bay, or was it a great river? A very great deal depended on which it