Jesus Christ was in himself a very great discovery for those to whom he gave himself, and the exploration of him shows a somewhat similar story. Men have often said that they see nothing in him very different from the rest of us; while others have found in him, in the phrase of the Apocalypse (Rev. 22:1), the “water of life”; and the positive announcement is here, as in the other case, the more important of the two. The discovery of the volume of life, which comes from Jesus Christ, is one of the greatest that men have made. Merely to have dipped his bucket, as it were, in that great stream of life has again and again meant everything to a man. Think of what the new-found river of the New World meant to some of those early explorers after weeks at sea—
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink—
and they reach an immense flood of river-water. It was new life at once; but it did not necessarily mean the immediate exploration of everything, the instant completion of geographical discovery. It was life and the promise of more to follow. The history of the Church is a record, we may put it, both of the discovery of the River of Life and of the exploration of its course and its sources, and of what lies behind it. But the discovery and the exploration are different things, and the first is quicker and more certain than the second. Most of us will admit that we have not gone very far up into that Continent. The object of this chapter is not to attempt to survey or compendiarise Christian exploration of Jesus, but to try to find for ourselves a new approach to an estimate of the historical figure who has been and remains the centre of everything.
We may classify the records of the Christian exploration roughly in three groups. In the early Christian centuries, we find endless thought given to the philosophical study of the relation of Christ and God. It fills the library of the Early Church, and practically all the early controversies turn upon it. The weak spot in all this was the use of the “a priori” method. Men started with preconceptions about God—not unnaturally, for we all have some theories about God, which we are apt to regard as knowledge.