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RANDOM READINGS. Original and Selected Articles. By E. H. Sears :
Vol. XLVI. — JULY, 1871. —No. 1.
THE WORD MADE FLESH.
BY E. H. SEARS.
That Jesus Christ was a man, finite, tempted, suffering, having the same propensities and weaknesses, the same wants and sympathies that other men have, is manifest through the whole evangelic narrative. He was more of a man than any other person of whom we have any history; for nowhere else do we read of a humanity where the compass of its powers and attributes was so full and complete. Its sublimest heights of moral grandeur and its most delicate shades of moral beauty are all here. The manhood of other men, even the best of them, is somewhat distorted or defective. There is strength without tenderness, there is breadth without depth; there is intensity without catholicity; there is clear that is grand and lovely in nature and in man, to be brought into full correspondency with the humanity of Jesus. This constitutes the charm of the writings of Dr. Furness, through whom the natural life and character of Jesus become to us a new revelation of moral beauty and perfection.
Some of the critics have assumed that the fourth Gospel denies or at least ignores the humanity of Jesus ; that it has a Gnostic tinge, and imports that his relations to space and time, to sense and matter, were apparent and not real. Every candid and careful reader we are persuaded will come to just the opposite conclusion. More plainly and persistently than the Synoptics, the fourth Gospel, and all the Johannean writings, set forth the Incarnation as a stubborn and fundamental fact for the plain reason that when John wrote, the fact had been denied ; and in the Gnostic metaphysics the natural humanity of Jesus had exhaled in gilded mist and become spectral. In the proem the fact is made prominent; and John even goes out of his way to put in his own personal attestations as an eye-witness. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.” He puts this in the foreground as a postulate which the entire history following was to establish. When he comes to narrate the sufferings and death of Jesus, he purposely gives his readers to understand, that he of all the twelve was an eye-witness, standing under the cross while the others were standing afar off. Hence he supplies facts which they had left out; and he not only supplies them but interlines his personal affirmation as if making oath to what somebody had denied. “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who saw bears testimony, and his testimony is true, and he knows that he speaks the truth.” * He seeks to confirm this in his description of the post-resurrection appear
sis upon the proper humanity of Jesus down to its outermost clothings of flesh and sense. The ears, the eyes, and the touch are the threefold witness summoned to bear testimony to the fact that the incarnation was not spectral, but actual. "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands handled, we announce to you.
He denounces as antichrist those who deny that “ Jesus Christ has come in the flesh," and he makes acknowledgement of this truth a test of genuine discipleship. † The “liars” who denied that Jesus was the Christ, or who called themselves apostles and were not, were, in all probability, the followers of Cerinthus, who made Jesus one person, and the Christ another person that merely spoke through him as a higher angel, but whose immaculate garments of light had never been soiled by the overlayings of mortal and corruptible flesh. If the Johannean spirit rises on the one hand into the more celestial ethers, it descends on the other hand into a realism as crass and solid as we find anywhere in the New Testament history. Jesus Christ on the side of his humanity is a partaker of flesh and blood, and through that of the weaknesses, the temptations, and the woes which beset the race of Adam, even to its humblest and most forlorn child of sorrow.
In the fourth Gospel, as nowhere else, Jesus is described as in constant peril of his life, and evading the snares that would bring it to a close before his time had come. He begins his ministry at Jerusalem, evidently in the expectation that his own people would be the first to receive the new revelation, and that the light of the New Jerusalem would radiate from the old, and thence roll back the pagan darkness. But he is opposed, thwarted, and threatened, and a plot laid for his life which he is obliged continually to evade; and he ilee for personal safety, organizes his ministry there, and only goes up privately to Jerusalem, the focus of danger. All this we have in the fourth Gospel with fullness of detail ; while in the Synoptics we only have it in hints and fragments. How baseless is the theory which regards it as a Gnostic production designed to show that Christ was not really incarnate, and subject to suffering and death, when the whole narrative represents that the plan of his ministry was constantly varied lest he should meet death prematurely! Then the assertion that in the fourth Gospel he breaks suddenly upon the reader as super-human or super-angelic is entirely unfounded; for no Scripture shows more plainly and certainly than this book that his Messianic consciousness came like the dawn of the morning, that it had to break through clouds of temptation and of ignorance; through alternations of doubt, of hope, and of fear; through all the limitations of the finite understanding, before the unfluctuating noontide fooded his consciousness with the wisdom and the peace of God. The fourth Gospel shows pre-eminently, and in the lowest degree, the human phasis in the life and character of Jesus Christ.
But it contains, also, another range of fact and doctrine pertaining to that life and character which we cannot reduce within the dimensions of our finite nature. The Synoptics rise, , sometimes, to the same height, but they only rise to it occasionally. It appears with them in solitary peaks far off beyond the clouds; whereas in John it is a continuous range always bathed in the mellowing glories of the heavens. In the proem, Jesus Christ is the Word, and the Word is God himself. He is not an angel or æon, but the Being who creates the universe. This might, perhaps, be explained as “personification,” or a rhetorical figure, were it not that a whole range of fact and doctrine, through the fourth Gospel and through all the Johannean writings, keeps up to the same level, showing plainly that the proem was given as a