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Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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§ III. The Word and Redemption.

The Word, which was the organ of creative love, is also the organ of the compassionate love of the Father. The whole work of salvation rests upon him. This work is twofold. It is both internal and external, for it is to effect the reconciliation and reunion of God and man. It is not enough that God should draw near to man by a series of revelations; it is also necessary that man should be inclined toward God. In truth, that he may come to the fountain of living waters, man must be athirst. John vii, 37. He must be born from above in order to receive the Redeemer, who comes down from heaven. Only " he who is of God heareth the words of God." John viii, 23-49. The voice of the Good Shepherd is known only by his sheep. John x, 27. In other words, the soul must have recovered the sense of divine things, and there must be an affinity between it and the truth, in order that it may come to the light.

This religious aptitude, this pre-existing and necessary harmony between the conscience and the Gospel, John calls the drawing of the Father. John vi, 44. To arouse within the soul this thirst after God, to develop this infinite desire, is the inward work of the Word. Thus he is not satisfied with communicating the higher life of the soul to every man that cometh into the world. He sustains, nourishes, and developes this higher life, and shines into the darkness of every soul.569569Καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει. John i, 5. He scrupulously respects, however, the sacred rights of free will—for man's return to God, like his departure from him, must be a moral act. The light which is in us may be relumed or wholly extinguished, according to the attitude we assume toward the revelations given to the world. If man plunges into sin his mind becomes wholly dark, and thus he repels the light, "because his deeds are evil." If, on the other hand, he seeks to do the will of God, if he fosters the love of truth and of good, he comes to the light,570570Πᾶς γὰρ ὁ φαυ̂λα πράσσων, μισεῖ τὸ φῶς καὶ οὐκ ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς, ἵνα μὴ ἐλεγχθῃ̂ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ. Ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς. John iii, 20, 21. and he recognizes it as it beams on him with gentle radiance. "If any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." John vii, 17. The rejection of the light is a determination of the will. "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life."571571Οὐ θέλετε. John v. 40. Thus we find in the inner work of the Word the two poles of the moral world—grace and free will.

But this work within is not enough. To the infinite need of the soul there must be a corresponding infinite satisfaction. It returns to God: God must return to it. A positive revelation is necessary. John, like Paul, distinguishes two successive revelations. The first has only a preparatory value, it is but twilight; its rays proceed indeed from the Word, as all light does, but they only herald his appearance. "The law came by Moses," says John, "but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."572572Ὁ νόμος διὰ Μωϋσέως ἐδόθη, ἡ χάρις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐγένετο. John i, 17. Thus the Apostle solves without discussion the great question which had excited so much controversy. The law was but the shadow of salvation; the new covenant, by communicating to man the grace and pardon of God, alone gives the substance of the good promised to humanity; it alone lifts him into that full light of truth which is inseparable from love. This was to proclaim the abrogation of the Mosaic covenant in unmistakable terms. John does not fail, however, to recognize its divine character. In the fourth gospel Jesus Christ appeals to Moses; (John v, 46;) he declares that "salvation is of the Jews," thus connecting his work with the whole series of antecedent revelations.573573Ἡ σωτηρία ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων. John iv, 22. Like the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but with far greater depth of argument, St. John establishes the superiority of the new covenant by the incomparable superiority of its foundation. The last and the greatest Prophet of the old covenant was not himself "that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light, that all men through him might believe." John i, 6-8. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is the true light; he is that Word who is "God with God," the "Word made flesh."574574Ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο. John i, 14. He is not sent, like John the Baptist, that all men through him might believe, but that all might believe in him. He is the object of faith. Did he not say, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life?" John xiv, 6.

While St. Paul dwelt especially on the work wrought by the Saviour, St. John insists mainly on his nature. The incarnation is, in his view, the capital truth of Christianity. It is not only the necessary condition of redemption, it is the permanent condition of salvation. The proclamation of pardon is only the preliminary and initiative of salvation. For a man to be saved is to possess God—that is, to possess light, life, and truth; and as in the incarnate Word humanity appears closely and indissolubly united to deity, so it is by union with him that salvation is fully realized.

The incarnation thus regarded has an entirely new significance. Instead of being a pallid ray, which sinful man discerns quivering amid his thick darkness, it places him in the fullness of light; it restores him to his normal condition. Created by the Word, and for the Word, in the light and for the light, he was destined to walk in the full light of God. The incarnation is the true consummation of creation, while it is at the same time the only effectual reparation of the fall. We know with what emphasis St. John insists upon the reality of the incarnation in opposition to the heresies of his time, which, by a spurious spiritualism, regarded the body of the Saviour as a sort of delusive semblance. "Every spirit," he says, "that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God."575575Πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐστιν. 1 John iv, 2, 3. Writing his gospel and epistles in presence of those dualistic tendencies which identified evil with the corporeal element, he felt himself called upon to magnify this glorious aspect of the incarnation. He does not dwell upon the humiliation of Christ as St. Paul does; but there is no contradiction on this point between the two Apostles.576576We cannot accept M. Reuss' idea on this point. He maintains that from St. John's stand-point the humiliation of the Word is inconceivable. If the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father is apparent to John through the vail of mortal flesh, that glory is nevertheless revealed in shrouded splendor. He shows us Jesus Christ as subject to the weaknesses and suffering conditions of human life: he is weary, he groans, he weeps, he dies. This death is undoubtedly a lifting up, in a spiritual point of view,577577Ὑψοῦσθαι. John iii, 14. and it was important to prove this in contradiction to Cerinthus, who regarded his death as only illusory. St. John gives emphasis to the truth that it is both glorious and real: "this is he that came by blood." But death is still death—that is, the depth of humiliation. The Saviour, as we read in the fourth gospel, prays before working his miracles. John xi, 41, 42. He is not, then, in possession of omnipotence on earth as in heaven. He is subject to a certain abasement; but he is subject to it voluntarily; it is an act of his divine freedom. The Son has power to lay down his life, and has power to take it again;578578Ἐξουσίαν ἔχω θεῖναι αὐτὴν, καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔχω πάλιν λαβεῖν αὐτήν. John x, 18. thus, in our aspect, he is glorious in his humiliation. Yet more, to the Apostle of love the highest glory is that which comes from love. For him, as for Pascal, this is the supreme order of greatness. Thus regarded, what glory can be compared with the glory of Him who gave his life for his brethren on the accursed tree?

St. John does not enlarge upon the incarnation itself. There is no trace in his writings of scholastic theories. He does not formally distinguish two natures in Jesus Christ. He is content with affirming that the Word was made flesh, and with showing how deeply his human nature was penetrated with the nature of God. In the eyes of John human nature has a divine capacity or potentiality. Est capax divinitatis. Jesus Christ is distinguished from all other men as the "only-begotten Son of the Father," who is like the Father, and, one with Him,579579Ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν. John x, 30. not only by virtue of his holiness, which is without blemish,580580Ἔρχεται γὰρ ὁ τοῦ κόσμου ἄρχων· καὶ ἐν ἐμοὶ οὐκ ἔχει οὐδέν. John xiv, 30. but by virtue of his origin—that is to say, he is God in a metaphysical as well as in a moral sense.

If the redemptive work of Christ is not fully brought out by St. John under all its aspects, it would be a grave error to see in it simply a revelation of the love of God. Such a revelation would be untrue and incomplete if it were not in harmony with the demands of justice, which are also the requirements of the human conscience. St. John is very far from ignoring this important aspect of Christianity. He ascribes a redeeming virtue to the Saviour's death. He died for us.581581Ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ τίθησιν ὑπὲρ τῶν προβάτων. John x, 11. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world."582582Αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστι περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, οὐ περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου. 1 John ii, 2. Writing after St. Paul he uses expressions the meaning of which was already clearly defined. The importance which he attaches to the death of Jesus Christ, the necessity which he so clearly recognizes of appropriating him by faith, of eating his flesh, and drinking his blood,583583John vi, 53. Compare 1 John v, 6. all show that John discerns in him the sacred victim, who offers the sacrifice of perfect love. But he never separates the redeeming virtue of the blood of the cross from its purifying efficacy. The moral aspect is inseparable from the judicial, and is throughout St. John's writings most prominently advanced.584584Τὸ αἷμα Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ καθαρίζει ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἁμαρτίας. 1 John i, 7. Compare iii, 5. We are bound, moreover, to set all the particular points of John's doctrine in the light of his central and dominant principle, which is expressed in the words: "God is love." This love is a holy love, which demands satisfaction for wrong committed, and a penitent retractation on the part of mankind; but it knows nothing of vengeance. The crucifixion, as represented by John, is not an infinite compensation for an infinite crime. For him also, as for St. Paul, the cross is only the consummation of redemption. The entire life of the incarnate Word is comprehended in the redeeming work. The free sacrifice of love began to be offered from the time of his coming into the world, and at the very opening of his ministry John the Baptist pointed to him as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. John i, 29. The indwelling divine light shines forth with softened luster throughout the whole course of his life. His miracles are but rays more intense and sensible, revealing to men the existence of the sun within; but it is most of all the pure brightness radiating from his entire nature,, his ideal holiness, the heavenly love impressed on all his words and actions, which rekindles in human hearts the sparks of the higher life.585585Jesus Christ distinguishes between a faith based upon his holiness and a faith based upon his miracles; and he places the former on a higher level than the latter. "If I do not the works of my Father," he says, "believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works." John x, 37, 38. In other words, you ought to believe me because of my obedience to my Father, and my holiness; if not, believe me at least because of my miracles. The death of Christ is the culminating point of his redeeming work, for it is, first, the supreme surrender, the highest form of sacrifice; and next, it is the necessary condition of the diffusion of salvation. The love of the Word cannot be spread broadly over the world if it is not set free from all that is local and restricted as to space and time in its manifestation upon earth. "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." John xii, 24.

We thus understand the Master's words to his disciples: "It is expedient for you that I go away."586586Συμφέρει ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐγὼ ἀπέλθω. John xvi, 7. From the heaven to which he has returned he sends the Divine Comforter, the invisible and almighty Paraclete, who makes his presence real to his people; and in the abode of glory he carries on, by his intercession, his office of Mediator with the Father.587587Παράκλητον ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα. 1 John ii, 1.

Such is the work of the Word for the restoration of the world which he created, and which he thus morally re-creates by imparting himself to fallen man in a fullness greater than any to which man could have dared to aspire even in the days of his integrity.


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