The Growth of Christ’s Moral Character

W. D. MACKENZIE IN CONTEMPORARY REVIEW July 1 1906

The Growth of Christ’s Moral Character

W. D. MACKENZIE IN CONTEMPORARY REVIEW July 1 1906

The Growth of Christ’s Moral Character

W. D. MACKENZIE IN CONTEMPORARY REVIEW

This is a portion of a lengthy article on “ The Moral Consciousness of Jesus." It seeks to show the two factors that determined the religious and moral character of Christ. The writer approaches the subject reverently and shows how the sinless conscience of the Saviour must inevitably enter as a new condition in the experience of mankind.

MANIFESTLY the moral and religious consciousness of Jesus was maintained and developed under certain fundamental conditions. No one would maintain that it had no history, that it was a mere dead level of uniformity, even on planes beyond our vision. Jesus appears as a historical personality, a son of man. As such He is under the laws of growth alike in mind and body, and hence also in the sweep and content of His religious experience and His moral character. Moreover that growth was determined naturally and necessarily by two principal factors—viz., dependence on His Father and temptation. Let us look at each of these in turn.

Dependence on God is the fundamental fact for all the universe. It is given only to rational beings, of course, to recognize and accept this fact. As it is accepted they fulfil His purpose and become the vessels of His joy. As it is rejected they become absolutely disgraced; and then they lose their very right to be, since that is rooted only in His will and His end. Now the whole history of religion, from the most primitive forms to that of the highest Christian sainthood, has been the education of man as to the extent and meaning of his dependence on God. The savage depends on Him for help against his foes, for deliverance from some dreaded demon’s curse, or for blessings on his gardens and his flocks. The Christian man has learned that he depends on God even for the forgiveness of sin—i.e., for deliverance

from the very fact that he has no right to deliverance; and no form of dependence can be more absolute than that. With that has dawned upon him all the glory of that dependence on God for every positive good, for life, even life everlasting. Jesus it was who first made known the full extent of this our dependence upon God. He it was who extended the immeasurable limits of our relationships with God to include all that a sinful man—and who is not that?— can desire from the eternal Father in an endless experience. But that which Jesus revealed as the law of all our life was already the possession of His own mind and heart, it was already the foundation of His own will. No trust, in all the world’s story, is so full and rich,, so calm and strong, so deliberate and open-eyed, so humble and absolute, as that which breathes forth from all His references to God and even from His verv use of the word Father.

He knew what it was to pray; and prayer for Him meant faith in the Father’s relation to every moment of life. He knew what it was to accept from the Father the behests that cost a man the sacrifice of all a man counts dear, yea, even of his very self to the uttermost. All that He teaches about this trust in the Father, which is to make anxiety a sin and self-seeking a disgrace, which is to make revenge an insult to the providence of God; and hatred a denial of His love — all this he has proved in his own heart’s depth. Upon this it was that His recorded temptations bore with

their whole terrific weight; anti He won His victory, keeping the will pure and clean and one with the will of God, because He cast Himself with the more energy upon that will and purpose, just as, the opposite plan of life urged itself more fiercely from without His spirit. Hence it is to be even insisted on that the moral harmony of Jesus did in the best and fullest sense grow with His historical experience. The years, as we have seen, tested His dependence upon the Father. They ybrought new anti wider opportunities of action. They confronted him with new situations which put His whole nature to the test. The spirit in Him had to deal with a world that was pressing ever closer home upon Him the final question, whether there was any limit to His faith in God, to His love of man, to the measure of His sacrificial will.

In the second place, the growth of Jesus was conditioned by the experience of temptation. There is a sense in which it is right to say that temptation^ is necessary to the development of a free personality. But we then use the word “Temptation” in the sense of a test of strength, each new task demanding more of will and wisdom, more of loyalty and love, and so drawing out and confirming as his own the latent and unabsorbed energies of the individual. In that sense heaven itself may well be filled with temptation, all its happy tasks appealing to and demanding the free and joyous self-devotion of holy wills, and leading its citizens forward in endless and sinless growth. But temptation in the ordinary sense of the word is not thus the privilege of freedom ; it is the curse of a morally poisoned world. As such, temptation is not a mere instinctive motion of the will towards wrong, unsuggest-

ed except by self. It arises when the will discovers itself in an environment that is somehow infected with sin. If the individual will find itself already prone to act in harmony with that discord, consenting to add one more jarring note to the total horror we must remember that it does so just because it is itself the product of the system. In its birth out of that which became its environment, it was already adapted to it. It is true that still there is a light in the world, a principle in every man, which seems to disown and rebuke this, moral disorder. Even that is necessary to the existence of sin, and is presupposed in the consciousness of sin. Without it humanity would be purely animal, and all its appetites regulated for it by times and seasons. Evil would be impossible, and anarchy itself inconceivable. That is one of the main differences between the human and the animal consciousness. But that also it is which brings the word “temptation” into our world. Temptation is an experience possible only in an environment that is already corrupt and to a will that is not absolutely destroyed, that is not entirely destitute of light. It is, however, in virtue not of his sinfulness, but in virtue of that remainder of freedom, that unquenched sense of right and responsibility, that a man can be tempted. Further, we must remember that temptation in our world grows fiercer as holiness of will grows stronger. The man who falls has not done his best. The man who yields to temptation has not tasted the full measure and bitterness of temptation. To him it became suddenly sweet,, or he had not, fallen. It is the man who conquers who has paid the full price of living in a world of sin, as Jesus did on the Cross. He has pressed

on and on, meeting ever wider tasks and fiercer appeals to his deeper will. Perplexity increases as the kingdom of God is seen in its true glory, as the will that would live wholly there is yet found entangled in human situations. To be human and also fulfil God’s will is ideally easy wheie we think of humanity as it ought to be. But to be human is to live in relation to a society and to individuals in whom self-will and self-seeking, the luscious! alluring of the senses and the cruel prejudices of pride, dominate in varying measure every heart and every mind. The man who will fee! this most iá the man who knows God best. To him all the inner contradictions of his situation are apparent, and to him temptation becomes a horror, as constant as his shadow, as deep as his fathomless consciousness of God and self,—of the Father and the Son. For here we have been speaking of Jesus, guided in our thought of temptation by the picture of His experiences in the Gospels. There we find that temptation assailed Him in ways and with results which humble and overawe us. Those marvellous pictures, symbolic summaries of the temptation in the wilderness, which could only have come from Himself, the Master of parabolic utterance, reveal a supreme intensity of trial, an unforgettable period of titanic struggle with ultimate principles of conduct. During His minstry crises arose which betokened a recurrence of this warfare of His soul. Such were His indignant words to Peter, as if His disciple in urging Him to forego death were actually opening the attacks of hell upon His will ; His manner when they went up towards Jerusalem with a face steadfastly set, and with a bearing, as He moved on before His disciples, determined, self-mastered, which. Mark tells

us, made them afraid; His brief sharp struggle of soul, of which John has the only record, when He challenged Himself as to what His real will was, while disaster drew visibly nearer; at last the awful stoiy of Gethsemane, when the conflict reached its climax at once of agony and of victory.

Throughout this dark side of the experience of Jesus we can see His consciousness appealed to by and through His human environment. It is this that would fain break His immediate and constant dependence on the Father; it is this that would turn that very faith of his into a public and unpopular weakness; it is this environment of evil —the very hearts He loved—that put the final stress on His faith by taking His life, blotting out His one little spot of influence on men. Can He still believe in the Father’s purpose with Himself, in the Father’s way of unlimited love, in the Father’s power over all things, including even death ? It is vain to try to express what Jesus seems to have felt in the agony of that trial of His faith, when the Father put the cup to His lips. The fearful element in the situation was this, that the Father’s will was. that He should drink it; but the cup was fashioned out of human nature and its contents out of human sin.

Here, then, we have at the centre of the Christian religion, creative of the Christian consciousness, the sinless conscience of Jesus. His will faced the environment which has overborne every other human will and compelled it to sin. If we hold that sin is not a mere product of the Fuman will, but rises out of the very substance of the evolutionary process, then a sinful moral consciousness appears! even more inevitable, so to speak. If we hold that the system which gives birth to the in-

dividual human will has impressed itself on that will from the beginning and makes each man’s fall a necessity, all the more startling isi the fact that here is a moral consciousness in Jesus that is without the sense of sin* Yea, rather it is full of the presence of God, full of the knowledge of the Father. It has proved itself morally the most stimulating, spiritually the most illuminating, historically the most imperial will in all history. And yet here it stands apart, alone, the will without sin, the heart that is at one with God. Can we hold all this, and also hold that the system called human nature, out of which every other will is born, produced that will?

Such a consciousness must inevitably enter as a new condition into the experience of mankind. As it is true that each work of real genius makes its own contribution to progress, bringing the human spirit to see and to grasp what had been hitherto beyond vision and beyond reach, so, but immeasurably more, does the Person of Christ make a new departure and become a new element in human history. By that consciousness a new order of being-

lias been opened to man’s apprehension and brought into contact with his nature and history. All relationships have not only been reinterpreted, but are actually changed by that one fact. Humanity is not the same, because its own ^elf-consciousness has been altered. Relationship with God, with nature, with sin, with death, with time and eternity, cannot be the same for a race whose highest dreams have been of ghosts, and whose highest messages have been the dim words of Hebrew prophets, and for a race in the midst of which has appeared a being with a consciousness which is superhuman, which betrays in every move and word an origin other than that of man, which stands to all the facts of experience in a new relation.

His presence and His experience must not only constitute a fact surpassing any other incidental word or movement of the human spirit. They must become permanent and universal conditions of experience for the race. Not until all men have been brought to face those conditions as He creates them, can they know what it is henceforth to be a human being and to fulfil a human destiny.

Idleness Not Happiness

The most common error of men and women is that of looking for happiness somewhere outside of useful work. It has never yet been found when thus sought, and never will be while the world stands; and the sooner the truth is learned the better for everyone. If you doubt the proposition, go around among your friends and acquaintances and select those who have the most enjoyment through life. Are they idlers and pleasureseekers, or the earnest workers ? We know what your answer will be. Of the miserable human beings it has been our fortune or misfortune to know, those were the most wretched who had retired from useful employment in order to enjoy themselves.—Smith’s Weekly.