20 MAY 1905, Page 18

THE Christian conception of the character of Christ varies considerably

with the times, though the four biographies in the New Testament remain the only authorities common to us all. Even they present pictures which are not identical. This much is admitted now by the most orthodox. Canon Scott, who has been for years an examiner of ordination candidates, writes in his Life of Christ in the Words of the Gospels (a most useful and skilfully composed book) :—" Each of the four presents a different aspect of the office and functions of the Christ. St. Matthew exhibits Him as God's Viceroy, the God-sent Divine King of God's Chosen People. St. Mark shows Him as the Working Man. St. Luke proclaims Him to be the Universal Saviour St. John unveils for us the Incarnate God." It is one of the superhuman elements in the character of our Lord that every man sees it in relation to himself, and sees it to some extent differently as his own moral and intellectual position alters. What is true of the individual in this matter is also true of the race. We have shifted our mental and moral standpoint. Our methods of thought are more free of emotion and more exact; our faults and our virtues have modified considerably; therefore we write differently of Christ. This fact has been vividly impressed upon the mind of the present writer while reading a shelfful of new Christological books of all degrees and shades of orthodoxy and unorthodoxy sent by the publishers for review. Before the age of Biblical criticism the common attitude of the average devout Christian towards his Master was one of self-abasement, awestruck by the thought of His divinity. To-day the common attitude is one of aspiration, Conscience-struck by the thought of Christ's humanity.

It is not very easy to quote passages in complete illustra- tion of what we have been saying. Our points depend rather upon implication than statement, upon what is assumed rather than what is said, especially in those books which do not venture outside the charmed circles of the received creeds. To take such as these first of all, the religious position of the great American preacher, Phillips Brooks, the most notable exponent of American Anglicanism, is well known. In Christ the Life and Light—" the latest, and probably the last," book, according to its introduction, to be published under his name—we read : " Energy, love, and faith, these make up the perfect man" ; and the preacher points to Christ as the perfect example of all of these. " Whence comes," he asks, "this patience, this sublime composure of the Cross P It is His faith in God which makes them all." Again, Bishop Brooks dwells upon the moral industry and moral daring which never rest from their purpose. In speaking of the love of humanity which inspired our Lord Phillips Brooks does not lose himself in ecstatic eulogies of the divine condescension which, however true, are entirely useless for purposes of example, but exalts the sound judgment of the Son of Man, a quality inseparable from an ideal character and susceptible of cultivation. " There never came to Him," he says, " any of those moral panics that sweep over us. He saw men brutal, and false, and bad, but He did not throw humanity aside as hopeless. He saw men true, and strong, and unselfish, but He did not exalt humanity as perfect. Neither Judas nor John deranged His judgment."

The author of The Trial of Jesus, though we gather that he is not, as his nationality would suggest, a Roman Catholic, occupies the position of a believer,—a fact which, apart from his acceptation of the troth of the Gospel narrative as it stands, is sufficiently proved by his last paragraph : " Nineteen

* (1) The Life of Christ in the Words of the Gospels. By J. J. Scott, M.A. London: John Murray. [Ps. 6d. net.]--(2) Christ the We and Light. Selected from Writings of the Bight Rev. Phillips Brooks, D.D., by W. M. L. Jay. London: Macmillan and Co. [6s.]—(3) The Trial of Jesus. From the Italian of Giovanni liesadi. Edited, with a Preface, by Dr. Emil Reich.

London: Hutchinson and Co. Ps. j43) Jesus Seta.. By J. Warscliauer, IL A., D.Phil. London : H. B. Allenson. 2s. 6d.]—(5) The Walk, Conversa- tion, and Character of Jesus Christ Our Lord. By Alex. Whyte, D.D. Edinburgh : Oliphant. Anderson, and Ferrier. [6s.]—(2) The Creed of Christ. Anonymous. London : John Lane. Ds. net.]—(7) Early Christian Conception of Christ. By Otto Pfleiderer, Professor of Theology, Berlin. London : Williams and Norgate. [3s. 65.] centuries will not again go by before either the Cross of Golgotha shall become once and for ever the emblem of victory, or man born to strife shall sink vanquished eternally in the secular straggle for his redemption." In this book, which is throughout deeply interesting, we find the new attitude once more strikingly illustrated. Signor Rosadi gives a clear account of Roman and Jewish legal proceedings, and several striking word-portraits of the men before whom Christ was tried, contrasting them ably with the prisoner Whose personality seems in Gospel accounts to reverse the positions of judge and judged. "He whom they condemned," he says, " was innocent : blameless in His manners, simple in His ways, inaccessible in His aspirations. He preached one great law of love and solidarity for the government of the world." Hence, he continues, " He founded no political party, and headed no religious faction. He propounded no judicial system, nor any economic rule in substitution of contemporary law and government." " His attitude," we read, "towards the constituted authorities was not one of subservience, but of pure and simple indifference, as His earthly mission aimed neither at overriding nor replacing them." Signor Rosadi reminds his readers of our Lord's exhortation to His Disciples not to fear them which kill the body, and afterwards have no more that they can do, and deduces from it that " it is false " to assert " that the teaching of Christ disheartens a man ready to fight, and that it is contrary to vigorous and combative natures. Its spirit is, on the contrary, liberal and active, which neither implies the negation of the world nor an inert asceticism."

Jesus Saith is a set of sermons upon some of the "New Sayings of Christ." They are readable and well-written. The gist of them all is contained in the following passage :— " Why should that comparison of our errancy with Christ's holiness accuse and condemn us, but for the invincible intuition that we are of the same nature as He ? " The author makes allusion, as the context proves, to the divine origin of humanity rather than the humanity of our Lord.

Dr. Alexander Whyte's book, entitled The Walk, Conversa- tion, and Character of Jesus Christ Our Lord, commands, like all its writer's work, the attention of the reader. The author has great dramatic power, and a marked felicity of expression. Dr. Whyte uses the imagery, and even some of the catchwords, of a Calvinism of the past ; but he manages to put new life into them, and to show, sometimes with startling clearness, the lasting truth within the perishable formula. His attitude towards our Lord is typically modern, in spite of his occasional lapses into the religious diction of another generation. These republished sermons illustrate the state of transition in which English and Scotch religious opinion at present finds itself. We hear of our Lord's " approachableness," and of " a good humour which made Him the Master, and the Ensample and the Justification of Luther."

Finally, we come to the last two volumes upon our list. They could hardly have found a place in company with the others we have mentioned if it were not that they also illustrate very notably the new values given to the character- istics of Christ by all those who in some sense or other acknowledge His ascendency. Neither the anonymous author of The Creed of Christ, nor Professor Pfleiderer, of Berlin, in his Early Christian Conception of Christ, makes the slightest effort to bring their religious conclusions into line with those of the Christian Church as a whole. The great interest of their work—at least for the present writer—lies in the homage which they pay to Christianity, we will not say from without that religion, but from within none of its hitherto erected sacred shelters. Professor Pfleiderer regards all those happenings recorded in the Gospels and commonly spoken of as " supernatural " as being mythical. He is, however, con- vinced that " myth and rite were certainly the most suitable forms of expression for primitive Christian belief." To explain the doctrine of the Divine Sonship as merely legendary is, in his eyes, to come to a superficial conclusion. " It has its ultimate source in the depths of the religious consciousness, in mankind's natural surmise that we are of divine descent, a surmise which has been everywhere awakened by the observation of the extraordinary gifts and deeds of particular men, and therefore has at first been connected with those elect heroes of knowledge and power who stand as the representatives and sureties of the close relationship of our common human nature with the divine." He alludes to St. Paul's words in Corinthians about knowing Christ no longer "after the flesh" in illustration of what he con- siders the gulf between " the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith." In the Christ, he declares, " Faith per- ceives the consummation of all those spiritual forces called into being by the impression made upon the soul by the personality of Jesus,—the perfection of what she feels to be a new life from God, active and efficacious within herself."

More definite, and far more incisive and original, are the words used by the author of The Creed of Christ, a really remark- able and original book. " What has interested us hitherto," he declares, " has been, not what Christ believed about God and Man and the Universe, but what we ought to believe about the personal relation of Christ to God and Man and the Universe." To find out what Christ believed it is necessary, of course, to know what He said. Of what He said the author has convinced himself, by arguments too long to quote, that we know a great deal, sufficient, that is, to enable us to deduce therefrom His creed, His character, and the nature of His revelation. With the first space forbids us to deal. Of the second he writes :—" In Christ alone among men we have faith without dogmatism, enthusiasm without fanaticism, strength without violence, idealism without visionariness, naturalness without materialism, freedom without license, self-sacrifice without asceticism, purity without austerity, saintliness without morbidity, a light which was too strong to dazzle, a fire which was too intense to flame. The inward harmony of His nature was, in fine, perfect." Of His revelation we read :—" Christ came into the world to tell us that we are all sons of the all- loving Father, and therefore of the same royal line as God Himself. The response of Christendom to this message has been the renunciation in favour of Christ and on behalf of Humanity of man's title to the divine throne. Ye are children of God,' said Christ. ' Bear yourselves accordingly. Become what ye are—divine.' We are men and intend to remain men,' is the reply which those who call themselves Christians have ever given to this summons from on high. You and you only are divine. Do for us what we cannot and will not do for ourselves. Take our sins away from us. Open the door of Heaven to us and save us in spite of our- selves from without.'" What conclusions are to be drawn from these mixed readings in popular theology ? We think there are certainly two. The first is that the extremes of Christian belief are drawing together, because those who acknowledge—if we may be allowed the expression—the divine rank of our Lord no longer base His authority upon it, but deduce it from the ideal nature of His life and teaching ; consequently they meet upon the same road those who, while acknowledging that ideality, have not made the deduction. Secondly, we think no one can read many such books as we have quoted without seeing that there has been lately a resur- rection of the doctrine of imputed righteousness. The Church in giving definite form to a mystery suggested an injustice. As soon as the world grew sufficiently thoughtful to understand the suggestion the dogma was doubted. In it, however, there seems to be some vital principle of truth,— of a truth, indeed, which is becoming more and more apparent. As the conscience of man becomes more morally sensitive it is more and more distressed by the sins of the race, and rejoices more in its moral victories. While the story of the Son of Man is remembered mankind can never be in the eyes of its best members irrevocably condemned. The merits of Christ are pleaded by generation after generation in different terms as the knowledge of its shortcomings takes different forms, and the hopeful and the certain cling together to the ideal of Him Who prophesied that it should remain with them to the end.