It makes no sense to me to confine our faith in the Lord Jesus to the materials of the Gospels. The Epistles and Acts are part of the divine revelation and open our eyes to His Person and work. But there is tremendous power in the surface reading of the Gospels, though they are far from “biographical sketches.” If our studies of the epistles obscure or hide or deflect us from Jesus the Person then our studies have become our enemy. The Holy Scriptures, particularly the NT, weren’t written to distance us from HIM and hide HIM behind theological pursuits. (Note His sad but trenchant warning in John 5:39-40 with Luke 19:41-44.)
The strength of the Church of God (1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15.9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:5, 15), in spite of its faults, errors, and omissions (and they have been, and are, real and many), is not in its sometimes disputable creed as it has drawn it up on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, but in the power of the indisputable person, purpose, truthfulness and character of its Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
In spite of all the critics, the Gospels have conveyed to the minds and hearts of millions of men and women a living image of Christ. They see Him there; they hear His voice; they listen, and they believe Him and they believe in Him. It is not so much that they accept certain doctrines said to be taught by Him, though it is true that they do, it’s that they accept Him, Himself, as their Lord and their God.
The sacred fire of trust in Him descended upon the Apostles, and has from them been handed on from generation to generation. It is with that living Person that any form of unbelief has to deal and as long as the Gospels practically produce the effect of making that personal figure a reality to human hearts, (and they do) so long will the Christian Faith, and the Church of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1), in that central unchanging commitment be a vital and permanent force in the world.
A prominent and influential skeptic insisted that he cannot define the grand figure of Jesus so he can’t really make a commitment. But who would dare to define Him? They can’t define Him but a countless host down the generations have sung, written, prayed and lived righteously, joyously and at ultimate cost to themselves and their loved ones in a pursuit of a deeper image of Him.
Men and women can feel and know what they cannot define. The skeptic, it would seem, would have us to wait coolly until we can answer all the difficult questions about Him and our faith in Him before we act on that faith or speak confidently about Him.
The skeptic said we are often obliged, by the pressure of events, to act without full proof and sometimes on what turns out to be bad evidence. He thought that very reasonable indeed and his view and practice is followed to this day and it will continue to be the case. But it doesn’t follow, the critic said, that Christians should do that when there is no pressure to act.
But isn’t a strange ignorance of human nature to imagine that there is no pressure on humans in this matter. No one looks at the injustice, brutality, cruelty, and moral insanity seen everywhere in this life and wonders? No one experiences this and does not want there to be something better? This isn’t pressure?
Jesus, who understood and felt the human heart and mind better than all the skeptics looked at over-burdened animals as they passed by, urged to greater effort by their insensitive owners, someone who watched oxen, fitted with roughly-made yokes that tore their flesh, drag ploughs daily from one end of a field and back—He looked at them and thought of people and He was heard to say, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me…for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The attraction of Jesus more than outweighs many a critical difficulty under the pressure of the burdens and the sins of life.
That same unbeliever admitted the force of this influence on individuals. “If (he said) a man can find a friend, the embodiment of all his hopes, the mirror of his ethical ideal, in the pages of any, or of all, of the Gospels, let him live by faith in that ideal. Who will, or can, forbid him? But let him not delude himself that the notion that his faith is evidence of the objective reality of that in which he trusts. Such evidence is to be obtained only by the use of the methods of science, as applied to history and to literature, and it amounts at present to very little.”
Well, a single man’s belief in an ideal may be very little evidence of its objective reality. But the conviction of millions of men and women, generation after generation, right from the beginning, of the truth of the four Gospel witnesses, and of the human and divine reality of Jesus Christ they describe, has at least something of the weight of the verdict of a jury. In daily life, thought and practice the figure of Christ lives! The Gospels have created it; and He makes Himself present as a personal fact in life, alike among believers and, yes, unbelievers too.
This unbeliever himself, in spite of all his skepticism, appears to have his own type of this character. “The narrative of the woman taken in adultery, (he says), if internal evidence were an infallible guide, might well be affirmed to be a typical example of the teachings of Jesus.” Internal evidence may not be an infallible guide; but it certainly carries great weight.
BEHOLD “THE MAN”
This piece leans heavily on an essay written by Henry Wace in 1889 in a devastating response to T.H. Huxley, the noted “agnostic”. I’m not a specialist in Huxley (or anyone else for that matter) but what I know of him from his published letters and biographies has led me to think he had doubts about his doubts. Sigh.