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Professor Harnack appears to urge us to accept the "Easter message"
while we need not, he thinks, believe the "Easter faith."* He
means apparently by this that we can deny the literal fact of
our Lord's Resurrection, while we may believe in a future life.
What St. Paul would really have said to a Christianity such as
this seems to be plain from his words to the Corinthian converts
who were denying the Resurrection in his day: "If Christ be not
risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."
(I Cor. xv. 14.)
* Harnack, What is Christianity? p. 160.
Deny the Resurrection of our Lord, and you take away the key-stone
from the Apostolic preaching, and the whole edifice falls to the
ground. Any unprejudiced reader of the sermons and speeches of
St. Peter and St. Paul in the Acts will surely recognize how true
Similarly in regard to the human Birth of our Lord. Once admit
that He was born as other men, and the Incarnation fades away.
A child born naturally of human parents can never be God Incarnate.
There can be no new start given to humanity by such a birth. The
entail of original sin would not be cut off nor could the Christ
so born be described as the "Second Adam--the Lord from heaven."
Christians could not look to such a one as their Redeemer or
Saviour, still less as the Author to them of a new spiritual life.
Another man would have appeared among men, giving mankind the
example of a beautiful human life, but unable in any other way
to benefit the race of men. Further, a Christ such as this would
not be a perfect character, for if the Gospels are to be believed,
He said things about Himself and made claims which no thoroughly
good man could have a right to make unless he were immeasurably
more than man. While these pages were passing through the press,
the eye of the present writer was caught by the following words
in a letter of Bishop Westcott, which seem to have a special
significance at this time:--"I tried vainly to read----'s book ....
He seems to me to deny the Virgin-Birth. In other words, he makes
the Lord a man, one man in the race, and not the new Man--the Son
of Man, in whom the race is gathered up. To put the thought in
another and a technical form, he makes the Lord's personality human,
which is, I think, a fatal error."*
* Life of Bishop Westcott, vol. ii. p. 308.
It is sometimes said, in opposition to the mystery of the
Virgin-Birth, that there is a tendency in the human mind, not
without its illustrations in history, to "decorate with legend"
the early history of great men. In reply, it may be enough here
to say that legends analogous to the pagan legends of the births
of heroes, false and absurd legends, did gather round the infancy
of Jesus Christ. The Apocryphal Gospels are full of such legends.
They tell us how the idols of Egypt fell down before Him; how His
swaddling-clothes worked miracles; and how He made clay birds
and turned boys into kids, and worked other absurd miracles
of various kinds. But there is a world of difference between these
"silly tales" and the restraint, purity, dignity, and reserve which
characterize the narratives of the first and third Evangelists.
"The distinction between history and legend," says Dr. Fairbairn,
"could not be better marked than by the reserve of the Canonical
and the vulgar tattle of the Apocryphal Gospels."*
* Quoted in Gore, Dissertations, p. 60.
I wish to take this opportunity of thanking my colleague, the
Rev. G. W. Douglas, and my friend the Rev. Canon Warner, Rector
of Stoke-by-Grantham, for their kind help in revising the
proof-sheets of this paper.
Feast of St. Mark, 1903.
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