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Uniqueness [1]

Uniqueness. —Beyond dispute Christ appears on the theatre of human history as a unique Personality. In however large a sense He may be revealed as sharing the lot and the nature of men, He stands forth as the possessor of traits which have never been duplicated. Let a parallel be drawn between Him and any other who has won renown in human annals, and it will be found that the points of unlikeness more than match the points of likeness.

1. In several respects the self-consciousness which the Gospels show to have been resident in Christ was of a unique kind. (1) We look in vain throughout their records for any indication that He recognizes the common call to repentance as applying to Himself. No utterance that is put into His mouth conveys a hint that the slightest shadow of condemnation ever rested upon His spirit. He speaks as if He felt Himself to be the channel rather than the needy recipient of grace, as if, in truth, His inner life was as stainless as it was assumed to have been in Apostolic thought. (2) Again, the self-consciousness of Christ appears to have been of a unique type as including a perfectly clear and marvellously potent sense of sonship towards God. So rounded is the filial ideal which He presents that it is impossible to find a point at which it admits of supplement. Who can imagine a more complete expression of filial trust than that which is contained in His precepts on putting away every anxious care about the stoics which the morrow may bring ( Matthew 6:25-34)? Who can conceive of filial devotion ascending to a higher stage than was made manifest in the words, ‘Not my will, hut thine be done’ ( Luke 22:42), spoken in the presence of the most bitter cup of shame and suffering? Who can think of filial intimacy more close and constant than is attested by the whole body of Christ’s words and deeds? In truth, it is impossible to review the record without being struck with the aptness of the Evangelical description which speaks of Him as the ‘beloved Son ( Matthew 3:17) and as dwelling ‘in the bosom of the Father’ ( John 1:18). (3) Still further, a unique order of self-consciousness is disclosed in the pronounced sense of an extraordinary mediatorial vocation which was characteristic of Christ. ‘No man cometh unto the Father but by me’ ( John 14:6)—that is the strong declaration which the Fourth Gospel places upon His lips; and a full equivalent is supplied by the other Gospels in such sentences as these: ‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ ( Matthew 20:28). ‘All things have been delivered unto me of my Father; and no one knoweth the Son save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him’ ( Matthew 11:27). To what prophet or leader of the race beside have we any warrant for imputing such a conception of personal vocation? Surely it must be admitted that in His sense of the prerogative and the burden of mediation Christ makes a class by Himself; He has no peer or companion. (4) Once more, the unique character of Christ’s self-consciousness is seen in His extraordinary sense of authority or rightful lordship. ‘While He came not to be ministered unto, He still made it evident that in the depths of His spirit there was an unhesitating affirmation of a pre-eminent royalty. He spoke as one who needed not to accommodate His words precisely to the instructions of Moses or to any other ancestral standard. He claimed an allegiance so unqualified as to reduce to a secondary place the most imperative obligations enforced by earthly ties. In words which match the significance of the Pauline declaration that in His name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His lordship ( Philippians 2:10 f), He pictured the gathering of all nations before His throne of judgment, to receive from His lips the merited sentence ( Matthew 25:31 ff.). Thus in various ways Christ gave expression to a transcendent and marvellous self-consciousness.

2. Almost rivalling the impression which comes from a consideration of the exceptional self-consciousness in Christ is that which is properly derived from a contemplation of the union and reconciliation in Him of strongly contrasted traits. (1) He was unique in His combination of meekness with the fullest energy and force of character. With quietness of mind He accepted the yoke of parental and national requirements. He submitted to a consecration rite at the hands of one who declared that he was not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoe ( John 1:27 ||). In all His conduct there was no trace of aristocratic superiority; among all His mighty works no deed that savoured of ostentation. But while He was meek and lowly of heart, He was masterful and commanding, inflexible in purpose, remote from weak conciliation, perfectly resolute to march against a perverse generation, to confront its frown, its mockery, and its homicidal hatred. (2) Again, Christ exemplified the union of tender compassion for the sinner with sharp intolerance for sin. He was neither moved by the depth of His compassion to make unguarded allowances for the transgressor, nor incited by His intense repulsion against sin to lose the brother in the censor. In dealing with erring souls that had any longing for better things He fulfilled the prophetic picture of one who should not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax ( Isaiah 42:3, cf.  Matthew 12:20). At the same time, He showed Himself the absolutely uncompromising enemy of unrighteousness, insisting that it must be excluded from the thoughts as well as from the deeds, and requiring that the offending right hand should be cut off and the offending right eye be plucked out ( Matthew 5:29 f.). Tender as the dew where there was any place for a healing ministry, He was yet sharp and unsparing as the lightning against every form of iniquity. (3) In another respect also Christ exhibited a unique ability for reconciling diverse traits. We see in Him a remarkable union of spirituality with kindly contact with the world. He knew how to be unworldly without being ascetic; how to throw the weight of emphasis upon the treasure laid up in heaven without patronizing any eccentric form of self-denial. He ministered to bodily needs as well as to the needs of the spirit. Herald as He was of the Kingdom of heaven, He yet stood in sympathetic relation with the sensible world, treated it as the workmanship of His Father’s hands, and used it as a book of divinity from which to read to His hearers most beautiful and comforting messages of truth.

3. Corresponding to this extraordinary balance of the various traits of ideal character, Christ showed a unique competency as a teacher to bring into a unity the diverse orders and interests of truth. In the standard of life which He set before His disciples He reconciled loftiness with simplicity. The standard is undoubtedly very high. It towers above the average level of human living like an Alpine summit. But with all its loftiness it is peculiarly free from the strained and the unnatural. Its attainment involves no sacrifice of manhood or swamping of the true self, but rather just the achievement of manhood and the realization of the true self. Rebuking nothing that is purely and truly human, it requires only that the human should come to its best by standing in the transfiguring light of intimate association with the Divine. A great reconciling function is also fulfilled by Christ’s teaching in the just tribute which it pays at once to morality and to religion, and in the indissoluble union which it assumes to subsist between them. From the standpoint of that teaching no man is a fit subject to bring a gift to God’s altar until he has done his utmost to establish right relations with his fellows ( Matthew 5:23 f.). No man is an acceptable petitioner for the Divine clemency until he is willing to forgive the one who has trespassed against himself ( Matthew 6:14 f.). Ceremonial scrupulosity and ecclesiastical performances count for nothing apart from the intention and the habit of righteous dealing. They are no better than a counterfeit appearance, a whitewash upon the sepulchre ( Matthew 23:27). Religion divorced from morality is a delusion and a pretence. But, on the other hand, the teaching of Christ is vastly remote from contentment with a bare morality or discharge of the common duties of man to man. The presence of the Heavenly Father lay about Him like a radiant atmosphere. To do the will of that Father He regarded as the prime necessity of His life, His very meat ( John 4:34). In the assurance of the Father’s complacent love He found the unfailing spring of consolation and rejoicing, and the return of His heart in fervent love to the all-perfect One He counted the most obvious and the sweetest of all conceivable obligations. Accordingly, it could not but come about that His teaching should be thoroughly transfused with a religious element, with the thought of Divine relationships. From beginning to end it is beautified and illumined by lofty and intense religious convictions. In short, stress upon the ethical factor is not permitted in the least degree to diminish the emphasis rendered to the religious factor in man’s life. The harmonious combination of the two makes one of the fairest and most fruitful ideals that has been brought to the attention of the race.

Literature.—Carl Ullmann, The Sinlessness of Jesus  ; G. A. Gordon, The Christ of To-day  ; A. B. Bruce, With Open Face  ; Hastings Rashdall, Doctrine and Development , 77 ff.; Lives of Christ by Edersheim, Geikie, Farrar, Rhees, Sanday, and Keim; Works on Nt Theology by Weiss, Holtzmann, Beyschlag, Stevens, and Adeney.

Henry C. Sheldon.