The Company It Keeps

From the side of criticism, science, mythology, history and comparative religion, assault is thus made on the article long so dear to the hearts of Christians and rightly deemed by them so vital to their faith. For loud as is the voice of denial, one fact must strike every careful observer of the conflict. Among those who reject the Virgin birth of the Lord few will be found — I do not know any — who take in other respects an adequate view of the Person and work of the Saviour. It is surprising how clearly the line of division here reveals itself. My statement publicly made and printed has never been confuted, that those who accept a full doctrine of the incarnation — that is, of a true entrance of the eternal Son of God into our nature for the purposes of man’s salvation — with hardly an exception accept with it the doctrine of the Virgin birth of Christ, while those who repudiate or deny this article of faith either hold a lowered view of Christ’s Person, or, more commonly, reject His supernatural claims altogether. It will not be questioned, at any rate, that the great bulk of the opponents of the Virgin birth — those who are conspicuous by writing against it — are in the latter class.

The Immanuel Prophecy

The idea of the Messiah, gradually gathering to itself the attributes of a divine King, reaches one of its clearest expressions in the great Immanuel prophecy, extending from Isaiah 7 to 9:7, and centering in the declaration: “The Lord Himself will give you [the unbelieving Ahaz] a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14; Cf. 8:8, 10). This is none other than the child of wonder extolled in chapter 9:6, 7: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, [Father of Eternity], The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom,” etc. This is the prophecy quoted as fulfilled in Christ’s birth in Matt. 1 .23, and it seems also alluded to in the glowing promises to Mary in Luke 1:32, 33. It is pointed out in objection that the term rendered “virgin” in Isaiah does not necessarily bear this meaning; it denotes properly only a young unmarried woman. The context, however, seems clearly to lay an emphasis on the unmarried state, and the translators of the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) plainly so understood it when they rendered it by parthenos, a word which does mean “virgin.” The tendency in many quarters now is to admit this (Dr. Cheyne, etc.), and even to seek an explanation of it in alleged Babylonian beliefs in a virgin-birth. This last, however, is quite illusory.[1] It is, on the other hand, singular that the Jews themselves do not seem to have applied this prophecy at any time to the Messiah — a fact which disproves the theory that it was this text which suggested the story of a Virgin birth to the early disciples.

Unconscious Rationality

A man recognizes on sight the face of his friend, or his own handwriting. Ask him how he knows this face to be that of his friend, or this handwriting to be his own, and he is dumb, or, seeking to reply, babbles nonsense. Yet his recognition rests on solid grounds, though he lacks analytical skill to isolate and state these solid grounds. We believe in God and freedom and immortality on good grounds, though we may not be able satisfactorily to analyse these grounds. No true conviction exists without adequate rational grounding in evidence. So, if we are solidly assured of the deity of Christ, it will be on adequate grounds, appealing to the reason. But it may well be on grounds not analysed, perhaps not analysable. by us. so as to exhibit themselves in the forms of formal logic.

We do not need to wait to analyse the grounds of our convictions before they operate to produce convictions, any more than we need to wait to analyse our food before it nourishes us; and we can soundly believe on evidence much mixed with error, just as we can thrive on food far from pure. The alchemy of the mind, as of the digestive tract, knows how to separate out from the mass what it requires for its support; and as we may live without any knowledge of chemistry, so we may possess earnest convictions, solidly founded in right reason, without the slightest knowledge of logic. The Christian’s conviction of the deity of his Lord does not depend for its soundness on the Christian’s ability convincingly to state the grounds of his conviction. The evidence he offers for it may be wholly inadequate, while the evidence on which it rests may be absolutely compelling.

Testimony in Solution

The very abundance and persuasiveness of the evidence of the deity of Christ greatly increases the difficulty of adequately stating it. This is true even of the scriptural evidence, as precise and definite as much of it is. For it is a true remark of Dr. Dale’s that the particular texts in which it is definitely asserted are far from the whole, or even the most impressive, proofs which the Scriptures supply of our Lord’s deity. He compares these texts to the salt-crystals which appear on the sand of the sea-beach after the tide has receded. “These are not,” he remarks, “the strongest, though they may be the most apparent, proofs that the sea is salt; the salt is present in solution in every bucket of sea-water.” The deity of Christ is in solution in every page of the New Testament. Every word that is spoken of Him, every word which He is reported to have spoken of Himself, is spoken on the assumption that He is God. And that is the reason why the “criticism” which addresses itself to eliminating the testimony of the New Testament to the deity of our Lord has set itself a hopeless task. The New Testament itself would have to be eliminated. Nor can we get behind this testimony. Because the deity of Christ is the presupposition of every word of the New Testament, it is impossible to select words out of the New Testament from which to construct earlier documents in which the deity of Christ shall not be assumed. The assured conviction of the deity of Christ is coeval with Christianity itself. There never was a Christianity, neither in the times of the Apostles nor since, of which this was not a prime tenet.

Heaven Come to Earth

There are three parables recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Luke as spoken by our Lord in His defence against the murmurs of the Pharisees at His receiving sinners and eating with them. The essence of the defence which our Lord offers for Himself is, that there is joy in heaven over repentant sinners! Why “in heaven,” “before the throne of God”? Is He merely setting the judgment of heaven over against that of earth, or pointing forward to His future vindication? By no means. He is representing His action in receiving sinners, in seeking the lost, as His proper action, because it is the normal conduct of heaven, manifested in Him. He is heaven come to earth. His defence is thus simply the unveiling of what the real nature of the transaction is. The lost when they come to Him are received because this is heaven’s way; and He cannot act otherwise than in heaven’s way. He tacitly assumes the good Shepherd’s part as His own.

The Proof Within

Or take it subjectively. Every Christian has within himself the proof of the transforming power of Christ, and can repeat the blind man’s syllogism: Why herein is the marvel that ye know not whence He is, and yet He opened my eyes. “Spirits are not touched to fine issues who are not finely touched.” “Shall we trust,” demands an eloquent reasoner, “the touch of our fingers, the sight of our eyes, the hearing of our ears, and not trust our deepest consciousness of our higher nature — the answer of conscience, the flower of spiritual gladness, the glow of spiritual love? To deny that spiritual experience is as real as physical experience is to slander the noblest faculties of our nature. It is to say that one half of our nature tells the truth, and the other half utters lies. The proposition that facts in the spiritual region are less real than facts in the physical realm contradicts all philosophy.” The transformed hearts of Christians, registering themselves “in gentle tempers, in noble motives, in lives visibly lived under the empire of great aspirations” — these are the ever-present proofs of the divinity of the Person from whom their inspiration is drawn.

The supreme proof to every Christian of the deity of his Lord is then his own inner experience of the transforming power of his Lord upon the heart and life. Not more surely does he who feels the present warmth of the sun know that the sun exists, than he who has experienced the re-creative power of the Lord know Him to be his Lord and his God. Here is, perhaps we may say the proper, certainly we must say the most convincing, proof to every Christian of the deity of Christ; a proof which he cannot escape, and to which, whether he is capable of analysing it or drawing it out in logical statement or not, he cannot fail to yield his sincere and unassailable conviction. Whatever else he may or may not be assured of, he knows that his Redeemer lives. Because He lives, we shall live also — that was the Lord’s own assurance. Because we live, He lives also — that is the ineradicable conviction of every Christian heart.

[1] For the evidence, see my volume on “The Virgin Birth,” Lecture VII.