I. M. Haldeman
Christ, Christianity and the Bible
IF NOT GOD – NOT GOOD
BY I. M. HALDEMAN, D.D
“Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God” (Matthew 9:17).
THE world has accepted Jesus Christ as a good man.
The evidences of his goodness are manifold.
He was full of compassion.
He never looked upon the people as a crowd. He never thought of them as a mass. He saw them always as individuals. His heart went out to them. All his impulses were to pity them, sympathize with, and help them.
He went among them. He entered into all conditions, accepted all situations. He was present at a wedding, he ate with publicans and sinners and, anon, was guest at a rich man’s table.
He saw the ravages of disease, the shame of sin, the tragedies in life.
He knew there was torture in body and anguish in spirit.
He took the mystery of pain and laid it upon his heart, until tears were his meat and his drink, by day and by night. He became a man of sorrows and an expert in grief. He took upon him the woes of the world till he was bowed and bent, as with the weight of years. The tears of sympathy grooved his cheeks, as when streams carve their way down mountain sides. Because of this men looked at him and saw neither form nor comeliness; neither was there any beauty in him that they should desire him.
He was a beneficent man.
Multitudes of men are benevolent, but not beneficent.
Benevolence is well wishing. Beneficence is well doing. He was always well doing, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, cleansing the leper, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, unloosing the bonds of Satan – unwinding the serpent’s coil.
He was absolutely unselfish.
He emptied himself and made room in his soul for other lives. He had no office hours and never interposed secretaries or major-domos between himself and the people. He received all who came unto him – ministering without money and without price.
There is one scene that might well be painted by a master hand.
It is evening. The western sky is all aglow with the glory of the setting sun. Far up in the dome of the infinite blue, the evening star swings golden, like a slow descending lamp let down by invisible hands. The street is in half-tone. It is packed by the strangest of throngs, by the blind, the lame, the halt, the paralyzed and the leper-derelicts of humanity – borne thither on a surging tide of life in which every wave is an accent of pain; they are driven and piled up in great, quivering heaps against a door which is partly shut, as in self-defence, by the sweltering crowd within.
Jesus of Nazareth is in that house.
He is healing the sick. He is giving health, and strength, and peace to all who seek him. He turns no one away. Compassion, sympathy, beneficence, the tenderness of a mother for her helpless babe – these are the characteristics which his daily ministry revealed.
No one ever brought a charge of evil doing or evil speaking against him.
The people who followed him said, “He hath done all things well.”
Police officers sent to arrest him as a disturber of the peace found him in the midst of the people, speaking words that hushed their tumult, quieted their murmurings and gave them rest; and the officers returning to them who sent them, said, “Never man spake like this man.”
Pilate’s wife dreamed a troubled dream of him, and sent word to her husband not to lay hands on him – seeing that he was a just man. Thrice before heaven and earth – in a testimony that still echoes through infinite spaces, and is heard by listening worlds – Pilate himself proclaimed, “I find no fault in this man.”
He lifted up his voice against sin and unrighteousness.
Against nothing did he so much speak as against religious hypocrisy. Nowhere, in any record, is language so terrible, so penetrating, so hot, so full of the flame of fire and scorching analysis, scorching and burning in its denunciation of those who on the outside (in their religious profession) were like whitened sepulchres, but on the inside (in their actual lives) were full of dead men’s bones and corruption – nowhere, outside the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, does language fall with such tremendous vibration of thunderous indignation, and the accent of aroused and fully angered justice. “Ye serpents,” “ye generation of vipers,” are some of the phrases; and the words, “fools,” “blind hypocrites,” mingle again and again with the far-sounding, judicial menace, “Woe, woe unto you.”
He seemed to be dominated and controlled by one idea – the idea of God. The God thought held and moved him. He could not go anywhere, or see anything, or utter the shortest discourse, that he did not, in some fashion, connect it with the infinite Father. Was a sower sowing seed, he saw in that incident an illustration of the fact that the true seed is the Word of God, and the true sower he who casts it into the mightier ground of the human heart. Did a flock of sheep lie at rest upon the hillside, guarded by a shepherd’s care, at once he would unfold the shepherding of a Father’s love. A tiny sparrow, flying an unnoticed speck in the distant sky, or falling ground-ward with its weary flight, was a winged witness that the Father knew and saw even the smallest details of human life. A lily in its lowliness, and yet a lily in its beauty shaming a king’s array, a lily, toiling not, but upward growing, furnished him a text from which to preach the providence of God; and a wandering beggar boy far away from home and kindred, stained with sin and dark with sorrow, gave occasion for the wondrous story of the Prodigal Son and a father’s changeless and tender love.
God! God! God! this was the supreme note of his life.
On the cross he gave utterance to words which reveal the inner character of his soul.
When a man has been lied about, falsified, his good evil spoken of and his reputation assailed (as was his before the Sanhedrin – in the mock trial given him there), when such a man has been hounded from one end of the town to the other, spit upon and jibed at and, finally, nailed through hands and feet to a torturing cross; when such a man with his heart bursting (because of the impeded circulation, driving the surging, tumultuous blood back upon it), with the sun scorching his bare temples, a crown of thorns stabbing him at every helpless turn of his restless head; when such a man, under such circumstances, can rise above the wickedness, cowardice and cheap treason that have nailed him to the cross, and pray (and pray sincerely) that his guilty murderers, villainous detractors and unscrupulous slanderers may be forgiven, that man bears witness that he has, at least, a heart of good.
And it was just such a prayer which came from the parched, dry, cracked lips of this man of Nazareth as he hung upon the cross and cried out,
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Again he spoke from the cross.
There was standing near, a woman who had been chosen of God to give him birth. She was sobbing convulsively. She was realizing what had been foretold of her more than thirty years before – “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul, also.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, stood there, brokenhearted. Jesus turned his head and looked at John, his cousin, bidding him take that weeping mother to his home, his heart and care, and be unto her henceforth a loving son.
O the man who, in the hour of his own agony, shall remember his mother, and crown her, make her the queen of his life, and ordain that others shall love and reverence her, proclaims for himself the lustre of a manhood without spot.
Once more he spoke from the place of anguish – that moment on the edge of death. There his soul, rising from the depths of the overwhelming waves of agony, cries:
“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
He who in the hour and article of death can face God and eternity, and commit himself to the hand of supreme justice as a confident child to the arms of a loving father, bears witness that in his soul there is no ghastly memory of sin, no sharp, remembered pang, no fear of offended law. Such a confidence and such a committal of triumphant calm bear witness that the heart is at rest with God, and is conscious of its own good.
For two thousand years the world, without a dissenting voice, has borne witness that he is the one man who came into the earth and walked through it superlatively good.
Among the voices in the common consent of the world that Jesus Christ was a good man, there are those who with equal insistence deny that he was Almighty God.
They agree that he had the spirit of God; that he had it in measure such as no other man before or since. They announce their belief that he is the mightiest advance on humanity ever known; that all other religious teachers pale before him as the stars before the sun. They speak of his spotless life with fervent admiration, and draw special attention to his discourses as models of exhortation to righteousness and truth. To them the sermon on the mount is a chef d’œuvre. Out of that sermon they take the maxim about doing unto others as you would they should do unto you. They take that maxim and frame it about and make it the “Golden Rule” of human life. They exalt Jesus as the perfect example, telling us that if we shall govern our life by him, make him our constant copy, imitate him, we shall fill our daily existence with righteousness and truth. In fact, if we seek a panegyric on the humanity of Christ; if we desire to see his goodness exalted to the heavens, and his humanity put beyond compare with the sons of men – we must needs go to the Socinian, the Arian and the Unitarian – those who deny the deity of Christ. But this exaltation of the human Christ is simply setting up a man of straw that with one blow of deific discount he may be knocked down again. He is set up as man that he may be cast down as God.
They will not accept him as God.
God Almighty (we are told) cannot be confined or shut up in any one man. Man as man and, therefore, every individual man in his part, is the avatar of God. Each man is in some sense the incarnation of God. God is more or less enthroned in all men. God is to be found in all men as he is to be found in all nature.
A good man – call Jesus a good man – set him up as high as you please, build as lofty a pedestal for him as you will, but Almighty God —Never!
Over against this exaltation of Christ as a merely good man, and the persistent denial that he was God, stands the unmistakable claim which Jesus Christ himself made – that he was God.
He made that claim in many ways.
He claimed it by declaring his power and authority to forgive sin.