To sum up what we have here tried to indicate: Is the complaint from which we started at the beginning of this section justified? Ought we really to desire that the Gospel had adapted itself to “the progress of civilisation”? Here too, I think, we have to learn from the Gospel and not to find fault with it. It tells us of the real work which humanity has to accomplish, and we ought not to meet its message by entrenching ourselves behind our miserable “work of civilisation.” “The image of Christ,” as a modern historian justly says, “remains the sole basis of all moral culture, and in the measure in which it succeeds in making its light penetrate is the moral culture of the nations increased or diminished.”
(5) The Gospel and the Son of God, or the Christological question.
We now pass from the sphere of questions of which we have been treating hitherto. The four previous questions are all intimately connected with one another. Failure to answer them rightly always proceeds from not rating the Gospel high enough; from somehow or other dragging it down to the level of mundane questions and entangling it in them. Or, to put the matter differently: The forces of the Gospel appeal to the deepest foundations of human existence and to them only; it is there alone that their leverage is applied. If a man is unable, then, to go down to the root of humanity, and has no feeling for it and no knowledge of it, he will fail to understand the Gospel, and will then try to profane it or else complain that it is of no use.’
We now, however, approach quite a different problem: What position did Jesus himself take up towards the Gospel while he was proclaiming it, and how did he wish himself to be accepted? We are not yet dealing with the way in which his disciples accepted him, or the place which they gave him in their hearts, and the opinion which they formed of him; we are now speaking only of his own testimony of himself. But the question is one which lands us in the great sphere of controverted questions which cover the history of the Church from the first century up to our own time. In the course of this controversy men put an end to brotherly fellowship for the sake of a nuance; and thousands were cast out, condemned, loaded with chains and done to death. It is a gruesome story. On the question of “Christology” men beat their religious doctrines into terrible weapons, and spread fear and intimidation everywhere. This attitude still continues: Christology is treated as though the Gospel had no other problem to offer, and the accompanying fanaticism is still rampant in our own day. Who can wonder at the difficulty of the problem, weighed down as it is with such a burden of history and made the sport of parties? Yet anyone who will look at our Gospels with unprejudiced eyes will not find that the question of Jesus’ own testimony is insoluble. So much of it, however, as remains obscure and mysterious to our minds ought to remain so; as Jesus meant it to be, and as in the very nature of the problem it is. It is only in pictures that we can give it expression. “There are phenomena which cannot, without the aid of symbols, be brought within the range of the understanding.”