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The Problem of the Fourth Gospel



In bringing our inquiry to a close we will proceed from a rapid summary of results and inferences to an attempt to form some estimate of the significance and value of our Gospel not only in its own day but in the modern world.

Aptly is it designated 'The Ephesian Gospel'; for it was surely at, or in the immediate vicinity of, the once famous Asiatic city that our Gospel originated. While to fix its date with precision is not possible, it may be safely assigned to the period which lies between ca. A.D. 90 and A.D. 120; and quite probably there is no need to travel beyond the first decade of the second century. Its traditional authorship is hard to maintain; not only is the external evidence altogether unconvincing, but there are other cogent grounds for the view which eliminates the son of Zebedee. Whether direct or indirect, the internal evidence occasions pause; and if, on the one hand, there are features which testify to Jewish penmanship, so, on the other hand, phenomena are met with which do not suggest the first-hand information of an eye-witness. Nor is doubt laid by that examination of the literary structure of the Gospel which, necessitating a cautious recognition of displacement, has issued in a qualified abandonment of the position which regards it as a unity. The admission made that all attempts to resolve it into its constituent elements are precarious, we have differentiated, however tentatively, between hand and hand; between main fabric and matter which, originally foreign to it, has been so welded in as to lend the semblance of unity to the Gospel in its present form. In the case of the main fabric the author has been spoken of as the Evangelist:—room being left for the contingency that, enigmatical personage as he would remain, he may perchance be that Beloved Disciple whom we cannot identify with the Apostle John. In the case of other matter we have reckoned with a possibility


however slight that not one redactor only is responsible for the processes to which the original work of the Evangelist was subjected before, or at the time of, publication; and conjecture has here turned to a mind, or minds, of smaller grasp and duller spiritual perception1 albeit representative of the Johannine School at Ephesus.

Let us once more glance at the Evangelist as his personality may be discerned in the pages of a Gospel the main bulk of which comes from him if it reveals his dependence on sources, and if, writing and re-writing much himself, he did not always wield the pen.

Perhaps he is the Beloved Disciple and perhaps he is not; whatever his identity he is a born genius. That he is a highly educated2 man is beyond question; he is at home in Hebrew literature and by no means unversed in Alexandrian speculation. He is evidently of an independent turn of mind; and, if the works of great thinkers are laid under contribution by him, it is certainly not as one content jurare in verba magistri; on the contrary he prefers to go his own way, and in so doing he utilizes, qualifies, or rejects. It is, no doubt, true to say of his Prologue that it gains in significance when compared with Philo's3 reflexions; yet the contrast is sharp, and it is as truly added that, in respect of new elements in his own conception of the Logos, he far outstrips that 'most spiritual of authors4,' and dwells by preference on a unique historical person rather than on the exaltation of individual souls5. He can and does say what Philo would have found it hard to say: `ο λογος σαρχ

1 Not necessarily the 'Ungeheuer' of Wetter's allusion. And see Alex. Schweizer, op. cit. p. 234.

2 Perhaps it is to go too far when Réville (op. cit. p. 299) speaks of an 'education scientifique.'

3 A native of Alexandria. The precise dates of his birth and death are unknown. As we learn from his Legatio ad Caium, he was, A.D. 40, a member of a Jewish embassy to Caius Caligula. Evidently he was of good family; his brother was Alabarch of Alexandria where he himself lived. His literary activity was immense, but there is no trace in his extant works of his having been affected by Christian teaching. Ryle, Philo and Holy Scripture, p. xiii.

4 As Conybeare (Philo about the Contemplative Life, p. x) calls Philo.

5 Windisch, Die Frommigkeit Philos, p. 114. A work which in any case repays perusal.


εγενετο1. If in his Prologue he moves in the region of philosophical inquiry, it is otherwise in the body of his work; he well-nigh ceases to be the metaphysician to become the mystic2; with definite and deliberate surrender he projects himself into the divine presence, and blends activity with contemplation in union with the Christ Incarnate who for him is revealer and revelation of his God. His musings are of things eternal, yet he is persuaded 'that the heavenly life does not require us to leave the earth nor to refuse ourselves to its concerns, but only to take care that they do not imprison us in petty satisfactions and momentary ends3'; things temporal are rightly appreciated by him; he 'sees that the ordinary human life is part of the divine interest,' and, with an eye to his own environment, he is fain so to idealize all human affairs as to turn their water into wine4. A real man of flesh and blood, his mood varies; if sometimes inconsistent with himself, it is because his mind refuses to be kept within a solitary groove; in his terminology he perforce turns to 'categories nearest to his hand5'; he illustrates—as perhaps realizing—the inadequacy of all human language to express the infinite. His are the infirmities of tone and temper which are common to the race; what he sees in vision is blurred in the telling of it; and it might perhaps be said that, appearing to strike a note of exclusiveness in unexpected moments, he goes near to invite the charge that there is scant room in his affection for those outside the Church6. It is nevertheless a true instinct

1 Cohu, op. cit. pp. 482 ff. See in particular Johnston, op. cit. pp. 87 ff. It is impossible to agree with Ballenstedt (op. cit. p. 87) that the Evangelist's 'Vortrag vom Logos ist ganz Philonisch,' and, int. al., Wendt (op. cit. pp. 98 ff.) is decisive for the other way about. Yet one might say with Ballenstedt (p. 6) that in like manner as the Evangelist took over the phrase 'Lamb of God' from Jewish sacrificial diction, so he might have had resort to Alexandrian speculation for the term 'Logos.' Yet it should be added, with Bruckner (op. cit. p. 91), that, if the latter provided him with a form suited to his environment, its content, for him, was 'das Bild Jesu Christi mit seiner Gnade und Wahrheit.'

2 This, again, is slightly reminiscent of Dr Stanton's Exposition.

3 Emerson, Memoir, i, p. 258.

4 This sentence, with some of the preceding sentences, is adapted from Watson, Mysticism of the Fourth Gospel, pp. 152 ff.

5 Cf. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity, i, p. 147.

6 JE, ix, pp. 251 f. 'This teaching of love is combined with the most intense hatred of the kinsmen of Jesus' . . . 'a gospel of Christian love and Jew hatred.' The writer of the article allows for a possibility that the original work was elaborated into such a Gospel by 'a late compiler.'


which decides that, in the last analysis, the hatred displayed by him is not so much of persons as of principles; and that, far from being incompatible with, it is a necessary constituent of rightly-apprehended and comprehensive love1. That he is capable of and responsive to such a love is surely patent. As patent is it that 'he is a candidate for truth2'; as fully satisfied that the honest search for truth will ever be rewarded by augmented treasure, and that for those who in after ages shall engage in it there will be that never-failing divine guidance which has been richly experienced by himself3. He is far more concerned for unity than for uniformity. Refusing to discard altogether the things which belong to outward form and ceremony, he perhaps sits loosely to them. What he emphatically desiderates is worship 'in spirit and truth.'

Of such sort was the Evangelist; he, the Great Unknown—as we will still speak of him—who, of Jewish origin but long resident in 'Greek Ephesus4,' is author of the main fabric of the Fourth Gospel. The pity is that his work does not lie before us in its original form.

With what purpose was it composed, and wherein lies the service rendered by the author in his own period?

It is an exaggeration which accounts his Gospel a diatribe against groups of men who persisted in allegiance to the Baptist5; and the truth appears to be that, with Baptist-disciples in his view

1 So, perhaps, Calmes, when (op. cit. p. 63) he writes: 'L'antijudaïsme de Saint Jean n'est pas autre chose, au fond, que l'universalisme.'

2 Emerson, Essay on Intellect.

3 Is it altogether in accordance with the mind of the Evangelist when, with allusion to the section Jn xx, 26 ff.—which is in any case Johannine in manner—Calmes (op. cit. pp. 77 f.) thinks good to say: 'L'exemple de Thomas semble destiné è mettre les lecteurs en garde contre les exigences de la raison'?

4 See the whole chapter so entitled in Prof. Percy Gardner's The Ephesian Gospel.

5 So Baldensperger. And so, at a far earlier date, Cludius (op. cit. p, 52), who, in the allusion 'there was much water there' (Jn iii, 23), discovered 'ein Spott . . . der sich auf die Hemerobaptisten bezieht . . . wegen ihrer täglichen Reinigungen.' According to Wetter (op. cit. pp. 167 ff.) the Johannine polemic was also directed against Moses.


as concerned to win them, lie really breaks a lance with Jewish disputants who made much of the priority of John to Jesus1. Notwithstanding coincidence in terminology he is not himself deeply impregnated with Gnosticism2; and if later on its foremost exponents found congenial matter in our Gospel, the utmost that can be said is that he is sharply at issue with the view which relegated the Logos to a place among inferior aeons3—who on a second reading of his Prologue would not ask: Is this the language of a theologian who aims at refuting Gnosticism4? In his own somewhat ambiguous way he upholds the humanity of his Lord; yet the anti-Docetism of his Gospel is less conspicuous than in that first Johannine Epistle which, quite conceivably, came from his pen. Lusty blows are struck by him at whatever heresy which, fastening on the Manhood, denied the Divinity of Jesus, and affirmed that he was mere man. But, generally speaking, his polemic, where discoverable, is more particularly directed against unbelieving and aggressive Judaism; and, if there be occasion for the remark that 'he fights heretics with their own weapons5' there is sufficient warrant for taking him at his word when, referring, not in any case specifically to immediately preceding stories (xx, 11-29), but to his Gospel as a whole, he (xx, 31) thus defines his purpose: 'that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God6, and that believing ye may have life in his name.'

The question is: Who are the 'ye'? It will not do forthwith to seek for them in the outer world; for it was hardly the express intention of the Evangelist to appeal directly to heathendom. Nor may we dwell at once on local Christian Churches generally,

1 See Calmes, op. cit. p. 65; Wendt, op. cit. p. 109; Percy Gardner, op. cit. pp. 199 ff.; Forbes, op. cit. p. 159; De Wette, op. cit. ii, p. 219.

2 Against Schwegler, op. cit. p. 211.

3 Cf. Forbes, op. cit. p. 160.

4 Calmes, op. cit. p. 63. The pointed question is led up to thus: 'Sans vouloir prétendre que 1'Évan. Joh. contienne aucun des traits qui caractérisent l'hérésie de Marcion et de Valentin, nous constatons qu'il offre un certain nombre d'expressions qui rappellent d'une manière frappante la terminologie des écrits gnostiques.'

5 Cohu, op. cit. p. 431.

6 Incidentally the Jewish Messiah, but—inasmuch as this would not appeal to Hellenic minds—primarily Son of God.


when quite possibly he never contemplated any immediate publication and circulation of his work. Rather do we turn to an inner circle which included the members of his School, his disciples and attached friends. It is surely they who are addressed by him in the first instance;—yet the thought would be present with him, that, engaged as they were in a regular and systematic ministry of teaching, the substance of his Gospel would, by their agency, permeate and influence an ever widening circle of receptive minds1.

His addressees, then, being primarily his intimates and associates, it was his aim and object both to instruct and confirm them in that reasonable faith which they had drunk in at his lips. To that faith he himself had risen as it were on 'stepping-stones'; it fully satisfied him; it dominated his soul. It was concentrated on a Person; the Christ of his experience. His experience had taught him that in the living out of it there was fulness of Life:—the Life Eternal told of in the pages of his Gospel.

It was the great service rendered by the Evangelist that by him the religion of Jesus was emancipated from its swaddling clothes and provided with a vesture more adapted to its expansion and its growth. Truly it is said of him that he took up the immortal work of Paul2; whether he brought that work to its full and final completion is another matter, and it is safer to decide that it was so continued by him as to illustrate a very considerable advance. The Synoptic tradition was not simply explained by him, but, in and by his interpretation of it, purified and refined3 as he transferred the Jesus of Capernaum to Ephesus4, and sought to make the Christ of his experience a reality for Hellenistic and Hellenic modes of thought. If it really be the case that old and materialistic conceptions still clung to him (which is open to question)5, their influence is faint; they practically fade away before

1 In partial agreement with Hengstenberg, op. cit. iii, pp. 396 f.

2 Reville, op. cit. p. 326. Yet Paul and our Evangelist are different in type of mind.

3 'Da schrieb Joh. sein Evglm., und erläutete nicht nur, sondern läutete selbst die palästinische Evangeliensage,' Herder, op. cit. p. 264.

4 Cf. Ammon, op. cit. i, p. 78.

5 It is easier to discover in echoes of the Synoptic Representation of Judgement and Resurrection the workings of a redactor's mind, yet they may be 'little concessions' (Réville, op. cit. p. 331) of the Evangelist. And see supra, p. 119, note 3.


other and spiritualized conceptions. On the one hand the dross of specifically Palestinian Christianity is purged away by him; on the other hand he freely avails himself of whatsoever elements in the great spiritual tendencies of the age were capable of assimilation1. He has parted with Judaism in its purely nationalistic hopes and expectations; and, with adoption of a term already familiar to the schools, he uses it as the key which discloses to Ephesian hearers and readers the innermost nature of the Logos Incarnate Who had tabernacled among men2. And so he furnishes his proofs that, while faith in Jesus responded to the deepest yearnings of the human soul, it also satisfied the highest exigencies of knowledge, and that this same Jesus, far from being the Messiah of the Jews only, was Redeemer of the World at large3. The Apocalyptic Son of Man is not without an interest for him, but his main thoughts are focussed on the Son of God.

'The Christian Gospels, broadly considered, stand for a certain measure of free thinking re-action against the Jewish religion4.' The qualified admission, when itself qualified, holds good of our Evangelist; who, no mere reactionary and necessarily bound by the limitations of the period, is a very noble specimen of the true free-thinker and liberator within the Christian Church. Not only abreast of, he was, in no small measure, in advance of his times; and there can be little doubt that, at all events in certain quarters, he was an object of suspicion and distrust: it may be that, in his own immediate following, there were some who, brought up on the Synoptic representation, looked askance at a work so different in its nature and conceptions as that which they received at his hands. That, prior to its publication, it should be subjected to a revision which savoured of conventionalism was, perhaps, natural in the circumstances; nor is there ground for wonder that, even when so

1 Schmiedel, EB, ii, col. 2558. Our Evangelist is as it were the 'scribe' of Mt. xiii, 52.

2 Cf. von Soden, Early Christian Literature, p. 404.

3 Schenkel, op. cit. p. 25.

4 J. M. Robertson, Short History of Free Thought, i, p. 218. It is characteristically added, 'albeit their practical outcome was only an addition to the world's supernaturalism and traditional dogma.'


worked over as to become our Fourth Gospel, it was slow—as seems to have been the case—to win its way to general acceptance. Inviting controversy it was much in debate1. As to-day so then, invidious and unreasoning comparisons would be drawn between a 'new theology' and the 'old Gospel2.'

Was it really in the mind of the Evangelist to compose a 'permanent Gospel3'? Readily may we believe that his glances reached ahead; as persuaded that those who came after him would find help and guidance in a work which, rich in his own spiritual experiences, set forth great conceptions which had satisfied himself. By no possibility could it have occurred to him that, before many decades had elapsed, it would take rank as Holy Scripture; nor yet that a time would come when the Fourth Gospel would be classed with 'the most priceless treasures which early Christian literature had bequeathed to' a modern world4 not blind to the problems it presents.

We pass by a natural transition to inquire into the significance and value of our Gospel in our own day; as prompt to reject the verdict of an early, and withal ill-equipped and flippant, critic that it is 'altogether void of worth and utility5,' and as feeling that we should be glad to listen 'were John (let us say, the author) to appear to our age and place his Gospel in our hands6.' As it is, our inquiry must concern itself with the Gospel in its present form.

It has assuredly a historical value. Regarded from one point of view it is, in some sort, a revelation of the circumstances and the conditions of the period in which it originated. When closely scrutinized it enables us to look on at the literary processes of antiquity; it takes us as it were to Palestine; it has much to tell of

1 'Le trouble produit par l'apparition du ive. Évang. se traduisit par des discussions acharnées,' Calmes, op. cit. p. 66.

2 Thus, but recently, by the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Watts-Ditchfield.

3 'Ein bleibendes Evglm. wollte Joh. schreiben, der Geschichte Geist und Wahrheit,' Herder, op. cit. p. 349.

4 A. V. Green, op. cit. p. 82.

5 'Weder Werth noch Nutzen.' So in the work which, published anonymously in 1801, was from the pen of Vogel, then Lutheran 'Superintendent in Wunsiedel in Franken.' See Lücke, op. cit. i,, pp. 93 ff. My search, in which friends have most kindly assisted me, for a copy of the work (Der Evangelist Joh. und seine Ausleger vor dem jüngsten Gericht) has been unsuccessful.

6 Herder, op. cit. pp. 369-77.


the throbbing life which pulsated in that great city on the Aegean which had been the 'pivot of civilisation, the crucial meeting-place of East and West1.' Whether in its main fabric or in features which go near or all the way to become evidence of redaction, it is a study in the anxieties and perplexities, the peculiar difficulties and facilities, the courage resolute for progress and the timorousness reluctant to advance, which were very present with the early Church.

What of its historical value from another point of view? That it is of no small importance, as an ancient document, for the student of antiquity no one will deny. The grave question is whether it be safe to turn to it as a reliable source for the Life of Jesus.

The answer must be tinged with hesitation. It is one thing to say that 'we cannot . . . write a Life of Christ as if the Gospel of St John had no existence'; quite apart from the exceeding venturesomeness of all attempts at such a biography2, it is difficult to agree that to set our Gospel aside would be to 'reject half our available evidence3.' For the larger part of evidence relative to the earthly life of Jesus we must admit dependence on the Synoptics; and there is the further necessity of admitting that even in the Synoptics he is ever and again pictured as seen by the eye of faith. This necessity is intensified with our Gospel; which, perpetual theophany4 that it is, represents and witnesses to the Christ of experience whose glory is manifested, not on one solitary occasion only5, but from first to last. The belief is, indeed, well grounded that, albeit removed from a transitory setting and transferred to the region of the spiritual, a deposit of genuine reminiscences both of deed and word is embedded in it. It is however not, in the modern sense, a strictly historical record of the earthly ministry of Jesus.

1 Percy Gardner, op. cit. p. 1.

2 CBE, p. 459. 'Wer sollte nicht in das Bekenntniss der Anna Maria von Schurmann einstimmen,' wrote Neander (op. cit. p. viii), 'welche von einem solchen Unternehmen zurückfuhr, weil es ihr vorkam dass sie die Sonne nur mit einem Kohle abmale?'

3 Cf. J. Armitage Robinson, Hist. Character of St John's Gospel, p. 49.

4 'Le quatrième Évangile est une theophanie perpétuelle,' Loisy, op. cit. pp. 104 f.

5 There is no room in the conception of the Evangelist for any narrative of the Transfiguration.


The Fourth Gospel is a part, scarcely 'half,' of our available evidence; and, while appeal to it must be made with cautious reservations, it is not imperative definitely and finally to rule it out in its entirety as a source for the Life of Jesus.

There is more to be said. Let it be granted that the real Jesus, in respect of each several point in his human developement, was other than our Evangelist depicts1. It may then be added that he, the Evangelist, profoundly conscious that personality is after all the highest force, and that it is far less a question of what the man says and does than of what the man is, has seized on great ideas which absorbed the soul of Jesus; and, in his portraiture, has presented them in concrete form2. Whether eye-witness or not, he is linked in spiritual affinity with Jesus. In his spiritual Gospel the Christ of his experience is accordingly invested with a personality which, tremendous in its impressiveness3, cannot for a moment be regarded as nought but the mere creation of pious fancy, of an imaginative mind.

'The problem of the Person of Christ' remains with us. It was faced by our Evangelist; and in this, were there nothing else, there is a deep and encouraging significance for the modern world. There cannot be the shadow of a doubt that his own attempted solution brought satisfaction to himself and real help to his contemporaries; we moderns, studying his Christology—and remarking, perhaps, that, whatever be the explanation4, there is an apparent absence of uniformity in the notes struck by it—are constrained to speak of a problem by no means fully solved by him and still awaiting its solution. Yet the land-marks he set up are not negligible; and, if the path he indicates be long and intricate, to keep on treading it is not to lose sight of the goal.

There is truth in the remark that, in his Christ-ideal, our Evangelist has anticipated the ideal as conceived of and set forth

1 Cf. Schenkel, op. cit. p. 25. Schenkel adds: 'aber er war so in der Tiefe und auf der Höhe seines Wirkens; er war nicht immer so in Wirklichkeit, aber er war so in Wahrheit.'

2 See W. F. Loman, Het vierde Evangelie, Kenbron van Jezus' Leer en Leven, pp. 6, 34.

3 See Wernle, Quellen des Lebens Jesu, p. 29.

4 Conjecture has pointed to the mind and pen of a redactor. See Spitta, op. cit. p. 404.


by some of the greatest and highest Christian thinkers of a far later day1.

But to pass on. As with the Imitatio Christi, so with our Gospel; uncertainty in respect of its origination leaves its value essentially unimpaired2. The lessons to be drawn from it are manifold; let us fasten on some main points in which it is rich in suggestiveness for present-day circumstances and needs.

To begin with. In these awful days of world-wide strife of nations our thoughts are first directed to 'the time of our wealth,' and the invitation follows to unite in fervent prayer to be vouchsafed 'a lasting peace3,' while the 'visible consecration to an ideal' is forcefully desiderated4. Well and good; yet it is greatly to be feared that not only is the term 'wealth' widely identified with purses filled to repletion, but that the 'peace' craved for by many implies little more than slumberous repose to follow after the clash of arms. Unquestionably the great war has wrought great things in us; we have been stirred to reflexion, dormant faculties have been quickened into life, the spirit of self-sacrifice is in marvellous display, all classes are pervaded by the sense of brotherhood. As unquestionably there is ground for hope that these and such-like features are not destined to speedy disappearance; as Browning confidently tells us: 'there shall never be one lost good5.' What cannot be said is that the nation has as yet risen to, let alone consecrated itself to, an 'ideal' which takes full account of things intellectual, moral, and spiritual. And apart from such an ideal, there can be, in the true sense of the word, no national 'wealth.'

Let us be on our guard against sweeping generalizations. It were idle to deny that the high ideal desiderated is both grasped and aimed at by right-minded men who, sturdy in their refusal to contemplate a reversion to the lamentable social conditions which obtained in days of so-called 'Peace,' are as sturdy in demand and deed for that new order which shall mean a richer and a fuller life within the reach of those conventionally designated 'the labouring

1 Schwalb, op. cit. p. 257.

2 Cf. Réville, op. cit. p. 320.

3 Form of Intercession in time of War.

4 Bishop of Chelmsford's Pastoral Letter in connexion with that National Mission which, no doubt, testified to good intentions.

5 'Abt Vogler.'


classes1.' The error is nevertheless wide-spread which imagines God's Kingdom to be a synonym for universal comfort2; and nought but mischief can issue from its prevalence. 'When this terrible war is over a wave of materialism will sweep over the land. Nothing will count but machinery and output. I am all for output, and I have done my best to improve machinery and output. But that is not all. There is nothing more fatal to a people than that it should narrow its vision to the material needs of the hour. National ideals without imagination are but as the thistles of the wilderness, fit neither for food nor fuel. A nation that depends on them must perish. We shall need at the end of the war better workshops, but we shall also need more than ever every institution that will exalt the vision of the people above and beyond the workshop and the counting-house. We shall need every national tradition that will remind them that men cannot live by bread alone.' Thus spoke England's present Prime Minister3; with acute diagnosis of the situation, and keen perception of vitally important needs.

The case is one in which our Gospel is of profoundest significance. The spiritual exaltation which characterizes it is precisely what our times need. It upholds a great ideal; as the Christ of its conception so manifests his glory as to drive it home that suffering and toil and service are not merely incidental to humanity but inherent in divinity. A vision revealed by it is of the social organism when emancipated from the thraldom of sordid and degrading self-interest (whether of individuals or classes), and in full and fruitful enjoyment of that 'perfect freedom' which attends right thought displayed in right action:—'ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.'

In the second place. Form and ceremony are not things lightly to be discarded. They have their own proper value in that they lend dignity and impressiveness to State or civic pageant; not only are they essential to orderliness and reverence, but they set forth uplifting ideas in the gatherings for common worship. It shall be

1 An instance might be found in Mr George Lansbury as cited in The Modern Churchman, ii, 5, p. 209.

2 Burkitt, CBE, p. 209.

3 Lloyd George, Speech at the Welsh National Eisteddfod, 1916.


left to shallow minds to rail at them1; to raise shallow objection which is blind to or ignores their perfectly legitimate and often helpful appeal to the senses and emotions2. There are nevertheless signs and symptoms of an unwholesome tendency unduly to magnify the importance of externals; and it is just here that our Gospel comes in with its reminder that worship 'in spirit and in truth' is alone precious in the sight of God.

Again. The spectacle is presented of a rent and tattered Christendom. As might be expected, the 'religious outsider' jeers at the spectacle, and finds in it the 'strongest argument against co-operation or belief'; the situation is widely realized in all its ugliness and shamefulness within Christendom itself, and in truth 'our unhappy divisions' ought to be 'an outrage to the moral consciousness of every Christian3.' Who would not agree that 'it is surely no longer tolerable that bodies of Christians, equally devout, equally effective in missionary work (which is the supreme test), loving one Father, serving one Lord and Saviour, inspired by one Holy Spirit, should go on thwarting each other while the tide of unbelief and wickedness rises unchecked4'? The protest is much to the point; yet it invites question as to the alleged efficiency of missionary effort, while doubt is engendered whether genuine inspiration be compatible with sectarian jealousies and rivalries; not to speak of individual communions themselves 'broken into parties eager to narrow the limits of their inheritance by the peculiarities of their own opinions5.'

The 're-union of Christendom' is much in men's minds. In that very fact there is ground of hope; and the ground is widened as the reflexion deepens that 'the old distinctions between the

1 Cf. Emerson, Memoir, i, p. 315.

2 See generally W. James, Varieties of Religious Experience.

3 Bethune-Baker, Nestorius, p. xiii.

4 C. T. Wood, in Religious Reconstruction after the War, A Cambridge Programme, p. 38. See also pp. 44 ff. for remarks on the same topic by the Hulsean Professor, Dr Emery Barnes.

5 Westcott, Historic Faith, p. 117. A lamentable instance is afforded by Bishop Gore in his protest against the consecration of Dr Hensley Henson to the see of Hereford;—as a friend writes to me: 'he is "out" to make the Church of England—the only Catholic Church in existence—a peculium of himself and party.'


several denominations no longer correspond with the vital affinities which draw men of kindred faith and purpose together1.' The ground will become ever wider as, inspired by our Gospel, men resolutely turn their backs on that conception of 're-union' which postulates external uniformity, and dwell by preference on unity in diversity. 'If we look forward to the fulfilment of the great promise which gladdens the future, it is not that there shall ever be, as we wrongly read, "one fold," one outward society of Christians gathered in one outward form, but, what answers more truly to present experience and reasonable hope, "one flock and one shepherd2."'

It were well to make haste slowly. There is room for the 'venture of faith'—so long as it be tempered with sagacity. It is scarcely so tempered when met with in the garb of platform mutual-admiration rhetoric3, nor yet in well-meant proposals and arrangements which disguise grave differences with the cloak of unreal harmony. Wide, no doubt, is the field in which hearty co-operation is practicable; otherwise wisdom suggests that 'steps towards Christian unity' are most surely taken in the more private converse of those who, conscious of 'vital affinities,' meet together for the discussion, at once frank and penetrating, of the problems which the unity desiderated presents.

One such problem, not inconceivably of paramount importance, is such as to suggest that the uncertainties of which thoughtful minds are conscious are a very real barrier in the way of accomplished unity in diversity.

To say this is to arrive at a fourth, and last, point. There is no getting away from the fact that our lot is cast in a period of transition. The ground has shifted beneath our feet; and, by consequence, there is an uneasy feeling that it is idle to talk about a 'kindred faith' when faith itself appears to have been rudely shaken to its foundations. And the pressing need is to draw clear distinctions between scaffolding and fabric, between non-essentials

1 Turbeville, Steps towards Christian Unity, p. 17.

2 Westcott, op. cit. p. 118. And see in this connexion Sir Thomas More on The Religion of the Utopians.

3 'Ecclesiastical amenities are to be commended, but, like compliments, they must not be taken seriously,' Mod. Churchman, vii, p. 203.


and vital principle; and, that done—so far as is possible with present limitations—to provide the new embodiment for newly-apprehended truth.

Mutatis mutandis the Fourth Evangelist himself was in similar case; and the pages of his Gospel (and the Fourth Gospel is in its main bulk his Gospel) are a revelation of what was nothing short of a magnificent attempt on his part to distinguish between the obsolete and the permanent, and—discarding the one and holding fast the other—to provide that reasonable faith which was in him with a setting adequate to the exigencies of his own environment and age.

Therein guidance by him for the modern world. It is not that we must necessarily acquiesce at all points in his own conception and presentation of eternal verities; were he to make his appearance in our midst he would surely speak to very different effect. Reminding us that well-nigh eighteen centuries have elapsed since he composed his Gospel, he would have us realize that, confronted by circumstances and conditions not so much diverse from as infinitely more complex than those which obtained in his times, we have entered upon a vaster inheritance of knowledge than that which had come down to himself. He would bid us see to it that we turn our splendid inheritance to right good account; and accordingly be quick to 'recognize'—in fuller measure than for him was possible—'that a process of evolution is at work in religion no less than in the realm of nature and in all human institutions1.' On the one hand he would raise a warning voice against the glib acceptance of doctrine, view, or theory which, 'fashioned to the varying hour,' breaks down when put to the test; on the other hand we should be told by him to rid ourselves of accumulated lumber in the form of beliefs not only old but outworn and obsolete. In like manner mindful of his own convictions, he would urge that the New Learning of time present be regarded, in all its manifold-ness, as the gift of God; and that, by consequence, it is our wisdom, not to stand aloof, but to welcome it, to strive to assimilate the added lessons which it has to teach. Again pointing to his own example as one who did not scruple to draw water from the well

1 Bonney, in Religious Reconstruction, p. 140.


of old-world philosophies, he would have us tread in his steps; our thoughts would be directed by him to the newly-opened field of Comparative Religion; his plea would be for the ungrudging recognition of every element of truth in the non-Christian religious systems of mankind. The intellectual and spiritual riches of individuals and classes, of churches and of sects, of the nations in all their variety of endowment and temperament, must, he would say emphatically, be laid under contribution in the attempt to transplant as it were the Jesus of Galilee and Jerusalem to village, town, or city of an expanded world.

Not that our Evangelist would point only to himself. On the contrary, we should ever find him pointing away from himself to the marvellous Personality of his Lord; to the Christ no longer of his own experience only but of that of one generation after another right down to our own day. Asking us to take his own guidance for what it was worth as realizing his limitations, he would dwell and dwell again on the continuous presence of a divine spirit whose allotted function is to 'guide' the men of every period 'into all the truth.'

Was it really our Evangelist who, telling (xvi, 13) of the functions of the Paraclete, went on to say: 'he shall show you things to come'? The phrase is somewhat reminiscent of specifically Jewish-Christian conceptions; and, if that be really the case, a possibility remains that it illustrates the workings of a more conservative and less spiritualizing redactor-mind. Be that as it may, it is, perhaps not altogether fanciful to find it suggestive of a vision rising, however dimly, before modern Christians who are at least united in their resolve to go forward on the path marked out for them in a Gospel which has but lately been alluded to as 'the most modern book in the world1.'

We are told—and we know it to be true—that 'creeds are in the melting pot.' The assertion is met with that one creed at any rate is flouted (it must be said, by anticipation) by the Fourth Gospel2; the ancient Symbolum apostolicum which, known to us

1 By B. Webb-Odell, Modern Churchman, vii, p. 172.

2 Scholten, Het Evan. naar Joh. p. 471. In a foot-note on the same page Scholten decides that, of all the twelve Articles of the Apostles' Creed, the only one not contradicted by our Gospel is the 'suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried,' and that even so the 'Pontius' must be eliminated.


as the Apostles' Creed, is occasion of perplexity, and is certainly characterized by a terminology and by conceptions which are not exactly responsive to present-day modes of thought. Such an assertion is, of course, arguable; at the same time a point is raised by it which we cannot afford to neglect. Interesting, beyond question, are experiments in creed-construction which have resort to the actual phraseology of 'the Johannine writings'; yet there is ground for the objection that the said writings are after all bound by the limitations of a remote antiquity. It is quite another matter for 'the Christian consciousness of this age,' 'free to express itself in a modern Christian Creed1,' boldly to experiment in creed-construction, not in terms of, but on the lines which are surely indicated by the Fourth Evangelist. The work would involve time and patience, the exercise of thought, much anxious discrimination. Who dare say that such labour would be void of result? Engaged in by minds representative of every shade of thought and of every persuasion, there would surely be a growing sense of rapprochement in the very-doing of it. The view would gain ground that variety in organization is quite compatible with agreement in regard to institution2. There might ultimately come about the formulating and the general adoption of a credal statement which, inclusive in its wording and sufficient for its day, would serve the three-fold purpose of rallying-point, safe-guard, and weapon for now outwardly sundered members of a divided Christendom.

We have not yet exhausted the suggested vision. It would be but in part realized with the accomplished unity in diversity of Christendom in respect of vital principle. There is promise of fuller realization in the fact that accomplished diversity in unity is bound to mean enhancement of efficiency in Christendom's mission to 'the world' when, as things are, there is only too good reason for the wailing cry which harps on 'the failure of the Church.'

1 Modern Churchman, vii, 4, pp. 156 f.

2 Such, apparently, is the view of our Evangelist. In his own spiritualizing way he realizes and affirms the value of sacramental rites, while comprehensiveness is a feature in his conception of fellowship.


Is it altogether true to say of our Evangelist that he is an out and out universalist? At times he wavers; it might seem that he invites the conclusion that, if his faith in human 'capacity for God' be unshakable, his inclusiveness stops short at 'the many' and fails to extend to the 'all1.' In any case there is a note of dualism2 in his conceptions; sharp is the antithesis between Church and World which recurs in the pages of his Gospel. Yet there is this to be said:—as his glances range ahead a conviction dawns 'on him that, while the latter cannot but be a diminishing quantity, the former is destined to extend its borders; and he breathes forth that conviction in Sayings placed by him on the lips of his Lord: as the 'lamp of life' is passed on by generations of believers (xvii, 20) there should be continuous additions to their ranks; and, if the day be far off, it will nevertheless come when the Christ shall have (xii, 34) 'drawn all men' unto himself. And hence we, in speaking of the noble treatise bequeathed to us—not, alas, in its integrity—by one, the 'Great Unknown,' who was in such close spiritual affinity with Jesus, may legitimately describe it as the Gospel of 'the larger hope.'

'Though it (the vision) tarry, wait for it3.' The vision, not of the old-world Hebrew prophet, but that which, as we cannot but believe, rose before the author of the main fabric of the Fourth Gospel; a vision which points, in its fullest realization, to the highest fellowship of individuals and peoples linked heart to heart and hand to hand because one and all 'bound by gold chains about the feet of God.' Yet there must be no passive waiting for the vision; it behoves us to work for it. And we shall so work to better purpose when, steeping ourselves in the great thoughts which stirred in the mind and soul of our Evangelist, we aim at translating them into action with an eye to every circumstance and exigency which confronts us in our modern world.

1 'Die Gottesfähigkeit allerdings nicht aller, aber doch vieler Menschen,' Schwalb, op. cit. p. 257.

2 'Grim dualism.' So C. G. Montefiore, HJ, xvi, p. 235.

3 Habakkuk ii, 3.

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