The Lord from Heaven - 7 - THE TESTIMONY OF JAMES AND THE HEBREWS

CHAPTER 7 - THE TESTIMONY OF JAMES AND THE HEBREWS

"JAMES, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are of the dispersion, greeting" (James i. 1).
It is almost impossible for a Gentile Christian to appreciate the amazing change in the mind and heart of a devout Jew which words like these betoken. Though sects and heresies were many in Judaism, the great truth of the One God was held with passionate fervour by all, whether orthodox or heretic; and yet here the Deity of Christ is unequivocally acknowledged by one who in the course of the Ministry had shared the prevailing unbelief.
Superstition pictures the Christ of the Ministry with a halo round His head, and scepticism represents Him as echoing "current Jewish notions." But while the Christian worships Him as Divine, he recalls the words of the prophet, "He hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him." And yet, even with the 53rd chapter of Isaiah in view, no Gentile Christian perhaps can understand how a Jew regarded the Lord and His ministry. "There was in such a Messiah absolutely nothing - past, present, or possible; intellectually, religiously, or even nationally - to attract, but all to repel"
This startling dictum of Dr. Edersheim's (see Life and Times of the Messiah p.145) may help us to appreciate the testimony of the Epistle of James. The truth of the Deity of Christ must have been forced upon the writer by overwhelmingly compelling proofs. And as that truth is assumed without a word of "apology" or explanation, it must have been accepted by all the Jewish believers, for it was to them that the Epistle was addressed.
"James, the Lord's brother," is the only New Testament writer who never names Him otherwise than as Lord. He names Him indeed only once again, when he writes, "My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." Is it conceivable that a man with the training of a Jew could write such a sentence, unless He believed that Christ was Divine? And it is a fact of extreme significance that throughout his Epistle he uses this title, "the Lord," indifferently of both the Father and the Son.' And his testimony ought to have increased weight with those who regard the writer as a "Judaiser."
But I would enter a protest in passing against the disparagement of this Epistle by certain of the Fathers and Reformers. The current theology of Christendom regards the present dispensation as the climax of God's purposes of blessing for earth; but the New Testament represents it as an episode, filling up the interval between the setting aside of the Covenant people and their restoration again to favour. During that interval the Church, the body of Christ, is being gathered out; and the Church in its lower aspect, as a public organisation upon earth, ought, according to the divine purpose, to fill the place which the Covenant people were intended to hold. But through the apostasy of Christendom the main channel has become a stagnant pool; and the professing Church as a whole has lapsed from the place originally assigned to it.
With us today all this is elementary truth, but the Fathers had but a very partial apprehension of it, and the German Reformers shared their ignorance. What specially concerns us here, however, is that in the transitional Pentecostal dispensation, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the Jew still held a distinctive place. And while "to the Jew, first," characterised it throughout, "to the Jew only" marked its initial phase. And it is to that period that the Epistle of James should be assigned, and to that dispensation his ministry specially pertained.
It is just because the Pentecostal Church was Jewish that in considering the indirect evidence for the Deity of Christ, the belief of the early disciples is of such importance, For it is inconceivable that these Jewish converts could have come to worship two Gods, and yet the Epistles that were specially their own make it clear that their belief in Christ as God was outside the sphere of controversy or doubt.
(Footnote - I here assume that the James of the Epistle was "the Lord's brother"; for the study of many a treatise to prove the contrary has satisfied me that he held that relationship. Indeed Matt. xlii. 55 is conclusive. The ordinary "man-of-the-world" Jew knew nothing of a "pre-existent divine Messiah." The Christ he looked for was one of his own people, and therefore that he should have cousins would be regarded as a matter of course - they supposed that John the Baptist was the Christ (Luke iii. 15); but the thought of His having brothers and sisters seems to have been repugnant to him.
And a careful study of the chronological question has convinced me that they are right who hold the Epistle of James to be perhaps the earliest of the New Testament writings. It belongs to that period of the Pentecostal dispensation when the whole Church was Jewish, and when their meeting-places still bore the Jewish designation of "synagogues" (chap. ii. 2).)

To many the testimony of the Epistle to the Hebrews may seem more telling in this respect than that of James, although here we cannot appeal with certainty to the personality of the writer. No one who has experience in dealing with questions of the kind will ignore either the weighty evidence which connects the Apostle Paul with the Epistle, or the difficulties which beset the hypothesis of his authorship. When dealing in a practical way with such problems, the expert often finds in some purely incidental point a clew to the way out of a seeming impasse. And here a sentence in the typically "Pauline" postscript to the Epistle may possibly suggest the solution of this much-debated question. "Suffer the word of exhortation," the writer concludes, "for I have written a letter unto you in few words." This is generally dismissed as a meaningless conventionalism, for Hebrews is one of the longest of the Epistles; and moreover, as has been often noticed, the first twelve chapters are a treatise rather than an Epistle. And as it is to the thirteenth chapter that the advocates of the Pauline hypothesis specially appeal, may not that last chapter contain the "few words" added by the great Apostle in sending the treatise to those for whom it was written ?
(Footnote - This is not a theory hastily formed for the purpose of my " argument," but a belief which I have held for many years. A statement of the grounds on which it is based would require a lengthy excursus that would not be germane to the subject of these pages.)
But whatever view we take of its authorship, the testimony which the Epistle renders to the Lord's Deity is conclusive. Even if we dismiss every question of inspiration, and regard it merely as a human work, it proves beyond doubt that the doctrine of the Godhood held rank at that time among the certainties of the faith.
Here we need not go beyond the first chapter, or, indeed, the opening sentences of it. By the Son it was that God made the worlds. He is the effulgence of the glory of God, and the impress, or very image, of the Person of God. And He it is who upholds all things by the word of His power. If all this applies to a creature, words have no meaning, and "Christian doctrine" may be dismissed as a tangle of hyperbole and superstition. And if the Son be not a creature, he must be God. No pagan alternative can be accepted by either Christian or Jew.
And this disposes of that subtle phase of error which ascribes a kind of secondary Divinity to the Son, while refusing to recognise His Deity. Appeal is made to numerous passages which represent God as working by and through the Son, whether in the sphere of creation, or of government, or of redemption. And stress is laid on the emphatic statement that "to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him." But if the Socinian reads these words aright, then, in view of the uncompromising monotheism of Scripture, we must relegate our Lord and Saviour to the position of a fellow-creature; and to pay Him any divine homage whatever is pagan idolatry, and treason against God.
The prominent place which this difficulty has occupied in all the controversies of all the centuries is proof of its reality and its magnitude. But it is to be solved, not by giving up Christianity, but by accepting the plain and emphatic words of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which He declares His oneness with the Father - words such as these - "I and My Father are one" (John x. 80).
"The Father is in Me, and I in Him" (John x. 88). "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John xiv. 9). "I am in the Father, and the Father in Me" (John xiv. 10). It is with the indirect evidence of this truth that I am dealing; and, as already noticed, the expert sets a high value upon evidence of that kind. Statements that teach explicitly the Deity of Christ may be frittered away by those who refuse the truth; but no one can thus evade the testimony supplied by the beliefs of the early disciples.
And the force of that testimony is far greater than our theologians recognise. The learned treatises which discuss whether the Jew believed in a pre-existent Divine Messiah are strangely unintelligent. For, whether in the first century or the twentieth, it is only the spiritually enlightened who really believe in the Godhood of Christ; and every influence of the kind which, with us, leads men to give a blind assent to that doctrine, operated to prejudice the unregenerate Jew against it, the Gospels make it clear that with the little company of those who, in the midstof almost universal apostasy, were "waiting for the redemption," the question at issue was whether the Nazarene was really the Son of God; but with the ordinary Jew the very fact of His claiming to be Son of God was deemed conclusive evidence of blasphemy. The beliefs of the disciples, therefore, were formed and avowed in opposition to every influence which ecclesiastical authority could bring to bear on them. In Christendom all who regard the Church as the oracle of God profess to believe Christ to be divine, just as they believe that the "consecrated wafer" is His flesh. But the unregenerate Jew of nineteen hundred years ago stood intellectually on a higher level than the nominal Christian of to-day, for his beliefs rested upon Holy Scripture. And yet he shared the incapacity of all unspiritual men to receive its spiritual teaching. Indeed, the Sadducean heresies were merely a formal development of thoughts and doubts that are common to all unregenerate men whose minds are not warped or blinded by superstition. They prevail extensively to-day. For while the intellectual revolt of the sixteenth century re-established the authority of the Bible, and resulted in Protestantism, that of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries led to an orgy of infidelity. And unfortunately the movement of our own day is not on the lines of the Reformation.
But this is a digression. Every Jew looked for a Messiah. But in Judaism there was no clear line of division between politics and religion; and so, while all expected him to be a prophet and a religious leader, the hopes of ordinary men were fixed on the coming of a great national champion who would deliver them from Gentile supremacy, and restore to them the prosperity and greatness of bygone days.'
But the faith of the little band of the Lord's disciples was far removed from the creeds and hopes of carnal men. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. xvi. 16); "Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel" (John i. 49): these were typical confessions. None but the Christ could be King of Israel, and Christ was the Son of God in the pregnant sense which that title signified. The confession of Thomas, "My Lord and my God" was the full expression of it. And if any one can suppose that devout Jews could have uttered such words to a fellow-creature, or that the Lord would have tolerated them had He not claimed to be divine, we have no common ground for a discussion of the question.