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Truth Is Stranger than Fiction

I’d like to share one more quote from Phillip Schaff’s book The Person of Christ which, as I said yesterday, has just been republished by Granted Ministries. This is a short but powerful excerpt.


No biographer, moralist, or artist can be satisfied with any attempt of his to set forth the beauty of holiness which shines from the face of Jesus of Nazareth. It is felt to be infinitely greater than any conception or representation of it by the mind, the tongue, or the pencil of man or angel. We might as well attempt to empty the waters of the boundless sea into a narrow well, or to portray the splendor of the risen sun and the starry heavens with ink. No picture of the Saviour, though drawn by the master hand of a Raphael or Dürer or Rubens; no epic, though conceived by the genius of a Dante or Milton or Klopstock,—can improve on the artless, narrative of the Gospels, whose only but all-powerful charm is truth. In this case, certainly, truth is stranger than fiction, and speaks best for itself without comment, explanation, or eulogy. Here, and here alone, the highest perfection of art falls short of the historical fact, and fancy finds no room for idealizing the real; for here we have the absolute ideal itself in living reality. It seems to me that this consideration alone should satisfy any reflecting mind that Christ’s character, though truly natural and human, rises far above the ordinary proportions of humanity, and can not be classified with the purest and greatest of our race.

Christ’s person is, indeed, a great but blessed mystery. It can not be explained on purely humanitarian principles, nor derived from any intellectual and moral forces of the age in which he lived. On the contrary, it stands in marked contrast to the whole surrounding world of Judaism and Heathenism, which presents to us the dreary picture of internal decay, and which actually crumbled into ruin before the new moral creation of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one absolute and unaccountable exception to the universal experience of mankind. He is the great central miracle of the whole gospel-history. All his miracles are but the natural and necessary manifestations of his miraculous person, and hence they were performed with the same ease with which we perform our ordinary daily works. In the Gospel of St. John, they are simply and justly called his “works.” It would be the greatest miracle indeed, if He, who is a miracle himself, should have performed no miracles.

Here is just the logical inconsistency, contradiction, and absurdity of those unbelievers who admit the extraordinary character of Christ’s person, and yet deny his extraordinary works. They admit a cause without a corresponding effect, and involve the person in conflict with his works, or the works with the person. You may as well expect the sun to send forth darkness as to expect ordinary works from such an extraordinary being. The person of Christ accounts for all the wonderful phenomena in his history, as a sufficient cause for the effect. Such a power over the soul as he possessed, and still exercises from day to day throughout Christendom,—why should it not extend also over the lesser sphere of the body? What was it for him, who is spiritually the Resurrection and the Life of the race, to call forth a corpse from the grave? Could such a heavenly life and heavenly death as his end in any other way than in absolute triumph over death, and in ascension to heaven, its proper origin and home?

The supernatural and miraculous in Christ, let it be borne in mind, was not a borrowed gift or an occasional manifestation, as we find it among the prophets and apostles, but an inherent power in constant silent or public exercise. An inward virtue dwelt in his person, and went forth from him, so that even the fringe of his garment was healing to the touch through the medium of faith which is the bond of union between him and the soul. He was the true Shekinah, and shone in all his glory, not before the multitude or the unbelieving Pharisees and scribes, but when he was alone with his Father, or walked in the dark night over the waves of the sea, calming the storm of nature and strengthening the faith of his timid disciples, or when he stood between Moses and Elijah before his favorite three on the mount of transfiguration.

Thus from every direction we arrive at the conclusion, that Christ, though truly natural and human, was at the same time truly supernatural and divine. The wonderful character of his person forces upon us the inevitable admission of the indwelling of the Divinity in him, as the only rational and satisfactory explanation of this mysterious fact; and this is the explanation which he gives himself.


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