The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Chapter III

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudThe miracles of Jesus Christ – How they must be studied, and how their truth and beauty may be verified

But let us advance, and plunge boldly into the depths of this incomparable subject. At present we are but at the threshold. If Jesus Christ is in truth God, how could He be satisfied to allow His Divinity to manifest Itself through His human intellect. His human heart, His human will? Could such a twilight satisfy us? He intended to claim from us an absolute faith; it was necessary, then, that He should give us proofs of His Divinity proportioned to the greatness of the adoration He exacted from us. And since God, who has given us such splendid gifts, has not permitted us to control the laws of creation; since through force of genius we can pass through tempests, but are not able to calm them; since we do not know how to bring our dead to life again, even those who are dearest to us, it was necessary that Jesus Christ should do it, and that, after having permitted us to have a glimpse of His Divinity through the veil of His Humanity, as a light that is too brilliant is softened under a crystal globe, there should be some rays of extremely brilliant light, some of those sovereign acts which remove all doubt from men of good will, and compel them to fall down in adoration.

And this Jesus Christ has done. Remember the cure of the man born blind. Remember Lazarus raised to life again. Remember Mount Thabor or the Sea of Galilee. If these facts are true, are they not in some sort an outburst of the Divinity?

But nevertheless it is not my intention at present to insist on the historical certitude of these facts. We wish to know if Jesus Christ is God. We may follow two methods. The first is to prove that He worked real miracles – that is to say, that He performed actions beyond the powers of human nature to perform, and making an exception to all the laws of creation; that He performed them often, frequently, thousands of times; that He performed them in the full blaze of the midday sun, in the streets, in the public places, in the presence of His friends, before immense crowds, under the eager and malicious gaze of His enemies; that there is no natural manner of explaining these miracles, which His contemporaries never called in question; and that all the physical, metaphysical, and scientific impossibilities which are alleged against them are of absolutely no avail. This is the first method, the method adopted by the ancient apologists, who carried it to perfection.

There is a second method, more beautiful, and more according to the spirit of our work. It is to show that Jesus accomplished these actions, whatever they may be, in a superhuman manner. It is to look at them, no longer as regards their surroundings, but in themselves; to unfold them as we unfold a flower, that their perfume may be breathed forth; and to recognize there under another form the true character of Jesus Christ, His great and piercing mind, His sublime heart, His stupendous virtue, and, as it were, a higher impress of His divinity. None but God could have done such acts; but still more, none but God would have done them as He did them. This is the second method. We prefer it to the other, and it is the one we shall employ. To those who are seeking, and are in doubt, it gives less handle to the subtleties of the intellect; it opens a vast horizon to the intuitions of the heart; it appeals to the conscience, the true judge in such matters; and for all these reasons it is wonderfully adapted to make us take a new and decisive step in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

We sometimes ask, whence arose the popularity of the Saviour and the success of His work: and we are tempted to reply that it was owing to His miracles, which, in demonstrating that He was superior to nature, brought all men to His feet. This answer is at best very incomplete. Had He performed no miracles, Jesus Christ would none the less have brought the world to His feet; and, on the other hand, had they been multiplied a thousand-fold, and been yet more striking, if He had not displayed in such acts the moral beauty, the gentleness, the discretion, the infinite tenderness which He did display, instead of attracting souls to Him, He would have alarmed and repelled them. “Supernatural power,” says a profound observer, “was not invariably connected in the minds of the ancients with God and goodness; it was supposed to be in the gift of evil spirits as well as good; it was regarded with horror in as many cases as with reverence.” And, indeed, when wielded by Christ, the first impression which it produced upon those who witnessed it was one of alarm and distress. Men were not so much disposed to admire or adore as to escape precipitately from the presence of one so formidable. The Gadarenes prayed Christ to depart out of their coasts. Even Peter made the same petition, and that at a time when he knew too much of his Master utterly to misapprehend His character and purpose.

It appears, then, that these supernatural powers freely used were calculated to hinder Christ’s plan almost as much as to further it. The sense of being in the hands of a Divine Teacher is in itself elevating and beneficial; but the close proximity of an overwhelming force crushes freedom and reason. Had Christ used supernatural power without restraint, as his countrymen seemed to expect of Him, and as ancient prophecy seemed to justify them in expecting, when it spoke of the Messiah ruling the nations with a rod of iron, and breaking them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, we cannot imagine that any redemption would have been wrought for man. The power would have neutralized instead of seconding the wisdom and goodness which wielded it. So long as it was present it would have fettered and frozen the faculties of those on whom it worked, so that the legislation which it was used to introduce would have been placed on the same footing as the commands of a tyrant; and, on the other hand, as soon as it was removed, the legislation and it would have passed into oblivion together. Christ avoided this result. He imposed upon himself a strict restraint in the use of his supernatural powers. He adopted the principle that he was not sent to destroy men’s lives, but to save them, and rigidly abstained in practice from inflicting any kind of damage or harm. In this course he persevered so steadily that it became generally understood. Every one knew that this King, whose royal pretensions were so prominent, had an absolutely unlimited patience, and that he would endure the keenest criticism, the bitterest and most malignant personal attacks. Men’s mouths were opened to discuss his claims and character with entire freedom. So far from regarding him with that excessive fear which might have prevented them from receiving his doctrine intelligently, they learnt gradually to treat him, even while they acknowledged his extraordinary power, with a reckless animosity which they would have been afraid to show towards an ordinary enemy. With curious inconsistency they openly charged him with being leagued with the devil; in other words, they acknowledged that he was capable of boundless mischief, and yet they were so little afraid of him that they were ready to provoke him to use his whole power against themselves. The truth was, that they believed him to be disarmed by his own deliberate resolution, and they judged rightly. He punished their malice only by verbal reproofs, and they gradually gathered courage to attack the life of one whose miraculous powers they did not question.

These beautiful and very original views of a Protestant author claim our attention. They light up one side of the wonderful character of Jesus Christ. It is not only in the domain of science that conquests are made in our times, but also in the domain of criticism. Here is one. This voluntary disarming of Christ; this discretion, infinite in wisdom as in love; this formidable power known by all to be in His hands, and which yet strikes terror into no one; this conviction, become general little by little, that He is incapable of abusing it; and these crowds, emboldened so far as to attack the life of Him, whose miraculous power they do not question; all this, I repeat, is original, and full of deep thought, and throws on the true character of Jesus a ray of light at once gentle and striking.

This power which He wielded so royally, which He held back so mightily, so that no provocation, no danger, no treason, no contempt could induce Him to use it in His own defense, seemed to escape from His control when there was a question of doing good to others. Let Him meet the poor, or the sick, and swift as lightning this divine power escaped from His heart in acts of love. Sometimes it would almost seem as though He were no longer the master of it, as in the incomparable history of the poor woman who approached Him humbly from behind, saying, “If I can but touch the hem of His garment I shall be cured.” On certain occasions He even gave way to tears, and groanings, and unwonted trouble which bore witness to the intensity of His love. Who does not recall the impulse of mercy which touched Him at Nain, by the side of the bier of the only son, and the sorrowing mother? Who can forget His deep emotion so mastered, when He raises the daughter of Jairus to life? How shall we forget the unwonted agitation which He manifests at the tomb of Lazarus! But neither these troubles, nor these tender impulses of the most sensitive of all hearts, could penetrate the tranquil region where dwelt His miraculous power. As He is unmoved under the shadow of the highest mysteries, so He preserves His self-possession when working the greatest miracles. “He raises the dead to life in the same way that He performs the most ordinary action: He speaks as a master to those who sleep an eternal sleep, and we feel that He is the God of the living, and of the dead: never more calm than when He performs the greatest acts.”

By degrees, through this sublime power, and still more through the sublime use that He made of it, the brow of Jesus was crowned with a new halo. “This reserve in the use of His supernatural power,” concludes the English author just quoted, “is the masterpiece of Christ. It is a moral miracle, added to a physical miracle.” This repose joined to majesty, and I will add, this laying down His power where there is so much power, renders Him the noblest figure that has ever been presented to human imagination.

But Jesus did not only enrapture the multitude by this miraculous power manifested in love, and in an impulse of the most tender, most merciful, most delicate, and most intense love, joined to the most marvelous forgetfulness of self: His lofty intellect also revealed itself. He did not content Himself with healing, He went beyond the body to the soul. To say the truth. He never occupied Himself but with souls. It is evident that Jesus saw the diseases of the soul through the diseases of the body. He beheld the sore point in the soul, which had produced the like in the body, and to that He applied His great and benevolent power. His miracles were not merely extraordinary acts which excite wonder but convey no instruction; nor were they merely acts of compassion and kindness: they were something deeper – acts in which all His saving power was displayed. The Saviour of souls, the Redeemer, was living and visible through these miracles. Thus before He performed any miracle He desired that the divine energies of the soul should be awakened and united to Him. “Dost thou believe?” He said; or “Wilt thou be saved?” And again, “If you could but believe!” He would only act when the infirm soul had at least endeavored to turn to the Physician.

What tongue can tell the tact of this being to whom all souls were revealed, whilst exercising this noble ministry! What touching reserve! What delicacy not to humiliate one whose wounds He saw, above all not to betray him to those who stood around! What hints sufficient to enlighten the sufferer without disclosing his state to others. “Go in peace, sin no more! . . . . Many sins are forgiven you, because you have loved much.” And a thousand other words of tenderest tact and of divine gentleness. Consequently He could go nowhere without being surrounded by all those who had had a share in His kindness – sick whom He had cured, lepers whom He had made clean, possessed whom He had snatched from the power of the demon, a crowd of sinners, men and women, whom he had saved from vice and degradation by an act of power which did not humble them.

When we see the way in which these things took place, and then think of the prejudices of our modern skeptics, of the commissions of doctors, chemists, physicians which they require to verify a miracle, we cannot help smiling as at a blind man who should reason about light. It was not the miracle which entranced the crowd, so much as the way in which it was done. “It was neither for His miracles, nor for the beauty of His doctrine, that Christ was worshipped. Nor was it for His winning personal character, nor for the persecutions He endured, nor for His martyrdom. It was for the inimitable unity which all these things made when taken together. In other words it was for this, that He whose power and greatness, as shown in His miracles, were overwhelming, denied Himself the use of His power, treated it as a slight thing, walked among men as though He were one of them, relieved them in distress, taught them to love each other, bore with undisturbed patience a perpetual hail-storm of calumny; and when His enemies grew fiercer, continued still to endure their attacks in silence, until petrified and bewildered with astonishment, men saw Him arrested and put to death with torture, refusing steadfastly to use in His own behalf the power He conceived He held for the benefit of others. It was the combination of greatness and self-sacrifice which won their hearts, the mighty powers held under a mighty control, the unspeakable condescension, the Cross of Christ.”

To this end there was no need of a commission of physiologists or physicians; the world had never witnessed anything like it. Man had never even imagined so lofty a character.

“They saw Him hungry, though they believed Him able to turn the stones into bread; they saw His royal pretensions spurned, though they believed that He could in a moment take into His hand all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; they saw His life in danger; they saw Him at last expire in agonies, though they believed that, had He so willed it, no danger could harm Him, and that, had He thrown Himself from the topmost pinnacle of the Temple, He would have been softly received in the arms of ministering angels. Witnessing His sufferings, and convinced by the miracles they saw Him work, that they were voluntarily endured, men’s hearts were touched, and pity for weakness blending strangely with wondering admiration of unlimited power; an agitation of gratitude, sympathy, and astonishment, such as nothing else could ever excite, sprang up in them; and when, turning from His deeds to His words, they found this very self-denial which had guided His own life prescribed as the principle which should guide theirs, gratitude broke forth in joyful obedience, self-denial produced self-denial, and the Law and Law-Giver together were enshrined in their inmost hearts for inseparable veneration.”

– taken from The Divinity of Christ, by Bishop Emile Bougaud