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Jesus Christ is Himself in Person and in Word, the revelation of God. He has confirmed and supplemented Natural Theology, or that which is independent of supernatural revelation. He has consummated the preliminary disclosures of His own earlier dispensations. He has discredited and condemned all teachers and teaching that reject His authority. Hence, the science which we study is essentially Christian theology.
The postulates of the general proposition will be more fully established hereafter: they are now only stated and assumed.
(1.) In its technical sense, the term Christology generally refers to the doctrine of Christ’s Person as such in the unity of His two natures; but it may be said that Christology is Theology. The one who has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9) Although He reveals God as the Father who becomes visible in Him, He is in a certain sense, the manifestation of the entire Divinity. He is the mystery of godliness, Who was revealed in the flesh. (1 Tim. 3:16) The Old Testament, Behold your God! (Isa. 40:9) Ecce Deus tuus! answers to the New Testament, Behold the Man! (John 19:5) Ecce Homo! Our Lord is the ever-blessed unity of these: for both were spoken expressly of Him. His Person is the compendium of all that is Divine in human things, and in him are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge. (Ecce Homo! Col. 2:3) He is the substance of revelation in act and in word. He is Himself the one and supreme Theologian: neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son. (Matt. 11:27) He is the center of theology; all its doctrines revolve around Him: I am the Truth. (John 14:6) And, as Mediator between God and men, (1 Tim. 2:5) making both one, He is in a peculiar sense the bond of perfectness in theology. In Him is its unity, and it is complete in Him. The superscription of the Apocalypse is the superscription of our science as a whole: it is the ἀποκάλυΨις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Rev. 1:1) of Him as its object, from Him as its source.
(2.) The Supreme Revealer confirms and absorbs into His teaching the original revelations of nature: or what is called Natural theology. (1.) He presupposes the elements of this natural knowledge. He everywhere appeals to it. But by the mouth of His servant, Paul, He has given the fullest exposition of what it includes. First, the Apostle speaks of the law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15) or on the reason of universal man, which is the indestructible evidence of a God in whose image he was created: for we are also His offspring. (Acts 17:28) Secondly, he appeals to the religious consciousness, or conscience, in man bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another according to the standard written or rather engraved on the reason; for his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made; (Rom. 1:20) and to a Providence, drawing men, in all ages, to feel after (Acts 17:27) the unknown God of a final revelation. Thus, St. Paul, as preacher in the book of Acts, and teacher in the Romans, traces the broad outlines of the primitive interior and traditional knowledge of mankind. He is himself pre-eminently the theologian of the finished revelation in Christ, but he indirectly and yet most clearly acknowledges the labors of a certain theology outside of supernatural revelation and preliminary to it. (2.) The New Teacher confirms and supplements the theology of nature. Our Lord came not to destroy but to fulfill this natural law and these natural prophets. Of these Scriptures also He silently says to the searcher: they testify of Me. (John 5:39) His coming reveals their imperfection; but His tribute to them, as the basis of His teaching, vindicates their Divine origin. The fanaticism of the Jews cried: Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? (John 7:35) He did both afterward by His Apostles, and the latter He had done long before. This will hereafter recur at more length.
(3.) Christian Theology is the consummation of its own earlier economies. Christ was the Revealer from the beginning. But His revelations have been given in progressive stages, and now at the end of Satan’s dominion over the world, He has gathered the whole into one great system of truth. We may therefore regard His perfect teaching as the consummation of its preliminary forms. It is the fulfillment of Old Testament theology as a vast body of preparatory truth, the ruling design of which is to prepare the way of the Lord. This one complex economy of past revelation is itself divided again into several branches: there is the Patriarchal theology, which had in it the earliest broad disclosures of the Divine will, the Gospel before the Law; the Mosaic theology, which is that of the chosen people, and its theocracy, and typical institutes, the Gospel under the Law; and the Prophetical theology, which is emphatically the Gospel in the Law. These branches of the earlier teaching were all under the guidance of inspiration: under the Spirit of Christ, which was in them. (1 Pet. 1:11) They are all presupposed, confirmed, and supplemented, and perfected by the New-Testament institution of Christ. This also must again be considered more fully.
(4.) New-Testament teaching, which sanctions the religion of nature and the earlier disclosures of truth, both having the same common element of preparation, denounces every independent source of religious instruction. One is your Master, even Christ, (Matt. 23:8) ὁ καθηγητής or ὁ διδασκάλος. He has expressly shut out all others who had come before Him, or who might come after Him: the former, all that ever came before Me, (John 10:8) since My appearance, whom the sheep did not hear; (Lu. 21:8) the latter, Go ye not therefore after them. He is not more jealous of the honor of His Father than of His own honor. He is the absolute Teacher; But I say to you (Matt. 5:22) interdicts every other: the only supplement of His own words which He admits is that which He Himself gives in the person of the Spirit of truth. (John 16:13) And this is intended in the comprehensive saying of the last commission: πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην, all things whatsoever I have commanded. (Matt. 28:20)
The theological systems of religious teaching which are thus condemned are those which have been based upon perversions either of natural or of revealed religion.
(a) The former has assumed many forms, all of them having some common relation to the only truth. There has always been a Traditional theology among men, which, containing vestiges of primitive revelation perverted into error, has been woven into every imaginable form of Mythology, or legendary religion, varying with the culture of the nations. These have been connected, especially in the East, with elaborate religious systems, which may be called the Heathen Religions, flourishing especially in India, China, and Persia when Christ came into the world. Philosophy, which seeks the first principles of truth in the love of it, but without even professing to find it, has been in every age a human disguise of Divine revelation: anciently deeply religious, almost in every age the expression of a religious sentiment, but in modern times led away by false fundamental principles. The theology proper of a perverted religion of nature is Deism, in its rather less anti-Christian form Theism, which retains a God but rejects supernatural revelation, and especially that of Christ.
(b) The perversions of revealed religion have assumed also many forms. The most gigantic is that of Rabbinism, or Talmudism, as taught in the writings of the Talmud, the foundations of which were laid in the Judaism of the interval between the two Testaments. Next comes Mohammedanism, an imposture based upon the Holy Scriptures but reducing religion back again to the lowest conditions of nature: the strangest admixture of truth and error that history presents. And to them must be added that mass of Christian Traditionalism which is identified with the corruption of the Christian Faith. All these are the dark background of the science that the name of Christ sanctifies. We shall meet some of them again and again; and indicate them now only in outline.
(5.) Christ, the Center of theology, is its Living Teacher also. As the test of all opinion and faith is the place it assigns to Him,—Who do people say that I am? (Mark 8:27–29) being the question that follows, who do you say that I am?—so His doctrine cannot be studied effectually save at His feet. By His Spirit He guides His disciples, as the company of its believing students, into all the truth: no longer by a supreme inspiration, but by a secret instruction that gives the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, which is Christ, (Col. 2:2) to every believer united to Himself. Pectus facit theologum, the heart’s devotion makes the theologian: this word of St. Augustine holds good of all whose hearts are true to their Master. They are the holy brethren (Heb. 3:1) who are invited to consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. Of the unbelieving Jews, our Lord said: Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My word. (John 8:43) But His true disciples, down to the least, can hear His doctrinal word, λόγον, for they have learned by the Spirit its heavenly meaning as the word of eternal truth; therefore they understand His speech, His λαλίαν, and receive His perfect doctrine. They know Him as their Master and His communications. But He gives His instruction through His Spirit, not only by secret and personal illumination but through the channels of teaching provided in His Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15) They receive both the elements and the developments of Christian doctrine as set forth among the people of God; the teachings of God are addressed to the household of faith: (Gal. 6:10) πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους τῆς πίστεως.
By William Burt Pope, Edited by Edward D. Andrews