The faith of the disciples

Daily Reading for January 16 • The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The first disciples of our Lord had, some of them, been disciples of John the Baptist, and the function of that wonderful prophet was to proclaim that now the time was come, and God’s purpose was about to be consummated—the kingdom was at hand, and he was the forerunner of that kingdom. And he had pointed them to the yet unknown figure of Jesus of Nazareth as the Greater One, the One who was to come, the latchet of whose shoes he was not worthy to unloose. And they had joined the company of Jesus, after they had accepted His call.

Last Sunday we sought to estimate the impression which in the years of His public ministry Jesus made upon these first disciples. It was an impression of unbounded authority; a wonderful authority of love and power which absorbed their very souls, and which they could not resist. They saw His wonderful works, they heard His wonderful words; they had at first no theory about His person, only they felt that there could be none greater than He. He came, as I said, to occupy the place of God in their mind and thought and heart. At last, at a critical moment, Jesus tested them with a great question. He had asked them first, “Whom do men say that I am?” and it was easy to answer that He was regarded as some wonderful prophet, about whom some supernatural account must be given; and many and various were the accounts given. But they had been closer to Him, longer with Him, and no such vague description was enough for them. Thus again He asked them, “Whom say ye that I am?” And then Peter uttered the great confession, “Thou art the Christ,” and Jesus accepted it with His solemn benediction, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona.”. . .

I have said nothing about S. John’s witness, because the learned world has in great part satisfied itself that S. John’s Gospel was not written by John the apostle but was the work of some later disciple; not a history but an allegory, representing not the experience of the apostle but the later mind of the church. A great part of the learned world has made up its mind to that effect; so it is better to begin with the other Gospels and the Acts and S. Paul’s Epistles. Nevertheless I do myself firmly, and after all examination, believe that it is only at the bottom the refusal of the supernatural which leads to that rejection of S. John’s authorship. I think the evidence is fairly overwhelming that the Fourth Gospel was really written by John the apostle and that you must accept its testimony as John’s.

The doctrine of John, then, about Christ’s person, which he sums up in the prologue of his Gospel, is in effect the same as S. Paul’s—that the Word or self-expression of the Father, who is also His only-begotten Son, was eternally with the Father, and was God, and from the beginning of time was the instrument of all creation, and the light lightening every man in reason and conscience: that the darkness of sin never overwhelmed the light: that all along He was coming into the world: and at last He came. And he gives expression to that coming in the words, “the Word was made flesh” (the highest took the lowest) “and tabernacled among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.” And then he tells a story of the incarnate life which seems to me necessary at many points to make up a coherent picture, supplementing the other Gospels. And he lets us understand that Jesus did from time to time during His ministry bear solemn witness to His Sonship in a sense which left no doubt about His pre-existence, though it made no impression apparently on the disciples’ minds at the time. . . .

Well, is this the truth—that Jesus is the eternal Son of God incarnate? Or was it an imaginative invention of S. Paul’s mind, adopted by the other leaders of the church? I cannot think so. I see in the records a wonderful growth in the faith of the disciples till it reaches the supreme point, and the facts by which it grew justify the resultant belief. No other belief really could account for them.

From “The Faith of the First Disciples,” Sermon II in The Deity of Christ: Four Sermons preached during Advent, 1921, in Grosvenor Chapel by Charles Gore (Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1922).

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