By Charles H. Brent
Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I com manded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:18-20.
I wish I could hear these words for the first time. Familiar as they are, they thrill me with their exult ant strength whenever I read them anew. They open up new vistas of hope and happiness, of greatness and immortality, of a world exalted, completed, uni fied, made Christian wholly and irrevocably. They set their own seal upon their authenticity. Under their spell we move out into life with the joyous sting of certainty goading us on to renewed effort to do the great bidding of winning the nations of the earth to Him.
How hedged in with finality that bidding is! Before the commission comes the charter under which it is issued. He who bids us to the new creative act of making disciples has been given authority over and possession of all things in heaven and on earth.
We are familiar with authority in piecemeal fashion--authority over a nation, an institution, a department. But this is authority over all things seen or unseen. It is the unifying authority for which human life had been waiting. It is final and exercised by Man over man. There is no separation of the religious from the secular in His jurisdiction. It includes in one vast sweep the whole universe--nations and all their contents, the realm of thought ramifying into ten thousand specialisms, the domain of activity running into a myriad vocations, fast slipping time past, present and future, the tiny sphere of the known and the endless stretches of the un known from Alpha to Omega, from the beginning to the end.
Jesus Christ here claims an authority which is pos session. See Him stand, running through His fingers the countless threads of the ages, disentangling their confusion, overruling their waywardness, weaving them into that web of life which is imaged in "the correlation of organisms, the linkages binding one living creature to another in a vital economy."1
On a previous occasion does the Master of life quietly claim authority over mankind. It was just before He went to His death. "Jesus said, Father, the hour is come, glorify thy son, that the son may glorify thee: even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that whatsoever thou hast given him to them he should give eternal life." (John 27:1, 2.) Re gard the man who as a figure of history has come and gone--a speck of humanity floating for a moment in the sea of the ages, an unlettered artisan, in outward appearance a Jew such as you can see in any Ghetto today--calmly claiming authority for time and eternity over all mankind! All flesh is His, mankind in "its weakness and transitoriness," the generations that have been and the generations that are to be--the Roman and the Greek, the Chinese and the American are His not only by "authority and right" but also by "appropriation and possession," for that is what the term He uses implies.2 He declares uni versal ownership received at the hands of His Father, as the proprietor of an estate or the owner of a busi ness proclaims, as I have often heard them do, his pride of possession.
He is not alone. His intimate friends to whom He has been talking in terms of understanding, solici tude and love are watching Him as He stops talking to them and with uplifted eyes talks to God. I wonder what they thought of His audacious claim. What would you have thought had you been stand ing by? What do you think of it now as you hear it repeated nineteen hundred years after? Certainly if it held good then, it holds good now. What do you think of it, I say, and what meaning do you attach to it as touching your own case?
Jesus chose, so it would appear, an inappropriate, even a foolish, moment in which to make His claim on human life. He was on the edge of His lowest moment of popularity and at the apex of dislike and hatred. He was esteemed in about the degree that a criminal caught red-handed is esteemed by the crowd that have caught him. Further than that, He knew it. He was aware that at that very moment the last little remnant of a following was held by a frayed cord about to snap, that one of His close comrades had already bargained for His life, and that the rest would be like a frightened flock of sheep in a moment, scattered hither and yon, and He would be left alone. This is the hour in which He an nounces His universal jurisdiction over mankind, the hour for which He has patiently waited--"I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto my self." The road of loneliness and nakedness was the only road to universal sovereignty.
Having spoken, His voice is stilled in death. He reappears, freshened and strengthened to reiterate His claim and to enlarge it so that it comprehends not only mankind but everything visible and in visible from the cluster of Hercules to the whirling universe of the atom, from the ordered phalanxes of angels and archangels to those splendors which are whispered in the sunset and hidden behind the blue eyes of babyhood.
It is in this claim to universal sovereignty that the great leaders of life find rest and peace, inspiration and confidence. We too in our day, look to Christ "who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen." (Rom. 9:5.) "For of him, and through him, and unto him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Rom. 11:36.) St. Paul uses these words not in unintellectual ecstasy but with the sober realization of a finely trained philosophic mind. Human life needs certainty for its final guide and here, and only here, we have it--certainty which is love. Jesus Christ is what He claims to be, the final authority in life and in death; and His authority is universal, over things seen and unseen, in science and religion, in business and politics. His claim is royal in that it is real.
But His jurisdiction is disputed and divided in our day. It is relegated to a little sphere called "spiritual."
1. It is the first duty of modern Christian leader ship to renew Christ's claim of authority over all things. It is a difficult task. "If seeking the Truth seems easy, we may be sure we have lost our way."3 But it is also a joyous task.
In pre-Christian times there existed the unity of simplicity. Religious men thought and lived in terms of the whole.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech
And night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language;
Their voice cannot be heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
Or one of earth's race that thou shouldest befriend him?
For thou hast made him but little lower than God,
And crownest him with glory and honor.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.
I quote two conspicuous passages to illustrate the attitude of the ancient religious mind to the seen world. The psalter is crammed full of the universe, the totality of things, on the broad canvas of which the Psalmists paint in their own relationship to God. In those agricultural, pastoral days when men lived in the open they lived in a whole world.
"In seeking to recapture something of the old re ligious wonder, we should not attach too much im portance to the size of the canvas. But it is very impressive. Before Galileo the stellar universe con sisted of less than five thousand visible stars; the telescope raised the number to hundreds of thousands; the photographic plate to hundreds of millions. And besides these there are the thousands of dark stars!"4 The trouble is in the specialisms of science. Our day is analytic. Science remains as Gilbert White defined it "the extension of common knowledge,"5 but its various departments which have been pursued inde pendently are only now being drawn together again into a unity of variety. The work of the next half century will be a work of integration. Institutes are being established for welding together the findings of the various branches of science. The human mind is capable of receiving the whole truth but it is small in its greatness. Its common fault is generalization from insufficient data--from a single branch of study with inadequate reference to other branches and so we get "biologisms" and other "materialisms."6 A man may be tripped to a fall and be cooped up in materialistic darkness by resting in the findings of a single science. This can easily become the fate of a modern student unless he is taught from early child hood to live and think in terms of the whole world with the recognition that Jesus Christ is in supreme authority over all.
I recognize that I am reasoning from the opposite pole to my friend Harry Emerson Fosdick. He speaks for those who "strain after a cosmic theory, a belief in God as an hypothesis to explain the uni verse, and often they have a desperate time getting it." Then he recommends a creed beginning with "I believe in Man," on the score that "Christ could have gone on through a long and peaceful lifetime saying what he pleased about God, but he was hated and crucified because of his attitude toward man." Pre cisely so. But was not His mind toward man the logical conclusion of His mind toward God whom He invariably calls "Father"? He is making theology practical. If God is Father then men are brethren. He clung tenaciously to God as His Father and the Father of the human family and thus was able to deal with man as brother--and only so. There is more peril than help in any other approach. The main effort of Jesus Christ was to secure from men belief in Him, the Son of Man, as the Son of God that all men might accept God as Father and man as brother. It is this which lifts up the whole human race to an unwonted height.
2. Again it is the part of a Christian leader today to accept his position and to teach and preach as one commissioned by and for the whole Church--"a Priest in the Church of God," "a Bishop in the Church of God." He cannot be anything less or look upon him self as anything else. The seat of sectarianism and of catholicity is within the soul. It is neither boast ful nor presumptuous for one to insist on the broadest possible relationship with the whole Church of God. No thoughtful man today can consciously submit to ordination or consecration of life and service that is not as wide as human contacts permit. Who would be satisfied with being a Bishop in a church which contains a couple of million members or less than two per cent of the total population of the United States--this and nothing more? A true man wishes to lend himself to the largest possible ends, at least to reach his own nation, which is but a fragment of his whole duty, by his service. I admire the quiet assumption by which the Pope proclaims himself to be the "servant of the servants of God," and considers the moral and spiritual well-being of the race as being in his keeping. I would emulate it and spur others on to emulate it in the spirit of love. "Whosoever would become great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever would be first among you, shall be bond servant of all." (Mk. 10: 43, 44.) What difference does it make if there are those who do not wish your service? They cannot help it if contrary to their wishes you watch for and seize opportunities to serve. Let your heart beat with theirs. They can not prevent that. We must act as if there was unity and unity will come in the doing. We must relate our Christianity to that of others by whatever means will best bring about an understanding and a fellow ship, without ignoring or injuring the special gift we enjoy and which it is our business to make available for the whole fellowship. Our light is a light to be set on a candlestick that it may light the whole house. It is not to be kept safe under a cover where it will be protected from the wind. It must be put within the gaze of all men. The more catholic a church claims to be, the more should it be found in the thick of things, playing its catholicity on those who do not have it. Aloofness and service are not friends. Catholicity is fearless, never afraid of being snuffed out by contacts with that which is less catholic. In deed, catholicity, like freedom, lives and retains its power by living perilously. Never is any person so safe as when trying to seize an opportunity which leads into danger. The man and the church who practice catholicity will do more to bring about understanding and cooeperation between the churches than any one else, as well as learn the meaning of the glorious liberty of the children of God.
3. While the aim and function of the Church is to win the individual to discipleship, it cannot stop at that. The Christian leader must somehow find his way to the rim of the world and take his stand upon it, looking out over the whole of mankind and translating all his loyalties into terms of loyalty to mankind for whom Christ died. It is his part to bring the corporate conscience of the Church to play on the corporate manifestations of the life of the day. There are those who would question the authority of Christ over politics, national and international, in