Jesus – object of faith

by J. Gresham Machen

Here one great central fact stares us in the face. I think it would hardly be possible to lay too much stress upon it. It is this—that Jesus does not present Himself merely as an example for faith but presents Himself as the object of faith. That fact appears not merely in the Gospel according to John, which unbelievers reject as altogether unhistorical; but it appears also in the three Synoptic Gospels, and in the Synoptic Gospels it appears even in those parts which are supposed by modern criticism, rightly or wrongly, to come from the earliest sources underlying the Gospels.

You cannot get away- from it anywhere in the Gospels. It is all-pervasive. That fact has been demonstrated in particularly convincing fashion by James Denney in his book “Jesus and the Gospel.” I do not commend that book to you in general. In some respects it is a sadly mistaken book. But it does show in a singularly convincing way that everywhere in the New Testament, including the Synoptic Gospels, and including the sources sup-posed rightly or wrongly to underlie the Synoptic Gos-pels, Jesus is represented not as a mere example for faith but as the object of faith.

What do we mean by saying that? What do we mean by saying that Jesus is presented not primarily as an example for faith but as the object of faith? We mean something very simple and at the same time something very stupendous. We mean that Jesus did not come forward merely saying: “Look at me; I am practising the true religion, and I bid you practise the same religion as that which I am practising.” We mean that He did not come forward merely saying: “Look at me; I have faith in God, and I bid you have faith in God like my faith in God.” We mean that He did not come forward merely saying: “Look at me; I regard God as my Father, and I bid you to regard God as your Father too in the same sense as that in which I regard Him as my Father.”

It is so that modern unbelievers represent Jesus. They regard Him as a guide out into a larger type of religious life. They regard Him as being the founder of Christianity because He was the first Christian. They regard Christianity as consisting in imitation of the religious life of Jesus. So they love to speak of  “the religion of Jesus”; they love to speak of the gospel of Jesus in distinction from a gospel about Jesus. Thus they degrade Jesus to the position of a mere teacher and example. They turn away from the gospel that has Him as its substance to a gospel which was merely the gospel that He preached.

When they do that, it is evident that they are turning away from what has been known as Christianity for the past nineteen hundred years. But they are also turning away from Jesus Himself as He is presented to us in all the sources of historical information that we know anything about. According to all the four Gospels, and according to all the supposed sources which modern criticism has tried to detect back of the four Gospels, Jesus put Himself into His gospel; the gospel of Jesus was also a gospel about Jesus; the gospel that He preached was also a gospel that offered Him as Saviour. He did not say merely: “Have faith in God like the faith that I have in God,” but He said: “Have faith in me.”

That appears of course with the utmost clearness in the Gospel according to John. But it also appears in the Synoptic Gospels. There was, indeed, according to the Synoptic Gospels, a period in the public ministry of Jesus when He did not ordinarily make His own person the express subject of systematic discourse. But if you look a little deeper, you see that everywhere Jesus was offering Himself as the Saviour of men and was asking them to have faith in Him.

That appears, for example, in His miracles of heal-ing. “Thy faith hath saved thee,” He says; “go in peace.” Well, faith in whom? Perhaps we might be tempted to say merely, “Faith in God like the faith which Jesus had in God.” But I bid you read the narratives with care and ask yourselves whether that inter-pretation really does justice to them. I think you will find that it does not. No, Jesus was presenting Himself when He worked those miracles as one in whom He was bidding men have confidence. No doubt He was bidding them have confidence in God the Father. But the point is that that confidence in God the Father was also confidence in Him. The faith that saved those people was faith in Jesus Christ.

He was saving those people from bodily ills, but He was also saving their souls from sin. That becomes explicit in the healing of the paralytic borne of four, where Jesus says not only “Arise and walk” but “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” But it is really implied in the cases where it is not expressed. Jesus according to all the Gospels saves men from sin, and the means which He uses to save them from sin is the faith which He bids them have in Him the Saviour.

Thus Jesus, according to all the Gospels, presents Himself as the object of a truly religious faith. Well, who is the object of a truly religious faith? The answer is very simple. He is God. The way in which, in all the Gospels and even in the sources supposed, rightly or wrongly, to underlie the Gospels, Jesus presents Himself as the object of faith is a tremendous testimony by Jesus Himself to His own deity. That testimony does not appear merely in individual passages. It is a kind of atmosphere that pervades the whole picture, or, to change the figure, a foundation that sustains the whole building. If you ignore it, the whole account which the Bible gives of Jesus becomes a hopeless puzzle. (Online source)


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