Sweeter As The Years Go By!
A.B. Bruce (1831-1899) succeeded Patrick Fairbairn as Chair of Apologetics in Free Church College, Glasgow, Scotland. In the year of his death, Bruce published a work titled, The Epistle to the Hebrews—The First Apology for Christianity—An Exegetical Study. Four decades ago, I heard the late professor, Neil Lightfoot (1929-2012), in the very city from which I write these words, say that he esteemed Bruce’s volume on Hebrews higher than any similar work. Lightfoot, himself, wrote a fine work on Hebrews, titled Jesus Christ Today. Whether Bruce was correct, in an absolute sense, that The Epistle to the Hebrews was the “first apology” for Christianity may be debated. However, beyond dispute is the greatness of the New Testament book we know as Hebrews. Hebrews is a masterpiece in affirmation and defense of the majesty of the deity of Jesus Christ, and the manhood of His humanity.
In the opening lines of Hebrews, we read, “. . .[W]hen He brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ . . . [O]f the Son He says, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; they will wear out like a garment. . . . They will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end . . .” (Hebrews 1:6, 8, 10-12).
When He brought His firstborn into the world on that starlit night (Matthew 2:1-2), the angels of God did worship Him, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).
A former prolific British journalist, caustic social critic, and agnostic, Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990), wrote fifteen years before his death in a nursing home in Sussex, England, that the “coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history” (The Man 7). This is the opening statement in what was considered an unusual book, Jesus—The Man Who Lives, authored by Muggeridge and published in 1975. Malcolm Muggeridge spent most of his first sixty years of life on Earth as a religiously irreverent man. He contributed articles to The Manchester Guardian, which he considered the most progressive newspaper in the world, and also became sympathetic with atheistic communism, even traveling in the 1930’s to the Soviet Union with the idea of staying. However, in time he came to write his famous essay, “Is There a God?” which appeared, of all places, in The Ladies’ Home Journal and later in his book, Jesus Rediscovered, in which he said, “I have never wanted a God, or feared a God, or felt under any necessity to invent one. Unfortunately, I am driven to the conclusion that God wants me” (99).
As his life underwent drastic change through the influence of historic Christianity, Muggeridge, spoke about what he termed “the most momentous event in the history of our Western civilization” (Christ’s birth) in a series of television programs produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation in April 1968. He described the “man [Jesus] and his story [the Gospel]” as “inexhaustible,” and so they continue to “attract the minds and the imaginations of the pious and the impious, of believers and unbelievers alike—mine among them” (Rediscovered 19) He challenged the skepticism of his day expressed then, as it is today, in the philosophy of Darwinism called by David Berlinski “the reigning ideology of scientific life . . . the attitude [that] runs straight through almost everything that has loosely collected under the name of science itself” (14-15). Muggeridge wrote:
The dogmatism of science has become a new orthodoxy…to the point that to believe today in a miraculous happening like the Virgin Birth is to appear a kind of imbecile, whereas to disbelieve in an unproven and unprovable scientific proposition like the Theory of Evolution…is to stand condemned as…an enemy of progress and enlightenment. . . . One thing is clear to an old journalist who has done his fair share of putting garbled or ‘awkward’ copy into shape . . . that, on closer acquaintance with the Gospels, my sense of their beauty and sublimity has grown ever greater. Likewise, my conviction that they are, in the truest and most literal sense of the word, inspired, in their portrayal of the central character, Jesus—the words he spoke, the life he lived, the death he died and the deathlessness he exemplified. In this connection, I find it reassuring that J. B. Phillips should, after his long, arduous labours at preparing his own version of the New Testament, have reached a similar conclusion, as he movingly testifies in his book The Ring of Truth. (The Man 20, 40-41)
The years swiftly pass. Philosophies like scientism are constantly changing. But Jesus remains. Interesting, isn’t it? What Bruce called “The First Apology for Christianity,” not only begins but ends with this thesis: “You are the same . . .” (Hebrews 1:12). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As the old song says “Sweeter as the years go by!” Best to you and yours in 2017.
Charles C. Pugh III
Berlinski, David. The Deniable Darwin. Seattle: Discovery Inst., 2009.
Muggeridge, Malcolm. Jesus Rediscovered. Garden City: Doubleday, 1969.
- - -. Jesus: The Man Who Lives. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.