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Divinity of Christ
““The glory which I had with thee before the world was.” John 17:5.
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Divinity of Christ
““The glory which I had with thee before the world was.” John 17:5.
The prominent features which discriminated the life of Jesus, when upon earth, from all other characters which have at any time appeared upon the stage of this world, will be placed in the most advantageous point of view, if we previously examine the evidences we have of his preexistent state and dignity. These, no doubt, are the great criteria of his divinity, and can alone enable us to comprehend many of the august events which followed in his life. My chief object in the present sermon, therefore, will be to collect such accounts as we have of this doctrine in Scripture, and bring them before you, together with the evidences of our Lord’s character, as described by the sacred writers; which will tend, I hope, greatly to ascertain, and prove beyond all doubt, his right to a divine nature.
It would swell the subject to an unusual length, and much exceed the limits allotted to addresses of this kind, were I to instance every passage in the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles, which refers to this important point. I shall content myself, therefore, with selecting such only as are more immediately pertinent to my purpose, and of the plainest and most obvious meaning.
Happy indeed is it for mankind, that many of them are self-evident, and require no explanation. The word of God, which is intended for common use, is adapted to common apprehension. And though it is written with all the marks of the most consummate wisdom, yet it wonderfully condescends, at the same time, to the humblest capacities, particularly in the great and essential points of knowledge, in which there is nothing but what the most uninformed mind through grace is capable of receiving. Divine goodness in this, as well as many other instances, plainly showing, that however these things may be hid from the wise and prudent, yet hath he revealed them unto babes.1 “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world (saith an apostle) to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty,” (1 Cor. 1:27).
Nothing can more strikingly prove this, than the several passages of Scripture which have a reference to our present argument. For example, we see the most positive and express declaration of Christ’s pre-existence and dignity in the words of the text. For when our blessed Lord says, “he had glory with the Father before the world was,” what possible conclusion can any man make of this, but that Christ had existence in glory with the Father before the world? No sophistry or evasion can do away [with] the very evident sense of the phrase. It is likely many different opinions may arise in the minds of different persons concerning the nature and degree of the glory here spoken of; and men fond of disputation and argument may spend much time in conjectures upon it: but if the words of Christ himself can be supposed to have any sense or meaning, his preexistence and connection with the Father must be admitted. “He had glory with the Father before the world was.”2 Nor could so plain a passage of Scripture ever have been thought ambiguous, were it not that, passing by the first, and most obvious meaning, men suffer themselves to be led away in quest of something more mysterious than the plain sense naturally suggests.
So again, when our blessed Lord, upon various occasions, expressed himself on this subject, and without a figure, in words like these; “I came down from heaven,” (John 6:38). I proceeded forth, and came from God,” (John 8:42). “Before Abraham was, I am,”3 (John 8:58). “No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven,” (John 3:13). And in a conference with the Jews, he contrasted his nature and character with theirs, in language liable to no misconception; “Ye are from beneath, I am from above. Ye are of this world, I am not of this world,” (John 8:23). “What, and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?” (John 8:62). What construction can anyone possibly put upon these very plain phrases that shall deprive them of their evident sense and meaning, “that Christ came down from heaven,” and that “he proceeded, and came forth from God.”
It must be, I conceive, departing exceedingly wide from the point intended, to reduce them into mere figure and metaphor. That the apostles of Christ accepted them in their literal sense is evident; for upon an occasion of this kind, when our blessed Lord was discoursing to them upon the subject, and expressed himself in much the same language, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father,” (John 16:28), his disciples acknowledged that Christ spake plainly, and spake not to them in proverbs; and they expressed their faith in this doctrine in terms which, one would have thought, might have been safely followed by all sincere professors of Christianity to the end of the world: “Now (say they) are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God,” (John 16:30).
Once again, When the apostle John says, in one of his epistles, “We know the Son of God is come:” and again, in his gospel, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father:” in both these passages the meaning is liable to no misapprehension, upon, the supposition of Christ’s eternal nature; but the whole is abundantly clear, intelligible, and not to be mistaken. But put this out of the question, how ridiculous and absurd would it be to say, “the Son of God is come,” if Christ was not really and truly the Son of God, and did not possess an exclusive privilege to this title? or, why should the apostle particularize so plain and obvious a proposition, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” if our Lord was simply no other than a human being, and never existed before his birth from the Virgin Mary? How should a human being be otherwise made than in flesh? And whom should he dwell with but with men? Above all, what possible claim could this man of flesh have to the dignity mentioned; the glory which was beheld in him, as of “the only begotten of the Father?” Either I am greatly deceived, or there are many absurdities and even contradictions, in attempting to reconcile those phrases with the Socinian creed! And yet it should seem, nothing can be more plain and evident than those passages of Scripture are, when read without prejudice, and accepted in their first and most obvious meaning.
And here I cannot help digressing one moment, just to observe, how necessary it must be for all Christians who are sincerely desirous of coming to the knowledge of the truth, carefully to consult the sacred volume, in its pure and uncorrupt state, and in its own beautiful simplicity and plainness, unaltered by commentators of any description. It was the commendation given to the Thessalonians by the apostle Paul, that when “they received the word of God, they received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh in them that believe,” (1 Thess. 2:13).
But I proceed to the further selection of those passages of Scripture which more particularly point out the pre-existence and dignity of our blessed Lord.
Among the many evidences of this kind, the exordium of St. John’s gospel claims our first attention; for it is so much to our purpose, and confirms so decidedly this great article of our faith, that, if the authority of an inspired writer can be at all considered as conclusive or satisfactory, we need no further quotation in proof of it. Either it establishes the fact itself by indisputable testimony, or it must be considered as introducing the sacred contents which follow in his gospel, by a falsehood and contradiction in the very preface. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God.” This memorable passage, which so fully and circumstantially asserts the divinity of Jesus (by ascribing to him such attributes as are only compatible with Godhead), hath been examined with the most nice and scrupulous criticism, from the days of the apostles to the present hour, in order to invalidate the meaning, and to prove, if possible, that by the term Word, the sacred writer intended nothing personal. But all attempts of this kind must be insufficient. For when the apostle so plainly declares, that the Word was not only in the beginning with God, but actually was God, surely nothing can be more decisive: for this would be utterly impossible without admitting a personality. And, as if to remove all objections, and that no doubt might remain concerning the true sense of the word, it is remarkable, that the same apostle (who must be supposed the best commentator on himself), uses the same expression in one of his epistles, and there annexes such positive qualities to the term as fully decide the point in question. “That (says he) which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life.” Terms these, highly expressive of person, and impossible to be accepted in any other sense. And observe how striking to the purpose what follows: “For the life (says he) was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us,” (1 John 1:1, 2). “That eternal life;” what a sublime expression! which not only confirms the certainty of its being personal, but also proves, according to the apostle’s ideas, the eternal nature of Him to whom it belongs. Both which are well known to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ. So conclusive and satisfactory are the writings of this beloved apostle in the very exordium both of his gospel and epistle, on this important doctrine. And were not facts against it, I should think it impossible that anyone could open the Testament to these chapters, and read them with an unprejudiced mind, who could close the book without the fullest conviction of the divinity of Jesus.
Again: the apostle Paul exhorting the Corinthians to charity, makes use of the following remarkable passage: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich,” (2 Cor. 8:9). In this verse the apostle plainly refers to a point which he assumes as a thing unquestionable, and which the Corinthians were not only informed of, but believed; namely, the dignity of Christ, previous to his appearance in the flesh. For otherwise the expression is unwarrantable and false. Christ we know was born and bred in the humblest poverty, and from the first hour of his entrance into the world, to his departure out of it, respecting worldly circumstances, was most poor, and wretched indeed: how then could the apostle call him rich? It is, therefore, clear that he alludes to that glory which Christ himself tells us he had with the Father before the world was, and which he put off when he came upon earth. And it is still more worthy your observation, that the apostle refers this to the consideration of the Corinthians, not as a new matter which they had never heard of before, or was at all questioned, or disputed among them, but as a fact with which they were all well acquainted, and which no man denied: “Ye know (says he) the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich,” Once more; the same apostle, in his Epistle to the Philippians, hath a passage equally demonstrative of this doctrine. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” (Phil. 2:5, et seq.). I am perfectly aware what a variety of constructions has been put upon this memorable passage of Scripture, and how different a sense has been made of it, so as to make it correspond to the particular tenets of different denominations of Christians. Melancholy proof of human infirmity! But let commentators be ever so widely divided in opinion as to certain expressions contained in it; whether, when the apostle says, “Christ was in the form of God,” he meant a full, and absolute equality, as some have insisted on, or whether he meant that Christ was in the form only, and his dignity of a subordinate and secondary nature, as others have supposed; give the most unbounded scope to the expression you please, yet all the freedom of translation in the world cannot do away the evident sense of one fact there asserted, namely, that Christ was in the form of God, before he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant; of consequence it follows, that our blessed Lord had an antecedent state to his humiliation, and appearance in the flesh: so that his being and existence will remain unquestionable, whatever meaning shall be assigned to the phrase of “being in the form of God.” Admit, therefore (what on these premises cannot, I think, be denied), that the words of the apostle fairly express this doctrine, and this is all I am contending for at present. Much more, I am convinced, might be made of this passage of Scripture, for it certainly contains great information of our Lord’s dignity and character. But these points will more properly meet us under another part of the subject.
From the several quotations of Scripture which have now been brought before you, the first point I had in view to prove, namely, our Lord’s pre-existence, is, I hope, fully established. You are in possession of an authority which hath ever been held sacred and unquestionable. And it now remains with you, under the light of grace, to determine for yourselves the sufficiency of the evidence. The passages I have selected from others of a similar meaning (and which, if needful, might have been subjoined), are of the plainest nature, and such as I think cannot easily be misunderstood. Let me beg of you, therefore, to read them only with a proper attention and with a cool unprejudiced mind, and accept them in the sense which is most obvious, and such as every candid person would naturally take them in. And, if the Lord be your teacher, I would venture to rest the cause I am pleading upon the event of their testimony, so clear and explicit are they, in support of this important article of our faith.
But this doctrine will receive a further confirmation, by an evidence still more striking and palpable, when we proceed to consider our blessed Lord under those great and distinguishing attributes in which the sacred writers have presented him, as the Creator and Preserver of the universe.
All the works of the creation are expressly ascribed to Christ, in many parts of Scripture; and as these are the greatest acts of omnipotency we know of, or can conceive, so do they afford the most positive assurance of his Godhead.
The same gospel of St. John, which expresses the pre-existence of the Eternal Word with the Father, speaks of him, at the same time, as the Creator of the universe. For, after saying that the Word was in the beginning with God, and was God, he immediately adds, “All things were made by him.” And, as if this were not, sufficiently expressive, he repeats the same truth in a more full and comprehensive manner, by declaring, that “without him was not any thing made that was made.” Thus raising our ideas of the omnipotency of Christ to the most exalted height, in clothing him with those great and distinguishing attributes of the Deity. The same truth is assorted again in a subsequent verse, when he tells us, “that he was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not,” (John 1:2; 3:10). No form of words can more fully testify the power of Christ than the works which are here so plainly ascribed to him; and as these operations of our Lord are equal to the highest conceptions we can possibly frame of a divine being, the consequence is evident, that Christ possessed a divine nature. “His eternal power and Godhead (as the apostle Paul observes), are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” (Rom. 1:20).
But it is not on the testimony of one apostle only that we ground our belief that Christ is the Creator of the universe; there are others of the sacred writers which confirm the same doctrine.
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews, in his first chapter, both ascribes the works of creation and preservation to our Lord, and speaks of him under such great and distinguishing characters, as are altogether irreconcilable with common sense, upon any other idea than that Christ possessed all the attributes of the Godhead. “God (says he), who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers, by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power.” Words surely as full, and expressive of the divinity of Jesus, as language is capable of furnishing, and which it would be little less than blasphemy to apply to any created being whatever. Indeed this whole chapter is so replete with terms denoting the omnipotency and eternity of Christ, and ascribing to him every divine honor, that the sacred writer seems to labor for expression to describe the dignity and greatness of his person. He calls our Lord the Son of God, the “brightness of his glory,” and “the express image of his person;” of a nature “superior to angels,” and most essentially different from all the servants of God, whether prophets or ministering spirits, whether angels or men, which have been sent forth to minister unto them who are the heirs of salvation; the “Creator and Upholder of all things; an Eternal Being, whose throne is forever and ever;” and whom at his first entrance into the world the angels of God were commanded to worship. When I behold the blessed Redeemer of the universe thus described, under the power of inspiration, as possessing all the peculiar attributes of the Godhead, I am astonished how any man who professes to receive the holy Scriptures as the guide of his faith, can behold this divine person so clearly, and circumstantially pointed out, under such great and eternal characters, and yet consider him still as a created being. What language or expressions could the sacred writer have made use of, to convey to us, in stronger terms than he has done, the certainty of our Lord’s divinity? Every verse of this chapter seems more or less expressive of it; and so much to the purpose is the whole taken together, that if this convinces not, all further application to Scripture on this point, I fear, will be superfluous and vain.
But though these passages might be sufficient to answer my present argument, and I trust your faith needs no further reference, in order to establish your hearts firm in the persuasion that our Lord is the Creator of the universe; yet, as it cannot but be gratifying to every sincere believer in this important doctrine, to find the truth of it attested in many other parts of the New Testament, I shall add one or two more of the same kind with those we have already reviewed, for its confirmation.
In the third chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the sacred writer draws a comparison between Moses the great lawgiver of the Old Covenant, and Jesus the Mediator of the New, in order to point out the vast inferiority of the former, when brought in competition with the latter, by reason of the very different nature of their persons, and the different characters they sustained. “For this man,” says he, “was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded a house hath more honour than the house, for every house is built by some man, but he that built all things is God,” (Heb. 3:3). Now here is another decisive proof, and not easily to be mistaken, that the sacred writer considered Christ as the Creator of the world, and possessed a divinity equal to such an operation; adding, as an unavoidable inference from what he hath said, that “he who built all things must be God.” And to confirm this still more, he proceeds, in the following verse, to point out in what that distinction, which so highly discriminated our Lord from Moses, did consist. “Moses,” says he, “verily was faithful in all his house as a servant, but Christ as a son over his own house, whose house are we.” This, it is true, is a figurative mode of expression, but so very plain as to require but little illustration. The apostle couches it under the image of an household, where God is considered as the Father of the family, and Christ the Son and heir. Moses and all other messengers whether angels, prophets, or apostles, are servants and attendants only. The superiority of our blessed Lord’s character, and the divinity of his person, could hardly have been represented under any figure more apt or expressive than this; which so fully points out his relationship with the Father, and the essential line of distinction which must for ever take place between the son and heir of a family, and the highest order of servants whatever. Consider the character of Moses as it is mentioned in Scripture, and then behold him in the class of servants to our Lord, and you will require nothing more to show you the very different characters they sustained, and, of consequence, the very different point of view in which they ought to be regarded. “There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land; and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel,” (Deut. 34:10-12).
So again, we read upon another occasion, the decided superiority of Moses over all prophets and messengers whom Jehovah ever sent, when Miriam and Aaron rebelled against the government of Moses, and assumed an equal authority with him. “Hath the Lord spoken only to him,” say they, “hath he not spoken also by us?” The determination of God is full to the point. “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:6. et seq.). Such is the exalted description given in Scripture of this highly favored servant of the Lord. But the apostle tells us, that this Moses, this mighty and greatest of all prophets that arose in Israel, when brought in comparison with Jesus was nothing. He was but a servant to Christ; and though faithful in all his house; “for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;” yet, in every point of view, he was subordinate to him who was a Son in his own house, “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person.” Can anything with more pointed emphasis define the dignity of our blessed Lord’s character?
You will not, I hope, think it trespassing too much upon your time and patience, if I add to these testimonies one passage more from Scripture, in confirmation of the important doctrine we are considering; for it is peculiarly apposite to our purpose, and seems expressive of every particular by which the divinity of Jesus as an omnipotent Being can be illustrated and proved. The passage I allude to is in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. In which, speaking of Jesus Christ, he thus expresses himself; “who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature.4 By him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
This passage is most happily calculated to clear up every possible doubt (if any could yet remain) concerning the real dignity of our blessed Lord; and it is altogether so much to the purpose, that no form of words could have been brought within the same compass, equally strong and expressive to the point in question. It should seem, indeed, as though the apostle, by the spirit of prophecy, had foreseen the doubts and objections of certain Christians, and particularly directed his attention, in this place, to silence every scruple concerning our Lord’s true character, by declaring his possession of such attributes as could only be consistent with true and proper divinity. For to show Christ’s pre-existence, he first styles him the “image of the invisible God, born or begotten before every creature.”
To prove his possession of unlimited power, he next declares, that “all things were created by him:” and that no one, either through weakness or perversion, might misconstrue his sense and meaning, he goes on to prove, that Christ possessed this sovereign power inherently, and un-derived from another; for all things (he says) were not only created by him, but for him: thereby silencing all the arguments of those who allow Christ to have been the Creator of the world, yet regard him not as the efficient cause, but merely as the agent of his Father; whereas the apostle positively says, “All things were created by him, and for him.” And still more, to put the matter beyond all doubt, he repeats the same truth again, in saying, that “by him do all things consist.” And lastly, to remove all possible ideas of a local power circumscribed by space, or limited in operation to this world only, he tells us, that “by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth;” not simply material substances, such as our eyes behold, and no other, but immaterial, “visible and invisible:” and these not only of the lowest order, but even the highest and the best, “whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all without exception were created by him, and for him, and by him do all things consist.” Thus, as with an indelible seal, the apostle, in this chapter, hath stamped the certainty of the divine nature of the blessed Redeemer of the world, ascribing such attributes and perfections to him, as are utterly irreconcilable with any possible idea of a created being, and can with justice be applied to none but the one true God.
I have now finished all the quotations from Scripture which I conceive to be necessary in proof of the great object I had in view in this discourse. And if the evidence of the inspired writers can be at all depended upon, no possible question will remain of the truth of what they have so positively asserted, that our Lord existed in a state of glory antecedent to his incarnation, and is the Creator and Preserver of the universe. And surely these perfections include such essential attributes of the Godhead, as fully prove our Lord’s claim to this distinguished character. For (as an apostle justly reasons), “He who built all things is God.”
When we behold the blessed Redeemer of the world revealed to us under such august and eternal distinctions, possessing an existence “in glory with his Father before all worlds,” the Maker and Upholder of all things; is it possible to see our Lord thus represented, without being struck with horror at a presumption so dreadful as that of dethroning the Son of God, and reducing him to the level of a poor creature like ourselves? Would this meek and humble Saviour have arrogated to himself divine honors, unless his pretensions had been well founded? Or can any conceive that he would have declared he possessed glory with his Father, with other expressions of a similar nature, intimating his pre-existent state, when that existence began only at his incarnation? Much less would the apostles of such a Master have dared to apply to him the distinguishing characteristics of the supreme God, but upon the most perfect conviction of their justice and propriety?
Pause one moment, I beseech you, and seriously consider the importance of these questions. No act of omnipotence which our present faculties are capable of conceiving surpasses the works of creation. And hence we find, in the Old Testament, when God is pleased to reveal himself to the Israelites, in order to impress their minds with a proper awe, and reverence of the astonishing greatness of his character; he refers them to the works of creation as proofs of his omnipotency, and calls upon them to draw a just and proper distinction between his eternal nature, and the perishable idols of the heathens around them. “Thus saith the Lord, who hath created the heavens, and stretched them out; I am the Lord that maketh all things, that stretcheth forth the heavens alone, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself. Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be any after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and beside me there is no Saviour. Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal, saith the Holy One? Behold the gods of the heathen are of nothing, and their works of nought: Produce your cause, saith the Lord, bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob; Let them bring forth and shew us what shall happen, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together,” (Isaiah 50 & 51 &c). In these, and the like awful characters, hath the Lord displayed the sovereignty of his power, as instanced in the works of the creation; and there is no one of the divine attributes so frequently referred to in the Holy Scripture, in order to strike the mind of man with a proper conviction of the greatness of God, as this of his omnipotency. Probably because it is best suited to our present conceptions, that are most likely, to be affected by great and magnificent objects.
But, perhaps, a difficulty may seem to arise, how to reconcile with each other those equivalent phrases, which ascribe the creation of the universe both to the Father and to the Son. If God the Father be thus clearly revealed in Scripture as the maker of all things, and if the same authority teach us to understand the same of the Son; how is this to be consistently explained? This difficulty is at once removed by a reference to the same unerring standard of truth, from whence we learn, that there is such an intimate union subsisting between the Father and the Son, that the acts of the one are equally the acts of the other: according to our Lord’s own account of this mystery, “Whatsoever works the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son,” (John 5:19). In short, the fact itself once admitted, that Christ is the Creator of all things, the doctrine of the divine unity will naturally be included. If you wish to go further, and question how, and in what manner this unity consists? here I remain silent; reason is incompetent to answer; and the word of God, which is our only guide in the mysterious points of religion, hath not condescended to inform us. Perhaps it was impossible to explain it in terms suitable to the apprehensions of mankind. It was thought sufficient, therefore, to give proofs of the fact itself, without accounting for the method by which this connection is preserved. Our Lord’s own declarations enable us to ascertain the certainty of the doctrine, but they leave the mind wholly at a loss to form any just idea of the manner of its operation. “I and my Father are one,” (John 10:30). “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” (John 5:17). “All things that the Father hath are mine,” (John 16:15). “I can do nothing of myself, but my Father which dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. “What things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise,” (John 5:19). These expressions very evidently determine the truth of the thing itself; but how, and in what way, this hypostatic union is preserved, I have not the smallest conception: no more than I can explain those equally mysterious passages of the apostle when he says, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” (2 Cor. 5:19). “And in him (that is in Christ) dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” (Col. 2:9). But when I trace, through every part of the sacred volume, the evident footsteps of a Being equal to all the ideas I can possibly frame of Godhead, in the person of Jesus Christ; and such actions as leave, at an infinite distance every character among the sons of men; I am deeply smitten with the conviction of his divine nature, and can plainly perceive that there is somewhat more intended than what at first appears in these words of Christ: “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, but the Son, and to whom the Son will reveal him.”5 In short, when I contemplate the whole of this awful and mysterious subject, as it is connected with the history of our blessed Lord, and consider the the defective state of our present faculties, the very great probability (to say the least of it,) that human beings, after all their researches, will never penetrate very deeply into the secret dispensations of God: I stand amazed that any man should be bold enough to refuse his assent to doctrines because they are not commensurate to reason; much more that he should deny the divinity of the Son of God upon the presumptive conclusions of his own mind, in opposition to such a body of evidence as is contained in every part of the pure oracles of God. While the argument remains at all doubtful, which the hardest Socinian will scarcely venture to pronounce finished, surely it must be safer to err (if it be an error) on one side than the other; to give too much dignity to the great Saviour of the world, whom the Father delights to honor, rather than too little. For the very reason which Christ gives, why the future judgment is committed unto the Son is on this express account, “that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father; and he that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”
But I am anticipating the observations which will come with greater force and propriety hereafter. Let me only hope that enough has now been said to convince your judgment, that He, of whom these great things are so confidently said, cannot possibly be a creature. And since common sense revolts at the absurdity of supposing him divine, and yet not God; I trust we are among the number of those humble and teachable minds, who presume not to reject the testimony of Scripture, because the doctrine of God Incarnate is too mysterious for reason to explore.
1Matthew 11:25. I have often thought, what an awakening consideration arises out of the doctrine contained in these words of Jesus: that sacred truths are “hidden from the wise and prudent,” while they are “revealed unto babes.” And when from the written word, we look into the world, for the evidences of the fact, and find such a wonderful correspondence between them; when we see men of the first abilities in human learning, the merest novices in divine things; while among the illiterate and uneducated, in the humbler walks of life, we as frequently discover a proficiency, and even depth of knowledge, in that science, which maketh “wise unto salvation;” the mind is awfully impressed in the review, and cannot help being led, almost instinctively as it were, to confess that there must be some more than ordinary cause operating to such events. Whatever the predisposing means are, the fact itself is undeniable; the peculiar and distinguishing truths of the gospel are hidden from the wise and prudent, though revealed unto babes. As the matter is not altogether irrelevant to the interesting subject we are upon, it will not be considered, I should hope, an unpardonable digression, if I offer an observation in this way upon it. I should not have thought it proper to have interrupted the progress of the subject itself, by introducing it in the body of the Sermon; but in a note it is not, I perceive, so liable to objection.
By the fall of man, there is in every son and daughter of Adam, not only a total disinclination to the study of divine things; but a total inability, until restored by sovereign grace to a new and spiritual life in Christ, to the apprehension of them. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor. 2:14). Observe, it is said, he cannot know them; because, being by nature dead in trespasses and sins, until regenerated, and spiritual life given unto him in Christ, he hath no spiritual faculties by which he might receive spiritual things. He is as incapable of spiritual food, as a dead man of animal sustenance. Hence, the solemn words of Christ, “Ye must be born again,” (John 3:7). Until this Almighty act is wrought, the sinner, though he hears with the bodily ear, the great truths of God, neither can discern them, nor receive them. Hence, no less than seven times in scripture, the Holy Ghost hath recorded those awful words: “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not,” (Isa. 6:9; Matt. 13:14; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 7:40; Acts 28:26; Rom. 11:9). Click here to return to reading.
2 I detain the reader for a moment to ponder these sublime words. They were spoken by the Lord God, and spoken to the Father. And there are these two most blessed but most mysterious things folded up in them, which baffle all our intellectual faculties to explain; namely, “He had glory with the Father before the world.” And 2ndly, He saith, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was,” (John 17:5). Now here are several striking particulars. First, His own essential glory which he had in common with the Father, and the Holy Ghost. 2dly, He desires that he might be glorified by the Father “with his own self:” and this is evidently as God and Man Mediator; for the essential glory of Godhead was, and is, his own, and never to be asked for, nor given. And, 3dly, here is implied a somewhat of glory as Mediator, even glorified by the Father “with his own self;” which as it was before the world, so will it be, when there is no world; and to which none of the members of his mystical body can attain. And this is again expressed by the Lord; “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father!” (John 6:46). Hence it follows, that that holy portion of our nature, by being taken into union with one of the Persons in the Godhead, possesses all divine faculties, so as to see Jehovah in his Trinity of Persons, who is himself invisible to all his creatures. What a view doth this one scripture give of the infinite greatness of our God and Saviour? Click here to return to reading.
3 It is worthy to be remarked, that the same phrase, I am, is made use of by Christ in the 24th verse of this chapter, and an awful denunciation added to it; “If ye believe not that I am, ye shall die in your sins.” Our translators, by the addition of the pronoun lie, have very much enervated, if not totally altered, the sense of the expression. The original is, ean,gar me pistensete sti ego eimi, &c. [if for not you believe that I am; ed.]. Click here to return to reading.
4 “First-born of every creature.” I have preserved the phrase as it stands in our present translation, because I presume not to correct it; but it is well known, the original, which is prwtutokV pada ktsewV literally means the first-begotten before all creation; and the general sense of the verse clearly makes it so. For he who made all things in heaven and earth, must himself have had existence un-derived from creation. Click here to return to reading.
5 Matthew 11:27. Here is a memorable text of Scripture, which, if I mistake not, affords the most decisive determination to the great point in question, and is of itself sufficient to prove the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, from the incomprehensibility of his nature. There is a reiteration of the doctrine indeed, and the truth is confirmed in a twofold testimony. If “no man knoweth the Son but the Father;” is not this at once a positive proof that his nature must be infinite which is known only to the infinite mind of God? And could this be said, but upon the fullest evidence, that he of whom it is said is of the same essence with God? But as if this was not enough, the fact is stated again under another form: “neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” Here is, if possible, a still more palpable testimony to the same great truth. For I suppose the incomprehensibility of the divine nature will hardly be questioned; so that by admitting the perfect apprehension of the Father by the Son, while it is hidden, and unknown, to every other being in the universe; nothing can more decidedly prove the Deity of the Son. The reciprocal knowledge of the person, of each other, in the unity of the Godhead, (which is among the distinguishing attributes of Godhead, and which, forever draws the line of separation between the infinite Creator and all created beings whatever;) marks most accurately the great character of each. So very conclusive and satisfactory in point is this single text of Scripture.
But while so much may be gathered from it, by way of carrying conviction to the breast of the unbeliever; it ought not to be passed over and forgotten, what a refreshing consolation it offers at the same time to the sincere follower of Jesus. Though the knowledge both of the Father and of the Son is hidden from all penetration by the mere light of the human understanding; yet where Christ is graciously pleased to afford the knowledge of the Father, every proper apprehension suited to the present condition of man is then given to those humble souls, to whom the Son will reveal him. They know indeed both the Father and the Son, by the power of that grace which they feel in their hearts. They know that Christ is “one with the Father, over all God blessed for ever: being rich unto all that call upon him.” And from “the anointing which they have received from him, they need not that any man should teach them;” but can say with the apostle, “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ,” (1 John 1:3). Click here to return to reading.
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