Divinity of Christ
“But whom say ye that I am?” Matthew 16:15
The numerous and unexceptionable evidences of scripture in favor of our Lord’s God, have now, in a very circumstantial manner, been brought before you. The subject has been traced through the whole of the sacred writings, (and I hope free from prepossession or partiality) in order to ascertain the real character of our glorious God and Saviour! And I would willingly persuade myself, that the result of the inquiry hath terminated in impressing your mind with the clearest conviction that Jesus is the Son of God.
To these testimonies there seems nothing further necessary to be added, except it is the opinion of the first and immediate followers of Christ, his apostles. It becomes, indeed, a very material and important question, in the final decision of the whole argument, to inquire what were the sentiments of these holy and inspired men upon the subject? For their opinion is of the greatest consequence, and must carry with it considerable weight with every candid mind. And if it can be shown (as I think it may without much difficulty) that they entertained a perfect persuasion of the Godhead of Jesus, I should apprehend there ought to be no hesitation in adopting their sentiments and taking them for our pattern, in subscribing to this great article of our faith.
That it was the general opinion of those faithful servants of Christ, (as far as we are able to gather from their words or writings), hath been, in a great measure, proved from the occasional quotations which, in the course of these Sermons, have been already made. But on a point of so much consequence, it may not be amiss to examine, somewhat more distinctly, the particular opinion of each of them.
The investigation of this subject will require your present attention.
The question in the text appears to me to be the most suitable to this purpose; “But whom say ye that I am?” It was originally proposed by our Lord himself to his disciples on this very point. Whether Christ intended it altogether for the trial of their faith, or whether he meant that their opinion might become the standard and guide to succeeding ages of the church on this grand question, I shall not determine; yet I cannot but think there is something very remarkable, both in the manner of our Lord’s interrogating his disciples upon it, and the observations he made in consequence of Peter’s answer. For, after Christ had gathered from them the general sentiments of mankind concerning his person and character, he then desired to know, “what was their opinion upon the subject?” When Simon Peter, for himself and his brethren, said, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God;” had we any doubts what the apostle meant by this expression, the observations which our Lord made upon Peter’s answer would immediately remove them, by determining the sense in which he considered it. “Blessed,” (says Christ) “art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” If Peter meant nothing more by these words, than that he and his fellow apostles considered Jesus as a servant, or messenger from God; surely Christ would not have pronounced him to be blessed for the confession; for multitudes, who knew but little of our Lord’s character, more than from seeing the miracles he daily wrought, confessed the same thing. “A great prophet,” (say they) is risen up among us, and God hath visited his people,” (Luke 7:16). Neither would the discovery have been so very remarkable and important, that flesh and blood could not have attained to it, but it must have proceeded from the immediate revelation of God, if, at the same time, it amounted to nothing higher than the belief that Christ was simply a man, and differed not from any former prophet, except in the extent of his commission. To me, I confess, it appears one of the plainest propositions possible, that Peter (and of consequence his fellow apostles with him), intended by the expression to profess his belief that our Lord was a being of that superlative nature, and so intimately united to God, as to be his Son; and that Christ considered the apostle’s words in this sense, and pronounced a blessing upon him for the profession of such a faith.1
This passage serves to give us some idea of the general opinion of the apostles concerning the person and character of their blessed Master. But the object I proposed from the present discourse was, to learn (as far at least as the Holy Scriptures can inform us), what was the particular sentiment of each of them on this momentous point, separately and individually.
Before I proceed to this, however, it may be proper to premise a few words respecting the validity of their opinion.
When we consider the number, the situation, and the character of the apostles, it is impossible to suppose that they, could be under the influence of a delusion themselves, or capable of joining in a confederacy, with a view to delude others.
The humble prospects of Christ’s religion favored no such idea, nor was there any object they could have proposed to themselves to have been answered by it. They had, no doubt, at the first, in common with their countrymen the Jews, many prejudices to vanquish previous to their becoming sincere believers in our Lord’s character as the Messiah. And we find it was necessary that evidences, again and again, should be brought before them to accomplish this purpose. Therefore, the establishment of their own conviction became necessary, before they could be supposed qualified to attempt the conviction of others. So that when we hear one of them declare, that the truth of the facts they delivered was, “what they had seen with their eyes, what they had looked upon, and their hands had handled of the word of life,” (1 John 1:1), we may very safely conclude, that as they could have no inducement whatever to deceive the world, so neither is it credible that they could have been deceived themselves.
But this is not all. Their opinion is still more highly deserving our reverence and regard from the supernatural assistance which they are well known to have received, in order to qualify them as witnesses of the great truths of the gospel.
The promise of this divine aid was given to them by Christ himself before his departure. And it was declared by him, among other purposes, to be one grand reason for which he left the world, that he might “send them the blessed Spirit of truth, which should guide them into all truth,” (John 16:13). But indeed, not only from the authority of Scripture do we derive the testimony of the inspiration of the apostles, but our reason confirms the certainty of it, by the strongest evidence. For how should a few poor, ignorant fishermen of Galilee, dull, and unlearned even to a proverb, as they were, undertake upon their own strength, the arduous enterprise of converting a world to the doctrine of a crucified Redeemer? If we consider them, indeed, as endued with power from on high, every difficulty at once vanishes. Supported by this divine aid, all opposition must fall before them; and their testimony thereby, becomes the greatest and most convincing that is possible. That divine Spirit of truth, which was promised “to guide them into all truth,” would not, we may be assured, leave them ignorant respecting so important a point as that of the real character of their Lord: especially as their testimony would become the great standard of faith with sincere believers to the latest ages of the church. So that we may, without the least hesitation, place an implicit confidence in their opinion, and be convinced that those holy men of God, in all that relates to the person and doctrines of their Lord, “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” (2 Pet. 1:21).
This being premised, I proceed now to the grand question, What were the sentiments of those servants of Jesus concerning the real character of their Master?
The testimony I shall begin with, is that of John the Baptist, whose early ministry claims this precedence. This man was not an apostle of Christ, indeed, but being his forerunner, may very properly be classed among the servants of our Lord. His evidence is the strongest that can be, and we shall have a better conception of it, if we previously consider the high terms in which he is spoken of in holy Scripture. It was said of him, by the angel who predicted his birth, that “he should be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb,” (Luke 1:15). And the Evangelist St. John says, “that he was sent from God for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe,” (John 1:7). A witness from God surely challenges a more than ordinary attention from man! And, as if these relations of John were not sufficient to impress our minds with the strongest conviction of the greatness of his character, our Lord himself sums up the account when he says, that “among them that are born of women, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist,” (Matt. 11:11). Indeed, there was somewhat so singular and striking about the person of John, that when he began his ministry, “all men mused in their hearts whether he himself were not the Christ,” (Luke 3:15). Such was the eminence and sanctity of John the Baptist! Let us hear therefore, this man’s testimony concerning our blessed Lord.
He opened his commission by preaching the doctrine of repentance as the necessary means for “preparing the way of the Lord;” and in all his discourses constantly referred to him that was to follow him. And that no question might arise whose way it was that he prepared, the apostle Paul, in his sermon to the Ephesians, hath determined the matter. “John,” (says he) “verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus,” (Acts 19:4). And when the Jewish Sanhedrin, in consequence of this new doctrine, and the multitudes that flocked from all parts to hear John preach, sent priests and Levites to demand who he was, and whether he were the Christ, he disclaimed all pretensions to that high title, and modestly assumed to himself the office only of being his forerunner. “I am the voice,” (says he) “of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said, the prophet Esaias,” (John 1:3). It were unnecessary, I should suppose, to observe, that the prophet Isaiah, when predicting the Messiah’s approach, (in his 14th chapter) literally described his Harbinger under this exact character. One part, however, of this prophecy (and that a most essential part in proof of the doctrine we are now treating of), I must desire may be attended to with that particular and respectful notice to which it is entitled by its great importance; namely, that this voice, which it was predicted should cry in the wilderness, was to prepare the way of the Lord: not the way of a man, however great or distinguished; but “the way of the Lord;” to make straight in the desert, “an highway for our God:” that then the glory of the Lord was to be revealed, and all flesh should see it together, (see Isa. 40:3). Admitting, therefore, what has never been disputed, that John the Baptist was he whom the prophet had in view in this memorable prophecy, which the Evangelists declare, and our Lord himself confirms, (compare the Evangelists in loco with Isa. 40); nothing can more fully define the dignity of his sacred person, whose way he came to prepare.
And that John considered Christ in this exalted point of view is evident from the account he gives of himself when compared to him. “I, indeed, baptize you with water, unto repentance, but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost,” (Matt. 3:11). What humiliating notions must this “greatest among them that are born of women” have entertained of himself: and what unequalled ideas of his divine Lord, the very “hatchet of whose shoes” he thought himself “unworthy to unloose!” Is it possible he could have expressed the Godhead of Jesus in stronger terms than these?
Again:—The day after John had given his answer to the question of the Priests and Levites, he repeated his testimony of our Lord, with other more particular marks of distinction; for, seeing Jesus coming towards him, he saith, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I spake, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me, for he was before me,” (John 1:29-30), evidently alluding to our Lord’s preexistence; for, with respect to the appearance of Christ in the flesh, John was born six months before him, and therefore he could not have said this, but in reference to his former being. But what renders the Baptist’s testimony so highly conclusive and important, is the assurance he gives, that all his knowledge of Jesus was derived from supernatural information he had received. That, as to himself, he was totally ignorant both of the nature and dignity of Christ, until these things were confirmed to him by the corresponding tokens which attended the baptism of Jesus, and which he who had called him to the office of an herald, pointed out as the distinguishing marks by which he should know the Messiah: “I knew him not,” (says he) “but he that sent me to baptize, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God,” (John 1:33-34).
Such is the testimony of John the Baptist on the important question of our Lord’s Godhead. After the review we have taken of his evidence, it would almost be an insult to the understanding, to demand what must have been the opinion of the Baptist concerning the person of Christ. For surely it is impossible to suppose, that he could have ascribed to our Lord so many distinguishing properties of a divine Being, but under a perfect assurance of his divine nature. When, therefore, we recollect that one principal object of John’s embassy was for a “witness to bear witness to the truth, (John 5:33), that all men through him might believe,” (John 1:7), his single testimony ought to have more weight than a thousand arguments, to strengthen and confirm the faith of believers in this great article of our religion. And though, as our blessed Redeemer hath himself observed, “he hath greater witness than that of John, (John 5:36), and receives not testimony from man,” (John 5:34) because, in fact, he needs it not; yet to us, it becomes a very strong collateral consideration, in addition to the numerous evidences with which this principle of our faith is everywhere supported in the sacred writings. And, as I am well assured, the testimony of the Baptist cannot but be highly gratifying to every sincere believer in the divinity of Jesus; so I hope this man’s evidence who came, let it be remembered, “a witness to the truth, that all men through him might believe,” will be seriously and coolly considered by everyone who may be in danger of being led away by a different persuasion, before this grand and distinguishing article of the Christian church is relinquished.2
From John the Baptist, let us proceed to Peter the Apostle, whose opinion concerning the character of Christ, must be equally acceptable, and together with it become of great weight in the argument.
That our Lord was of a divine nature, and differing most essentially from a mere man, in the sentiments of Peter, can hardly be questioned, from the several quotations of Scripture which we have already taken notice of; for such declarations as the apostle occasionally made, during the life of Jesus, cannot possibly be reconciled with a different opinion. Hence we hear him frequently expressing his faith, that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” But it is not barely assenting, in so many words, to this truth, that we consider as the only criterion of his judgment; for we find him also, testifying his belief by a corresponding behavior, as one that had the fullest persuasion of our Lord’s Godhead. Once, indeed, as if in a dependence upon it, attempting, at the command of Jesus, to walk upon the water, which plainly implied an unbounded confidence in the power of Christ, (Matt. 14:28). Such conduct is not to be accounted for, upon principles of common sense, with the supposition that all this while Peter believed his Master to be no more than a mere man, and in every respect the same as himself, except in the commission he had received from God.
But there are circumstances yet more pointed to indicate the sentiments of Peter, during some particular occasions, in the life of Christ. As for example, in his retirement on the mount, when only Peter, and James, and John, were permitted to be present with him, and when our Lord was transfigured before them; the glory, or Shechinah, in which he then appeared, was so similar to the glory of Jehovah, on Mount Sinai, that it produced the same effect upon the apostles as that did on Moses, for “they feared as they entered into the cloud,” (Luke 9:34). And it was this resemblance, no doubt, which suggested to the mind of Peter the idea of building three tabernacles, on which the glory might remain, as it used to do upon the tabernacle in the wilderness.3 But the most remarkable circumstance in this awful scene, is the effect the voice, which came out of the cloud, produced upon the apostles, in declaring our Lord to be “the beloved Son of God;” for when they heard it, they fell upon their faces and “were sore afraid.” What sentiments the apostles entertained of their Lord, in consequence of this solemn transaction, is not, indeed, expressly said; but if their behavior can be supposed to imply anything, it gave the most positive assurance that they were deeply smitten with the consciousness of the greatness of his character. And had they, desired to show their perfect apprehension of the presence of the Godhead, they could not have done it more emphatically than by prostrating themselves to the earth as they did before Christ, and continuing in that situation until the vision was past.
Another incident in the life of Jesus, where the apostle Peter appears to have had the most lively sense of the Godhead of his Lord, was shown at the miraculous draught of fishes. The behavior of Peter upon this occasion seems to have arisen from a religious apprehension upon his mind, such as we read in Scripture affected holy men of old, when under a consciousness of the divine presence. Of this kind was the dread Jacob felt on seeing the face of God at Peniel, (Gen. 32:30); and of Gideon and Manoah, upon the appearance of an angel, (Judges 6:22; 13:22). The words which Peter made use of, in consequence of the wonderful capture of fishes, can only be explained upon the same principle. Convinced by this act of our Lord, that there was somewhat of a superior nature in his person, and fearing, after such a display of divine power, what other effects might follow, “he fell down at the knees of Jesus, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” (Luke 5:8).
These occurrences during the ministry of our Lord, afford very strong arguments to the persuasion, that Peter, as well as the other apostles, occasionally considered their blessed Lord under a character very different from that of a mere man. I say, occasionally; for it should be observed, that it is not during the season in which our blessed Lord continued among them, that we are to look for their full attestation of Christ’s divinity. Their faith was then imperfect and wavering; their notions of Jesus, crude and undetermined. It was a long time before they could be brought to relinquish their national prejudices, which had taught them to expect a mighty prince, and a deliverer, in the person of the Messiah, so as to receive our Lord under that character. Nor, indeed, was the conviction, that “it was he that should deliver Israel,” (Luke 22:21), firmly rooted in their minds, until the great events which followed the death of Jesus in the coming of the Holy Ghost, had corrected their judgment respecting the nature of the Messiah’s kingdom, and thoroughly instructed them, in what related to the great object of his mission.
The writings of the prophets, in their predictions of the promised Saviour, had, it is true, fully shown that some mysterious union would constitute his character; and that he should be both a suffering and a triumphant prince. Yet it were a weakness to suppose, that a body of ignorant fishermen should be so well read in Scripture as to comprehend what even the Sanhedrim could not explain. Hence, therefore, it is not during the life of Jesus, that we are to expect from the mouth of the apostles a settled and undeviating testimony to his Godhead. The expressions leading to this opinion, which we find they occasionally made use of, are rather to be considered as given in some peculiar moments, when the rays of his divine nature bursting through the veil of flesh in which he was clothed, forced a transient conviction from his astonished disciples; but which the familiar occurrences of a few days soon again effaced, similar to the common effects of the world. Some of the most splendid operations, however powerfully they may awaken the faculties of the mind, yet they produce only a momentary impression, which the recurrence of familiar objects very speedily removes. Somewhat of this kind was the situation of the apostles, with respect to the opinion they were prompted to entertain of their Lord’s divinity. They beheld numberless events in the life of Jesus, which plainly declared him to be more than mortal. His words, his actions, his miracles, in short, every occurrence connected with his more immediate ministry, were altogether great and illustrious; yet when viewed in conjunction with the common circumstances of a man, and of a very poor and humble man too, can we wonder that such things should frequently banish from the memory of the disciples the real greatness of their Lord’s character? To repeat, therefore, what was just before observed, we are not to look for a fixed opinion on this great question from the disciples, until the descent of the Holy Ghost. When, indeed, this divine illumination from above had fully informed their minds of the principles of the gospel, and they were qualified to become witnesses unto Christ, “both in Jerusalem and Judea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth,” (Acts 1:8); then may we expect to find, in all the accounts they give of the person and character of their Lord, one uniform and steady opinion. And such, I conceive, to have been the general sentiments of the apostles upon this important question; bearing, upon every occasion, as far as was expedient, with the leading object of their commission, a full evidence to the Godhead of Christ.
In particular, Peter, whose testimony we are now considering (and who holds so distinguished a rank among the apostles), hath left us sufficient information, both from his discourses and his writings, to conclude, that after being enlightened with the influences of the Holy Spirit, he was but the more strongly confirmed in the sentiments he had before occasionally entertained of the divine nature of Christ.
Whoever examines his first sermon, preached on the day of Pentecost, with an unprejudiced mind, will perceive strong marks of the perfect conviction which Peter must have possessed of this great truth. But in that critical season, when addressing a body of Jews upon the subject of our Lord’s mission and character, it certainly required no small degree of caution, how he insisted much upon so delicate a point as the Godhead of one whom they had lately crucified. It is worthy of observation, what discretion the apostle used upon this occasion, so as to engage the attention of his audience, and no less to remove their prejudices against the doctrine he was anxious to recommend. He begins his sermon, therefore, by appealing to their own knowledge, for the truth of the wonderful events which had distinguished the life of Jesus of Nazareth, “a man,” (says he) “approved of God among you, by miracles and wonders, and signs, which God did by him, in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know,” (Acts 2:22, et seq.). And to obviate any ill effects which might arise in their minds, from the recollection of the part they had acted in the death of Jesus, he declares that his death was entirely brought to pass “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God;” and that, in consequence of this divine ordination it was, “that they had crucified and slain him.” Having thus guarded against what was most likely to have inflamed their minds, had the apostle mentioned these truths with the smallest acrimony; he now proceeds to the great object he had in view, from his discourse, namely, to assert the certainty of our Lord’s resurrection; and (what is most to my present purpose) he does this by proving that this glorious event was accomplished from physical necessity; or to use the stronger expression of the apostle, “having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” If these terms do not imply the apostle’s persuasion of the divine nature of our Lord, I am at a loss to comprehend any meaning in them. For had ‘Peter considered Jesus but as a man, nay, had he not considered him above the nature of a man, there was no impossibility in the thing itself, of his being holden by what he calls “the pains of death.” And, as a further confirmation of this doctrine, he brings before them the prophecy of David, and applies it to the person of Christ. “For David,” (says he) “speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face; for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved. Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption,” (Acts 2:25-27; Ps. 16:8-10). Having quoted this passage, Peter desires permission to speak freely upon it, and calls upon them to observe, that these things could have no reference to the Patriarch David, because “he was both dead and buried, and his sepulchre remained, unto that day: but being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit upon his throne: he seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” By these arguments, having proved the physical necessity of the resurrection, both from our Lord’s nature, and the concurrent testimony of prophecy, the apostle, in the conclusion of his sermon, describes the Redeemer under such expressions as carry with them the most satisfactory proofs, how strongly impressed his mind must have been with the belief of the superior nature of our Lord. “Therefore,” (says he) “let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ,” (Acts 2:36).
In Peter’s second and subsequent sermons, he names our Lord by such titles as would be the highest ungodliness, if applied to any created being. He calls him the Holy One, and the Just, the Prince of Life, (Acts 3:14-15). And when we find that the preaching of Peter was accompanied with such demonstrations of his power, under whose commission he acted; miracles both of mercy and judgment, purposely wrought to establish the faith, and all expressly done in the sole name, and by the power of Jesus Christ; is it reasonable to suppose, that the apostle should thus preach, and act, and constantly refer all the glory to his blessed Lord, and yet have no apprehensions of his Godhead? That he, should work every miracle as by his authority, and proclaim every blessing to be expected, but through him: nay, to declare, that salvation could be through no other; “neither is there any other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12) and still all this while believing that Jesus was simply no other than a man like himself; and that was the merit of a man only, through whom salvation for millions of the human race could be procured? Can it be possible to suppose this? Surely it requires such a stretch of credulity, as the highest mystery of the Christian faith cannot be charged with, to give into the belief of such a persuasion! Be the matter of fact, therefore, whatever it may, concerning the real dignity of our blessed Lord, that Peter had a conviction of his divinity cannot, I think, well be doubted, for the contrary notion would be hard to reconcile with those repeated declarations we meet with in his discourses.
Before we quit our review of this man’s evidence, it may not be amiss to add, that as in his preaching, so in his writings, we find his testimony the same. In his last epistle (written as is very probably supposed 4 the year before his martyrdom, and at a time when he had the prospect of death in view; and purposely written, that they who had obtained like precious promises with himself, might be able, after his decease, to have the truths of Christianity always in remembrance in this epistle); he shows very plainly, that as he had lived, so he died, in the faith of this important doctrine. The apostle, among other matters, particularly alludes to the glorious scene of Christ’s transfiguration; and the observations he makes upon it, may serve to convince us, what impression it had left upon his mind of the greatness of his Lord’s character. “We have not followed,” (said he) “cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father, honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount,” (2 Pet. 1:16, et seq.). Enough hath been said, I should hope, in the introduction of particulars to ascertain, what, was the opinion of the apostle Peter concerning the person of Jesus Christ. And if I have faithfully stated this man’s testimony (which I trust I have), his evidence is such an one, as (to use his own words) “we shall do well to take heed unto, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place,” (2 Pet. 1:19).
The same observation with which I began the review of Peter’s testimony, may, with equal propriety, be made respecting the evidence of the apostle John. After the plentiful quotations from the writings of this disciple, any further reference is unnecessary, in order to show what were his sentiments upon the subject of Christ’s deity. Indeed the very preface to his gospel is in itself a full decision of it. Without going over his writings again, suffer me only to detain you with one observation more, respecting the evidence of this highly favored servant of his Lord, which will supersede the necessity of many lesser arguments; and that is, the account which he has given of the supreme dignity of Jesus, in his book of the Revelations. In this mysterious canon of Scripture, we find much information concerning our Lord’s real character, which might be produced with great advantage to our present cause; but a single passage will be sufficient. In the first chapter the apostle, after opening his subject with the highest ascriptions of praise and dominion, “to him that loveth us, and hath washed us from our sins, in his own blood;” goes on to describe the personal appearance of our Lord to him, in an effulgence of brightness and glory, in which Jesus assumes every divine honor, and speaks of the future dispensations which were to take place in his church. What sentiments the apostle then had, and ever after retained, concerning the Godhead of Christ, let anyone who reads John’s account of this vision determine. “When he saw him,” (he says) “he fell at his feet as dead,” and heard him proclaim his name under these great characters, “the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.” Could he possibly doubt the Godhead of such a being? Did the apostle consider these eternal properties belonging to our Lord, but as so many distinctions of the glorified man Christ Jesus? And at the tune when he was under the immediate impression of this vision, or afterwards when he recorded it for the edification of future ages, had he no apprehension himself that Jesus was anything more than a man, whom God had highly exalted for the perfect merit of his life, and his beneficial ministry; and yet with not the least idea of the divinity of his Lord, he should transmit such accounts of him as must determine others to the belief of it with perfect conviction? Are such palpable contradictions to be admitted? Strange, that it should not immediately appear to persons of this opinion, that they are not only impeaching the veracity of John as a writer, but bringing the heaviest accusation against the great Saviour of the world, in suffering such representations of him to be made in his church, as must infallibly lead into error the faith of mankind! Could we but once suppose this, the blessing which is promised “to him that readeth the words of this book, and keepeth the things which are written therein,” (Rev. 1:3), would be converted into a curse; and unable to satisfy the mind with the certainty of any one proposition we meet with in Scripture; we should be like the dove of Noah in search of land, without a place to rest our foot on through the whole of God’s word. Praised be the Divine Goodness, the matter is not left to a reasoning so precarious and uncertain! “The disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things,” could not be deceived; “we know that his testimony is true,” (John 21:24): “for these things were written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have life through his name,” (John 20:31).
The evidence of Thomas the apostle, on the great question of our Lord’s Godhead (which is the next to which I request your attention), is so decisive upon the subject, that it hath with great reason been considered as one of the most important testimonies upon record. Even they, who reject the belief of Christ’s divine nature, are yet at a loss to reconcile their different opinion with this man’s sentiments. It is but a single incident in the life of Thomas, in which we find this profession of his faith, and delivered upon a memorable occasion; but it is an incident which hath proved (as no doubt it was designed by the providence of God) the most favorable and propitious to the establishing the minds of believers firm and unshaken, in this great article of their creed.
It is, I believe, generally known, that the absence of Thomas from the first assembly of the disciples, after our blessed Lord arose from the dead, prevented that sight of Christ, which would most probably, had he been present, have produced the same conviction upon him that a did upon the rest. But though there seems to have been no apparent reason, wherefore he should doubt the truth of the report of the resurrection of Jesus (considering the assurances he had received of the fact itself from his fellow apostle), yet, from an unaccountable incredulity, Thomas not only refused to believe it upon their testimony, but also declared that he never would be convinced of it, but upon such evidence as appeared at that time highly improbable should be granted him.
Upon the next meeting, however, of the disciples, Thomas was present with them, and in a manner similar to his former visit, Jesus again appeared before them. His miraculous entrance 5 and his immediate address to the unbelieving disciple, in offering the very proofs he had demanded for his conviction, so powerfully operated upon the mind of the apostle, in confirming both the certainty of his resurrection, and the divine power by which, he had accomplished it, that subdued by these evidences, he cried out in an ecstasy of joy, “My Lord! and my God!” Though no form of words could more strongly express the divinity of him, to whom it was applied, yet it hath been said, that this confession of the apostle’s was simply no other than the effect of a sudden surprise, as if he had said, “Then it was really true!” But never was there a more miserable expedient to get rid of a difficulty.
Had the words of Thomas’ been merely an exclamation of astonishment, how comes it to pass that Christ should have considered them as the profession of his, faith? For, there is a manifest difference between wonder and conviction. And yet it is plain, that our blessed Lord accepted what Thomas said, as the confession of the fullest conviction; “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed.” Besides, had Thomas spoken as a man under the immediate effect of surprise, and without any particular meaning, it is not likely that he would have done it in so deliberate and repeated a manner. He might have said, My Lord! or My God! Singly but, not both. The uniting of these expressions, should not seem very probable in the apostle’s circumstances, nor do I think, that in this case, Thomas would have addressed himself so immediately to Christ, as it is evident he did, but rather to the disciple that happened to be nearest to him. But whether these considerations are to the purpose or not, there is one which certainly is, namely, that in the original the article which is prefixed invariably determines the sense, wherever it is used with those words, as being applicable only to God. It is therefore wholly unaccountable that the apostle should address Christ in those words, unless he had a real apprehension of the Godhead of his person. And to suppose otherwise, that Thomas, though using such expressions, had no conception of Christ’s divine nature, would be still more unaccountable, and our Lord’s conduct equally mysterious. To call him Lord and God, whom he considered in the very moment of saying it but as a man, became idolatry. And yet we hear of no reproof from Jesus for the expression. Christ indirectly blames him indeed for his former incredulity, but not a word for his latter error. Whereas the one was infinitely more reprehensible, (supposing it to be misapplied) than the other. And that Christ should be altogether inattentive to this conduct in his servant, which, from his omniscience, he could not but be sensible would be of great moment in succeeding ages of the church, as a standard of faith to the believer, is the most unlikely circumstance that can be imagined. In short, whoever can reconcile these points to his own satisfaction, so as to reject the testimony of Thomas to the divinity of our Lord, possesses a degree of credulity not very enviable. But he who will fairly and impartially consider the several circumstances connected with this incident in the life of the apostle will, I think, perceive strong leading characters to induce the persuasion that Thomas could not but have the most complete conviction that Christ was God.
The next testimony which I have to produce is of equal consequence with the former, for it was given in a peculiar situation, even in his dying moments. You will perceive I allude to that of Stephen. This man was not in the general acceptation of the word an apostle. He was, however, a disciple of Christ, and what is more immediate to our subject, he may be said to have died a martyr to the very profession of our Lord’s Godhead.
His evidence is briefly related in the sixth and seventh chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, where we read that the zeal of Stephen for the faith of the gospel, having inflamed the minds of the adversaries to Christianity with anger, they suborned men to accuse him “of speaking blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” The blasphemy against Moses is particularly specified, in that he said, “Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the temple, and change the customs which Moses delivered.” But what could be the blasphemy against God? What was there in the doctrine of the apostles which could possibly bear this construction, except that of ascribing divinity to our blessed Saviour? The apostles had never ceased to observe among themselves, and to recommend to others, every known duty which the law enjoined to God the Father: and it is impossible to discover anything in their conduct which could be deemed blasphemy, unless it is the divine honors which they paid to the person of Jesus. That this was Stephen’s crime there can be but little doubt. For it is observable, that notwithstanding the rage of his enemies against him, they heard the holy man with great patience, through a long address which he made before the council, while he recited the principal heads of the Jewish history. And, most likely would have granted him a longer audience, had he not connected with it the relation it bore to our blessed Lord; but no sooner did he advert to the name of Jesus, and distinguish him by the title of the Just One, (the well-known character of Godhead) declaring them to have been his betrayers and murderers, than “they gnashed upon him with their teeth.” In this critical moment, “Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly unto heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right-hand of God. And he said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right-hand of God.” Confirming in this open and avowed manner, the testimony which he had before borne to the divinity of Jesus, they were unable to suppress their resentment any longer; but, “crying out with a loud voice, and stopping their ears, they ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him,” while he with his dying breath recommended his departing soul, not immediately to the Father, but to Christ: “Lord Jesus,” (says he) “receive my spirit.” Whether this profession of Stephen was the cause of death, I shall not insist upon; but one thing is very evident; if this man did not die a martyr to the Godhead of Christ, he at least died in the faith of it. And in either case, the conclusion to our present argument is the same: Such a testimony to this great article of our faith, from one under the full influence of the Holy Ghost, is peculiarly satisfactory, and cannot but impress the mind with a very strong weight of evidence.
I shall close our review of the opinion of the apostles concerning the character of Jesus, with the testimony of St. Paul, who, though with great humility, he styles himself “the least of all the apostles, and not meet to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God,” (1 Cor. 15:9), yet, in the estimation of his Lord, he was “a chosen vessel, to bear his name before Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel,” (Acts 9:15).
Added to the inspired character of St. Paul, let us recollect, that he was converted to Christianity by a miracle from heaven, and after his conversion, the gospel which he preached, he solemnly affirms before God, he “neither received of man, neither was taught it by man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Gal. 1:11-12). A more unexceptionable witness can never be desired.6
You have already noticed, I hope, in the many quotations which have been brought before you, from the Epistles of this man, what exalted accounts he has left upon record, of his Lord’s character. And as these views of Christ, according to the apostle’s opinion, clearly ascertain a superior dignity in his nature, it becomes a very natural question, from whence could Paul have acquired this information concerning Christ? Before his conversion, it is certain he could have had no such notions of the character of our Lord; for he was a violent persecutor of the Christian faith, and held both the name and religion of Jesus in hatred and derision. And after that miraculous event took place, it is said of him, that he conferred not with anyone upon the subject of Christianity, but “straightway he began to preach Christ in the synagogue, that he is the Son of God,” (Acts 9:20). It is too fabulous to suppose, that the apostle should be led by an intuitive kind of knowledge in himself, to entertain those sublime ideas of Christ, especially after his former opinion of him; and if it be true that he received not this information from man, neither was taught it by man, there can be no reason to reject the solemn assurance he has given, that it was communicated to him by the revelation of Christ himself. And hence it will follow, that if our Lord condescended to be Paul’s instructor, after having called him, even at the expense of a miracle, to be his servant, and giving him all necessary information respecting himself and his religion, there can be nothing erroneous in his account; and we may, with great safety, receive his testimony as infallible, for no human authority can equal it. When, therefore, we trace through every part of his inspired writings an invariable strain of evidence to the divinity of Jesus, and every great and distinguishing attribute which constitutes Godhead, applied to the person of Christ, can it be the question of a moment, what were the sentiments of the apostle Paul concerning his divine Lord?
But in reply to these arguments, we are told that our interpretation of these passages of the apostle, arises from a misapprehension of his meaning: that he wrote in accommodation to the spirit of the language then in use, which was very highly metaphorical and flowery, and therefore a great part of his expressions is to be considered in this sense. These things have been said and much insisted upon, but with what strength of argument comes next to be considered.
In Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, he tells them that when he came to them preaching the gospel, “he came not with excellency of speech, nor was his preaching with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Cor. 1:4). “For we use,” (says he) “great plainness of speech,” (2 Cor. 3:12). And so he does indeed, upon the presumption, that we are to accept what he says, according to the most natural meaning which it bears; but if we are to look beyond the first sense of the words, and fancy one part to be mysterious and another figurative; how will this agree with the apostle’s declaration, that “he uses great plainness of speech?” St. Paul, it is true, calls the sublime parts of the Christian faith a mystery, and says, “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh,” (1 Tim. 3:16). But when he said this, he evidently alluded to the mystery of the incarnation: whereas if he meant nothing more by it, than that Jesus Christ was but a man, what mystery was there in this scheme of godliness, and how could this be called “God manifest in the flesh?”
Again: It is somewhat remarkable, that Paul should caution Timothy, as he does, to “withdraw himself from men of perverse disputings and corrupt minds:” and to remark, moreover, that “if any man consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, that he is proud, and knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words,” (1 Tim. 6:3-5). All this is very singular in coming from a man who is supposed to be continually wrapping up his instructions, not in wholesome words, but in allegory and figure; and yet who, at the same time, declares the great cause of the rejection of the gospel, is from the pride and wisdom of the world, to whom “the preaching of the cross is foolishness,” (1 Cor. 1:18).
It is still more remarkable, that in this apostle’s Epistle to the Colossians, he bids them “beware lest any man should spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ;” and in the next verse, immediately adds, “for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” (Col. 2:8 & 9). Had the apostle feared he should be misunderstood in this passage, instead of telling the Colossians, to beware of the “traditions of men,” and the “rudiments of the world,” he should have warned them against supposing that he meant anything by the “indwelling of the Godhead bodily in Christ;” whereas, there is not a syllable said of this, but only a caution against being spoiled by that “philosophy and vain deceit,” which prompt men to cavil with such truths of religion as are not fairly upon a level with the apprehensions of the human mind.
These considerations serve to explain, in what sense we are authorized to accept the writings of Paul; and to suppose that a man, who professedly used great plainness of speech himself, and recommended it to others, should dwell so continually in figure as to mislead the understanding of his readers upon all occasions.
But besides those instances, which we have reviewed in proof of the apostle Paul’s testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ, there is one more which remains to be noticed, equally decisive, and which can upon no consideration whatever be explained, but upon the belief that the apostle had a full persuasion of the Godhead of our Lord; I mean the prayers which he offered up personally to Christ.
The awful scene in the road to Damascus, at the time of his conversion, is the first instance of the kind we meet with in Paul’s history, in which he addressed our Lord, and received an answer to his petition, (Acts 9:6). And again, we find the same application immediately made to Christ when the apostle was under some particularly afflicting circumstance, for which he says, “he thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from him,” (2 Cor. 12:8). That it was Christ, and not the Father he prayed to, is evident from the whole affair as related. And it should seem indeed, both from this incident, and from various accounts to be traced in his writings, that it was the apostle’s usual custom in his devotions, immediately to address them to the Lord Jesus Christ. He inscribes his Epistle to the Corinthians, not only to them, but “to all that in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus,” (1 Cor.1:2). And his general benediction, with which he concludes his Epistles, implies the same: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I fear I have exhausted the patience with which you have hitherto heard me on the present subject. But the testimony of the apostles, and first servants of Jesus, concerning the real character of their Lord, became too interesting, to be hastily passed over, and without due examination.
The several opinions of those “chosen witnesses of God,” have now been brought before you (as far as they are obtainable); and when you have thoroughly reflected upon the evidences themselves, and the fair and unimposing manner in which they have been offered to your consideration; you will give them, I doubt not, the credit to which they shall appear to you to be justly entitled.
The whole question respecting the validity of their testimony may be reduced to a single point. Either they were believers in the divinity of Jesus, or they were not. If they were not, I shudder at the very idea, that men illumined by the Divine Spirit should have deified a creature, and have led the whole Christian world into the grossest idolatry! Who but must tremble to conceive such horrible criminality in those faithful, un-ambitious followers of Jesus Christ? What could be their inducement to destroy all their own prospects of salvation, and involve in irremediable guilt, millions of their fellow creatures? And upon the supposition that they neither believed this doctrine themselves, nor intended to lead others into such a persuasion, what a wonderful coincidence of circumstances must it have been, to induce the effects which their writings have produced.
But if they believed themselves, what they have so fully taught (as every principle of candor and liberality, independent of higher motives, would lead us to condude), with what an accumulation of evidence is the Godhead of our blessed Lord confirmed and assured!
It were almost needless to add, concerning these apostles and first disciples of our Lord, “whose faith we ought to follow, considering the end of their conversation; Jesus Christ! the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” (Heb. 13:7, 8).
1 There is somewhat so very gracious in those divine words of the Lord Jesus to Peter; namely, that the revelation, of the Person and Godhead of Christ could not be the effect of human power in all its highest efforts; and only from the Father that I cannot but beg the reader to ponder them well. And when we see in life, as that we daily do, men of the first abilities in human arts and sciences, alive to the quickest apprehension in all earthly concerns; but as blind as beetles, if you only touch on spiritual concerns; what a confirmation doth this daily give to our Lord’s words! Oh! the unspeakable felicity of being taught of God! (Isa. 54:13; John 6:45). Click here to return to reading.
2 In the conclusive scenes of John’s life, a circumstance occurs which has been thought by some to favor a different opinion from what the Baptist had given before of our Lord. As one whose duty and inclination both prompt him to candor, I think it highly proper to produce it upon the present occasion, but without the smallest apprehension that it will be found, when duly considered, to militate against John’s former testimony, but rather strengthening it. The circumstance I allude to is, the question which John sent, when in prison, by two of his disciples, unto Jesus, saying, “Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?” If we attend to the context we shall find, that John sent this message at a time when his disciples brought him intelligence of the mighty works of our Lord. And as these were so many additional proofs of Jesus answering to the character John had given him, it cannot be supposed the account of them would lessen the Baptist’s opinion of Christ. It would be very extraordinary, that he, who had given the most decided evidence to the greatness of our Lord’s character, and whose evidence sprung from somewhat more than human authority, should afterwards have scruples of his own to satisfy, and now, in the end of his ministry, should begin to doubt the truth of our Lord’s mission. It has been said that, perhaps the mind of John, soured by long imprisonment and unjust suffering, might be warped from his former sentiment. Perhaps it might. No doubt, the pressure of trouble may induce effects of this kind. How weak is the faith of the best of men very frequently found under severe trials. How often are sincere Christians tempted to exclaim in the anguish of their soul, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” When they know, and are convinced in the same moments, that the Lord is very gracious. Suppose somewhat like this to be the situation of John, his sufferings might have given an asperity to his temper, and yet his notions of Christ might continue just the same. But I do not see the necessity of supposing John had any doubts in his mind concerning our blessed Lord, when he sent his disciples with this message unto him. I rather think the whole design of the Baptist was with a view to their conviction, and not his own. The disciples of John felt, perhaps, a laudable concern at the growing popularity of our Lord, and the decline of their master’s reputation. John had endeavored to convince them, that “he was not the Christ, but only sent before him,” (John 3:28). In order, therefore, to satisfy their scrupulous minds concerning the dignity of Jesus, the Baptist adopted this method of introducing them more immediately into our Lord’s presence, that from seeing and hearing the wonderful effects of his ministry, they might be convinced that he was the Messiah which was for to come, (John 3:30 to the end). Click here to return to reading.
3 It is impossible for the most ordinary reader to peruse the account of this scene of Christ’s transfiguration, and compare it with the relation that is given of the descent of Jehovah on Mount Sinai, without being struck with the wonderful resemblance between them. The glory in which Jehovah was encircled, the cloud covering the mount, the apprehension of Moses as he entered into the cloud, all are exactly similar to the description of the transfiguration; I think myself justified, therefore, in supposing that it was the recollection of the history of this solemn scene, which put into Peter’s mind the idea of the Jewish tabernacle, (compare the Evangelist in loco, with Ex. 24:15. et seq.). Click here to return to reading.
4 It is with great reason imagined, that Peter wrote his Second Epistle, Anno Domini 67; and history informs us, that he suffered martyrdom Anno Domini 68, the fourteenth year of the Emperor Nero. Click here to return to reading.
5 The miraculous entrance of our blessed Lord amidst the circle of his disciples is so very high a proof in my esteem of the deity of his nature, and so important to my present argument, that I must desire to insist upon it somewhat more particularly. Skeptics have been pleased to bring forward this account of Christ’s interview with his apostles, with great confidence as making against the credibility of the fact itself, of the resurrection of Jesus. Unable to account upon philosophical principles for the entrance of a body into a room when all the avenues were shut by which anything substantial might pass; they have been pleased to treat the whole as fabulous. But so far is the thing itself from giving just occasion to this cavil, that the impossibility of accounting for it upon physical principles, proves the very point in question, namely, that it was accomplished by the divine power of Jesus. It is indeed a full proof of our Lord’s omnipotency. For that Christ affected this entrance by means truly miraculous, is evident from the circumstances of the case. In the evangelist’s account of it, it is remarkable that he is no less particular in his observation that “the doors were shut,” than he is in stating the certainty that it was the “real body of Christ” which appeared. He tells us that Jesus pointed out to his disciples the difference between a spiritual essence and a material substance, that “a spirit had not flesh and bones as they saw he had:” and in testimony that what they saw was real, “he shewed them his hands and his side,” and desired they would yet further convince themselves of the truth of it by feeling him. All which fully prove, that the disciples were not under the influence of an illusion in what they beheld, but that it was the real body of Jesus which had been crucified. Now as the entrance of a body into a room, as before described, could not have been accomplished but by some supernatural agency (it being contrary to all the known properties of physics), it must follow that He who possessed the supreme power of altering or suspending at his pleasure the established laws of nature, possessed also omnipotency, which can belong only to God. Click here to return to reading.
6 If Paul neither received it by man neither was taught it by man, and yet had this knowledge by the revelation of Jesus Christ; can anything be plainer than that the apostle considered Christ as more than man?
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