Divinity of Christ
““What think ye of Christ?” Matthew 22:42
If the importance of the subject to which I have of late so frequently requested your attention, did not supersede every other consideration, I should have thought it necessary to have prefaced several of the preceding discourses with an apology. But though I feel great apprehension, lest, from the very defective manner in which the subject hath been treated, I should have failed in my endeavors to exhibit the proofs of our Lord’s Godhead in that strong point of view which may be requisite for the establishment of perfect conviction in your minds; (and which I cannot but think, would be the sure consequence arising from the evidences themselves, if taught of God); yet I persuade myself that the humblest efforts in such an interesting cause, will need no recommendation with all sincere minds. To have a just and proper conception of his person and character, who is “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” cannot but be desirable and gratifying to all his followers.
Nor is this the only object to be answered by it. The great question of our Lord’s Godhead certainly involves the highest concerns of Christianity. Whoever wishes to derive comfort and assurance from the promises of the Gospel, and especially in the more interesting parts of it, which relate to the future prospects of our nature, must first, be convinced of the truth of that authority on which the whole rests, that “He is faithful who has promised,” (Heb. 10:23). Neither do I conceive it possible that any man can experience the full extent of the consolations which the religion of Jesus affords, who hath not imbibed a portion of the same faith which actuated the apostle Paul: “I know,” (says he) “whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day,” (2 Tim. 1:12).
But though the importance of the subject itself, may, I hope, in some degree, justify and account for the great length to which I have been necessarily led in the prosecution of it; yet it may be equally satisfactory now to observe, that with the present discourse I shall close it altogether, and relieve your attention. Having gone over the principal evidences of Scripture, and having omitted nothing material in the argument (as far as I can recollect), I desire to leave the final decision of the great question in the text, to every man’s own mind in the sight of God: “What think ye of Christ?”
It was with this view, you may remember, that the several testimonies have been proposed for your consideration, in order that you might, in a free and unbiased manner, draw such conclusions from them as, after mature deliberation and earnest prayer to God, should appear to you to be right and proper. Sensible of the weighty nature of the subject, it became a matter of conscience with me from the first, to be extremely cautious in advancing anything in proof, but upon the most undeniable testimony. And as there appeared to be but one method by which this could be done, I have endeavored to follow it, in making the Holy Scriptures the only standard of decision. If, however, I have in any point unknowingly departed from this rule, or if I have considered any of the sacred writers in a different sense from what they themselves intended, you will but behold in me a new instance of that very fallibility I have studied to avoid; and from this additional proof of human weakness or prejudice, and in the very exertion of what I may venture to name the sincerest and best intention, you will the more sensibly be convinced of the propriety of what I have suggested, that on subjects of this serious nature there should be no compulsion, but “let every man be fully persuaded (as the apostle speaks) in his own mind,” (Rom. 14:5).
Convinced, indeed, after all, from every observation of human nature, how apt the wisest are to err when left to the mere direction of their own minds, and that all our knowledge (more especially religious knowledge) must be derived from the teachings of the Divine Spirit (because that “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,” 1 Cor. 12:3), I called upon you at our entrance upon the subject, to bend with me before the throne of God, and implore light and direction from heaven to precede our path, that the “Spirit of truth might guide us into all truth.” And having now finished our researches, under an humble dependence on the divine aid, I must earnestly again request you to join with me in prayer, that our conclusions may be under the same gracious direction; “that in every thing being enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge, the testimony of Jesus may be confirmed in us, so that we come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 1:5-7).
The intention of the present discourse is to take a brief survey of the several arguments which have been illustrated in a more copious manner, and by concentrating the whole evidence arising from thence, to show the Godhead of Jesus in a more distinct and luminous point of view; it is on this account I therefore once more request your attention to the subject.
You will recollect, that the only object proposed from these Sermons, was an impartial and candid inquiry concerning the person and character of Jesus Christ. Whether he is to be classed among the frail and peccable race of men (as some professors of the Gospel have supposed), or whether he is to be regarded in that sacred and exalted light (in which the established church of this country hath invariably considered him), “as the eternal Son of God?”
In the investigation of this interesting question, my endeavors were first directed to show that, from the appellation by which our blessed Lord is everywhere distinguished in the New Testament as the Son of God, there arose a strong presumptive evidence that his nature must be divine. For, when we find such a peculiar name uniformly marking his person; applied to him at the first by the angel which predicted his miraculous incarnation; afterwards confirmed by a supernatural voice from heaven, both at his baptism and at his transfiguration; assumed by Jesus himself, and particularly at a season the most critical, when it was made the pretence for his condemnation; that even spirits of darkness gave their testimony, however reluctantly, to the truth of it; and that this was the very name by which Christ was always known to his followers: it is hardly possible to conceive such a concurrence of circumstances in confirmation of our Lord’s pretensions to this character, and yet that it should be a mere barren title without meaning. To a mind perfectly free from prejudice (as I then observed) the repeated and multifarious testimonies, which so fully and unequivocally distinguish our Lord by this term, must as decidedly prove his Godhead. For the phrase cannot, upon any ground, be applicable to him, but upon the clear assurance that he possessed an eternal existence with his Father underived from creation, by which he becomes truly and properly the Son of God, (Sermon I.).
But as the mere name, unconnected with power, carries with it but the smallest degree of evidence to the Godhead of Jesus, I considered the argument arising from hence but in a collateral point of view, and therefore passed on to circumstances more positive and substantial. In doing which I desired you to regard the great criteria of our Lord’s divine nature, in the events which preceded his incarnation. The sacred writers have left upon everlasting record such accounts of Christ, and have ascribed to him such powers and operations, as when proved, cannot but impress the mind with the fullest conviction of his supreme dignity in whom those perfections are found.
In examining the testimonies of this kind, I then entered upon the proofs which we have in Scripture of our Lord’s preexistence, as the first circumstance which, in point of order, claimed our attention. And both from the words of Christ himself, as well as from the assurances of his apostles, I endeavored to show you, that no one fact can be more strongly attested, nor any truth more clearly proved, than that Christ had a state of existence antecedent to his incarnation.
The fact, however, of this superiority of nature, distinguishable in the person of Jesus, being supported by events still more palpable; the next observation to which our views were naturally directed, led us to consider Christ under those illustrious characters, which loudly proclaim his dignity; I mean as the Creator and Preserver of the universe. And as the clear conviction of this great truth became so highly important in the argument, I went very largely into this part of the subject, in gathering the evidences as they arise from Scripture, and brought before you the most unanswerable testimonies in proof of it. Such views of Christ being apparently conclusive in determining the certainty of his Godhead, a question involuntarily arises in the mind, how it is possible to resist such evidences? And surely, unless such evidences could wholly, or in a great measure, be refuted, there cannot be conceived anything more daring than that of passing by all those testimonies of Scripture, dethroning the Son of God, and bringing him down to the level of a poor peccable creature like ourselves! There should be, doubtless, some better ground to go upon than merely the airy conjectures and presumptuous reasoning of the human mind.
When I brought these proofs of Christ’s Godhead before you, I desired you seriously to ponder the cogency of these solemn considerations. Whether any man can really suppose, that the meek and un-aspiring temper of Jesus would have assumed divine honors, have declared his possession of “glory with his Father before the world,” with other intimations of a similar nature, unless his claims were rightly founded? Or whether it is likely, that the servants of such a master should have been so forward in ascribing to him the incommunicable properties of the great Supreme, unless they had been most fully assured of the truth of what they asserted? (Sermon II.).
Having proceeded thus far in the subject, in producing such proofs of our Lord’s exalted character, as clearly justified the belief of his being more than human; I anticipated, and endeavored to answer a question which appeared very likely to arise from hence; whether there are not discoverable some traces or appearances of Christ corresponding to these accounts, in the earlier ages of the world, and before his incarnation? For, though the facts which give belief to his divinity cannot be strengthened by any considerations of this kind (supposing the evidences themselves undeniable), yet, if there can be discovered in the Old Testament anything which shows a connection with the account given of him in the New, it will serve no doubt to illustrate the point more fully, and altogether confirm our faith in the Godhead of Jesus.
Under this idea I requested you to examine with me the Scriptures of the Old Testament, in order to learn what account we derive from thence concerning the person of our Lord. Though the subject, no doubt, is highly intricate, and enveloped in much mystery, yet I trust the reasons adduced were strong and satisfactory, to show that there is great probability, that all the relations we meet with in these early ages of the world, of the appearance of a personal Jehovah, might, without violence to the sacred text, be considered as applicable to Jesus Christ. That every dispensation of the Father respecting mankind, has been uniformly carried on in the person of his blessed Son, that he is our Creator, our Preserver, our Redeemer, and finally will be our Judge. It will not be necessary for me to review all the evidence I then brought forward to substantiate my opinion, in order to awaken your remembrance. It will, I hope, answer every purpose to observe, that the circumstances I referred to were of such a nature and tendency, as made it difficult to account for them on a contrary persuasion.
Having discussed this difficult point, in the best manner I was able, I left it to your own reflections to make what inference you should think proper, and to determine whether a correspondence of circumstances so very striking (and strengthened at the same time by the previous view we had taken of our Lord’s greatness of character, considered as the Creator and Preserver of the universe) did not amount to a certainty that Christ personally appeared in the world before his incarnation; and that all the dispensations of the Supreme Father respecting mankind have been conducted in the person of his divine Son, (Sermon III.).
In our further pursuit of evidences, concerning the divinity of Jesus, it became a very natural and pertinent inquiry, to examine in the next place, what testimony or account the prophets have given of this illustrious character. If those “holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” (2 Pet. 1:21), and professedly predicted the future events of the Messiah’s kingdom, it certainly is an object highly expedient to our purpose, to know what they had declared of him. The inspiration under which they penned their prophetic writings must have preserved them from error; and the intention, for which they wrote, makes it but reasonable to suppose, that in their accounts of the promised Messiah, they would sketch some of the more prominent features, at least, of his person and character.
With a view to the discovery of what those holy men had delivered, concerning Israel’s Saviour, I again led your thoughts to the records of the Old Testament; and in order to investigate, as accurately as possible, the important question, I brought in review the predictions of all the prophets, which had written on the subject; I mean as far as related to our purpose. For as we were not seeking information concerning the general character of the Messiah, nor even the particular marks by which Jesus Christ proved himself to be, the very person, I did not consider it needful to enumerate all the passages in the writings of the prophets, which had reference to the promised Saviour. The object of our inquiry was directed to a single point; namely, under what character was this Messiah to appear? Whether he was expected as a divine being, as mere man, or in a mysterious union of both?
In my endeavors to explore this point, agreeable to the plain and un-perverted sense of the prophetic writings, I made many quotations from them, and the result was fairly and impartially stated. From the concurrent testimony of those venerable witnesses, it appeared evident that the great Deliverer of Israel, whom they predicted, was to come in the mysterious union of a great but humble Saviour; possessing divine attributes, by virtue of his eternal power and Godhead; and, at the same time, by means of the human nature, endowed with all the distinguishing properties of manhood. This was the character under which, we found the prophets depicted the blessed Redeemer of the world (Sermon IV.). And with this information we entered upon that era of the gospel, when Jesus Christ made his appearance in the flesh.
The events which signalized the life of Jesus were, in a very copious and extensive manner, made the subject of our next examination. From the moment of his miraculous birth, to his departure into heaven, in the view of his astonished disciples, you beheld how every incident tended to illustrate and confirm the truth of prophecy; that, while Christ appeared open to the full impressions of humanity in all its various departments, he manifested no less every evidence possible to prove his divine nature.
I endeavored to conduct you through the several interesting particulars of this history of Jesus (at least such as had a more immediate reference to the great object of our inquiry); and I hope that the effect which such views cannot but awaken in every true believer; is still strongly impressed upon your minds. Among these, I particularly recommended to your notice the evidences of our Lord’s miraculous incarnation. And this being so very important an event in itself, and so satisfactory in proof of the subject we are upon, I dwelt the more largely upon it; and by adducing the several corroborating testimonies which confirm the fact; the prediction of prophecy, the information of the angel, the account of the sacred historian, and attested by the wonderful events which followed in the Redeemer’s life, it should appear that no one circumstance can be more strongly certified and assured.
From the certain conviction of the wonderful birth of Jesus, I next proceeded to the evidences, equally demonstrable of the divine nature which appeared in his life. And first, of that astonishing series of miracles which he wrought. But as I then remarked to you, (and which I again particularly request may be duly observed), it is not the miracles of Jesus simply considered in themselves, which proclaim his divinity; but it is the manner, the personal authority, by which they were performed, the forgiveness of sins, which sometimes accompanied them, and, above all, the ability Christ imparted to his disciples, of the same operations with himself: it is from these the inference of a superior and divine being, must be unavoidable. The evident line of distinction drawn between Jesus and all other workers of miracles is such as one should expect to find between the actions of a lord and those of his servants. They wrought miracles to prove in whose authority they acted, Jesus to manifest his own, (Sermon V.).
From the review of the miracles of our Lord, considered as testimonies of his divinity, my next proof of this doctrine was taken from the unparalleled discourses of Christ, which certainly carried with them peculiar evidence to the same amount. In delivering his precepts to mankind, he taught (as was justly observed of him) “as one that had authority, and not as did the Scribes,” (Matt. 7:29). The sublime topics of his religion; the awful purpose which he declared to be the great end of his coming; the language he assumed; the assurance he gave of raising the dead at the last day; the power he possessed, and said he would exert, of “drawing all men unto him,” (John 12:32); in a word, the divine wisdom with which he taught, and the divine energy which accompanied his whole conversation, all highly demonstrate the unequalled excellence of our Lord’s discourses, and utterly exclude the faintest gleam of comparison between him and every other teacher. They prove indeed, “that never man spake as this man.”
Proceeding in this methodical manner of examining the Scripture testimonies for the divinity of Jesus, my next step was, if possible, advancing yet higher in proof of it, in bringing the evidences, which declare him to have possessed all the attributes, and titles, and perfections of the Godhead. Every property known to be peculiar to the divine nature, you may recollect, was either very clearly to be distinguished in the person of our Lord, or ascribed to him by the sacred writers. To recapitulate those evidences which have been already so amply stated would be superfluous and unnecessary. Let it suffice to say, that there is not an attribute or name, by which the incommunicable character of the great Jehovah is known in Scripture, but we find it equally applied to our blessed Lord, thereby explaining the sense of Christ’s own words, when he said, “All things that the Father hath are mine,” (John 16:15). And surely it is highly incredible, that all the inspired writers should have thus concurred in describing the person of Jesus, under the terms by which the great Sovereign of the universe is known to his creatures, but upon the most absolute conviction that the facts are precisely as they have stated them.
The order which I observed in my arrangements of the evidences for Christ’s divinity, led me next to mention one which I thought strongly tended to illustrate and prove the object in view: I mean the consideration of Jesus in that peculiar light which his religion represents him, as “the great sacrifice and oblation for sin.” This cannot but imply superiority in his nature, equal to the object intended.
The miraculous incarnation of our Lord plainly intimated some important purpose, which could not be effected by a being merely human. And when we discover this purpose, as declared both by Christ and his apostles, was “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;” and behold the awful attestations which attended his last moments, all proclaiming that some grand design was wrought by his death, we cannot but feel an additional evidence arising from hence, of the divinity of his nature.
I trespass, I fear, in this recapitulation of the principal points in the several arguments which have been already noticed, but it is by this means only that they can be concentrated into one view. I shall be more brief however, in the abstract of what remains. I would beg your recollection only of the concluding scenes of our Lord’s ministry upon earth; his resurrection, his final commission to his disciples, his triumphal ascension into heaven, and his promised return as the Supreme Judge of the quick and dead at the last day: such views of our Lord display a dignity in his character infinitely surpassing every idea of a being merely human. It is totally impossible to keep alive in our remembrance the persuasion of the simple humanity of Jesus, while we contemplate events of this superlative nature.
To behold him dismissing his few followers, and they of the lowest and most ignorant of the people, to the conversion of a world; assuring them of his constant presence and protection; breathing on them, and imparting the influence of the Holy Ghost; giving them power over unclean spirits, and for the working of all kinds of miracles; and having in a solemn and authoritative manner bestowed his benediction upon them; to see him carried up into heaven in the presence of his disciples: if such circumstances can be accounted for on common principles, or can be supposed possible, consistent with the nature of a mere man; then ought they not to be regarded as evidences of anything superior in our blessed Lord; but if they are absolutely unparalleled, and, altogether incompatible, except on the presumption of divinity, I cannot perceive how the inference which necessarily results from them can be avoided, that Jesus is “the Son of God.”
And when we take into the account the great scene which is to close our Lord’s ministry, in the supreme office he will exercise at the last day, as the Judge of men; when he is to come, “attended with an innumerable train of angels,” and in a state of glory, surpassing all conception: at whose coming, “all that are in their, graves shall hear his voice,” and before “whose presence heaven and earth shall flee away:” I have no idea how the sacred writers could have described to mankind the appearance of Jehovah, in a manner more completely sublime and magnificent!
But surely, such accounts can never correspond with the notion that all this refers but to the coming of a human being! Is it likely that the grave should give up the dead at the voice of a man? that angels should attend his train, and even heaven and earth pass away at his presence? Nay more, that a mere glorified man should be appointed to be the supreme Arbiter of the everlasting fate of millions, or that he should be qualified for such acts as to read the heart, and know the exact, motive of every single action; to ascertain real from unintentional guilt, and to determine, with perfect justice, the several portions of reward or punishment due to every individual? Besides, (as I remarked to you) what reason can be found for the elevation of a man to a station so astonishingly high, and without all parallel? Whereas, upon the supposition of our Lord’s divine nature, every difficulty vanishes, and the whole dispensation of the gospel, relating to the person and character of its blessed Author, is probable, just, and uniform, and what our pure and uncorrupt notions of things might have conceived. He who made the world, and by whose power it is preserved, assumes a body of flesh to redeem it; and having, by this mysterious process, accomplished the purpose intended, he returns to his original state of glory, until he comes at the last day to judgment. Thus all the executive parts of the divine government are begun and carried on, and will be completed by him, who is the same “yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” (Sermon VI.).
Having thus reviewed, in the relation of Scripture, and the events of our Savior’s life, the various testimonies to his divinity, I then closed the examination of evidences, in endeavoring to ascertain what was the opinion of those artless and undesigning servants of Christ, his apostles, upon the subject; and when their sentiments are added to the general account, I trust the whole, taken together, will be found forming a body of evidence little short of demonstration. With so solid and impregnable a chain of proofs (to use the language of one of old) is this great doctrine of the Christian church bound up and fortified.
I have now, in as regular and progressive an order as the nature of the subject would admit, gone over the evidences of Scripture concerning the Godhead of Christ: and I have endeavored to perform this duty in the plainest and most impartial manner possible; not by a long train of arguments addressed to men of science only, but in a form of words adapted to every comprehension, that like the prophet’s vision, “he which runs may read,” (Hab. 2:2). Whether I have been sufficiently successful in the proofs adduced to satisfy every candid mind, I know not; yet I venture to believe some light hath been thrown upon the subject to guide the serious in their inquiry after the truth, respecting this great article of faith.
You, have seen that the testimonies in favor of this opinion are strong and numerous, and such as do not depend upon one or two passages in the word of God, of a doubtful meaning, expressed in parable or figure, but of the clearest construction, and in terms liable to no ambiguity. It is incredible, therefore, to suppose, that so many and various circumstances should concur to induce the belief of a doctrine which is altogether unauthorized and ill-founded! If this faith was derived from an oblique intimation, cursorily delivered by any of the sacred writers, and at a time when the merit of the great Redeemer’s character was the topic of discourse; if it depended upon the opinion of a single apostle, or if it were noticed but in one part of Scripture; or if the thing itself was totally repugnant to all reason and common sense: in either of these cases there might be some plausibility of argument for refusing, or at least suspending, our opinion upon a matter of this consequence; and we should be justified in demanding: some higher proofs, before we subscribed to this part of our creed. But when we behold the thing itself, connected by a chain of testimony running through the whole volume of Scripture; and such perfections, and attributes, and characters, as are utterly incompatible, except with Godhead, possessed by our blessed Lord, and without all scruple applied to him by every one of the inspired. writers: when proofs of this kind all concentrate in the person of Jesus, to certify his divine nature; ought it not to be some mighty argument to counterbalance such powerful evidences, and not a few detached phrases of Scripture delivered in a desultory way, and such, perhaps, as if properly considered and explained, with reference to the occasion, the time, the place, or persons to whom they were addressed, would be found not unfavorable to the doctrine.
But you are to determine for yourselves under God’s grace, what degree of respect is due to the evidences which you have now reviewed. And let me hope that this determination will not be made from the hasty impulse of the moment, but rather be the serious result of a proper deliberation, and humble waiting in prayer upon the Lord. “I speak as to wise men, judge ye what I say,” (1 Cor. 10:15). Remember, it is not a mere point of speculation or curiosity which teacheth no further than the opinion; but it is an object which includes in its consequences all the great hopes of human nature. I have already more than once observed, and now finally wish to leave the full force of the observation upon your minds, that, together with the Godhead of Christ, must stand or fall, all the peculiar and momentous doctrines of his gospel. Everything interesting in Christianity is founded on the greatness of the Author’s character. Even the moral precepts of his religion lose much of their dignity, and their authority is debased, if the founder be not more than man: nor hath the New Testament anything higher to recommend it, except in novelty, than the legation of Moses.
If this be the real state of things, and the Christian’s Lord be not divine; farewell to all the hopes of the faithful: his consolations are no more! Then all the gracious promises of religion, so highly encouraging to repentance and amendment of life, and with which the anxious mind, when smitten with a sense of guilt, sought a requiem, are done away, and the law of God, strict and unalterable in its demands, stands forth before the guilty conscience, arrayed in all its terrors. To what refuge shall the awakened sinner now fly, or in what sacrifice can he again place confidence? I thought (he will say) my soul secure in the expectation of pardon for my sins, through the meritorious death of God my Saviour. I understood that the apostles of Christ had instructed the world in this doctrine, that God “was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them,” (Matt. 20:28); but if this be all a delusion, I am robbed of my best comforts, and am without hope. Tell me not of the virtues of human nature; for how shall any man build his hopes of acceptance with his Maker, upon the sandy foundation of the purity of his own life! Alas! my very best deeds are largely tinctured with a mixture of infirmity. I see a mark of imperfection strongly appearing in every page of my life. And for the errors and intentional sins of nature, “should the Lord be extreme to mark all that is done amiss, who may abide it?” (Ps. 130:3). How then “by the deeds of the law shall any flesh be justified?” (Rom. 3:20).
And what is repentance? A patched up, blemished, and imperfect repentance, made up of alternate sorrow and sin? Today feeling the compunction of guilt; tomorrow falling again perhaps into the same or similar transgressions: the next day renewing the serious impression, and soon after giving fresh proofs of human infirmity: and thus going on through life in the succession of offences and contrition; sometimes humbling the soul under the mighty hand of God, from a conscious unworthiness, but more frequently forgetting that “there is a God which judgeth the earth.” Are these sacrifices fit to offer to the Lord? Are these fragments of a checkered life sufficiently meritorious to save the soul? Can any man be presumptuous enough to satisfy his mind that heaven must be the reward of such a train of conduct?
Considering the miserable consequence to which the rejection of our Lord’s divine nature necessarily leads, and the despondency it creates in the human mind; one should imagine that the advocates for this doctrine, however secretly convinced that they are right; must yet wish to be wrong: for, surely it is the most comfortless doctrine ever proposed to mankind! To consider ourselves in a fallen, helpless state of being, exposed to various dangers, and surrounded with the numerous temptations which beset the path of duty, and in this situation to have no divine Spirit to look up to, as the helper of our infirmities, nor any divine Redeemer to confide in, as the propitiation of our sins: conscious also of being accountable creatures, and that a day is approaching when all our actions will be brought into judgment, with every secret thought, whether it be good or bad: can there be a more discouraging and comfortless religion than this? And especially when the retrospect of life is clouded over, I do not say barely with frailties, but with willful offences. To have no better support than repentance, and no refuge but what arises from the un-covenanted mercy of God: ignorant at the same time, whether that repentance hath been exercised in due proportion to our sins, or whether that mercy will be extended equal to our necessities. However hopes of this kind may sooth the mind with the speciousness of their promises, when that mind is perfectly at ease, and the awful subjects of futurity are considered as at a distance; yet when a man is just closing the book of life, and hovering between this world and the next, then it is to be apprehended, mere abstract arguments will entirely lose their efficacy. And indeed, if experience can be deemed the truest test for the ascertaining a matter of fact, we, have every reason to conclude, that those leave the world with most complacency and satisfaction, who have learned to place their hopes and confidence in a Savior’s merit, and not in their own.
But it may be said, that we are not to judge of a doctrine by its consequences, as they may appear to us. Truth must ultimately prevail, and our duty is to anticipate her decisions. Be this, then, the great object of pursuit. Examine with all possible care and circumspection the testimonies for the Godhead of Jesus, which have been now proposed to your consideration, and be guided in your opinion, as you would upon any other important concern of life. Where the evidences are most palpable and convincing, there let the decision of the point rest. Ask your own heart, whether it be possible to imagine that such an accumulation of proofs as you have now seen, uniting in testimony to this great truth, should conspire in support of any cause, unless the probability were in its favor. And do not wonder that this great object of faith is not entirely free from every difficulty: rather wonder that in so mysterious a dispensation as the recovery of a lost world, and by means so astonishing, matters should be so much understood by us as they really are: that such a creature as man, who is but just crept into being; should be able to look round about him, and behold even the surface of the deep things of God.
But whatever your conclusions may be, may divine grace confirm and strengthen the faith of all who are in the right, and mercifully bring into the way of truth every one of his people who are in error. The hour is hastening fast upon us, when we shall be exercised no more with the mysteries of religion, nor will the blessed Redeemer of the world be any longer the object of our faith, but “we shall see him as he is, and know even as we are known.” God grant that in that awful hour, our faith in his sight may not be reproved; but that it may then appear we have given, during the present day of trial, an earnestness of attention to the great demands of duty suitable to their importance, and have diligently set our hearts to a serious concern for the one thing needful. And oh! that God may daily assist every humble soul, that does this more and more with his grace. And “may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Jesus Christ,” (1 Thess. 3:5).
But for you, who live in the faith of this persuasion (and I trust I speak to numbers of that description), I must not dismiss the consideration of this important subject without observing, in what a serious and awful manner the perfect conviction of this great truth ought to affect our hearts. Satisfied as we are by a series of proofs, the most full and uncontestable, that the gracious scheme of salvation contained in the gospel was proposed to mankind by no less a being than the Son of God himself: think, I beseech you, with what increased veneration and regard, we, above all men, ought to receive this “glorious gospel of the blessed God,” (1 Tim. 1:11). Is then the great Author of our religion really and truly the Son of God? Did he possess “glory with his Father before the world?” And was there no other method in all the plans of Omnipotence for the recovery of our fallen nature, but for this divine character to come down from heaven, to enshrine his glory in a veil of flesh, and by a process the most painful and humiliating, to procure the means of our salvation and happiness? Was there no less being, no angel, equal to the accomplishment of it? Dread Lord! what awful and awakening views ought it to excite in our minds of the importance of that scheme of grace and mercy which he brought; and with what earnestness ought our souls to be engaged in seeking wisdom from above, lest any man fail of this grace of God. Surely, the higher ideas we entertain of the great Author of our faith, the higher must arise in proportion, the duty and obedience we owe him. Let those professors of Christianity who consider Jesus but as a man, regard but as the ministry of a man, all the interesting doctrines of his religion. For the whole of his gospel being enervated by this persuasion, they cannot, they ought not, indeed, too feel it in the manner it should affect us. But we who, in the person of Jesus, behold the eternal God one with the Father; by this consideration, how exceedingly enforced upon the conscience are all the sanctions of the divine laws! Let it not, therefore, for shame, be ever said, that either in affection or in duty their conduct is equal to ours; but let us show the superiority of our faith by a corresponding practice; and let the remembrance of that just and awakening consideration of the apostle’s be never from our hearts, how “impossible it will be in the end for any of us to escape, if we neglect so great salvation.”
Particularly, let the awful view of the sad nature of guilt be one of those principles most deeply impressed upon the mind, in the consciousness of the divinity of the great Author of our religion.
Never was there afforded an event equally demonstrable of the dreadful malignity of sin, as when Christ became man, to redeem the world from its influence. The promulgation of the law on mount Sinai, though accompanied with such manifestations of the divine presence, was by no means so strong an indication of the value of righteousness in the sight of God, as when his divine Son appeared in an human form to proclaim it to the world. And of all arguments which can be thought of to interest the human heart to resist the contagion of sin, and to stimulate to purity of life and manners, no doubt that is infinitely transcendent which is drawn from the incarnation, and sufferings, and death of Jesus.
Let the solemn conviction, then, of the great malignity of sin be always connected in our remembrance with the assurance of his divine nature, who came to expiate its effects: and if, “God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” (Hab. 1:13); if “no evil can possibly dwell with him,” (Ps. 5:4); if he hath given so decided a proof of his utter detestation of sin, as even “to send his Son to be the Saviour of the world,” (1 John 4:14:) What shall I say? If the redemption of sinners could only be affected by means so awful and extraordinary; shall we dare to continue in sin, after such a manifestation of the divine displeasure against it? “Shall we,” who are supposed by virtue of the death of Jesus, to be ourselves “dead unto sin, live any longer therein, (Rom: 6:12): God forbid. We are now bought with a price, and are no longer our own;” and therefore we are bound by a peculiar obligation to holiness, and “to glorify God in our body, and in our spirit, which are God’s,” (1 Cor. 6:20). In a word, we who receive the doctrine of a divine Being in our Redeemer are justly expected, above all others, “to be examples of believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, and purity,” (1 Tim. 4:12).
And these duties, let us further remember, are enforced upon us by considerations, if possible, yet more importunate. Every additional proof of God’s love must proportionally increase the apprehension of his anger. Every abused mercy is converted into an evil. And what is intended for our happiness, by a misapplication or neglect, must become the source of misery. “If we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries,” (Heb. 10:26-27). How ought our souls to be impressed with the conviction of these undoubted truths! For, depend upon it, of all condemnation which may fall upon the sinner at the last day, that Christian’s must be the heaviest and most intolerable, who, with the open profession and belief of the divinity of Jesus, hath lived a wicked and disobedient life. “Far better would it have been never to have known the way of righteousness, than after having known, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto us,” (2 Pet. 2:21). And if the righteous scarcely are saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:18).
From the accumulation of evidences with which this great doctrine of the Godhead of Christ hath been now proved, I hope no sincere believer in the divinity of his Lord, entertains the least apprehension, as though “that faith” is in any danger of being overthrown, “which was once delivered to the saints,” (Jude 3). That gracious Providence which watched over and guarded it, while a tender plant, from every storm, will not suffer it now (to use our Lord’s own beautiful figure), when it has waxed a great tree, and its branches have filled the earth, to be cut down and destroyed. By feeble instruments was it first planted, and, under divine protection, the same humble means will in all ages be found sufficient for its security and support.
When the fashionable doctrine of the present hour has had its day, like many others which have sprung up, and for the moment appeared to flourish, but soon died away, “whose very memorial is perished with them,” (Ps. 9:6); this also will sink and be forgotten. And as the false god could not stand before the ark of the Lord, though repeatedly set in his place, but fell upon his face to the earth, (1 Sam. 5:3-4); so this, and all other deviations from the true faith, must ultimately bend to the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus; the “true God (as John calls him) and eternal life,” (1 John 5:20).1
But O, what topics of persuasion shall I adopt, so as to leave a lasting impression of these truths upon every mind, to be the perpetual incentive of all our conduct? I will say with the apostle, “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life,” (Jude 20, 21). And let the expectation of this eternal life excite our daily preparation for it. Let the employments of our future state become our principal subject of contemplation in the present. Let every hour be such as we would wish our last to be. And when the scene of this life is drawing to its end, and the hand of death is closing our mortal eyes forever, may the last faint accents which tremble on our lips, be in unison with the beginning of our everlasting song: “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God, for ever and ever,” Amen, (Rev. 7:10, 12).
1 As I am now about to take leave of my reader, I would request the favor of him, before our final separation, that he would pause one moment, and ask himself this necessary question? What kind of conviction the evidences which have been now brought before him, in proof of the Godhead of Jesus, are likely to leave upon his mind? There is a conviction of the head, and which there is great reason to fear, by what appears in the world, is but too common, with which men satisfy their minds on this great subject of the Redeemer’s divinity: and this is certainly very attainable by the mere dint of reasoning, and men of no real religion may possess it. But then this is a loose, floating, undetermined principle of belief, which descends not into the heart, and neither interests the affections nor influences the conduct, and is productive of no one practical effect on the life. Should your conviction of Christ’s Godhead, my brother, after all that I have brought before you, operate to no higher purpose than this; forgive me if I add, that according to my ideas your belief, or disbelief, of the important doctrine, is much the same.
When I read the writings of learned and ingenious men, which have been published in proof of the Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ; and see how much may be said, from the mere strength of human reasoning alone, on this divine subject, I very heartily subscribe to the just compliment their labors are entitled to, and add my thanks to the general suffrage of mankind, for their services in defense of the common faith. But after paying all possible respect to the attainments of human learning, I confess that I derive more real, solid satisfaction from the single experimental testimony of some poor unlettered Christian, whom God hath taught on this grand point, than from all the elaborate discourses of the most learned of men. The one may, indeed, and will gratify the understanding by the elegance of style, or the manner of the remarks, but the other, however plain and unpolished, comes with what the apostle calls “the demonstration of the Spirit and power,” and is as much superior to mere abstract reasoning and argument as any ocular proof surpasses the best hearsay evidence whatever. Would you covet, my Christian friend, the possession of this gratifying conviction seek it then of Him, “from whom alone cometh every good and every perfect gift.” Outward evidences you may obtain from the hearing of the ear. Inward testimony is not to be found in books. But everyone, the apostle says, “who believeth on the Son of God,” that is, who believeth to any effectual purpose of salvation, “hath the witness in himself.” Grant, Lord, this witness to all thy people, “that our faith may not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God!” (1 Cor. 2:5).
Might I venture to go one step further in the observation, I would say, that according to my apprehension of things, not only this fundamental truth in the Christian system, the Divinity of Christ, but every other article of the holy faith connected with it, is capable, through the gracious teachings of God, of being brought home to the conviction of the mind, with evidences so perfectly clear and irresistible, as to leave no manner of doubt of their existence and reality. Indeed, might I escape the imputation of vanity upon this occasion, (which when it be considered how utterly repugnant every degree of it is to the principles of the Gospel, methinks one might be credited in saying, it is my most earnest wish studiously to avoid), I would, as modestly as the case will admit of, venture to assert, that there is not an essential article in the creed of a real Christian, but what I can experimentally subscribe to, and have received as ample conviction of, as I think, could have been received by the demonstration of sight. Suffer me to explain myself by an illustration. For example, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, forms a principal doctrine in the faith of a Christian. Now I humbly conceive that I have the most heartfelt and satisfactory conviction of the certainty of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, equal to any evidence whatever which could be afforded. And I thus prove it. Before the sufferings and death of Jesus, he told his disciples of the necessity of his going from them, and the consequences which should result from his departure. “It is expedient for you,” (says Christ) “that I go away: for if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you: but if I depart I will send him unto you, And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin; and of righteousness, and of judgment,” (John 16:7-8). Hence, therefore, I prove the certainty of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus; from the certainty of those effects which have followed, agreeably to his promises. And I must insist upon it, with all the confidence of one that contends for a plain matter of fact, that from the very moment that the Holy Ghost first descended on the day of Pentecost, to the present hour, in every single instance where the operations of the blessed Spirit have been experienced on the minds of believers; in that breast the Lord hath given as complete an evidence of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as to any of those “to whom he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs:” and, “who stedfastly looked toward heaven” “in his ascension” as he went up, (Acts 1:3 & 10).
And if it will not be considered going out of my way to remark, I would add yet further, the certainty of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity may be proved also by the same infallible evidences, to the comfort of all gracious minds, who will but attend to the operations in their own hearts of the Three sacred and eternal Persons of the Godhead. For when Jesus says, “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him;” and the believer finds himself drawn to Christ with an earnestness and a persuasion which nothing else can satisfy, that Christ is all-sufficient to his salvation; can anything be, more decisive in proof, both of the existence and of the operations of the Father? And again, when a soul, conscious of being by nature “dead in trespasses and sins,” finds himself quickened by grace to a new and spiritual life; and reads in Scripture, among numberless other proofs of the divinity and power of Jesus, that “as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will,” (John 5:21); will not the soul thus quickened, be able to discern the clear traces of the Redeemer’s eternal power and Godhead in this distinguished act of grace? And so, in like manner, to that awakened Christian, “in whose heart the love of God is shed abroad by the Holy Ghost,” when he is conscious that before this, the enmity of a carnal nature remained; will higher proof be required of the divinity and operation of the blessed Spirit than his own experience thus affords him? These evidences (and numberless others, which, if needful, might be produced), are what I call practical and experimental proofs of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and which if real Christians would but attend to in their own experience, they would be found more than sufficient, both to check the blasphemous tongue of heresy, and “to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
My Christian brother! I add no more, but an earnest prayer to God, that instead of turning over the many volumes of human arguments which have been written for and against these divine things, (which unless blessed with an higher Teacher than man, leave the world just where they found it); that you would turn over the volume of your own life, and see what pages there are marked with the teachings of God’s Holy Spirit. May God teach you the certainty of the Redeemer’s divinity, by that most decisive of all evidences, his grace in your heart; for then you will be able to adopt similar language to what the men of Samaria did to the woman at the well: “Now we believe,” (say they) “not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world,” (John 4:42). Click here to return to reading.