Manual of Theology
by John Dagg, 1857
Section 5. Doctrine Concerning JESUS CHRIST
Duty of Believing In Jesus Christ. (Acts 16:31; John 9:35)
In close connection with repentance for sin, the Word of God enjoins the duty of believing in Christ; "Repent you, and believe the Gospel (Mar 1:15): "Testifying repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21) Both the duties relate to men as sinners, and without the performance of them, escape from the penalty of sin is impossible. The requirement of faith, in addition to repentance, proves that mere sorrow for sin will not suffice; and the passages of Scripture are numerous in which faith is expressly declared to be necessary to salvation; "Preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who believes not, shall be damned." (Mar 16:15, 16) "Without faith it is impossible to please him." (Heb 11:6) "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he who believes not, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36) "He who believes not, is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18)
These clear proofs that faith is necessary to salvation, render it important to understand the nature of faith. And since the saving benefit does not result from every kind of exercise of faith, but only from faith in Christ, what it is to believe in Jesus Christ, is an inquiry of highest interest.
Every one who reflects on the operations of his own mind, will perceive that faith lies at the foundation of every mental affection, and of every purpose to act. The testimony of our senses must be believed, before external objects can awaken any emotion in the mind; and the uniformity of nature's laws, and the deductions of our reason, must be believed before we can resolve to shun a precipice, or to labor for a future crop. In the ordinary affairs of life, faith is the basis of action. The man who believes that his house is on fire, or that a rich treasure is buried under it, acts accordingly. It is equally true that faith lies at the foundation of every religious affection and of every religious duty. He who loves God, and delights in his will and works, must believe that he is, and that the will and works in which he delights are realities, and possess the qualities which his mind attributes to them. He who repents of sin, must believe that the sin of which he repents has been committed, and that it possesses the evil nature which he condemns and loathes. So, in everything else, faith is the foundation of all religion.
In the view which has been taken, faith is merely intellectual, and does not imply any emotion, either pleasurable or painful. It may immediately excite emotions, pleasurable or painful, according to the character of the truth believed, and the state of mind in which it is received. The belief of one truth gives pleasure; pleasure to one mind and pain to another. So, the truth of God, which a man dislikes while he is unconverted, is delighted in after his heart has been changed.
Faith, in this general sense, is necessary to the obedience of holy creatures, and mingles with all the holy exercises of their minds. But holy beings are incapable of repentance, because they have no sin to repent of; and they are unable to approach to God through Christ as guilty beings, seeking pardon. The Gospel addresses men as sinners, and presents Christ to them as the Savior of sinners; and the faith in Christ which it requires, is the receiving of the truth which it declares concerning Christ.
Although faith may be contemplated as merely intellectual, and as antecedent to all emotion; it is not, in this abstract view of it, that faith in Christ is enjoined in the Gospel, and has the promise of salvation. Men must receive "the love of the truth, that they may be saved," (2 The 2:10) as well as the truth itself. A merely intellectual faith, without the love of the truth believed, cannot produce the proper fruits of faith; for "faith works by love;" (Gal 5:6) and it cannot secure the blessings promised to faith; for "with the heart man believes unto righteousness." (Rom 10:10) A faith which dwells exclusively in the intellect, and leaves the heart untouched and cold, is the dead faith which the apostle James describes (Jam 2:26).
Faith in Christ, is faith in the declarations of the Gospel concerning Christ; and it is faith in these as coming from God. It is the receiving of God's testimony concerning his Son; and, in this view of it, we see the great sinfulness of unbelief; for he who believes not, has made God a liar (1 John 1:10). We see, also, how firm a foundation is laid for strong faith. The Gospel is the Word of God that cannot lie. Our senses may deceive us and the deductions of our reason may be false. Relying on these, we may err, in things pertaining to the present life; but, in laying hold on life eternal, we may believe the truth of God with unwavering confidence. His word cannot fail.
Faith in Christ is necessary to salvation. We may believe many things that God has said in his Holy Word, without believing in Christ; and we may believe many truths concerning Christ, without possessing that faith in him which has the promise of eternal life. True faith receives Christ entire, as he is presented in the Gospel. If any part of his character, of his offices, or of his doctrine, is unwelcome to the heart, true faith does not dwell there. A perfect knowledge of Christ is not necessary to true faith; otherwise true faith would be impossible; for the riches of Christ are unsearchable (Eph 3:8), and his love passes knowledge (Eph 3:19). But the true believer delights in Christ, just so far as he has knowledge of him; and desires to know more of him, that he may be more filled with his love. The revelation made to the Old Testament saints was obscure; but, so far as they could see Christ, in the light which was afforded them, they rejoiced to see his day and were glad (John 8:56).
From the necessity of faith in Christ may be inferred the greatness of Christ's character. When Jesus said, "If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins," (John 8:24) he claimed an importance to which Isaiah or Paul could never have aspired. When the ministers of his religion taught, "There is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved," (Acts 4:12) they ascribed to him an office of exceeding greatness. If we believe in Christ, according to the Scriptures, we fully justify all that he claimed for himself, and all that his apostles claimed for him; and we rejoice to render to him all honor and praise.
We may consider the question proposed to us; "Do you believe on the Son of God?" On the decision of this question our eternal all depends. As guilty sinners we are under condemnation, and the wrath of God abides on us. Among all the beings in the universe, no deliverer can be found, except Jesus Christ and there is no salvation possible, except by faith in him. It is, therefore, an inquiry of infinite importance whether we believe in him. The man, to whom the question was proposed by the Savior, very pertinently asked in turn, "Who is he, that I might believe on him?" We are about to institute the inquiry, Who is he? While we search the Holy Scriptures, to find the answer, let us take heed to it that we believe in him with all our hearts. Let us rejoice to discover that he is mighty to save; and that he is, in every particular, just such a Savior as we need. While we study his character and works, let us receive him into our hearts, and yield ourselves up to him, as bought with his blood, and seek to glorify him with our bodies and spirits, which are his.
Chapter I. The PERSON Of Christ
JESUS CHRIST WAS A MAN (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7, 8; Heb 2:14-17; Mark 9:12; 1 Tim 2:5; Mat 1:18-25; Luke 1:28-35; Gal 4:4; Mat 4:2; 21:18; John 4:6, 10; Mat 8:24; 21:18; Mark 9:12; Isa 53:3; John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Mat 26:37, 38; Luke 22:44; Mat 4:1; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2; Heb 2:18; 4:15; Luke 2:10, 52; Mat 4:11; Luke 22:43; Mark 15:34).
The manner of Christ's conception was peculiar. Without a human father, he was conceived in the womb of his virgin mother, by the power of the Holy Spirit. How far the son of Mary, conceived in this peculiar manner, resembled the sons born of other mothers, in the ordinary mode of generation, and how far he differed from them, we cannot certainly know from the circumstances of his conception. The divine power, which formed a man out of the dust of the ground, could also form a man in the womb of the virgin: but whether this extraordinary production should be a man, or a being of some other order, depended entirely on the will of God. For the knowledge of what Jesus Christ was, we are wholly indebted to the testimony concerning him given in the sacred Scriptures.
The testimony of the inspired Word on this point is very explicit. Whatever else Jesus Christ may have been, he was certainly a man; for so innumerable passages of Scripture declare. "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved;" (Acts 2:22) "One mediator, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 2:5)
Jesus Christ had a human body. His was not a mere shadowy form of humanity; for, even after his resurrection, he said to his disciples, "Handle me and see me, for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have." (Luke 24:39) It was a real body that bore the weight of the cross, and was afterwards nailed to it. It was a real body that was pierced by the spear; and real blood and water issued from the wound. It was a real body that was embalmed with spices and laid in the tomb; and that afterwards rose from the dead. This body was human. It had the appearance and organs common to human bodies; was sustained by food, was subject to hunger and weariness, and needed the rest of sleep, like the bodies of other men.
Jesus Christ had a human soul. If the divine nature had dwelt in his body as a mere tabernacle of flesh, and supplies to it the place of a human soul, it could not have been said that "Jesus increased in wisdom." (Luke 2:52) The mere material fabric could have no wisdom, and the wisdom of the divine nature was not susceptible of increase. Nor was it some created spirit of angelic or super-angelic nature that animated his body. He was made in all things like his brethren (Heb 2:17); and he would not have been a brother, one of the family, made like the rest, if the spirit that dwelt in his human flesh had not also been human. Without this he would not have been a man. If he had not possessed a soul, he could not have said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful;" (Mark 14:34) nor could it have been said, "When you shall make his soul an offering for sin." (Isa 53:10) And if his soul had not been human, it would not have been a suitable offering for the sin of human beings. He took not on him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham (Heb 2:16). He must be made like those whose law-place he assumed, and for whom he made himself a sacrifice.
The soul of Christ was unlike the souls of ordinary men, in being without the taint of sin. The mention of this exception proves more strongly the likeness in other respects. "He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15) Had the divine nature served as the soul of Christ, a statement of this exception would have been needless and inappropriate. Christ could be a man without being depraved; for Adam was a man before he fell. In the comparison between Christ and Adam as public heads, Adam is called the first man, and Christ the second man (1 Cor 15:47). The humanity of the latter is as real as that of the former.
In the working of miracles God has shown that he is able to suspend the laws of nature; and he could have suspended that law of nature by which depraved parents generate depraved children. Had it been his pleasure, Jesus Christ might have had a human father as well as a human mother; and have been, nevertheless, without sin; for with God all things are possible. But it was not the pleasure of God that he should be so born; and the reason for his conception by the power of the Holy Spirit, is given in the words of the angel to his virgin mother; "Therefore, that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35) Ordinary generation would have made him the son of man; but his generation was extraordinary, because he was also the son of God. The conception by the Holy Spirit did not give the offspring an intermediate nature between the divine and the human, such as the demigods of the heathen were supposed to possess. In that case, Christ, as the son of God, would have been the son of the Holy Spirit, and not of the Father. But the Holy Sprit was the agent in preparing the body in which the sacrifice was to be made; and such was the union between it and the divinity, that the name, Son of God, belonged to the entire person so constituted.
JESUS CHRIST WAS GOD (Mic 5:2; Heb 1:8; 13:8; Rev 1:8, 18; John 2:24; 10:15; 21:17; Acts 1:24; Rev. 2:23; Mat 18:20; 28:20; John 1:48; Col 2:3; Jude 25; Mat 3:17; Luke 1:35; 10:22; John 5:23; 1 John 5:20; Mat 28:19; Isa 40:3; Zechariah 2:8, 10; 4:8; Mal 3:1; Mat 3:3; 1 Cor 15:47; Rev 19:16; Isa 9:6; John 1:1; Rom 9:5; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 1:8; 1 John 5:20; Philippians 2:6; Mat 28:9; Luke 23:42; Acts 7:59; Rev 5:12; John 1:3, 10; Col 1:16; Heb 1:10; Neh 9).
As the humanity of Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, could not be known but from the testimony of the Scriptures; so his divinity, considering that he was born of a human mother, could not be known but from the testimony of the same unerring word. The conception by the Holy Spirit is sufficient to intimate that he was not to be an ordinary man; and the declaration that, in consequence of it, he was to be called the Son of God, leads the mind to conceive that, in some sense, he was to partake of the divine nature. Demigods, according to the heathen, had an intermediate nature between that of gods and men. But we have seen that Jesus Christ was properly a man, according to the testimony of the Scriptures; and we have now to appeal to the same testimony to learn whether he was also properly God.
The proofs on this point are abundant, and will be produced under several distinct heads.
I. The names of God are ascribed to Jesus Christ.
"The Word was God." (John 1:1) This testimony of the beloved disciple is the more important, because it was his design to inform us who his divine Master was. As he opens his First Epistle with an account of Jesus Christ, as the "eternal life which was with the Father," (1 John 1:3) so he opens his Gospel with an account of him as the Word which was with God, and which was God. The subsequent part of the chapter clearly shows that this Word became flesh (John 1:14), in the person of Jesus Christ, and the name Word is given elsewhere, by the same writer, to Jesus Christ (Rev 19:13). Now it is incredible that the Gospel should open with a declaration which has misled its readers, in all ages, into a belief that Jesus Christ is God, if he were nothing more than a mere man. To no purpose has this apostle said most earnestly, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," (1 John 5:21) if his own teachings are such as must inevitably lead to idolatry. His language is usually very plain and simple; but in this case it needs the torture of most ingenious criticism, if it does not teach the deity of Christ. He has written that we might believe in Christ, and, believing, might have life through his name (John 20:31); but if he has so written as to lead our souls into the sin of idolatry, our faith must be to death rather than life.
"Who is over all, God blessed forever." (Rom 9:5) Christ is here called God; not in some subordinate sense, but over all, and blessed forever. His possession of human nature is signified in the phrase, "Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came." In contrast with this, his divinity is distinctly brought to view. What he was, according to the flesh, is not all that he was; but above that, he was over all, God, blessed forever. All the criticisms which have been tried on this text leave its testimony plain and decisive.
"My Lord and my God." (John 20:28) These words of Thomas are a brief, but very expressive declaration of his faith; and were so received by his Master: "Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed." (John 20:29) So, the unfolding of Christ's true character to the mind of Nathaniel, drew forth his declaration of faith, "You are the son of God." (John 1:49) So this confession of Thomas was elicited by the opening of the Savior's character to his mind. Both of them were doubtless taught by the same Spirit which revealed Christ's character to Peter (Mat 16:17); and the faith of both was accepted, and publicly approved. If Christ had not been God, it behooved him to correct his disciple, and save him from idolatry.
"Your throne, O God, is forever." (Heb 1:8) In this place, as in the first chapter of John, the inspired writer is designedly stating who Jesus Christ was. He has represented him as superior to the prophets, by whom God spoke in times past to the fathers; as superior to the angels; as the proper object of angelic worship; and finally closes the account with quotations from the Old Testament, applied to him, in which he is called God, and Lord, and said to have made the heavens and earth, and to endure forever. If he was not God, Paul was mistaken.
To these texts in which the name God is applied to Jesus Christ, we may add the following: "The Church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28) "God was manifest in the flesh." (1 Tim 3:16) "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ; this is the true God, and eternal life." (1 John 5:20) "So then every one of us must give account of himself to God;" (Rom 14:12) compared with the preceding verse. "He who built all things, is God," (Heb 3:4) considered in connection with the context, which shows that the Son is the builder here intended.
Several other passages may be cited as pertinent examples, if the translation of them, given in our common English version, be amended. "The appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." (Tit 2:13) "The grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ." (2 The 1:12) "In the kingdom of the Christ and God," I. e. of him who is both Christ and God (Eph 5:5). "Before the God and Lord, Jesus Christ." (1 Tim 5:21) "The righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ." (2 Pet 1:1) These emendations of the translation are not made arbitrarily, but are required by a rule of criticism, founded on the usage of Greek writers, as to the repetition of the article, when prefixed to two nouns connected by a conjunction.
II. The attributes of God are ascribed to Jesus Christ.
Eternity. In a prediction concerning him by Isaiah, it is said: "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." (Isa 9:6) The phrase "Everlasting Father: may be rendered the Father of Eternity. Were this name given to him by erring men, we might suppose it inappropriate: but it is given to him by the infallible Spirit that spoke in the ancient prophets. In another prophecy concerning him, it is said: "Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Mic 5:2) We know that this prophecy referred to Christ; for it is expressly applied to him in Matthew ii. 6. In the book of Proverbs, ch. viii., Wisdom is introduced, saying; "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was....Then I was with him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of the earth; and my delights were with the sons of men." (Pro 8:23-31) The most consistent interpretation of this passage, applies it to the Christ, the Eternal Word, who is called "the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God." (1 Cor 1:24) To these passages, we may add the words of Christ; "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58) As his human nature was not fifty years old, these words could not refer to it. They attribute existence to him of more ancient date than the time of Abraham; and, in affirming that pre-existence, the present tense, I am, is employed. This very extraordinary mode of speaking, agrees precisely with Old Testament language, describing the self-existent Jehovah; "I am that I am." "I am has sent me." (Exo 3:14) The Jews who heard Jesus speak thus concerning himself, understood him to claim divinity; and if he did not design to do so, it is undeniable that he employed language well calculated to mislead them.
Immutability. "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb 13:8) "They shall wax old as does a garment, and as a vesture shall you fold them up, and they shall be changed, but you are the same." (Heb 1:11, 12)
Omnipresence. Christ promised to be with his disciples always, even to the end of the world (Mat 28:20), and, not only at all times, but at all places: "Where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Mat 18:20) To fulfill this promise, he must be omnipresent. The same is implied in the words, "No man has ascended up to Heaven, but he who came down from Heaven, even the Son of man which is in Heaven." (John 3:13) His body was on earth, when he spoke these words; and yet he declares himself to be in Heaven. This could not be true, if he were not omnipresent.
Omniscience. Jesus knew the thoughts of men, even while shut up in their own breasts. Other prophets had this knowledge communicated to them, by special revelation, on particular occasions; but Jesus had his knowledge at all times. "He knew all men, and needed not that any one should testify of man; for he knew what was in man." (John 2:25) To know the secrets of the heart, belongs peculiarly to Jehovah. "Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart." (Jer 17:10) Yet the power of searching the heart, is expressly ascribed to Jesus. "I am he which searches the reins and hearts." (Rev 2:23) Peter appealed to Christ, as knowing the secrets of his heart, and expressly ascribes omniscience to him. "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." (John 21:17) Christ claimed omniscience in the words, "No man knows the Son, but the Father, neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whoever the Son will reveal him." (Mat 11:29) Without omniscience, Christ would not be qualified to judge the world.
Omnipotence. Paul, feeling his own weakness, desired the power of Christ to rest upon him (2 Cor 12:9); and he conceived of that power as infinite, when he said: "I can do all things, through Christ which strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) The omnipotence of Christ is manifested in the works which he performs, of which we shall presently speak more particularly. He claimed like omnipotence with the Father: "My Father works hitherto, and I work." (John 5:17) "What things soever the Father does, these also the Son does likewise." (John 5:19) "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. No man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (John 10:27, 28) In the prophecy already quoted from Isaiah, he is called "the Mighty God;" and in Rev. 1:8-11, he is called "the Almighty."
III. Divine works are ascribed to Christ.
Creation. "All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made." (John 1:3) "By him all things were created that are in Heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible." (Col 1:16) We may admit, that the word "by" frequently denotes an instrument used in a work; but this is not its invariable meaning. It is applied to God the Father. "It became him, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering." (Heb 2:10) If Christ was a created instrument, used in the creation of everything else, he was himself created without such instrumentality, and the words of John were not true, "Without him was not anything made that was made." God created all things by Jesus Christ (Eph 3:9), not as a mere instrument, or as an inferior agent; otherwise it could not be said, "All things were created by him and for him." (Col 1:16) An inferior agent, employed to do a work, performs it not for himself, but for the superior who employs him. The Son co-operated with the Father in the work of creation, as supreme God. The word "by" implies no inferiority. When it is said of Christ, he by himself purged our sins (Heb 1:3), himself does not denote an agent inferior to Christ.
Providence. All things are kept in being by the power of Christ, and he must, therefore, be God. "Upholding all things by the word of his power." (Heb 1:3) All the powers of the universe are under his management, and therefore all the working of providence are directed by him.
Giving of life. Christ raised the dead to life during his personal ministry, not as prophets and apostles did, in the name and by the power of another. The apostles wrought miracles, not by their own power, but in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:12; 4:10). Jesus, on the contrary, claimed the power which he exercised in the working of miracles. "The Son quickens whom he will." (John 5:21) He claimed to exercise his power, both in the quickening of souls dead in sin, and in the resurrection of the body. "The hour is come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." (John 5:25) "The hour is coming in the which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth." (John 5:28, 29) The power of raising the dead, is attributed by Paul to Christ, and is called the working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself (Philippians 3:21).
IV. Numerous passages of the Old Testament, which unquestionably speak of Jehovah, the Supreme God, are, in the New Testament, applied to Jesus Christ. Isaiah 6:3, compared with John 12:41; Isaiah 40:3, compared with Matthew 3:1, 3; Isaiah 45:21-23, compared with Philippians. 2:9-11; Zechariah 12:10, compared with John 19:37.
V. Divine worship was commanded to be rendered, and was rendered, to Jesus Christ. The angels were commanded to worship him. "When he brings in the first begotten into the world, he says; let all the angels of God worship him.'" (Heb 1:6) Men are commanded to believe in him, trust in him, which are acts of divine worship. This has more force when compared with the declaration; "Cursed is the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm." (Jer 17:5) Christ permitted himself to be worshiped as the Son of God (John 9:38). He was worshiped by his disciples, after his ascension to Heaven (Luke 24:52). They were accustomed to call on his name (Acts 9:14), that is, to address prayer to him. So the dying Stephen prayed: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59) The administering or receiving of baptism in his name, is an act of religious worship, in which he is honored equally with the Father, and the Holy Spirit (Mat 28:19).
VI. The equality of the Son with the Father, is taught by Paul, in Philippians 2:9. His example, in humbling himself, and taking on himself the form of a servant, is proposed for our imitation; but there was no humiliation in his taking on himself the form of a servant, if that had been the only character that he could rightfully assume. But he had a right to claim equality with God, and this fact showed the greatness of his humiliation. A parallel passage found in 2 Corinthians 8:9: "Though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor."
VII. If Jesus Christ was not God, he was justly condemned to death.
It is difficult to state and unfold this argument, without an appearance of irreverence. To charge the divine Jesus with crime, even hypothetically, is grating to the feelings of those who love and adore him. But it must be remembered that he who is, by this argument, proved to be chargeable with crime, is the Jesus of another gospel, a mere man, whose character and conduct are to be judged like those of other men.
Jesus was condemned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin. That council reported to Pilate, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." (John 19:7) On a former occasion, Jesus said unto them: "My Father works hitherto, and I work." (John 5:17) And they charged him with blasphemy, because he made God his [own] Father, thereby making himself equal with God. It was in this peculiar sense that the charge of making himself the Son of God was construed, or it would not have amounted to blasphemy. The high priest who was the president of the council, put Christ on his oath, "I adjure you by the living God;" (Mat 26:62) and propounded to him two questions which, though mentioned together by Matthew and Mark, are by Luke stated as proposed separately. "Are you the Christ?" and "Are you the Son of God?" It was the affirmative reply of Jesus to the last of these questions, which was the ground of his condemnation. Jesus knew the sense in which the question was propounded; and he was bound, on correct principles or morals, in answering the question, to answer it honestly and truly in the sense in which he knew that the high priest meant it. He therefore affirmed on oath, at that tribunal, that he was the Son of God, in this high sense. For this he was condemned to death; and if he was not what he claimed to be, he was guilty of perjury and of his own death. On this charge he was condemned to death, by the Council, but God justified him by raising him form the dead. "Declared to be the Son of God, with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (Rom 1:4) This proved that his condemnation was unjust; and that he was truly what he had claimed to be, the Son of God, in the sense which the Jews accounted blasphemy.
The last argument exhibits the importance of his doctrine in a strong light. According to the law of Moses, any one who enticed to idolatry was to be punished with death (Deu 13:6, 8). The council before which Jesus was tried, was the court which had cognizance of this offence. A mere man, who should claim divine honor to himself, was guilty of this capital crime; and although the Romans had taken away from the Jews the power of inflicting capital punishment, the council might, with perfect propriety, report to the governor concerning such a man, "By our law he ought to die." This was their decision, as reported to Pilate, concerning Jesus; and, if he was not entitled to the divine honor which he claimed, the decision was just.
Two accusations were brought against Jesus. Before the Roman governor he was charged with treason against Caesar, by making himself king. Into this accusation the governor inquired, asking Jesus, "Are you a king?" Jesus answered in the affirmative, as in the other case; but, that he might not convict himself of a crime of which he was not guilty, he explained, "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36) His reply was satisfactory to the governor, who acquitted him on this charge. In the other case he not only claimed to be the Son of God, but accompanied the claim with no explanation, to prevent the passing of the sentence. He might have said, I am the Son of God, but not in such a sense as to claim divine honor. He made no such explanation. If Jesus was not entitled to divine honor, he knew it; and he knew also that he deserved death, under the decision of this court, for claiming it. To make the claim before the court, was to be guilty of the crime. To answer as he did, on oath, if he did not mean to make the claim, was perjury. And to permit the sentence against him to pass, without any effort to explain, was to be guilty of his own death. It follows, therefore, that Jesus Christ, if not entitled to divine honor, was a wicked man and a deceiver.
We might suppose the possibility of mistake, concerning Christ's claim of divine honor before the court that condemned him, if he had habitually disclaimed such honor in his previous ministry. But, instead of this, he had taught, "It is the will of God, that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father." (John 5:23) He claimed superiority to the law of the Sabbath, and the right of working every day, as his Father did: "My Father works hitherto, and I work." (John 5:17) He claimed to have been before Abraham, in language which appropriately intimates self-existence: "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58) He claimed to be one with the Father: "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30) Moreover, he never rejected divine honor, when offered him. Paul and Barnabas, at Lystra, indignantly repelled those who approached to do them honor as gods (Acts 14:15); and the angel hastily prevented John from worshiping him: "See you do it not. Worship God." (Rev 22:9) When the people were minded to take him by force, and make him king, he escaped from them. He refused to be "a judge or divider," (Luke 12:14) and declined all civil honor, in perfect consistence with his disclaimer of it before Pilate. But in equal consistence with his claim of divine honor before the Sanhedrin, he never rejected it when offered by any one. The man of whom he had given sight worshiped him as the Son of God (John 9:38), without rebuke; and Thomas addressed him, "My Lord and my God;" not only without rebuke, but the approbation (John 20:28, 29). To all this we may add, that the disciples to whom he taught the principles of his religion, and who believed that they had the mind of Christ, were accustomed to render him divine honor. Many proofs of his deity have been cited above, from their writings. That Paul did not consider him a mere man, is most clear from Galatians 1:1: "Paul an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ;" and the whole tenor of his writings shows, that he felt such obligations to Christ, and reposed such trust in him, as are utterly inconsistent with the belief that he was a mere creature.
From these facts, we must believe that the deity of Christ is an essential doctrine of Christianity. As there can be no religion without the existence of God; so there can be no Christian creed in which the doctrine of Christ's deity is not a fundamental article.
But, clear and abundant as the proofs on this subject are, the humble inquirer into the truth as it is in Jesus, is sometimes perplexed with difficulties respecting it. The more common of these it will be proper briefly to consider.
Objection 1. This doctrine is inconsistent with the Unity of God. This objection will be considered hereafter, under the head of "The Trinity."
Objection 2. In various passages Jesus Christ is spoken of as distinct from God, and sometimes in such a manner as seems to deny his proper deity.
Before we proceed, under this head, to examine particular passages, we may premise that the Scriptures speak of a two-fold connection between the Godhead and the man Jesus Christ--a personal union and an indwelling. The personal union is not with the whole Godhead, but with one person or subsistence therein. It was not the whole Godhead that was made flesh; but the Word that was with God, and was God. God sent forth, not the whole Godhead, but his Son, made of a woman (Gal 4:4). On the other hand, the indwelling is of the whole Godhead. In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col 2:9). The Father dwelt in him (John 14:10), and the Spirit was given to him without measure (John 3:34). This indwelling did not make him one person with the Father and the Holy Spirit. His body was a temple for the whole Godhead. As the Holy Spirit, in the prophets, was distinct from the prophets; so the Godhead, dwelling in Jesus Christ, was distinct from the person of Jesus Christ.
John 17:3. "This is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God; and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." The Father is here addressed, as the representative of the Godhead. The Godhead that sent Christ is distinct from the person of Jesus Christ; but the person sent was nevertheless divine. His divinity, though not affirmed in the passage, may be inferred from the fact that the knowledge of him was necessary to eternal life.
1 Corinthians 8:6. "To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." Here, again, the Father is the representative of the entire Godhead, which is in him, as the object of ultimate worship, and is one. "Of whom are all things." The same Godhead is in Jesus Christ as the medium of manifestation. "By whom are all things." This text does not affirm that Jesus Christ is a divine person; but his qualification to be universal Lord implies it. This text no more denies Jesus Christ to be God, than it denies the Father to be Lord.
In the same manner other similar passages may be explained.
Objection 3. The various passages which speak of Jesus Christ as inferior to the Father, as sent by the Father, and as working by the power of the Father, appear to deny his proper deity.
The explanation of all these passages is given by Paul in Philippians. 2:5-8. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
The Son of God, though truly divine, and entitled to divine honor, humbled himself; and, by his union with human nature, was made under the law. He was not originally under the law, but was made under it. Hence we read of his inferiority to the Father, his subjection to the Father's authority, etc. Inferiority to office does not require inferiority of nature. A subject is inferior in authority to his king; though he is equal to him in nature, and may surpass him in intellectual and moral worth. Jesus Christ is inferior to the Father in his human nature, and his mediatorial office; but in his divine nature he is God over all.
Objection 4. Jesus Christ appears, in Luke 18:19, to admit that he had not the goodness peculiar to God; and, in Mark 13:32, to deny that he had omniscience.
"Why call you me good? none is good save one, that is God." These words are a question. Questions sometimes imply strong affirmation; but, in such cases, the reason of asking them must be apparent. In the present case there is nothing in the whole context indicating that it was Christ's design to explain his own character; and we may therefore conclude that the question was asked for another purpose. The young ruler thought himself to be a good man, and addressing Christ as another good man, from whom he was willing to receive instruction, asked, in the spirit of self-righteousness, "What good thing shall I do?" (Mat 19:16) The whole of Christ's discourse with this young man was designed to convince him of his self-righteousness, and the question with which it commenced was precisely adapted to this purpose. It was calculated to lead his mind to the humbling reflection that all human goodness, such as he trusted in, and such as he had attributed to Christ, was insignificant and worthless when brought into comparison with God. Whether divine goodness belonged to Jesus Christ is here neither affirmed nor denied. This question the ruler never thought of, and Christ made no reference to it, and said nothing about it.
Mark 13:31. "Of that day and that hour knows no man; no, not the angels of Heaven; neither the Son, but my Father only." This passage must be explained in harmony with other Scriptures. Were Genesis 18:21 the only passage of Scripture from which we could learn anything respecting the extent of God's knowledge, we should conclude that it is not unlimited; and, in like manner, if Mark 13:31 were the only text from which we could learn the extent of Christ's knowledge, we should infer that he is not omniscient. But the proofs of his omniscience, as before adduced, are so abundant, that we are obliged to seek an explanation of this passage which shall be consistent with them. When we consider that it was the spirit of Christ in the ancient prophets, that enabled them to make their numerous predictions--that he personally predicted so many things, and so much in particular concerning this very day (Philippians 1:6), and that this day is emphatically called the day of Christ, the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5), it seems improbable that he should be wholly ignorant of the time of its coming. He describes himself as a lord, coming unexpectedly on his servants after a season of absence. Now, although we can see a propriety that the servants should not know when their lord would come, no reason appears why the lord himself should not know it. These facts, therefore, favor an interpretation of the passage which will be consistent with the doctrine of Christ's omniscience.
The most obvious method of interpreting the passage in harmony with other Scriptures, is to suppose that it refers to the knowledge which Christ's humanity possessed. In this nature he was not omniscient; for it is said (Luke 2:52) that Jesus increased in wisdom. The Holy Spirit communicated to his human soul, from time to time, such knowledge as was necessary; but not all knowledge, for human nature could not be made omniscient. There is, however, an objection to this interpretation, on the ground that Christ could not, with truth, deny of himself any knowledge with either nature possessed. This objection would be embarrassing, if it were not true that Christ, in the passage, has placed his knowledge and that of his Father in contrast. In the same manner he has denied omnipotence of himself, in John 5:30; not absolutely, but as distinct from his Father. "I can, of mine own self, do nothing." In the same verse, he, in the same sense, speaks of himself as without omniscience also; "As I hear, I judge." The question, "When shall these things be?" was proposed by the disciples (Mar 13:4) to Christ as visible before them in his human nature. It was not proper that they should receive an answer; for it was intended that they should watch; "Watch you therefore; for you know not when the master of the house comes." (Mar 13:35) As the human nature of Christ was the medium through which the disciples received their instruction, and as this was one of the times and seasons which the Father had reserved in his own power (Acts 1:7), we may suppose that the Holy Spirit had not communicated, and the holy humanity of Jesus had not sought this knowledge, which was unnecessary to any of the purposes of his present ministry. In this view it was well calculated to check the inquisitiveness of his disciples into this matter which it was not the will of God that they should know, for him to inform them, that though the infinite stores of his Father's knowledge were ever accessible to him, he had not chosen, in his distinct character, in which he revealed the counsels of God to them, to inquire into the matter, and could not, therefore, communicate to them the knowledge which their unprofitable curiosity lead them to desire.
Some have thought it a more satisfactory solution of the difficulty to take the word know in the sense to make known. This sense it is alleged to have in 1 Corinthians 2:2; but this may be doubted. It seems more proper to regard the language as a common rhetorical figure, according to which the cause is put for the effect. So David said, "I was dumb;" (Psalm 39:9) meaning, "I was as silent as if I had been dumb." So Paul determined, in his ministry among the Corinthians, to be as though he knew nothing but Christ crucified. In the same manner, the words of Christ may be interpreted as if he had said, "Your inquiries into the precise time of my coming will all be in vain. No source of information will be available, to give you this knowledge. As to the effect, it will be to you as if the knowledge were possessed by none but the Father; who will make it known, not by the ministry of men, angels, or his Son; but by his own hand, in the execution of his purpose."
The two views of this passage which have been presented, differ somewhat from each other; but the inquirer is not bound to decide on their comparative merit, or to accept either as unquestionably correct. A perfect understanding of every difficult text, though desirable, is not indispensable to the exercise of piety.
Objection 5. Jesus Christ is called "the beginning of the creation of God;" and "the firstborn of every creature." These passages, while they attribute a high character to him, nevertheless speak of him as a creature.
Rev. 3:14. "The beginning of the creation of God." This text may be explained by others in the same book: Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13. When Jesus Christ is called "the beginning and the end, the first and the last," we are not to understand that he was created before other creatures, and that other creatures will be annihilated, leaving him to survive them. The sense is, that all things are from him and to him; or, as Paul says, "All things were created by him and for him." (Col 1:16) He is the original and the first cause of all things." His being the beginning, is explained "He is before all things." In this sense he is the beginning of the creation of God, I. e. its original cause.
Colossians 1:15. "The first born of every creature." The clause "first born of every creature," may be grammatically construed in two different ways. The genitive "of every creature" may be governed by the word "first born," as a noun; or by the word "first," as a adjective of the superlative degree in composition. The objection assumes that the last of these is the true construction. Having decided on this, it then infers that Christ is one of the creatures, because the superlative degree usually compares one thing of a group with the rest of that group. But this usage of the superlative, though general, is not invariable: for this same word "first" is twice used in the first chapter of John (John 1:15, 30), where the comparison is a different kind, and our translators have, on this account, rendered the word as if it had been in the comparative, instead of the superlative degree; "He was before me." In proof that Paul did not design to group Christ with the creatures, as one of them, the following arguments may be adduced. The descriptive terms employed do not accord with this supposition. To make him one of the group, Christ should have been called the first created of all creatures, or the first born of all born: but the distinction between being born and being created excludes him from the group of creatures.
2. There is a further incongruity in the use of the word "every." We could not say, Solomon was the wisest of every man. Yet the objection makes Paul use this mode of speech. It is true that his incongruity may be in part removed by translating the clause thus: "the first born of all creation." But even this would not naturally express the idea supposed to be intended. A plural noun is needed, to denote the group of which Christ is supposed to be one of the constituent parts.
3. The context proves that Paul did not design to compare Christ with created things, as one to the number. He says, "All things were created by him and for him; and he is before all things, and by him all things consist." (Col 1:16, 17) This language clearly excludes him from the number of created things.
If we admit that the genitive is governed by the adjective, the arguments adduced should satisfy us that the adjective must be understood, as in the places referred to in the first chapter of John. But the construction, which takes the genitive to be governed by the noun, is preferable. According to this, we may translate the clause, "the whole creation's first born." God said, "I will make him my first born, higher than the kings of the earth." (Psalm 89:27) The term "first born" here denotes superiority of dignity, in comparison with the kings of the earth. To the first born belonged, not only superior dignity, but superior right of inheritance. Christ, as the Son, was appointed "heir of all things." (Heb 1:2) In respect both of dignity and inheritance, he is "the creation's first born," the king and heir of the whole creation.
From the fact that the same Greek word is used in v. 18, some have supposed that this verse is explanatory of the former, and that Christ is the first born of every creature, because he is the first born from the dead. Others, by accenting the Greek word in v. 15 on a different syllable, make it to signify "first begetter," or "first producer."
Some, who admit the proper deity of Christ, suppose that his human soul was created before all other creatures, and continued without a human body until the incarnation in the womb of the virgin. But, according to this opinion, Christ was not "made like his brethren." Moreover, as that human soul, being a creature, must have been under law to God from the beginning of its existence, it was not true that he was made under the law, when he was made of a woman, as is taught in Galatians 4:4. We have seen that the texts do not require such a hypothesis to explain them.
Objection 6. Jesus, in John 10:35, 36, explained his use of the phrase, "Son of God," as not implying proper deity. "If he called them gods unto whom the word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken; say you of him whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world, You blaspheme; because I said, I am the Son of God?"
As this objection opposes a very strong argument for the divinity of Christ, it will be proper to give it a careful examination.
In examining the tenth chapter of John, in which these words are found, we may observe the following facts:
1. The claim to be the Christ was not that on which the charge of blasphemy was founded.
While Jesus was walking in Solomon's porch, the Jews gathered round him, and asked, "How long make you us to doubt? If you be the Christ, tell us plainly." They had asked John the Baptist, "Are you the Christ?" The Jews were in expectation that their Messiah would make his appearance about this time; and, from the manner in which these questions were proposed, it is plain that the claim to be the Christ could not necessarily be blasphemous. It only needed to be sustained by proper proof, and the proposing of the question intimated a readiness to admit the claim. Jesus did not directly answer their question, but charged them with rejecting the testimony which he had previously given concerning himself, and the proofs which he had adduced. All this they bore, without charging him with blasphemy.
2. The charge of blasphemy was founded on the claim to be the Son of God.
This point is clear from the words of Christ, "Say you, You blaspheme, because I said, I am the Son of God?" He had spoken of God as his Father in a peculiar relation, according to which he could say, "I and my Father are one." This was said after such declarations concerning the power by which his sheep were kept, as represented himself omnipotent as well as his Father. His oneness with the Father was, therefore, such a unity as implied his possession of divine attributes. So the Jews understood him; and this they distinctly declared to be the ground of their charge: "For a good work we stone you not, but for blasphemy; because you being a man, make yourself God." On a former occasion they had made out the same charge against him on the same ground. He had spoken of God as his father in a peculiar sense, which implied cooperation with the Father, beyond what a mere creature could claim; and they who heard him, understanding the high claim which he set up, charged him with blasphemy, because "he called God his Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:17, 18) It was precisely on this ground that he was reported to Pilate, by the Jewish Sanhedrin, as worthy of death: "By our law, he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." (John 19:7) They also reported to Pilate that "he made himself Christ a king;" but they do not say that for so doing he deserved to die by their law. They said, "Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar." (John 19:12) This was an offence of which the Roman law might take cognizance, and which Pilate might judge; but the other offence was a sin of which the Roman law would take no cognizance. The charge of blasphemy was investigated by the Jewish court, and was not made out on the claim to be "Christ a king."
3. Jesus knew that the charge of blasphemy would be left without foundation, if he should explain that, in claiming divine Sonship, he did not mean to claim divine attributes or honors.
The charge of blasphemy was, for making himself God, and equal with God. Now, the Jews called God their Father; and believers and angels are called sons of God. To claim sonship in this sense could not be blasphemy. Jesus knew all this, and showed himself able to avail himself of the plea which might be based on this distinction. He referred to the Scripture use of the term "gods," in its application to Hebrew magistrates; and showed clearly, that, if the words which he had used were to be justified by availing himself of this distinction, he understood well how to do it.
4. Jesus did not plead, that in making himself the Son of God, he did not intend to claim divine attributes or honors.
What has been supposed to imply this, is merely a question, which affirms nothing: "Say you?" In this aspect, it is like the question proposed to the young ruler: "Why call you me good?" Jesus was not now on trial before a regular court, but was addressed by a company of malignant and captious men, to whom he did not feel bound to give answers and explanations at their demand. When they asked to know plainly, whether he was the Christ, instead of answering them, he charged them with rejecting the testimony and proofs which he had already given, and with murderous intentions towards him. So, when they state their charge of blasphemy, he charged them with inconsistency in making it out. They were desirous to condemn him. When he was finally delivered to the Roman governor, "Pilate knew that the chief priests had for envy delivered him to them." (Mat 27:18) Jesus, who knew what was in man, fully understood that their pretended jealousy for the divine honor, was hypocritical. Some of them, as members of the great council, could readily have found Scripture for being themselves styled "Gods," yet they would give no patient attention to the proofs which Jesus offered, to sustain his claim to the dignity he assumed.
5. Instead of leaving the matter to rest on the plea which these words have been supposed to imply, Jesus reasserted his intimate union with the Father: "That you may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him." (John 10:38) After this, it is added, "therefore they sought again to take him." It is manifest that the Jews did not understand him to retract the claim which had given them offence .
The Jewish magistrates, though called gods, in a subordinate sense of the term, had nothing of that intimate union with the Father which Jesus claimed. They were, after all, mortal men. "I have said you are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High; but you shall die like men." (Psa 82:6, 7) But concerning himself, Jesus had said: "As the Father has life in himself, so has he given to the Son to have life in himself." (John 5:26) "The Son quickens whom he will." (John 5:21) "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God." (John 5:25) "The Father has committed all judgment to the Son." (John 5:22) "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30) If, after making these high claims, Jesus had quailed before his enemies, and sought shelter in likening himself to mortal judges, called gods, he would not have closed his address by re-asserting that which had given offence. "Believe me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me."
We should remember that Jesus was not now on trial. These words were not spoken before the Sanhedrin, where the plea which they are supposed to contain, was needed, if needed at all. When formally arraigned before that tribunal, Jesus did not object to their jurisdiction, nor to the oath administered by the high priest. He answered directly and plainly the question which the high priest propounded, though he knew well that the answer which he gave would, in the judgment of the court, convict him of blasphemy. Where now is the plea which he is supposed to have made on the former occasion? He then understood its bearing on the point. Has he forgotten it now? The plea urged on a former occasion, at a different place, to a different company, when not on trail, and not on oath, cannot avail now unless repeated in due form. Besides, when before made, if made at all, it was obscure, and hidden under the form of a question. It is now needed in plainness and by direct affirmation. But Jesus does not produce the plea. Let those who urge the objection we are considering, account for his silence.
III. Union of Natures.
THE TWO NATURES OF JESUS CHRIST, THE DIVINE AND THE HUMAN, ARE UNITED IN ONE PERSON (John 3:13; Rom 1:4; 9:5; 1 Cor 2:8; Mat 1:23).
The name Son of God, properly denotes his divine nature; and the name Son of Man, his human nature. He frequently called himself the Son of God; more frequently, the Son of Man. Both these names were used as denoting one and the same person. The whole use of them indicates this; but there are some passages which show it more clearly than others. After speaking of himself as the Son of God, he says the Father has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the son of man (John 5:27). Here the same person is manifestly called the Son of God, and the Son of Man. In other cases, attributes or works which belong to one nature, are ascribed to his person, denoted by the name which is derived from the other nature. "No man has ascended up to Heaven, but he who came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in Heaven." (John 3:13) Here he is named from his human nature, the Son of Man; while omnipresence is ascribed to him, which belongs to his divine nature. Another example of like kind is, "The Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath." (Mar 2:28) The superiority to the Sabbath belongs to his divine nature, but the name by which he is designated belongs to the human. On the other hand, he is called God, and the Lord of Glory, when his blood and his crucifixion, things pertaining to his human flesh, are the subjects of discourse. "They would not have crucified the Lord of Glory." (1 Cor 2:8) "The Church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)
How two natures so widely different, should be so united, we cannot understand. In the union of the body the soul of man in one person, there is a similar fact which we are unable to comprehend; but if we should disbelieve it, we should reject the testimony of our own consciousness. We have, therefore, no plea for rejecting the doctrine now before us, on the ground of mysteriousness.
The union of the two natures does not confound the properties peculiar to each. The humanity is not deified, nor the divinity humanized. So, the body of man does not become spirit, by its union with the soul; nor does the soul become matter, by its union with the body.
The union of Christ's divinity with his humanity, is a different thing from the indwelling of the Godhead in him. The Holy Spirit dwells in believers, so that their bodies are called his temple, but this union does not constitute them one person. So, though Jesus said, "The Father is in me, and I in him," he addressed his Father, and spoke of him, as a distinct person. The same is true of the Holy Spirit which dwelt in him, being given to him without measure.
The personal union is more than a mere manifestation of the divine nature through the human. God manifests himself in the works of creation. But this manifestation is not a personal union; otherwise, the universe must be God.
This union is indissoluble. Jesus will ever be the Lamb in the midst of the throne (Rev 7:17), and will ever appear, in his glorified humanity, to the worshiping saints, who, with adoring praise, will forever sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and blessing." (Rev 5:12)
Chapter 2. States of Christ.
I. Original Glory.
BEFORE HIS INCARNATION, THE SON OF GOD WAS IN INTIMATE COMMUNION OF GLORY AND BLESSEDNESS WITH THE FATHER (John 1:15, 30; 3:13, 17, 31; 6:38; 8:58; 17:5; 1 Cor 15:47; Gen 18; 22:15; 32:30; Exo 3; 20; Acts 7:30, 35, 38; John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2, 10; Mic 5:2; John 8:58; Heb 1:8; 13:8; Rev 1:8, 18.)
The existence of Christ, previous to his appearing in the world, is proved by passages of Scripture, that do not expressly declare his divinity.
If we had no further teaching on the subject, we might suppose that he was a created spirit, had enjoyed honor and happiness in the presence of God, and had consented to appear, in obedience to the will of God, in the person of Jesus Christ. But the proofs which have been adduced from other parts of Scripture, clearly show that this pre-existent spirit was God, and not a creature.
Several names are ascribed to the pre-existent divinity of Jesus Christ. John calls him the Word of God (John 1:1). He is more frequently called the Son of God. Various passages speak of him as the Son of God, antecedent to his coming into the world. He is called the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord's presence, the Angel of the Covenant, the Captain of the Lord's hosts. It is also supposed that he is intended to be designated, in the 8th chapter of Proverbs, by the name Wisdom.
To ascertain the precise import of these several names, is attended with difficulty. He appears to be called the Angel or Messenger, because he is sent to make known, or to execute, the will of God. He is probably called the Word of God, because he is the medium through which the mind of God is made known. Why he is called the Son of God, is a question on which divines have differed. His miraculous conception, his mediatorial office, his resurrection from the dead, and his investiture with supreme dominion, have been severally assigned, as the reason of the title; but these appear rather to declare him to be the Son of God, or to belong to him because of that relation, than to constitute it. The phrases first-born, first-begotten, only-begotten, seem to refer to the true ground of the name, Son of God: but what these signify, it is probably impossible for us to understand. The ideas of peculiar endearment, dignity, and heirship, which are attached to these terms, as used among men, may be supposed to belong to them, as applied to the Son of God; but all gross conceptions of their import, as if they were designed to convey to our minds the idea of derived existence, and the mode of that derivation, ought to be discarded as inconsistent with the perfection of Godhead. Some have considered the titles Christ, the Son of God, as equal and convertible; but the distinction in the use of them, as pointed out in our examination of the charges brought against the Redeemer, shows the error of this opinion. When Saul at Damascus (Acts 9:22), and Apollos in Achaia (Acts 18:28), preached to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, the aim was to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah, long expected by their nation. But when Saul preached "Christ, that he is the Son of God," (Acts 9:20) and when the eunuch professed his faith, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God," (Acts 8:37) more than the mere messiahship of Jesus is manifestly intended. Christ or Messiah is a title of office: but the phrase "Son of God," denotes, not the mere office, but the exalted nature which qualified for it.
The possession of proper deity is alone sufficient to show that the Son of God was glorious and happy eternally; but we may learn the same truth from the language of Scripture directly referring to this subject. "And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self, with the glory which I had with you, before the world was." (John 17:5) "For you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich." (2 Cor 8:9) "Then I was by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him." (Pro 8:30) "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." (Philippians 2:6) "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father." (John 1:18) The full communion of the Son with the Father, in all the glory and blessedness of the Godhead, is to be inferred from these passages.
THE SON OF GOD ASSUMED HUMAN NATURE, AND IN THAT NATURE LIVED A LIFE OF TOIL AND SORROW, AND DIED AN IGNOMINIOUS AND PAINFUL DEATH (2 Cor 8:9).
The full history of this wonderful humiliation, is given by the four Evangelists; and is often referred to in the New Testament, and sometimes in the prophetic declarations of the Old.
In contemplating this mystery of "God manifest in the flesh," we are not to suppose that the divine nature underwent any real change. God cannot cease to be God. The change was in the manifestation, and not in the nature. In this manifestation, even the angels were concerned, for it is a part of the mystery that "God manifest in the flesh" was "seen of angels;" (1 Tim 3:16) but so wonderful was this new mode of manifestation, that the angels could not readily know their God, in this humble form, as the babe of Bethlehem, and the man of sorrows. Hence, they needed a special command from the eternal throne, before they could render him divine worship: "When he brings the first-begotten into the world, he says, Let all the angels of God worship him.'" (Heb 1:6) But this fact, it may be objected , shows it to have been a concealment, rather than a manifestation. This, to some extent, is true; but it is a concealment resembling that by which God showed himself to Moses in the cleft of the rock, concealing the beams of insufferable brightness, that the favored servant might see the back parts of his glory. So the angels, while they behold the Godhead veiled in human nature, obtain views of the divine glory, which would otherwise have been impossible. These are the things "into which the angels desire to look." (1 Pet 1:12) "Unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church," by the redemption and salvation of the Church, through the humiliation and death of Christ, "the manifold wisdom of God." (Eph 3:10)
The lowest point of Christ's humiliation, was his death by crucifixion, and his being held for a time under the power of death, as a prisoner in the grave. Some have thought that he descended into Hell; but this opinion has arisen from misinterpretation of the Scripture, "It was said, You will not leave my soul in Hell:" (Psa 16:10) but the word "Hell" signifies in this place, as in many others, the unseen world, or the state of departed spirits. When it is said, "He went and preached unto the spirits in prison (1 Pet 3:19), the meaning is, that he, by his spirit, in the ministry of Noah, who was a preacher of righteousness, preached to the antediluvians, who, being disobedient, and rejecting the ministry, were swept away by the flood, and were, when these words were penned, spirits in prison.
The glorious benefits resulting to us from the deep humiliation of Christ, are intimated in the words of Paul: "that you through his poverty might be rich." (2 Cor 8:9) The extent of the riches which we shall acquire by this poverty, eternity must disclose.
THE SON OF GOD, IN HUMAN NATURE, WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD, ASCENDED TO HEAVEN, AND WAS INVESTED WITH SUPREME DOMINION OVER ALL CREATURES (Mat 28; Mar 16; Luke 24; John 20; Acts 1:11; 7:56; 9:4; 1 Cor 15:4-8; Philippians 2:9-11).
The facts of Christ's exaltation, like those of his humiliation, are related in the Scripture narrative, and referred to in various parts of the sacred volume.
The exaltation, like the humiliation, produced no real change in his divine nature. It affected the manifestation of it, and also wrought a real change in the condition of the human nature. This nature is now perfectly happy. Jesus has received the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2); and saints, who are to be happy with him forever, are said to "enter into the joy of their Lord." (Mat 25:21) On this nature rests, also, the full glory of the Godhead, "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor 4:6) As through him the brightest manifestations of the divine glory are made to intelligent creatures, so through him they receive the commands of supreme authority. "He is head of principalities and powers." "He raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities and powers, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." (Eph 1:20, 21)
The glory to which Christ has been exalted, is not a subject of idle speculation, in which we have no interest. In his address to his Father, he said, in allusion to his disciples, "The glory which you have given me, I have given them." (John 17:22) Hence, while we suffer with Christ (Rom 8:17), and for Christ, in this world, we may rejoice in the hope of being glorified with him.
Chapter III. OFFICES Of Christ
JESUS CHRIST IS THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND MEN (1 Tim 2:5; 2 Cor 5:18; Col 1:20; 1 John 2:1; Gal 1:4; 3:13; Tit 2:14).
A mediator is a middle person between two parties. The term is especially applied to one who interposes between parties at variance, with a view to effect a reconciliation. Men are under the displeasure of God, on account of their sins, and are in rebellion against him, and enemies in mind by wicked works. Christ appears as mediator, to effect a reconciliation.
The duty of a mediator differs, according to the relation of the parties. When the variance between them arises wholly from misunderstanding, an explanation is all that is necessary to effect a reconciliation. In this case a mediator is simply an interpreter. When an offence has been given, but such a one as may be pardoned on mere entreaty, the mediator becomes an intercessor. But when the circumstances are such as to require satisfaction for the offence, the mediator must render that satisfaction or become surety for the offender. On God's part, as he has committed no wrong, nothing more is required than an Interpreter (Job 33:23), to show to man his uprightness. But, on the part of guilty man, it is necessary that the Mediator should be both Intercessor and Surety.
The union of two natures in Christ qualifies him for the work of mediation. As man, he sympathizes with us, is accessible, both when we desire to present petitions and to receive instruction; and he is capable of standing as our substitute or surety, and of making the requisite satisfaction of divine justice. As God, he understands fully the claims against us, has ready access to the offended Sovereign, has all the knowledge which it can be necessary to communicate to us, and can give dignity and value to the satisfaction offered in our behalf. These qualifications are found in no other person, and accordingly "There is none other name under Heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
In the one office of Mediator three offices are included, which need separate consideration: those of Prophet, Priest, and King.
JESUS CHRIST, AS PROPHET, MAKES REVELATION FROM GOD TO MEN (Isa 61:1; Luke 4:18, 23; Heb 2:3; 1 Pet 1:11; Deuteronomy 18:18; John 3:34; 16:1; Rev 1:1).
Among the revelations made by prophets, the foretelling of future events has held a conspicuous place: but this does not constitute the whole of the office. The word prophesy does not always refer to future events, as is apparent from an incident in the injurious treatment which our Redeemer received at his trial. When blindfolded he was struck by one of the attendants, who contemptuously demanded, "Prophesy who is he who smote you." (Mat 26:68) From this example we learn that the term was not exclusively used for the foretelling of future events, but was applied to the making of any declaration which required superhuman knowledge.
Jesus Christ, as a Prophet, was superior to all other prophets. Moses was so far distinguished above the rest, that it was said no prophet had arisen like him (Deu 34:10); but Moses foretold the coming of Jesus Christ, in these words: "The Lord, your God, will raise up unto you, a prophet from the midst of you, of your brethren, like unto me; unto him you shall hearken." (Deu 18:15) Elijah was a prophet, highly distinguished in his day, and was translated to Heaven, without tasting death: but Moses and Elijah appeared on the mount of transfiguration, to lay down their prophetical office and honors at the feet of Jesus, when the voice from Heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, hear you him." (Mat 17:5) Moses and Elijah were to be heard in their day; but the voice from the excellent glory singled out Jesus as the superior prophet, whose instructions we are commanded to receive.
Not only was Christ superior to the prophets of the former dispensation, but it was he who qualified them for their office, and spoke through them (1 Pet 1:11). This fact accords with his statement, "No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him." (John 1:18) He is, in this view, the only Prophet, the only Revealer of the mind of God. Before his personal ministry commenced, he made revelation by prophets whom he inspired; during his ministry, he spoke as one from the bosom of the Father; and after he left the world, he continued to make revelation, through his apostles and others, to whom he gave his Spirit. The last book of the Bible is a revelation which he gave to is servant John (Rev 1:1); and the whole Bible is now to us as the word of Christ. His truth he still uses, as the Prophet of the Church, instructing his people into the knowledge of God.
God has sometimes been pleased to make known his will by the ministry of angels; but the prophets, whom he ordinarily employed, were men of like passions with ourselves. There was peculiar fitness, as well as condescending kindness, that the great Prophet of the Church should be one in our own nature. Though it was true, "Never man spoke like this man," (John 7:46) it was still true, that he spoke with the voice of a man; and, instead of the terrific thunders heard from Sinai, addressed those who were willing to receive his instructions, in the accents of tenderness, as an affectionate friend. But such affection might have existed, without the knowledge necessary to make known the whole mind of God. This qualification his divine nature supplied. Paul asks, on one occasion, "Who has known the mind of the Lord? and who has been his counselor?" (Rom 11:34) But, it had been predicted of Jesus, that he should be called Wonderful, Counselor (Isa 9:6). He was the wisdom of God, from the bosom of the Father, and was therefore fully qualified to reveal the mind and counsel of God to men.
At the feet of this Prophet let us sit, that we may learn the knowledge of God. With Mary, let us take our place there, leaving the cumbering cares of the world, and opening our ears and our hearts to receive his heavenly instructions. Peter, James, and John, who saw his glorious form in the holy mount, when the bright vision had passed away, were left in possession of the divine command: "Hear you him." Let us take this direction as the guide of our way, until we shall be admitted to the brighter vision of his glory, of which the former was but a shadow.
JESUS CHRIST, AS PRIEST, MADE AN EFFICACIOUS SACRIFICE FOR THE SINS OF HIS PEOPLE, INTERCEDES FOR THEM AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, AND BLESSES THEM WITH ALL SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS (Psa 110:4; Zechariah 6:13; Heb 4:14, 15; 5:6; 6:20; 7:24, 26; 8:1; 9:11, 12, 14, 26; 10:12, 14; Isa 53:5, 7, 12; John 1:29; 10:15; 1 Cor 5:7; Eph 5:2; 1 Tim 2:6; Heb 9:26; 10:5; 13:12; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 1:7; Rev 5:9; 7:14; Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 9:24).
A prophet approaches men with revelations from God; but a priest approaches God in behalf of men. His chief business is to offer sacrifice, and make intercession. Priests have existed in the various religions of the heathen world; but in the forms of worship instituted by divine authority for observance of the Hebrew nation, we find the most instructive exposition of the priestly office. The Epistle of the Hebrews explains the design of this institution, and sets forth the Levitical priests as types of Christ in his priesthood. It is there stated to be the duty of the priest to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb 5:1).
The text last quoted refers to two kinds of offerings which the priest presented: one for thanksgiving, the other for atoning sacrifice . Various offerings were prescribed as expressions of gratitude for mercies received, and others to make atonement for sins. Christians make their offerings of praise and thanksgiving through Christ, as their high priest; but the only atoning sacrifice is the offering which he made of himself, when he gave his life a ransom for us (Mat 20:28).
All propitiatory sacrifices involve the idea of substitution. The animal offered represented the offerer, and bore his sins, which were confessed, over its head (Lev 16:21). So Christ bore our sins (1 Pet 2:24), our iniquities being laid on him. With reference to the use of lambs in sacrifice, he is called "the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) The idea of substitution is clearly conveyed in such passages as these: "For a good man some would dare to die; but God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) "He who knew no sin was made sin for us." (2 Cor 5:21)
Those who deny the divinity of Christ, deny also the doctrine of his vicarious sacrifice. When he is said in Scripture to die for us, they understand the import of the language to be, that he died for our benefit; but they exclude the idea of his suffering in our stead, bearing the penalty due to our sins, that we might be released from it. He is supposed to have died for our benefit, in that he gave us an example of patience and resignation in suffering, confirmed the doctrine that he taught, and, by rising from the dead, established the truth of the soul's immortality, and the resurrection of the body. These several benefits, all will admit, are derived from the death and resurrection of Christ: but they do not fully come up to the import of the strong language which the Scriptures employ in relation to this subject. The ancient martyrs generally set us a noble example of patience and resignation in suffering and death. Many of them exhibited a fortitude and triumph in the prospect of their dying agonies, not seen in the example of our Redeemer. In the garden, his soul was exceedingly sorrowful in the prospect of his sufferings, and he thrice prayed that the cup might pass from him; and, on the cross, though he was all submissive to his Father, and yielded his spirit at last into his Father's hands, yet he exhibited none of the joyful exultation which has often shone forth in the martyr's last moments, but he seemed oppressed, shrouded in gloom, and mourning the withdrawal of his Father's presence. All this may be accounted for, if we consider that his death had been merely to set us an example, it might be said, with greater propriety, that Peter, Paul, and other Christian martyrs, died for us: but Paul will not admit this; for he says, in a manner which implies a strong denial, "Was Paul crucified for you?" (1 Cor 1:13)
The sincerity of the ancient Christians was demonstrated by their readiness to suffer and die, rather than renounce the faith which they professed. Christ's death may be said to confirm his sincerity in the same way; but if this is what is meant by his dying for us, Stephen, James, Peter, and Paul died for us in this sense. But though the death of Jesus may be understood to establish his sincerity for the confirmation of his doctrine, he was accustomed to refer, for this purpose, not to his death, but to his miraculous works and his resurrection. It was his resurrection also, rather than his death, which established the truth of the soul's immortality and of the resurrection of the body. If, therefore, these confirmations of truth for our benefit are what is intended by Christ's dying for us, it would be more correct to say, that he wrought miracles and rose from the dead for us. But his death has so prominent a place in the Scriptures, as that to which we are indebted for eternal life, that we are compelled to seek for a higher sense of the phrase, "Christ died for us."
The humble disciple of Jesus, who is willing to learn, as a little child, in what sense his Lord and Master died for him, needs only to read with attention the passages of Scripture which have been quoted, and which fully establish the doctrine, that Christ's death was an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This doctrine is essential to Christianity. It is the grand peculiarity of the Christian scheme. Hence Paul determined to know nothing but "Christ crucified" (1 Cor 2:2), to glory in nothing but "the cross of Christ." (Gal 6:14) The gospel was the preaching of Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). It was a stumbling block to the self-righteous Jews, and foolishness to the philosophical Greeks; but to those who received it to the salvation of their souls, it was Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God (Rom 1:16). It was not Christ transfigured on Mount Tabor; not Christ stilling the tempest, the raising the dead; not Christ rising triumphantly from the grave, and ascending gloriously, amidst shouts of attendant angels, to his throne in the highest heavens: but Christ on the cross, expiring in darkness and woe, that the first preachers of the Gospel delighted to exhibit to the faith of their hearers. This was their Gospel; its center, and its glory. It was faith in this Gospel that controlled the hearts of their converts, and made them ready to die for him who had, by this death, procured for them eternal life. In this faith they exclaimed, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal 6:14) To this they referred when they said, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20)
The doctrine of Christ's atoning sacrifice explains the Old Testament dispensation. To what purpose were its victims brought to the altar, and the rites of its worship all stained with blood? Was God really pleased with the slaughter of animals, and the smell of their sacrifice? Paul has explained, that these were a shadow of good things to come (Heb 10:1); but the body is of Christ. As mere types of Christ's atoning sacrifice, they are intelligible. This they prefigured. "Christ also has loved us, and given himself for us; an offering and a sacrifice to God of sweet smelling savor" (Eph 5:2); and it was only because of their reference to this sacrifice, that the sacrifices of the preceding times were acceptable to the Lord.
The general prevalence of sacrifices, in the religions of the world, is a fact which it is difficult to account for. If it be supposed to arise from principles implanted in human nature, it will furnish a strong argument to prove that human nature has ever felt, and must feel, the necessity for such a sacrifice as is made by the death of Christ. If the prevalence of sacrifices be accounted for by tracing them to an ancient institution, given to our race by revelation from God, an argument, still stronger in favor of our doctrine, is furnished by the fact. It appears, from this view of the subject, that the institution is not only more ancient than the laws of Moses, but has come down from the time when Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain (Heb 11:4). As this sacrifice, like all subsequent ones which were offered by faith, had reference to the sacrifice of Christ, the whole institution of sacrifice bears testimony to it.
The sacrifice of Christ, which is the object of Christian faith on earth, will be the song of glorified saints in Heaven. The Lamb, in the midst of the throne, will appear in their view, not as once honored and powerful, but as having been made a sacrifice, "a lamb that had been slain." (Rev 5:6) He was once the victim on the sacrificial altar, but he will be the object of adoration in the everlasting song, "Unto him that loved us," (Rev 1:5) & c.
When the birth of Jesus was announced by the angel, it was said, "His name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." (Mat 1:21) This was the grand design of his coming into the world: "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10) To effect this salvation, a sacrifice was demanded; and, that he might make the required sacrifice, it was necessary that he should assume human nature: "When he comes into the world, he says: Sacrifice and offering you would not but a body have you prepared me." (Heb 10:5) "It was necessary that this man have somewhat to offer." (Heb 8:3) His humanity was the victim laid on the altar, for which reason it is said, "He bore our sins in his own body, on the tree." (1 Pet 2:24) "The Captain of our salvation must be made perfect through suffering;" (Heb 2:10) and he must, therefore, have a nature capable of suffering: "For this cause, he was made lower than the angels, that, for the suffering of death, he might be crowned with glory and honor." (Heb 2:9) There is, doubtless, also a peculiar fitness in the arrangement, by which the Redeemer is the near-kinsman of the redeemed; and the sacrifice made in the nature that had sinned. Had the Son of God undertaken the salvation of angels, there would have been a fitness in his taking on him the nature of angels: but as he came to save men, he took on him human nature, and was made in all points like his brethren (Heb 2:16, 17).
While the fact of the sacrifice depended on the assumption of a nature capable of suffering, the undertaking of the work, the efficacy of the sacrifice, the power to lay down his life, and the power to take it again, depended on the divine nature of Christ. The divine nature, alone, could not be made under the law: and the human nature, alone, could not have originally consented to be made under the law; and would not thereby, had it been possible, have exhibited any humiliation, any voluntary impoverishing of himself, that we might be made rich. The question has sometimes been proposed, how much obedience did the human nature of Jesus Christ owe for itself, and how much did it render for the benefit of others? But this is a useless question, and is asked on a mistaken apprehension of the facts concerning Christ's assumption of our nature. The man Christ Jesus never had an existence separate form the divine nature. The Word did not enter into flesh previously existing: but "the Word was made flesh." (John 1:14) Had the Word entered into a previously existing man, we might conceive of the obligations which that man had previously owed to the law, and the continuance of those obligations. But the Son of God was made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law (Gal 4:5). As the assumption of human nature was designed for the salvation of his people, all that he did and suffered in that nature, is to be viewed as a part of the great design, and constituting a part of the work.
We are not permitted to suppose that the divine nature of Jesus Christ could, in itself, endure the sufferings necessary to make atonement, or that it did, in the proper sense, suffer with the human nature. We cannot conceive that the perfect blessedness of God can consist with the endurance of suffering, any more than we can conceive the divine immensity shut up within the limits of a human body. Yet we are authorized to conclude, that whatever Jesus did or suffered, does, in some manner, represent to us the mind of God. To think God to be altogether such a one as ourselves (Psa 50:21), is a gross and sinful view of him, which he resents: but we are, nevertheless, compelled to form our conceptions of his mind from the knowledge which we have of our own. This mode of conception his word authorizes. The pity of a father for his children, is made by God himself the image in which we are to see his pity for those who fear him (Psa 103:13). Pity, as exercised by human beings, may be a very painful emotion; but, when we attribute it to God, we must conceive of it as possessing all that is excellent in human pity, but without the imperfection of pain. So, the mind of the holy Jesus exhibits to us the mind of God. The pity which he felt, however painful it may have been to his human soul, is an image in which we are permitted to see the compassion of God. Could we have before our contemplation all the affections and emotions that the holy soul of Jesus ever experienced, we might learn therein more of the mind of God than is otherwise discoverable: and if we understood the affections and emotions of which he was the subject in his last hours, we should probably understand, better than in any other way, how the divine perfections were concerned in his atoning sufferings. It is our duty to look to Jesus, who endured the cross (Heb 12:2), and to study his character, that the same mind may be in us, and we feel the stronger obligation to study with what mind he suffered death; because Paul prayed to have fellowship with his sufferings, and to be conformed to his death (Philippians 3:10).
What, then, were the emotions of Jesus in his last sufferings? When he consented to make the sacrifice in the body prepared for him, he said, "Your law is within my heart." (Psa 40:8) He doubtless retained this law in his heart, through his intensest agony, and approved it, even while he was undergoing its dire penalty. In this particular Paul had fellowship with him, for he could say, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man." (Rom 7:22) When Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree, it is reasonable to suppose that his human soul had a sense of the great evil of sin; otherwise we cannot understand how it should approve the law under which he was suffering the penalty for sin. Whatever other emotions had a place in his mind, we are authorized to conclude that he had a deep sense of the evil of the sins which he bore, and of the excellence of the law which those sins opposed. While love, stronger than death, identified him with his people, who were under the sentence of the violated law, he loved also that law with all his heart. These contending affections painfully struggled together in his breast. The sins of his people were not offences which he had personally committed; and therefore remorse, in the proper sense, was not an ingredient in his suffering. But an affectionate husband, who loves his wife as his own flesh, would, when grieving for a crime which she has committed, feel nearly the same agony as if he had personally committed it; so, when Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, he felt the sins of the Church as if they had been his own. In this sense of the evil of sin, which was an element in the sufferings of Jesus, it was lawful for Paul to desire fellowship with him. The Scripture teaches that Jesus offered himself to God, through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14). This Spirit produces love to God and his law in the hearts of believers, and gives them a sense of the evil of sin; in both which particulars they have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings. Now, if we suppose that the Spirit, which was given to Christ without measure, opened to his view, when hanging on the cross, the full glory of the divine law which the Church, his bride, had violated; and the full enormity of the sins which his people had committed; what intense agony would these discoveries produce! No agony of the deepest penitence could surpass it. Yet all this Jesus probably felt; and in all this we may well pray to have fellowship with him.
If the view which we have taken, gives us any just insight into the emotions which rent the holy soul of Jesus, when he hung on the cross for us, it should make us feel, deeply feel, the moral power of that cross. To think as he thought, and feel as he felt, is enough to constrain us to live to him who died for us. No higher motive to holiness can be needed, than that which proceeds from the cross.
The denial of Christ's divinity, and that of is atonement, consistently accompany each other. We should have little need of a divine person, to fulfill the offices ascribed to Christ, if that of making an efficacious sacrifice for sin be not included. The system in which these two cardinal doctrines are omitted, is another gospel, which Paul, and the first ministers of the Christian religion, knew not; and which cannot meet the necessities of lost men. It is worthy of special remark, that the two positive institutions of Christianity--baptism and the Lord's supper, refer to these two doctrines, and silently and significantly preach them. In baptism, we devote ourselves to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; acknowledging the divinity and authority of each person in the Godhead: and the divinity of the second person is more especially acknowledged in those brief accounts of baptism, in which persons are said to have been baptized in the name of Christ. In the Lord's supper, the doctrine of atonement is clearly set forth. "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Mat 26:28) The two ordinances have, from the days of the apostles, been observed by the great body of professing Christians; though their form and use have not been kept pure, as they were originally delivered, and the two doctrines which they set forth, have been maintained in the great body of Christian professors, in all ages; though accompanied with much corruption.
The Scriptures plainly teach that the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ was necessary to render the justification of a sinner consistent with the justice of God. "Whom God has set forth to be a atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus." (Rom 3:25, 26)
Had it not been absolutely necessary, we cannot account for it, that God should have inflicted such suffering, or even permitted it to fall, on his beloved Son, who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." The death of Christ, if he was not a divine person, was, as we have before shown, the effect of perjury and suicidal prevarication on his part; and if it was not an atoning sacrifice indispensably necessary to satisfy divine justice, it is difficult to show that it was not, on the part of the Father, a display of injustice and cruelty towards the Son of his love. Why was his ear deaf to the thrice-repeated petition, "Let this cup pass from me?" Why had the sorrows of Gethsemane, and the bloody sweat of the agonized, but innocent, sufferer, no effect to move the pity of the Father, to whom Christ had said: "I know that you hear me always." (John 11:42) The resigned language of the suffering Jesus, and the condition on which he bases the petition, furnish the answer: "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." (Mat 26:39)
What ever views of propriety may be entertained by short-sighted mortals, it is manifestly the teaching of sacred Scripture, that God could not, consistently with his justice, forgive our sins on our mere asking, or even on our penitential acknowledgments. We are required to forgive offences until seventy times seven, when a brother acknowledges his trespass; but sins against God are not private offences, to be remitted in the same manner. A judge who should pardon a criminal, that, according to law, ought to be condemned, and turn him loose on the community, would be false to his sacred office. So God sustains the character of a righteous Judge; and, sooner than disregard the claims of law, and overthrow his moral government, he is willing to plunge the sword of justice into the heart of his beloved Son. And such is the reverence of the Son, for the law of his Father and the claims of justice, that he patiently consents to be led as a lamb to the slaughter, that his death may justify God in forgiving and saving the guilty.
How the death of Christ rendered full satisfaction to divine justice, is a question which we shall have occasion to consider, under the head of Justification.
Those who suppose the doctrine of atonement, have viewed it as inconsistent with justice, that the innocent should suffer for the guilty. Their views, however, are plainly at variance with those which are presented in the Book of God. "He suffered, the just for the unjust." (1 Pet 3:18) "He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor 5:21) Even in human affairs, sureties are allowed to pay the debts of others; and, with reference to this well-known arrangement among men, Christ is called the surety of the better covenant (Heb 7:22). To render such suretyship consistent with justice, his voluntary consent must be given, and he must have had a perfect right to dispose of himself. The right he possessed, because of his divinity; and the consent was given in the covenant of grace which he made with the Father.
A part of the priest's office consisted in making intercession for the people. The high priest did this in a special manner, when he went into the holy of holies. Jesus interceded, when he prayed for Peter that his faith might not fail; and when he poured forth to his Father the beautiful prayer recorded in John 17. But now, in the holy of holies, the immediate presence of God, he ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb 7:25). How that intercession is carried on, we cannot undertake to explain. What his mode of asking is, we know not; but in some mode, he asks, and the heathen are given to him for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession (Psa 2:8). In some mode, while he sympathizes with his suffering followers on earth, he asks grace for them, to help them in their trials and sorrows, and his intercession prevails.
The remaining part of the priest's office consisted in blessing the people (Num 6:22-27). The high priest did this, on his return from the holy of holies. This, also, our great High Priest will do, in the most public manner, when he shall return from the heavens which he has entered, and meet his people in the great congregation at the last judgment. It is of little importance, whether we refer this act of blessing to the priestly or the kingly office of Christ. It was anciently said, that the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth (Mal 2:7). Yet we refer Christ's teaching to his prophetical, rather than to his priestly office. So, though the ancient priests blessed the people, yet, as the priest's office was to approach God, in behalf of men; rather than to approach men with either revelations or blessings from God; we may consider the blessings conferred on the obedient subjects of Christ's reign, as the bestowments of his royal munificence; and, therefore, as appertaining to his kingly office. This accords with the language of Scripture: "Then shall the King say: `Come, you blessed of my Father.'" (Mat 25:34) But all Christ's offices yield blessings to his people; and were undertaken by him for their sake.
JESUS CHRIST, AS THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND MEN, EXERCISES KINGLY AUTHORITY OVER ALL CREATURES, TO THE GLORY OF GOD, AND THE GOOD OF HIS PEOPLE (Num 24:17; Psa 2:6; Isa 32:1; Zechariah 9:9; Mat 21:5; John 18:36; Mat 25:34; Heb 2:9; Rev 5:13; 1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; 19:16; Eph 1:20-23; 5:23; Philippians 2:9, 10).
The superscription which Pilate placed on the cross, was, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." This writing expressed a truth of which its author was not aware. Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, foretold by the Hebrew prophets, and expected by the nation as the king who would rule over them, and raise them to great prosperity.
The Hebrew word Messiah, to which the Greek word Christ corresponds, signifies the Anointed. When kings and priests were introduced into office among the Israelites, it was usual to anoint them with oil. We have one example, in which a prophet was set apart to his work, by the same ceremony (1 Kin 19:16). Jesus was the Anointed, because he sustained all these offices; and, although he was not introduced into either of them, by a literal anointing with oil, he had the unction of the Holy Spirit, of which the literal unction with oil was a type. The words of Isaiah read by him in the synagogue of Nazareth, were applied to himself: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach," (Isa 61:1) etc. Here the anointing must be understood as referring to his prophetical office. The same reference seems to have been made with taunt and derision by the individual who smote Jesus, and said: "Prophesy, you Christ, who is he who smote you?" (Mat 26:68) In this taunt, it was implied, that the Christ was expected to be a prophet. But from the common use of anointing, we are led to refer the term Christ rather to the priestly and kingly offices, with which Jesus was invested. The most common reference, is to his kingly office. He was reported to Pilate, as making himself "Christ, a king." (Luke 23:2) In expecting their Messiah, the Jews looked for a king, who was to rule over them and deliver them from their enemies. Many of the prophecies concerning the Christ, relate to his reign as king over Israel: and when he, before the Jewish council, claimed to be the Christ, he referred to the future manifestation of his kingly power and glory, "Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the power of God." (Luke 22:69)
A proof that Jesus was the promised Messiah, is found in the fact, that the prophecies were fulfilled in him. The time and place of his birth, and the tribe and family from which he was to spring, were particularly foretold; and the events corresponded to the predictions. Many prophecies of events in his life, sufferings, death, burial, and resurrection, were exactly fulfilled. Jesus appealed with confidence to the Scriptures, for proof of his claims: "Search the Scriptures; for they are they that testify of me." (John 5:39) And the apostles said: "To him give all the prophets witness." (Acts 10:43)
Further proof that Jesus was the Christ, is furnished by the testimony of John the Baptist (John 3:28), by the voice of the Father at his baptism (Mat 3:17), and at his transfiguration in the mount (Mat 17:5); by his works, to which he often appealed in proof of his claim; and by his claim before the Jewish council, and before Pilate, and which was sustained by his miracles, and ultimately by his resurrection from the dead.
To all these proofs it may be added, that the Jews have found no other Messiah. They have confidently expected one, and the time for his coming has long passed. Either Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah foretold, or the prophecies were false, and the religion of which they were a part was not from God.
Jesus Christ, as the Supreme God, had, of original right, sovereign authority over all creatures. But when the Word was made flesh, he took on him the form of a servant; and, for a time, appeared divested of divine power and glory. But, after having humbled himself, and completed the service for which his humiliation was necessary, it pleased God to reward that service by exalting him to supreme authority over all creatures. "All power is given unto me in Heaven and in earth." (Mat 28:18)
A peculiarity of Christ's dominion as Mediator, is, that it is exercised by him in human nature. Why it was the pleasure of God to exalt human nature to a dignity so high, it is impossible for us fully to comprehend. We see in it the complete defeat of Satan, the apostate angel, who aimed to bring our inferior nature entirely under his power. He triumphed over the first Adam: but the second Adam has triumphed over him, and will bring him into complete subjection, with all the hostile powers that he has set in array; and will, in the very nature over which Satan triumphed, bring them into subjection under his feet. This dominion over principalities and powers Jesus Christ exercises, with a reference to the good of his people, redeemed from among men. To secure this benefit, the exercise of his dominion in human nature doubtless contributes. The redeemed are one with him, as he is one with the Father. That wonderful prayer is fulfilled, "that they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us." (John 17:21) They are admitted to a communion with God, far more intimate and glorious than could otherwise be enjoyed; and are exalted to such honor, that they are said to reign with Christ. This dignity is nowhere ascribed to angels. Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This exercise of divine authority, through the human nature of Jesus Christ, will manifest the glory of God in its richest displays; and angels and men will here learn, through eternal ages, the perfections of the divine nature, and will forever admire and adore, with ineffable joy.
Another peculiarity of this dominion, is, that it opens a new dispensation to rebellious men. When the angels, that kept not their first estate, sinned against God, they were driven from his presence, and condemned to hopeless woe. No mediator was provided for them; and no gospel of salvation was ever proclaimed in their ears. Such an administration of divine authority, as gives hope of pardon to offenders, was unknown in the government of the world until man sinned; and this administration constitutes a distinguishing feature of Christ's mediatorial reign. Hence, he is the Mediator between God and men, and not between God and angels; and hence the Mediator is emphatically called "the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 2:5) On earth, the Son of Man had power to forgive sins (Mat 9:6); and in Heaven he sits on a throne of grace, to which we are permitted and invited to come, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in every time of need. When God displayed his glory to Moses, and proclaimed his name in the hearing of that favored servant, his forgiving mercy had a conspicuous place in the revelation: "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering," (Exo 34:6) etc. so, in Heaven, where his full glory is seen, the dispensation of his mercy from the throne of grace on which the exalted Mediator sits, constitutes the most lovely and attractive exhibition of the divine glory that the happy worshipers are permitted to behold.
Of the two peculiarities which have been mentioned as distinguishing the mediatorial dominion of Christ, the first could not exist until the humanity of Christ was exalted to the throne. Then the mediatorial reign, in its full development, commenced, when the Father said, "Sit you at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." (Psalm 110:1) But the second peculiarity existed in an incomplete administration of this mediatorial reign, which was exercised from the time of man's fall. Before the efficacious sacrifice for sin was made, in which the humanity of Christ became its virtue, pardons were bestowed on believers, from the days of Abel. It is now made known to us, that these pardons were engaged, as the surety for sinners, to do the work which he has since performed: and the inquiries of angels, and the faith of Old Testament saints, were all directed forward to the coming of Christ, for explanation of that mysterious dispensation by which rebels obtained mercy.
Jesus Christ is head over all things to the Church. He exercises his supreme authority for the benefit of his people, for whose sake he sanctified himself to undertake the work of mediation. He is head over principalities and powers; and angels honor and obey him, and are sent forth as ministering spirits, to minister to the heirs of salvation. He is Lord over all the earth; and regulates every agent and every event in the world, so that "all things work together for good to them that love God." If Christ is ours, all things are ours; for all things are in his hands, and he holds them for the benefit of his people.
In the few words which Jesus spoke respecting his kingdom, when he stood before Pilate, the most important instruction is conveyed. We cannot too much admire the wisdom with which he accurately described, in so few words, the kingdom that he came to establish: "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight." (John 18:36) The kings of the earth maintain their authority by force. The coerced obedience which they procure, is often reluctantly rendered. The proper subjects of Christ's kingdom are a willing people (Psa 110:3), who voluntarily give themselves up to his authority, and serve him with delight. In extending his kingdom he has not allowed carnal weapons to be used; but such only as are powerful, through God, to bring the heart into subjection: "Every one that is of the truth, hears my voice." (John 18:37) He who receives the truth, hears the voice of the king, and acknowledges his authority. To believe the truth, is to obey the Gospel; and this is to be subject to Christ as king. The Jews had expected the Messiah to set up a kingdom, which would be like the kingdoms of the earth, and surpass them in glory. The disciples of Jesus entertained similar views; and hence arose the request to sit on his right hand, and on his left, in his kingdom. Hence, too, arose their despondency when they saw him crucified. They had thought that it was he who was to restore the kingdom to Israel (Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6); and his death darkened their prospects, and cut off their hopes. The faith of the expiring thief recognized the expiring Jesus as king; and prayed, "Lord, remember me, when you come into your kingdom:" (Luke 23:42) but the mourning disciples of Jesus could not see the bright prospect of his kingdom, through the darkness of the grave. Yet, the death of Jesus was necessary to the establishment of his kingdom: "For obedience unto death, he was crowned with glory and honor." (Philippians 2:8, 9; Heb 2:9) And the dying love of Christ is the constraining power which brings the heart into subjection to his authority.
Wrong views respecting the nature of the Messiah's kingdom, have been productive of much evil. The princes of this world crucified the Lord of glory, because they could not recognize him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who came into the world to bear witness to the truth, and not to introduce his kingdom with the pomp which the carnal mind is pleased with. And Christ has been crucified afresh, and put to open shame, by his professed followers, because of their wrong notions respecting his kingdom. A visible ecclesiastical organization, distinguished by the observance of external forms, has claimed to be the kingdom of Christ; and its power has been extended and wielded by means far different from those which Jesus authorized. To banish this corrupt Christianity from the earth, correct views respecting the kingdom of Christ must prevail.
The Messiah was to rule in the midst of his enemies; and his iron scepter was to break in pieces, as a potter's vessel (Psa 2:9), all who are disobedient, and do not obey the truth: but those who obey the truth are "the children of the kingdom:" and to them the benefits and blessings of his reign belong. In this restricted sense, none but regenerate persons enter into his kingdom (John 3:5). We are translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col 1:13), when we receive his truth into our hearts. In this sense, no profession of religion, and no observance of external forms, can bring any one into the kingdom of Christ. The tares may resemble the wheat: but the tares are the children of the wicked one; and the good seed only are the children of the kingdom (Mat 13:38); and when the Son of Man shall gather out of his kingdom whatever is offensive to him, the tares will, equally with the briars and thorns, be rejected, as not belonging properly to his kingdom, and doomed to be burned. Let it then be distinctly understood, that the kingdom of Christ is not a great visible organization, consisting of good men and bad, who are bound together by some ecclesiastical tie. He rules over all; but he accounts all as the enemies of his reign who do not obey the truth: and the hypocrite and formalist have no more part in his kingdom than Herod and Pontius Pilate.
Some obscurity has arisen in the interpretation of Scriptures in which the word kingdom occurs, from supposing that it always refers to the territory of subjects that are under the government of a king. King-dom is king dominion, king jurisdiction. The primary idea is kingly authority. In this primary sense it is used in Luke 19:12: "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom." See also Rev. 17:12. This radical idea the word retains everywhere; but it becomes so modified by the connection in which it is used, as to refer to the time, place, or circumstances in which kingly authority is exercised; to the persons over whom it is exercised; and, sometimes, to the benefits resulting from its exercise. An example of this last use is found in Romans 14:17: "The kingdom of God is righteousness peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." The phrases, "kingdom of Heaven," "kingdom of God," "kingdom of Christ," "kingdom of God's dear Son, " are used with reference to the reign of the Messiah. They denote God's exercise of kingly authority in the person of the Messiah; and this radical idea, as before stated, becomes modified by the connection in which the phrases are used. When parables are introduced with the words "The kingdom of God is like," we are to understand that some fact or truth connected with the reign of the Messiah is illustrated by the parable. It will be impossible to make sense of many passages, if the term be understood always to signify the subjects over whom Christ reigns. How, in this signification of the term, can the kingdom be like a merchantman (Mat 13:45), a net (Mat 13:47), a treasure? (Mat 13:44) "The kingdom of Heaven is like to a man which sowed good seed in his field." (Mat 13:45) Here, no comparison can be intended between the subjects of Christ's reign and the man that sowed the seed. But the parable illustrates important truth commented with the reign of the Messiah. It teaches that the world, represented by the field, is under his dominion; that, for a time, the good and bad are permitted to remain together; but that a separation will finally be made, and the blessings of his reign will be enjoyed by those only who are "the good seed," sown by himself, and who only are "the children of the kingdom."
The mediatorial reign of Christ will include the judgment of the great day. It is said, "We must all stand at the judgment seat of Christ;" and also, in describing the sentences pronounced, "Then shall the king say," etc. Then they who condemned and crucified Christ the king, and all who would not have him to reign over them, shall stand at his tribunal. The decisions of that day will be made according to the relation which each individual has borne to Christ. What men have done to the least of his disciples, he will regard as done to him; and, according to the dispositions so evinced, will be every man's final doom.
Will the mediatorial reign of Christ continue after the transactions of the great day? An important change will doubtless then take place in the manner of his reign. All his enemies will have been subdued, all his ransomed people brought home, and his last act of pardoning mercy performed. Yet, we are informed that the glory of God and the Lamb will be the light of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:23); that the Lamb will be in the midst of the throne; and that he will feed the redeemed, and lead them to the fountains of living water (Rev 7:17). From these representations, we appear authorized to conclude that Christ will remain the medium of communication through which the saints will forever approach God, and receive glory and bliss from him. The language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:25, is not inconsistent with this opinion: "He must reign, until he has put all enemies under his feet." When it is said, "Until the law, sin was in the world (Rom 5:13), we are not to conclude that sin was not in the world afterwards: so, when it is said, "He must reign until," &c., we must not infer that he will not reign after this time. It will not accord with his own representation of the subject, if, when those who would not have him to reign over them, shall have been slain before his face (Luke 19:27), he himself shall cease to reign. When it is said, "then shall the Son be subject to the Father," (1 Cor 15:28) we are not to understand that this subjection excludes the idea of reigning; otherwise it would be implied that his previous reign had not been in subjection to the Father. Christ now reigns in subjection to the Father; but the harmony of his administration with the will and perfections of God, cannot fully appear while rebels go at large under his government; but when all enemies have been subdued, the harmony of his administration with the government of God, absolutely considered, will be made apparent. The coincidence of the two modes of government will be fully manifested. This will be the time of the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). He must reign until his enemies are subdued; and the heavens must receive him until the time of the restitution of all things; but he will not, then, either forsake Heaven or cease to reign.
"What do you think of Christ?" We may now, with great propriety, consider this question solemnly addressed to us. We have contemplated the person, states, and offices of Christ. What impression does the contemplation leave in our minds? What emotions has it produced? Have the words of the prophets been fulfilled in our case: "He has no form nor loveliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him"? Or, can we say, "He is the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely"? According as Christ appears in our view, the evidence of our spiritual state is favorable or unfavorable; and by this test, we may try our hope of acceptance through him, and of reigning with him forever.
In the ordinary experience of mankind, the affections are attracted most strongly by objects near at hand. To the imagination, distance may lend enchantment; but the affections of the heart play around the fireside, and fix their firmest hold on those with whom we converse most familiarly. In accordance with this tendency of our nature, the son of God attracted the hearts of men, by dwelling among them, and exhibiting himself in familiar fellowship with them, and in the endearing relations well known in human society. We see him, as the affectionate brother and friend, weeping in the sorrows of others, and alleviating their sufferings by words and acts of kindness. The tenderness with which, when hanging on the cross, he committed his mother to the care of his beloved disciple, is an example of filial love, which cannot be contemplated with an unmoved heart. In the simple narratives of his life, which have been given for our instruction, we trace his course in his daily walk as a man among men, going about doing good, and the traits of character exhibited in this familiar fellowship, call forth our love. The heavens have now received him out of our sight, but we know that, in fulfillment of his promise, he is always with us; and we are taught to regard him, not only as near at hand, but also as sympathizing with our infirmities, having been tempted in all points as we are. In the humanity of Jesus, we see the loveliness of the divine perfections familiarly and intelligibly exhibited.
It sometimes happens, in the experience of mankind, that persons of extraordinary merit remain for a time in obscurity, and that those who have been most intimate with them have been taken by surprise, when the unsuspected greatness of their character has been disclose. Writers of fiction know how to interest the feelings, by presenting great personages under disguise, and unveiling them at a fit moment, to produce impression. But incidents, infinitely transcending all fiction, are found in the true history of Jesus Christ, in which the concealed majesty of his divinity broke forth, and caused surpassing astonishment. The humble sleeper in the boat on the Lake of Tiberias, comes forth from his slumbers, and stills the raging water; and the beholders of the miracle exclaim: "What manner of man is this?" The weary traveler arrives at Bethany, and claims to be the resurrection and the life, and demonstrates the truth of his claim, by calling the dead Lazarus from the tomb. As a condemned malefactor, he hangs on the cross, and expires with such exhibitions of divinity, that the astonished Roman centurion cried: "Truly this man was the Son of God." We have contemplated the divinity of Jesus Christ, not merely in these transient outbursts which occurred while he was on earth, but in the full demonstration which has been given since he ascended to Heaven, and the impression on our hearts ought to be strong and abiding. The disciples who attended on his personal ministry loved and honored him; but when they saw him ascend to Heaven, being more deeply impressed with his divinity, they worshiped him. Let us devoutly join in rendering him divine honor.
We read with interest the history of men who have passed through great changes in their condition, and who, in every condition, have displayed great and noble qualities. But no changes of condition possible to men, can equal those which the Son of God has undergone. Once rich in his original glory, he became so poor that he had not where to lay his head: and from his depth of poverty, he has been exalted to supreme dominion, and made proprietor and ruler of all worlds. Through these changes he has ever exhibited such moral perfections as have been most pleasing to God. In whatever condition we view him, let us delight in him, as did his Father.
The offices which Christ sustains toward us, are such as have been in highest repute among men. Prophets, priests, and kings have always been accounted worthy of honor. We should give the highest honor to Christ, who, as a prophet, is superior to Moses; as a priest, superior to Aaron; and as a king, the Lord of David. These offices, as exercised by Christ, deserve our honor, not only because of their excellence, but also because of their adaptedness to us. We are, by nature, ignorant, guilty, and depraved. As ignorant, we need Christ, the prophet, to teach us; as guilty, we need Christ, the priest, to make atonement for us; and as depraved, we need Christ, the king, to rule over us, and bring all our rebellious passions into subjection. These offices of Christ are also adapted to the graces which distinguish and adorn the Christian character. The chief of these, as enumerated by Paul, are faith, hope, and love; in the exercise of faith, we receive the truth, revealed by Christ, the prophet; in the exercise of hope, we follow Christ, the priest, who has entered into the holiest of all, to appear before God for us; and we submit to Christ, the king, in the exercise of love, which is the fulfilling of the law, the principle and sum of all holy obedience.
In the theology of the ancient Christians, Christ held a central and vital place. If we take away from the epistles of Paul all that is said about Christ, what mutilation shall we make? If, when we have opened anywhere to read, as at 1 Corinthians Ch. 1., we expunge Christ, what have we left? Paul, while in ignorance and unbelief, thought that he did God service, by persecuting Jesus of Nazareth. But when his eyes were opened, to see that the despised Nazarene, whom his nation had crucified, was the Lord of Glory, when he learned that in him are the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, unsearchable riches, and the fullness of grace, the heart of the persecutor was changed, and he became devoted to the service of him whom he had sought to destroy. Henceforth, he counted all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Has our knowledge of Christ produced a like effect on us? If our hearts are in unison with that of the great Apostle, we are prepared to say, from the inmost soul, "Though we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel," a gospel of which Christ is not the center and the sum, "let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8) "If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be an anathema maranatha." (1 Cor 16:22)
In our investigation of religious truth, we have found four sources of knowledge: our own moral feelings, the moral feelings and judgments of others, the course of nature, and the book of divine revelation. The first three of these can give us no knowledge of Jesus Christ and his great salvation. For this knowledge we are wholly indebted to the Bible. Yet, when we have learned our lost and helpless state by nature, the scheme of salvation which the Bible reveals is so perfectly adapted to our condition, that it brings with it its own evidence of having originated in the wisdom of God.
When Paul preached the gospel of salvation, he know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. He gloried in nothing, save the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have tarried long in our meditations on the doctrine concerning Jesus Christ; and, before we dismiss the subject, it may be profitable to linger yet a little time at the cross, that we may again survey its glory, and feel its soul-subduing power.
In the cross of Christ, all the divine perfections are gloriously and harmoniously displayed. Infinite love, inviolable truth, and inflexible justice are all seen, in their brightest and most beautifully mingled colors. The heavens declare the glory of God; but the glory of the cross outshines the wonders of the skies. God's moral perfections are here displayed, which are the highest glory of his character.
The cross of Christ is our only hope of life everlasting. On him who hangs there, our iniquities were laid, and from his wounds flows the blood that cleanses from all sin. Our faith views the bleeding victim, and peacefully relies on the great atoning sacrifice. It views mercy streaming from the cross; and to the cross it comes to obtain every needed blessing.
In the cross, the believer finds the strongest motive to holiness. As we stand before it, and view the exhibition of the Savior's love, we resolve to live to him who died for us. The world ceases to charm. We become crucified to the world, and the world crucified to us. Sin appears infinitely hateful. We regard it as the accursed thing which caused the death of our beloved Lord; and we grow strong in the purpose to wage against it an exterminating war. By all the Savior's agonies, we vow to have no peace with it forever. The cross is the place for penitential tears. We look on him whom we have pierced, and mourn. Our hearts bleed at the sight of the bleeding sufferer, murdered by our sins; and we resolve that the murderers shall die. The cross is a holy place, where we learn to be like Christ, to hate sin as he hated it, and to delight in the law of God which was in his heart. In the presence of the cross, we feel that omnipotent grace has hold of our heart; and we surrender to dying love.
The wisdom of man did not devise the wonderful plan of salvation. As well might we suppose that it directed the great Creator, when he spread abroad the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth. But as in the heavens and earth human reason may see the power and wisdom of God, so, to the Christian heart, Christ crucified is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The doctrine of the cross needs no other demonstration of its divine origin, than its power to sanctify the heart, and bring it into willing and joyful subjection to Christ.