The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness
William S. Plumer, 1853
"We believe it is through the grace of our
Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11
The Constitution of Christ's Person. His Grace Therein
Nothing in the Christian religion has been the subject of
so much error as the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some have denied that
he was God. Some have said that he was a 'created god'. Some have denied
that he had a true body, and some that he had a reasonable created soul.
Some have held that he had two persons, and some that one of his natures
absorbed the other. The apostles were not all dead when Ebion and Cerinthus
denied our Lord's divinity. To counteract their dangerous opinions John
wrote his Gospel. Their error was revived, though in a form somewhat varied,
by Arius and his followers in the fourth century, by the Socinians of the
seventeenth century, and by still more modern Unitarians. Most of these
perhaps have held simply to Christ's humanity.
Some, however, have spoken of our Lord as a 'created
god'. Duly considered, this must appear absurd. The greatest gulf in the
universe is that which separates the finite from the infinite, the creature
from the Creator. A God, not self-existent, eternal, independent and
unchangeable—is no God. He, who has these attributes—is the supreme God.
The Manicheans denied that Christ had a true body.
Consistency compelled them to deny his death. Others have held that the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were one person, became incarnate and suffered
on the cross. Indeed the forms of error on this whole subject have been
almost countless. The enmity of the human heart against God has brought all
its strength, violence and ingenuity to destroy the corner-stone, or to
remove it out of our sight. What then is the truth on this subject?
I. Jesus Christ had and has a DIVINE nature.
He was truly God. He is expressly called "God," "God and our Savior Jesus
Christ," "The great God and our Savior Jesus Christ," "the Lord their God,"
"the true God and eternal life," "Emmanuel, God with us," "Jehovah," "Lord
Almighty," "Lord of lords," "King of kings," "the mighty God," "the
everlasting Father." That he existed before his incarnation it requires
great boldness to deny. He often asserts this truth. "Before Abraham was, I
am." "And now, O Father, glorify me with your own self, with the glory which
I had with you before the world was." "I came down from heaven." "What if
you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before." John 6:38, 62;
8:58; 17:5. Paul says: "He is before all things." Col. 1:17. These texts
clearly prove two things:
1. That Christ existed before he was born in the days of
Herod. But as his human nature then had its beginning, it must have been in
some other nature that he was before Abraham, and had glory with the Father
before the world was.
2. That if he was before all things, he had an uncaused
existence, and so was God. Christ was also the Creator of all things. "All
things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was
made." John 1:3. "You, Lord, in the beginning have laid the foundations of
the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands." Heb. 1:10. The Maker
of all things, of the heaven and of the earth, is God. There is none above
him, none more worthy of love and fear. Paul says, that he, "being in the
form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Phil. 2:6. The
only thing which could hinder such a claim from being the most daring
robbery was that it was well founded, and that he was God. In Rev. 1:8, he
gives this account of himself: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the
end, says the Lord, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
Is not that being God?
In 1 Tim. 3:16, Paul says, "God was manifest in the
flesh." But God was not manifest in the flesh, unless he was there in the
person of him who took our flesh. If any should say that the meaning simply
is that virtue, which is conformity to God, was manifest in the flesh of
Christ, the reply is at hand;
1. There is not a word said about virtue in the text or
context. The words are "God was manifest."
2. Where would be the propriety of calling virtue a great
mystery? Paul says, "Great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest,"
3. This interpretation ill suits the remainder of the
passage: "He was justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the
gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
To Christ belongs also the work of universal
providence. "By him all things consist," and "he upholds all things by
the word of his power." Col. 1:17. Heb. 1:3. Can it be possible that a mere
creature can do such things? What can Jehovah do in providence to evince his
proper divinity more than to uphold all things by his powerful word?
Christ is also omniscient. He knows what is in
man. John 2:24, 25. He searches the heart and tries the thoughts. Rev. 2:23.
In short, let any man prove by any scriptural course of argument the
divinity of the Father, and by the same process can we establish the
divinity of the Son. Is the Father almighty and so divine? So is the Son,
Rev. 1:8. Is it a prerogative of the supreme God to forgive sins? Jesus
Christ forgives sins. Matt. 9:2-6. Is the supreme God everywhere present? So
is Christ. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
"Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst
of them." Matt. 17:20; 28:20. If the divinity and supremacy of Jehovah were
proven by the miracles in Egypt and the wilderness, the divinity and
supremacy of Christ were proven by the miracles in Palestine. They were
many; (John 21:25,) were wrought for his own glory; (John2:11,) were of a
stupendous nature; (John 9:30-33,) and were all wrought in his own name, and
not in the name of some other person. See every account.
Is the Father worshiped by all the holy angels? So is the
Son. "When he brings the first-begotten into the world, he says, And let all
the angels of God worship him." Heb. 1:5. Did David devoutly say of Jehovah,
"You are my God?" Thomas addressed Jesus, saying, "My Lord and my God." John
20:28. Is the Father now worshiped in heaven? So is the Son. Rev. 5:12-14.
So that Jesus Christ is in his preexistent nature God, the true God, equal
with the Father. Our Savior is truly divine.
II. Christ is as to his created nature truly and properly
a MAN. He had entire humanity, as fully as Moses, Paul, or any
other man. In proof inspired writers call him a man. "A man shall be as a
hiding place," "A man approved of God," "A man of sorrows," "There is one
God and one Mediator, the man Christ Jesus." He is often called the Son of
Man. This phrase teaches his humanity. Thus we read: "The Son of Man has
power to forgive sins," "The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath-day,"
"Now is the Son of Man glorified." The objection of some that he was not
truly a man, because he had no father according to the flesh is of no force,
1. He derived his human nature from his mother, and was
made of her substance as much as any child derives its nature from its
2. If it is essential to humanity entire and complete,
that it be derived from a pair, then Eve, the mother of all living, was not
a human being, for she derived her nature through Adam alone.
3. By parity of reasoning, yes, by still stronger
reasoning, Adam was not a human being, for he had neither father nor mother.
Such are some of the conclusions to which this objection would lead us.
Christ's humanity is also proved by many plain texts of
Scripture. "He was made in the likeness of men," "He was found in fashion as
a man," "His visage was so marred more than any man." He had eyes, and saw
the beauties of nature, even of the lilies of the field. He had ears, and
heard the words of friends and of foes. He had all the senses of a man. He
ate, he drank, he slept, he awaked, he walked, he rested, he was weary, he
was hungry, he was thirsty, he was handled, was bound, was scourged, was
smitten, was spit upon, was crowned with thorns, and crucified. He was born,
he wept, he bled, he died. Prophecy promised him a body; (Heb. 10:5, and
Psalm 90:6-8,) and Providence gave him a body.
Jesus Christ had a soul also, a human soul, a true
rational soul. The proof is that he had sentiments of joy and sorrow, of
indignation and grief, of compassion and pity, of hope and fear. He had the
mental trials and sorrows of men. "He was tempted in all points like as we
are." As a son and as a friend none ever more clearly showed that he had
true human affections. As he had the body and affections, so also he had the
intellect of man. He grew from infancy to manhood, not only in stature but
in the strength and scope of his faculties—as other children do, except that
he had far more abundant influences of the Spirit than all other children.
He had the Spirit without measure. So that his growth in holy wisdom was
extraordinary and unparalleled. That he had a human mind is as clear as that
he had a human body; and that he had both is as certain as that any other
person ever had them. To suppose the contrary is to charge him with
imposture, and this is blasphemy.
If Christ were not man, how could he be a descendant of
Eve; (Gen. 3:15,) or of Abraham (Gen. 22:18,) or of David, as was often
promised? or why did Matthew and Luke in their Gospels give the genealogy of
our Lord, if they did not intend to teach that he derived his human nature
through a long line of ancestors from Abraham and from Adam? Some would lead
us to suppose that Christ had no human soul, but that he merely had a human
body, inhabited by his heavenly or pre-existent nature, and in proof they
quote such expressions as these: "God was manifest in the flesh," and "The
word was made flesh." They contend that the word, flesh, includes the body
only. If this is so, their objection has force. Let us see what the truth
is. Admitting that the primary meaning of the word was that of the body, yet
this was far from being its usual signification. By flesh Paul understands
the depraved moral nature of man: "those who are in the flesh cannot please
God." The word is often applied to men, as men, so that in the following
cases, "all flesh" simply means "all men." "All flesh had corrupted his
way." "Unto you shall all flesh come." "Let all flesh bless his holy name
forever and ever." "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." Paul
therefore intends to teach that God was manifest in the man, Christ Jesus.
John in saying "the Word was made flesh," etc., teaches
that the Word, which was God, became man, not by the conversion of the
divine into the human nature, but by uniting the two. Has it not therefore
been shown that Christ had a true, proper, entire human nature, a true body
and a reasonable soul?
III. The divine and human natures of Christ are united in
one person; so that it is proper to speak of the Lord Jesus in
the singular number, and not in the plural. When we speak of him we say,
"he, his, him," not they, theirs, them. When Christ spoke of himself, both
before and after his death and ascension, he said, "I, mine, me," not we,
ours, us. There is but one Christ. He is a Lamb, a Priest, a King, a
Shepherd, a Savior, a Mediator, a Surety. Though he has two natures, the
human and the divine, yet he is but one person, one Redeemer, one Mediator.
His human and divine natures are distinct, not separate; distinguishable,
not separable. His two natures became one person, not by his human nature
seeking to be affianced to his divine nature, but by his divine nature
seeking union with the human. For the human nature to have sought union with
divinity would have been blameworthy ambition. For the divine nature to seek
union with the human was great condescension, unspeakable love. Besides,
Christ's human nature never existed separately from the divine. The union
was formed at his conception in the womb of the virgin. The divine nature
existed separately from the human nature, and prior to it, and sought union
with it, and assumed it into indissoluble union. So the Scriptures do not
say that flesh was made the Word, but that "the Word was made flesh," nor
that the flesh was made manifest in God, but that "God was made manifest in
the flesh." Human nature did not assume divinity; but the divine nature
assumed humanity. So the Scriptures say that "being in the form of God, he
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." He was first rich in all the attributes and glories of
Divinity, and by taking a body he became poor, for our good, out of love to
Here is indeed a wonder, a very marvelous thing, but in
it nothing is so marvelous as the love and mercy which it reveals; love and
mercy so great that none but the wicked reject them; love and mercy so great
that even angels do not comprehend them. Here is the light of men, the life
of the world. In this union the natures of Christ are not confused,
compounded, or converted one into the other, or absorbed one by the other.
His body was and is a true human body, not mixed with his soul or divinity,
nor converted into them, yet it is forever united with both. His human soul
is as truly a human soul as that of Enoch or Abraham, and will forever so
remain. It is not absorbed by his divinity, nor mingled with it, but united
with it. So that Christ is the "God-man," possessing at once and henceforth
forever, the image of the invisible God and the likeness of men. Thus is
constituted the person of our one Lord Jesus Christ, our one Mediator. This
is the Bible doctrine on the subject.
His conception and birth were miraculous, so that he was
born free from the guilt and defilement of original sin. Accordingly Gabriel
said unto Mary: "that holy One who shall be born of you, shall be called the
Son of God." He was and is in his entire nature holy, harmless, undefiled,
and separate from sinners. This view of his person gives us the key, by
which to unlock the mystery of any text of Scripture relating to that
subject. Thus when it is said, he thirsted, he walked, he slept, he ate—the
reference is to his body. After his resurrection he said "handle me and see,
for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me have." Surely he thus
intended to convince them of the truth and reality of his body. There was no
deception in the case. Both before his death and after his resurrection he
gave infallible proof of his having a body. There is no absurdity or
contradiction here. Corporeally he did as other men do.
Another class of texts relates to his human soul. Thus it
is said, "He rejoiced in spirit," "he was grieved for the hardness of their
hearts," "he began to be sorrowful and very heavy." All these are the acts
and exercises of his reasonable human soul, and are in themselves no more
inscrutable than the same things said of any other man. Sometimes the
Scriptures speak of his entire human nature, soul and body, in the same
verse. Thus: "The child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with
wisdom." Again: "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with
God and man." There is nothing more mysterious in this than if the same had
been said of any other healthy, pious, amiable child. Again: "He beheld the
city and wept over it." Beholding and weeping were bodily acts. But shedding
tears, accompanied by his lament over the city, showed that his whole human
nature, soul and body, was united, his soul being moved by prophetic visions
and heavenly compassions, and his body agitated by his thoughts and pure
affections. This is all plain. Thus we all speak and weep, when we think
strongly and feel exquisitely.
Again we read, "in the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him, and
without him was not anything made that was made." This plainly and clearly
belongs to his divine nature alone. His human nature was not in the
beginning with God, and had no part in the work of creation. But "the Word
was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of
the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth." "God was manifest
in the flesh." Thus the person of the Mediator was constituted. He was found
in fashion as a man. He was made a little lower than the angels. He humbled
himself and became obedient unto death.
It is of himself as the Mediator and in a low condition
that he says, "The Father is greater than I." But lest this language should
mislead any one, and cause them to think that in his divine nature he was
inferior to the Father, he said, "I and the Father are one,"' He who has
seen me has seen the Father." To him as Mediator in his exaltation "all
power is given in heaven and earth." "All judgment is committed." By his
divine nature and by divine right he was fit to be judge of the world—he who
was pierced shall be on the throne. The entire person of the Mediator, the
man Christ Jesus, shall judge the world. Thus and thus only every text
referring to him has a full, fair, plain, consistent sense given to it.
This union of the two natures in Christ is most intimate.
No union could be more perfect. If the term, one person, can be properly
applied to any being in the universe, that being is Christ Jesus, the Lord.
So the Scriptures uniformly teach by speaking of him always in the singular.
So perfect is this union, that although his divine nature, because divine,
could neither suffer nor die, yet we properly speak of him as a divine
sufferer. Paul calls his blood the blood of God. "Feed the church of God,
which he has purchased with his own blood." The same person is God and man
forever. If any say this is a great mystery, the Bible said the same long
ago: "Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh."
Anything, which we do not comprehend, is mysterious. But because a thing is
incomprehensible, it is not therefore absurd or false. No man comprehends
how his soul and body are united; yet no sober man doubts their union. No
man knows how an animal frame is nourished by food, yet we all know the
fact. How the human will can control the muscles of the body is
inexplicable, yet the fact is indisputable. Mysteriousness, so far from
disproving a fact, is a property of every fact known to us.
Our Lord Jesus undertook the greatest work ever devised,
namely, to reconcile God and man. In doing this none but shallow thinkers
will expect everything to be level to their comprehension, and none but the
unbelieving and abominable will reject his grace, because they discover a
mystery in the constitution of his person.
The Westminster Assembly thus expresses the whole
doctrine of this chapter. "The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity,
being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did,
when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, and all the
essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being
conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the virgin Mary,
of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, distinct natures, the Godhead
and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without
conversion, composition or confusion. Which person is very God and very man,
yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man." Without giving
extended quotations from symbols of faith on this head, it is deemed
sufficient to say that the doctrine of this chapter is not controverted in
any but Arian, Socinian or Unitarian churches. It is thought, however, that
the following extract from the Confession of Belgia may be useful to some:
"We believe also, that the person of God's only and eternal Son was, by his
conception, inseparably united and coupled with the human nature; yet so
that there be not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures joined
together in one person; both which natures do still retain their own
properties. So that, as the divine nature has remained always uncreated,
without beginning of days or term of life, filling both heaven and earth; so
the human nature has not lost its properties, but has remained still a
creature, having both beginning of days and a finite nature. For whatever
does agree unto a true body, that it still retains. And although Christ, by
his resurrection, has bestowed immortality upon it, yet notwithstanding, he
has neither taken away the truth of the human nature, nor altered it. For
both our salvation, and also our resurrection depend upon the truth of
Christ's body. Yet these two natures are so united and coupled in one
person, that they could not, no not in his death, be separated one from the
other. Therefore that, which in his death he commended unto his Father, was
indeed a human spirit, departing out of his body; but in the mean time, the
divine nature did always remain joined to the human, even then when he lay
in the grave; so that his Deity was no less in him at that time, than when
as yet he was an infant, although for a small season it did not show forth
itself. Therefore, we confess that he is true God, and true man; true God,
that by his power he might overcome death; and true man, that in the
infirmity of his flesh he might die for us."
Let us dwell a moment on the grace and mercy of Christ in
the constitution of his person. Duly considered, his incarnation is the most
amazing step in his humiliation. His first becoming a man is more surprising
than his sufferings and death after he became man. Having assumed our
nature, we would expect that he would submit to all else necessary for our
deliverance. But the marvel is that he should have ever married our nature.
Here is the mystery of mysteries, the wonder of wonders. The conduct of the
heavenly multitudes at his birth seems to justify such views as this. Many
things in Scripture look the same way. The following is but a sample of the
way in which inspired men treat the whole subject of his humiliation: "You
know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich—yet for
your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich." In
his incarnation the Son of God stooped to a union with the lowest
intelligent nature, and that nature all in ruin and rebellion. In dying it
was the human nature alone that suffered.