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," etc.

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, for:

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 parents.

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 us.

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.