THE PERSON OF CHRIST.
JESUS CHRIST WAS A MAN.1
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 Ghost. 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;"2 "One mediator, the man Christ Jesus."3
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 hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have."4 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."5 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;6 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;"7 nor could it have been said, "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."8 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.9 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."10 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.11 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 Ghost, is given in the words of the angel to his virgin mother; "Therefore, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."12 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 Ghost 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 Ghost, 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.13
As the humanity of Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, 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 Ghost 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."14 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,"15 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,16 in the person of Jesus Christ, and the name Word is given elsewhere, by the same writer, to Jesus Christ.17 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,"18 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;19 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 for ever."20 Christ is here called God; not in some subordinate sense, but over all, and blessed for ever. 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 for ever. All the criticisms which have been tried on this text leave its testimony plain and decisive.
"My Lord and my God."21 These words of Thomas are a brief, but very expressive declaration of his faith; and were so received by his Master: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed."22 So, the unfolding of Christ's true character to the mind of Nathaniel, drew forth his declaration of faith, "Thou art the son of God."23 So this confession of Thomas was elicited by the opening of the Saviour's character to his mind. Both of them were doubtless taught by the same Spirit which revealed Christ's character to Peter;24 and the faith of both was accepted, and publicly approved. If Christ had not been God, it behoved him to correct his disciple, and save him from idolatry.
"Thy throne, O God, is for ever."25 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 spake 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 for ever. 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 hath purchased with his own blood."26 "God was manifest in the flesh."27 "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ; this is the true God, and eternal life."28 "So then every one of us must give account of himself to God;"29 compared with the preceding verse. "He that built all things, is God,"30 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 Saviour, Jesus Christ."31 "The grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ."32 "In the kingdom of the Christ and God," i.e. of him who is both Christ and God.33 "Before the God and Lord, Jesus Christ."34 "The righteousness of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ."35 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, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."36 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."37 We know that this prophecy referred to Christ; for it is expressly applied to him in Matt. 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."38 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."39 To these passages, we may add the words of Christ; "Before Abraham was, I am."40 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 hath sent me."41 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, to-day, and for ever."42 "They shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed, but thou art the same."43
Omnipresence.--Christ promised to be with his disciples always, even to the end of the world,44 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."45 To fulfill this promise, he must be omnipresent. The same is implied in the words, "No man hath ascended up to Heaven, but he that came down from Heaven, even the Son of man which is in Heaven."46 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."47 To know the secrets of the heart, belongs peculiarly to Jehovah. "Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart."48 Yet the power of searching the heart, is expressly ascribed to Jesus. "I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts."49 Peter appealed to Christ, as knowing the secrets of his heart, and expressly ascribes omniscience to him. "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee."50 Christ claimed omniscience in the words, "No man knoweth the Son, but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him."51 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;52 and he conceived of that power as infinite, when he said: "I can do all things, through Christ which strengtheneth me."53 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 worketh hitherto, and I work."54 "What things soever the Father doeth, these also the Son doeth likewise."55 "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. No man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."56 In the prophecy already quoted from Isaiah, he is called "the Mighty God;" and in Rev. i. 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."57 "By him all things were created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible."58 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."59 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,60 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."61 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,62 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."63 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.64 Jesus, on the contrary, claimed the power which he exercised in the working of miracles. "The Son quickeneth whom he will."65 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."66 "The hour is coming in the which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth."67 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.68
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 vi. 3, compared with John xii. 41; Isaiah xl. 3, compared with Matt. iii. 1, 3; Isaiah xlv. 21--23, compared with Phil. ii. 9--11; Zach. xii. 10, compared with John xix. 37.
V. Divine worship was commanded to be rendered, and was rendered, to Jesus Christ. The angels were commanded to worship him. "When he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith; "let all the angels of God worship him." "69 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 trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm."70 Christ permitted himself to be worshipped as the Son of God.71 He was worshipped by his disciples, after his ascension to Heaven.72 They were accustomed to call on his name,73 that is, to address prayer to him. So the dying Stephen prayed: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."74 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.75
VI. The equality of the Son with the Father, is taught by Paul, in Phil. ii. 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 Cor. viii. 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 Sanhedrim. 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."76 On a former occasion, Jesus said unto them: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."77 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 thee by the living God;"78 and propounded to him two questions which, though mentioned together by Matthew and Mark, are by Luke stated as proposed separately. "Art thou the Christ?" and "Art thou 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."79 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.80 The council before which Jesus was tried, was the court which had cognisance 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, "Art thou 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."81 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."82 He claimed superiority to the law of the Sabbath, and the right of working every day, as his Father did: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."83 He claimed to have been before Abraham, in language which appropriately intimates self-existence: "Before Abraham was, I am."84 He claimed to be one with the Father: "I and my Father are one."85 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;86 and the angel hastily prevented John from worshipping him: "See thou do it not. Worship God."87 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,"88 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 Sanhedrim, he never rejected it when offered by any one. The man of whom he had given sight worshipped him as the Son of God,89 without rebuke; and Thomas addressed him, "My Lord and my God;" not only without rebuke, but the approbation.90 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 Gal. i. 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.
Obj. 1. This doctrine is inconsistent with the Unity of God. This objection will be considered hereafter, under the head of "The Trinity."
Obj. 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.91 On the other hand, the indwelling is of the whole Godhead. In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.92 The Father dwelt in him,93 and the Spirit was given to him without measure.94 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 Ghost, in the prophets, was distinct from the prophets; so the Godhead, dwelling in Jesus Christ, was distinct from the person of Jesus Christ.
John xvii. 3. "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God; and Jesus Christ whom thou hast 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 Cor. viii. 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.
Obj. 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 Phil. ii. 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, &c. 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.
Obj. 4. Jesus Christ appears, in Luke xviii. 19, to admit that he had not the goodness peculiar to God; and, in Mark xiii. 32 to deny that he had omniscience.
"Why callest thou 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?"95 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 xiii. 31. "Of that day and that hour knoweth 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 Gen. xviii. 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 xiii. 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,96 and that this day is emphatically called the day of Christ, the day of the Lord,97 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 said98 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 v. 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 disciples99 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 ye therefore; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh."100 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,101 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 Cor. ii. 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;"102 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.
Obj. 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. iii. 14. "The beginning of the creation of God." This text may be explained by others in the same book: Rev. i. 8; xxi. 6; xxii. 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."103 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.
Col. i. 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,104 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."105 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."106 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."107 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 Gal. iv. 4. We have seen that the texts do not require such a hypothesis to explain them.
Obj. 6. Jesus, in John x. 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 ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; 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 makest thou us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." They had asked John the Baptist, "Art thou 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 ye, Thou blasphemest, 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 thee not, but for blasphemy; because thou being a man, makest thyself 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 co-operation 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."108 It was precisely on this ground that he was reported to Pilate, by the Jewish Sanhedrim, as worthy of death: "By our law, he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."109 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, "Whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar."110 This was an offence of which the Roman law might take cognisance , and which Pilate might judge; but the other offence was a sin of which the Roman law would take no cognisance . 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 ye?" In this aspect, it is like the question proposed to the young ruler: "Why callest thou 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."111 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 ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him."112 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 ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High; but ye shall die like men."113 But concerning himself, Jesus had said: "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself."114 "The Son quickeneth whom he will."115 "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God."116 "The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son."117 "I and my Father are one."118 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 Sanhedrim, 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.
SECTION III.--UNION OF NATURES.
THE TWO NATURES OF JESUS CHRIST, THE
DIVINE AND THE HUMAN, ARE UNITED IN ONE PERSON.119
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 hath given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the son of man.120 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 hath ascended up to Heaven, but he that came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in Heaven."121 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."122 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."123 "The Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."124
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 Ghost 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,125 and will ever appear, in his glorified humanity, to the worshipping saints, who, with adoring praise, will for ever sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory and blessings."126
1John i. 14; Phil. ii. 7, 8; Heb. ii. 14--17; Mark ix. 12; 1 Tim. ii. 5; Matt. i. 18--25; Luke i. 28--35; Gal. iv. 4; Matt. iv. 2; xxi. 18; John iv. 6, 10; Math. viii. 24; xxi 18; Mark ix. 12; Isaiah liii. 3; John xi. 35; Luke xix. 41; Matt. xxvi. 37, 38; Luke xxii. 44; Matt. iv. 1; Mark i. 13; Luke iv. 2; Heb. ii. 18; iv. 15; Luke ii. 10, 52; Matt. iv. 11; Luke xxii. 43; Mark xv. 34.
2 Acts ii. 22.
3 1 Tim. ii. 5.
4 Luke xxiv. 39.
5 Luke ii. 52.
6 Heb. ii. 17.
7 Mark xiv. 34.
8 Isaiah liii. 10.
9 Heb. ii. 16.
10 Heb. iv. 15.
11 1 Cor. xv. 47.
12 Luke i. 35.
13Mic. v. 2; Heb. i. 8; xiii. 8; Rev. i. 8, 18; John ii. 24; x. 15; xxi. 17; Acts i. 24; Rev. ii 23; Matt. xviii. 20; xxviii. 20; John i. 48; Col ii. 3; Jude 25; Matt. iii. 17; Luke i. 35; x. 22; John v. 23; 1 John v. 20; Matt. xxviii. 19; Isaiah xl. 3; Zech. ii. 8, 10; iv. 8; Mal. iii. 1; Matt. iii. 3; 1 Cor. xv. 47; Rev. xix. 16; Isaiah ix. 6; John i. 1; Rom. ix. 5; 1 Tim. iii. 16; Heb. i. 8; 1 John v. 20; Phil. ii. 6; Matt. xxviii. 9; Luke xxiii. 42; Acts vii. 59; Rev. v. 12; John i. 3, 10; Col. i. 16; Heb. i. 10; Neh. ix.
14 John i. 1.
15 1 John i. 3.
16 John i. 14.
17 Rev. xix. 13.
18 1 John v. 21.
19 John xx. 31.
20 Rom. ix. 5.
21 John xx. 28.
22 John xx. 29.
23 John i. 49.
24 Matt. xvi. 17.
25 Heb. i. 8.
26 Acts xx. 28.
27 1 Tim. iii. 16.
28 1 John v. 20.
29 Rom. xiv. 12.
30 Heb. iii. 4.
31 Titus ii. 13.
32 2 Thess. i. 12.
33 Eph. v. 5.
34 1 Tim. v. 21.
35 2 Peter i. 1.
36 Isaiah ix. 6.
37 Micah v. 2.
38 Prov. viii. 23--31.
39 1 Cor. i. 24.
40 John viii. 58.
41 Ex. iii. 14.
42 Heb. xiii. 8.
43 Heb. i. 11, 12.
44 Matt. xxviii. 20.
45 Matt. xviii. 20.
46 John iii. 13.
47 John ii. 25.
48 Jer. xvii. 10.
49 Rev. ii. 23.
50 John xxi. 17.
51 Matt. xi. 29.
52 2 Cor. xii. 9.
53 Phil. iv. 13.
54 John v. 17.
55 John v. 19.
56 John x. 27, 28.
57 John i. 3.
58 Col. i. 16.
59 Heb. ii. 10.
60 Eph. iii. 9.
61 Col. i. 16.
62 Heb. i. 3.
63 Heb. i. 3.
64 Acts iii. 12; iv. 10.
65 John v. 21.
66 John v. 25.
67 John v. 28, 29.
68 Phil. iii. 21.
69 Heb. i. 6.
70 Jer. xvii. 5.
71 John ix. 38.
72 Luke xxiv. 52.
73 Acts ix. 14.
74 Acts vii. 59.
75 Matt. xxviii. 19.
76 John xix. 7.
77 John v. 17.
78 Matt. xxiv. 62.
79 Rom. i. 4.
80 Deut. xiii. 6, 8.
81 John xviii. 36.
82 John v. 23.
83 John v. 17.
84 John viii. 58.
85 John x. 30.
86 Acts xiv. 15.
87 Rev. xxii. 9.
88 Luke xii. 14.
89 John ix. 38.
90 John xx. 28, 29.
91 Gal. iv. 4.
92 Col. ii. 9.
93 John xiv. 10.
94 John iii. 34.
95 Matt. xix. 16.
96 Phil. i. 6.
97 Cor. v. 5.
98 Luke ii. 52.
99 Mark xiii. 4.
100 Mark xiii. 35.
101 Act i. 7.
102 Ps. xxxix. 9.
103 Col. i. 16.
104 John i. 15, 30.
105 Col. i. 16, 17.
106 Ps. lxxxix. 27.
107 Heb. i. 2.
108 John v. 17, 18.
109 John xix. 7.
110 John xix. 12.
111 Matt. xxvii. 18.
112 John x. 38.
113 Ps. lxxxii. 6, 7.
114 John v. 26.
115 John v. 21.
116 John v. 25.
117 John v. 22.
118 John x. 30.
119 John iii. 13; Rom. i. 4; ix. 5; 1 Cor. ii. 8; Matt. i. 23.
120 John v. 27.
121 John iii. 13.
122 Mark ii. 28.
123 1 Cor. ii. 8.
124 Acts xx. 28.
125 Rev. vii. 17.
126 Rev.. v. 12.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved