HAVING, in my last discourse from these words, considered the truth and the credibility of this great Scripture doctrine, that "God was manifest in the flesh," it is now my intention briefly to re-assert that doctrine, and to meet some of the most striking objections which may be made to it.
Were we to go back, my brethren, to the Old Testament prophecies to ascertain from them the character of him who was to come, we should find, in the nature of his government, and in the divine titles which were ascribed to him, the strongest proofs of his divinity, mingled, at the same time, with expressions which declare his humanity. Daniel says of the Son of man, that [83/84] his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. Isaiah confirms this evidence by declaring, that of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end; but that it should be established with judgment and with justice for ever. Of him who was to be born a child and a son, he asserts, that his name should be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Micah declares, that he who is to be Ruler of Israel, and who was to come forth out of Bethlehem, should be the same whose goings forth have been of old from everlasting. All the prophets, in like manner, testify of him; and the last, speaking in the name of God himself, says, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and Jehovah, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple." All the predictions respecting the glory of the Messiah had shown that it was God, the Lord God of Israel, who was to visit and redeem his people; while those which referred to his sufferings, and to his humiliation, proclaimed that he was to be man: and the fact of his incarnation, including the assertion of this two-fold truth, was distinctly foretold by Isaiah when he said, Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, which is God with us. When, in the fulness of time, Jesus Christ [84/85] appeared, it was not by a loud and clamorous assumption, that he manifested his divinity, but by doing those things which showed that he could be none other than divine. The works that he did bare witness of him; for in changing and regulating the laws of nature, he exercised the same control over the world as was necessary to its first creation. To the disciples of the Baptist, he said, "Go show John the things which ye do hear and see;" deeming most reasonably that the evidence of his supernatural power, to be found in his wondrous deeds, was much more decisive of his character than any declarations he could utter. Respecting the unbelieving Jews, he said, "If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father." And when his own disciples said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficed! us," he asserted his divinity, in the plainest manner, in these express words, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
From the prophecies respecting his character, his offices, and his coming; from his extraordinary birth; from the purity of his life; from his exalted doctrines; from the celestial attestation to his character; from his declarations respecting himself, evidenced by his mighty acts; from the prodigies which marked his death; from his mighty resurrection, effected by his own power, [85/86] as he himself had foretold; from his glorious ascension to heaven, the place where he was before; from the effusion of the spirit, which he had promised, and which enabled his disciples to perform miracles in his name; they, witnessing and comparing these things, were fully justified in saying, "God was manifest in the flesh."
To all this body of proof, however, allowing the fact to be revealed, and the doctrine to be credible, objections are made. In the first place, it is said, Granting that it was possible for God to manifest himself in visible form to those who lived in the first ages, as the Old Testament represents him to have done, and in the last days to manifest himself in the flesh of our nature, to tabernacle or to dwell with us, and thus to be seen of men, how is this to be reconciled with the strong expression of St. John, "No man hath seen God at any time," and with that of our Saviour himself, "Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape." In order to meet this objection, which is, at first view, so striking, I answer, There are two senses in which it is true that no man hath seen or can see God. The first is in respect of his spiritual nature, which is necessarily invisible to human sight; for the eye can only take in the images of material objects. The second is in respect of the glory which surrounds him in heaven, which, though it might, doubtless, be made perceptible upon earth, [86/87] yet is as much beyond the power of the human, or even of angelic vision to behold, by reason of its transcendent brightness, as the spiritual nature of God, who dwells in that glory, is removed from observation by reason of its subtleness and tenuity. But suppose this glory to be laid by, as the prophets declared that it should be, and as the New Testament writers declare it was; and suppose this spiritual nature to take upon itself a human form, as the prophets declared that it should, as it is declared by the Evangelist that it did; and then the truth and consistency of Scripture are vindicated, and the difficulty is readily solved. In his own spiritual nature, or in his glorious existence, no man hath seen God at any time; but as veiled in our earthly nature, taking upon him the seed of Abraham; as conversing in the world, and accomplishing his errand of mercy among men; as sending forth the "beams of his majesty, and divine power in his works and miracles, and especially in his transfiguration; as imparting the gifts of the Holy Ghost; as teaching in truth, and evidencing himself in all manner of kindness and benignity; as verifying all the ancient promises," and in leading men from earthly to heavenly pursuits; [Diodati on John i. 14.] as opening before them the kingdom of heaven; in all these operations of the Word made flesh, we could and [87/88] did behold his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father--Immanuel, God with us, was presented to the admiring view of man. In his person, united with his human body, dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead. And because he was the image of the invisible God, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, St. John, while he asserted that no man hath seen God at any time, immediately added, "The only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." And the Saviour himself, when reproving those who rejected his testimony, and believed not his word, he said to them, respecting the Father himself, which sent him, and who bare witness of him, "Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape;" ye have not recognized his presence and power, because ye looked to see an impossible manifestation of his spiritual or glorious existence; could yet say to his true disciples, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
If then, we understand how it was that God might be present, be manifest in humble flesh, and yet in his spiritual nature, or in his glorious existence, not be seen by any man, let us pass on to another objection which is made to the doctrine before us, which is, that Christ himself speaks of his relation to the Father in terms evidently implying his own inferiority. This fact, which has often been elucidated, requires little [88/89] knowledge of what the Scriptures reveal, in order satisfactorily to explain it.
We have seen that all the predictions respecting Christ, bear witness to his two-fold character of man as well as God. That lie might be the mediator between God and man, he who was God, and therefore; in his own nature could not suffer, was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, took upon him the seed of Abraham, became man, for to make in "himself of twain one new man, so making peace." And of the mysterious nature of this new man, these expressions of inferiority are used. In this nature he who is the Son of God was also the Son of man, and increased in wisdom and stature. He was inferior to the Father. He who is invisible was seen of angels and of men. He who, as God, was omniscient, as man, knew not the counsels of the Father. He who was the Almighty God, was, as man, made subject to suffering, and poured out his soul unto death, a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The mystery of the incarnation of the second person of the adorable Trinity, Jesus Christ, solves all other mysteries. This is that strange event which might make us, with the Prophet Isaiah, ask, "Who shall declare his generation? Who shall unfold the mystery of the Son of God becoming the Son of man, condescending to an inferior nature, and participating in the weakness, the ignorance, and the [89/90] infirmity, to which it is subject, yet without sin? Who shall explain how it was that he who was in the form of God, and who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, 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 temporary humiliation of Christ, and the suffering which he endured in this assumed nature, we cannot perfectly understand. It is sufficient for us to know that these were necessary for our salvation. So far from his divine nature being thereby degraded, his human nature was ennobled; for because of these God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
But another objection remains to be considered, which is, that Christ himself disclaimed the character of God. One instance particularly which may be alleged, is that recorded by Su Matthew, "And behold one came and said unto him, good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? And he said unto him, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good [90/91] but one, that is God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Here the object of Christ plainly appears to have been to test the opinion which the young man entertained of his character and person: in other words, to probe his faith, and to know whether he believed in him as the Messiah, God manifest in the flesh. "Why callest thou me good I there is none good but one, that is God." I do not disclaim the title of good. But dost thou really know that I am God; and that, therefore, the title which thou hast employed, is truly mine in a sublime and spiritual sense? The young man suspected no such thing. He was evidently not one of those who looked for salvation through a Divine Mediator and Redeemer. He knew not his own weakness, nor the necessity of a spiritual Deliverer. To teach him these, he was commanded to keep the law, that school-master which is able to show men their deficiency, and to bring them to Christ: for until he had discovered more fully his own inability to please God, he could not appreciate the value of that mysterious interposition of God in our behalf. There is no sort of evidence then in this passage, that our Saviour disclaimed the divinity of his character. And so far from this being true, we hear him afterwards, when speaking to his disciples and to the multitude, use a title, a phraseology, similar to that by which he was before addressed, in order expressly to assert [91/92] his divine power and authority. "Be not ye called Rabbi," said he, "for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." Indeed, this was the accusation of the Jews against him, that instead of disavowing the attribute of divinity, he expressly asserted, challenged, and laid claim to it--"For a good work," said they, "we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." In answer to which accusation, he thus strongly vindicated that character which they wished him to renounce--"If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him." And though many were found who still most unreasonably refused to believe that he was God, (as some in our own times also do, because they do not know how it could be.) Yet were they reproved by the wicked spirits over whom the Saviour exercised control, and who were compelled to declare, "We know thee who thou art, the Holy One of Israel." Let us not wonder then, my brethren, that with all this evidence, St. Paul recognized in Jesus Christ, "God manifest in the flesh," the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; and that knowing in whom he had believed, he found no difficulty in paying divine honours to the Saviour, as to the God of Israel; and when this was imputed to him as a [92/93] crime by the unbelieving Jews, vindicated himself by saying, "This I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers; believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets."
My brethren, let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering. In all our afflictions, and apprehensions, and cares, let us rejoice that he who is the God of providence, and who controls all events, is our Ruler and our Guide, who can govern all things as shall be best for our everlasting interest. Under a sense of sin and of infirmity, let us be consoled by the reflection that we have a Divine Redeemer, one whose satisfaction in our behalf was perfect and infinite; and that he ever liveth to make intercession for us. And in that hour when flesh and heart fail, and when there is no longer any help in man, let us rejoice that he who has promised to be with us, to conduct us through the dark valley of the shadow of death, is the God of death as of life; and let us commit the keeping of our spirit unto him, as into the hands of a faithful Creator and Redeemer.