"Let no man go about to entertain the thoughts of the Great Mystery of Godliness, but with a ravished heart. You who are a Spirit, and therefore immaterial and invisible, to expose yourself to the view of earthen eyes; You who are an infinite Spirit, to be enwrapped in flesh; You an all-glorious Eternal Spirit, to put on the rags of human mortality; You the great Creator of all things, to become a creature; You the Omnipotent God, to subject Yourself to miserable frailty and infirmity; O mystery transcending the full apprehension of even glorified souls! Cease, cease, O human curiosity, and where you cannot comprehend, wonder and adore." –Bishop Hall, 1574.
So spoke one who had folded his wings, as none other ever did, in "The Clefts of the Rock," who, as none other before or since, had obtained response to the invocation of the great Hymn– "Let me hide myself in You!"
Sheltered in these sublime crevices during three privileged years on earth, overshadowed and canopied, as it were, by that mighty Presence, he could utter the testimony, not as hearsay evidence, not as a dry theological dogma, but as a blessed experimental truth, gathered from divine lip and look and heart, during the enjoyment of the closest contact and fellowship with his living, loving Lord--"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. For the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you."
The cardinal foundation-truth of all theology thus stated in the prologue alike to the Gospel and the Epistles of the Beloved Disciple, is the supreme Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Other shelters would be worthless and unavailing without this. Indeed, it is not so much a "Cleft in the Rock," as THE ROCK itself, on which the Church of the future, and with it the hopes and aspirations of world-wide humanity, are built. It is the keystone of the arch. Remove it, and the whole superstructure collapses. More than ever, Luther said regarding justification, is it "the doctrine of a standing or a falling church." Take Deity from the tree of life, and its every leaf withers. Take Deity from the Rock, and its majestic places of refuge are turned into sand-clefts; it ceases to be a "Rock of Ages."
It is fit that we should commence themes which in future pages are to engage our thoughts, with what thus gives to that Rock its most glorious and distinctive title. There are special eras in the history of the Church, when truths we have been accustomed to receive with implicit unwavering trust, are either openly assailed, or sought to be shorn of their proportions and strength by the covert negations of a destructive criticism. Surely of all forms of apostasy and error, that is incomparably the greatest, which would tend in any way, whether by bold assertion or evasive statement, to shake and undermine the believer's faith in the Godhead of his adorable Lord. Doctrinal subjects such as this may not possess the interest of others. We may prefer themes, such as several of those that follow, which come home to the conscience, and stir the affections and the heart. But it is needful, surely, and profitable also, at times to remove the debris--expose to view the great foundation of the Christian temple, and vindicate the peerless dignity of Him who to us as His people, ought to be, and we trust is, "fairer than the children of men."
What more sacred thing is there on earth than to defend the name and honor of a beloved friend? If a parent's worth and goodness were assailed, his honor impugned--who that has the spirit of a son would not rush to beat off the unworthy thrust, and to throw the shield of protection over injured goodness and worth? What shall be said when the glory of Him is tampered with, who is better than the best and dearest of all earthly relatives? Who dare be silent, when Arianism and Socinianism are endeavoring to pluck the regal crown from Immanuel's brow, making this very Bible (the mirror of His glory) to reflect unworthy humanitarian views of His official character and Divine Person? If these "foundations are destroyed, what will the righteous do?"
Let us, then, obey the summons of the Prophet, and adopting his words, "go into the clefts of the Rock," to behold the glory of the Redeemer's Majesty.
"What do you think of Christ?" "Who is this Son of man?" "All the city was moved, saying, Who is this?" "Is He no more than the first of the shadows of the past--the first of memories--the first of biographies--the most perfect of human ideals? Is He only an ideal after all? Does He reign only in virtue of a mighty tradition of human thought and feeling in His favor, which creates and supports His imaginary throne?--or is He a super-angelic Intelligence, sinless, and invested with judicial and creative powers, but still separated from the inaccessible life of God by that fathomless interval which parts the first of creatures from the Everlasting Creator? Can He save us from our sins? Can He blot out their stains and crush their power? Can He deliver us in our death-agony from the terrors of dissolution, and bid us live with Him in a brighter world forever?" So states Canon Liddon, an able writer, the momentous problem that is now for a little to occupy our attention.
Be it our endeavor to approach, with chastened reverential spirit, the sacred oracles, as the great and only court of appeal--the sole arbiter on this as on all other doctrinal questions. With the assent, alike of an enlightened intellect and sanctified heart, may we be prepared to subscribe to the comprehensive article first promulgated by the Nicene Fathers, and now for long centuries incorporated in the creed of Christendom--"I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of God--Begotten of His Father before all worlds--God of God, Light of Light, VERY GOD OF VERY GOD!"
Let us begin by rehearsing a few of our blessed Lord's own declarations regarding His divinity, and then see how these are borne out and supported by the inspired penmen. In other words (although we use the simile with all reverence), let us hear His own divine assertion of claims to supreme dignity, and then summon witness by witness to substantiate these. In doing so, we have to go over ground which has been often previously traversed. Farther, from the necessarily brief and inadequate treatment of which our space admits, we can do little more than quote some of the leading proofs in support of the great doctrine. May He whose special divine office it is to glorify the Redeemer, take of the things that are Christ's, and show them unto us!
Let us listen, first, to one or two of the testimonies which Christ Himself gives regarding His Divinity. We may premise, however, that His own utterances constitute by no means the strength of the argument. On the contrary, while on the one hand He does not shrink from a bold manifesto, or vindication of His divine prerogatives, when the occasion imperatively demands it, there is, at the same time, a marked and peculiar reticence in the assertion of His personal claims. And this itself forms a strong and direct testimony to the forcefulness of these. So unlike an impostor, who would have taken every opportunity of loudly enforcing his pretensions. "I speak not of Myself." "Believe Me for the works' sake."
In the 8th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus was addressing the Jews in the Temple Treasury, and meeting their virulent cavils and carnal prejudices, as they boasted of their pedigree, and challenged what they deemed His blasphemous assumption of superiority over the great Father and founder of their nation. He makes the distinct announcement, not only of His pre-existence, but of all that was implied in the possession of the Divine incommunicable name of JEHOVAH. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM." Not "I was," but "I AM"--the Great Underived, whose lifetime is Eternity--that Eternity comprehending a dateless past--a changeless present--a limitless future--ever living in the sublime consciousness of His own Being. From Everlasting to Everlasting--the same!
Again, at the Feast of dedication in winter, when walking in Solomon's porch, He was interrogated by the same skeptic auditory as to His pretensions. While declaring His prerogative to confer on His sheep the gift of eternal life, He concludes with the assertion, "I and My Father are one." The Jews present had not misapprehended His meaning. They viewed it as being "blasphemous." On remonstrating with them for their threat to stone Him, their reply was, "For a good work we stone You not, but for blasphemy; and because that You being a man make Yourself God." Doubtless He would have disclaimed and corrected their impressions had He considered them erroneous. So far from this, however, He only adds confirmation to His previous testimony. "If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though you believe not Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." "All things are delivered unto Me of My Father, and no man knows the Son but the Father; neither knows any man the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." "My Father," He again says, "works hitherto, and I work"--anew, explicitly claiming coequal power and parity of working in nature and providence with the Eternal Father. Could there be such an assumption of jurisdiction, identifying and associating Himself as One with the Supreme Maker and Sustainer, "the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who faints not, neither is weary," if He were not divine?
If there was any locality or object more than another associated to the Jew with deepest sacredness, it was his Temple. The Temple!--the former abode of the Shekinah, the visible dwelling-place of deity. Hear how the divine Redeemer speaks of Himself in presence of Jews, and under the very shadow of the imposing temple--"Verily I say unto you, that in this place is One greater than the Temple."
Listen to some of His last divine utterances, when, in the words of the beloved evangelist, "knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God, and went to God" "I am in the Father, and the Father in Me." "He that has seen Me has seen the Father." How strange would the assertion have been (on the supposition of mere creatureship), when He speaks of the boon of His indwelling presence, as being of equal value and preciousness with that of the Father! Had the vast interval existed which must always sever the holiest created from the Uncreated, would not His language rather have been this--'I, your Lord and Master, will dwell with you; but the boon of My indwelling will be nothing to the Greater presence of the Supreme God'? But what says He?--"If a man loves Me, he will keep My words--and My Father will love him, and WE will come unto him, and make OUR abode with him."
His sublime intercessory prayer is an indirect, but continuous attestation to the same great truth. What striking and remarkable words these were, in connection with the time He uttered them! They were the words, not of a conqueror, but of, apparently, a doomed man, one about to die. Yet, how the halo of Deity seems to encircle His devoted head, as He speaks--"And now, O Father, glorify Me with Your own self with the glory which I had with You before the world was." "All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I am glorified in them." "Holy Father, keep through Your own name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one, as We are." "That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You." "I have declared unto them Your name, and will declare it; that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them." His works are the works of God; His will is the will of God; His glory is the glory of God. To dishonor the Father is to dishonor Him. To love the Father is to love Him. "Could we have heard Him forgiving sins; asserting His right to do so; summoning the world to yield up its heart to Him; to make its homage to the Father a pattern of its homage to Him; could we have heard this without feeling that God must be present in the person of the mysterious Speaker; that the throne of deity must be, in a sense, come from heaven to earth?" (Harris' Great Teacher)
When His work is finished, and He is on the eve of leaving this world, He departs, asserting and claiming the attribute of omnipotence--"All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth." When He returns to the beloved disciple in Patmos, as "one like unto the Son of man" in His glorified humanity, He wears the unmistakable symbols of deity--"His head and His hair are white, like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes are as a flame of fire." He rides triumphantly in vision through the heavens, having on His vesture, and on His thigh, a name written, "King of kings, and Lord of lords;" while these are some of His sublime utterances to the trembling and awestruck worshiper, regarding His omniscience, His eternity, and His power--"These things says the Son of God, who has His eyes like unto a flame of fire, 'I am He that searches the reins and hearts.'" "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord, who is, and who was, and who is to come--the Almighty."
And once more, carrying our thoughts onwards, to the consummation of all things--the end of His mediatorial reign over the Church militant--in one of His most sublime parables, He claims the dignity of Supreme judge of mankind at the great assize, "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory. And before Him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
To the same effect He declares in John, "For as the Father raises up the dead, and quickens them; even so the Son quickens whom He will. For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son, that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father." "It is not incredible that God should raise the dead; but it is absolutely incredible that any other being should." (Dr. Pye Smith.)
In looking forward to that Day, when the Almighty "shall judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He has ordained," do we ever think of what is implied and involved in the complex, superhuman task of being Judge of all? It assuredly demands the possession of qualifications centering in One, 'to whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden;' who, with unchallenged supremacy and discriminating wisdom, which Omniscience alone possesses, can weigh all the thoughts and purposes, the motives and actions, the subtle springs of conduct, the extenuating circumstances in each individual case and life; and that too extending over countless millions of souls--whole centuries thronged with living and accountable beings; none able to resist His might, or to evade His scrutiny. What created power, what angel or archangel from the ranks of loftiest intelligence, could undertake such a judgement as this? Who but the Great Being who sways the scepter of universal empire--in other words, JEHOVAH--could claim and challenge such peerless prerogatives? "Our GOD shall come, and shall not keep silence. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people."
Such are some of the Savior's own declarations regarding His Divine claims.
Before proceeding, as proposed, to gather some of the more important attestations of the inspired writers to the great truth, it may be well for a little to advert, from the early place they occupy in Old Testament story, to those indirect but still remarkable testimonies, known as "Theophanies," or God-appearances; the anticipatory advents of Messiah to the Patriarchial and Jewish Church, under the title of the "Angel of the Lord," or "the Angel the Lord," the Angel JEHOVAH. "This Person claims an uncontrolled sovereignty over the affairs of men. He has the attribute of omniscience and omnipresence. He performs works which only omnipotence could. He uses dreadful formulas, by which the Deity on various occasions condescended to confirm the faith of those to whom the primitive revelations were given--'He swears BY HIMSELF;' His favor is to be sought with the deepest solicitude, as that which is of the highest importance to the interests of men. He is the object of religious invocation. In the most express manner, and repeatedly, declared to be Jehovah." (Dr. Pye Smith.)
The earliest of these "apparitions," or personal manifestations of Jesus, is recorded in the life of Abraham, when the patriarch was seated at his tent-door in the plains of Mamre. "The Lord" (that is, JEHOVAH, as the Hebrew word means) appeared to him. "He lift up his eyes," we read, "and looked, and lo! three men stood by him; and he bowed himself toward the ground," in customary obeisance. Though in angelic form like the others who accompanied Him, we are left in no doubt as to the superior and preeminent dignity of one of these three. Two of the heavenly messengers, after partaking of a patriarchal meal, withdrew on their mission to Sodom. The third, however, tarried with the patriarch. But of Him we read, "And the Lord (JEHOVAH) said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" "Abraham stood yet before JEHOVAH." "Behold now," says the Father of the Faithful, "I have taken upon me to speak unto THE LORD, who am but dust and ashes." And again, "Shall not THE JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH do right?" And then we read, "The Lord (JEHOVAH) went His way."
We find the same Angel appearing to Jacob in a dream, and reminding him thus of the most memorable hour of his earlier history, when in visions of the night, above his stony pillow at Bethel, troops of angels seemed to line a celestial ladder; and a voice, more magnificent and divine than that of angels, addressed the wanderer from the heights of heaven, "I am the GOD of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar, and where you vowed a vow unto me." At a future crisis-hour, He revealed Himself to the patriarch at Peniel, where "there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." That mighty Wrestler changed the name of the Pilgrim-Father from Jacob to Israel; and He assigned as the reason, "For as a prince have you power with GOD and with men, and have prevailed. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen GOD face to face, and my life is preserved." That incident, with its sacred recollections, years on years afterwards, rose up before the dimming eye of aged Israel, as on his deathbed he summoned Joseph and his two sons to impart to them the farewell blessing. Thus does he advert to that mysterious personage at Jabbok, "GOD, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the GOD which fed me all my life long unto this day, the ANGEL which redeemed me from all evil." The Prophet Hosea adds this comment on the same memorable occurrence in the life of Jacob--"By his strength he had power with GOD--yes, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed; he wept, and made supplication unto Him--he found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke with us; even THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS; The Lord is his memorial." Observe, this majestic Being, who first appeared in the gloom of that midnight hour as a man, is here designated not even an incarnate angel, but as "God," and "THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS."
Passing to the next era in Israel's history. To a careful reader of the whole story of the Exodus, and the wanderings, it will be manifest that the divine Being who preceded the camp, by day in a pillar of cloud and at night in a pillar of fire, was none other than this same Covenant-Angel of the patriarchal Church. Out of the midst of the flaming bush it was the Angel JEHOVAH who spoke to Moses, and gave him his commission to the court of Pharaoh. That bush was itself a significant symbol of the twofold nature of the promised Redeemer--not a giant cedar or graceful palm, but a stunted desert tree, "a root out of a dry ground, having neither form nor loveliness." Yet glorious as an emblem of Deity--for "the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." Moses said, "I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when THE LORD (JEHOVAH) saw that he turned aside to see, GOD called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon GOD. And THE LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt (for I know their sorrows); and I have come down to deliver them, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land."
But how, it may be asked, are we authorised to identify the God who spoke here to Moses, with the Covenant-Angel, the Lord Jesus Christ? If we turn to the Acts of the Apostles, and read the historical defense of Stephen before the Jewish Sanhedrin, we shall find the first Christian martyr thus referring to the same incident. "There appeared to Moses, in the wilderness of Sinai, an Angel of the Lord in a flame of fire;" and again, "Moses was in the church in the wilderness with the Angel, which spoke to him in the Mount Sinai." It is plain from these passages, taken in connection, that the living God--the JEHOVAH of the burning bush, and "the Angel (of) THE LORD"--are one and the same; moreover, that this Covenant-Angel announces as His purpose not only to deliver Israel, but by His personal guidance to conduct them to Canaan--"I will bring them up out of that land to a good land." So that all the subsequent manifestations of divine power in that unparalleled march--the rebuking of the Red Sea, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the final dividing the waters of the Jordan, were the doings of Him who, in answer to the interrogation of Moses as to the name and authority of their august Deliverer, replied, "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM. Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel, I AM has sent me unto you." Blessed testimony! that the Angel of the pillar-cloud--the eternal God, who thus declares His ineffable name "I AM"--whose chariots, as described by the Psalmist, were "twenty thousand, even thousands of angels in Sinai, in the holy place;" before whom "the earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God, even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, "the God of Israel;" is the very Savior of whom another thus speaks, in reference to that same great epoch in Israel's history--"In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bare them and carried them all the days of old."
Our limits forbid tracing, with any minuteness, the references to this Covenant-Angel on other occasions and periods throughout the theocracy. We need only allude, without comment, to the familiar instances of His appearances to Hagar, who named the place where the angel of God called to her out of heaven, "God, You see me"--to Joshua, as "the Captain of the Lord's host"--to Gideon, at his wine-press, when the names "God," and "Angel of God," given to the mysterious visitant, are also significantly interchanged--to Manoah, who dreads instant death from seeing "the Angel of the Lord" face to face--that Angel subsequently revealing his name as "Wonderful" or "Secret" to Zechariah, "as presiding over the affairs of the world; directing the ministrations of superior intelligences; protecting, vindicating, and interceding for the oppressed Jewish Church; the Messiah, the Savior, the Priest upon His throne, the Intercessor; and not less certainly described as possessing the attributes, exercising the sovereignty, and wearing the holy and incommunicable name of Jehovah."
Who else, in these varied cases can this be, but the divine Redeemer anticipating His incarnation--Jehovah in very deed dwelling with man upon the earth--a few favored members of redeemed humanity permitted to entertain, not angels, but the God of angels at unawares?
But it is time we now hasten to gather a few of the more prominent testimonies to the divinity of our Blessed Lord, furnished by the inspired penmen alike of Old and New Testament Scripture.
Among many Old Testament assertions, we may begin with that remarkable passage in the Book of Proverbs, where Incarnate WISDOM is represented as speaking of His own eternal subsistence with the Father; dwelling alone with Him in the yet unpeopled solitudes of Immensity, before throngs of worlds and intelligences had occupied space. Who can read the following sublime passage, and resolve the Divine Being there described, as hostile critics would do, into an Eastern metaphor or poetic impersonation? "Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled; before the hills was I brought forth--while as yet He had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there--when He set a compass upon the face of the depth--when He established the clouds above--when He strengthened the fountains of the deep--when He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment--when He appointed the foundations of the earth--Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him--and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him." (Prov. 8:22-30.)
Passing to that which is known peculiarly as the 'prophetical era,' let us listen to the strains of the evangelical Prophet. While he speaks, in one sentence (respecting the future Incarnation,) of "the Child born" and the "Son given;" he adds, "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father" (margin, 'the Father of Eternity'). Again, "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name IMMANUEL, (which, being interpreted, is God with us"). It was this adorable Immanuel--Christ as God--whom the same Prophet beheld in magnificent vision--"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple." He describes the seraphim with veiled wings crying one to another, "'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory,' and the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke." And then the awestruck prophet is represented as exclaiming, "Woe is me! for I am undone, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." The inference that this "Jehovah of Hosts," to whom the seraphim bend in lowly adoration, is the Lord Jesus Christ, is no gratuitous assumption. Appealing to the Gospels as our authority, we there find the apostle John, after quoting the passage, making the distinct declaration--"These things said Isaiah when he saw His (Christ's) glory, and spoke of Him."
Listen to the testimony of Jeremiah, "Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely, and this is the name whereby He shall be called, JEHOVAH our Righteousness." Zechariah, in a verse of sublime but terrific poetry, represents the sword of justice as awaking from its scabbard to "smite the Shepherd." But to that Shepherd is applied the term, 'Equal of the Lord of Hosts,' "the man who is my Fellow." Hear the testimony of one of the minor prophets--that most interesting and comprehensive of Old Testament predictions which Micah gives regarding the Person of Christ, embracing alike His divine and human nature. While pointing to Bethlehem-Ephrathah as the honored birth-place of the incarnate Son, in language whose meaning can admit of no doubtful interpretation, he proclaims, in the same breath, His eternal existence--"But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth that is to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."--(Marginal reading "from the days of eternity").
We may close these emphatic attestations with the striking words of Malachi, who seals up the Old Testament vision--"Behold, I will send My Messenger, and He shall prepare the way before Me--and JEHOVAH, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in, says the Lord of Hosts." In this concluding prophecy, the promised Messiah is again brought before us as the Covenant-Angel--the Angel of the old Theophanies; the same divine, mysterious Being who, at the dawn of the Mosaic dispensation, announced Himself as the "I AM," "the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob."
We proceed from the Prophecies to the Psalms. Many of these in their literal--most of them in their secondary meaning--refer to Christ--not a few form an ascription of praise to the Messiah-King in His supreme divinity. To attempt even an enumeration of such would be quite beyond our limits. We must restrict ourselves to three, in which special and undoubted references to the Redeemer are made by writers in the New Testament.
The first of these is the application by the Apostle Paul (in Eph. 4:8) of a verse in the 68th Psalm--"Wherefore, He says, when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Now, it would be obviously doing violence to all principles of fair interpretation, forcibly to isolate this verse from the preceding and following context, so as to make it stand alone in its reference to Messiah, and regard the rest of the psalm as alluding to another. If this verse speaks of Christ, it is only reasonable to apply all the other portions to Him. Let us hear, then, the ascription to this same majestic Being, with which the sublime "Song of Victory" alike opens and closes. "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered--let them also that hate Him flee before Him." "Sing unto God, sing praises to His name--extol Him that rides upon the heavens by His name JAH, and rejoice before Him." "Sing unto God, you kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord--To Him that rides upon the heavens of heavens, which were of old--lo, He does send out His voice, and that a mighty voice. Ascribe you strength unto God--His excellency is over Israel, and His strength is in the clouds. O God, You are glorious out of Your holy places--the God of Israel is He that gives strength and power unto His people. Blessed be God."
A second proof, gleaned from the same ample storehouse, is in the Pauline reference to that grand oration which closes the 102d Psalm. If there be an allusion, as unquestionably there is, in the first instance, to the individual case of the inspired penman (conjectured to be some pious Israelite at the era of the Babylonish captivity, bewailing alike his personal afflictions and those of the Church of God), there is doubtless throughout the psalm a secondary reference to a Greater. We have a foreshadowing alike of the true Humanity and true Deity of the world's coming Redeemer. There is the wail of the suffering Man, in conjunction with the majesty of the everlasting God. In the verse of the psalm immediately preceding the apostle's quotation, we listen to the prayer of the Sufferer, the appeal of the Savior's sinking human nature to His Father--"He weakened My strength in the way; He shortened My days. I said, O My God, take Me not away in the midst of My days." The reply of the Father follows. It is the sublime assertion of the supreme Godhead of His divine Son, as the unchanging and everlasting--"Your years are throughout all generations. Of old have You laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You shall endure; yes, all of them shall wax old like a garment--as a vesture shall You change them, and they shall be changed--but You are the same, and Your years shall have no end."
One other similar proof from the Psalter, is that, for which (in applying it to Christ), we have the express authority of the same apostle in the opening chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is contained in the 45th Psalm; in which the writer speaks of the things "touching the King;" and indites, in glowing metaphor, a royal "wedding song,"--on the bridal day of Messiah with the Church, His betrothed spouse. While with reference to the humanity of the "mighty One," he speaks of Him as full of grace, "fairer than the children of men," having "grace poured into His lips;" he proceeds immediately to celebrate the glories of His deity in language of reverential homage and adoration, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever!"
At the risk of breaking the continuity of the subject, we shall reserve the remainder of the proof for next chapter. What has been already advanced, indeed, independent of other testimony, might well lead us to repose in calm confidence in this majestic 'Cleft of the Rock;' and to appropriate with unwavering trust, as alike the foundation article and the crown and consummation of our faith, the opening invocation of the noble Hymn of the ancient church; (are we wrong in saying the grandest uninspired Hymn ever penned?) "We praise YOU, GOD!"
THE DEITY OF CHRIST (part 2)
"The Word was God."--John 1:1
"That Christ is truly God is manifestly declared, in that Paul attributes the same things equally unto Him, which he does unto the Father, that is, divine power, as the giving of grace, the forgiveness of sins, peace of conscience, life, victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell. Now to give grace, peace, everlasting life; to forgive sins, to make righteous, to quicken, to deliver from death and the devil, are not the works of any creature, but of the Divine Majesty alone. The angels can neither create, nor give these things. Therefore these works pertain only to the glory of the Sovereign Majesty--the Maker of all things. It must needs follow that Christ is truly and naturally God." –Luther.
In the preceding chapter, a rapid survey has been taken of the more important scripture attestations (and more especially those contained in the Old Testament), to the supreme Godhead of the Redeemer.
We proceed to complete the proof, by referring to a few of the leading assertions of the inspired writers in the New Testament, in support of the same cardinal truth of the Christian system. We must refer the reader, who wishes more minutely to prosecute inquiry, to those ampler treatises compiled by masters in Israel, wherein the faith of the Church in the Divinity of her Lord has been nobly vindicated.
To begin with testimonies contained in the GOSPELS. We shall not attempt to enter on the proof from miracles; although to these, our blessed Lord Himself pointed, as special attestations to His divine mission. When the Baptist sent some of his own disciples from the prison of Machaerus with the query, "Are You He that should come, or do we look for another?" what was the Savior's reply? With what proofs did He confirm and authenticate His Messiahship in the eyes of these wavering and misgiving followers? He stretched forth His hands on the surrounding groups stricken with sin and suffering--the palsied with their tottering limbs--the blind with their sealed eyes--the fever-stricken with their burning lips--the demon-possessed with their wild and vacant stare--"He healed them ALL;" and then, pointing the messengers to the masses thus restored by His omnipotent touch and word--the closed eye opening to the light of day--the halting cripple leaping with joy--the dull ear of the deaf unstopped--the fevered couch emptied of its tenant--the wild raving maniac led gently as a child--"Go," said He, "Go your way, and tell John what you have seen and heard."
Let us, however, rather restrict ourselves to a few of the direct statements contained in the Gospels and Epistles.
We may begin with another testimony of that same great Forerunner to whom we have just alluded. "John bore witness of Him, and cried saying, This was He of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that comes from above is above all."
More explicit still is the witness of the other John. When he wrote his Gospel, the venerable Saint of Ephesus was the last survivor of the apostolic band. Well might the eagle, with its strength of wing and soaring flight, be deemed by the early Christians his most appropriate emblem--reaching, as he did, altitudes attained by no other in the regions of uncreated light and glory, as if basking in the very beams of the unveiled Sun of Righteousness! "Impatient," says Augustine, "of setting his foot on the earth, he rises, from the very first words of his Gospel, not only above earth and the span of air and sky, but above all angels and invisible powers, until he reaches Him by whom all things were made." Surely if there had been no other proof in Scripture, this sublime epitome of the teachings of the favored apostle (part of which heads this and the former chapter), would of itself suffice to settle the question--"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made."
What language could be more forcible or conclusive? "This passage," to take the testimony of Griesbach among those of a hundred scholars, "is so clear and so superior to all exception, that by no daring efforts of either commentators or critics can it ever be overturned, or be snatched out of the hands of the defenders of the truth." There is, in these utterances of the beloved Disciple, nothing figurative--nothing parabolic. They consist of a series of simple propositions--the articles of a creed, which John, in an age when heresy was rampant, left as a sacred legacy to the Church of the future as to the supreme divinity of the Incarnate Word--the "Image of the Invisible God."
But we cannot linger on the testimonies of the Gospels. Eliminate from these the fact of His absolute Deity, and they become incomprehensible. You try to quench the radiance which beams out on every page. As it has been well said, "Reduce Him to a mere teacher like Plato, or a Prophet like Isaiah, and it is as if the Gospels were emptied of their meaning. The very substance of the doctrine is gone--the teaching of Jesus is little more but a tinkling cymbal. All that sublime mystery which has nourished the souls of saints in all time, is then rightly pronounced the most defective portion of His teaching. If He is not God, the divinest side of His doctrine becomes the most vulnerable. It can only subsist, if beneath the formulas is felt the throb of a life which is truly of God."
Passing from the Gospels to the EPISTLES. Although not directly a proof of absolute Godhead, let us begin with Paul's assertion, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich." "Though rich"--what could this mean on the supposition that Christ was a mere man? His lowly birth--His manger cradle--the carpenter's home at Nazareth--all these render the reference surely to His "riches" inappropriate. He was, in earthly condition, the poorest of the poor; a Galilean peasant; who had at times not where to lay His head! Moreover, on the supposition of mere manhood, how could there be "grace" manifested by Him in assuming our nature? Where would be the condescension in a man taking upon him the common garb of humanity? The whole force of the apostle's words is lost on such an hypothesis. But take the true view of this noble passage. Regard the writer as speaking of the mighty stoop of Infinite Godhead, and all becomes plain!
We may select as our next reference, that contained in the same Apostle's Epistle to the Philippians, in which he clearly and indubitably claims for Christ the possession of a nature and perfections immeasurably superior to the most exalted and glorious of dependent existences--in other words DIVINE. "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." "God also has 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."
Stronger and more emphatic still is the Apostle's language in another sublime passage, where he anticipates the very heresies of later centuries, and controverts the erroneous views of those who would assign to Christ no more than an exalted place in the ranks of creatureship, making Him 'an inferior workman, creating for the glory of a higher Master--for a God superior to Himself'--a passive instrument rather than an original and originating agent. He vindicates His dignity and glory as Lord, 'in His creative power, His eternal existence, His heirship over the universe--that universe, the theater on which He is to accomplish His purposes and display His perfections…ascribing to Him, therefore, infinite power, infinite wisdom.' "Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature. For by Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers--all things were created by Him and for Him and He is before all things, and by Him all things are held together."
It has been well observed, that "while the Epistle to the Hebrews lays almost more emphasis than any other book of the New Testament upon Christ's true humanity, it is nevertheless certain that no other book more implicitly asserts the reality of His divine prerogatives." Let us listen to the impressive exordium--"God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds, Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and UPHOLDING all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels said He at any time, You are My Son, today have I begotten You? And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son? And again, when He brings in the first-begotten into the world He says, And let all the angels of God worship Him. And of the angels He (only) says, Who makes His angels spirits, and His ministers a flaming fire. But unto the Son, He says, Your throne, O GOD, is forever and ever."
We have already listened to the apostle John in the opening of his Gospel. Let us now hear the same honored disciple in the opening of his Epistles. We may repeat the introductory words--"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.)" Again, "And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding that we might know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and (the) eternal life."
Another indirect class of evidences is furnished conjointly, by passages, contained in gospels and epistles, in which adoration is rendered to Christ. We know that worship or adoration is given to God alone. We know, moreover, from various statements in the Old Testament, how jealous the Divine Being is of giving His glory to another. "It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve." When John, also, fell at the feet of the angel, and was about to render him an act of homage, he was rebuked by the words, "Do not worship me. …worship God." The very fact, therefore, of the Son having adoration ascribed to Him, forms surely the strongest testimony, that not only is He higher than any angelic being, but has a title to deity itself. We have already heard our blessed Lord Himself claiming the prerogative, "That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father." "That at the name of Jesus," says the Apostle, "every knee should bow." More than once in the apostolic benedictions, He is put on an equality with the Father, as if entitled to receive parity of homage--"The grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit." And if we pass from the Church militant to the Church triumphant in heaven, described in the Book of Revelation; as an appropriate close to all, we listen to the divine ascription of the "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." No testimony or tribute to the Savior's supreme Divinity can go beyond this, in its impressiveness and sublimity. We behold, in wondrous vision, concentric circles of worshipers in the upper sanctuary--"angels, living ones, and elders." They are represented as gathered, in devoutest adoration, around a slain and wounded Lamb, gazing on these mysterious symbols of suffering in a place where suffering is unknown--The Rock of Ages furrowed with mysterious clefts and crevices! From one of these circles (the inner favored group of redeemed humanity), there comes the ascription which they alone are qualified to utter, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." But the key-note thus struck by the white-robed band, is taken up by teeming myriads, reaching to the outskirts of illimitable space. All creation becomes vocal with the hymn to the same enthroned Lamb, once more associated and identified with the Supreme God--"And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honor and glory and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four-and-twenty elders fell down and worshiped Him that lives forever and ever." "And the four living ones said, Amen. And the four-and-twenty elders fell down and worshiped HIM THAT LIVES FOREVER AND EVER."
Such then, briefly and imperfectly summarized, are some of the leading scriptural attestations to the Savior's Divinity; and we would say to all readers on the retrospect, "As wise men, judge." Are we prepared to bow with reverence before Him, and to say in words of more emphatic adhesion and acknowledgment than those of Nathaniel, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel?" or, like one who loved Him as her son, but adored Him as her God--"My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior? or with the once doubting, but now convinced and believing Thomas--"My Lord and my God?" Let us seek to grasp and realize the full grandeur of this Truth of truths; to have it more frequently before us as a subject of devout contemplation--that the Christ of Nazareth, the Savior of Calvary--He who bled for me as Man upon the cross, and pleads for me on the throne, is the Mighty Jehovah; that He was before all things; that He reared every arch and pillar in the Universe Temple. "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who has created these things, that brings out their host by number--He calls them all by their names." Before these stars were made, before these altar-fires were lighted in immensity, before man or angel or seraph, throne or dominion or principality or power existed, this all-glorious Being lived--one in essence and substance with the Eternal Father.
Any lowlier view of the nature and dignity of Christ would not suffice. It would be like blotting out the sun from these visible heavens to attempt to erase the supreme divinity of Jesus from the creed of Christendom. No angel, no creature could save me. The incarnation of the highest archangel before the throne, and his voluntary substitution as a sacrificial offering for my sins, would be a simple impossibility. No creature of God can atone for the sin of a fellow creature. The fact of creatureship would vitiate the work of such a surety. As a creature, though the loftiest and purest, his life is not his own. He is himself a pensioner on God's bounty. In dying for me, and forfeiting his life, he would be forfeiting that which was not his to give.
Add to this, if Christ be no more than the first and most exalted of angels, He would necessarily be devoid of the attributes and prerogatives of Deity. Divest Him of these, and how dwarfed and limited immediately become His capabilities, alike as Intercessor and King. If a mere creature, even though on the pinnacles of creature-being, how could He be omnipresent with His Church? He could listen afar, so to speak, to the hum of the world's swarming population, as we do from window or balcony, on some great festal occasion, to the multitudinous voices--'the loud stunning tide' of the surging throng beneath, without being able to catch or discriminate one articulate utterance.
But He must be God--He must have the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, to enter into every separate home and take cognizance of every separate heart, and have an ear for the music of every separate prayer, and a hand to wipe every falling tear. As our Great High Priest on the throne, He is said to wear the breastplate gleaming with the names of all His covenant Israel. But how could He thus bear them, in the sense of knowing each individual name, if that heart of His did not throb with the pulses of Deity? How could He control the destinies of the Church and of the world if "all power" had not been His of right? How could He be "unchangeable" if His own will and purposes were dependent on a Higher? Christ a mere man! Then what a mockery to say to slumbering millions, "Awake, you that sheep, and arise from the dead, and CHRIST shall give you life." Oh, if He be but a creature, though the highest in rank in the heavenly peerage, I cannot confide to Him my eternal destinies. If He who bowed His head on that cross be a mere man and no more, I cannot look to Him as the Rock of Ages! A creature! as well pillow my head on the unstable wave. But blessed be God, I can plant my foot upon the living Rock of His deity. I can trust in Him, not as a prince, or as the son of man, in whom there would be no stay--but I can "trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is THE ROCK OF AGES." Invoking Him as such, I can with devout confidence of a gracious answer, join in the prayer, "O GOD the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners!"
Indeed, independent of the imperative need of Deity to qualify Him to be a complete Savior, we cannot read the record of His own wondrous life, without seeing in it the element of supporting Godhead. What but Deity could have upheld Him in His own trial hour? Look at His temptations in the wilderness and the garden! What but the Rock of His Godhead could have stood, as wave after wave rolled against it? Adam was a pure and glorious creature. But when these same billows swept over him, he was borne away like a reed on the waters. Satan was once a pure and glorious creature (supposed to have been at the head of all created intelligences), a chieftain and lord amid principalities and powers. The billows of temptation in his case, also, came--he was driven with his legions down into the fathomless abyss. If Christ had been only a creature, how can we dare predicate of Him that He could have better withstood the assaults of evil? But as these crested breakers surged against 'the Rock,' we know how they receded, chafed and buffeted. The Prince of this world came and had nothing in Him!
Reader, enter this glorious Cleft! Come, adore the mystery of godliness, "God manifest in the flesh"--the Divine Being who created by His word--who sustains by His providence--who, as the God-man, redeems with His blood. Come, contemplate His nativity, with its mystic star and shining hosts of angels, the silence of night made vocal with celestial song. Come, behold His wondrous works. See, as we have just been beholding, sickness taking wings at His word. See demons crouching rebuked in His presence, and yielding reluctant admission to His claims. See Him reading the inmost thoughts of an outcast sinner at the well of Samaria. See Him claiming power to forgive sin by the palsied couch at Capernaum. See the waves of His own Gennesaret having their turmoil quelled--rocking themselves to rest at His omnipotent "Peace be still." See Death casting his iron crown at the feet of the Lord of life--its fettered Victim bursting the bands that swathed him.
Does the Socinian say, Who but man could shed these tears at Bethany? Yes, we reply, but who, save God, could speak these words, "Lazarus, come forth!" Come to the cross of Calvary. See the sun hiding his face at the death-throes of his Almighty Maker, and earth heaving convulsive to her core! See the mysterious Sufferer encircling with a halo of glory the brows of a dying malefactor, and in the hour of His own deepest humiliation, opening the gates of Paradise to the vilest and most miserable of sinners! Come to His own grave, the sepulcher at Golgotha--behold the crowning proof of His divinity, when "declared to be the Son of God with power, by His resurrection from the dead." See Him standing as the God-man with His vacant sepulcher behind Him--with all the chains and bonds and missiles of Satan, meant for His destruction, now gathered as trophies of victory. Come, see the pictures drawn of His future universal reign, by psalmists and prophets--"the Great jubilee of pardoned humanity," when welcomed as Prince of Peace, King of kings and Lord of lords, to the throne of universal empire--Midian, Ephah and Sheba--(the Bedouins of the desert--the children of the far east), hastening on dromedaries with their gold and incense--the ships of Tarshish, the symbols of the civilization of the west, bounding over the waves with their costly offerings of fidelity and adoration. The glory of Lebanon on the north, and of Ethiopia in the south, is laid tributary at His feet--the wealth of the material creation, beautifying and adorning the place of His sanctuary--His dominion extending "from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."
That dominion secures deliverance, redemption, peace--the numbers of His spiritual adherents--the members of His Church, are likened to doves flying to their windows--flocks of living souls, "whose wings are covered with silver, and their feathers with yellow gold," speeding for shelter and repose into the clefts of this mighty ROCK--and yet room for all! See kings and princes casting their crowns and scepters before Him, esteeming it an honor to be servants and vassals of a Mightier--His name enduring forever--continuing long as the sun--"the whole earth filled with His glory" the voice of a great multitude heard in heaven--increasing until it is like the voice of many waters--deepening into the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigns."
And then, as the Drama of Time is in the act of closing, behold Him coming "with clouds" (clouds, the invariable symbol and emblem of deity,) every eye seeing Him--behold Him seated "as the Ancient of Days"--His garment "white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool,"--His throne like the fiery flame, and wheels as burning fire; thousand thousands ministering to Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before Him. Yes! let the Unitarian take His Gospel without Godhead in it--let Infidelity attempt to reduce the Person and mission of the adorable Immanuel to that of the mere Founder of a new system of divine philosophy, a new Head of a religious school--be it ours to pay a nobler and truer homage to Him who is unveiled to us in sacred story as "the Word," "the Life," "the Light," "the Truth," "the Omnipresent," "the Heart-searcher," the "Beginning and the ending," the Creator of worlds, the Redeemer of souls--the Wonderful--the Adored of angels--the appointed judge--the enthroned King--the I AM of eternal ages! Be it ours to testify that the struggles and toils of 1800 years have not been made, to defend and vindicate a monstrous delusion--that thousands of crowned martyrs now in heaven have not shed their blood to uphold a lie. Be it ours to see in Him, the Creator who has plenished the universe with worlds--the glory of illimitable Godhead enshrined in a human tabernacle--aye, and better still, be it ours to be able to say in reverential faith, as we fall adoring at His feet, "This God shall be our God forever and ever!"
We would only imitate the example of the Psalmist, and in conclusion, call upon all creation to rise and do homage to this its Incarnate Maker. Praise Him in the heavens! Praise Him in the heights. 'O Sun of this great world, both eye and soul,' reflect His glory! Moon! take your silver lyre--strike your harp in the praise of your God! Stars, gather your brilliant gems as a coronal for His brow! Floods, rise and thunder forth His praise. Every flower that blooms, come and waft your fragrance around the rose of Sharon. Lisping infancy, come with your Hosannahs. Penitence, come bathed in tears. Sorrow, come in the extremity of anguish to this Divine Sympathizer, this living God yet your Brother. Youth, come with your green ears of consecration. Manhood, come in your strength. Old age, come leaning on your staff. Come, saints and prophets of olden time! Come, noble army of martyrs! Come, you heavenly hosts! cherubim and seraphim, gather in to the universal homage! Let the Church triumphant echo back the strains of "the Church throughout all the world"--"YOU ARE THE KING OF GLORY, O CHRIST--YOU ARE THE EVERLASTING SON OF THE FATHER!"