"So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us." John 1:14
"The Word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of His immense love, became what we are, that He might make us what He is." –Irenaeus, 169.
"There is no room in the inn for the Child miraculously born--the earth does not receive its God. He has no suitable dwelling-place in all the world. He whom heaven and earth cannot contain, lies in a manger!" –Simon de Cassia.
"If Jesus were God only, and not man, He could not suffer anything whereby to satisfy Divine Justice. If man only, and not God, He could not satisfy Divine Justice, even though He suffered. If man only, His satisfaction could not be sufficient for God. If God only, it would not be suitable for man. And, therefore, to be capable of suffering for men, and able to satisfy God, Himself must be both God and man." –Bishop Beveridge.
"The one true and perfect Flower which has ever unfolded itself out of the root and stalk of humanity." –Trench.
In the previous chapters; the endeavor was made, as fully as our limits would admit, to adduce scriptural proof in support of that foundation-article of our most holy faith, the supreme divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ--"The Word was GOD." Let us, with a similar devout and reverential spirit, now turn our thoughts to another great cleft in the Rock of Ages, the correlative doctrine of the Savior's Humanity; when (adopting the translation or paraphrase of the apostle's words, made by an exegetical writer of the fifth century), "hiding His own dignity, He took the condition of extreme humiliation, and clothed Himself in the human form."
"So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us!" What a transition! What a stoop for that Infinite Being whom we found proclaiming Himself the Alpha and the Omega, writing His name on the Palace-walls of Eternity, "I AM THAT I AM!" for "The Ancient of days" to assume the nature and take the form of a cradled infant, sleeping on a virgin mother's breast!--the Plant of heavenly renown to become "a root out of a dry ground," without beauty or loveliness! We have no plumb-line to sound the depths of that humiliation--no arithmetic by which it can be submitted to any process of calculation. To use an illustration, which has been pertinently employed; if we can entertain for a moment the startling supposition of the loftiest created spirit in heaven abjuring his angel-nature, and (suddenly metamorphosed,) becoming an insect or a worm, we can, in some feeble degree, estimate the descent involved in the transformation. But, however great the disparity, they are both creatures of God, though at the opposites of being.
But, for the Illimitable, Everlasting Jehovah, Himself to become incarnate; the Creator to take the nature of the created; the Infinite to be joined with the finite; Deity to be linked with dust--this baffles all our comprehension! We can only lie in adoring reverence, and exclaim with the apostle, "O the depth!"
If such an idea had been suggested to reason, how it would have been rejected as impossible and inadmissible, a wild and unwarrantable dream of imagination. What we have to deal with, however, is not a matter of vague theory or speculation, but a marvelous historic fact; for, "Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth," God has "in very deed dwelt with men on the earth!"
We shall not consider it necessary to occupy space in quoting passages of Scripture in proof of the Savior's Humanity; for the present is not (in our days at least), like the theme of last chapter, a disputed, controverted one--a keenly contested question in polemical divinity, demanding that we sift scripture by scripture, text by text, in vindicating and defending it. Assuming its truth, let us proceed to offer a few general remarks, on the nature of that humanity which the adorable Redeemer took into union with His Godhead.
I. It was a REAL Humanity. Notwithstanding what has just been said, as to the general acceptance, in the present age of the Church, of orthodox views on the subject of this great collateral doctrine of the Christian system, the reader may doubtless be aware, that one of the earliest phases in which Antichrist revealed himself in the primitive Church, and one of the forms of error which the Apostle John was called specially to combat, was a denial of the veritable assumption on the part of the Redeemer, of the nature of man. "Many deceivers," says he, "are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." They regarded His Incarnation as a mere phantom or illusion; that His sufferings were not real, but apparent; because His Godhead-nature made the endurance of agony impossible. Their conception of these sufferings seems to have resembled the impression produced in gazing on the desert mirage--the feeling of a reality, though it be no more than an optical deception.
But the language of the sacred writer is implicit and incontrovertible--"So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us"," (or, as that expression means in the original,) "tabernacled among us." He pitched His tent like a Pilgrim in the midst of human encampments; and it was beneath the curtains, so to speak, of a true humanity, that Deity in His Godhead-nature resided. With one notable exception, to which we shall presently allude, that tent was exposed, like the others which surrounded it, to the violence of the moral elements. "He suffered, being, tempted." "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same." "He bore our sins" (not by 'simulating sufferings' which He did not really endure)--"He bore our sins in His own body on the tree."
In speaking, however, of the Savior's real humanity, we must be careful to avoid another heresy of the early Church, and to MAINTAIN THE DISTINCTION OF THE TWO NATURES. There was no intermingling of these two natures. The Godhead was not merged in the humanity, neither was the humanity blended with the Godhead. There was no alteration of the divinity in its appropriation of the veil of flesh; neither was the human element transmuted by its union with supreme Godhead. "He was God in all that was godlike, and man in all that was manlike." In a word, He was the infinite Jehovah; and yet the Brother-kinsman in distinction of nature, but in the unity of an all-glorious Person. In the words of Owen, "Each nature does preserve its own natural essential properties entirely into and in itself; without mixture, without composition or confusion. The deity, in the abstract, is not made the humanity, nor on the contrary, the nature of the man Christ Jesus is not deified; it is not made a God; it does not in heaven coalesce into one nature with the divine by a composition of them. It is exalted in a fullness of all divine perfection, ineffably above the glory of angels and men. It has communications from God in glorious light, love, and power ineffably above them all; but it is still a creature."
It is unnecessary for us to dwell on the evidences borne in the Redeemer's earthly history to the reality of His human soul. Going back in reverential thought to the secluded home at Nazareth, we see, both in His physical and mental development, accordance with the ordinary laws and conditions of our nature. Mentally, we see Him "subject to His parents," "advancing in wisdom." Physically, we see Him "growing in stature," progressing from the helplessness and dependence of infancy and childhood to matured youth--yes, and in order that even in this respect He might fulfill all righteousness, Himself paying by His daily toil the penalty of the original curse--"In the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread."
It is indeed a wondrous thought, and one which must forever dissociate humble labor from dishonor or disgrace, that in union with the infinite, incomprehensible nature of Him who planned the worlds--who of old, from everlasting, set rule and compass on the face of the deep, meting out the heavens with the span of His hand, and "without whom was not anything made that was made,"--might be seen the lowly Son of the lowly Mary, busied at His reputed father's bench in a peasant's cottage--shaping the instruments of farming--the drops of labor falling from His forehead!
There is a well-known authentic instance of an earthly monarch, entering in the disguise of a craftsman one of our own dockyards; laying aside, for the time being, royal attire for the artisan's rough garb. But what was that? Merely the dimmest shadowy type of this mystery of Incarnate Love--of Him, who though in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, yet made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant of servants! And through all the incidents of His future life, may His veritable humanity be traced. Take one example--His "creaturely dependence" on God, as manifested in His habitual habit of prayer. We see Him rising "a great while before day," and resorting alone, either to the depths of some grove on Olivet, or to the solitude of the higher and more secluded mountain retreats above Bethsaida and Capernaum--there pouring out His soul, now in calm thankfulness and praise, now in strong crying and tears, into the ears of His Father in heaven; and finally, with the same breath of supplication, commending into that Father's hands His departing spirit.
Reader, rejoice in the testimony afforded in the life and ministry of Jesus, to His real assumption, of our nature. "In all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might he a merciful and faithful High Priest." In your sorrows, you can think, Jesus sorrowed. In your temptations, you can think, Jesus was tempted. In your tears, you can think, Jesus wept. In the anticipation of your very death-hour, you can think, Jesus died!
"In every pang that rends the heart,
The Man of sorrows had a part."
II. It was a PURE and SPOTLESS Humanity. In speaking of the Word made flesh and tabernacling (or tenting) among us, we have already incidentally remarked, that there was only one respect in which that mysterious tabernacle differed from the surrounding human encampments. It is this--that the Son of Man was "yet without sin." "He was holy, harmless, undefiled." "He wore the manacles of the curse entailed by the apostasy of men"--but no more. Amid ten thousand contaminating influences around--mingling in the midst of scenes of temptation, "He did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth." As the ray of light falling on what is either physically or morally polluted--the noisome marsh--the plague-stricken city--the abode of villainy, still retains its purity; so this divine Life which was "the Light of men," moved amid sin's robber-haunts--a world of moral debasement and pollution, and yet remained undimmed and untainted.
His was not the mere outward drapery of goodness, which sometimes is seen to screen the realities of the fallen and corrupted heart; not like the verdant ivy which, with its graceful festoons, often conceals the crumbling ruin; not the apparently clear well, which, when stirred, reveals the sediment of its miry, slimy depths; not the apparently translucent lake sleeping before you in summer mid-day in calm loveliness, but which, on the storm being let loose, becomes a wild inland sea of turgid mud.
But rather a golden goblet filled with living water--with no deposit or admixture of evil. His soul no wicked passion ever disturbed; His brow no anger ever clouded; His serenity no insults ever ruffled. He could make the triumphant challenge, "Who of you convinces Me of sin?" Every pulse of that stainless nature beat responsive to the will of a Higher, and gloried in this conscious subjectivity.
And it was in every way needful, as the Surety and Substitute of His people, that He should be so. As one chip or flaw in a statue vitiates the work of the sculptor; as one speck--one grain of sand in the telescopic lens, renders it worthless to the optician; so, one taint of pollution in the soul of the incarnate Redeemer--one flaw in the beauteous moral image, would have vitiated His whole work as our Surety. The true paschal sacrifice must be the immaculate Lamb of God. "You are not redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish, and without spot."
III. And yet, let us carefully note, that though a sinless, it was a SUFFERING humanity which the Savior of the world assumed.
And we may begin with what, to a holy and elevated Being, is ever the intensest form and experience of suffering--the suffering arising from moral causes; the continual presence of moral evil, and the subjection to fierce temptation; for "He was in all points tempted even as we are." We have just seen that He was incapable of sin, and therefore incapable of yielding to the assaults of evil. But why such exemption? Was it because of the immaculate earthly nature? We cannot think that this would be in itself sufficient to account for His immunity from succumbing to temptation; for if it had, then, as has been well remarked, Adam, as a perfectly pure and sinless creature in Paradise; and Satan, with all his host of once pure and sinless angels, could on this supposition never have fallen--never have swerved from their allegiance and love.
In the case of the adorable Redeemer, it was the Godhead which sustained the humanity, and made it impervious alike to the malignant assaults of human agents, and to spiritual wickednesses in high places. The very fact, however, of this untainted purity, made Him exquisitely sensitive to all contact with sin! We cannot wonder that it was so. Imagine, even on earth, a virtuous and elevated mind cast by circumstances into constant companionship with the vile--the debased--the degraded--those whose every thought and utterance is pollution--what refined torture, beyond any pang of mere physical suffering, would it be to such to be doomed to a lifelong association like this! How intense, then, beyond what imagination can conceive, must His sufferings have been, whose sinless nature had to encounter, day by day, every varied phase and form of evil; the baseness and treachery of man, the malignity of demons, and of the father of lies!
Nor was it moral suffering alone to which He was subjected; His physical nature inherited all the innocent frailties of humanity. As Isaiah says, "Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses." He was "the Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief." He hungered, and thirsted, and wept. He felt fatigue of body, as well as anguish of soul. He was thankful to rest, a weary pilgrim, by a well on the wayside. He was glad to sleep on the ruffled bosom of the lake, with a coil of ropes for His pillow. Though with a moral grandeur superior to earth's noblest heroism, He "set His face steadfastly" to encounter the hour and power of darkness--yet it was accompanied with deepest soul distress and mental perturbation--"I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I held in anguish until it be accomplished."
When the trial hour arrived, He needed, as we do, the prop of human presence and sympathy--"My soul is exceeding sorrowful"--"tarry here, and watch with Me." Drops of blood, the symbol of His agony, fell from His brow, before that brow was wreathed with thorns, or His body pierced with iron nail or soldier's spear. If He had been exempt from all this, He would have lacked one of the great qualifications of a complete Surety-Savior, that is, the capacity of entering with tender sympathy and compassion into the sorrows and sufferings of His people. But "we have not an High Priest, who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." There is not, as we have already noted, the trial which afflicts His brethren, which did not in an inconceivably intenser form afflict Him. Ridicule, unkindness, the abandonment or treachery of trusted followers--bodily pain--mental anxiety--man-desertion and God-desertion--the bitterness of bereavement--the decease of beloved friends--death itself.
Yes, and there was, in all these sufferings, one ingredient from which we are mercifully exempt. Our sufferings and sorrows come upon us generally by surprise--unknown, unanticipated--in His case, all were marked out, by the foreknowledge of His Godhead, to His omniscient eye. How comforting and consoling, is our divine Redeemer thus identifying Himself with our tried, tempted, woe-worn humanity!
Moreover, in stooping to assume our nature, He selected not the exalted condition, but linked Himself rather with poverty and distress and dependence. The poorest and the humblest, the most wretched and forlorn, might catch balm-words of comfort from the lips of Him who often had not where to lay His head. How different, in this respect, from the mythical incarnations of pagan story! When the favored gods of Olympus come down to earth, it is in some shape or form which leaves their subject-mortals awestruck and crouching at their feet. Such was the incarnation, also, of the Messiah expected by the Jews. Owing to His lowly birth and circumstances, the Christ of Nazareth was not their ideal Savior. He was not the "Angel-God," who spoke to their Fathers in the wilderness, or who came in vision to their exile prophet on the banks of Chebar. In their dreams of His advent, they thought of Him as some ineffable Being with "the paved work of sapphire under His feet, and as it were the body of Heaven in its clearness;" or speaking to them out of the cloudy pillar, or under the overshadowing wings of the cherubim.
We repeat, had He appeared thus, He could not have identified Himself with His people nor they with Him. But when He comes, it is leading a life of poverty and humiliation. His heart bled for every form of human wretchedness. The feeblest cry of human suffering never reached His ear in vain. He wept over obduracy of heart, as well as sorrow of spirit. What a fountain of love is His soul as His last hours drew on! With what majestic utterances does He plead, in the sublime prayer of the upper room, in behalf of the Church throughout all the world! With what exquisite pathos did He comfort the disciples in the prospect of separation! With what tender sympathy did He speak to a sorrowing mother in farewell accents from the cross! The words of Isaiah are a truthful commentary from first to last on His earthly pilgrimage--"You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat." "Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die."
IV. This leads us to observe still further, that the Redeemer's was a BROAD and COMPREHENSIVE humanity. It was so in several respects. One of these may be best illustrated by contrast with the character of His precursor, John the Baptist. Of its own peculiar type, John's was a remarkable specimen of a consecrated nature--bold, heroic, earnest, unselfish, self-sacrificing, he was quite the man needed for the times. But he was abnormal. His life was not the pattern or mold which was to shape that of the average Christian of the future. The desert was his home. Austere, unsocial; severed from the world's stir and bustle, and from family claims and amenities, he initiated the existence adopted by thousands of recluses in after ages. The ascetic, however, is not the noble side or type of humanity. That better phase Jesus adopted.
The towns and cities and villages of Galilee and Judea were His places of residence. He subjected Himself to no extravagant self-mortification. He mingled in the world. He cared not for the stigma that He was "a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, the friend of tax-collectors and sinners." He sanctified with His presence occasions of joy and domestic communion. He was found, now at a tax-collector's house, now at the feast of a rich Pharisee, now at a marriage scene--a festive gathering, and taking His disciples along with Him--now in the bosom of a Bethany home, clinging to congenial hearts--Himself, the Dove of Heaven, loving to fold His weary wing, from time to time, in these human rock-clefts--there escaping from the windy storm and tempest.
He would thus reveal Himself as a Brother, not in the false acceptation of the recluse, away from the haunts and sympathies of men, but One mingling (as He knew the mass of His people in all coming time would do), in the throng of a work-day world, and the rough contacts of common life; moving in the midst of human hearts and homes, ministering to human sorrows and grappling with human temptations. Yes! let us think of that lowly nature of His, in its capacity of identifying itself with every class and every phase of being; embracing in its amplitude those who had hitherto been neglected and disowned.
ROME was accustomed to deify the manly virtues alone--Strength, Courage, Heroic endurance. GREECE wreathed her chaplets around the brows of her intellectual heroes, her poets and philosophers, her sculptors and painters; but the weak, the ignorant, the oppressed, had none to vindicate their cause until He came, who pronounced "Blessed"--not the great, or rich, or powerful, or learned--but the meek, the lowly, the poor in spirit, the persecuted, him that had no helper! Hence, as we have already seen, groups composed of every diversity of character tracked His footsteps and hailed in Him a Brother. Stern, strong men like Peter; intellectual, thoughtful men like Thomas; loving and meditative men like John. 'Penitence' crept unabashed to His feet, and bathed them confidingly with tears. 'Sorrow' came with sobbing heart and speechless emotion to be comforted. The 'poor' came with their tale of long endured misery. 'Infancy' came stretching out its tiny arm, and smiled delighted in His embrace.
While He rejoiced with those who rejoiced, He wept with those who wept. The fainting multitudes moved Him to compassion; the one suppliant in the crowd who touched His garment-hem, arrested His steps and evoked His mercy. Every weary wandering bird, with drooping pinion, seemed to come and perch on the thick branches of this mighty Cedar of God! Or, to change the figure, we have pictured to us, in living spiritual reality, a Fountain of infinite mercy--a vast pool of Bethesda--its porches crowded with every diverse type of character, bearing the superscription, "He heals them all."
See Him at last on the cross, with His arms extended, as if in this same comprehensive humanity He would embrace mankind--or, when rising silently from the Mount of Ascension, with outstretched hands He poured His benediction on a receding world! Little had earth imagined the blessing when 'Incarnate Mercy' walked her ungrateful soil! If the princes of this world had known it, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory!"
"O my Dove, who is in the clefts of the Rock." O Believer, who have sought and found shelter in the glorious crevices, come and anew take refuge in the contemplation of the perfect Manhood of the adorable Son of God! Delight often to think of Him as a Brother in your nature. It is because they come welling from the depths of a human heart--because their music vibrates on a human lip--that the words are so unspeakably tender, "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Exalted, indeed, and full of comfort is the truth unfolded in the preceding chapters--transcendently glorious is that cleft of the Rock, the Supreme Deity of Christ; but in one sense more comforting to downcast, fearing, aching hearts, to think of Him as "God with us!" Hence, when the old Prophet, looking down the vista of ages to the glorious gospel shelter, would single out the element in the contemplation most precious and consolatory, what does he select? Is it that JEHOVAH, in the might of His omnipotence, is "a refuge and strength, a present help in trouble?" No! But "A MAN shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of waters in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." A MAN!
Man is not always so. Earthly friendships are not thus stable and enduring. Often have we to write, under the sense of bitter estrangement, over the memories of bygone fellowships, "Cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils." "Cursed be he that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm." But here is one glorious exception. You that are out buffeting the storm, exposed to the whirlwind blast of the desert, battling with care, harassed with anxiety, prostrated with bereavement, stricken with conscious guilt, longing for safe rest and anchorage from earth's sins and sorrows--can understand the deep meaning of the central words in the importunate prayer of blind Bartimeus at the gate of Jericho--"Jesus, O Son of David (O Elder Brother), have mercy on me!"
And that Humanity, as we shall have occasion more specially to observe hereafter, is now on the Throne, and will be FOREVER. We have noted in the opening chapter, that he who loved on earth to pillow his head on the bosom of his Lord, when he subsequently saw that Divine Savior in the splendor of His ascension glories, "fell at His feet as one dead." But he knew in a moment, by the touch of the gracious hand, and the tones of the unchanging voice, that it was "that same Jesus,"--"I am He that lives!" Oh blessed truth, Jesus lives--as a glorified MAN! For me, in human nature, He once walked and wept and bled on earth. For me, in human nature, He now pleads in heaven! It will be from glorified human lips the welcome will at last be given, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom!"
Can we echo the prophetic utterance of a saint who lived long antecedent to the Prophet of Patmos; and who, through a glorious vista-view of the future, was able triumphantly to exclaim, "I know that my Redeemer (lit. My Kinsman) lives, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, and that though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God."
The shadowy patriarchal creed of a distant age and dispensation, was subsequently translated into the personal experiences and hopes of a New Testament apostle. Entering into this new cleft of the Rock of Ages, can we make Paul's fervent words our own?--"I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day!"