Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
From The Bible
Jesus says, "No man hath seen God at any time"; yet in Genesis xxxii, 30, Jacob says, "I HAVE SEEN GOD FACE TO FACE, and my life is preserved." There are other places in scripture in which God is said to have appeared, and to have been seen and talked to, which is in seeming contradiction to the statement of Jesus, and requires explanation.
The explanation introduces us to THE SUBJECT OF ANGELS: for it so happens that the difficulty has been created by the improper translation of terms employed in connection with God's angelic manifestations. God's manifestations have chiefly been by angelic mediumship. This will be evident to the ordinary New Testament reader from Paul's description of the law given to Moses as "the word spoken by angels" (Heb. ii, 2); and Stephen's remark that God, who spoke to Moses in Sinai, was "the angel that spake to him" (Acts vii, 38). This feature will be found constantly recurrent.
Now, the names by which these angelic beings are designated are appropriate to them as the subordinate agents of the Deity. But this fact is concealed in the English version of the Scriptures by the translation of all divine names uniformly by the terms "Lord" and "God." Dr. Thomas says :--
He then goes on to give a definition of each of the various words referred to. Ail, signifying strength, might, or power: Eloah, having the same signification; and Jehovah, or, more properly, Yahweh, literally He who will be, are all names appropriated to the uncreated Deity; but Shaddai and Elohim are plural names otherwise applied. Shaddai signifies mighty or powerful ones, from Shaddad, to be strong or powerful; while Elohim is the plural of Eloah, and means gods or powerful ones. Now these plural names are very frequently employed in the record of God's transactions with men; and it will be found they are descriptive of the angels. In Hebrews i, 6, Paul quotes a statement from Psalm xcvii, 7, in which the word "Elohim" occurs. In the Psalm it is rendered "gods"--"Worship him, all ye gods"; in Hebrews, it is rendered as follows:--"Let all the angels of God worship Him." Here, to Paul's mind, Elohim represented angels.
Again, in Exodus iii, we have an account of the unconsumed burning bush, which God selected as a medium of communication with Moses. It is stated that Moses hid his face and was afraid to look upon God, who announced Himself from the bush as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"; yet in the second verse, we read that "the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush"; so that agency was angelic, though the power was of God.
Again, in the instance already cited, Jacob says that he had "seen God face to face"; while from Hosea we find that it was not the Most High God that Jacob saw, but one of the Elohim, or angels. The prophet (Hosea xii, 3, 4) referring to the incident, says, "Jacob by strength had power with God; yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed."
These instances prove that "Lord" and "God," as employed in the English version, do not always signify the great Increate, but sometimes, in fact almost generally, those glorious beings who act and speak in His name and with His authority. Keeping this in view, many seeming difficulties made much of by unbelievers entirely disappear.
The angels are referred to by David in these words-- "Bless the Lord, ye His angels, that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word" (Psalm ciii, 20). Who are these angels? Popular theology represents them in books and on hearses, tombstones, etc., as baby cherubs with wings. Many believe that their ranks are greatly recruited from time to time by arrivals from earth of baby-spirits, who, thenceforth, become their mothers' guardians--a beautiful poetical fancy, and very pleasing to maternal instincts; but as a matter of serious teaching, to be dismissed from the rational mind. It is simply untrue. The whole of popular belief concerning the nature of angels is characterised by the same mysticism and misconception which we have seen to pertain to other doctrines. The angels of the Bible are as real as ourselves, though of a much more exalted order of being: and, instead of babyhood, are distinguished by all the maturity and dignity which belong to perfect intelligence. Three of them appeared to Abraham (Gen. xviii, 1-5): --
Abraham thought they were ordinary wayfarers, and desired to extend his hospitality towards them. Paul, referring to the circumstances in Heb. xiii, 2, says: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels UNAWARES."
In the next chapter, we read--
Lot, also, like Abraham, supposed his angelic visitors to be ordinary men, and was among the number of those who "entertained angels unawares." He was only brought to a knowledge of their true character when they said :--
Manoah, the father of Samson, fell into a similar mistake (Judges xiii, 15). He pressed an angel-visitor to partake of his hospitality; and it is added (verse 16), "for Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the Lord." These narratives prove that the angels of God are like ourselves, so far as figure is concerned; and that they are not the ethereal beings of popular theology. Eating and having their feet washed takes them out of the category of "orthodox" angels. They are as real and substantial as mortal men, but of a higher nature. Like the glorified righteous of the future age, they are incorruptible in substance, and, therefore, immortal, and luminous in appearance when that quality is not restrained. We read in the account of Christ's resurrection (given by Matthew, chapter xxviii, 2, 3), that "the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow"; and Cornelius, when describing the vision of an angel which he had seen, says (Acts x, 30), "A MAN stood before me in bright clothing."
The angels, in form and feature, resemble human beings. They eat and drink, and walk and talk, and deport themselves in general like ourselves; but unlike us, they are incorruptible, deathless, perfect, and strong in the might with which God has invested them for the execution of His purposes. They have power to traverse space; but it does not require wings to do this, for the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven without the aid of such appendages. It is only necessary to possess power to counteract the influence of physical gravitation, and the ability to command it at will. This power dwells in the angels and in the Lord Jesus Christ, and seems generally to be the characteristic of spirit-bodies. In the angels we behold an exemplification of what the saints will be after the resurrection; for Jesus says :--
At present, the righteous are "a little lower than the angels" (Heb. ii, 7); then, they will be on the same level. This is a confirmation of all that was advanced in the last lecture regarding the state of the righteous after they have attained to immortality. It is a state in which they will be real, substantial, human-like in form, of flesh and bone, yet incorruptible, glorious, powerful, never-dying, perfect in happiness, uncloyed in the exercise of the functions of their exalted condition.
ON THE NATURE OF JESUS CHRIST
If Christendom is astray as to the Father and the Holy Spirit, it is not wonderful that we should find it astray in its conception of the Lord Jesus who is the manifestation of the Father by the Spirit. Christendom believes Christ to be the incarnation of one of three distinct essences, or personalities, which are supposed to constitute the God-head; and that though clothed in human form, he was God in the absolute sense of being the Creator.
This is the doctrine of the Trinitarian section of Christendom, in opposition to which, another section believes that Christ was a mere man, begotten in the ordinary process of generation, and distinguished above his fellows by a pre-eminent endowment of the "virtues" of human nature, which fitted him to be an example to mankind. This (the Unitarian) view regards him as a teacher sent from God, and is in some sense the Son of God; but denies the essential divinity of his nature. Both these views will be found equally removed from the truth. The truth lies between.
The testimonies which teach the indivisible unity of the Deity, as the One Father, out of whom ALL things have proceeded, and who is supreme above all, even above Christ (I Cor. xi, 3), are inconsistent with the Trinitarian representation of God. The supremacy and unity of the Father would not be affirmable if there were three co-equal personalities in His One personality--a doctrine which presents us with a contradiction in terms as well as in-sense. Jesus emphasises the distinction between himself and the Father, in the following statements :--
The marked distinction recognised and affirmed in these statements is incompatible with the doctrine which regards the Son as an essential constituent of the one" triune" Father. There are "the Father," "the Son," and "the Holy Spirit." The question is, what is the relation between the three, as taught in the Scriptures? The objection now urged is against the relation which Trinitarianism teaches to exist between these three. The endeavour is to show that they are not three co-equal powers in one, but powers of which one is the head and source of the others. The Father is eternal and underived; the Son is the manifestation of the Father in a man begotten by the Spirit; the Holy Spirit is the focalisation of the Father's power, by means of His "free spirit," which fills heaven and earth. There is, therefore, a trinity of existences to contemplate, and a certain unity subsisting in the trinity, inasmuch as both Son and Spirit are manifestations of the one Father; but the Trinitarian conception of the subject is excluded.
But the Unitarian view, still more so. Joseph was not the father of Jesus. He himself repudiated his paternity, and was about to put away Mary, his betrothed, when an angel came to him with this message :--
This marvel had been previously intimated to Mary by the angel Gabriel, as recorded in Luke i, 35 :--
The Unitarian evades these testimonies by denying the authenticity of the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. The reasons for this denial are altogether flimsy and insufficient: nay, they are bad. The evidence in proof of the genuineness of the (by them) rejected chapters is more than decisive: it cannot be answered: it is irresistible. It leaves no room for doubt or gain-saying. There is the united evidence of all the accessible ancient MSS. and versions, supported by the recognition of the very earliest Christian writers, confirmed by the internal character of the chapters and the necessity for the event which they narrate, to explain the character and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Against this, there is the merely negative fact that the disputed chapters are absent from the Ebionite gospel, which at the time of its production was pronounced a corruption; and from the Evangelium of Marcion, a gospel which he wrote to suit his own heathenish notions, and from which he recklessly omitted, not only the disputed chapters, but everything that interfered with his peculiar ideas.
The first writer who mentions the Ebionites is Irenaeus, who speaks of them as a sect not only separated from the general body of Christians, but who opposed the doctrines preached by the Apostles, and rejected, not only the disputed chapters, but the greater part of the books of the New Testament, rejecting all the epistles of Paul, whom they called an apostate from the law. They only made use of a Hebrew gospel, which they called Matthew's, but which differs from Matthew in many particulars besides the two chapters. Here is a sect which rejected whole books of authentic Scripture, because they were inimical to their notions. How can a reasonable man accept such a sect as affording guidance on the question of the authenticity of two particular chapters absent from their version, but present in almost all other MSS. throughout the world? Their "Matthew" was impugned at the time. It was proclaimed a corruption of the genuine gospel, while the "canonical" Matthew, as we have it, was never called in question. Epiphanius thus speaks:-- "In that gospel which they (the Ebionites) have called the gospel according to Matthew, which is not entire and perfect, but corrupted and curtailed, and which they call The Hebrew Gospel, it is written" (and he quotes), "Thus," says he, "they change the true account into a falsehood... They have taken away the genealogy from Matthew, and accordingly begin their gospel with these words: "It came to pass, in the days of Herod, King of Judaea." Origen alludes to it thus:-- "It is written in a certain gospel, which is called, 'according to the Hebrews,' if indeed any one is pleased to receive it, NOT AS OF AUTHORITY, but for illustration of the present question" (and then he quotes). He afterwards quotes this as a specimen of the same gospel according to the Hebrews: "Just now my mother, the Holy Ghost, took me by one of my hairs, and carried me to the great mountain Tabor." This absurdity, and another passage, quoted by Origen, prove that the text of the Hebrew gospel, read by Origen, was not the same as our Greek gospel of Matthew, with which its friends suppose it to be identical. It differed on many points besides the first two chapters. The absence of the first two chapters of Matthew from the Ebionite and Nazarene gospels is of no weight in view of their rejection of Paul's epistles, which even the Unitarians accept. The omission is accounted for in the way the rejection of Paul's epistles is accounted for; the two first chapters did not coincide with their notions, and therefore they struck them out. The Nazarene and Ebionite copies of Matthew's gospel not only omit the first two chapters, but in several instances they contradict the other three gospels of Mark, Luke, and John, whereas the corresponding passages in our Greek copy of Matthew agree with them, which shows which way the tampering has occurred.
As to Marcion, he omitted the two disputed chapters; but he also rejected the whole of the Old Testament, both the law and the prophets, as proceeding from the God of the Jews, whom he regarded as the creator of this world, in contrast to a higher Creator. As to the New Testament, he made one for himself consisting of only one gospel, supposed to be compiled chiefly from Luke, and only ten of Paul's epistles, which are altered from the received version in numerous instances, in order to make the text more pliable to his gnostic notions. People who quote him against the miraculous conception are bound consistently to follow him in these variations as well. He did not admit Christ to have been born at all. Consequently, be begins his gospel thus :-- "In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius, God descended into Capernaum." He not only omits the first two chapters of Luke; he omits also the account of John the Baptist, the baptism of Christ, and his visit to Nazareth. He also omits part of chapter viii, 19: x, 21: xi, part of verse 29, and all of verses 30, 31, 32, 49, 50, 51: xii, 6, 28, part of verses 8, 30, 32: xiii, 1-5: altered verse 28, omitted from 29 to end of chapter: xv, 11-32: xvii, part of 10-12: whole of verse 13: whole of xvii, 31-33; xix, 28-48: xx, from 9 to 18: also 37, 38: xxi, 18, 21, 22: xxii, 16, 35, 37, 50, 51: xxiii, 43: xxiv, 26-7, and verse 25 altered.
Those who quote Marcion as an authority in the case of the first two chapters, ought to accept him as such in all these cases. That they disregard him in these cases is a proof that, even in their opinion, his authority is of no weight.
The divine paternity of Jesus would stand an unassailable truth, even if the records of Matthew and Luke had no existence. These records are, however, invaluable. They are the circumstantial illustrations of a truth which, though the nature of the case, and the prophetic testimony necessitate it, we could not have so clearly and satisfactorily comprehended without them. They explain to us the appearance and character of Christ, and make us privy to the divine method of procedure, from its incipiency onwards, in the most wondrous work of God among men.
That Christ was an example in the sense of being "holy, harmless; and undefiled" is beyond doubt; but it is also true that he was a great deal more. The speciality of his mission is so plainly stated as to leave no room for the Unitarian doctrine of moral example. "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," said John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus (John i, 29). How did he take it away? The answer is in the words of the apostle Paul:-- "He put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. ix, 26). Jesus himself had said, "I lay down my life for my sheep." Paul also says to Timothy, in the second epistle, first chapter, tenth verse, "Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel ,; a fact which is stated by Christ himself in this form, "God sent His Son, that the word through him might be saved" (John iii, 17). Furthermore, Peter says, "There is none other name under heaven given whereby we must be saved." (Acts iv, 12). Salvation is thus directly connected with the first appearing of Christ, and with what he accomplished then; not on the principle of moral stimulus supplied, but in virtue of the essential result secured by the course he fulfilled.
Leaving both Trinitarianism and Unitarianism, we may find the truth in the Scriptures for ourselves. The simple appellation of "Son," as applied to Christ, is sufficient to prove that his existence is derived, and not eternal. The phrase, "Son of God," implies that the one God, the eternal Father, was antecedent to the Son, and that the Son had his origin in or "out of" the Father to whom he must therefore be subordinate in a sense inconsistent with Trinitarian representation. "This day have I begotten thee" is the language of Scripture, clearly pointing to a commencement of days. This view is confirmed by the statement of Christ:-- "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" (John v, 26).
Christ, therefore, though now possessed of inherent life, had been invested with it; it is not in this case underived. It is only the Great Uncreate, the Father, that can say, "I am, and there is none else beside me." Yet, though Christ's is not an underived existence, it is more directly divine than the human. A man is an embodiment of his father's mortal life-energy. Jesus was not born of the will of the flesh, but of God. He was begotten of Mary through the power of the spirit. This was the origin of his title, "the Son of God." See the angel's words to Mary:--"Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke i, 35).
But, though Son of God, he was flesh and blood. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of THE SAME .... He took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren" (Heb. ii, 14, 16, 17). He was made sin for us, who knew no sin (II Cor. v, 21). As he was in character sinless, this could only apply to his bodily constitution, which, through Mary, was the sin-nature of Adam. As Paul says elsewhere (Rom. viii, 3), "God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh." "He was sent forth made of a woman" (Gal. iv, 4), "of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom. i, 3). Jesus was "a man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him (after his thirty years preparation) in the midst of Israel" (Acts ii:, 22). This is Peter's description of him. Paul speaks of him as the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. ii, 5). He was tried and disciplined as Adam was, but succeeded where Adam failed. "Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. v, 8). This precludes the idea of his being "very God." He was the Son of God, the manifestation of God by spirit-power, but not God himself. "The life was manifested," says John, "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" (I John i, 2).
Again, in his gospel narrative (chapter i, 14), he says:--"The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, from which it is evident that Christ was a divine manifestation--an embodiment of Deity in flesh--Emmanuel, God with us. "God giveth not the spirit by measure unto him," says the same apostle (chapter iii, 34). The spirit descended upon him. in bodily shape at his baptism in the Jordan, and took possession of him. This was the anointing which constituted him Christ (or the anointed), and which gave him the superhuman powers of which he showed himself possessed. This is clear from the words of Peter, in his address to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius --(Acts x, 38)--"God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed."
This statement alone is sufficient to disprove the popular view of Christ's essential Godhead. If he were "very God" in his character as Son, why was it necessary he should be "anointed" with spirit and power? He did no miracles before his anointing. He had no power of himself. This is his own declaration: "I can of mine own sell do nothing" (John v, 30). "The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (John xiv, 10). On Calvary, left to the utter helplessness of his own humanity, he felt the anguish of the hour and cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. xxvii, 46). Before his anointing, he was simply the "body prepared" for the divine manifestation that was to take place through him. The preparation of this body commenced with the Spirit's action on Mary, and concluded when. Jesus, being thirty years of age, stood approved in the perfection of a sinless and mature character. After the Spirit's descent upon him, he was the full manifestation of God in the flesh. The Father, by the Spirit, tabernacled in Christ among men. "God was in Christ," says Paul, "reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
When raised from the dead and glorified, he was exalted to "all power in heaven and earth"; his human nature was swallowed up in the divine; the flesh changed to spirit. Hence, as he now exists, "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the God-head bodily" (Col. ii, 9). He is now the corporealisation of life-spirit as it exists in the Deity. But this change from what he was "in the days of his flesh" has not obliterated a single line of his human recollections. This is evident from Paul's words in reference to his priestly function: "We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb. iv, 15). This can only be on the principle that Jesus retains a memory of the infirmity with which he himself was encompassed in the day of his flesh career upon earth.
When Jesus said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," he did not contradict the statement that "no man hath seen God at any time," but simply expressed the truth contained in the following words of Paul:-- Christ is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. i, 15); "the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person" (Heb. i, 3). Those who looked upon the anointed Jesus, beheld a representation of the Deity accessible to human vision.
Jesus declares things of himself which are held to sanction the idea that he existed as a person before his birth of Mary; such as that "he came down from heaven to give life to the world" (John vi, 33); that "he proceeded forth and came from the Father" (John viii, 42: xvi, 28); that he had "power to lay down his life and power to take it again" (John x, 18); that he" had glory with the Father before the world was," and was "loved of Him before the foundation of the word" (John xvii, 5-24), etc.
It is evident, however, that we must understand these expressions in the light of the undoubted facts of Christ's life and mission. These literal facts are that he was begotten of the Holy Spirit, and born a baby at Bethlehem (Luke i, 35: ii, 5-7); grew up to be a man, increasing in wisdom with years, stature, and experience (Luke ii, 52); remained the private and undistinguished son of Joseph the carpenter, until the power of the Spirit was shed upon him at his baptism (Luke iii, 21-23); AFTER WHICH, he did the works and spoke the words recorded; that he was put to death through weakness (II Cor. xiii, 4); was deserted of the power of the Father when suspended on the cross; and that he was afterwards raised from the dead by the Father (Acts ii, 24, 32; iii, 15; iv, 10; v, 30; x, 40; xiii, 30, 37, and so on).
With these facts in view, we are enabled to attach the proper sense to statements which, in a naked and detached form, would appear to teach a personal pre-existence. For instance, when Jesus said to the Pharisees that he came down from heaven, he could not mean that the person standing before them had bodily descended from the clouds, as his words, literally understood, would have taught, and as the Pharisees appeared to have understood; he meant to say that his origin was from heaven. The "Holy Spirit" that came upon Mary--the "Power of the Highest" that overshadowed her, came down from heaven; consequently, the resultant man could, without extravagance, say he came down from heaven. The sense was literal as applied to the Power of the Highest that produced "the man Christ Jesus"; both at the stage of his begettal and the stage of his anointing on the banks of the Jordan, when the Spirit descended in bodily form and abode upon him; but not literal as applied to the man Christ Jesus.
When he said he proceeded forth and came from God, it was in the sense of these facts. He could not mean that as a person he had emanated from the very presence of the Almighty, but that the Father had sent him in the way disclosed in the record of his birth and baptism. John is described as "a man sent from God," without meaning to suggest that John existed before he was born and sent.
When Jesus said he had power to take up his life after it should be laid down, he expressed the confidence that God would raise him. It was not power in the dynamic sense; but authority; he immediately adds, "This commandment HAVE I RECEIVED OF MY FATHER"; that is, the taking up of his life would result from the Father's power and authority, exercised in accordance with the pledge given by the Father. Literally, Jesus did not take up his life; the Father raised him (see the references to Acts, three paragraphs back); but because it was the Father's purpose, and because the Father spoke through Jesus (John xiv, 10), Jesus could appropriately say that he had power to raise up himself. An example of this style of language, in which what a person has a relation to in the divine purpose, is considered as under his control and referable to his power, occurs in Jer, i, 10:--
Literally, the prophet did none of these things, but was overpowered and slain, as nearly all the servants of God were; yet the things he predicted came to pass, and this is taken as a sufficient basis for the highly-wrought language above quoted, which imputes the result of Jeremiah's predictions to Jeremiah's individual operations.
Christ's statement that he had glory with the Father before the world was, must in the same way be understood in harmony with the elementary facts of the testimony. The glorification of Jesus was a purpose with the Father from the beginning: and, in this sense, he had glory with the Father before the world was. This may appear a strained explanation; but a regard to the scriptural habit of speech will justify it, in view of the testified facts of the case.
The Lord said to Jeremiah (chapter i, 5) :-- "Before I formed thee in the belly I KNEW THEE; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I SANCTIFIED THEE: and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Now Jeremiah did not exist before his conception. Yet these words would seem to teach it, if understood as those who believe in the pre-existence of Christ, understood the statements about him. As a purpose Jeremiah existed; his person was as clearly present to the divine mind as if he had stood before Him in actual fact. This is the explanation of words, which, rigidly construed, would imply Jeremiah's pre-existence.
Look again at the words spoken of Cyrus, the Persian ruler, more than a hundred years before he was born (Isaiah xlv, 4):--"For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name; I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me." The same remark applies here: Cyrus was present to the divine contemplation as really as if he existed. Hence a style of language which would seem to assume his existence before he was born.
On the same principle, the purpose to raise a dead man is expressed by ignoring his death, and assuming his continued existence. Thus Jesus deduces the resurrection from the fact that God styled Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at a time when these men were dead. The Sadducees saw the force of the argument, and were silenced (Matt. xxii, 31-34). The principle of the argument is expressed in the words of Paul (Rom. iv, 17)---" God who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not (but are to be) AS THOUGH THEY WERE."
The words spoken of Jesus are of this order. When he said in prayer to the Father, "Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world," he did not teach that he existed from" the foundation of the world," but. that the Father regarded him with love from the beginning, and that, therefore, to the Father's mind, he was present. In the words of Peter, "He was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times." (I Peter i, 20).
The same style of language is adopted with reference to Christ's people: "He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Literally, this would prove the existence of believers before the world began, for properly, a thing must exist to be the object of choice; actually, it only proves divine foresight. The glory which Jesus had before the world was, was the glory which God purposed for him from the beginning. Literally, he had not the glory referred to before the world was. What was the nature of that glory--the glory Jesus received in answer to this prayer? HE--the bodily Jesus--the body prepared --that which was evolved from the substance of Mary and made the subject of the anointing--was made incorruptible in substance, and the spirit shed upon that substance so abundantly, that it made him more luminous than the sun (Acts xxvi, 13), and gave him power to bestow the spirit, and control providence in heaven and earth. Was Jesus possessed of this glory before he was born? Was he a body anointed with the spirit before he was the body prepared? Was he a real resurrected Jesus before Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem? Yet this was the glory he had with the Father before the world was. It was a glory he had in the Father's purpose, but in no other sense.
In the same way are we to understand the words, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John viii, 58). This was Christ's answer to the incredulity excited by his statement, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad." The Jews thought he meant to insinuate that he was contemporary with Abraham, whereas he only meant to express the fact stated by Paul in the following words :-- "These all (including Abraham--see verse 8) died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them AFAR OFF" (Heb. xi, 13). It was this seeing of the promise of Christ "afar off" that made Abraham glad. It was the day presented in the promises that he saw, but, as they almost always did, the Jews mistook Jesus, and, as he was prone to do, he deepened their bewilderment by using another form of speech, which still more obscured his meaning, on the principle indicated in Matt. xiii, 11-15: a form of speech which in one phrase expressed two aspects of the truth concerning himself, viz., that he was purposed before Abraham existed, and that the Father, of whom he was then the manifestation, existed before all.
Jesus said, "I and my Father are one" (John x, 30). He could not mean, in view of all the testimony, what Trinitarians understand him to mean, that he and the Father were identically the same person (" the same in substance, equal in power and glory "), but that they were one in spirit-connection and design of operations. This is apparent from his prayer for his disciples, "That they may be one, EVEN as we are one." The unity is not as to person, but as to nature and state of mind. This is the unity that exists between the Father and the Son, and the unity that will be ultimately established between the Father and His whole family, of whom Christ is the elder brother. When this unity is established, Christ will take a more subordinate position than he now occupies, in relation to the race of Adam. Paul says, "When all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto Him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (I Cor. xv, 28).
This was Christ's great act of obedience; but why was such an act of obedience necessary? Nothing has more staggered thoughtful minds than this question; and yet nothing is simpler when the Scriptural elements of the case are all placed together. It is a theological habit to represent the death of. Christ as an act on his part to appease the wrath of the Father towards sinners. The Scriptures, on the contrary, always speak of it as an expression of God's love towards fallen humanity. We read:--
Again, John, in his First Epistle iv, 9 and 14, says
Paul expresses the same sentiment in Romans v, 8 :--
And again in II Corinthians v, 19 :--
But the question presses: How was God's love manifested in the death of Christ? Could not divine love have been manifested without so tragic an event? Evidently not; for on the very eve of crucifixion, Christ prayed to the Father in these agonising terms--"If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." The cup did not pass; therefore, it was not possible. He drank it deep, pouring out his soul unto death. Why was the death of Christ indispensible? What did it accomplish? A consideration of the testimony will guide us to an answer which the discarding of the doctrine of natural immortality prepares us to understand. First let us consider the following New Testament allusions to the object of the crucifixion :--
These statements affirm a connection between the death of Christ and the restoration of sinful man to divine favour and life. There may not, at first, appear to be a logical connection between the two things; but a consideration of all the facts of the case will reveal the deepest philosophy in the whole arrangement--using the term philosophy in its true sense, in the conviction that absolute wisdom characterises everything with which the mind of Deity has to do--the principles involved in the death of Christ are simple and easily understood. It is the going astray of Christendom from these first principles that has thrown obscurity over the sufferings of the Man of Sorrows. It is of the first importance to get rid of this obscurity. It is not the mere fact of Christ's transfixion on the cross by the Romans, that constitutes the saving and enlightening truth of the matter; it is the principles involved in the tragedy that constitute the truth to be known.
These principles have been divinely revealed. The first is, that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. vi, 23). Paul says, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin" (Rom. v, 12). What this means, we have seen, Adam disobeyed a command given to him, and, in consequence of disobedience, was CONDEMNED TO RETURN TO THE GROUND FROM W"HENCE HE CAME. Hence, "sin," which has become an. obscure and unintelligible term, is simply disobedience. It is, in fact, so styled by Paul in the very chapter in which he describes Adam's act as "sin." He says, "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Rom. v, 19). If it is used in any secondary sense (such as when Paul speaks of "sin that dwelleth in me") that secondary sense is covered by, or included in, the major sense of disobedience. Sin being disobedience or transgression (agreeable with John's definition, "Sin is the transgression of the law "--I John iii, 4), we are enabled to understand the relation of death to it.
This death is not a "state of the soul," or "peril of eternal damnation in the flames of hell"; both of which are unknown to Scripture, either in word or idea, being pagan corruptions of the truth. The death resulting from Adam's transgression is a dissolution of being in the grave. Hence Paul puts resurrection by Christ in antithesis to death by Adam. "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." This being the nature of death, we are enabled to understand the law which makes it the result of sin. Sin being the transgression or disobedience of the divine law, the perpetrator of it is out of joint with the law of well-being, whether as regards himself, others, or God. He cannot have joy of himself, he cannot yield happiness to others, and he cannot yield pleasure to his Creator. Misery is the result of such a state; and it is one of the beneficent ordinances of God that perpetual existence shall be impossible under such circumstances--that death (extinction of being) shall follow in the train of moral pestilence, and wipe its evil results from the face of creation. He will not allow the evil to become permanent. So far from decreeing or countenancing an eternal hell, where sinners shall writhe and devils triumph to all eternity, His law, with jealous and inexorable power, follows dose on the heels of sin, and suppresses the very germ of rebellion and misery.
This is the first principle to be apprehended before the crucifixion can be understood. Adam, the father of the race, disobeying in face of the declared penalty of death, brought upon himself the threatened sentence, and his posterity are involved in the same condemnation, for the simple reason that they are but propagations of his own being in all its qualities and relations, and also because they are themselves, every one of them, sinners by actual transgression, and, therefore, on their own account, subject to death.
Now here is the problem to be solved, and which has been solved in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus: how is condemned human nature to be emancipated from the law of sin and death, in harmony with the righteousness that has brought that law into force? If humanity were left to itself, it would inevitably perish; because it. is not only incapable of a perfect righteousness, but it cannot set aside the condemnation in which it already exists. God's plan in Christ has given us a scheme by which human salvation is achieved without the violation of any of His laws, which are necessary to the maintenance of His supremacy in the universe. Christ meets all the necessities of the case. The first necessity was that the law, both Edenic and Mosaic, should be upheld. The law required the death of the transgressing nature, viz., human nature. He had this nature, and he died :--
But it was also necessary that such a sufferer should be sinless, because sin would have prevented resurrection to life immortal. This necessity for sinlessness in "the Lamb of God" was constantly prefigured under the law by the spotlessness of the beasts offered in sacrifice. Christ as the great antitype fulfilled this condition: "He was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." He could triumphantly ask his persecutors, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John viii, 46). If Christ had been a son of Adam merely, he would have been a sinner, and, therefore, unfit for sacrificial purposes. On the other hand, if he had been clothed with angelic or immaculate nature, he would have been equally disqualified, inasmuch as it was necessary that the sinning nature should suffer in him. The combination of condemned human nature with personal sinlessness was effected through divine power begetting a son from Mary's substance. A "Lamb of God," was thus produced, guileless from his paternity, and yet inheriting the human sin-nature of his mother.
It is not possible that "The blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb. x, 4), for the reason that appears in view of all these facts. The law would admit of no substitute, but exacted the very nature obnoxious to its penalty. Christ, then, "being found in fashion as a man," and yet being sinless, was a perfect sacrifice; because being the representative of human nature he could meet all the claims of God's law upon that nature, and yet triumph over its operation by a resurrection to immortal life. The Lamb being provided, the sacrifice followed. The "Messiah was cut off." "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: ... the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
God dealt with him representatively. There is a great difference between a representative and a substitute. A representative is not disconnected from those represented. On the contrary, those represented go through with him all that he goes through. But in the case of a substitute, it is otherwise. He does his part instead of those for whom he is the substitute, and these are dissociated from the transgression.
Christ suffering as the representative of his people, is one with them, and they are one with him. In what he went through they went through. Hence, Paul says believers were crucified with Christ, and baptised into his death. This death he declares to have been "the declaration of the righteousness of God," which God required as the basis of the work of reconciliation and forgiveness (Rom. iii, 24-26).
Christ having died, God raised him from the dead to a glorious existence, even to equality with Himself. This was the essential point of the scheme, as appears from 1st Corinthians xv, 17, 20: "If Christ be not raised YOUR FAITH IS VAIN, ye are yet in your sins. But now is Christ risen from the dead "; and being raised, he constitutes the "one name given under heaven whereby men may be saved" (Acts iv, 12). If Christ had been a personal transgressor, the law of sin would have kept him in the grave, and the scheme of salvation would have miscarried at its vital point. The way of salvation could not have been opened through him; a dead Saviour would have been no ark of refuge--no fife-giver to the mortal sons of men.
But Christ, after suffering the natural penalty of disobedience in human nature, having been raised from the dead to live for evermore, he is "the Saviour of all such as come to him." He has life for bestowal by his own right. "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life IS IN HIS SON. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (I John v, 11, 12). Life is deposited in him for our acceptance, on condition of allying ourselves to him, yea, on condition of our entry into him, and becoming part of him; for Paul says of those who are in Christ, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones," and the aggregate of such are designated "the Bride, the Lamb's wife," "His body, the church."
Divine wisdom, which is foolishness with men, has provided a means whereby we get the benefit of the result achieved in Christ. Baptism in water is the ceremony by which believing men and women are united to Christ, and constituted heirs of the life everlasting which he possesses in his own right. This will be demonstrated more particularly in a later lecture. Meanwhile, we quote Paul's words: "As many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. iii, 27). Entering into Christ, we are made one with him, and become heirs to the privileges of the position which he has established in himself, after the analogy of the woman who, at her betrothal, obtains a prospective title to that which belongs to the man to whom she is betrothed. In the first Adam, we inherit death without the possibility of retrieving our misfortune, so long as we remain connected with him. In the last Adam (who, however, it must always be borne in mind, ascended to the last Adam position from the first Adam state), we obtain a title to eternal life. Hence the words of the apostle Paul: "As in Adam all die; even so in Christ shall all be made alive," that is, the "all" of whom he is speaking, viz., believers of the truth, as may be seen by the context (I Cor. xv, 22, 23), and only those who are found worthy at the judgment-seat. He is speaking here of being made alive immortally, not of mere resuscitation of mortal life to judgment, of which many will be the subjects who have never been Christians, but who are among the responsible unjust by reason of their privileges.
By nature we are in Adam. By the gospel and baptism we pass "into Christ." This is God's appointment; and we cannot be saved except by compliance with His appointments.
Natural virtue will avail nothing, because, in itself, it is related only to the present, and establishes no right in respect of future existence. Those who are trusting to it, are building their house upon a foundation of sand. There is only one name given under heaven whereby men can be saved; and if we refuse to put on that name, and thus reject Christ, "who is made unto. us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians i, 30), there remains nothing for us but the utter worthlessness of our own mortality, which without redemption will perish for ever under the just condemnation of Him who hath already passed the decree in prospect: "Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."
O reader, "refuse not Him that speaketh." Turn not thine ear from the invitation which calls thee to drink of the fountain of the water of life freely. Gladly accept it; humbly comply with its requirements; and thou shalt, in due time, be delivered from the bondage of mortal flesh which lies heavy upon thee, and be promoted to the glorious liberty of the children of God!
God, Angels, Jesus Christ, And The Crucifixion