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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
W. T. Brantly, D. D., Baltimore, MD.
From the book, Baptist Doctrines, 1880. Charles A. Jenkens, Ed
God was manifest in the flesh. -1 Tim. 3:16
As to some facts respecting Jesus Christ, people of all parties and shades of opinion concur —that he lived on earth at the period mentioned by the evangelists, that he was a man of upright life, that lie delivered sundry discourses, some of which are extant in our day, that he was the founder of a religion which now numbers its adherents by millions, and that he was put to death by Pontius Pilate, at the instigation of the Jewish Rulers. Whether he wrought the miracles ascribed to him, indeed whether he performed any miracles at all, whether he rose from the dead after his crucifixion, whether he was a teacher sent from God,—these and other inquiries involving superhuman intervention have been constantly agitated; and different conclusions have been reached.
This should not be surprising. For even among those who were brought into personal contact with him, who listened to his discourses, saw his miracles and observed his daily life, very diverse opinions prevailed respecting him. "Whom do men say that I am?” he asked his disciples on one occasion. "Some say John the Baptist; some Elias, others Jeremias or one of the prophets," was the reply. They might have added, some call you "a gluttonous man; a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners; others say you have a devil and are mad; others still, that you are in league with Beelzebub and through your connection with the King of devils you are able to cast out inferior demons." The addition would have been true, for the sacred historians tell us that these opinions were expressed at different times in regard to his character.
As clashing views were held in reference to the person of Christ prior to the completion of his early work and his ascension to heaven, it might be supposed that after he had left the world great diversity of opinions would continue to prevail respecting himself and the work he had performed. Such accordingly we find to be the case. He had scarcely disappeared from the earth before controversies sprang up respecting his character and his teachings.
In our day it is generally the divinity of Jesus which is denied. His true humanity is now universally conceded. But in the first century, we find a considerable number of persons, known as Docetae, who asserted that Christ was a human being only in appearance. They taught that the being who sojourned among men, who ate and drank, and slept and wept, and experienced pleasure and pain, and finally was crucified, was only the phantom of a man. Absurd as such an opinion appears to us, it would seem that the Apostle John regarded it as sufficiently serious to demand a refutation. The existence of this heresy explains the apparent repetition and tautology with which he emphasizes the humanity of our Lord when he speaks of "what he has heard, what he has seen with his eyes, what he has looked upon, what his hands have handled of the Word of life."
Three hundred years later comes Arius denying the proper divinity of Christ. In his view, Jesus was superior to man, above angels, more exalted in rank and dignity than any intelligence in heaven, but nevertheless a creature—there having been a time when he did not exist. This doctrine for a time enlisted many adherents. Indeed for several centuries all the leading nations of Europe appear to have been largely under its influence.
Coming down to more recent periods, we reach the days of Faustus Socinus, who in the fifteenth century declared that no religious doctrine should be received which could not he explained by rational methods, and as he could not understand how Christ the Son could be equal with God the Father, he rejected the doctrine of three persons in the Godhead. He believed that Christ was a good man, that his teaching was invested with divine authority, and that lie suffered death as a martyr to the truth of his teachings. Socinus died in 1604. But his views are still held by many persons in our own country and in Europe. Unitarians (though we do not admit their exclusive right to the appellation) is the name by which they elect to be called. But their views are essentially the same as those of Lelius and Faustus Socinus, who uttered them in the latter part of the fifteenth century.
But during all the years in which these discordant opinions have prevailed, respecting the character of our Lord, there have always been those who have been in full agreement with Simon Barjona, when he said, "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." And were the Saviour now to ask, as he did at the coast of Caesarea Philippi, “Whom do men say that I am?”—whilst the answer might be, “Some say that thou art a human being and no more,” it would also be, “Millions believe in thee as the being ‘who was in the form of God, and thought it no robbery to be equal with God. They believe that thou wast ‘God manifest in the flesh’; and they are looking for salvation through thy name because they believe that thou art ‘able to save to the uttermost, all that come to God through thee.’’’
But why do we hold these views of Jesus Christ? Those who believe him to be God should be ready to give a reason for the faith that is in them. For whilst it is true that if he be divine, and we refuse him the homage to which he is entitled, we are guilty of a robbery which imperils our salvation, it is also true that if he be only a creature, we are obnoxious to the charge of idolatry if we render him the homage due to God only.
When we claim Deity for Jesus Christ, we must rely on divine revelation to substantiate the claim. We have no other source of proof. Some persons have said that natural religion suggests the necessity for a mediator between God and man. Granted the necessity, reason teaches farther: it has been said that he should possess a dual nature; that is, he must be God and man at the same time. But we need better evidence than natural religion can supply, in support of a truth so momentous. As respects reason, it is enough for us to know that there is nothing contrary to her dictates in the declaration that there may be God the Father and God the Son also. For though she may not comprehend how this can be—since "great is the mystery of Godliness"—she must admit that it is more reasonable to believe what Revelation teaches to be true, than to trust her own uncertain light.
It is not contended that the Scriptures teach with irresistible clearness, (to every class of inquirers), the divinity of Jesus. They do not, indeed, present any important doctrine so strongly as to defy resistance. The Scriptures—any of them—may be wrested. Our conduct in the pursuit and reception of truth, it has been well said, "is a part of our probation." Whilst the meek and honest inquirer may be able to discover the truth, the self-sufficient seeker, filled with prepossessions for which he is mainly seeking confirmation from the Scriptures, will be left to wander in ignorance and error. If we appeal to the sacred oracles, with teachable and devout minds in quest of the truth on this vital question, I think we shall find the following propositions to be true:
I. The Scriptures declare that Jesus Christ claimed for himself a divine nature. It is natural to suppose that if Jesus had been truly God, he would have asserted this prerogative for himself, whenever it was proper to set forth his divinity. Had he made no such claim on any occasion, though the evidence for his Deity from other sources would still be conclusive, objectors would be ready to say that a superiority should not be awarded to Christ, which, by his silence, he virtually disclaimed. But the words of our Lord, on such occasions, as well as the construction placed on his language by those best qualified to judge, constrain us to believe that he declared his own true divinity.
1. See what occurred after the healing of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda. The miracle was performed on the Sabbath day. The enemies of our Lord, always in quest of some vulnerable point at which they might strike the object of their hate, assail him as a profaner of the Sabbath. By his violation of the law he is guilty of death, and they determined to take his life. Aware of their designs, Jesus excused himself, saying "My Father worketh hitherto and I work." But this language, we are told, only awakened their fiercest displeasure. They sought the more to kill him, because he had not only dishonored the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. Should it be said that the Jews misapprehended the Saviour when they charged him with claiming equality with God, it may be replied that our Lord would not have permitted such a construction of his answer to pass in silence, had it been incorrect.
His non-repudiation, his acceptance of their interpretation, attests its correctness; and in his case it is equivalent to the assertion of the claim for himself. The truth is, his language can have no other meaning; and it is plain, in our view, that he intended it to convey just the meaning which they accepted. It is as if he had said, "My Father worketh hitherto on the Sabbath day in his Providence; he heals the sick on this day; he makes his sun to rise and set; he sends the rain on this day; he makes the grass to grow and the flowers to bloom on this day; and I, who am his Son, work also in the same manner, and with the same authority, being Lord of the Sabbath as he is." Thus the language involves equality with the Father, and if equal to him, he must be Divine.
Accepting the character ascribed to him by his enemies, our Lord proceeds to assert his equality in an extended discourse. He tells them that "as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will." Surely he who can call back to life, from the repositories of the dead, any person whom he wills thus to summon, may "without robbery think himself equal with God." Being thus equal, he declares that the Father bath commanded that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.
Is it the will of the Father that all men should believe in him as God? Then it is his will that they reverence the Son likewise. Is it the will of the Father that all men should worship him? Then it is his will that they worship the Son also. Is it the will of the Father that all men should obey him? Then it is his will that they obey the Son likewise. Such is the union between them that no man can truly honor the Son, without at the same time honoring the Father. The more we exalt Jesus, the more do we honor him who says of his Son, "This is my beloved Son, hear him." This is the teaching of our Lord respecting himself. It is apparent that throughout the discourse he is vindicating himself from the charge of arrogant blasphemies, and asserting his Divine nature. The language fairly and obviously understood, represents him as claiming true Deity.
2. A similar claim is made in that striking declaration, "I and my Father are one." I am aware that Socinians teach that in this Scripture our Lord is setting forth that between himself and Father there is a unity of sentiment and action. They deny that it teaches any essential unity of nature. But if the Socinians are right in their interpretation of the expression, would the Jews, on hearing it, immediately have taken up stones to stone him?
They surely understood him to affirm that he was one with God. For when he interrogated them as to the reason of the assault,—inquiring for which of the good works he had shown them their anger was excited—they promptly replied, "For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy, and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." Now, if the declaration of our Lord had been misapprehended by his hearers, he would not have permitted them to be misled on a point so important. Common honesty, to say nothing of true benevolence, would have quickly corrected the mistake. But so far from disclaiming the construction placed on his words, he accepted their interpretation of his meaning, and then, as on a previous occasion, he continued his discourse, exhibiting at length the intimate relation between the Father and himself.
3. In the memorable prayer offered on the eve of his crucifixion, our Lord claims divinity for himself, when, addressing the Father, he says, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." What is the glory to which reference is here made? It can be nothing less than the homage which is paid to Divine beings. God was the object of angelic worship long before the foundations of the earth were laid. This it seems was shared by the Son before he became "God manifest in the flesh;" and can we suppose that God, who "never gives his glory to another," would have been glorified with anyone who did not, like himself, possess a divine nature, who was not God equal to himself? The prayer manifestly implies the claim of Divinity on the part of Christ.
And so, when Philip asked that he might see the Father, "Show us the Father and it sufficeth us." The reply from Jesus implies a like claim, “Have I been so long time with you and yet halt thou not known me, Philip? After all that you have heard from me, after having learned from me that I and my Father are one, are you still in doubt as to who I am I Let me tell you again, whoever has seen me has seen all that it is possible for mortal man to see of the Father.”
Such was the claim of Jesus. That he was a good man none have denied who believe in his existence at all. The Docetae who ignored his person, and the Arians who called him a preexistent creature, and the Socinians who deny his divinity, all admit that he was a good man. And if this be his character then he will certainly speak the truth; and we must receive his testimony respecting his own Deity as absolutely true.
II. Whilst Jesus Christ asserted his own proper Divinity, he sustained his assertion by performing works which could only be wrought by the power of God. It might be said that the mere claim of anyone to a character proves nothing. An impostor may claim to be king of the realm. Even a good man, through the imperfections of his judgment, may claim for himself prerogatives to which he has no just title. It is admitted that one claiming a divine nature should be prepared to furnish the world with sufficient reasons for such a claim. If Jesus, like Mohammed, had produced no miracles in attestation of his high claims, we should be as unwilling to believe in his Deity as to recognize the assumptions of the great Arabian impostor to be the prophet of God.
But his Deity was demonstrated by an impressive exhibition of the most unquestionable miracles. When the disciples exclaimed, on the Sea of Tiberias, "What manner of man is this?" they felt most profoundly that the Being who could tranquilize the angry elements with a word, was something more than man. He who could take a few small loaves and fishes, which a lad had brought with him, probably a lunch for his own use, and so multiply them as to satisfy the appetites of ten thousand people, (for if we include the women and the children, there were probably so many), and then gather up a larger amount of fragments than the original supply, showed himself equal to a work which is one of the most indisputable proofs of divine power—we mean creation. The young man who rose from the bier on which the attendants were bearing him to the tomb, and Lazarus, who returned to life after decomposition had proceeded to such an extent as to be offensive, proclaim a present Deity as manifestly as did the water at the marriage of Cana in Galilee, which at its Lord's bidding, "blushed into wine."
I know it may be said that this argument for the Divinity of Jesus proves too much, since it would prove Moses, who wrought stupendous miracles in Egypt; and Elijah, at whose word the widow's son came back to life, and whose meal and oil were multiplied; and Peter and Paul who healed the sick and raised the dead, to have been divine also. Not so. These men never wrought miracles as Jesus did. They acted with a delegated authority which they never failed to recognize. Moses and others of the Old Testament saints worked miracles only as they were acting under Divine command.
When Paul requires the spirit of divination to come out of the damsel, he asserts his order "in the name of Jesus Christ," thus attesting his own weakness, and the power of the Lord Jesus. "Aeneas," says Peter, "Jesus Christ maketh thee whole." Here Peter in like manner attests at once the Divinity of Jesus and his own subordination. But Jesus acted in his own name and on his own authority. He had but to say, "I will, be thou clean," and immediately the cleansing followed. With authority and power he commanded the unclean spirits and they obeyed him. The seventy came back to him saying, "Lord, even the devils are subject to us through thy name." Well then has it been said that "although miracles may be performed by mere men, that is, through their instrumentality, and so cannot by themselves be proofs of the Deity of those who, in this instrumental sense, performed them; yet as the miracles of Christ were performed in his own name, by his undisputed word, according to his will and for his glory, they plainly prove him to be Divine."
III. The Deity of Christ is further manifest in the declarations made of the fact expressly, or by fair implication, by God the Father. If God should send his Son into the world, it is quite reasonable to suppose (if his Son were a divine being) that the attention of men would in some way be drawn to the fact. This is just what we find to be true. At the commencement of his ministry, we hear the Father introducing him to the multitude, assembled at his baptism, with the announcement, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."
It is true that good men are often called sons of God in the Scriptures; but it is always with such qualifications, or under such circumstances as to indicate the limited sense in which he intended the expression to be understood. But when, on the banks of the Jordan, we hear the voice of the Father miraculously proclaiming the august character of the candidate who had just received baptism at the hands of John, and mark the spirit descending in the form of a dove, such facts indicate unmistakably that the object of such honor could be none other than the equal Son—even "God manifest in the flesh." And as at the beginning, so as he was entering on the last scenes of his ministerial life, the voice of the Father is heard in the Holy Mount reaffirming the utterance at Jordan, saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him." Is it possible, if the Son had not been Divine, he could have been the recipient of such renewed commendation of the Father, after he had asserted his equality with God, had repeatedly allowed Divine homage to be paid him, and had, in fact, declared that lie and his Father were one?
But we have something stronger than implication on this important point. The Father bears witness to the Divinity of the Son, when he commands both angels and men to worship him. Speaking of Jesus in his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle tells us "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name;" that at the name of Jesus "every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Now says our Lord, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." Is not then the fact that God commands rational beings on earth and in heaven—beings everywhere—to worship him, a testimony of God the Father to the Divinity of the Son? In like manner when the Apostle, in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, citing the language of the Psalmist in the forty-fifth Psalm, "Thy throne O God is forever and ever," as the very language addressed by God the Father to God the Son, what room can there be to question the Father's recognition of the equality of the Son?
IV. The Deity of Christ is directly affirmed in repeated instances by the sacred writers. The testimony of these writers to the Deity of Christ derives all its value from the fact that they were divinely directed in their testimony. If you suppose that they were ordinary witnesses, liable to the frailties and errors of fallible men, their testimony upon the point would be of little value. But guided as they were by an unerring hand, we may depend on what they have said. Do they distinctly declare the Deity of the blessed Lord? Let the prophet Isaiah answer, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Hear the beloved disciple, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." Who was this Word? The same that afterwards was "made flesh and dwelt among us." "Of whom," says the Apostle Paul, "as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever."
Can language be more explicit than this in regard to the Divinity of Jesus? "He was in the form of God," says the same Apostle, "and thought it no robbery to be equal with God." And if he, wise and good as he was, thought it no robbery, there was none, and he was equal with God. Again says the same Apostle, "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." And yet again, "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven." "Hereby," says the inspired John, "perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us"—thus fulfilling his own words—"I lay down my life for the sheep." But we need not multiply this testimony. It is more than complete; it is abundant. The sacred writers, it would seem, seek to establish this vital truth by irresistible proof.
V. The worship paid to Jesus Christ, on earth and in heaven is another evidence of his Deity. We know that Christ was often addressed as Lord when he was on earth. We know that he was often worshipped and that prayers were constantly offered to him. Here comes the leper worshipping him and saying, "Lord if thou wilt thou canst make me clean." Peter says to him, "Depart from me O Lord, for I am a sinful man." Thomas cries out, "My Lord and my God." The dying thief prays, "Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." After his resurrection, the disciples come calling him Lord, saying, "Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" After his ascension, these same disciples "worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem."
Now, what would you think of any one, not divine, who would allow himself, through the ignorance of others, to be worshipped as God ? You remember on one occasion, Cornelius fell down at the feet of Peter and worshipped him, but Peter disclaimed the homage. He would not for a moment suffer Cornelius to remain under the delusion that he was entitled to any such honor. "Stand up, I myself also am a man." So when John fell down to worship one improperly he was immediately corrected. "See thou do it not, I am thy fellow servant, worship God." Can anyone suppose for a moment that the Lord Jesus would have received worship which was not his due?
Perhaps someone may say just here, the fact that these men worshipped Jesus proves nothing, since it shows rather their opinion of his person than his true character. This would be true, but for what we have just seen—that our Lord allowed himself to be so worshipped. But more than this, he not only received this worship, but actually commended it. "Ye call me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am." "I am your Master;" it is as if he had said, "I have a right to lay my commands upon you. More than that, I am your Lord. I give you rest, I forgive your sins, and when you die I am he that will raise you up at the last day." Then, too, the Scriptures teach us that he who permitted himself to be worshipped on earth is receiving homage in heaven.
The dying Stephen called upon him after he had ascended on high, crying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." "I beheld," says John in Revelation, "and heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was 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. And every creature which is in heaven and on 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 to him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever. And the four living creatures said Amen."
May we not call him God who accepted worship from men on earth, and who now receives the homage of saints and angels in heaven?
Need I multiply proofs from the sacred oracles in support of this cardinal article of our Christianity? It would be easy to do it. I could show you that attributes properly predicable of Deity only, are constantly affirmed of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. I could show you that works which God alone could perform were wrought by Jesus Christ. It could be shown that the names applied to God are also applied to Jesus—that the Deity of Christ is recognized in the prayers which were constantly addressed to him by Paul and the other Apostles—that when Christ commanded his Apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, his equality with the other persons of the Godhead was asserted—that the benediction pronounced on Christian congregations is an act of worship rendered to Christ in connection with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But enough.
The discussion of the subject is closed. We have proved, we think, most conclusively, from the only authorized source, that the man who was born in Bethlehem of Judea, was indeed, "God manifest in the flesh"—"very God of very God." Who can think even superficially that the God of Glory should thus humble himself for sinners; should for the guilty and lost consent not only to this act of humiliation, but to a whole life of suffering, shame and sorrow, and finally to an ignominious death upon the cross, without having his soul stirred to its lowest depths? What shall we say to such love? What words of gratitude can express the obligation we owe to such a benefactor? What devotion can adequately characterize the obedience which is his duet?
We can only summon our poor souls to stand still, and praise and wonder and adore. We say with the Apostle, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." But how cold and unworthy is that word "thanks," viewed in connection with the gift? Still let us rejoice that, poor as it is, we can speak it. Let us love to speak it every day. Let the earliest consciousness of every morning hour find our hearts swelling with grateful emotions to the God-Saviour. Let the last thoughts of the evening hour be of Him who, God though he was, gave himself for us. Let our whole lives attest by appropriate deeds, the sincerity of our thanks. And let us look forward to the skies as the place in which we may repeat and continue evermore the praises begun on earth. For, after we have dwelt for ages on the theme, we cannot express all that ransomed sinners owe to such a Divine Deliverer.
"O for this love, let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break,
And all harmonious human tongues,
The Saviour's promise speak.
Angels! assist our mighty joys,
Strike all your harps of gold—.
But when you raise your highest notes
My love can ne'er be told."