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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
John Stock, LL. D.
From A Handbook of Revealed Theology, 1883
At length, "in the fulness of the times," that tremendous mystery, the incarnation, was consummated. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father " (John 1:14). Then, for the first time in the annals of the universe, the Godhead was found dwelling in a created nature, and forever and most intimately united to it. The seed of the woman had appeared, and the longings of holy men of all preceding ages were now realized.
1. The humanity of our Lord was produced by a direct miracle. It was born in virtue of the promise of God's grace made to man, on the ground of the existence of a covenant of redemption between the Eternal Three in One. And hence the humanity of our Lord sustained no covenant relationship to Adam, and consequently was not involved in the effects of Adam's sin. These were the terms in which the incarnation was announced to the Virgin by Gabriel "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35)
Not that Jesus was the Son of God, only because of His miraculous conception; for, in truth, the phrase, "Son of God" includes, not merely His humanity, but His Godhead. The Eternal Word was to become the child born, and the Son given. Hence, He is called "the Son" before His incarnation, because He was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (I Pet. 1:20).
"I will declare the DECREE: the Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (Ps. 2:7). The title, Son of God, evidently assumes the incarnation, either as an accomplished fact, or as an eternal and unalterable purpose of Jehovah. It does not explain the mode of the relation of one person to another person in the Godhead. It has no reference to the Trinity as an abstract God, nor does it describe an essential mode of being in a particular person of the one Jehovah. The Godhead of the Messiah was no more begotten than the Godhead of the Father, or of the Holy Spirit.
The jargon that has been written on the eternal generation of the divine nature of our Lord is very painful to read, and has driven many men into rank Socinianism. It is time that such absurdities were forever abandoned. For the doctrine of the eternal generation of a divine nature is more than a mystery; it is an utter absurdity. A mystery is something above reason; an absurdity is something contrary to it.
Now, eternal generation is an absurdity, because it is a contradiction in terms; for manifestly that which is eternal cannot have had a beginning, and therefore cannot have been generated. And, vice versa, that which has been generated cannot have existed from all eternity, and therefore must have begun to be at the time of its generation. Hence the two terms, "eternal generation," are mutually destructive of each other, as much so as virtuous vice, or limited infinity, or imperfect perfection, or any other equally incongruous terms that can be put together.
Who can believe in a begotten God? The very idea is monstrous, and even blasphemous! The Godhead of Christ was in no sense begotten; for the obvious reason that one of the fundamental ideas of God is that He is an uncreated Being, existing by a sublime necessity of nature. The idea of a begotten God, then, must be renounced as fraught with deadly peril to the whole orthodox faith.
Jesus Christ was indeed begotten as to His human nature, so that it is true that He who was very God was begotten, but not begotten as God. The Godhead condescended to ally itself with another nature, which was created by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35), and therefore that Holy Being who was born of the Virgin was called the Son of God.
Hence, Jesus Christ is never called the Son of God previously to His incarnation, unless with a prospective and prophetic reference to that event. The title describes the relation of the Second Person to the Father in the covenant of redemption and in the salvation of the Church. It is an official, not an abstract name. It includes the humanity of our Lord, either as existing or as about to be.
But it does not exclude the divine nature. For if there was an incarnation at all, then the Being incarnated must have previously existed in some other nature. And from other sources we gather that He who was thus made flesh was the Eternal Word; a person in the adorable Godhead; the Maker of all things, the Upholder of the universe; "God over all, blessed for evermore." (Rom. 9: 5) The title, Son of God, then, as applied to our Lord, is a comprehensive description of His whole person. It proclaims Him as the God incarnate! "He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (Rom. 1:4)
2. But to return to the miraculous conception of our Lord's humanity. By this astonishing dispensation, the Son of man escaped all taint of sin, and was born, according to the language of Gabriel, a "holy thing" or being (Luke 1:35).
It was necessary to the acceptance of the sacrifice for our guilt, that it should be free from all blemish. This was prefigured under the law by the requirement that every priest, when ministering at God's altar, and every sacrifice offered as an atonement for sin, should be ceremonially clean.
The taint of original sin was not allowed to pass upon the man Christ Jesus. He was emphatically "without sin" (Heb. 4:15); "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26); "the Lamb of God, without blemish and without spot" (I Pet. 1:19). His conflict was with external evil, for in His nature there was none. "The Prince of this world came, and found nothing in Him " (John 14:30); i.e., nothing to suit his purpose as a tempter; for every emotion of the human soul of our Redeemer rose in instant and entire resistance to every dark suggestion that was presented by either men or devils. For "He knew no sin" (II Cor. 5:21); i.e., He never approved of sin in His thoughts or affections; and "He did no sin" (I Pet. 2:22); i.e., He never committed the act of sin. Thus the sacrifice was laid upon Jehovah's altar without a blemish! The Redeemer offered Himself without spot to God.
3. Yet it must never be forgotten that the manhood of our Lord was a complete human nature, consisting of body, soul, and spirit. He took the whole of our nature into union with His Godhead. The Scriptures lay special emphasis upon the assumption of flesh by our Lord. "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14). "God was manifested in the flesh" (I Tim. 3:16). "He Himself likewise took part of flesh and blood" (Heb. 2:14), etc. But it is evident that in these passages flesh stands for human nature in its entireness. The word is used in that sense when men generally are referred to, e.g., "Thou hast given Him power over all flesh" (John 17:2); i.e., over all men. "All flesh" (i.e., all men) "had corrupted his way upon the earth" (Gen. 6:12). The reason why flesh is thus put for the whole man is obvious. The body is that part of our nature which we see, that by which we recognise a man and distinguish him from his fellows. It is the outward and visible sign of the soul which dwells within.
That our Lord did possess a human soul, which was the subject of all innocent human affections, is a doctrine of Holy Scripture. It was the human soul which spake in the never-to-be-forgotten exclamations, "Now is my soul troubled" (John 12: 27); "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matt. 26:38); "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). This human soul thrilled, "yet without sin" (Heb. 4:5), with all the emotions of which other human souls are susceptible. All the pure instincts of our nature were found in the man Christ Jesus. He was susceptible of joy and sorrow, of elevation and depression, of affection and aversion, of a growth in knowledge, of support from heaven, of the pleasures of friendship, and of the sorrows of desertion.
His human nature was no phantom, as some of the earlier heretics affirmed it was. It was a true and proper man, "in all respects made like unto His brethren" with the exception of sin.
4. In this humanity the Divine and Eternal Word dwelt, and will dwell for evermore. The Godhead speaks through the humanity, and acts through its ministry. The omniscience of the indwelling deity beams in the glances of those eyes which are "as a flame of fire" (Rev. 1:14); and its omnipotence speaks in the tones of that voice which is "as the sound of many waters" (Rev. 1:15). Godhead and manhood are indissolubly united in the one person of the Mediator; each nature retaining its own distinct properties, the Godhead not having become human nor the humanity divine. And how gloriously both elements of our Lord's person were displayed even while He was upon earth!
At His birth we see Him a helpless babe laid in a manger, dependent upon the tender offices of His mother, and persecuted by Herod; while as an incarnate God, the stars of the firmament, the host of angels, the shepherds of Judea, and the wise men of the distant East, do Him homage. At His baptism we behold His body immersed by John in the waters of the Jordan, while His Godhead is proclaimed by His Father, speaking in an audible voice from the excellent glory. At the wedding feast of Cana He sat as a human guest at the table, and nourished His body by partaking of the viands which were placed before Him; but He proved His Godhead by exerting creative power when He turned the water into wine. On the lake of Galilee His humanity is so spent with toil that it sleeps amid the bellowing of the storm; while the Godhead rebukes the winds and the waves, and they sink into a reverential calm. In the desert the human hands broke the bread and divided the fishes, but the Godhead created the miraculous supply which fed a multitude of thousands.
At the grave of Lazarus tears of sorrow moistened His human visage, while the tones of His omnipotence shook the sheeted corpse from its sleep of corruption, and raised it to life. On the cross we behold His humanity weltering in blood, and groaning in the agonies of death; while the Godhead clothes the sun with sackcloth, rends the thick temple vail from top to bottom, shakes the solid rocks, and opens the tombs. In the rich man's sepulchre we see our Lord's humanity cold and still, the prey of death; but ere long the indwelling Godhead bursts the bonds of mortality, and raises the man Christ Jesus, a victor over the last enemy!
And this intimate union between the two natures in the person of the one Christ shall never be dissolved. For after the final judgment, and after all the elect shall have been admitted to heaven in their perfected humanity (Rev. 20 & 21), the Eternal Word will still be "the Lamb," a title which manifestly includes His humanity. Thus John describes the heavenly world in its final and unalterable state: "The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it" (Rev. 21:22). "The glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Rev. 21:23). Its throne is still "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev. 22:1-3). Thus in the constitution of His person, Jesus Christ will be "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever" (Heb. 13:8).
5. By assuming our nature, the Eternal Word became capable of obedience and suffering. As abstract God, He was incapable of subjection to any higher authority, for higher authority than His own did not exist. As God He was above all law—Himself the standard of eternal righteousness and the lawgiver of the universe. He was a law unto Himself. As abstract God, too, He was impassible. His divinity could not suffer, for the very idea of misery is invincibly incongruous with the conception of God. But by being "made of a woman," our Redeemer was "made under a law" (Gal. 4:4). He became possessed of a dependent nature, which was capable of subjection to His Father's will, and was justly amenable to His authority. "He learned obedience by the things that He suffered" (Heb. 5:8). His possession of humanity, too, enabled Him to suffer and die in our stead. By this miracle of mercy He qualified Himself for the cross and the tomb. He learned to become "the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3).
6. He stooped thus low that He might obey the law in the very nature in which it had been broken. Man had, before the eyes of the universe, trampled upon every precept of God's law; and now by the God-man every precept of that law must be honoured and obeyed. "The seed of the woman," bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, must render the obedience which we had refused. The particular law which man had broken was the eternal law of righteousness in its application to human duty; and manifestly this particular law could only be obeyed by one possessed of our nature, and who stood in our relations to God and to each other.
7. By the assumption of human nature, the Saviour became competent to endure the curse of the same law. The law consisted of two parts, the precept and the penalty. Without a penal sanction a law loses its very nature. It ceases to be a law, and becomes mere advice, which a man may observe or disregard, as he pleases, without any judicial results. A penalty in case of disobedience is essential to the very idea of a law. Hence the law of God to man has, and has ever had, its annexed penalty. "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4, 20). "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Hence Jesus became a man that He might be "made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13); and that He might be "made sin for us, though He knew no sin" (II Cor. 5:21). The curse with which man had been threatened HE became capable of enduring, by assuming man's nature.
8. By the incarnation our Lord qualified Himself to become to us a sympathizing Saviour. He became a man that He might he competent to sympathize with us in our griefs. He came to pass through the various stages of human life, from infancy upwards, that He might be touched with a feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). He came to taste of our every cup of sorrow, and to be "in all points tried as we are," that He might be "a merciful and faithful High Priest" (Heb. 2:17).
He was tried by poverty, for "He had not where to lay His head" (Matt. 8:10); by slander, for His enemies said He was "mad, and had a devil" (John 10:20); by flattery, for the Pharisees attempted to cajole Him (Matt. 22:16), and "the multitude sought to take Him by force and make Him a king" (John 6:15); by temptation, for on one occasion alone Jesus was forty days and forty nights tempted of the devil in a wilderness (Matt. 4:1, 2); by persecution, for He was scourged, crowned with thorns, and hung upon a cross (John 19:1, 2), and "His visage was so marred more than any man's, and His form more than the sons of men" (Isa. 53:14).
By the ingratitude of friends, for Judas Iscariot betrayed Him, and in His extremity all His disciples forsook Him and fled, while Peter "denied Him with oaths and curses" (Matt. 26); by divine desertion, for on the cross He exclaimed, "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46); by soul travail, for in His agony He groaned, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death" (Luke 22:39-46; Matt. 26:38); by the bitterness of death, for "He bowed His head and gave up the ghost" (John 19:30). Thus, whatever our trial may be, Jesus can sympathize with us; in every path of sorrow He hath been before us, and has left His own weary footprints there.
9. By condescending to become a man, He sought to allure us to seek again the God from whom we had strayed. His object was to bring man and God together again, to reopen intercourse between earth and heaven. Thus He veiled the insufferable splendours of His abstract deity beneath the form of a man that He might enable us to look upon the Godhead without terror. He softened down the majesty of His glory, that it might not destroy us. He sought to win our confidence to Himself, that "through Him we might have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephes. 2:18). He came to remove every obstacle out of the way of our communion with Jehovah, and especially to destroy that great barrier between us and our Maker—our guilt.
He appeared to shed His blood, that that "blood might cleanse us from all sin" (I John 1:7); and that, by the washing away of our sins, He might restore us to fellowship with the fountain of all good. Guilt removed, there remains no other barrier between man and God. Then God and man are at one again, and to the latter earth becomes the vestibule of heaven. And this grand reconciliation the Word became a man to effect (Col. 1:21)
10. Jesus became a man that He might raise the Church to the highest glory possible for creatures. Jesus stooped that He might raise us; He took our nature, that, in His own person, He might advance it to its greatest conceivable elevation, and might then assimilate that nature, as possessed by us, to the standard of His own. Conformity to the God-man Christ Jesus is presented to us in Holy Writ as the Christian's ultimate destiny. We are to "behold Him face to face" (I Cor. 13:12); are to "see Him as He is, and are to be like Him" (I John 3:2); we are to possess His image (I Cor. 15:49); are to sit with Him in His throne (Rev. 3:21); and to bear His name in our foreheads (Rev. 22:4). Our very "bodies are to be thoroughly changed, that they may be fashioned like unto His glorified body" (Phil. 3:21). Thus in every respect, save the peculiar sense in which Christ is the God-man, will His human nature be the type and the model of ours.
The Church will be raised above angels, cherubim, seraphim, and archangels. In Christ Jesus, her "kinsman Mediator", she will attain the highest pitch of created glory and blessedness. To use the marvellous language of Holy Writ, she will be "filled with all the fulness of God" (Ephes. 3:19). She will be Jehovah's crown; "a royal diadem in the hands of her God" (Isa. 62:3).