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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Atonement of Christ, 1854
The apostles who saw the Lord, and who saw the accomplishment of what the prophets foretold, were not disappointed in him. Their love to him was great, and their representations of his person and character ran in the same exalted strain.
"In the beginning was the Word," said the beloved disciple, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1: 1, 2, 10, 14)
Thomas insisted upon an unreasonable kind of evidence of the resurrection of his Lord from the dead, saying, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25) When reproved by our Lord's offering to gratify him in his incredulous proposal, he confessed, with a mixture of shame, grief, and affection, that however unbelieving he had been, he was now satisfied that it was indeed his Lord, and no other, saying, "My Lord and my God." (John 20:28)
The whole epistle to the Hebrews breathes an ardent love to Christ, and is intermingled with the same kind of language. Jesus is there represented as "upholding all things by the word of his power;" (Heb. 1:3) as the object of angelic adoration; as he to whom it was said, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever;" (Ps. 45:6) as he who "laid the foundation of the earth;" (Heb. 1:10) and concerning whom it is added, "the heavens are the work of thy hands;" (Ps. 102:25) as superior to Moses, the one being the builder and owner of the house, even God who built all things, and the other only a servant in it; as superior to Aaron and to all those of his order, "a great High priest--Jesus the Son of God;" and finally, as infinitely superior to angels, for, "to which of the angels said he, at any time, Thou art my Son; or, Sit on my right hand?" (Heb. 1:13) Hence the gospel is considered as exhibiting "a great salvation" (Heb. 2:3) and those who neglect it are exposed to a recompense of wrath which they shall not escape.
Paul could scarcely mention the name of Christ without adding some strong encomium in his praise. When he was enumerating those things which rendered his countrymen dear to him, he mentions their being Israelites, to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises ; whose were the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came. Here, it seems, he might have stopped, but having mentioned the name of Christ, he could not content himself without adding, "Who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." (Rom. 9:4, 5)
Having occasion also to speak of him in his epistle to the Colossians, chapter 1, as God's dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, he could not forbear adding, "Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature. For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist."
As the Father is allowed on all hands to be a divine person, whatever proves the divinity and personality of the Son proves a plurality of divine persons in the Godhead. I need not adduce the evidences of this truth; the sacred Scriptures are full of them. Divine perfections are ordinarily ascribed to him, and divine worship is paid to him, both by angels and men. If Jesus Christ is not God, equal with the Father, Christianity must have tended to establish a system of idolatry more dangerous, because more plausible, than that which it came to destroy.
The union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, is a subject on which the sacred writers delight to dwell, and so should we, for herein is the glory of the gospel. "Unto us a child is born; and his name shall be called… the mighty God." (Isa. 9:6) He was born in Bethlehem, yet his "goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2) He was made "of the seed of David according to the flesh," (Rom. 1:3) and "declared to be the Son of God with power." (Rom 1:4) "Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." (Rom. 9:5)
In his original nature he is described as incapable of death, and as taking flesh and blood upon him to qualify himself for enduring it. Heb. 2:14. "He was the Son of God," yet "touched with a feeling of our infirmities;" "the root and the offspring of David." The sacred, Scriptures lay great stress on what Christ was antecedently to his assumption of human nature, and of the official character of a Mediator and Saviour: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) “He who was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich.” (II Cor 8:9) “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3), etc. “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men..” (Phil. 2:6, 7)
If divine personality be not essential to Deity, distinct from all office capacity, and antecedent to it, what meaning is there in this language? An economical trinity, or that which would not have been but for the economy of redemption, is not the trinity of the Scriptures. It is not a trinity of divine persons, but merely of offices personified; whereas Christ is distinguished from the Father as the express image or character of his person, while yet in his preincarnate state.
The sacred Scriptures lay great stress on the character of Christ as "the Son of God." It was this that formed the first link in the Christian profession, and was reckoned to draw after it the whole chain of evangelical truth. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (Acts 8:37) From this rises the great love of God in the gift of him: "God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son" (John 3:16)—the condescension of his obedience: "Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience" (Heb. 5:8)—the efficacy of his blood: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin"(I John 1:7)—the dignity of his priesthood: "We have a great high priest…Jesus the Son of God" (Heb. 4:14)—the greatness of the sin of unbelief: "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18)—the greatness of the sin of apostasy: "Who hath trodden under foot the Son of God." (Heb. 10:29)
The incarnation, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ declared, but did not constitute him the Son of God; nor did any of his offices, to all which his Sonship was antecedent. God sent his Son into the world. This implies that he was his Son antecedently to his being sent, as much as Christ's sending his disciples implies that they were his disciples before he sent them. The same may be said of the Son of God being made of a woman, made under the law. These terms no more express that which rendered him a Son, than his being made flesh expresses that which rendered him the Word. The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil; he must therefore have been the Son of God antecedently to his being manifested in the flesh.
But does it follow that because a son among men is inferior and posterior to his father, therefore it must be so with the Son of God? If so, why should his saying that God was his own Father be considered as making himself equal with God? Of the only begotten Son it is not said he was, or will be, but he is in the bosom of the Father, denoting the eternity and immutability of his character. There never was a point in duration in which God was without his Son: he rejoiced always before him. Bold assertions are not to be placed in opposition to revealed truth. In Christ's being called the Son of God there may be, for the assistance of our low conceptions, some reference to sonship among men; but not sufficient to warrant us to reason from the one to the other.
The sacred Scriptures often ascribe the miracles of Christ, his sustaining the load of his sufferings, and his resurrection from the dead, to the power of the Father, or of the Holy Spirit, rather than to his own divinity. I have read in human writings, "But the Divinity within supported him to bear;" but I never met with such an idea in the sacred Scriptures. They represent the Father as upholding his servant, his elect in whom his soul delighted; and as sending his angel to strengthen him in the conflict.
While acting as the Father's servant, there was a fitness in his being supported by him, as well as his being in all things obedient to his will. But when the value, virtue, or efficacy of what he did and suffered are touched upon, they are never ascribed either to the Father or the Holy Spirit, but to himself. Such is the idea suggested by those fore quoted passages. "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." (Heb. 1:3) "Ye were not redeemed by corruptible things…but by the precious blood of Christ." (I Pet. 18, 19)
"The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (I John 1:7) Much less is said in the sacred Scriptures on the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit, than on those of the Son. The Holy Spirit not having become incarnate, it might be less necessary to guard his honors, and to warn men against thinking meanly of him. All judgment was committed to the Son because he was the Son of man.
Yet there is enough said against grieving the Spirit, blasphemy against him, lying against him, doing despite to him, and defiling his temple, to make us tremble. In the economy of redemption, it is the office of the Holy Spirit not to exhibit himself, but to "take of the things of Christ, and show them to us." He is the great springhead of all the good that is in the world; but in producing it, he himself appears not. We are no otherwise conscious of his influences than by their effects. He resembles the wind, which bloweth where it listeth; we hear the sound and feel its effects, but know nothing more of it.
The Holy Spirit is not the grand object of ministerial exhibition, but Christ, in his person, work, and offices. When Philip went down to Samaria, it was not to preach God the Holy Spirit unto them, but to preach Christ unto them. While this was done, the Holy Spirit gave testimony to the word of his grace and rendered it effectual. The more sensible we are, both as ministers and Christians, of our entire dependence on the Holy Spirit's influences the better, but if we make them the grand theme of our ministry, we shall do that which he himself avoids, and so shall counteract his operations.
The attempts to reduce the Holy Spirit to a mere property, or energy, of the Deity, arise from much the same source as the attempts to prove the inferiority and posteriority of Christ as the Son of God, namely, reasoning from things human to things divine. The Spirit of God is compared to the spirit of man; and as the latter is not a person distinguishable from man, so it has been said, the former cannot be a person distinguishable from God the Father. But the design of the apostle in I Cor. 2:11, was not to represent the Spirit of God as resembling the spirit of man in respect of his subsistence, but of his knowledge; and it is presumptuous to reason from it on a subject that we cannot understand.
Peter, in his first sermon, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, addressed the Jews upon principles of the truth of which they, in their consciences, were convinced: "Ye men of Israel," said he, "hear these words Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know, ye by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Upon these principles he grounded others, of which they were not convinced, namely, his resurrection from the dead, ver. 24-32, his exaltation at the right hand of God, ver. 33, his being made both Lord and Christ, ver. 36, and of remission of sins through his name, verse 38.
In his next sermon he asserted him to be the Son of God, Acts 3:13, the Holy One, and the Just, the Prince or author of life, whom they had killed, preferring a murderer before him, ver. 14, 15. If Jesus was the author of life in the same sense in which Barabbas was the destroyer of it, then was the antithesis proper, and the charge adapted to excite the greatest alarm. It was nothing less than declaring to them that, in crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, they had crucified the Lord of glory; or that the person whom they had slain was no other than the Creator of the world, in human nature! In the first instance the apostle appealed to what the Jews themselves knew of Christ; and in the last, to what he knew concerning him, who with his fellow apostles had beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.
The doctrine of atonement by the death of Christ is one of the great and distinguishing principles of the gospel, and its importance is acknowledged by all denominations of evangelical Christians. Yet there are some who suppose that this doctrine is not necessarily connected with the divinity of Christ; and indeed, that it is inconsistent with it. It has been objected, that according to the Scriptures, it was the person of Christ that suffered, but that this is inconsistent with his divinity because divinity could not suffer. To which it may be answered, that though the person of Christ suffered, yet that he suffered in all that pertains to his person is quite another thing.
A great and virtuous personage among men might suffer death by the axe or the guillotine, and this would be suffering death in his person; and yet he might not suffer in his honor or in his character, and so not in all that pertained to him. A Christian might suffer martyrdom in his body, and yet his soul be very happy. To object, therefore, that Christ did not suffer in his person because all that pertained to him was not the immediate seat of suffering, is reasoning very inconclusively. It is sufficient if Christ suffered in that part of his person which was susceptible of suffering.
It has been objected, that as humanity only is capable of suffering, and therefore humanity only is necessary to make atonement. But this objection proceeds upon the supposition that the value of atonement arises simply from suffering, and not from the character or dignity of him who suffers; whereas the Scripture places it in the latter, and not the former. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." He "by himself hath purged our sins."
Some who have allowed sin to be an infinite evil, and deserving of endless punishment, have objected to the necessity of an infinite atonement, by alleging that the question is not what sin deserves, but what God requires in order to exalt the dignity of his government, while he displays the riches of his grace in the forgiveness of sin. But this objection implies that it would be consistent with the divine perfections to admit not only what is equivalent to the actual punishment of the sinner, but of what is not equivalent; and if so, what good reason can be given why God might not have entirely dispensed with a satisfaction, and pardoned sinners without any atonement?
On this principle the atonement of Christ would be resolved into mere sovereign appointment, and the necessity of it would be wholly given up. But if so, there was nothing required in the nature of things to exalt the dignity of the divine government, while he displayed the riches of his grace; and it could not with propriety be said that " it became Him, for whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."
If God required less than the real demerit of sin for an atonement, then there could be no satisfaction made to divine justice by such an atonement. And though it would be improper to represent the great work of redemption as a kind of commercial transaction between a creditor and his debtor, yet the satisfaction of justice in all cases of offence requires that there be an expression of the displeasure of the offended against the conduct-of the offender, equal to what the nature of the offence is in reality. The end of punishment is not the misery of the offender, but the general good. Its design is to express displeasure against disobedience; and where punishment is inflicted according to the desert of the offence, there justice is satisfied.
In other words, such an expression of displeasure is uttered by the Lawgiver that in it every subject of his kingdom may read what his views are of the evil which he forbids, and what his determinations are in regard to its punishment. If sinners had received in their own persons the reward of their iniquity, justice would in that way have been satisfied; and if the infinitely blessed God, whose ways are higher than our ways, and whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, has devised an expedient for our salvation, though he may not confine himself to a literal conformity to those rules of justice which he has marked out for us, yet he certainly will not depart from the spirit of them. Justice must be satisfied even in that way.
An atonement made by a substitute in any case, requires that the same end be answered as if the guilty party had actually suffered. It is necessary that the displeasure of the offended should be expressed in as strong terms, or in a way adapted to make as strong an impression upon all concerned, as if the law had taken its course; otherwise atonement is not made, and mercy triumphs at the expense of righteousness.
To suppose, because humanity only is capable of suffering, that therefore humanity only is necessary to make atonement, is to render dignity of character of no account. When Zaleucus, one of the Grecian kings, had made a law against adultery, that whosoever was guilty of this crime should lose both his eyes, his own son is said to have been the first transgressor. To preserve the honor of the law, and at the same time to save his own son from total blindness, the father had recourse to an expedient of losing one of his own eyes, and his son one of his. This expedient, though it did not conform to the letter of the law, yet was well adapted to preserve the spirit of it, as it served to evince to the nation the determination of the king to punish adultery, as much, perhaps even more, than if the sentence had literally been put into execution against the offender.
But if instead of this, he had appointed that one eye of an animal should be put out, in order to save that of his son, or if a common subject had offered to lose an eye, would either have answered the purpose? The animal and the subject were each possessed of an eye, as well as the sovereign. It might be added, too, that it was mere bodily pain; and seeing it was in the body only that this penalty could be endured, any being that possessed a body would be equally capable of enduring it. True, they might endure it, but would their suffering have answered the same end? Would it have satisfied justice? Would it have had the same effect upon the nation, or tended equally to restore the tone of injured authority?
If the death of Christ, as an atoning sacrifice, be the only way of a sinner's salvation—if there be " no other name given under heaven among men, by which we must be saved"—if this be the foundation which God hath laid in Zion, and if no other will stand in the day of trial, how can we conceive that those who deliberately disown it, and renounce all dependence upon it for acceptance with God, should be yet interested in it? Is it supposable that they will partake of that forgiveness of sins which believers are said to receive for his sake, and through his name, who refuse to make use of that name in any of their petitions?
If the doctrine of atonement by the cross of Christ be a divine truth, it constitutes the very substance of the gospel, and consequently is essential to it. The doctrine of the cross is represented in the New Testament as the grand peculiarity and the principal glory of Christianity. It occupies a large proportion among the doctrines of Scripture, and is expressed in a vast variety of language. Christ "was delivered for our offences, wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities." "He died for our sins." "By his death purged our sins." He is said to "take," or bear, " away the sin of the world "—to have "made peace through the blood of his cross"—" reconciled us to God by his death"—"redeemed us by his blood"—"washed us from our sins in his own blood"—"by his own blood obtained eternal redemption for us"—"purchased his church by his own blood," etc., etc. This kind of language is so interwoven with the doctrine of the New Testament that to explain away the one is to subvert the other.
The doctrine of the cross is described as being not merely an important branch of the gospel, but the gospel itself. "We preach Christ crucified: unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (I Cor.1:23-24) "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified." (I Cor. 2:2) "Enemies to the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:18) is only another mode of describing an enemy to the gospel. It was reckoned a sufficient refutation of any principle, if it could be proved to involve in it the consequence of Christ's having "died in vain." Christ's dying for our sins is not only declared to be a divine truth, "according to the Scriptures," but a truth of such importance that the then present standing and the final salvation of the Corinthians were suspended upon their adherence to it.
In a word, the doctrine of the cross is the central point in which all the lines of evangelical truth meet and are united. What the sun is to the system of nature that the doctrine of the cross is to the system of the gospel; it is the life of it. The revolving planets might as well exist and keep their course without the attracting influence of the one, as a gospel be exhibited worthy of the name that should leave out the other.
From the whole, we are directed to commit our cause to Christ. We have a cause pending, which, if lost, all is lost with us, and that forever. We shall not be able to plead it ourselves, for every mouth will he stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Nor can anyone in heaven or earth, besides the Saviour, be heard on our behalf. If we believe in him, we have everlasting life; but if not, we shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on us.
We are also directed by this subject how to obtain relief under the distress to which our numerous sins subject us as we pass through life. We all have recourse to some expedient or other to relieve our consciences, when oppressed with guilt. Some endeavor to lose the recollection of it among the cares, company, or amusements of the world; others have recourse to ceremonial observances, and are very strict in some things, hoping thereby to obtain forgiveness for others; on some the death and mediation of Christ have the effect to render them unconcerned, and even to embolden them in their sins. Painful as our burdens are, we had better retain them than get relief in any of these methods.
The only way is to come unto God in the spirit of Job, or of David, seeking mercy through the propitiation. Thus, while we plead, “Do not condemn me,” our Mediator will take it up, and add, “Do not condemn him.”