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(The Rev. C. Benson
It is clear, then, that even in the most ordinary cases, we may meet with various and apparently contradictory expressions. We may find them applied to the same individual, and yet these expressions may be admitted in the most literal meaning, and require no figure to reconcile them to each other, and explain them to our mind. It is possible, therefore, I say, that the same method may be applied to those difficulties attending the manifold representations which are given of the Redeemer of mankind.
But this is not all—we may approach still nearer to the satisfaction of our doubts. We may imagine a case, even on earth, which would admit of the literal use of varieties of expression of the very same extent, and of the very same nature, as those which are adopted with regard to our blessed Lord. We may suppose the son of a king, mature in age and strength, the equal of his father touching his nature, and the sharer, too, of his government. We may imagine this prince as giving up the glories of his state, and consenting to be sent to the different and laborious task of bringing back to their allegiance the inhabitants of some distant and revolted province. For a time the prince would cease to be described as the equal of his father; and all that he did under the commission he had received would be done for his father's honour, and in his father's name. We may finally suppose that prince to return to his father's house, after having fulfilled the purposes for which he was sent, to be rewarded, as the saviour of those rebellious subjects, with the glory and the dignity, and the authority which he had, for their sakes, for a season laid aside.
In an instance like this we should base one individual appearing in three different states, and under three diffe
i Sermon concluded. J
rent characters and combinations of circumstances. To such a being, so varying in states, characters, and circumstances, language the most diversified may be applied. When spoken of in his character as a native prince, the heir by birth-right of the throne, he would be described as the equal of his father both in nature and in attributes. When spoken of as a messenger, sent forth on a laborious but merciful service, he would be described as the servant of his father, possessing no power but what he had received, declaring no terms but those he had derived from the paternal source. The leading tenor of the expressions applied to him when in his second state, would describe him as speaking by the authority of another, and as acting in conformity to his father's will. Lastly, with regard to his return to his father, and his being restored to the dominion he had resigned, it would occur that his power would be described as a communicated power, and his kingdom would be described as a kingdom hehad received in consequence of what he had done.
To say that either in this, or that in any other imaginable case, we can find a perfect resemblance to the great and mysterious changes to which the Son of God has, in the greatness of his mercy, submitted for the salvation of us miserable sinners, is more than any man, who is duly impressed with the sacredness of the subject, would dare. But this much, at least, the example may be employed to prove, that there may be circumstances connected with the history of our blesssed Saviour, which would remove every difficulty connected with those representations, however various and however different. We may enquire, therefore, into the actual history of our Lord as it has been revealed; and
we must see whether H does, or does not, afford any satisfactory explanation of these dissimilar texts; and whether it will, or will not, enable us to interpret each passage in its literal sense, perceiving in what manner we are to understand the blessed Jesus to be at once divine and human—at once equal and subordinate to God—at once entitled to an inherent, and possessed of a delegated authority over the universe. It is for this purpose I would now direct your attention to the import of the words of the text, as conveying a brief, but distinct, outline of his history, and as revealing to us that there are no less than three separate conditions of being, into which he has passed for the accomplishment of our redemption. "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go unto the Father."
He came forth from the Father: therefore he was with the Father before the period in which it is stated he came forth. This existence with the Father is, consequently, to be regarded as the first state of being to which he belonged. Coming forth from the Father, he came into the world. His sojourning in this our earth is therefore the second state of being, into which he is considered as having passed. Lastly, leaving the world, he went back to the Father; and this his return to the mansions of his paternal house is the third and last state of being, with which we are acquainted, in which he is to be contemplated.
Now, not only are we taught to look upon our Lord as having existed in three different states, to which these different representations may possibly refer; but St. Paul has described the nature of those states in a manner that at once removes every difficulty from the subject, and has given a plain, and clear, and satisfactory reason, for those diversified statements, which have perplexed us in the New Testament. "Let this mind," says the great apostle of the Gentiles, "be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; 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; and being found in fashion as a man,
he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 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."
Compare now this comprehensive description of St. Paul, and behold with what accuracy in every point it corresponds with, and explains, those diversified statements which we have so often reviewed. Our Saviour declares himself to have dwelt with the Father before he came into the world: the apostle tells us that when he dwelt with the Father, he was in the form of God, and might have claimed equality with God. Here, then, is a state to which every representation in which he is adorned with the powers and attributes of Deity, may, with the greatest ease, and with the most literal strictness, be applied. Our Lord proceeds to tell us, that when he left the Father he came into the world: St. Paul affords us the additional knowledge that, when he came to the world, he made himself of no reputation, took upon him the form of a servant, and was found in the likeness of men. At once, therefore, we perceive that, whatever may have been his former dignity, whatever his original glory while he was with God and was God, yet, when he descended into the second, and more complicated state of his existence, he assumed a character of subordination and inferiority; which leaves no doubt as to the propriety or the meaning of those expressions, which speak of him as acting by the Father's power, (baching by the Father's will, endued with his Spirit, and submitting to his wisdom. He was then in the form of a servant, whose office it is to obey ; and in the likeness of man, whose infirmities were entailed upon him. Finally, our Lord says, he was to leave the world, and return to the Father; and we celebrate this day his return to heaven: his apostle teaches us that he has so returned, and that in his return he has been highly exalted by God, and that there has been given him a name, which is above every name. Here, then, we discover the true foundation, here we may be persuaded of the literal explanation of those passages which attribute to him those different states of being, and which are given to him in his combined and compound character, the word made flesh, at once divine and human, the name of Jesus ruling over all the provinces of the universe.
Such is the answer which the Scriptures afford to us of the subject proposed; such the method of reconciliation which they direct us to pursue, in harmonizing the difference of those representations which the apostles have given regarding the blessed Jesus. If I turn to the perverter of truth for a solution of the enquiry, he tells me it is impossible to admit the obvious meaning of all the statements, and therefore, there must be one class only that may be literally explained, and that all the rest are to be explained away. He calls upon me to observe, that the passages in which Jesus is distinguished from God, seem to express their sense of his inferiority, and that therefore he is justified in moderating and restraining every word and declaration that appears to have admitted the Lord Jesus to the power and office of the Eternal and Supreme God. Confessing the humanity of the Saviour, because it is so clearly revealed that he cannot controvert it, the Unitarian denies him every attribute of divinity, and deems it an honest act to destroy the certainty, and violate all the principles of his interpretation, in order that he may be enabled to make the language of Scripture bear testimony to his particular views; while he forgets the uncertainty which attends even his mode of interpretation. For, why may not I say that the language which calls my Saviour divine is so strong, that I will at once admit him to be really a God, and deny his humanity altogether? Uncertainty, therefore, must attend such a method of interpretation and such an endeavour to reconcile those passages.
If the human inferiority in our Lord were declared in numerous texts, while those which maintain his divinity were few, doubtful, and obscure; then it might be necessary to give way, and explain what was dubious by what was decisive. But looking at the
Scriptures, as I trust, with sincerity and truth, so far as I can see, the expressions which relate to the divine nature of the Saviour of mankind are, at least, equal to those which refer to his equality and his inferiority to the Father. His inherent and his delegated authority over the whole universe are declared in terms so positive, that it is impossible to explain any of them away, without violating every ordinary rule, without destroying all certainty of language, and all dependance on the revelation of the New Testament. It is declared, with unequalled clearness, that he was with God, and was God, the God that made the universe, and that upholdeth all things by the word of his power: and I know my God under no other character than that which is revealed in the Scriptures. If he is described as highly exalted by the Father, and as crowned with glory and honour; he is as plainly described as that God whose throne is for ever and ever, as the Lord who is worthy to receive glory, and honour, and power,—not because they were given to him, but as he created all things, and because for his pleasure they are and were created. It is impossible to discover any difference in the clearness of these phrases; to the mind of every unprejudiced reader they would appear in harmony and union; and to turn them from their true nature, and to give them a new interpretation, is what no Christian ought to wish, and what no Christian ought to do. We are not justified in presuming that one class of texts alone are to be naturally explained, and the rest to be modelled into conformity with the views that this single class present to our minds. We are bound by every rule of prudence and justice to see, first of all, whether the whole may not be literally taken—whether there are not, in the nature of the case, some particular and admitted circumstances which, at once, remove the necessity of introducing any figurative interpretation at all.
This is an essential and preliminary enquiry, and one to which, when we turn, we find the scriptures have given a clear and satisfactory answer. They give us no less than three representations of the Redeemer of men; but then they set before us no less than three separate states of existence to account for these three representations. These representations differ materially from each other, and are opposed to each other, to a man who will create difficulties with a careless and presumptuous mind, that will not enquire diligently and search the scriptures for an answer. But then they tell us, also, that the states through which the Saviour has passed were varied in the same manner, and in the same degree, with the representations: and thus the difficulty vanishes and doubt is removed. If the Lord Jesus.is spoken of as clothed with greatness and glory, he is also described as having been divine from eternity—God before a single world had been called into existence. If he is spoken of as being clothed with the infirmities of the flesh, and in subjection to his Father; he is described also as having taken upon him the form of a servant, and dwelt among us in the likeness of men. If he is spoken of as having received a name that is above every name, we read also, and we believe, that, because he humbled himself, he has been exalted to the same place and power from which he came out, and is crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death for our sins. Thus the representations and the circumstances of the blessed Jesus are seen to correspond, most strictly, with each other, both in their number and in their nature.
Had such a correspondence , been found in the pages qf some human record, I should have felt myself bound
to admit it to be the true key to the solution. But when I remember that those who have written these things had the Spirit of God to lead them into all truth—that it is to the apostles of Christ Jesus, acting under and ordained by him, that we are indebted for this explanation, I turn away from every vain and idle imagination of philosophy, and rest with confidence upon the word of the Lord. The perverter of truth, brought up and nurtured in an unhappy determination to regard the dictates of his own mind and experience as the only criterion of religious truth, may deny the heavenly nature of his Saviour, because it is a fact which it falls not within the reach of his capacity to prove. But so long as I am taught by the Lord himself, that he came form from the Father, and came into the world, and that he has left the world to return unto the Father, and so long as I can read the commentary of his words in the epistle of St. Paul, I yield up my faith in his Divinity to no human reasoning or authority, but stay myself upon the power of his God-head, upon the great kindness of his humiliation, upon hia continued presence in his Father's sight to plead for my infirmities, both of mind and moral action; and hold fast the profession of my faith, without wavering, knowing that he is faithful who has promised; trusting that it is not in pride, but in humility, and in entire dependence on God's Spirit, that I have sought for and found this solution to my enquiry.
DELIVERED BY THE REV. B. LEACH,
AT flODERT STREET CHAPEL, OROSVENOR SQUARE, SUNDAY EVENING, SEPTEMBER 5, 1830.
Isaiah, xlri. 4.—" Even to your old age I am he; and even io hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you."
mises, and illumines us by its instructions. But of all the successive stages of our earthly pilgrimage through which we pass, from our cradle to our tomb, there is no season which is so entitled to our respectful regard as the period of old age. It is then, my brethren, that the earthly house of this
It is one of the peculiar excellencies of the religion of the Bible, that it is adapted to all ages of the world, to all periods of life, and to every situation in society: whether we are young or old, rich or poor, male or female, noble or ignoble, masters or servants, bond'or free, it cheers us byjts pro
tabernacle totters upon its base: it is then that the pilgrim, well stricken in years, has almost finished his career in his journey to everlasting rest, whilst nature puts on her silver crown.
But whatever may be the decrepitude and weakness attendant upon such an advanced period, we should never forget that the religion of our Lord Jesus is, in the benefits which it imparts, both constant and abiding, and comes to our aid when it is most required. What is more common than for the world to leave and forsake us when our day's work is done, and our strength is exhausted, and our property is gone, and our energies have all declined ?—thereby verifying the common adage that Prosperity mates friends, but adversity tries them. Not so, however, are the consolations of the gospel of peace: our Lord Jesus, itB benevolent author, is a friend who sticketh closer than a brother: where the world leaves us, he comes forward and takes us by the hand. He is a brother born for adversity: and the faithfulness of a covenant God has not been, and cannot possibly be exhausted.
Among a variety of evidence that might be adduced in support of this opinion, we appeal at once to the passage before us. These words are addressed to you, my aged friends. We have sometimes gladly availed ourselves of an opportunity of preaching to children—at other times to our esteemed young friends: but this evening we have the'more aged, the more advanced part of our auditory in view. To you, then, the faithful God says, "Even to your old age I am he; and even to your hoar hairs will I carry
Fou : I have made, and will bear; even will carry, and will deliver you." Here you learn in the first place, What God is in himself. Secondly, What he has done for those who are his people. Thirdly, What he engages still to do.
First, the text intimates What God Is In Himself. "I am he"—the infinite, eternal, unchangeable creator, preserver, and governor of all creatures, of all worlds, of all events, God over all, and blessed for ever, the Most High over all the earth—very great, clothed with honour and majesty, from everlasting to everlasting the same.
wonderful in counsel, excellent in working, whose mercies are over all his works. Yes; he is the King eternal, immortal, invisible, infinite in wisdom, in power, in goodness, in faithfulness, and in truth—whom to know is life everlasting. Such is the Almighty and Everlasting Jehovah who addresses his aged servants in the language of the text.
Look at him, then, as possessing all you can possibly require. Are you guilty? He is a God ready to pardon; he is willing to dispense his favors. Who is a God like unto him, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgressions of the remnant of his heritage—who retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy? Do you, my aged friends, feel your need of instruction ?" They shall be all taught of God:'-' and when he deigns to become our teacher, there is no mind too dark for him to illumine by the beams of heavenly wisdom. Do you mourn your want of native perfection? Do you feel and deplore your guilt and defilement by reason of the fall? He is the great sanctifier: he can take from you the guilt and the love, and deliver you from the power of sin. Do you feel your weakness? He is strength. Do you want a friend? He is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother -. for he is strength to the poor, strength to the needy in his distresses—a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat. Do you want to be happy? He alone can make you so: the great principles and ingredients of happiness, in this world and in that which is to come, are all in the hands of the Lord.
Allow me to remind you, secondly,
WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR YOU AS HIS
People. He has made you, says the text. This fact places him before us in a very endearing relation. He is our Father, all merciful, affectionate, and kind—not only the former of our earthly nature, but the Father of our spirits, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. In making us, how much wisdom, and power, and goodness has he displayed. With David must we be constrained to say, from what little we know of the mechanism of our existence, " I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Only look at the body—that very body which.