Sermon 5. Christ, the Son of God made Man Seasons - Lent

"Christ being come, an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building." Heb. ix. 11.

[Note] {53} BEFORE the Passover the Jews numbered fourteen days, and then the Feast came. It was to be the fourteenth day of the month, at even; and to mark the beginning of that period more distinctly, it was made the beginning of months, that is, the first month of the year. We then, if our Easter answers to the Passover, as substance answers to shadow, may well account that from this day, which is fourteen days before Easter, a more sacred season begins. And so our Church seems to have determined it, since from this day, the character of the Services changes. Henceforth they have more immediate reference to Him, whose death and resurrection we are soon to commemorate. The first weeks in Lent are spent in repentance, though with the thought of Him withal, who alone can give grace and {54} power to our penitential exercises; the last, without precluding repentance, are more especially consecrated to the thought of those sufferings, whereby grace and power were purchased for us.

The history of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; of Dinah, Jacob's daughter; and of Joseph in Potiphar's house; the account of our Lord's temptation; and the parable of the man out of whom the evil spirit went and returned sevenfold, which have been read on Sundays at this season, may fitly be called penitential subjects; and of the same character have been the Epistles. On the other hand, today's Epistle, from which the text is taken, speaks of Christ's Incarnation and Atonement; while the Gospel tells us of His Divinity, He being that same God who, as the first Morning Lesson relates, called Himself in the bush "I am that I am." And so again, next Sunday's Epistle is also upon our Lord's Divinity and voluntary humiliation, and one of the Lessons and the Gospel contain the sacred narrative of His passion and death. The other second Lesson is also on the subject of His humiliation, from St. Paul. And further: all four first Lessons of today and next Sunday relate to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, which is the type of our redemption.

Let us then today, in accordance with the apparent disposition of our Services, remind ourselves of one or two of the great truths which the Epistle contains;—of course we cannot do so with any great exactness or completeness;—but still, sufficiently to serve, through God's mercy, as a sort of preparation for the solemn {55} days which lie before us in the course of the next fortnight. It will be a fitting preparation, please God, for Good Friday, to bear in mind who our Lord is, and what He has done for us. And, at present, let us confine ourselves to this one subject, who our Lord is,—God and man in one Person. On this most sacred and awful subject, I shall speak as simply and plainly as I can; merely stating what has to be stated, after the pattern of the Creeds, and leaving those who hear me, as the Creeds leave them, to receive it into their hearts fruitfully, and to improve it, under God's grace, for themselves.

Let us, I say, consider who Christ is, as the Epistle for the day sets forth in the words of the text.

1. First, Christ is God: from eternity He was the Living and True God. This is not mentioned expressly in the Epistle for this day, though it is significantly implied there in various ways; but it is all but expressly stated, and that by Himself, in the Gospel. He says there, "Before Abraham was, I am:" [John viii. 58.] by which words He declares that He did not begin to exist from the Virgin's womb, but had been in existence before. And by using the words I am, He seems to allude, as I have already said, to the Name of God, which was revealed to Moses in the burning bush, when he was commanded to say to the children of Israel, "I am hath sent me unto you." [Exod. iii. 14.] Again: St. Paul says of Christ, that He was "in the form of God," and "thought it not robbery to be equal with God," yet "made Himself of no reputation." In like manner St. John says; "In the beginning was the Word, {56} and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And St. Thomas addressed Him as his Lord and his God; and St. Paul declares that He is "God over all, blessed for ever;" and the prophet Isaiah, that He is "the mighty God, the Everlasting Father;" and St. Paul again, that He is "our great God and Saviour;" and St. Jude, that He is "our only Sovereign God and Lord." [Phil. ii. 6, 7. John i. 1; xx. 28. Rom. ix. 5. Isa. ix. 6. Tit. ii. 13. Jude 4.] It is not necessary, surely, to enlarge on this point, which is constantly brought before us in Scripture and in our Services. "Day by day we magnify Him, and we worship His Name ever world without end;" which would be idolatry were He not the Very and Eternal God, our Maker and Lord. We know, indeed, that the Father is God also, and so is the Holy Ghost; but still Christ is God and Lord, most fully, completely, and entirely, in all attributes as perfect and as adorable, as if nothing had been told us of Father or of Holy Ghost; as much to be adored, as, before He came in the flesh, the Father was adored by the Jews, and is now to be adored by us "in spirit and in truth." For He tells us expressly Himself, "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father;" and "all men" are to "honour the Son, even as they honour the Father;" and "He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him." [John xiv. 9; v. 23.]

2. And here we are brought to the second point of doctrine which it is necessary to insist upon, that while our Lord is God He is also the Son of God, or rather, {57} that He is God because He is the Son of God. We are apt, at first hearing, to say that He is God though He is the Son of God, marvelling at the mystery. But what to man is a mystery, to God is a cause. He is God, not though, but because He is the Son of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," and That which is begotten of God is God. I do not say that we could presume thus to reason for ourselves, but Scripture draws the conclusion for us. Christ tells us Himself, "as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself." And St. Paul says, that He is "the brightness of God's glory, and the express Image of His Person." [John v. 26. Heb. i. 3.] And thus, though we could not presume to reason of ourselves that He that is begotten of God is God, as if it became us to reason at all about such ineffable things, yet, by the light of Scripture, we may. And after all, if the truth must be said, it is surely not so marvellous and mysterious that the Son of God should be God, as that there should be a Son of God at all. It is as little level to natural reason that God should have a Son, as that, if there be a Son, He must be God because He is the Son. Both are mysteries; and if we admit with Scripture that there be an Only-begotten Son, it is even less to admit, what Scripture also teaches, that that Only-begotten Son is God because He is Only-begotten. And this is what makes the doctrine of our Lord's Eternal Sonship of such supreme importance, viz. that He is God because He is begotten of God; and they who give up the latter {58} truth, are in the way to give up, or will be found already to have given up, the former. The great safe-guard to the doctrine of our Lord's Divinity is the doctrine of His Sonship; we realize that He is God only when we acknowledge Him to be by nature and from eternity Son.

Nay, our Lord's Sonship is not only the guarantee to us of His Godhead, but also the condition of His incarnation. As the Son was God, so on the other hand was the Son suitably made man; it belonged to Him to have the Father's perfections, it became Him to assume a servant's form. We must beware of supposing that the Persons of the Ever-blessed and All-holy Trinity differ from each other only in this, that the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father. They differ in this besides, that the Father is the Father, and the Son is the Son. While They are one in substance, Each has distinct characteristics which the Other has not. Surely those sacred Names have a meaning in them, and must not lightly be passed over. And they will be found, if we reverently study them, to supply a very merciful use towards our understanding Scripture; for we shall see a fitness, I say, now that that sacred truth is revealed, in the Son of God taking flesh, and we shall thereby understand better what He says of Himself in the Gospels. The Son of God became the Son a second time, though not a second Son, by becoming man. He was a Son both before His incarnation, and, by a second mystery, after it. From eternity He had been the Only-begotten in the bosom of the Father; and when He came on earth, this essential relation to the Father remained {59} unaltered; still, He was a Son, when in the form of a servant,—still performing the will of the Father, as His Father's Word and Wisdom, manifesting His Father's glory and accomplishing His Father's purposes.

For instance, take the following passages of Scripture: "I do nothing of Myself;" "He that sent Me is with Me;" "the Father hath not left Me alone;" "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;" "Whatsoever I speak, even as the Father said unto Me, so I speak;" "I am in the Father, and the Father in Me." [John viii. 28, 29; v. 17; xii. 50; xiv. 10.] Now, it is true, these passages may be understood of our Lord's human nature; but, surely, if we confine them to this interpretation, we run the risk of viewing Christ as two separate beings, not as one Person; or, again, of gradually forgetting or explaining away the doctrine of His Divinity altogether. If we speak as if our Lord had a human personality, then, if He has another personality as God, He is not one Person; and if He has not, He is not God. Such passages, then, as the foregoing, would seem to speak neither of Christ's human nature simply, nor of His divine, but of both together; that is, of Him who being the Son of God is also man. He who spoke was one really existing Person, and He, that one Living and Almighty Son, both God and man, was the brightness of God's glory and His Power, and wrought what His Father willed, and was in the Father and the Father in Him, not only in heaven but on earth. In heaven He was this, and did this, as God; and on earth He was this, and did this, in that manhood which He assumed, but whether in heaven, or on earth, still as the Son. {60} It was therefore true of Him altogether, when He spoke, that He was not alone, nor spoke or wrought of Himself, but where He was, there was the Father, and whoso had seen Him had seen the Father, whether we think of Him as God or as man.

Again, we read in Scripture of His being sent by the Father, addressing the Father, interceding to Him for His disciples, and declaring to them that His Father is greater than He; in what sense says and does He all this? Some will be apt to say that He speaks only in His human nature; words which are perplexing to the mind that tries really to contemplate Him as Scripture describes Him, as if He were speaking only under a representation, and not in His Person. No; it is truer to say that He, that One All-gracious Son of God, who had been with the Father from the beginning, equal in all divine perfections and one in substance, but subordinate as being the Son,—as He had ever been His Word, and Wisdom, and Counsel, and Will, and Power in Heaven,—so after His incarnation, and upon the earth, still spoke and acted after, yet with, the Father as before, though in a new nature, which He had put on, and in humiliation.

This, then, is the second point of doctrine which I had to mention, that our Lord was not only God, but the Son of God. We know more than that God took on Him our flesh; though all is mysterious, we have a point of knowledge further and more distinct, viz. that it was neither the Father nor the Holy Ghost, but the Son of the Father, God the Son, God from God, and Light from Light, who came down upon earth, and who thus, {61} though graciously taking on Him a new nature, remained in Person as He had been from everlasting, the Son of the Father, and spoke and acted towards the Father as a Son.

3. Now, thirdly, let us proceed to consider His mercy in taking on Him our nature, and what that act of mercy implies. The text speaks of "a greater and more perfect tabernacle," that is, greater than any thing earthly. This means His pure and sinless flesh, which was miraculously formed of the substance of the Blessed Virgin, and therefore called "not of this building," or more literally, "not of this creation," for it was a new creation by which He was formed, even by the descent of the Holy Ghost. This was the new and perfect tabernacle into which He entered; entered, but not to be confined, not to be circumscribed by it. The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; though His own hands "made it and fashioned it," still He did not cease to be what He was, because He became man, but was still the Infinite God, manifested in, not altered by the flesh. He took upon Him our nature, as an instrument of His purposes, not as an agent in the work. What is one thing cannot become another; His manhood remained human, and His Godhead remained divine. God became man, yet was still God, having His manhood as an adjunct, perfect in its kind, but dependent upon His Godhead. So much so, that unless Scripture had expressly called Him man, we might well have scrupled to do so. Left to ourselves, we might have felt it more reverential to have spoken of Him, as incarnate indeed, come in human flesh, human and the like, but not simply {62} as man. But St. Paul speaks in plain terms of our one Mediator as "the man Christ Jesus," not to speak of our Lord's own words on the subject. Still, we must ever remember, that though He was in nature perfect man, He was not man in exactly the same sense in which any one of us is a man. Though man, He was not, strictly speaking, in the English sense of the word, a man; He was not such as one of us, and one out of a number. He was man because He had our human nature wholly and perfectly, but His Person is not human like ours, but divine. He who was from eternity, continued one and the same, but with an addition. His incarnation was a "taking of the manhood into God." As He had no earthly father, so has He no human personality. We may not speak of Him as we speak of any individual man, acting from and governed by a human intelligence within Him, but He was God, acting not only as God, but now through the flesh also, when He would. He was not a man made God, but God made man.

(1.) Thus, when He prayed to His Father, it was not the prayer of a man supplicating God, but of the Eternal Son of God who had ever shared the glory of the Father, addressing Him, as before, but under far other circumstances, and in a new way, not according to those most intimate and ineffable relations which belonged to Him who was in the bosom of the Father, but in the economy of redemption, and in a lower world, viz. through the feelings and thoughts of human nature. When He wept at the grave of Lazarus, or sighed at the Jews' hardness of heart, or looked round about in anger, or had compassion on the multitudes, He manifested {63} the tender mercy, the compassion, the long-suffering, the fearful wrath of Almighty God, yet not in Himself, as from eternity, but as if indirectly through the outlets of that manhood with which He had clothed Himself.

(2.) When "He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay," [John ix. 6.] He exerted the virtue of His Divine Essence through the properties and circumstances of the flesh. When He breathed on His disciples and said, "'Receive ye the Holy Ghost," [John xx. 22.] He vouchsafed to give His Holy Spirit through the breath of His human nature. When virtue went out of Him, so that whoso touched Him was made whole, here too, in like manner, He shows us that He was not an individual man, like any of us, but God acting through human nature as His assumed instrument.

(3.) When He poured out His precious blood upon the Cross, it was not a man's blood, though it belonged to His manhood, but blood full of power and virtue, instinct with life and grace, as issuing most mysteriously from Him who was the Creator of the world. And the case is the same in every successive communication of Himself to individual Christians. As He became the Atoning Sacrifice by means of His human nature, so is He our High Priest in heaven by means of the same. He is now in heaven, entered into the Holy place, interceding for us, and dispensing blessings to us. He gives us abundantly of His Spirit; but still {64} He gives It not at once from His Divine nature, though from eternity the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father, but by means of that incorruptible flesh which He has taken on Him. For Christ is come a High Priest through the perfect tabernacle which He assumed, a tabernacle not of this creation, or in the ordinary course of nature, but framed miraculously of the substance of the Virgin by the Holy Ghost; and therefore the streams of life flow to us from Him, as God indeed, but still as God incarnate. "That which quickeneth us is the Spirit of the Second Adam, and His flesh is that wherewith He quickeneth."

(4.) 1 shall mention a fourth and last point in this great mystery. I have said that our High Priest and Saviour, the Son of God, when He took our nature upon Him, acted through it, without ceasing to be what He was before, making it but the instrument of His gracious purposes. But it must not be supposed, because it was an instrument, or because in the text it is called a tabernacle, that therefore it was not intimately one with Him, or that it was merely like what is commonly meant by a tabernacle, which a man dwells in, and may come in and out of; or like an instrument, which a man takes up and lays down. Far from it; though His Divine Nature was sovereign and supreme when He became incarnate, yet the manhood which He assumed was not kept at a distance from Him (if I may so speak) as a mere instrument, or put on as a mere garment, or entered as a mere tabernacle, but it was really taken into the closest and most ineffable union {65} with Him. He received it into His Divine Essence (if we may dare so to speak) almost as a new attribute of His Person; of course I speak by way of analogy, but I mean as simply and indissolubly. Let us consider what is meant by God's justice, or mercy, or wisdom, and we shall perhaps have some glimpse of the meaning of the inspired writers, when they speak of the Son's incarnation. If we said that the Son of God is just or merciful, we should mean that these are attributes which attach to all He is or was. Whatever He says, whatever He designs, whatever He works, He is just and loving when He thus says, designs, or works. There never was a moment, there never was an act or providence, in which God wrought, without His being just and loving, even though both attributes may not be exercised at once in the same act. In somewhat the same way the Son of God is man; all that is necessary to constitute a perfect manhood is attached to His eternal Person absolutely and entirely, belonging to Him as really and fully as His justice, truth, or power; so that it would be as unmeaning to speak of dividing one of His attributes from Him as to separate from Him His manhood.

This throws light upon the Catholic tenet, that the Godhead and Manhood were "joined together in One Person, never to be divided;" words which also serve too often to bring home to us how faintly we master the true doctrine: for we are sometimes tempted to ask, where is it said in Scripture that the manhood shall never be divided from the Godhead? which is as in congruous a question as if we were to ask whether God's {66} justice, mercy, or holiness can be divided from Him; or whether Scripture ever declares that this or that attribute may not disappear: for as these have no real existence except as in God, neither has our Lord's manhood except as in His Divine nature; it never subsisted except as belonging to His divinity; it has no subsistence in itself.

Thus all that He did and said on earth was but the immediate deed and word of God the Son acting by means of His human tabernacle. He surrounded Himself with it; He lodged it within Him; and thenceforth the Eternal Word, the Son of God, the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity, had two natures, the one His own as really as the other, Divine and human; and He acted through both of them, sometimes through both at once, sometimes through One and not through the other, as Almighty God acts sometimes by the attribute of justice, sometimes by that of love, sometimes through both together. He was as entirely man as if He had ceased to be God, as fully God as if He had never become man, as fully both at once as He was in being at all.

The Athanasian Creed expresses all this as follows: "The right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God is God and Man; God of the substance of his Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: who, although He be God and Man, yet is not two but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh," as if He {67} could cease to be God, "but by taking of the Manhood into God," taking it into His Divine Person as His own: "one altogether, not by confusion of substance," not by the Divine Nature and the human becoming some one new nature, as if He ceased to be God, and did not become a man, "but by unity of Person." This is what His unity consists in,—not unity of nature, but in this, that He who came on earth, was the very Same who had been from everlasting.

In conclusion, let me observe, that we ought not to speak, we ought not to hear, such high truths, without great reverence and awe, and preparation of mind. And this is a reason, perhaps, why this is a proper season for dwelling on them; when we have been engaged, not in mirth and festivity, but in chastening and sobering ourselves. The Psalmist says, "Lord, I am not high minded; I have no proud looks. I do not exercise myself in great matters which are too high for me. But I refrain my soul and keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother." When we are engaged in weaning ourselves from this world, when we are denying ourselves even lawful things, when we have a subdued tone of thought and feeling, then is an allowable time surely to speak of the high mysteries of the faith. And then, too, are they especially a comfort to us; but those who neglect fasting, make light of orthodoxy too. But to those who through God's grace are otherwise minded, the Creed of the Church brings relief; when, amid the gloom of their own hearts, Christ rises like the Sun of righteousness, giving them peace for disquiet, "beauty {68} for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified."

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Fifth Sunday in Lent.
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