holiest works for the sanctification of the soul
"His name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel"
Luke, ii. 21.
How is reason astonished and confounded at the sight of a God assuming the form of a creature! and into what a labyrinth of errors would it not have precipitated itself, had not the light of faith disclosed the depth of the divine wisdom, which is concealed under the supposed folly of a God-man!
It may, perhaps, be deemed superfluous to enter on this subject before a Christian auditory, whose eyes have been always open to this Heavenly light, and to combat arguments against the divinity of Christ, which none of you have ever maintained. It undoubtedly would, if I had no other motive than that of enforcing conviction. But there are other motives which render the discussion necessary, and in some degree obligatory on the part of the pastor. The spirit of infidelity is making most alarming progress. The Unitarian and Deist have risen up in opposition to the Christ, the Holy One: and although your faith is now firm and unshaken, it is not impossible but that their captious arguments may insensibly produce an unfavourable effect on your minds. It is the duty, therefore, of the pastor to guard you against this danger, and to supply you with proper arguments, should their blasphemous tenets be broached in your presence. It is likewise of the greatest utility sometimes to unveil the sanctuary, and display the hidden beauties which religion proposes for your respect and homage: sometimes to console your piety, by recounting the wonders of Him, who is the Author and Finisher of your faith; and to animate your fervour, by exhibiting to you the glory and divinity of the Mediator, who is the object of your hope and consolation.
That Christ is God, I will prove from his ministry: and that he is descended from Heaven, and is equal to the Father, I will demonstrate from the object of his mission.
The subject is too extensive to allow me to discuss every point. I must omit the pompous oracles by which he was foretold, and the wonderful works which he performed in person: these I must omit, and confine myself to the spirit of his ministry, namely, to his doctrine, his benefits, and his promises. The first shall form the subject of this discourse, and the others I will reserve for a future occasion.
1. The Almighty manifested himself to creatures for the purpose of imparting to them the inestimable knowledge of his divinity, and of instructing them in the duties which they owed to him as their Lord and Maker. Religion, therefore, properly speaking, is the divine light which displays God to man, and regulates the duties of man to God. Whether the Most High disclose these truths to mankind in person, or by the ministry of some extraordinary personage invested with the power of the Holy Spirit, his object in view was the knowledge and sanctification of his name in the world, and the establishment of a religion, by which might be given to him alone what to him alone was due.
This incontestible truth being acknowledged, I say, that, if our Lord Jesus, who came in the fulness of time, be not God, but a mere creature selected by God to be his envoy on Earth, he has acted in direct opposition to the intentions of his Great Employer: he has made the world idolaters: he has wrested from the Deity the glory which is due to him alone, and arrogated it to himself. Or rather, if we consider the ministry, the doctrine, the benefits, and the promises of Jesus, we must declare that God himself, who sent him on Earth vested with such unlimited power and glory, has deceived us, and that he alone is the cause of the idolatry of those who adore him.
But, my beloved, who will dare to impute to God such a crime? It is, therefore, an inevitable consequence, that if Jesus Christ be holy, he must be likewise God; and, if his ministry be not tin; ministry of error and imposture, it must be the ministry of eternal truth itself, manifested for our instruction.
The enemies of his divinity are ready to acknowledge that he was a holy and just man: and, although there have been some of late years who have blasphemed against his innocence, and have dared to rank him amongst seducers, their names are held in abhorrence, and their memory is deserving of the detestation of all who have ever confessed the name of Christ.
In effect, what man ever appeared on Earth decorated with such indubitable marks of innocence and sanctity? In what philosopher was ever discovered such a love for virtue, such a sincere contempt of the world, such charity for mankind, such an indifference to human glory, such interest for the glory of the Supreme Being, such an elevation above all that the world admires and seeks after? How ardent was his zeal for the salvation of men! To this object were referred his discourses, his cares, his desires, his solicitudes. The wise men of old exercised their genius, and acquired a reputation by exposing the weakness and follies of their fellow-creatures: Jesus speaks of their vices only for the purpose of prescribing remedies. The philosophers took occasion of pride from discovering vices in others from which they themselves were not exempt: Jesus, with a heart melting with compassion, points out faults in others, of which he himself was innocent; and sheds tears over the immoralities of a faithless and ungrateful city. The object of the philosophers was not so much the reformation of the morals of men, as the desire of acquiring a great name by the superiority of their talents and wisdom: Jesus seeks only to save lost man, and, in the pursuit of this object, is as insensible to the calumnies and persecution of his enemies, as he is to the applause and commendation of his admirers.
Enter into the whole detail of his moral conduct, and tell me whether there ever appeared on Earth a just man more universally exempt from weaknesses the most inseparable from human nature? The more you scrutinize, the more incontrovertible will his sanctity appear. The disciples, who were the most intimately acquainted with his conduct, were the most astonished at the innocence of his life: and familiarity, which discovers faults in the most heroic virtue, contributed only to the more perfect knowledge of his perfections. On all occasions he speaks the language of Heaven; and all his replies are calculated to promote the salvation of those who question him. Never does he exhibit symptoms of mental weakness: he always appears in the quality of Ambassador of the Most High. In him, the most common actions are rendered extraordinary by the novelty and sublimity of the dispositions with which he performs them. He appears no less divine when he eats with a Pharisee, than when he raises Lazarus to life.
Truly, my brethren, mere human nature is not susceptible of such sublimity; nor can it so perfectly divest itself of the weak ness to which it is constitutionally liable. He does not dazzle the understanding by the display of eloquence and sophistry, like the philosophers: but, like a truly just man, he draws the rules and precepts of his doctrine from his own conduct. What greater proofs of his sanctity could be given, than that the traitor himself, whose interest it was to exculpate himself by exposing his master's defects, should give public testimony in his favour; and that the malice of his most declared enemies should not be able to accuse him of any crime? (John. viii. 46.)
Jesus Christ, therefore, being holy, he must consequently be God: otherwise, the doctrine which he taught, as well respecting his Father, as respecting the duties of man,would be no more than equivocations, calculated to lead mankind into the grossest errors.
2. Now, what was his doctrine respecting the Father? Moses and the prophets incessantly proclaimed that the Lord was the One Great All; that it was an impiety to debase him by a comparison with any of his creatures; that they themselves were his servants and envoys, humble instruments in the performance of the wonders which he wrought by their ministry. Not a doubtful expression escaped them respecting this most essential point of their mission: no comparison between themselves and the Supreme Being: no equivocal term, which could give rise to superstition and idolatry, by inducing the people to believe they were equal to the God in whose name they spoke.
If Jesus Christ were like them, a messenger sent from God, and nothing more, it was certainly incumbent on him to fulfil his ministry with equal fidelity. But what is his language? He proclaims himself equal to the Father (Matt., xi. 127): he says, that he is descended from Heaven (John, vi. 51); that he proceeds from the bosom of God (John, xvi. 28); that eternal life depends on knowing the Son, as well as on knowing the Father (John, xvii. 3); that he was before Abraham (John, viii. 58); that he was before all things (John, xvii. 5); that he and the Father are one (John, x. 30); and that whatever is done by the Father, is done by the Son likewise (John, v. 19).
What prophet, except Christ, ever held such extraordinary language? Who, except Jesus, ever attributed to his own strength the great wonders which the Lord wrought by his ministry? How consoling is it, my beloved, to behold the certitude on which our faith is founded! Jesus on all occasions places himself on a level with the Deity. Once, indeed, he says, that the Father is greater than him: but what would this mean, were he not himself a God incarnate? What man of sense would dare to insult our under standing, by seriously asserting that the Supreme Being was greater than he? Are we not all sensible that there is no proportion between God and man? between the great ALL, and created nothing? Jesus, however, does not content himself with asserting that he is equal to God, but he justifies the novelty of his expressions, in opposition to the murmurs of the Jews, who were scandalized: and so far from undeceiving, he confirms them in their scandal: he every where speaks a language, which would be either senseless or impious, if his divinity were not admitted to explain and justify it.
My friends, would the pious, the meek, the humble Jesus have acted thus, if he were not God? Paul and Barnabas rent their garments when they were taken for gods: they proclaimed aloud before the people, who were preparing to offer sacrifices to them, that they were nothing more than mortal men; and that God alone ought to be adored, of whom they were only the envoys and ministers (Acts, xiv. 14). The angel in the Apocalypse rejected the adoration of St. John with horror, and with a loud voice commanded him "to adore God alone" Apoc., xix. 10. But Jesus Christ unresistingly permits divine honours to be paid to him: he applauds the faith of his disciples, when they adore, and call him with St. Thomas, " My Lord and my God" John, xx. 26: he even confounds his enemies, when they dispute his divinity, and deny his eternal origin (John, viii.). And can it be supposed that Jesus was less zealous for the glory of Him that sent him, than his disciples were? Or was it less incumbent on him than on them, plainly to undeceive the people of a mistake so injurious to the Supreme Being, and by which the whole fruit of his ministry would be destroyed?
Ah! what benefit has Jesus conferred on the world, if he be not God? Has he not plunged mankind deeper into the abyss of idolatry? For by whom is he not adored as the eternal Son of the Father, the image of his substance, and the splendour of his glory? A small number only of men have existed amongst Christians, who received him merely as the envoy of God, and re fused him divine honours. This impious sect, which has acquired the name of Unitarian, consists only of a few obscure disciples, whose doctrine is held in detestation, and rejected and anathematised by the whole Christian world. Recall to mind the great promises which were so pompously announced to mankind, and tell me whether the small, the obscure society of Unitarians can be that great people of every tongue, of every tribe, and of every nation, of which the Church of Jesus was to be formed? Where would then be that superabundance of grace, that plenitude of the Holy Spirit, which was to be spread over all flesh? Where would be that universal renovation, which the prophets foretold with such solemnity, and which was to accompany the birth of the Great Deliverer? Are the great advantages which the world was to acquire by the ministry of Jesus, confined within such contracted limits? Did the oracles of the prophets concerning the future magnificence of the gospel, mean nothing more than the formation of the sect of an impious Socinus?
My God! how wise, how reasonable does the faith of thy Church appear, when put in opposition to the senseless contradictions of incredulity! How consoling is it to believe and hope in Jesus, when we behold the abyss which pride opens for itself, by preaching new doctrines, and sapping the foundation of the faith and hope of Christians!
Thus, dear brethren, you see that the doctrine of Jesus in respect to the Father proves the reality of his eternal origin. When the prophets spoke of the great God of Heaven and Earth, they could not find words to express the grandeur and magnificence of their ideas. Lost in the contemplation of the immensity, the omnipotence, and the majesty of the Supreme Being, they exhausted the weakness of human language in describing the sublimity of their conceptions. This God, they said, is he who measures the waters of the ocean in the hollow of his hand; who weighs the mountains in his balance (Isa., xl. 12); who speaks the word, and it is done (Ps., xxxii. 9). Thus they spoke; and it was fit that mortal man should speak of the eternal God in this manner. But when Jesus speaks of the glory of the Lord, he adopts not the pompous descriptions of the prophets: on the contrary, the most tender, the most simple expressions are his choice. He calls him a holy Father a just and clement Father a shepherd seeking the lost sheep, and placing it on his shoulders to carry it back to the fold (Luke, xv. 4, 5) a father of a family, moved to compassion by the return and repentance of his prodigal child (Luke, xv.). This is the language of a Son. The freedom and simplicity of his expressions manifestly prove that he is acquainted with the secrets of Heaven, and that the majesty and glory of the Divinity are familiar to him.
This affectionate language of Jesus implies a severe condemnation of the sentiments of the greater number of Christians. We know that we are now no longer servants, but brethren and coheirs with Jesus Christ; that we have acquired the right of calling God our Father, and ourselves his children. From this knowledge we learn that love, not fear, is to regulate our obedience. But, my beloved, in what manner do we avail ourselves of this glorious privilege? By what are we influenced? Ah! too true it is, that we serve him more like hirelings and slaves, than like children. We obey him, not because we are affected by his promises and love, but because we dread his judgments. His law, so holy and just, appears not amiable in our eyes: on the contrary, like a yoke it weighs heavy on our shoulders; it excites our complaints; and, if no punishment awaited our transgressions, we should soon shake it off, and rejoice at our happy deliverance. We murmur incessantly against the severity of his precepts; and we employ every argument in order to justify the relaxations which the world has introduced. Thus, we may conclude that, if he were not an avenging God, we should renounce our allegiance to him, and that the little homage and respect we pay, to him, is extorted by the terrors of his justice and indignation.
3. We will now proceed to the proofs of his divinity which are deducible from his doctrine and instructions. It is not my intention to enlarge on the wisdom, the sanctity, the sublimity of this doctrine: I will only remark, that the whole does honour to reason and to the soundest philosophy: that the whole is proportioned to the weakness and to the excellency of man to his wants and to his high destiny; that the whole inspires a contempt for perishable things, and a love of the good things of eternity: that the whole is calculated to maintain order and tranquillity in the world: that the whole is grand, because the whole is true. The wise man of the gospel is excited to the performance of good actions by the only satisfaction of obeying God, who will be his reward exceeding great; and he is taught to prefer the testimony of a good conscience before the applauses of men: he is superior to the whole world by the liveliness of his faith; and he is inferior to the last of men in his modest opinion of himself. Glory in his eyes is fallacious; prosperity is replete with dangers; afflictions are blessings; the Earth is a place of banishment; and all that passes with time is no more than a dream.
"What man, before Christ, ever delivered such doctrine? And if his disciples, who only announced his precepts, were taken for gods descended on Earth (Acts, xiv. 10) what ought to be our opinion of Him who was the author of them?
But we will pass over these general reflections, and proceed to the more precise testimonies of love and dependence which he requires should be paid to him, as well as to the Father. He commands us to love him in the same manner as he loved the Father (John, xv. 10), to refer all our actions, our thoughts, our desires, and even our whole selves to his glory, in the same manner as to the Father (Matt., x. et alibi); he even declares that sins are remitted only in proportion as we love him (Luke, vii. 47). What prophet, before Christ, ever said to mankind: You shall love me in the same degree as you love the Father; every thing that you do, you shall do for my glory?
But this is not all that he requires. It is his command, not only that we love him, but that we give testimonies of the most generous, the most heroic love: that we love him more than we love our relations, our friends, our goods, our life, more than the whole world, more even than we love our own souls (Luke, xiv. 26). He declares that the Christian who is not so disposed, is not worthy of him; and that he who places him on a level with creatures, or even with himself, dishonours and injures him, and shall never partake of his promises.
My friends, who but a God could impose such commands? Life is the gift of the Most High; and who, but the Most High, can exact the sacrifice of it? Jesus, however, commands us to suffer tortures and death for his name, and with the authority of a God declares, that if we renounce him before men, although it be to avoid the greatest evils, he will renounce us before his Father (Matt. x. 33.) Ah! if the hand of God were not with him, if he were not the Word made flesh, can it be supposed that people could have existed on Earth so devoid of every natural feeling, so deaf to the tender calls of self-preservation, as to run with ecstasies of delight into the very jaws of destruction in support of such a doctrine? Can it be supposed that innumerable multitudes of every age, condition, and sex, would have foregone the sweetest pleasures of human nature, and have lingered out a miserable existence in caverns, in nakedness, and in want, in hourly expectation of being dragged to the torture and to martyrdom, rather than renounce their belief in the divinity of Jesus the Son of God? Can it be supposed that such a doctrine, had it been erroneous, could have triumphed over the universe, confounded all sects, united all hearts, and have been acknowledged by the wisest men to be superior to all science, wisdom, and doctrine that ever appeared on Earth? No: the ear of rational man cannot listen to such suppositions; it turns from them with abhorrence.
How consoling, my beloved, is it to see the veil of the sanctuary withdrawn, and to behold the stability of the foundation on which our faith and hope are founded!
One reflection shall conclude this discourse. Since we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, it is our indispensable duty to follow his doctrine. This doctrine requires that we sacrifice to him our will, our friends, our relations, our property, our lives, and every other thing that impedes our progress in the paths of salvation. Faith teaches us that he will make us ample amends for all that we relinquish for his sake; or rather, that he will give us himself, the greatest of all treasures, the most exquisite of all rewards. Let us, therefore, confess Christ, by acknowledging that he is greater than the world, that he is more able to make us happy, and consequently, more worthy of being loved: let us confess him in this manner both in word and deed, and then we may rest assured that he will confess us before his Father, and unite us to the happy society of his elect in the kingdom of Heaven.