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there be between what is finite, and that which is infinite?
But were it conceivable, how the divine and human nature could be united into one person; yet is it not (say they) reasonable to believe that such a method was actually taken? For surely there were other ways, besides this, of restoring lapsed man to the favour of God, and that happiness which he had forfeited, and of taking away the sins of the world: the unlimited mercy of the divine nature was of itself sufficient to compass this end, and forgive this debt, without requiring any ransom; and unless a God incarnate were absolutely and indispensably requisite to free mankind from the guilt and dominion of their sins, it is no ways reasonable to think that recourse was had to so extraordinary a remedy.
Now, as to the first part of the objection, the impossibility of an union between God and man in the same person or subject, it is a bold and a presumptuous plea. For who is he, among the reasoners of this world that is able precisely to determine, in such obscure points as these, what is possible or impossible to be accomplished by almighty wisdom and power? Are our notions of these two beings, God and man, so full every way, and distinct and clear, as to satisfy us, that such an union is in itself repugnant, and altogether impossible? Would we impartially consider, what passes within our minds, when we employ them in such nice disquisitions as these, we should find, that all that passes there is darkness and confusion; and that we can discern too little of either of these natures, to be able to pronounce, with any assurance, that it is impossible for them to be joined together in one person.
We have no just idea indeed of the manner in which such an union may be effected; but so neither have we of the manner of that union, which is between our souls and bodies. An union which we can as little explain or comprehend, as even that of the Deity with
the humanity; and which yet we can no more doubt of, than we can of our own being and subsistence. Will the most keen and piercing wit among the sons of men say, that he perceives plainly how a corporeal can be joined to an incorporeal being; and what are those common ties and ligaments that hold them: how they act upon each other; move, and are moved by turns; and what kind of contact that is, by which such motions are mutually communicated? No; these are secrets, which we can no ways, by any strength of thought, fathom: and which, perhaps, we should have been apt to imagine inconsistent and impossible speculations, had not experience taught us, that things are really so, though we cannot possibly find out how they should be so.
Had the spirits of men been once unbodied, and had God revealed to them in that state of separation, that he designed them for another station in a lower world; and, in order to it, would clothe them with gross and sensible matter, and make them act continually in concert with fleshly organs, and with dependance upon them, no doubt but one of these forward reasoners would have concluded immediately, that the thing proposed was unphilosophical and absurd. therefore, that either the revelation did not really come from God, or that this could not be the sense of it. For how could body and spirit, things so totally different, any ways meet together and compose one entire subject? Or how could they, when thus met, have any possible influence on each other?
These therefore are immodest and unjustifiable ways of reasoning, which would persuade us to reject truths, on the account of some supposed impossibilities, of which it is manifestly impossible that we should have any clear and adequate conception. And therefore, in all such cases, it becomes not us to say, what can, or cannot be done, or what the nature of things will, or will not admit of. The short and only sure point, upon which controversies of this kind must turn, is to see
what God, in his holy word, has assured us concerning them.
As to the second part of the objection, that there were other ways of bringing about the pardon of sin, and the salvation of man; far be it from us to prescribe to God, or to say, that infinite goodness and wisdom itself could have found out no other expedient. But since this, and no other, was made use of by God, we must needs think it the most proper of any, and the best proportioned to those ends and purposes, for which he designed it. And though it becomes us rather implicitly to adore the divine wisdom, than curiously to inquire into the reasons, and boldly to sound the depths of it; yet is there some light afforded us in Scripture, whereby we may discover a mighty fitness and congruity between the method that was used, and the end that was brought about by it.
Guiding ourselves therefore by the discoveries made to us on this head in Holy Writ, we may safely venture to say, it was fit and requisite, that our Redeemer should be God, that, by the infinite dignity of his person, the value of the sacrifice, which he made of himself in the flesh, might be so far enhanced, as to become a sufficient atonement for the sins of the whole world that the laws, which he should publish, might carry in them the utmost obligation and force: that his doctrine might have the highest authority: that we, being assured of his absolute security from sin, might look up to his example, as to a perfect pattern of holiness; and in all things, without doubt or fear, implicitly follow his steps.
It was fit he should be God, that he might give an instance of infinite condescension and love toward us, and might from thence engage us to love and obey him also without bounds that he might be enabled in our behalf to vanquish Satan, and all the powers of hell, and erect a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men by triumphing first over all the strength, and cunning, and malice of our spiritual enemies.
It was highly expedient also, that he should be man, that our offences might be repaired in that nature which committed them: And as by one man's disobedience, many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one man, many might be made righteous, Rom. v. 19.
That he might be qualified from thence, to be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, Heb. ii. 17, and a proper intercessor with him for man, whose infirmities he had tried, whose needs he had been sensible of; and, having himself suffered and been tempted, might be able and willing to succour those that are tempted, ver. 18.
Lastly, that by appearing in human form, he might make a difference between the rigorous and astonishing dispensation of the law, and that milder one of grace coming to us in the most familiar and winning way instructing us in our duty like one of us and proposing to us a lively and full example of what he taught, in what he did and suffered for us.
These are some of the accounts which God has hinted to us in Scripture, why his infinite wisdom was pleased to pitch upon this way, rather than any other, of reconciling man to himself. And yet, after all the accounts we can give of ourselves of it, we cannot but confess it to be an abyss of mercy, which neither we nor angels are able to pry into; and which God alone, who contrived it, can fully explain and comprehend.
Let us forbear, therefore, to wade further into the depth of this great mystery of God manifest in the flesh; and let us satisfy ourselves with believing it, as God has revealed it, without indulging our curiosity in an unprofitable search after the reasons, which induced God to order the stupendous work of our redemption in so inconceivable a manner: and let us proceed to draw from thence those plain practical improvements, which may render it profitable unto godliness, and with which it will readily furnish us.
And the first, and most natural use we are to make of it, is, to raise to ourselves from thence matter of
thankfulness and spiritual joy. Behold, I bring you, said the angel to the shepherds, good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. Luke ii. 10, 11. And these indeed are the best tidings that ever God sent, or the world received: tidings of no less than freedom from the guilt and punishment of sin; of a way opened to repentance, and the favour of God; to peace of conscience in this world, and everlasting happiness in the next.
Before the coming of Christ, all the account we could have of these things from the light of nature, went no farther than this,-That the breach of any of God's laws brought guilt along with it; and that guilt made us liable to punishment;-whether God, upon any considerations, would ever remit this punishment, was more than mere reason could possibly tell us. For the justice of God certainly required, that sin should be followed with punishment: nor was this inconsistent with the goodness of God, which was otherwise sufficiently manifested to us. Under this kind of dark and uncomfortable reasonings were we left, till Christ the Sun of righteousness arose with healing in his wings, Mal. iv. 2, and published the Gospel of repentance and remission of sins. All thanks and praise, therefore, be given to him, that our tongues can possibly express, or our hearts conceive! Abraham, at a mighty distance, and upon a very dim and imperfect view of it, rejoiced to see his day; John viii. 56. The angels, who themselves had no interest in this deliverance, yet were highly pleased with the prospect of those blessings it derived on their fellow-creature, man; and, therefore, sang that hymn on this occasion which the evangelist has recorded-Glory be to God on high, on earth peace, good-will towards men, Luke ii. 14. And shall not we, for whose sake this peace was sent on earth, and to whom all this good-will was meant, shall not we also give glory to God on high, and rejoice before him with reverence? Surely this is news, at which (as Isaiah prophesies of the miraculous effects