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On consulting the Doctrinal History of the Church on this question, we discover, even from the earliest times, nothing but obscurity and confusion. The earliest writers utter only indefinite expressions concerning the higher nature of Jesus : we find allusions to the intimate connection subsisting between his Divine and human natures; but the relation in which they stand to each other, is not defined, nor is the part which either takes in the composition of His Person at all determined. i
A brief review of the opinions on this subject of the so-called Fathers prior to the Council of Nice, at the beginning of the fourth century, will give us an insight into the belief of the church at that early period. The Ebionites and the Artemonites, an extensive sect at that time, chiefly of Jewish origin, considered Jesus only as the Son of Joseph and Mary. To this view the Fathers were directly opposed. On the contrary, the Nazarenes, also an extensive sect, believed in the Supernatural conception, which afterwards became the established idea of the Catholic Church. The Fathers admitting thus the Supernatural conception, combatted still more decidedly the tendency of the Docetæ, who rejected the true Humanity of Jesus. “We do not admit,” says Novatian, (opposing the Docetæ) “ the heretical notion that Christ, as it is said, appeared only in an image, and not in truth, for nothing of those things which he performed and did can be true if he was only a phantom and not the truth, that is, truly a Man.” (Neque eum hereticorum agnoscimus Christum, qui in imagine (ut dicitur) fuit, et non in veritate; hihil verum eorum quæ gessit, fecerit, si ipse phantasma et non veritas fuit. Novatian, De Trin. Cap. 10.) The principal Fathers, who maintained the orthodox view of the Supernatural conception, opposed, of course, the opinion of Cerinthus and Basilides, who asserted that the Logos (Christ) had descended upon the man Jesus at his bap. tism; and lastly, the view of Valentinus, who admitted that Christ was born of Mary, but maintained that He made use of her only as a channel by which He entered into this finite world; καθαπερ υδωρ δια owlnuos odevel,—“as water flows through a channel.”
These were the various views, in the first four centuries, on the Incarnation, or on the Origin of Jesus Christ. First. He was considered to have had a supernatural conception, which afterwards became the established orthodox doctrine. Secondly, He was believed by a numerous class, called the Ebionites, to have been simply the Son of Joseph and Mary. Thirdly, by the Docetæ, He was considered to have assumed Humanity in appearance only, and not in reality, and that the belief in Him as God-Man was a subjective phantasy only, and not an objective
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reality, independent of the mind of the believer. Fourthly, some believed that He only came into union with the Logos at the time of the baptism-by John. And lastly, some believed that the Humanity born of Mary was a kind of channel through which divinity was poured into the world like water through a canal.
These were the different views entertained of the Incarnation during the first centuries of Christianity. At length, however, at the time of the Council of Nice, they were absorbed by two commanding heresies about equally distant from the genuine Truth,—the first was Arianism, which, endeavouring to distinguish between the Father and the Son, made the latter not only subordinate to the former, but a creation, a work, and not coeval and coequal with the Father. The second heresy was Tripersonalism, as expressed in the Athanasian Creed, and received as the orthodox doctrine on the Trinity in all the established churches in Christendom. In this creed the Persons are said to be coequal and coeternal, and that “ each Person by himself is to be acknowledged as God aud Lord, although we are forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there be three Gods or three Lords.” In the acknowledgment of each Person by himself as God and Lord, is the tacit belief in three Gods, however the Catholic religion may forbid us to say there “be three Gods and three Lords ;” and there can be no doubt that in nearly ninety-nine hundredths of the people who worship according to this doctrine, there is clearly impressed in the interiors of their mind the idea of three Gods, howsoever with the mouth they may, when challenged, deny the fact. But how totally subversive and destructive such an idea is of all genuine religion, we need not stop here to determine,' and especially of Christianity, as the purest form of religion, which is based upon the idea of one God, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is One Lord :" “ There is One God, and none other but He.” (Matt. xii. 32.)
From this period the doctrine of the Incarnation consisted in the belief, that the second Person in the Trinity, styled also the Logos, assumed the Humanity or became Flesh in the Person of Jesus. And for ages past, with the exception of the Socinian School, this belief has prevailed. But how erroneous this belief in the Incarnation is, founded on the tripersonal system, as expressed in the Athanasian creed, will be seen in the sequel.
It will now be seen that ever since the age of the apostles, no true Scriptural idea of the Incarnation has been maintained in the church. But without a true idea on this subject even the first stone in the ground-work of Christianity is rejected. For without this true idea no
correct belief can be had as to the Person of Jesus Christ, no true conception of the nature of Elis Humanity, as being the divine “Flesh and Blood which we must eat and drink” in order that we may have any spiritual life within us. Neither can we have any true idea of the relation between the Father and the Son, and consequently no true idea of God, as He has revealed Himself in Christianity. But all “pure and undefiled religion,” which is “ the power of God unto salvation,” is founded upon the true and just idea of God. Consequently where this true idea is not, there no true and undefiled religion can exist. Hence also the great importance of a true doctrine of the Incarnation.
Of all the beliefs above mentioned, that of the supernatural, or, as it is sometimes called, the immaculate conception, comes nearest to the Truth. This belief, since it acknowledges the divine origin or paternity of Jesus, possesses within it, however distorted and perverted by the idea of a supposed second Person who assumed the Humanity, somewhat of life and power, which ever keeps the name of Christianity alive in the world, and, as it were, by its moonlight glimmering effects somewhat of good to the nations who believe it;—just as the feeble glimmering of the moon is better than no light at all. In the idea of a supernatural conception there is something which elevates Jesus above all others born into the world. Herein is the acknowledgment, that although as to His maternal origin He was similar to other men, yet as to His paternal origin He was infinitely to be distinguished from all other men.
It was this idea of a supernatural conception which gave to Christianity an inherent power, which caused its progress and made its name gain an ascendency over the earth. Where this belief did not prevail, as in several countries of Asia, Christianity soon expired because its inherent power and life were denied. It was reduced to the level of a mere moral system which might have emanated from Solon or Socrates, but which had no inherent vital power, like a beam of vernal light carrying within its bosom the genial power and warmth of the sun, which causes “the earth to bring forth and to bud, and to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater.” The other beliefs had no power to give this living seed and to bestow this bread from heaven, and therefore they were swept away in the seventh and eighth centuries by the power of Mahomedanism which occupied the regions where the Standard of the Cross had for several ages been unfurled.
What, then, is the true doctrine of the Incarnation ? We reply, that it is that which is conveyed to us, like every other pure theological doctrine, from the Scriptures only. And what can be more evident, when
we calmly consult the Word of God, than the fact, that Jehovah Himself assumed the humanity, and became our Redeemer and Saviour. No truth is more obvious than this, and the great wonder is, that it has not formed the essential Truth, and the universal element in the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Very numerous passages declare that Jehovah, as the everlasting Father, became our Redeemer and Saviour, and that besides Him there is no Saviour. Thus at the Incarnation it was “Emanuel—God with us”- not a second Person in the Trinity, but God Himself, as the One Person of the Godhead. “To us a child is born, a Son is given,”-not a Son born from eternity, but in time—"the everlasting Father, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.” And in the New Testament, when the Pharisees inquired of John the Baptist, who he was, he declared “that he was the Voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, (Jehovah) make his path straight,” &c. It was Jehovah, therefore, before whom John was preparing the way. Now, if the Word is to teach us concerning the great Truth of the Incarnation, and nothing else can teach us, we must believe that it was Jehovah Himself, or the everlasting Father, who became flesh for the redemption of mankind. The same great Truth is also implied in the declaration of the Angel to Mary, (Luke i. 35; Matt. i. 20—23.) and in John i. 1-14, where it is declared that “the Word that was with God, and that was God, became flesh and dwelt amongst us." Here it is expressly asserted “that He that made all things, and that without Him was not any thing made that was made,"—that this very samo Creator of all things became flesh and dwelt among us. Nothing can be more plain and evident than the teaching of the Word on this essential point of Christian Doctrine ; and it is only the dogmas and traditions of men that could have obscured and perverted the direct and simple teaching of Scripture on this question. But some may say that the Apostles, in their Epistles, do not teach that Jehovah or God Himself became flesh, or assumed the Humanity for our redemption. The Apostles, however, do teach this doctrine in as explicit a manner as the Word itself which we have already quoted. For the Apostle Paul teaches explicitly, that “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” (1 Tim. iii. 16.) Again,—“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,” &c. (2 Cor. v. 19.) Again, —“ As God in Christ hath forgiven you.”* (Eph. iv. 32.)
* This passage, in the Common Version, reads as God for Christ's sake, &c.but in Greek it is as above given.
Now in all these passages the Apostle does not mean a second Person in the Godhead, nor a Son born from eternity, of whom there is no mention whatever in the Scriptures, but he means the One Only God, or the essential Divine Nature, which became incarnate as Jesus Christ. It was, therefore, not a mere influence from God, nor a power from God that became flesh, but God Himself-Emanuel, GOD-WITH--who assumed our nature, with all its infirmities, and became our Redeemer.
This nature He glorified, and it became the “ bodily dwelling place of all the fulness of the Godhead.” (Col. ii. 9.)
Why, then, has this great Truth of the Incarnation—the foundation stone of Christianity, so clearly revealed in the Scriptures, not been seen and acknowledged even since the apostolic times? It is because the “ Lamb has been slain even from the foundation of the world”— (Rev. xiii. 8.)—that is, of the church. For the Divine Humanity, or the “ Glorious Body" of the Lord could not but be pierced and slain in relation to the church and to its individual members, so long as the true doctrine of the Conception and Incarnation was not seen and acknowledged. For every idea of the Lord, which does not involve a belief that His Humanity, since its plenary glorification, or since His Resurrection and Ascension, is Divine-every such idea not full of this belief is a falsity which, like a spear, “pierces Him," and if not removed by the Truth, must eventually “slay Him” in relation to the Church; and when He is thus slain the members of the church cannot seat of His Flesh and drink of His Blood,” and thus have truly spiritual life or salvation in them; but they must needs live upon that “ carcase around which the eagles are gathered together.” (Matt. xxiv. 28.) This “ carcase” is the evil in which the members of the church will necessarily be, if the Lord, as to His Divine Humanity, is denied; and the “ eagles” are the false principles, doctrines, and persuasions which feed upon the carcase as their peculiar nourishment and support.
But however, evident it is that the Scriptures plainly and powerfully teach that it was Jehovah God Himself who became incarnate, yet the human mind, making external and sensual things the only ground of its thoughts, considers that such a declaration. although so clearly manifest from Scripture, cannot be true; for from that low plane of thought it is impossible that the human mind can comprehend the idea, that the Infinite God should in reality become a Man upon the earth, and for a space of thirty years appear like other men; but in the last few years of His life distinguished from others by the Divine spiritual and miraculous power which He exercised. To the merely natural mind “it must
Flesh and thus slain the salary Him" ?