POSTED - 5/23/2001
A Display of Christ - Part V (Of Christ's Wonderful Person)
- John Flavel
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” John, 1:14
We have contemplated the covenant of redemption. It is such as infinitely exceeds the power of any mere creature to perform. He that undertakes to satisfy God by obedience for man’s sin, must himself be God; and he that performs such a perfect obedience, by doing and suffering all that the law required, in our room, must be man. These two natures must be united in one person, else there could not be a cooperation of each nature in his mediatorial work. How these natures are united, in the wonderful person of our Immanuel, is the first part of the great mystery of godliness: a subject, studied and adored by angels! and the mystery thereof is wrapped up in the passage before us. Wherein we have,
This assertion “that the Word was made flesh,” is also here strongly confirmed. He “dwelt among us,” and we saw his glory. This was no phantasm, but a most real and indubitable thing. For, he pitched his tent, or tabernacled with us. And we are eye-witnesses of it. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, declare we unto you.” 1 John, 1:1-3. Hence,
- The Person assuming, the Word, that is, the second Person or Subsistent in the most glorious God-head; called the Word, either because he is the scope or principal matter, both of the prophetical and promissory word; or because he expounds and reveals the mind and will of God to men, as verse 18: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared” or expounded “him.”
- The nature assumed, flesh, that is, the entire human nature, consisting of a true human soul and body. For so this word “sarx” in Rom. 3:20, and the Hebrew word Basar, which answers to it, by a usual metonymy of a part for the whole, is used, Gen. 6:12. The word flesh, rather than man, is doubtless used here to enhance the admirable condescension and abasement of Christ implying man’s vileness, weakness, and opposition to spirit. Hence the whole nature is denominated by that part, and called flesh.
- The assumption itself, he was made; not “fuit”, he was, (as Socinus would render it, designing thereby to overthrow the existence of Christ’s glorified body now in heaven,) but factus est, he was made, that is, he took or assumed the true human nature into the unity of his Divine person, with all its integral parts and essential properties; and so was made, or became a true and real man, by that assumption. The apostle speaking of the same act, Heb. 2: 16, uses another word, He “took on him,” or he assumed. And when it is said, he was made flesh, misconceive not, as if there was a mutation of the Godhead into flesh; for this was performed, “not by changing what he was, but by assuming what he was not,” as Augustine well expresses it. As when the Scripture, in a like expression, says, “ He was made sin,” 2 Cor. 5:21, and made a curse, Gal. 3: 13, the meaning is not, that he was turned into sin, or into a curse; no more may we think here the Godhead was turned into flesh, and lost its own being and nature, because it is said he was made flesh.
Jesus Christ did really assume the true and perfect nature of man, into a personal union with his Divine nature, and still remains true God, and true man, in one person for ever.
The proposition contains one of the deepest mysteries of godliness, 1 Tim. 3:16. A mystery, by which apprehension is dazzled, invention astonished, and all expression swallowed up. If ever the tongues of angels were desirable to explicate any word of God, they are so here. The proper use of words is of great importance in this doctrine. We walk upon the brink of danger. The least tread awry may inguif us in the bogs of error. Arius would have been content, if the council of Nice would but have gratified him in a letter, [to have changed the meaning of the greek word for “of a like substance” for, “of the same substance] The Nestorians also desired but a letter, [one letter to be changed in the greek wording] These seemed but small and modest requests, but, if granted, had proved no small prejudice to the truth. I desire therefore the reader would, with greatest attention of mind, apply himself to these truths. It is a doctrine hard to understand, and dangerous to mistake. As Prosper has well said, “It is better not touch the bottom, than not keep within the circle.” Christ did assume a true human body; that is plainly asserted, Phil. 2:7, 8, &c. Heb. 2:14, 16. In one place it is called taking on him the seed of Abraham, and in the text, flesh. He did also assume a true human soul; this is undeniable by its operations, passions, and expiration at last, Matt. 26:38, and 27:50. And that both these natures make but one person, is as evident from Rom. 1:3, 4, Jesus Chris was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” So Rom. 9:5, “Of whom, as concerning, the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” Let us then consider the nature; the effects; and the reasons or ends of this wonderful union.
I. The nature of this union. The assumption of which I speak, is that whereby the Second Person in the God-head did take the human nature into a personal union with himself, by virtue whereof the manhood subsists in the Second Person, yet without confusion, both making but one person, Immanuel, God with us.
So that though we truly ascribe a twofold nature to Christ, yet not a double person; for the human nature of Christ never subsisted separately and distinctly, by any personal subsistence of its own, as it doth in all other men, but, from the first moment of conception, subsisted in union with the Second Person.
To explicate this mystery more particularly, let it be considered:
II. The effects, or immediate results of this marvelous union.
- The human nature was united to the Second Person miraculously and extraordinarily, being supernaturally framed in the womb of the virgin, by the overshadowing power of the Highest. Luke, 1:34, 35. And this was necessary to exempt the assumed nature from the stain and pollution of Adam’s sin, which it wholly escaped; inasmuch as he received it not, as all others do, in the way of ordinary generation, wherein original sin is propagated; but this being extraordinarily produced, was a most pure and holy thing. Luke, 1:35. And indeed this perfect shining holiness, in which it was produced, was absolutely necessary, both in order to its union with the Divine Person, and the design of that union; which was both to satisfy for, and to sanctify us. The two natures could not be conjoined in the person of Christ, had there been the least taint of sin upon the human nature. For God can have no fellowship with sin, much less be united to it. Or, supposing such a conjunction with our sinful nature, he being thus a sinner himself, could never satisfy for the sins of others; nor could any unholy thing ever make us holy. “Such an High Priest therefore became us as is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” Heb. 7:26. And such a one he must needs be, whom the Holy Ghost produced in such a peculiar way, “that holy thing.”
- As it was produced miraculously, so it was assumed integrally; that is to say, Christ took a complete and perfect human soul and body, with all and every faculty and member pertaining to it. And this was necessary, (as both Augustin and Fulgentius have well observed,) that thereby he might heal the whole nature of that leprosy of sin which hath seized and infected every member and faculty. “He assumed all to sanctify all;” as Damascen expresses it. He designed a perfect recovery, by sanctifying us wholly in soul, body, and spirit; and therefore assumed the whole in order to it.
- He assumed our nature, as with all its integral parts, so with all its sinless infirmities. And therefore it is said of him, “That it behooved him,” “in all things” (that is, all things natural, not formally sinful, as it is limited by the same apostle, Heb. 4:15) “to be made like unto his brethren,” Heb. 2:17. But here divines carefully distinguish infirmities into personal and natural. Personal infirmities are such as befall particular persons from particular causes, such as dumbness, blindness, lameness, leprosies, monstrosities, and other deformities. These it was no way necessary that Christ should, nor did he at all assume; but the natural ones, such as hunger, thirst, weariness, sweating, bleeding, mortality, &c. which though they are not in themselves formally and intrinsically sinful, yet are they the effects and consequence of sin. They are so many marks, that sin has left of itself upon our natures. And on that account Christ is said to be sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Rom. 8:3. Wherein the gracious condescension of Christ for us is marvelously signalized, that. he would not assume our innocent nature, as it was in Adam before the fall, while it stood in all its primitive glory and perfection; but after sin had quite defaced, ruined, and spoiled it.
- The human nature is so united with the Divine, as that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct. And this distinction is not, and cannot be lost by that union.
III. The grounds and reasons of this assumption.
- The two natures being thus united in the person of the Mediator, by virtue thereof the properties of each nature are attributed, and do truly agree in the whole person; so that it is proper to say, the Lord of glory was crucified, 1 Cor. 2:8, and the blood of God redeemed the church, Acts, 20:28, that Christ was both in heaven and in the earth at the same time, John, 3:13. Yet we do not believe that one nature doth transfuse or impart its properties to the other, or that it is proper to say the Divine nature suffered, bled, or died; or the human is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent; but that the properties of both natures are so ascribed to the person, that it is proper to affirm any of them of him in the concrete, though not abstractly. The right understanding of this would greatly assist in teaching the true sense of the fore-named, and many other dark passages in the Scriptures.
- Another fruit of this union, is the singular advancement of the human nature in Christ, far beyond and above what it is capable of in any other person, it being hereby replenished and filled with an unparalleled measure of Divine graces and excellencies; in which respect he is said to be “anointed above his fellows,” Psa. 45 7, and so becomes the object of adoration and divine worship, Acts, 7:59.
- Hence follows, as another excellent fruit of this union, the concourse and cooperation of each nature in his mediatorial works; for in them he acts according to both natures: the human nature doing what is human, namely, suffering, sweating, bleeding, dying; and his Divine nature stamping all these with infinite value; and so both sweetly concur unto one glorious work and design of mediation. Papists generally deny that he performs any of these mediatorial works as God, but only as man; but how boldly do they therein contradict the Scriptures! See 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:14, 15.
The Divine did not assume the human nature necessarily, but voluntarily; not out of indigence, but bounty; - not because it was to be perfected by it, but to perfect it, that so Christ might be prepared for the full discharge of his mediatorship, in the offices of our Prophet, Priest, and King.
Had he not possessed this double nature in the unity of his person, he could not have been our Prophet: for, as God, he knows the mind and will of God, John, 1:18, and 3:13; and as man he is fitted to impart it suitably to us, Deut. 18:15-18, compared with Acts, 20:22. As Priest, had he not been man, he could have shed no blood; and if not God, it had been of no adequate value for us, Heb. 2:17; Acts, 3:28. As King, had he not been man, he had been of a different nature, and so no fit head for us; and if not God, be could neither rule nor defend his body the church. These then were the designs and ends of that assumption.
- Let all Christians rightly inform their minds in this truth of so great moment in religion, and hold it fast against all subtle adversaries that would wrest it from them. The learned Hooker observes, that the dividing of Christ’s person, which is but one, and the confounding of his natures, which are two, has been the occasion of. those errors which have so greatly disturbed the peace of the church. The Arians denied his Deity, leveling him with other created beings. The Apollinarians maimed his humanity. The Sabellians affirmed, that the Father and Holy Ghost were incarnated as well as the Son; and were forced upon that absurdity by another error, namely, denying the three distinct persons in the Godhead, and affirming they were but three names. The Eutychians confounded both natures in Christ, denying any distinction of them. The Seleusians affirmed that he unclothed himself of his humanity when he ascended, and has no human body in heaven. The Nestorians so rent the two names of Christ asunder, as to make two distinct persons of them.
But ye, beloved, have not so learned Christ. Ye know he is,
- True and very God;
- True and very man; that,
- These two natures make but one person, being united inseparably;
- That they are not confounded or swallowed up one in another, but remain still distinct in the person of Christ.
Hold ye the sound words which cannot be condemned; Great things hang upon all these truths. O suffer not a stone to be loosed out of the foundation.
- Adore the love of the Father and the Son, who valued your souls so highly, and were willing to save you at such a cost.
The love of the Father is herein admirably conspicuous, who so vehemently willed our salvation, that he could degrade the beloved of his soul to so vile and contemptible a state.
And how astonishing is the love of Christ, that would make such a stoop as this to exalt us! Oh that you would get your hearts suitably impressed and affected with this love both of the Father and the Son! How is the courage of some noble Romans celebrated in history, for the brave adventures they made for the commonwealth; but they could never stoop as Christ did, being so infinitely below him in personal dignity.
- And here infinite wisdom has also left a famous and everlasting mark of itself which invites, yea, even chains the eyes of angels and men to itself. Had there been a. general council of angels to devise a way of recovering poor sinners, they would all have been at an everlasting demur and loss about it. It could not have entered their thoughts, (though they are most intelligent and sagacious,) that ever mercy, pardon, and grace, should find such a way as this to issue forth from the heart of God to the hearts of sinners. Oh, bow wisely is the method of our recovery laid! so that Christ may be well called “the power and wisdom of God,” I Cor. 1:24; forasmuch as in him the Divine wisdom is more glorified than in all the other works of God upon which he has impressed it.
- Hence also we infer the incomparable excellency of the Christian religion, that shows poor sinners such a sure foundation on which the trembling conscience may rest. While poor distressed souls look to themselves, they are perpetually in darkness. The cry of the distressed natural conscience is, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” Conscience sees God arming himself with wrath, to avenge himself for sin, and cries out, Oh, how shall I prevent him; if he would accept the fruit of my body (those dear pledges of nature) for the sin of my soul, he should have them! But now we see God coming down in flesh, and so intimately uniting our nature to himself, that it had properly no personal separate subsistence, but is united with the Divine person: hence it is easy to imagine what worth and value must be in that blood; and how eternal love, springing forth triumphantly from it, flourishes into pardon, grace, and peace. Here is a way in which the sinner may see justice and mercy kissing each other, and the latter exercised freely without prejudice to the former. All other consciences, through the world, lie either in a deep sleep in the devil’s arms, or else are rolling, sea-sick, upon the waves of their own fears and dismal presages. Oh, happy are they that have dropped anchor on this ground, and not only know they have peace, but why they have it.
- Of how great moment is it, that Christ should have union with our particular persons, as well as with our common nature! For, by this union with our nature alone, never any man was, or can be saved. Yea, let me add, that this union with our natures is utterly in vain to you, and will do you no good, except he have union with your persons by faith also. It is indeed infinite mercy that God is come so near you as to dwell in your flesh; and that he has fixed upon such an excellent method to save poor sinners. And has he done all this? Is he indeed come home, even to your own doors, to seek peace? Does he veil his insupportable glory under flesh, that he may treat the more familiarly? and yet do you refuse him, and shut your heart against him? Then bear one word, and let thine ears tingle at the sound of it: thy sin is thereby aggravated beyond the sin of devils, who never sinned against a mediator in their own nature; who never despised, or refused, because, indeed, they were never offered terms of mercy, as you are. And I doubt not but the devils themselves, who now tempt you to reject, will, to all eternity, upbraid your folly for rejecting this great salvation, which in this excellent way is brought down even to your own doors.
- If Jesus Christ has assumed our nature, then be is sensibly touched with the infirmities that attend it, and so hath pity and compassion for us under all our burdens. And indeed this was one end of his assuming it, that he might be able to have compassion on us: “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.” Heb. 2:17,18. Oh what a comfort is this to us, that he who is our High Priest in heaven, has our nature to enable him to take compassion on us !
- Hence we see to what a height God intends to build up the happiness of man, in that he hath laid the foundation thereof so deep, in the incarnation of his Son. They that intend to build high, lay the foundation law. The happiness and glory of our bodies, as well as our souls, are founded in Christ’s taking our flesh upon him; for therein, as in a model or pattern, God intended to show what in time he resolves to make of our bodies; for he will transform our vile bodies, and make them one day conformable to the glorious body of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3:21. This flesh was therefore assumed by Christ, that in it might be shown, as in a pattern, how God intends to honor and exalt it. And, indeed, a greater honor cannot be done to the nature of man than what is already done by this grace of union; nor are our persons capable of higher glory than what consists in their conformity to this glorious Head.
- How wonderful a comfort is it, that he who dwells in our flesh is God! What joy may not a poor believer make out of this! God and man in one person! Oh! thrice happy conjunction! As man, he is full of experimental sense of our infirmities, wants, and burdens; and, as God, he can support and supply them all. The aspect of faith upon this wonderful Person, how relieving, how reviving, how abundantly satisfying is it! God will, never divorce the believing soul and its comfort; after he hath married our nature to his own Son, by the hypostatical, and our persons also, by the blessed mystical union.
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