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UPON THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST.
MATTHEW xxii, 42.
What think ye of Christ; whose son is he.
THE Jews had the scriptures of the Old Testament; and the scribes, and pharisees, were the public teachers of religion. Very incorrect ideas had these teachers of the subject which they undertook to explain; as may be seen by all competent judges. When one question leads to another, and when there is an intimate connection between the two, he is not prepared to answer the first, who has no reply to make to the second.
Were not the question contained in the text an important one, though many seem to think it immaterial how they reply to it, Christ would not have proposed it to the pharisees; and had their answer been pertinent, and sufficient; he would not have proposed his second question, to which they could find nothing to say.
Having all the information with regard to this matter which the pharisees possessed and much in addition, it becomes us to improve from their error, that we may be prepared to meet the difficulty which, to them was insurmountable, and which put them to silence. The scriptures must be our guide, and while we follow them depending upon their divine Author to discover to us the truth, we shall not be in danger of going astray.
Though many entertain the opinion of the pharisees, and of the Jews, generally, that Christ was merely a man, nothing in the scriptures is plainer than, that he had an exist
ence before he appeared in this world; and the pharisees were puzzled, and put to shame, by having a single passage brought up to them, in which David in his days spoke of Christ, and called him his Lord. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, and referring them to the misconduct of the Israelites in the wilderness, and to the judgments which they procured for themselves, says, Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. The affair alluded to by the Apostle, took place more than fourteen hundred years before the birth of Christ. How then could the Israelites tempt him, unless he had an existence antecedently to his appearing in the manger at Bethlehem? Were it recorded that the same people, at the same time persecuted, and put to death the apostles, the absurdity, and falsehood, of the record, would be very apparent, for every one can see, that the apostles could not be persecuted, and put to death before they were born.
Christ is undoubtedly the angel of the Lord who in former times communicated with many of whom we have an account, for he used language which would have been very unbecoming for any created angel; language suitable, only upon the supposition, that he who was sent, was equal to him that sent him. A passage in the thirty-second chapter of Genesis evidently relates to Jesus Christ. On his return from Padan Aram to the land of his nativity, Jacob, being alone, was met at a place which he called Peniel, by one in the form of a man, who wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. He who is here spoken of as a man, is likewise described as God; and Jacob, sensible that he was God, importunately craved his blessing and obtained it. But no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father he hath declared him. Hosea, referring to this appearance of God in the form of a man, says, Jacob had power over the angel, and prevailed. We can have no doubt who it was that appeared to Jacob, if we credit what is written of him. In various other passages Christ is spoken of as the angel of the Lord, for no one beside can be intended.
The one whom Nebuchadnezzar saw in the midst of the burning fiery furnace, in company with the three persons cast by his order into that dreadful place, with the intention of destroying them, whatever might be his ideas of him, must have been Jesus Christ, since he describes him as like to the Son of God. What we find in the writings of several of the prophets, is to be referred to the same glorious person who manifested himself to them to instruct and direct them in their business. St. John informs us, that the Word was in the beginning; and by saying that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, he puts it beyond all dispute, that what he says of the Word, is to be understood of Christ. When Christ declared, I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again I leave the world, and go to the Father, it was so evident to his disciples, that he spoke of an existence which he had before he was born of Mary, that they said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb, by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. We are told, that Christ took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and we have abundant proof, upon the very face of the passage in which we get the information, that he had a being before he was thus manifested. If Christ was ever rich, and became poor, and we are assured of this change in his condition, he must have been rich in some other world, for here he was poor from his birth to his death.
Those persons who are disposed to answer the question in the text as the pharisees answered it, ought to consider what fair construction they can put upon the many passages of the scriptures which relate to this point. Ingenious attempts have been made to set aside the obvious meaning of those scriptures which militate against the simple humanity of Christ; but such attempts serve only to show what influence the heart can have over the understanding.
If it is of consequence to know whether Christ existed before he was seen in our world, it is of no less consequence to be made acquainted with the character which he sustained while here; and whether those attributes which belong to God were possessed by him. Omnipresence is
unquestionably an attribute which distinguishes God from all his creatures of every rank, for no creature can be every where, nor in more than one place, at one time. The angel Gabriel was not present with Daniel when he began his prayer; but was caused to leave his place in heaven, and fly swiftly, that he might communicate to him the message which he had to deliver. But from the mouth of Christ himself we learn that he is present in all places. Let us attend to some of his declarations. And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the son of man which is in heaven. It appears from this language, that while he was on earth, he was also in heaven. In addressing his disciples he said, For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. There may be a vast number of such little collections in the world, and here is an assurance that Christ is present with them all. When our Lord, having given directions to his apostles, was about to depart from them, he said for their consolation, and for the consolation of all who should succeed them, with right views, in the work of the ministry; Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
No one but God can have a knowledge of all things, for he says, I the Lord search the heart. But we find Christ possessed of this knowledge. He did not commit himself to the Jews, when in consequence of his miracles, many believed in his name, because he knew all men, And needed not, that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man. Simon Peter, when the question was put to him the third time by his master, whom he had three times denied, Lovest thou me, answered, Lord thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee. No terms can be found stronger than those here used, to describe omniscience. Here is the substance of a syllogism, without the form. Considering the knowledge of Christ as extending to every thing, however great or small. Peter inferred, with certainty, that he must be thoroughly acquainted with his particular case. In the conversation which Christ had with men of various descriptions while he was here upon earth, he adapted his questions and an
swers, in many instances, not so much to what others said to him, as to the thoughts which they attempted to conceal. When complying with the invitation of Simon the pharisee, he partook of an entertainment in his house, he appears to have been treated with all external courtesy and respect, and he stated the case of the two debtors, who owed, the one five hundred pence, and the other fifty, not because of any thing which Simon had said against him, or against the woman, who manifested her humility, affection and gratitude, in so extraordinary a way, but because he spoke within himself what he chose not to utter, or indulged thoughts wicked, and derogatory, to the penitent woman, and to the gracious Lord to whom she was endeavoring to do honor. The reply which Christ made to Nicodemus seems to have but little, if any connection, with the address of the Jewish ruler to him; but it accords exactly to the state of his mind, and respects a subject of infinite importance, concerning which he had at that time no ideas. Does it not appear that Christ as distinctly understood the views of Nicodemus, and the foundation upon which he rested his hope, as he did the terms which he employed in his conversation with him? Since Christ is to be the judge of the quick and the dead; since all mankind, of every age, and condition, as well as the angels, will receive from him a righteous sentence, his knowledge must be perfect, as to every character and thing; for the least deficiency would entirely disqualify him for this business.
One passage of scripture has been cited and urged to support an opinion against his omniscience. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven; neither the Son; but the Father. If the omniscience of Christ is asserted in other passages of scripture, it cannot be that it is denied in this passage; and there must be some way of reconciling what is here said with what is said in other passages; whether we can point out the way or not. The names of very respectable expositors might be mentioned, whose opinion is, that in this place Christ is speaking of his human nature, and, that we are to understand him as declaring that as a man, he did not know the precise time when the things of which he