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eth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us :" — '^^ What sliall we say, then, to these
things ? If God be for us, who can be against us ? He that
spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,
how shall he not, with him, also freely give us all things ?"
— " God is love. Herein was manifested the love of God
toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Sou
into the world, that we might live through him. Herein
is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and
sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."*

If Jesus Christ was merely a human prophet, commis-
sioned to teach mankind the will of God ; on what princi-
ple of interpretation are we to explain such language as
this ? — It is language peculiar to this one subject ; una-
lienably appropriated to the Son of God. There had been
before him, and there were after him, " holy men of God,
who spake as they w ere moved by the Holy Ghost." But
to no prophet, or inspired teacher, eitlier in Old or New
Testament times, do we ever find language applied, in the
remotest degree analogous to this. — Why is this the case?
The gratitude due to God for the instructions of his com.
* Jphn iii. 16. Rom. v. 8. viii. 31, 32. 1 John iv. 8— 40»


missioned teachers must be in proportion to the importance
of their respective messages ; or, supposing their message
to be substantially the same, to the clearness and fulness
with uhich it is delivered. If Jesus Christ is to be viewed
in this simple light, as ^' a teaclicr sent from God ;" if his
life was only an example, and his death a confirmation of
his testimony ; where shall we discover that unparalleled
peculiarity of love, and whence derive that incomparably
superior obligation, which the passages quoted so strongly
express ? — There cannot be a question, that the will of
God was more clearly and fully developed by the apostles,
after the day of Pentecost, than it liad been by Jesus him-
self, during his life upon earth. Yet, when do we find
any language like that wliich is used respecting him, ap -
plied to Peter or Paul ? — although they also proved their
sincerity, and sealed their testimony, with their blood ? —
Why is Jesus Christ characterized as God's uuiijieakable
gift ? Why is the love displayed in i]ds gift, the pledge
and assurance of every other blessing ? — a pledge so pre-
cious, an assurance so decisive, as to convert into a con-
tradiction in terms, the very supposition tliat any other
possible good should ever be withheld ? — Why is it thus
exhibited, as without parallel or comparison, not only
among the creatures of God, but in the whole conduct of
God himself? — Indeed, my brethren, the supposition of
Jesus Christ being a man only, like ourselves, — a mere
human prophet, so reduces, and neutralizes the meaning
of the expressions whicli liavc been quoted, — so totally
annihilates their spirit, and beauty, and propriety ; that I
trust yoji will be disposed to say along with me, with all
the emphasis of conviction, It cannot be true.

11. TIjc same remark is applicable, with at least equal
force, to the representations which are given, in the New
Testament, of the astonishing condescension and love of
the Ijord Jesus Christ himself


'^ Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that
though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor ; that
ye, through his poverty, might be rich !"* On repeating
these words, we naturally and instantly ask, wJien was
he rich as a man P — When he was born in the stable,
and laid in the manger ? When he said, " the foxes
have holes, and the birds of the air have nests ; but the
Son of man hath not where to lay his head ?'^ At what
time was he rich ? and when, and how, did he become
poor ? The answer of our opponents to these questions is,
He never became poor : — the original word does not de-
note his passing from an antecedent state of opulence to a
subsequent state of poverty ; but his living in poverty,
although he was, at the same time rich : — ^^ Wliile he ivas
rich, yet, for your sakes, he lived in poverty. ^^j If, for a
moment overlooking the criticism, you inquire, — how was
this ? How was it, that, although rich, he lived a life of
poverty ? — the reply is — " He teas rich in miraculous
powers, which it ivas at his option to employ for his own
henefit.^^X — " Miraculous powers, which it was at his op-
tion to employ for liis own benefit." — What a strange sup-
position is this ! What ! a prophet of the Most High, with
miraculous, that is, with almighty power, at his own dis-
posal, to use, as he may incline, for promoting his own
wealth, and honour, and aggrandizement ! Divine power
transferred to a creature ! subjected to the will and plea-
sure of a mere man — a '' fallible and peccable man,'^§ —
" a man in all respects like other men, except in being se -

* 2 Cor. viii. 9.

t See Improved Version of the New Testament.

t^ Belsham's Calm Inquiry, page 126. The words of the Editors
of the Improved Version are to the same effect : " Our Lord was rich
in miraculous powers, which he could employ, if he pleased, to hi.c
own advantage." Note on the text:

§- Priestley.

4j8 on the supreme divinitv

lectetl by Divine wisdom to be the messenger of truth and

mercy to mankind!'"* Such transference of Divine

power, I would, in tlie first place, remark, is a natural im-
possibility. The might which effects the miracle resides
in God alone. It never can belong to the creature. And
residing, as it must, in God alone, it can never be exerted
to gratify the will of a creature, who would pervert it to
a selfish purpose, or to any pui-pose different from that
which he is commissioned to accomplisli, and for the ac-
complishment and vindication of which alone, the interpo-
sition of tlie power is pledged. The contrary supposition
is pregnant witli consequences tlie most serious and fatal.
It destroys the certainty of the evidence of miracles ; and
thus subverts one of the main pillars on which the truth
of Christianity rests. For, if miraculous poM er was en-
tirely a (liscretionarif power, lodged in the hands and plac-
ed at the will of its possessor, to be used for any purpose
he pleased ; — then, what security have we, that it has, in
every instance, been used agreeably to tiie design for ^^ liich
it was bestowed ? — always in support of truth, and never
of error ? — always for the accomjdishment of Divine, and
never of selfish ends ? — The very expression, that it was
" at his option'- how he should employ this power, — at the
option of a man like ourselves, subject to tlie perverting
influence of human infirmities and human passions, — sup-
poses the possibilily of the one, as well as of the otiier :
and thus a miracle, however fully ascertained, ceases to be
a conclusive evidence of truth, or a certain indication of
the Divine will. — I satisfy myself with this observation for
the present. If the jirinciple be wrong on which the in-
terpretation of our opponents is founded, the interpretation
itself cannot ])e right. The text m ill come into notice
again. — Meantime, consider, liow full it is of beauty and
of force, when referred to Ilini, who^ although rich as the
* Bekhain.


great Creator and sovereign Proprietor of the universe, be-
came poor in the assumption of our nature, making no use,
in that nature, of those riches which were all his own, but
*^ humbling himself, and becoming obedient unto death,
even the death of the cross !" — This is grace indeed ! —
Grace that shall be the theme, the worthy theme, of ever-
lasting song !

Further : on the hypothesis of our opponents, what shall
we make of the following language ? Paul, in praying for
the Ephesian believers, expresses himself thus : — " That
Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith ; that ye, being
rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend,
with all saints, Avhat is the breadth, and length, and dejdth,
and height, and to Icnow the love of Christ which passeth
knowledge /''* — What, I say, are we to make of this ?
If Jesus Christ was a mere human prophet, who, having
fulfilled his prophetic commission, attested the truth of it
by his death ; — where is this marvellous, this unexampled
love ? — this love of which the limits cannot be measured ?
— which has a height and depth, a breadth and length,
exceeding all comprehension ? — Differences there may be
between this man and other men — between this prophet
and other prophets ; but no differences can there be, of suf-
ficient magnitude to justify such expressions as these. On
the supposition in question, this language is entirely out .
of nature : — we cannot go along with it : — it violates eve-
ry sentiment of propriety : — it is the mere rhapsody of ad-
miration ; the unmeaning bombast of eulogy.

III. With this last observation is closely connected, the
depth of interest, the warmth of admiring transport, and
adoring gratitude, with which the contemplation of this
subject inspired the hearts of the J^ew Testament writers.
— The thought of the love of Christ, and of the love of
God in Christ, as displayed in the humiliation and suffer-
* Ephes. iii. 17 — 19.



ings of the Saviour, sets their hearts on fire. The very
mention of it, even an incidental allusion to it, carries
away their feelings, and fills them with the loftiest, the
suhlimest emotions ; with "joy unspeakahlc, and full of
glory.'' " What shall we, then, say to these things ? If
God be for us, who can he against us ? He that spared
not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall
he not, with him, also freely give us all things? Who
shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect ? Shall
God who justifieth? AVho is he that condemneth ? Shall
Christ who died, yea rather, who is risen again, who is
even at the right hand of God, who also maketh interces-
sion for us? Who shall separate us from the love of
Christ ? Shall tribulation, or distress^ or persecution, or
famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ? (as it is written,
for thy sake Ave are killed all the day long ; we are count-
ed as sheep for the slaughter :) Nay, in all these things
we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life ; nor an-
gels, nor principalities, nor powers ; nor things present,
nor things to come ; nor height, nor depth, nor any other
creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord !"* Whence these
glowing transports ? Whence this celestial elevation of
spirit ? Why does the thought of " Christ crucified,'' an-
imate the souls of these writers with such exulting triumph,
and bind them to their Saviour and Lord, with such fer-
vent and resolute attachment ? " What things were gain
to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless,
and 1 count all things but loss, for the excellency of the
knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord : for whom I have
sufl'ered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung,
that I may win Christ, and be found in him !"t Take
away the view of his condescension and grace apparent
* Rom. viii. 31—39. t Pliil. iii. 7—9.


in his assuming our nature, to suffer and die for the re-
demption of the lost ; and such transports become mere
passion, without reason. But admit this view ; and all is
natural : — the cause is adequate to the eifect ; the effect
fully justified by the transcendent grandeur of the cause.

IV. Another of those general considerations to which I
solicit your attention is, the account given in the JSTew
Testament qfthe exaltation of Jesus, at the right hand of
God. — This exaltation is represented as the consequence,
and the reward, of his finished work. Let one passage
suffice, as a description of its glory : — " He raised him
from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, in the
heavenly places ; far above all principality and power,
and might, and dominion, and every name that is named,
not only in this world, but also in that which is to come ;
and hath put all things under his feet : and gave him to
be the head over all things to the Church, wliich is his
body, the fulness of him who filleth all in all."* The na-
ture of this delegated power, with the ground and priuci-
pie of its delegation, we shall have occasion afterwards to
illustrate ; and to show that the exercise of it necessarily
implies the possession of Divine perfections. The ques-
tion which I wish to impress upon your minds at present,
is this : — If Jesus Christ was a mere human prophet, who
was sent to teach the will of God, and who fell a martyr
to the truth ; why this strange distinction ? Wliy is this
prophet thus singled out, and invested with glory, above
the highest archangel ; and with all po\(^er and authority
in heaven and in earth ? That he might be superior, even
eminently superior, although a mere man, to other pro,
phets, and servants of Jehovah, we can very readily con-
ceive. But is not the height of glory, on this supposi-
tion, out of all proportion to the superiority of the service?
Do we not feel, as if Isaiah, and Peter, and Paul, were
kept too low ? They thouglit not so : theij felt not so. But

* Eph. i. 30—23.


Avhy? Because they viewed him, wlio was the great sub-
ject of their predictions and of their testimony, as, in per-
sonal dignity, and in important commission, infinitely their
superior ; one to whose condescension and grace, they
were themselves infinitely indebted :— and whom they con-
sidered it as their highest honour to serve, and to cele-
brate. The following words, before alluded to, assign the
true cause, and it is an all-sufficient and satisfying one, of
the height of glory and honour, dominion and power, to
"ivhich Jesus is raised : — " Who, being in the form of God,
thought it not robbery to be equal w ith God ; but made
himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a
servant, and was made in the likeness of men ; and, being
found in fashion as a man, hum])led himself, and became
obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Where-
roRE God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a
name which is above every name : that at tlie name of Je-
sus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things
in earth, and things under the earth ; and that every tongue
should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of
God the Father."* Here is the genuine reason, plainly
and explicitly stated ; and here, all is proportion and pro-
priety. It is right and suitable, tliat He who thus hum-
bled himself, should be thus exalted. It is right, that he
who stooped so low should be raised so higli : — that he
who assumed our nature in a low estate, sliould exliibit in
that nature his heavenly majesty : — that he who redeemed
men should reign over them : that he who " endured the
cross, despising the shame," sh(mld occupy the throne,
and be " crowned with glory and honour." All who
know and feel his grace, are disposed, with one heart and
one soul to sing : — " Unto him that loved us, and waslied
us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings
and priests unto God, even his Father — to him be glory
and dominion forever and ever. xVmen !" — '^Worthy is
•Phil. ii. 6— 11.


the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches,
and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and
blessing !"*

V. The last of these general considerations which I
shall mention, is the high claims of Jesus on the love and
obedience of his followers.

To all the prophets of God, the commissioned ambassa-
dors of Heaven, as to fellow- creatures, wlio have been the
instruments of much good to us, at the expense of much
self-denial and suffering to themselves, we certainly ought
to feel a warm and grateful attachment. But what mere
human prophet ever addressed the people to whom he was
sent, in such terms as the following ? " He that loveth
father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me : and
he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not wor-
thy of me : and he that taketh not his cross, and follow-
eth after me, is not worthy of me :" — " If any man come
to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and
children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life
also, he cannot be my disciple." — " If any man serve me,
let him folloAV me : and where I am, there sliall also my
servant be. If any man serve me, him will my Father
lionour.''t Who can this be, who advances claims so
high, on the love, and service, and obedience of his hear-
ers : — who, in terms so unqualified, appropriates their at-
tachment ; and is not afraid of dividing their hearts be-
tween himself and the Father that sent him ? — If the
speaker was indeed what we affirm him to have been, the
language is suitable to the person ; we are sensible of no
incongruity between them ; but are, on the contrary, awed
to silence by the dignified authority, and m on to compli-
ance by the mild benignity of his address. But if he was
a human propliet merely, on a level in nature with the dis-
ciples and the multitudes to whom he spoke, every feeling

- * Rev. i. 5. f). V. 13. t Mattli. x. 37, 38. Luke xiv. 26. John
xii. 36.


of fitness and propriety is outraged : the language has no
parallel in the history of the discharge of prophetic com-
missions : it is the language of unexampled presumption.
— Yet these high claims were felt and owned by his fol-
lowers to be just. Love to Christ became the grand mov-
ing spring of Christian activity : " The love of Christ con-
straineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for
all, then all died : and that he died for all, that they who
live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto
him who died for them, and rose again.''* Love to Christ
was a prominent and distinguishing feature of the Chris-
tian character : " Grace be with all them that love our
Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity !''t The want of this love
incurred a heavy curse : ^^ If any man love not our Lord
Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha !"J How
destitute of reason, I repeat, are such expressions, if Jesus
was a mere human prophet ! The obligation to such su-
preme love, with all its various expressions, we find it im-
possible, on this supposition, to bring ourselves to feel ;
either on account of what he is, or on account of what he
hath done. We must qualify the language, we must di-
lute its strength and pungency to such a degree, as to ren-
der it a most unnatural vehicle of the sentiment it was de-
signed to express, before we can bring it at all w ithin the
bounds of moderation and propriety. But view Jesus
Christ as Immanuel — God with us ; — the atoning Re-
deemer of a lost world : — and all is as it ought to be. The
strongest terms that can be selected, are not then too strong
to express bis claims on our attachment ; his title to the
entire surrender of our hearts and ])owers to his service :
nor is eternity itself too long to cele])rate his ])raise. The
contemplation of what he is, and of what he hath done,
disposes us, with all the ardour of a grateful and ador-
ing heart, to join in the song of heaven — a song, indeed,
in which all creation is represented as uniting : — " Bless-

* 3 Cor. V. 14, 15. t Eph. vi. 21. t 1 Cor. wt. 22.



My dear friends, if the subject of which I have been
speaking were a matter of mere abstract speculation, I
should reckon myself ill-employed in touching it in pub-
lic at all ; — far more so, in entering into any detailed dis-
cussion of it. Such themes as these become not him,
whose office calls him to

" negotiate between God and man,

-the high concerns

Of judgment and of mercy-

But feeling, as I do, my own hopes for eternity at stake,
with the doctrine whose truth it is my object to vindicate ;
and satisfied, that your hopes must rest on the same foun-
dation — (for if this be the right one, there is not another :)
— 1 cannot but feel it my duty, to press it upon your most
serious and earnest attention. — In next discourse, I intend,
if God shall give ability and opportunity to prosecute the
subject, to enter on the direct proofs, that the peculiar
Names, Attributes, Works, and Worship of the true
God, are distinctly ascribed in the Bible to Jesus Christ.
And all that I request of you, is a patient and candid hear-
ing ; and a seriousness becoming the high importance of
the point under discussion.

As to any practical improvement of what has been de-
livered in this discourse, I have only to say, (for it would
be quite unseasonable to enlarge,) that if the spirit of the
different Scripture quotations, expressive of Christian
principles and Christian feelings, in the latter part of the
discourse, be imbibed and cherished, and practically dis-
played — this will be, of all effects the most desirable ; the
most conducive to your happiness, and to the glory of God
our Saviour. May He graciously grant this effect, for
his narfte's sake ! Amen !
* Rer. V. 13.



1 John v. 20.
" his son jesus christ. this is the true god."

IlAviNt; called your attention, in last discourse, to
certain general, but to my mind highly interesting and
important views, of this momentous subject, I shall defer
recapitulation for the present, as it is my intention to give
a brief summary of tlie whole evidence, when I have
brought my illustration of it to a close : — and shall now
immediately proceed, agreeably to the method which I an-
nounced, to lay before you such direct proofs as appear to
me most conclusive, that the Names and Titles, the At-
tributes, the Works, and the Worship, belonging ex-
clusively to the true God, are expressly, and without qual-
ification, ascribed, in the Scriptures, to Jesus Christ.

This is a field so very extensive, that I should feel my-
self fullv justified, in devotins; to each of the four divisions
of it a distinct discourse. — It is not my design, however,
to enter thus minutely into detail. I mean not to bring
forward into prominent view every particular, which might
with propriety, be illustrated ; nor to adduce, on those
particulars which are brought forward, every text which
might fairly be adduced ; — nor even on the texts wliich
are adduced, to say all that might, without impropriety be
said. — AVith some of these texts, indeed, there are con-
nected certain minute critical discussions, which to a pop-
ular auditory could hardly be made dearly intelligible ;


and which could not, therefore, be introduced without
palpable impropriety, and without an appearance of ped-
antry, and of ostentatious display, such as we ought, on
all occasions, sedulously to avoid. Such discussions I
shall, therefore, as much as possible shun. — It is, besides,
my object, to abridge, and to concentrate, rather than to
present a full and extended view of the subject : — not to
collect all the scattered light that could possibly be brought
to bear upon it ; but to catch a few of the more powerful
and vivid rays, and to draw them into a focus ; — to present
the argument in a condensed, and, I would humbly hope,
also in a somewhat luminous point of view.

I. Let me begin, then, with the Names and Titles
peculiar to Deity.

And here, agreeably to the plan of selection which I
have prescribed to myself, I shall confine your attention
to the two most obvious and imporiant of these, — God, and

1. We argue, that Jesus Christ is called God, in the
absolute or unqualified sense of the name, in the following
among other passages of Scripture.

ist. The text itself. — I endeavoured in last discourse,
from a variety of considerations, to vindicate its applica-
tion to the immediate antecedent ; especially from the cir-
cumstance of the same jjersoii being so obviously denomi-
nated ^^ the true God and the Eternal Life,'^ when com-
pared with the designation so exclusively appropriated to
Jesus Christ, in the beginning of the epistle : — ^*' the Life
was manifested, and we have seen it, and show unto you
the Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was

Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 5 of 36)