Page images

was under the curse equally with any of our race, and the nature which she transmitted to her offspring must be under it also. This curse which sin had brought in upon the world, could be removed in no other way than by the Son of God's coming into the very region which was withered and oppressed by it, and there fulfilling to the uttermost the holy will of God. The Deliverer must go into the prison-house where the captives were held in bondage, and be Himself a prisoner, taking the common fare, and submitting to the common burden, that he might justify the Father in inflicting such a doom for sin, and that by His own escape He might open the door for his brethren. The righteousness of God in all His dealings with man could not be vindicated, and man be saved, save by a life of spotless obedience in the very nature in which He had been dishonored, and then by yielding it unto death as an expiation of the sin which had been done in it. Holiness in fallen manhood exposed to every fleshly and worldly temptation, and every assault of Satan, must testify that all God's requirements are right and good. And the willing surrender of it to crucifixion, when it had been constrained to fulfill God's holy will in all things, must show that it was a righteous thing that man be doomed to death for sin. The humanity of Christ must, therefore, have been part and parcel of the common humanity -the one nature which was created in Adam, and fell through his sin-and the greatness and glory of His work lay in this, that in Him it was ever holy. There are two poles to the great truth of the Incarnation-the perfect sinlessness of the Lord, and his oneness with us in all our fallen conditions of temptation, conflict, and suffering. Take away the latter, and His human life becomes a phantasm yielding no example to us, and His resurrection contains in it no pledge of ours; take away the former, and redemption is a failure, and the Son of God is covered with everlasting shame. The following sentence from Gregory of Nyssa contains the whole truth in a nutshell: Christum ideo carnem assumpsisse ut totam per primitias massam sanctificaret. ("That Christ so assumed flesh, that by a first fruits He might sanctify the whole mass ").

In the Preface to his "Sermons on the Incarnation," Mr. Irving thus states the question:

"The point at issue is simply this: Whether Christ's flesh' (meaning by it Ilis entire humanity) 'had the grace of sinlessness and incorruption from its proper nature, or from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.' I say the latter. I assert, that in its proper nature it was the flesh of His mother, but by virtue of the Holy Ghost's quickening and inhabiting of it, it was preserved sinless and incorruptible. This work of the Holy Ghost, I further assert, was done in consequence of the Son's humbling Himself to be made flesh.' The Son said, 'I come!' The Father said, 'I prepare thee a body to come in,' and the Holy Ghost prepared that body out of the Virgin's substance. And so, by the threefold acting of the Trinity, was the Christ constituted a Divine and a human nature, joined in personal union forever. This I hold to have been the orthodox faith of the Christian Church in all ages; it is the doctrine of the Scottish Church, expressed in these words of the Twenty-first Article: As the eternal Godhead hath given to the flesh of Christ Jesus, which of its own nature was mortal and corruptible, life and immortality,' &c. With all this I hold the human will of Christ to have been perfectly holy, and to have acted, spoken, or wished nothing but in perfect harmony with the will of the Godhead; which, to distinguish it from the creature will, He calleth the will of the Father; for that there were two wills in Christ, the one the absolute will of the Godhead, the other the limited will of the manhood, the Church hath ever maintained as resolutely as that there were two natures. .... All Divinity, all Divine operation, all God's purpose from the beginning to the ending of time, and throughout eternal ages, resteth upon this one truth, that every acting of the human nature of Christ was responsive to, and harmonious with, the actings of the Divine will of the Godhead. What a calumny it is then, what a hideous lie, to represent us as making Christ unholy and sinful, because we maintain that He took His humanity completely and wholely from the substance, from the sinful substance, of the fallen creatures which he came to redeem! He was passive to every sinful suggestion which the world through the flesh can hand up unto the will; He was liable to every sinful suggestion which Satan through the mind can hand up unto the will; and with all such suggestions and temptations I believe Him beyond all others to have been assailed, but further went they not. He gave them no inlet, He went not to seek them, He gave them no quarter, but with power Divine rejected and repulsed them all; and so, from His conception unto his resurrection, His whole life was a series of active triumphings over sin in the flesh, Satan in the world, and spiritual wickednesses in high places." "

We will give one more passage from the same sermons, as unfolding the truth of His humanity more fully, and also because it contains one of the expressions which were liable to perversion:

"Did I not say that I believed the Son of Man was proved and tried with all the proofs and trials which my human nature, and the human nature of every one hear

ing me, is or hath been tried withal? I should have said that He was tried with every trial with which it is possible for human nature to be tried by the putting forth of all the subtlety and power of Satan. For how were He able to succor all them that have been, that are, or that shall be tempted, if He had not undergone the sum and substance of all possible temptation? Therefore is it most true that He bore our sicknesses and carried our sins; that 'He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.'

Behold, then, the Son of Man compressing within the short period of His prophetic office the sum total of all mankind's liability to be tempted unto sin; conceive every variety of human passion, every variety of human affection, every variety of human error, every variety of human wickedness, which hath ever been realized, or is 'possible to be realized, inherent in the humanity, and combined against the holiness of Him who was not only a man, but the son of man, the heir of all the infirmities which man entaileth upon his children, which He took freely upon Him all to bear; and, bearing all, to annihilate all, and to bring in a righteousness universal as the fall or the temptation was universal, and then you shall have an idea of the Son of Man's oppression and load."

Taken by themselves, the words "inherent in the humanity" might be plausibly interpreted to mean that sin pertained to the person of the Lord, or that His human nature was actually defiled; but taken in their connection, and interpreted in harmony with the entire scope of his writings, they mean only this, that in the humanity which He took all evil dwelt, but that in Him it was ever without sin. His Incarnation brought Him into the region of temptation sorer than any other man was ever assailed by, but within it nothing but holiness ever flowed from Him.

There are many passages of great beauty and exquisite tenderness in which he sets forth the work of Jesus in our nature, and the ties of love which do thereby bind Him to all men, but especially to His Church. No theologian or preacher has more magnified the humiliation and the victory of the Son of God, or portrayed in more lofty strains the glory into which he has lifted the company of the redeemed. As his works are almost inaccessible to American readers, we shall be pardoned if we give a few extracts, which we are sure will strike the chord of sympathy in every Christian heart. In the same "Sermons on the Incarnation," when speaking of Christ as taking the place of the Law, he says:

"The Church hath been so spoiled in its tenderer and nobler parts, by the continual and exclusive doctrine of debt and payment, of barter and exchange; of

suffering for suffering, of clearing the account, of setting things straight with God, that she hath lost the relish for discourse of the brotherly covenant, of the spousal relation, of the consubstantial union betwixt her and the Lord Jesus. She hath lost relish for high discourse concerning the mystery of His person as God-man; the beauty, the grace, the excellency of that constitution of being which He possessed. Strong as the strongest, even of Almighty strength; weak as the weakest-of all infirmities conscious; holy as the holiest, the only holy thing, yet consubstantial with the sinful creatures, sinful in His substance as they, tempted as they, liable to fall as they. The Church likewise, by this profitand-loss theology, by this divinity of the exchange, hath come to lose the relish of that most noble discourse, which treateth of the grandeur and the glory of the risen Christ wielding the sceptre of the heavens, yet, from Ilis peerless height of place, consenting to cast His eye perpetually upon the poorest, the meanest, the most deeply tried and overwhelmed of all His people.

"It is the Spirit of Christ, of the risen Christ, which we receive. Not until He ascended upon high did Christ receive the Spirit to bestow it upon His Church. It is therefore the Spirit of the risen Christ, the triumphant Christ, Christ the vanquisher of sin and death, which we receive;—a distinct person of the blessed Trinity, condescending from the absoluteness of his Divinity, to carry on the communication between Christ and His people; a communication not made by words merely, but by regeneration and the quickening of a new life, in all things consentaneous unto, and defined by, and identical with, the life of Christ. As my natural life is instinct with all Adam's fallen propensities, so is my renewed life instinct with all Christ's risen glories. With the communication of life, therefore, kindred life unto his own, warm, congenial life; with the inspiration of all divine, pure, and holy affection, with a new heart, with a right mind; with power from on high, power which sweetly and gently condescendeth to all our weaknesses and infirmities, in order to strengthen them, and make us more than conquerors over all our enemies; with gentle love, which whispereth peace unto our troubled souls, and biddeth its waves to be still; with wisdom from above which counseleth our ignorance and our folly, and represseth all our wayward violence; with good government and righteous lordship, which doth reprove, rebuke, restrain, chastise and restore us to the paths of righteousness; with these, the forms of redeemed manhood, with these, the tender respects unto our frailty, and healing treatment of our diseases, and restoration of our health, and renewal of our being after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, doth the Holy Ghost, as the Spirit of Christ, come forth from the risen God-man, to cherish, to revive, to comfort, and to establish the peace, joy and blessedness of His spouse upon the earth, and to carry on that excellent work of gaining her love, that He may teach her to be dutiful and obedient unto the will of His Father. We say that Christ-first in fallen yet sinless manhood, and next in fallen manhood redeemed and risen-doth indeed accomplish a perfect work of winning the heart, taking the admiration, possessing the confidence, and occupying all the soul of those whom the Father hath given to Him for an inheritance; those whom the Spirit cleanseth and clotheth, to be unto Him for a chaste and holy spouse."

It was in such labors as these that the years from 1824 to 1830 passed away. It was a period of intense activity, in which he was leading his flock into deeper and more comprehensive views of Christian doctrine, and growing with them in spiritual life and strength. The number of communicants constantly increased, and the work of conversion proceeded side by side with the enlargement of knowledge and insight. His preaching was far enough from being after the "Revival school," but God blessed it greatly to the awakening and salvation of sinners, as well as to the edification and comfort of believers. What he strove with his whole heart and mind to do, was to bring forth the truth in its fullness-not the least possible portion by which a soul can be saved, but all that God has revealed the truth as it is in Jesus-that vast and majestic system of doctrine which has Him for its centre and its life. He would not hide one jot .or one tittle of it for the pleasing of men, nor confine his preaching to a few rudimentary truths for the sake of producing a superficial impression upon greater multitudes; but he gave himself to the work of interpretation and exposition in its widest reach, believing with Paul that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." We commend the following from the Preface to his "Lectures on the Parable of the Sower," to our young ministers, as an encouragement to them to give themselves more to Expository preaching:

"As a Minister of the Word of God, I can bear testimony to the great ad vantage of diligently following this method of handling Divine truth. . . Leanness and barrenness of preaching; restriction of the Gospel to one or two doctrines, and those poorly demonstrated and ineffectually applied; mannerism and Methodism have been the consequence of departing from this truly Protestant custom of drawing the water fresh from the wells of salvation, and serving it out to the people without any interposition of our own cisterns, and with as little coloring as possible of our own minds. And as a Pastor, I can bear testimony that it hath availed to carry a flock almost chance-gathered, out of those most superficial views of religion which are held at this day to be sufficient, into the greatest depths of doctrine into which it hath pleased God to conduct my own mind, both with respect to the old things which the Reformation made good against the Papacy, and with respect to the new things which the Church is now called to make good against the errors which prevail with respect to the kingdom and personal Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ."

« PreviousContinue »