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WHAT WAS THE GREAT QUESTION CONCERNING JESUS CHRIST, AFTER HE ENTERED HIS PUBLICK MINISTRY ON EARTH?
A variety of publications have appeared, insisting that Jesus Christ, in his highest nature, is literally the Son of God, as much as was Isaac the son of Abraham,-or Seth the son of Adam. Το prove this proposition, the testimonies of Christ that he was the Son of God, and the questions and confessions of others in relation to the same point, in the first Christian age, are in these books adduced as direct in point, to prove such a literal derivation of Christ from God.
To ascertain whether there be any weight in such proof, we have first to ascertain what was the question concerning Jesus Christ, when he was on earth, and in the apostolic age.
We read of Christ's being "declared to be the Son of God with power,-by his resurrection from the dead." Here is one decision of the great question of that day; and it is, that Christ was the Son of God. No doubt this implies all the great truths involved in his mediatorial name and character. But it looks more immediately at one point, which is now to be ascertained. This point was the great question of that day concerning him. And what was this? Was it, whether Christ's
highest nature was actually derived from God, as a son from a father, and thus began to exist, and is totally dependent? Or was this the great question concerning Christ? Was Jesus of Nazareth the true Messiah? Or was he an impostor?
Do we find at that day any such question as the following? In what sense is the promised Messiah the Son of God? What is the mode of his divine existence? Was his Divinity derived? Or was it underived? Is it dependent? Or is it independent? Is it eternal? Or had it a beginning?
Was not this the great question of that day? Was he, who was born of Mary, and who was reputed to be the carpenter's son, who preached and wrought miracles, was rejected by the Jews, as an impostor; but was received by many, as the Messiah; was this the Saviour of the world? Was he indeed that wonderful person, so long foretold, and promised under various titles; and among the rest, was to be known as the Son of God? Or was he an impostor?
Let this question be decided, and we at once determine what was the most literal sense of the texts, which speak of Christ's being declared to be the Son of God; of man's believing, or disbelieving that Jesus was the Son of God. If the great question was not concerning a literal Sonship of the Divinity of the Messiah; but concerning the Messiabship of Jesus of Nazareth; then what was said, at that period, concerning his being the Son of God, decides nothing relative to their views of the ground of his Sonship; or of a literal derivation of his Divinity from God, as from a father.
But this was the great point of contest at that day; Is this Jesus of Nazareth the Christ of God? The Jews denied; Jesus affirmed; and his mira
cles, doctrines, life, death, resurrection, and ascension to glory, all united to evince the truth of his affirmation. When they asked Christ, "Art thou the Son of God? and he said, I am;" this was the meaning; Art thou the promised Messiah? and he said, I am.
John the Baptist from the prison proposed the very question of that day: "Art thou he, that should come? Or do we look for another ?" The woman of Samaria says, "Come see a man, that told me all that ever I did: Is not this the Christ?" Let the Jews themselves decide this point. "Then came the Jews round about him, and said unte him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." And the Jews had agreed, that if any did confess him to be Christ, they should be put out of the synagogue. The high priest said to Christ, "I adjure thee, by the living God, that thou tell us, whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." Christ said to his disciples, "But whom do ye say that I am? And Peter answereth--Thou art the Christ.". No question relative to a literal Sonship of Christ's Divinity appears to be contained in these testimonies. But the question then in agitation was, relative to his being the Christ, and not an impostor. In Math. xvi. 20, the disciples were exhorted to "tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ." It was because Jesus laid claim to this high character, that the high priest rent his clothes, in pretence of horror at the blasphemy; and not from any idea that Christ asserted a literal Sonship of his Divinity. The Jewish rulers said, and were vexed, that Christ's claim "made himself equal with God." And again; "Because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." Christ told them, "If ye believe not that I am he (the true Messiah) ye shall
die in your sins." He did not mean, if ye believe not that I am a derived, dependant being, ye shall die in your sins: But, if ye believe not that I am the true Messiah, ye shall die in your sins. He said again; "If any man will do his will, he shall know the doctrine, whether it be of God; or whether I speak of myself." Did Christ mean, that such an one should know, at once, that his Divinity was derived? Or that he should know, that his doctrine was the doctrine of God? The latter, most certainly! As John xx. 31, "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."
Now therefore, when we read of Christ's being "declared to be the Son of God with power;" and of the confession of some of the primitive converts, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God;" we must conclude that the passages do not relate to a derivation of Christ's Divinity from God, as from a Father; but to the real Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth; and to there being salvation in him, and in him only. They relate to the same point, which Paul felt, when he was "pressed in spirit, and testified, that Jesus is the Christ." The evidence of this truth is ample. John says, "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God. Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God." Here was the great external criterion of that day. It was not to believe in a literal Sonship of Christ's Divinity; but to believe, that Christ had come in the flesh; or to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah; in opposition to the clamours of Jews and infidels, that Jesus was an impostor. The proper manifestation of this belief at that day, was far more unpopular and dan
gerous, than is the support of any point of Christian doctrine, at this period. Hence, duly to maintain that profession, at that day, was viewed as the best external evidence of a gracious state. Accordingly, the same apostle says again, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God."
But when I remark, that a derivation of Christ's Divinity from God, as a son from a father, does not appear to have been any question at the commencement of the gospel day; but that the point in debate was, whether Jesus was the true Messiah? I do not mean to suggest, that this point, whether he was, or was not really God, was a matter of any degree of indifference; or was not understood and decided. I do not mean to admit, that the Arian, or Socinian, may receive any degree of countenance from the views of the people of that day. For this I do not believe. When the people were then taught, that Jesus was the Christ, the reference was immediately had to the Old Testament, to decide who the Christ was, as to his being and character. And this, in the question of that day, (whether Jesus was the Christ,) appears to have been taken as a point decided, that Christ was included in the true and living God. This appears to have been the case, from the remarks of the Jews, that his claiming to be the Messiah, was "making himself God;" also from the testimony of Thomas, when convinced of his Messiahship," My Lord, and my God!" and from the tenor of the Old Testament language concerning the Messiah; as I shall have occasion to shov I see no room to doubt, that the general opinion at that day concerning the Messiah, was, that he is the "Mighty God; the Everlasting Father; the Jehovah of Hosts; the I AM; one with God; and really God. For they