We don’t believe in holy places or holy food or holy festivals, but there are buildings and rooms which have all the connotations of the presence and blessing of God about them, and Brynygroes, Bala, is one of those places to me, and I’m conscious of past personalities and their messages heard for almost forty years within these walls at the annual Ministers’ Conference which I would never want to forget, whom I would honour in what I say. They have been amongst the greatest Christians I have known. The church below and those whose rest is won continue to meet around Christ.
I always thought that this Conference was impossible to address, but that it was also easy to address.
a] Impossible because the standard by which we have to judge the messages is whether they are coming with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Was there a touch of the glory of God about them? Any lesser standard would not be Christian. And because that is ultimately a matter of God’s sovereignty it is impossible for any man, however smart, to guarantee the Spirit’s presence. It is only in the consciousness of our impotence that we can keep going. We speak, and look to the Spirit to help our infirmities. When we are weak then we are strong. Our sufficiency is of God alone.
b] It is also easy to speak here because there has always seemed to me an absence of a nit-picking mentality from Bala. The audience of Welsh fellow preachers is sympathetic. I’m sad when I suspect that no preparation has been made by the speaker, and that he is giving us warmed-up fare. I also react against an egotist, but respond to any mark of a lowly and humble spirit. I appreciative any originality and freshness, and desire, most of all, to be renewed in love for our Saviour.
So I have chosen to speak for these three sessions on “The Divine Glory of Christ.” I can’t think of a more helpful subject. That persuasion came to me months ago. “I will talk to them about Jesus,” I thought. There are other important subjects, the work and offices of Christ, God’s revelation in the Bible; personal conversion; the person and work of the Holy Spirit; the fellowship of God’s people in the church. But let me expand the reasons for this choice of the divine glory of Christ in a number of ways:-
1. There can be no more captivating and enthralling theme for the Christian than this. If a group of ministers should meet together and in their private conversations never talk about their Saviour, or have become so sophisticated that they are more interested in what modern theologians think about Christology than what the Bible says about him, then few amongst us would be interested in belonging to such a group. Only in the adoration of the Christ of the Bible, and in a developing affection for this Saviour are we going to become growing and useful servants of his. Only as his influence develops in our lives do we learn to be poor in spirit: he must increase and we must decrease.
If we make it at last to heaven, saved by Jesus Christ only, we shall spend eternity with our minds full of him, seeing him, satisfied with him, learning of him and from him. If we are going to be bored with three conference addresses about Christ then we will find heaven itself trying to our patience and very wearying, because in that place all we’ll have is the Lamb in the midst of the throne. He is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land.
2. The theme of the divine glory of Christ has never been far from the centre of some of the lengthiest battles of church history. In the fourth century Arius taught that Jesus Christ was not God but a heavenly being, an intermediate between God and man, nevertheless a creature. Christ was homoiousios – similar to God. The early church eventually said, No. He is not similar to God at all. He is homoousios – the very same as God. But Arius’s views were a persistent cause of discord for 400 years. In initially opposing them Athanasius was hounded through five exiles, and experienced seventeen years of flight and hiding. A millennium later, think of that horrible conflict in Geneva between John Calvin and the unitarian, Servetus, which ended with Servetus being burned at the stake, his beliefs being the object of hatred of Protestants and Catholics alike. That issue of the denial of the deity of Christ’s deity can raise fiery emotions. Again, the breath-taking Puritan period in England ended so swiftly in the emergence of the denial of the divinity of Christ. Who would have believed that Arianism would have come out of such blessedness? Who could have predicted it? Some of the most devout men of the next generation, like Isaac Watts, were not unaffected by muddled views of the deity of Christ. Arianism must be a very hardy and seductive growth, intellectually extremely attractive. Again our determined repudiation of two of the fastest growing cults in the world today – the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons – comes from their denial of the divinity of Christ. Their Arianism is everywhere in the third world and in eastern Europe. The J.W.’s are the single biggest non-Romanist religious group in Spain.
Or think of this past century and the speech made at the Baptist Union Assembly in April 1971 by the Principal of the Northern Baptist College, Michael Taylor. He said on that occasion, “I believe that God was active in Jesus, but it will not do to say quite categorically; Jesus is God. Jesus is unique, but his uniqueness does not make him different from us. He is the same sort of animal … the difference between him and ourselves is not the manner of God’s presence in Jesus. The difference is in what God did in and through this man and the degree to which this man responded and co-operated with God. I am not troubled or surprised to find that He (Jesus) doesn’t know everything, or sometimes makes a mistake, or gets angry, or doesn’t have all the gifts, or betrays Himself as a child of His time. However remarkable His life, I think I must stop short of saying categorically: Jesus is God… So, first, Jesus is a man like you and me, and second, God is present and active in Jesus as He is present and active in us all.” It was a staggeringly arrogant speech. There we have classic Unitarian teaching in a man preparing students for the ministry. Michael Taylor was so confident of the assured triumph of the liberal agenda that he thought he could assert those beliefs and there not be an outcry, but that the best evangelicals would actually smile at him and say, “we don’t agree but a nice presentation.” In the following year there were some pamphlets and meetings and strategies adopted by different groups, but the final result was that the Baptist Union re-affirmed its statement of faith that “Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh” while also encouraging Michael Taylor, and any like him, to continue to hold office and promote unitarianism within the denomination. Fudge prevailed, and Christ dishonoured.
The four conclusions Spurgeon came to over a hundred years ago when faced with a similar denial of central truths of the gospel seem to us unanswerable:-
i] For Christians to be linked in association with ministers who do not preach the Gospel of Christ is to incur moral guilt.
ii] A Union which can continue irrespective of whether its member churches belong to a common faith is not fulfilling any Scriptural function.
iii] The preservation of a denominational association when it is powerless to discipline heretics cannot be justified in terms of ‘Christian unity.’
iv] It is error which breaks the unity of churches, and to remain in a denominational alignment which condones error is to support schism.
When Abraham Kuyper was a student he became intoxicated with modernism. He joined in the applause of his fellow ‘theologs’ at Leiden University when a certain Professor Rauwenhoff, now long forgotten, broke with all belief in the resurrection of Jesus. At eighty years of age Kuyper could look back to that period and say, “my soul still shudders at times over the opprobrium I then loaded on my Saviour.” He pleads with the Arians and says, “Why not stop using the word ‘prayer’? What you call prayer is a fanatic self-exaltation, a ventilation of your own hearts, a dialogue with your own soul.” In other words, theology cannot be separated from worship, prayer, effective evangelism and fulfilling man’s chief end. For Kuyper a denial of the deity of Christ was incompatible with Christianity. ” Whoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God” (I John 5:1). “He that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (I John 5:12). Bavinck said, “In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion: every error results from, or upon deeper reflection may be traced to, a wrong view of this doctrine.” (“The Doctrine of God”, p.281).
Whatever conflicts and trials the church will pass through in the 21st century none will be very remote from the claim of Christians that Jesus Christ is God. It may be called upon to stand in the dock, or on the block, or in the stocks, and there, without the least stutter, it has to look its detractors in the eye and hold fast to its confession in Jehovah Jesus. Warfield has that wonderful phrase where he is stressing that the only Jesus discoverable in the New Testament is a supernatural person, and he maintains that it is “the desupernaturalized Jesus which is the mythical Jesus, who never had any existence, the postulation of whose existence explains nothing.” You understand? The world might say, “Yes, there was a great teacher and healer 2,000 years ago.” So what? We are still lost helpless perplexed sinners. How different when you say, “God became incarnate 2,000 years ago.”
3. We are living in days of religious ignorance, decline and rampant secularism. Not for almost 300 years in Wales has there been such pervasive ignorance and apathy concerning Christianity. Two weeks ago I was speaking to a minister, and he told me that he had had a conversation with a woman in his congregation whom he thought to be one of the more religious Christians in his Anglican church, and she had said to him, “When Jesus was in this world he wasn’t God then, was he?” Such confusion is widespread. We have to know and teach lucidly what the Bible says about the incarnate Christ. But more than that. The greatest challenge to Christian ministers today is to make the Lord Jesus Christ glorious, beautiful, intelligible and irresistible to sinners in his being, life, teaching and saving accomplishments.
We have to be like the young man away from home in college who falls in love with a girl, and he knows that his parents have great prejudices about such a woman. It may be on the grounds of race, class, economics, age, handicap. He asks himself whether there is any grounds for their hostility, but he can find none. He then sets out to soften and change their views. So he starts in his letters to mention her, and to present her gently and creatively, but persistently, in all her beauty of character and life to his Mum and Dad so that they will fall in love with her too. He loves and respects his parents, but all the time he is praying that they will see in her what he knows is there. He asks God for wisdom and eloquence. Now that is our calling, and it will never end. In every relationship, in and out of the pulpit, we are always to be asking ourselves, ‘How can I commend Jesus Christ to these people? How can I encourage them to fall in love with him?’ There is no greater test for a minister than to be asking himself how he is succeeding in this, when did he last have a meaningful talk with someone about the Lord. So my task is to give you this view of Jesus Christ so that you love him more, and will serve him better. In two days time I long for us to be able to sing, “I saw a new vision of Jesus” and to mean it. There is no way to know evangelistic success, or elevate worship, or strengthen our unity than to understand and love the Saviour more.
4. There is no way that a true religious awakening can begin without lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Free Church of Scotland was going through a comparatively barren time the Edinburgh presbytery wanted to pass a measure exhorting every minister to preach for a month on the subject of the Holy Spirit. But Dr John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan resisted that motion. “I have known of many revivals starting with a renewed exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said, “but I don’t know one which started with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit.” Our Lord has told us that the Spirit refuses to direct attention to himself, but that he will glorify Christ. There could be no greater mistake in godless days than to shift our emphasis away from the Son of God to the Spirit of God.
Rabbi Duncan was speaking to a woman once and he said to her, “It’s a grand thing to begin at the beginning, to begin with the Lord as our maker, and to learn who and what he is, Jehovah, I Am; and then to learn of him as the Lawgiver; and then to meet him as a Judge, and to be reconciled to his holy law, – and to hear him pronounce the curse that we deserve, and to say Amen to it; and then to lie at his feet, confessing that hell is our due, and, lying there, to take at his own hand, Christ, instead of hell, – Christ free, instead of hell deserved. That’s just salvation, and no way but that will do for you or me. Try to get it fresh on your conscience every day, that hell is your desert, and that you take Christ instead.” That is our task, to bring that fresh to a congregation of sinners each Sunday.
5. This is where the gospels all start, with a categorical assertion of the divinity of Christ. This is their presupposition, that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, and they affirm this in the most blunt and forthright a manner. Matthew’s gospel begins with Immanuel, God with us. Mark’s gospel begins, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” John’s Gospel begins, “The Word was God.” This is where we must start, and so from the Scriptures we can begin to build up this picture of Christ.
1] The Divine Glory of the Pre-incarnate Son of God.
Let us begin by considering the pre-incarnate Christ. The teaching is transparent in the opening words of John’s gospel. Three things are said about the Word:-
i] The Word was in the beginning. We are taken back to the origin of all things, to Genesis 1:1, to the beginning of time and space, to the start of all creation, and we are told that then, when the world came into being, the Word did not come into being, that the Word already was. When everything else began to have existence, he did not also begin his existence, because he already was. He was the unoriginated and unmade and uncreated one. When the first page of history was being turned he was already there. When the whole creative process started he was complete and perfect. There never was a time when he was not.
ii] The Word was God. Now the sentence follows a regular rule of Greek grammar, and the absence of the definite article merely indicates that ‘God’ is the predicate rather than the subject of the sentence. If John had wanted to say that the Word was ‘a god’ then he could have easily expressed that, but he did not. We are told in the most magnificent and unqualified directness that the Word was everything God is. The Word had deity and godhead. Whatever constituted divinity the Word had it, lacking nothing. Whatever is the essence of God was the Word’s also. Whatever God is, the Word was that. He had every single perfection of God and every single attribute of God. He was infinite, eternal, unchangeable. He was omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. He had the form of God, and the image of God, and the likeness of God, and the nature of God, and the being of God, and the titles of God, and all the prerogatives of God. He creates all things – without him was not anything made that was made. He sustains all things – by him all things cohere. He upholds all things by the word of his power. He judges all things – we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ. The Word was absolute God.
iii] The Word was with God. This preposition is the same as the one Paul uses when he says that “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” The Word was face to face with God. He was God, and yet he is towards God. This Bible that says that the Lord is one God also says that the Word who was God was with God. So here is a being of whom, within the creation itself, we have no experience, and so nothing at all with which to compare him.
Every other being we have known had a beginning, but he had no beginning.
Every other being we have known was not God, but he is God.
Every other being we have known was just one, but he is three as well as being one.
This is the trinity – the triuness – of God.
Like any vital doctrinal presentation an opening up of the Biblical teaching about the trinity should have a certain whiff of danger about it. Consider the doctrine of justification: if you faithfully preach on that it should lead to a fear of incipient antinomianism – “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And any presentation of the Sovereignty of God should bring a response, “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” So too a confession of God’s threeness should lead to fears that the proclaimer has fallen over the edge into tritheism. That cannot be avoided.
Men have tried to use many analogies to describe the trinity: one corner and three sides: one fist and five fingers: H20 – water, ice, steam: one clover and three leaves: one tree: root, trunk and branches: one man while at the same time a farmer, a mayor and an elder in the church: one person but a union of intellect, emotions and will. Illustrations have their uses, but all those fail to illuminate the differences in the three persons who comprise the Godhead. There is a oneness with God which is not solitary and undifferentiated, but a oneness in which are real and important distinctions. The very names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit imply that there is something that distinguishes the one from the other. The differences are found in the names of the three persons. The Father alone is Father; the Son alone is Son and the Spirit alone is Spirit. Paternity distinguishes the Father. Filiation distinguishes the Son, and Procession distinguishes the Spirit. We must not avoid any truths that are taught in the Bible. Dr David Wells reveals that he has a friend who is a theologian who laments that when he attends church he rarely hears sermons about God.
The person of the Son is subordinate to the person of the Father. In other words, there is an order of personality, office and operation which permits the Father to be officially first, the Son second, the Spirit third, and that is perfectly consistent with equality. Priority is not necessarily superiority. There is an eternal subordination of Christ to the Father, a subordination of order, office and operation, not a subordination of essence. Theologians say rightly, I believe, “ontological equality and economic subordination.” In other words, equal in being but subordinate in role.
Think of a father who begets a son: does he beget someone who is 80% a human being? Or 90% a human being? Or 99%? Of course not. He begets someone who is 100% a human being; as much a human being as he is. God the Son is 100% divine, as is the Father. When God says, “Thou art my son, today have I begotten thee,” at what time did he say that? The only answer we can give is that in the beginning was the Son and in the beginning was the Father. There was an eternal activity of bringing forth one who is different from the Father as the second person, but also like the Father as his “express image.” He brought forth another being from his own being. But one alone. He was the only begotten of the Father. Equally and eternally 100% divine, Father and Son. But there is an order and a priority in the inter-trinitarian relationship. The Father is the source of the Son and he has priority. He is fatherly source and fatherly priority. The Son has a filial derivation and filial secondariness.
They are different persons and so the Son looks at the Father and says ‘Thou’ to him, and the Father looks at the Son and says ‘Thou’ to him. And when we pray to the Father or the Son we say ‘Thou’ to each one conscious of the differences between them as persons. For example, we do not thank the Father for becoming incarnate and dying on the tree. We do not thank him for being sent by the Son or the Spirit to regenerate us. There is this distinctiveness in the persons of the Trinity as well as unity. But they have one being: the Father and the Son have the same omnipresence, and so they have one omnipresence. The Father and the Son have the same omniscience, and so they have one omniscience. The Father and the Son have the same eternal purpose, and so they have one purpose. In preserving the Lord’s sheep Jesus’ hand and the Father’s hand are one hand (John 10:25-29). One hand, one affection, one heart and one plan. So each person is distinct, but they have the same being and essence. They are never independent of one another. God the Father is eternally ‘the Father of the Son,’ and God the Son is eternally the ‘Son of the Father,’ while God the Holy Spirit is eternally the ‘Spirit of God’ and the ‘Spirit of Christ.’
How the Father is the Father of the Son I cannot begin to define. How the Son is the Son of the Father I cannot attempt to define. We believe that there is a relational subordination of the Son to the Father – not an essential subordination – in the covenant of redemption. For example, it would be unthinkable for the Son to send the Father to do his will, but beyond that we cannot go.
Professor Robert Reymond points out that the omniscient knowledge of each of the persons of the godhead is subjectively unique to each one. The Father and the Spirit know the objective fact that the Son would die on the cross, but neither of them ever thought, “I will die on the cross.” Only the Son subjectively thought that. Both the Father and the Son knew the objective fact that by the Spirit’s overshadowing and empowering Mary she would virginally “conceive the Son” in her womb, but neither Son nor Father every subjectively thought, “I will overshadow Mary and empower her to virginally conceive.” Only the Holy Spirit subjectively thought that. “Both the Son and the Holy Spirit knew the objective fact that the Son’s righteous life would provide the ground for the believer’s justification, but neither ever thought, ‘I will justify the believer on the ground of Christ’s righteousness.’ Only the Father subjectively thought that. That means, therefore, that while there is one objective omniscience in the Godhead, that is to say, each Person knows all there is to know (hence one omniscience), there are also three subjective personal apprehensions in the Godhead of all there is to know … that is to say, each Person knows all there is to know in the manner distinctly peculiar to his own Person” (Robert L. Reymond, “A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith”, Nelson, 1998, p.322). So there was that subjective knowledge and the love which the Son of God uniquely had when he was thinking, “I shall become incarnate and live and die and rise and ascend here again for all those that the Father has given to me. They only have I known of all the peoples of the earth. I will purchase them by becoming the Lamb of God for them. I will redeem them with my precious blood, and keep them and bring them all to heaven.” He alone of the persons of the godhead could think like that.
So they are individual persons, but, we say, they are not from all eternity individualistic persons. Each person only exists in relation with the other two. They only know themselves and know the others in terms of relations. The Father cannot exist independently. The Son cannot exist independently. The Spirit cannot exist independently. Consider a human being made in God’s likeness. Imagine a windowless room with a toilet and washbasin and bed and chair and table. An infant is put in this room, and all contact with any other persons is thenceforth prohibited. A tray with food on it is slid through a gap regularly, but he never sees a hand or hears a voice. And the years go by and the child, while biologically alive, is in fact destroyed, unable to know himself or communicate with anything. A solitary human being is an impossibility. To be a healthy human being is to live in close, loving relation with others. So it is with God. Each of the persons of the godhead lives in relation with the others. He cannot exist in isolation from the others. To be amputated from them is to be annihilated.
David J. Engelsma has pointed out that God is the family God because he is Father and Son in himself. Family is the nature of his being, and the character of his life. God is the real family, the original family, the family after which “the whole family in heaven and earth are named” (Eph. 3:15). The Father can say, “I am family. The Son and the Spirit and me.” The Son can say, “I am family. The Father and the Spirit and me.” The Spirit can say, “I am family. The Father and the Son and me.” In family God discloses the heart of the true and living God. Family is the meaning of Trinity. God is Father and Son in the Holy Spirit (cp. “The Holy Family: God as Truly Three”, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal Vol.33, April, 2000, no.2, p.14ff.).
Again we can say that the relations of the persons of the godhead are those of friendship. Consider what characterises their relationship:-
A] There is, first of all, love. “The Father regards His Son as dear, delights in Him and seeks Him. The Son returns this love. ‘Only begotten,’ is virtually synonymous in Scripture with ‘beloved.’ ‘Beloved Son’ is the equivalent in Matthew and Mark of John’s ‘only begotten Son.’ Jesus spoke of the Father’s love from Him ‘before the foundation of the world.’ The love of the Father for his only begotten Son and the reciprocal love of the only begotten Son for His Father are expressed in John 1:18, where it is said of the eternal Son and Word who became flesh in Jesus that He ‘is in the bosom of the Father.’ The second person of the Trinity eternally lies in the bosom of the first person. The Father clasps the Son to himself in intimate embrace. The Son on his part actively presses Himself to the Father.
“The relations themselves in which the persons exist in the Godhead, by which they are identified, and according to which they are different individuals are relations of love. God does not simply produce another, but the Father brings forth from himself His Son in love. Begetting a child is the activity of love. Being begotten is for the Son the reality of being loved and of loving the one who begets.
When we say ‘trinity’ we say ‘love.’ “It is as triune that God is love. When the apostle writes in I John 4 that God is love, he does not refer to God’s one essence as though one of the perfections of that essence is love. The context is plainly trinitarian. Verse 9 proclaims God’s sending ‘his only begotten Son into the world.’ Verse 13 reminds the beloved children of God that God ‘hath given us of his Spirit.’ God is love in himself, in that He is the Father who loves His Son and the Son who loves His Father. The very being of God is love inasmuch as it is the being of the plurality of loving persons. A god who is one solitary person could not be love.” (Engelsma, op cit pp. 26 & 27). Allah is not love. He could not love himself. He might be enamoured of himself, but he could not love himself.
God does not simply love the being or essence of divinity. God the Father loves the Son as Son. It is love for another. His pleasure rests on his Son. The Son on his part is devoted to the Father and glorifies him.
B] Secondly, the family friendship between the Father and the Son includes mutual knowledge. The love of the persons of the Godhead for each other is not blind love. It is, rather, a thorough intellectual knowledge of one another. The Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father. Each is open to the other. There is no recess nor depth of the Father hidden from the Son. He knows the one in whose image he has been begotten, perfectly, and nobody else has that knowledge. There is nothing the one desires to hide from the other. There is full and complete disclosure. In nothing are they strangers to one another. They open up to one another and bind themselves to one another. They never communicate into silence, but there is always the returning utterances of Son to Father and Father to Son. They continuously communicate with one another. There is no eternal silence in the Trinity. The persons are involved in creation and providence and redemption and resurrection and judgement. They work together, in loving harmony and friendship
C] Then there is the joy of the fellowship of the Triune Family. You see a glimpse of it in Proverbs 8:30: “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” The ‘one brought up with him’ is like a growing child tenderly loved by his parents, close to Jehovah, always in his presence and his eternal delight. This happiness between them echoes with the joy of laughter and child’s play. “Eternally the Father and the Son, who will become flesh in Jesus Christ, God’s wisdom, have exuberant joy in each other and in their fellowship” (Engelsma, op cit, p.29). God is the Father and Son in the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down.
2. The Developing Revelation of the Trinity in The Scriptures.
So there is the eternal Son, who with the Father and the Spirit is the one God. The beginning of this revelation is in the Old Testament. We find there the plural name of God, ‘Elohim’, but there are the other names for God which are also all in the plural, the Holy One, the Maker, the Creator – all the Hebrew titles end in the plural ‘im’. That is the plural of manifoldness and fullness. It is saying that our God is not a formless monad, and that there is no loneliness and eternal isolation in him. It is this God who says, “Let us make man in our image.” … “Behold the man has become like one of us…”, … “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language…”, … “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And you flood such verses with the light of the New Testament trinitarianism. You do the same in those psalms where one person is called ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ and is distinguished from another person also said to be God.
Then you study the Old Testament and you begin to find proto-trinitarianism everywhere. For example, there is the great threefold benediction of Numbers 6 24-27, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless thee.” The repetition of the ‘Lord’, and the single ‘name’. And we cannot but compare that phrase to the words of the initiation of baptism in Matthew 28:19 and the apostolic benediction at the end of 2 Corinthians, and let their light illuminate the words of the book of Numbers.
But the most striking index to the anticipations of the incarnate Christ in the Old Testament are those actual appearances of the Lord. There is the fascinating wording of Genesis 3 describing the normal state of affairs between God and man before the Fall. We are told that the man and woman heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). Did they hear footsteps, the breaking of a twig, the brushing past of some bushes? Here he comes! He who always came, day by day, to talk with them. He who soon would be killing an animal, skinning it and making clothes for them both. He is that same Lord who, one day long hence, would walk by blue Galilee, talk with his disciples, answer their questions, and who again after his resurrection would kill a fish and prepare a meal for them.
The Lord manifests himself to his Old Testament people. Ezekiel sees such a vision of God which is called, “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” In the year that King Uzziah died Isaiah sees the Lord, “seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Is.6:1). And the apostle John writes about Isaiah’s vision and he says, “he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him” (Jn.12:41).
Then he comes, again and again, in the form of the angel or messenger of the Lord. He first appears to a woman, Hagar, in Genesis 16, and he makes promises to her and speaks as God speaks, and we are told that “She gave this name to the LORD who had spoken to her, ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me'” (Gen.16:13). She had a new awareness of a personal God whose eyes were on her. Or think again of the three visitors who appear to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre, and how that is introduced to us in Genesis 18:1 “The LORD appeared to Abraham.” Yet these visitors seem ordinary men, and yet, as the encounter is prolonged there is a change, and it is Jehovah himself who is speaking to Abraham. This fluidity of identity between a messenger from God and the Lord himself characterises these theophanies. You find it again in Genesis 22 and the angel of the Lord telling Abraham to desist from sacrificing the child, and then we read, “The angel of the LORD called from heaven a second time and said, ‘I swear by myself, declares the LORD …'” (Gen. 22:16). You remember how the Old Testament ends with Malachi declaring that the Angel of the Lord, the messenger of the covenant, who is none other than the Lord will come to his temple (Mal. 3:1).
What we have is the Lord himself breaking in at moments of significant importance to the lives of his covenant people. Most frequently it is as a messenger of the Lord that he appears, and initially he is not recognised because he has temporarily taken human form. He seems to be a man, and only a human being meeting other men and women, and then the miracle unfolds, and the recipient of the theophany realises with terror, who he or she is actually dealing with.
These are not incarnations. They are God taking the form of a man. They are temporary expressions of the divine affection. He loves his people with an everlasting love. He longs for the time to fully come when he is made flesh amongst them. So the Son of God walks amongst men, and experiences what it is to be looked at, and to be questioned by rebellious sinners as though he were only a man. They are preparatory for his incarnation. He makes these brief sorties behind enemy lines. But they also prepare his people for his glorious tabernacling among them, and in this they are completely successful. There is in the Old Testament a pervasive monotheism, but notwithstanding that emphasis – that God is one – the New Testament Christians appear as fully fledged trinitarians. We do not discern in the New Testament any awareness of a breach with the Old Testament or with the God of the Old Testament. The God they worshipped is the God of O.T. revelation, and they speak of him in terms of the O.T. revelation. They worship the one living and true God of the O.T. and they worship Jesus as the Son of God and they find no tension at all in that. The reason is that the O.T. has prepared them in a definite and concrete way for this reality. The worship of the triune God is the logical and necessary unfolding of what the O.T. itself has provided.
This is strikingly seen in the way that N.T. writers take the O.T. name of God and artlessly apply it to Jehovah Jesus. Eight of the nine New Testament writers, like Jesus’ original disciples, were Jews, drilled in the Jewish axiom that there is only one God and no human is divine. Yet they all insist that Jesus is the Messiah and should be personally worshipped and trusted. The four most masterful New Testament theologians, John, Paul, the writer of Hebrews and Peter, all say that he is God no less than he is man. Even angels are not to be worshipped, but the divine-human Saviour is the object of adoration.
I was speaking to a Jehovah’s Witness on my doorstep and I asked her why did she speak so much of the new earth. “I would love to sit on a coral island and fish all day as grapes drop in my mouth,” I said to her, “but why don’t you speak of the Son of God who made the New Earth certain by his life and death?” “Oh, we do emphasise Jesus,” she said, “but we don’t want to put him on a pedestal, do we?” “I worship him,” I said. “You’re a Trinitarian,” she said. “You bet I am,” I said, not very sweetly. She was a poor descendant of Servetus, and I a poorer desendant of Calvin.
3. The Unity of God.
The doctrine of the unity of God is taught throughout the entire Scripture, and it presents the strongest of all proofs of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible says that there is only one God. It does not say that there is one being who is immeasurably superior and wiser and better than all others. It says that there is one being besides whom there is absolutely nothing. Nothing means nothing. This being is of sole, unapproachable excellence and glory in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. If you bring anything into comparison with him – it makes no difference whether you chose an archangel or a frog – God stands quite alone in respect alike to the one or the other. This God speaks and says, “I AM THAT I AM; thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” I AM!
Of course, everything else also has being. It once was something and will be in the future something else. And all of us might have been different, if we had lived in another land, if we had married someone else, if we had been hit by that car, if we had gone to another church. We might not have been here today. And what we might be in ten years’ time could be very different from what we are today. We wax and wane. We are not the same yesterday and today and for ever. Mortals rise and perish, but God endures unchanging on. There are no ‘might have beens’ with him. There are no ‘wait and sees’ with I AM. Influenced by no power, impaired by no evolution from one millennium to another, affected by no accident, no event whatsoever. I AM! He says, “There is none beside me.” “All nations before him are as nothing.” “I AM hath sent me unto you.”
“Greatness unspeakable is Thine, Greatness, whose undiminished ray, When short-lived worlds are lost shall shine, When earth and heaven are fled away.
“Unchangeable, all-perfect Lord, Essential life’s unbounded sea. What lives and moves, lives by Thy word; It lives, and moves, and is from Thee.
This is the God revealed to us in Scripture: “There is none good but one, that is God.” “Thou only art holy.” “The only wise God.” “The blessed and only Potentate.” “Who only hath immortality.” “Who only doeth wondrous things.” “Thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of the children of men.” “I am the LORD that maketh all things, that stretchest forth the heavens alone, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.” “I kill, and I make alive.” “I even I, am Jehovah, and beside me there is no Saviour.” “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.” “Him with whom we have to do.” “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” “The LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” “I am Jehovah; that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another.” “Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
That is the unity of God taught in the Bible. Not merely the greatest, wisest and best of beings, but, in a sense, the one and only Being. A torch has usefulness only while it is dark. At noon it contributes no light at all. It is extinguished by the blazing sunlight. And here is Jehovah great I AM, a being of such unparalleled and unapproachable glory that it doesn’t matter whom you bring before him, the seraphim or a slug, it is of no consequence at all. “How great a being, Lord, is thine, Which doth all beings keep!”
Now hear me! There once walked on this earth a man, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, who said, “I and my father are one,” and “before Abraham was I am,” and “who has seen me has seen the Father.” Of whom it has been written, “To me to live is Christ.” “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord, and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s;” “that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” Not to speak of words such as these, “All things were created by him and for him.” “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory and dominion for ever an ever.”
Now let us suppose that the unity of God meant that he was superior to all other lesser gods, then, I suppose, you could take those words and speak them of one, who, while not actually being I AM, was a pretty good runner-up. But then you say, a runner-up to the Lord of hosts? A not quite I AM? A promising newcomer! The best supporting deity! The thing is an impossibility. You see that? A god with just some of the attributes of deity. Or a god with all the attributes but diluted – impossible! Inconceivable. You see that? And when you see it, and cast it out as blasphemy, then you consider again the unity of Jehovah – this unapproachable being of divine majesty and glory. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord!
And yet Jesus’ apostles, immersed in the unity of God, all claim Christ to be God. On seven occasions very directly and forthrightly: “the Word was God.” “God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” “My Lord and my God.” “Christ, who is God over all, forever praised. Amen.” “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.” “who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.” Now the whole world has either to receive him as such, reverently and joyfully as one with the Father in the incomprehensible unity of the godhead, or else, we must reject and disown him as the foremost adversary of the divine unity of God to have ever appeared. More a threat to the unity of God than all the gods of the Hindus.
Surely, I say, the greatest proof for the divine glory of Christ are those passages that cry to us, “God is one! There is one only, the living and true God.” We say to the Jehovah’s Witness, “You choose for yourself from all the names and titles of God, all the works and ways of God, all the perfections and attributes of God – whatever you wish – of which you say, ‘This is divinity’.” When the Jehovah’s Witness has made his choice then, whatever he has chosen, we will discover it is ascribed in Scripture to the Lord Jesus. Let me illustrate:-
OMNIPOTENCE: “The Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself”
OMNISCIENCE: “All the churches shall know that I am he who searches hearts and minds”
ETERNITY AND IMMUTABILITY: “Unto the Son he saith, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands; they shall perish, but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”
OMNIPRESENCE: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
CREATION: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”
PRESERVATION OF ALL THINGS: “Upholding all things by the word of his power.”
RAISING THE DEAD: “I will raise him up at the last day.”
FORGIVENESS OF SINS: “As Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
SALVATION: “Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come.” “He shall save his people from their sins.”
JUDGEMENT: “We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.”
DIVINE WORSHIP: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
ADORATION AND PRAISE: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”
Or if the Arian decides to choose amongst the names and title of Deity, and declares that these are the tests of what is God, then that is fine with us:
GOD: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
THE TRUE GOD: ” We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”
I AM: “Before Abraham was, I am.”
JEHOVAH: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of hosts” and John says, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”
THE MIGHTY GOD: “Unto us a child is born: and his name shall be called … the mighty God.”
ALPHA AND OMEGA, THE FIRST AND THE LAST: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.”
These are merely a few texts. I am emphasising the unity of God, and I am saying that if Jesus Christ be not Jehovah then far from Jehovah of the Bible being unique, infinitely alone, and matchless in his being, glory and all his perfections, there is at least one creature, to whom, according to Scriptures, belong all the attributes whereby God can be distinguished and marked out. He lacks nothing that the one living God is and has.
Now this Christ makes this claim in John 16:15, “All things that the Father hath are mine.” He says, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father.” Arians and Socinians, what do you make of that? And the Socinian says, “Yes, but by delegation.” By delegation? Do you think it is possible for the Father to ‘delegate’ to a mere being whom he has created, the names of God, and the perfections of God, and the works of God, and the worship of God, and the glory of God, and the homage, fear, love and service which are God’s alone, omitting nothing that is God’s? “All things that the Father hath are mine.” God says, “I will not give my glory to another.” And if the Arian says “Yes, he has delivered everything that is divine to a creature,” then that is the end of the Unity of God. Jesus Christ is a second god, and the chief rival and adversary on earth to the blessed and only Potentate, only good, only holy, only wise, who only hath immortality, who only doth wondrous things, of whom, and through whom and to whom are all things.
We have to accept what Scripture plainly teaches concerning the divine Unity, though quite unable to tell the manner of that Unity, or how it can be harmonised with the everlasting distinction of the three persons in the one God. Men may have their theories, and their philosophies, but no one has the theology which says, “I can explain how God is One and how God is three.” That is simply the nature of the blessed God who has become our Lord and Saviour.
How I wish I knew him better! What need have we to cry ever for the efficacious teaching of the Holy Spirit, to make good to us daily that promise of the new covenant, “they shall be all taught of God … they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them … I will give them an heart to know me, that I am Jehovah.”
“O Lord, be it unto me as thou hast said! Open mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. I beseech thee, shew me thy glory”
“We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true: and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”