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Exodus iii. 14. And God said unto Moses, I am that I am, St. John viii. 68. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you. Before Abraham was I am, Besemblances in words merely between one part of Scripture and another, and especially when those words are looked at by themselves without any reference to the context, cannot be insisted upon as proving any thing. But when the passage in St. John from which I was just quoting was chosen for the Gospel of this day, the chapter in Exodus from which I have been also quoting, having been chosen for the first lesson, the resemblance between them to which it was intended to draw our attention was not verbal only but real. Verbal indeed it is not, as far as the Greek version of the Old Testament is concerned ; for the expression there wliicli answers to the ' I am that I am ' of our Engliwsh Bible, is not the same with that in St. John's Gospel, which is translated in English by the same words. But the resemblance is real notwithstanding ; for He who redeemed His people out of Egypt, and whilst revealing Himself in a visible form described Himself as essentially and eternally existing, is the same
CHRIST'S DIVI ITY. 157 with Him who redeemed His people from their sins, and who, whilst again revealing Himself in a visible form,
again declared that His existence was not measured by time, that He was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Those who are acquainted with controversial theology well know that the words of our Lord are made to bear a lower sense by those who do not acknowledge His Divinity. By them they are interpreted as meaning only, ' Before Abraham was, it was determined in the counsels of Grod that I should be, and as to GK>d all things are eternally present, so I may say that in God's sight before Abraham was, I am.' Many persons who would without any scruple reject such an interpretation in this case, yet do not hesitate often, in explaining the prophecies, to adopt a similar rule <5f interpretation there ; that is, they give the words a meaning as far below their simple and obvious meaning, as the interpretation, ' Before Abraham was, I was present to God, inasmuch as he had determined that I should be,' falls below the simple meaning of the words ' Before Abraham was, I am.' But the fault in both cases consists not in giving such partial interpretations of the words of Scripture as a meaning of them, but as the meaning ; as their highest meaning or their only one. It is true that our Lord's incarnation was determined, so the Scripture tells us, from the beginning of the world ; it is true, therefore, that our Lord was present in the mind of God, if we may so speak, before Abraham was bom ; and if any Jew who had heard Him say these words and who knew nothing of His divine nature, had imderstood them in this sense, and therefore, seeing in them nothing which he would think blasphemous, had not joined his countrymen in taking up stones to cast at Him, such a Jew would have understood them well according to his light, and would have gained &om them the knowledge of a truth.
168 CHRISrs DIVI ITY.
And so when the Apostles preached the resurrection, they were not wrong who said that the rising from the death of sin to a life of righteousness, was a part of the Christian's resurrection. But those were very wrong, who said that this figurative and partial interpretation of the doctrine expressed the whole of it. And so should we be wrong, if, taking only the lowest sense which our Lord's words will bear, that sense of which they are a highly hyperbolical expression, we were to say that this is all which they contain ; that he who has learnt without offence to embrace them fully, to take them in their length and in their breadth, in that sense in which they are no longer hyperbolical but literal, has extracted from them more than they were intended to supply. And thus with respect to the interpretation of prophecy. We do often very right in taking a lower or partial sense ; it is that sense which according to the particular view before us may happen to be the true one. For instance, in taking the prophecies in the simple and historical view of them, as relating, for example, to Babylon or to Jerusalem literally, we should then do wrong if we were not to understand them in a sense much lower than the literal one ; everlasting destruction, perfect happiness and perfect glory, belong neither to the one city nor to the other. But then it would not be right to say that this lower meaning is all that the words bear ; there is a spiritual Babylon, there is a spiritual Israel, to which the strongest expressions of misery and happiness apply without any hyperbole ; nor is it till we have ascended to these, that we can be said to have entered fully into the mind of the prophecy. So again, many persons in the Old Testament are commonly said to be types of Christ ; there are point* in which they resemble Him ; and language is often used concerning them, which as understood of them, is hyperbolical and hjrperbolical only ; but which when understood
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of Christ Himself, becomes literally true. For Christ being both God and man, language suitable to those human and imperfect types of Him may be applied to Him without blasphemy ; while on the other hand language which ' as applied to them is extreme hyperbole, finds in Him, I do not say its entire, but much more than its entire fulfilment ; for what human language can adequately express the perfections of the Eternal God ? The rule then is, that in all that is said in Scripture of our Lord, or of any type of Him, the full and highest meaning of the words is true of Him without hyperbole, although lower and partial meanings may very often be true also. For instance, when He said to the Jews that He and His Father were one, there was a lower sense in which this was true of Him even as a prophet ; and thus our Lord actually appeals to the Scriptures, to show that similar high expressions had been there used to those who had received God's word, and declared it again to man. But it would be very wrong to rest in this lower sense of the words only ; take them in their literal sense, — follow them to a height where they become lost to man's conceptions, — in the utmost, and much more than the utmost himian conception of unity, it is true that Christ and the Father are one. That St. John so understood the expressions which he has recorded of our Lord, is absolutely certain. ' Before Abraham was, I am,' is an expression which is true to the letter of Him who was in the beginning, who was with God, and was God. The first chapter of St. John's Gospel is a clear declaration that all the language which he records as applied to our Lord is to be taken in its literal sense ; that it is not, like similar language when applied to persons merely human, the language of figure and hyperbole. That first chapter is the key to all that follows ; it tells us that
St. John, now that the Spirit had taught him to imderstand
J 60 CHRIST'S DIVI ITY. Christ's words fully, acknowledged much more in them than he had found perhaps when he actiially heard them : that he has recorded them for after ages, that they also might receive them to the utmost, that they also might join with the Apostle Thomas in owning Jesus of azareth to be their Lord and their God. Thus much I have said as to the interpretation of the solemn words of our Lord, which I have taken as a part of my text. I have tried to show that they are to be taken in their full literal meaning, according to a rule which applies to the whole of the Scripture, — that whatever is said of Christ, or of any type of Him, may and ought to be taken as relates to Him in the fiill extent of its meaning ; that while the prophets and kings of Israel were often types of Him, and therefore that for His sake language was used towards them which their human nature^ inasmuch as it was human only, could not worthily fulfil, — He Himself is the fulfilment of all prophecy, and no word or thought of man can conceive of Him beyond or in any degree approaching to the truth. Men could be types of Him, because He was also man ; they could be no more than types of Him, because He is God. And I have shown from the first chapter of St. John's Gospel, that the Evangelist himself clearly so understood the language which he has recorded ; it being evident, that no expressions can be too high for Him whom he has described at the very outset of his Gospel as existing in the beginning, as being with God, and being God, and as being the Maker of all things. But I have not often touched on this point as a matter to be proved ; nor do I think it is needful or desirable often to do so. I do not imagine that the peculiar danger
which is likely to threaten any of you, is the infection of what are called Unitarian opinions. It is mostly, I think, another class of society, and one differently educated, that
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is most in danger from Unitarianism ; with us here I should expect that we should either be in danger of judging those who hold such notions too harshly, and of being far too well satisfied with ourselves for not being as they are ; or else that the temptation will be to something far worse than Unitarianism — to the casting away of our Christian faith altogether, and of our very faith in God. Utter unbelief is far more really prevalent, I believe, than Unitarianism ; and its language is far more dangerous. For Unitarianism, acknowledging the authority of Scripture, and asserting its own peculiar interpretation of it, appears to me to lose in strength intellectually, exactly as much as I hope it gains by so doing morally. I mean, that the very clinging to the authority of Scripture, and professing to follow Christ and Christ's Apostles, which makes a wide diflference morally between them and the unbeliever, yet renders their peculiar arguments the less dangerous, inasmuch as it forces them to rest their cause on interpretations of Scripture which the most ordinary knowledge of language and of the common principles of criticism, show at once to be extravagant. It is more, I think, to the purpose, when we consider to what society so many of you are likely to be removed when you go away from this place, to remind you, that while it is easy, I think very easy, to see the errors of Unitarianism intellectually, yet that many speak of it with a violence of condemnation which in them is clearly unnatural and wrong ; they neither know its evil, nor the good of that truth to which it is opposed. He who could
truly speak of the evil of Unitarianism must be one who has made some progress himself in real godliness ; who has felt the blessing of some of those helps of which Unitarianism would deprive him. He who condemns Unitarianism for denying Christ's Divinity, does he make Christ's divinity a real support to his own soul ? He who YOL. VI. M
162 CHRIST'S DIVI ITY. cries out against the impiety of those who would do away with Christ's Atonement, does his own faith in that atonement lead him in true and earnest love to follow that Lord who died for him ? I can well conceive a short season in a young man's life, in which, believing on the authority of others that Unitarianism is the denial of most important truths, and going about humbly and earnestly to derive to himself the benefit of those truths, he may for a while be justified in condemning Unitarianism, even though he may not yet have become able himself to appreciate its evil. But this state of things must in its very nature be short. Either we get beyond it, or we fell back from it; — either we attain to that experience of the virtue of the doctrines of Christ's Divinity and Atonement, which enables us to know how sad it is to want them ; or else we relax in our endeavours to obtain it, and then we do but condemn others for denying in word what we arc no less denying ourselves in heart, and in life. And few things are more painful than to see the union of theological uncharitableucss and religious indifference, — to see, as we often do see, men violent in condemnation of others for their denial of certain truths, which truths it is most evident they themselves neglect altogether. Unhappily, there are few things easier to our nature
than to entertain feelings of dislike. We dislike others from a hundred causes, more or less personal, and then are thankful to any one who furnishes us with a pretence for our dislike on some ground of principle, which we neither knew nor cared for. It often happens that we dislike a man or a party who really have something in them which <leserves to be disliked ; but it is clear that this is not our reason for disliking them, if we are at no pains to gain the good opposed to their evil. We dislike the dishonest, not on principle, but merely for our own selfish convenience.
if in our practice it is evident that honesty is not our rule. And this is now much to be insisted upon, because religious animosities are violent amongst us beyond all proportion to our love of truth and of Christ ; and it is evident, therefore, that these animosities are no part of Christian zeal, but of lower and worldly feelings, by which we deceive ourselves and others. Sometimes, too, our violence against an opinion is greatest when we feel ourselves least secure in reason from its influence ; we endeavour in a manner by the loudness of our voices to conceal our secret fear. It is no hopeful symptom to see those of any age, least of all the young, particularly forward in religious dislikes : but it is a good symptom in old and young to be eminent for their religious aflfections ; — not to be loud in denouncing heretics, but to be simple and earnest in loving Christ and their brethren. The love of truth is the only sure way of teaching us to dislike error aright ; to dislike it in itself and for itself, to dislike it reasonably, calmly, charitably ; to be most secure from being misled by it ourselves, whilst
we make the largest and most Christian allowance for the men who hold it.
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