The rapid historical survey now taken of the purpose of God as given us in the Scriptures, historic and prophetic, will, it is hoped, enable the reader to see clearly the high place which the Incarnation has in that purpose. It may justly be charged against much of the current biblical interpretation of the day, that, making light of the Incarnation, it fails to apprehend the full significance of the sacred records; and so brings down Christianity from its lofty vantage position, and places it too much on a level with other forms of religion. The Bible is, above all, historical, and can answer its end only as its historic character is maintained. Chief and central of its facts is the birth of the Incarnate Son, in whom all the actings of God have their beginning and end. Denying this, all the other facts recorded lose their unity, and become unreal; for it is only the purpose of God in Him that gives them order and consistence. It is full time, therefore, that the Incarnation, and the facts most closely connected with it and most distinctive of Christianity, should be set in clearest light, and be examined in all their historic relations, when this is brought into contrast with other religions. This is not the place for such an examination, but some points already touched upon may be here repeated.
Beginning with this fact, the union of the Divine and human in Christ, as that which gives direction to all God's works, creative and redemptive, and defines their order, we find in the Bible a wonderful unity and harmony. God creates man in His own likeness; but falling through disobedience under the law of sin and death, he must be redeemed. Thus two offices are to be fulfilled by the Incarnate Son: He is the Revealer of God, He is the Redeemer of men. He reveals God to men in virtue of His personality, for He is God manifest in the flesh. He is the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His Person. As He cannot cease to be the Son, and abides the same yesterday, today, and forever, in Him God will always be revealed. And this revelation is made to all creatures: all will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But His work as Redeemer is not eternal nor universal, for redemption is a work that necessarily comes to an end; nor does it embrace any but the fallen and sinful. To the unfallen and holy He is forever the Revealer of God, but not their Redeemer. It is of His redemptive work that the Scriptures chiefly speak; for it began with the first of our race, and continues under differing forms till all things are brought into their holy and unchangeable order. Of this work in its several successive stages, sufficient for our purpose has already been said.
The work of Christ as the Revealer of God has several distinct gradations. As the Father had spoken to men by His prophets, He also spake to them by His Son; and through Him were made known the mysteries of the Divine Being and of His counsels, as no prophet had been inspired to do; and His works confirmed His words, and were in their nature proofs and pledges of a redemption to come.
Thus He was the Revealer of God in word and work while on the earth in mortal flesh. But having ascended to God, and been glorified, and set as Head of the Church, He has new and higher revelations to make. But how can men on earth receive them? There must be a correspondence between the revelation and the spiritual capacity to apprehend it. Light is for the eye, and the eye for light; but what man can look upon the sun shining in full splendor? The new revelations He would make, can be apprehended only by those upon whom He sends His Spirit, the Spirit of truth. (John xiv. 17.) But there is a still higher revelation to be made of the Father through the Son, when His present work as High Priest is ended, and He shall appear in the glory of the Father. Who shall be able to see the glory of God then revealed in Jesus Christ? None, except those who are lifted up into the same state of immortality and incorruption in which He now is.
Thus we see a threefold gradation of revelation by the Incarnate Son: first, through the truths He taught, and the works He did on earth; second, through the truths revealed, and works done by Him through the Spirit sent by Him from Heaven; third, through the words to be spoken and works to be done by Him at His return as the manifested King and Lord of all. And there is given to men a capacity to receive, corresponding to each of these gradations of revelation through Christ: first, in those in covenant with God to whom He spake while on earth; second, in His Church on earth, in which dwells the Spirit sent by Him from Heaven; third, in all those who are made like Him in the day when He shall sit on the throne of His glory in the Kingdom. To the other forms of revelation in word and work we may add the glory of His Person, as the Image of God, when He appears in visible majesty.
We can now see that redemption and revelation stand in close relation to each other. To the Church, indwelt by the regenerating Spirit of Christ, higher revelations of God can be made than to others on earth, because there is higher capacity to receive. To those in the Kingdom, in whom is fullness of resurrection life, the highest revelation can be made, because in them this capacity is developed in highest degree. In redeeming men, Christ does more than to restore them to the condition lost through sin, — the vision of God, and the communion with Him into which Adam was admitted. First, by making them partakers of His own life as the second Adam, He lifts them up into a higher condition than that given them at their creation; and enables them to apprehend truths that had been kept hidden till that time. Finally, when this life is perfected in resurrection, and they are made like Him in that form of humanity which is the highest form of creature being, new revelations can be made them through the Son; and they attain to a knowledge of God, and to a communion with Him, such as is possible to none beside.
It is most important to keep clearly in mind that although redemption, when consummated, brings with it that enlargement of being which enables all in Christ to be filled with the fullness of God, and capable of receiving such revelations of Him as can be made to none other; yet this new and higher stage of existence does not subvert the original constitution of man, nor necessitate any change in the essential elements of his nature. Humanity is seen in Christ to be a form of being, which, although capable of degrees of excellence, remains forever unchanged in its constituent elements. Man, however exalted, never ceases to be man. Of this we have the infallible assurance given in the Incarnation of the Son, when " manhood was taken into God." And in His resurrection is given the pledge that the body is not to be cast aside as unworthy of exaltation with man, but is itself to be transfigured and glorified. Christ's present existence as the Risen One in "the body of glory," is the assurance of our own like immortality and incorruption. "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." And as the body was made of the dust of the earth, its preservation is a pledge that the earth, and, we may believe, all material worlds, have their deter mined and permanent place in the still unfulfilled purpose of God.
Thus we find in Christianity, what may be rightly demanded of any religion that claims to be absolute and universal, that it gives not only such a history of the past as satisfactorily to account for the present, but also so reveals the future that we can see in them all a uniform and consistent purpose. And this purpose is one worthy of God, and looks forward to the highest manifestation of Him, and consequently to the highest good of the creature; and this without end. Of no heathen religion can this be said, much less of any philosophic cosmology. Without One Personal and Supreme God, there can be no unity of purpose, no defined line of movement, no assurance that the end can be reached, and no permanance of result. Polytheism brings only confusion, pantheism knows only of endless cycles of change; neither gives any explanation of the past, nor casts any light on the darkness of the future. Christianity alone answers to the conditions of an absolute and universal religion. It affirms a creation by the will of God, and finds the ground of this creation in His love, which has its supreme manifestation in the Incarnation of His Son, who as God and man is the eternal bond of union between the Creator and the creature, the Infinite and the finite. And having in our nature through death, won the victory over sin and death, He is, as the Risen One, the perfect Image of the invisible God, revealing Him to all creatures forever; and to be made like Him in resurrection is to reach the highest place that can be given to a creature.
Thus Christianity stands apart from all other religions in its essential features, and is infinitely above all. It presents a clear and defined purpose of God, steadily moving onward to its goal; embracing the whole universe in its scope, and yet meeting the needs of every soul, sinless or sinful.
It may truly be called the absolute religion, since it includes every region of truth, and all truth; and the universal, since it meets the needs of all created beings, fallen and unfallen, in all worlds. The redeemed will see in Jesus Christ their Saviour; the holy angels will see in Him the Image of God: to all men and angels, and other intelligent beings, if there be other, He will be the Way of approach to the Father. If any other religion knows of creation as a free act of God, it knows nothing of Incarnation, and therefore nothing of the purpose of God in creation; nor of the goal to be reached when all things are to be made new. No other religion knows any thing of fallen humanity, or of the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of the Incarnate Son; nothing of resurrection, and of the new and higher form of humanity thus attained; nothing of the fullness of life, and of the blessed communion with God of those who through Christ are made partakers of the Divine nature.
In Christianity every question is answered which it concerns us to know respecting man, his origin, history, and destiny. God's purpose in His Son, as declared in the Scriptures, explains man's creation, his constitution as embracing soul and body, the origin of death, the disembodied state, the resurrection, the new humanity, and eternal life. If there be confusion in the minds of any upon these points, it must arise from the failure to hold the teachings of the Scriptures in their unity and harmony. These must be interpreted in the light of their own dominant ideas; any admixture of ideas foreign and incongruous, necessarily brings discord and confusion. Of this we may find a striking illustration in the vague, uncertain, and contradictory statements in many Christian writers as to the future of the earth and of man. The biblical narrative is plain: all the material worlds were made by God; and of these the earth was especially prepared for man's habitation; and between him and his dwelling-place there was a designed and wonderful correspondence. Is this correspondence to cease, either by the destruction of the earth, or by the elimination of the material element from man's constitution? There are many that affirm this, though on very unlike grounds. Some, misapprehending the words of St. Peter, believe that the earth is literally to be burned up, to dissolve and vanish away (2 Pet. iii.); or perhaps, as in the case of Edwards, to remain ever burning, — the abode of the lost. Others, holding to the indestructibility of matter, and therefore to the earth's perpetuity, affirm a never-ending series of catastrophes and renewals; and others still, that, forsaken of all life, it will sweep on its pathway empty and desolate forever. And as to man's body, there is even greater variety of belief. There are few, indeed, who profess any faith in the Scriptures or in the creeds, that do not hold some kind of a resurrection body; but often in so intangible and shadowy a form, that it would be difficult to distinguish it from pure spirit. Some, and apparently an increasing number, consciously or unconsciously under the influence of a revived pagan or gnostic philosophy, find in the material body the cause of sin and all evil; and in deliverance from it, salvation and heaven. Thus, in one way or another, the relation of man to the earth is regarded very widely by Christians as a temporary one, believed to cease, as regards individuals, at each one's death; and, as to the race, at the day of final judgment. Having answered its purpose as a place for the temporary dwelling of men, a school for training, its future is said to be of no interest to us.
It need scarcely be said how utterly foreign are all beliefs of this kind to the whole tenor and spirit of the Scriptures. According to them, the body is an integral part of our humanity, without which man cannot possess fullness of life; and there are express declarations that, as the earth was brought under the bondage of corruption by man, so it will be redeemed, and the curse be removed. It will, indeed, be changed and made new, as will the body in resurrection; but a change of quality is not the destruction of substance. The eternal purpose of God in Christ embraces both man's body and dwelling-place; and there is no reason to believe that the earth will ever cease to be the abode of holy and happy beings.
If, through aversion to matter as defiling the spirit, or clogging and hindering it, the disembodied state is regarded as the heavenly and the highest, we import into the Scriptures a pagan notion which destroys the unity of the Divine purpose, and makes their consistent interpretation impossible. The true goal to which God points us — likeness to His Son raised from the dead and glorified — being lost, the true nature of redemption, as embracing all the elements of our humanity, body, soul, and spirit, joined in indissoluble union, is misapprehended; the resurrection becomes meaningless; and the existence of the material worlds an enigma. Mortality is not swallowed up of life, but life of mortality. The human race, like a river which pours itself forth upon the sands and disappears, sinks away in its successive generations into the depths of the grave. It need scarcely be said that a religion which exalts a transient and imperfect form of our humanity, the fruit of sin, into its perfected and permanent form; and finds in death, not in resurrection, the door into eternal life; makes open confession of its impotence to solve the problem of man's destiny. It goes backward to the vague, shadowy, ghostly future of pagan religions, that know nothing of our humanity as redeemed and ennobled in Christ, and made immortal and incorruptible; but only as abiding dismembered under the law of death. To the Christian alone it is given to see the Man Christ Jesus, radiant in resurrection life, filling with His brightness the eternal future; and with Him His redeemed, perfected in their humanity, body, soul, and spirit.