THE essential element in the idea of the Incarnation, disregarding the etymology of the term, is the assumption by the Son of God of a creature nature as a means of Divine manifestation and action: it may be the nature of man, or of some other. This is determined by God, and was determined, as we have seen, anterior to its creation. This nature will have those properties and qualities which best fit it for His purpose as a means of manifesting Himself to His creatures. As we know that the nature assumed was that of man, we know that this best serves God's purpose, and may therefore be called the highest possible. Although human nature in all its essential elements was, before its actual creation, determined upon by God as the nature to be taken by the Son, and therefore had an ideal existence before any other, yet the actual creation of man was not the first in the order of time. The priority belongs to the angels, as appears from the account of Adam's temptation. But as we are specially concerned here with the Incarnation, it will be more convenient to consider, first, the human nature, and the place man holds in the Divine economy. As the Son was to take upon Him the nature of man, the physical constitution of man was, if we may so speak, of great moment in the Divine counsels, for it determined the physical constitution of the universe, and this to its minutest details. For the God-man all things were made, and we know nothing aright except we know it in its relations to Him. Let us note this in some particulars, and, first, man's material constitution.
The constitution of man, as we are taught by the Apostle Paul, embraced body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5: 23). Why these three elements? We cannot doubt that it was because humanity so constituted could best serve the Divine purpose in the manifestation of the Godhead, and also because its threefoldness opened to man a wider sphere for his energies and enjoyments. It may appear, when we better understand the depths of creative wisdom, that because of the Trinity in the Godhead, there is a certain trinity of being running through all the works of God, giving them their perfectness.
Of these three constituents of humanity one is the body. This is made of matter. But the question arises, What is matter? We are here concerned with its relation to the Incarnation, not with its special properties as known to the chemist.
What is matter? A few years ago this question was readily answered, but to-day few attempt to give any precise definition. The sciences especially dealing with it are constantly making discoveries as to its properties, which show that much of their supposed knowledge had little basis in fact and must be constantly revised. We are taught through these continuous discoveries that the material universe, as God made it, has many forces and properties as yet unknown to us, some of which, we may believe, will not be known till the time appointed by Divine wisdom. When this time comes, God's words, and especially those respecting the future of man and of his habitation,—the resurrection of the body, and the changes in the earth when all will be made new,—words so hard for us now to understand or believe, will be made plain through the manifestation and action of forces prepared from the beginning for this purpose, but hidden till His time has come. Existing concealed in the natural stage, they will be manifest in the supernatural. This point will meet us again in considering the New Creation.
It was because matter, whatever it may be, as appointed of God to be an element of man's constitution, was to be taken by the Son, that it is what it is in all its properties, and that it is made the physical substratum of the universe. Its properties are those which the Father gave it as best fulfilling His purpose in Creation, especially in its relation to life in all its manifold forces. We know of no creature life except as embodied in matter; and as in the Incarnate Son is the highest form of life, so matter in His body finds its highest place and value, and attains its fullest activity. It is not, then, to be wondered at that it enters into the constitution of all intelligent and moral beings. The Son's body as seen by the Divine eye prior to its creation was the norm after which the body of Adam was made, and thus determined the use of matter in the earth in all its material creations, and throughout the universe.
The adaptation of matter to be the instrument of spirit was not of accident or of chance, but of Divine wisdom, giving to it the requisite powers and qualities in foresight of the Incarnation of the Son; and the union and harmony of spirit and matter are essential to the perfection of man. There is no reason to believe that the material element will cease to be a part of his constitution any more than that matter will cease to be a constituent element of the universe. As now glorified in the Person of the Son, it will have its place in the eternal manifestation of God.
In giving to man matter as a permanent element of his bodily constitution, and of his dwelling-place, we are to remember that it may have different conditions as determined by his moral state—natural, unnatural, supernatural. Of these more will be said later. As taken by the Son for our redemption, His body was " the body of our humiliation," subject to weakness, pain, and death, but capable of becoming "the body of His glory" (Phil. 3: 21). Of this higher material condition, a specimen was seen on the Mount of Transfiguration, when His face did shine as the sun; and in this glory will He appear when He comes to establish His Kingdom, and to be the King and Judge. And of this glory shall His risen saints be partakers. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father'' (Matt. 13: 43). Some of the Reformers compared the nature of man united to the Person of the Son, to a glass globe around our sun, shining with a heavenly brightness given it by His glory, and illumining with its splendour all the worlds. As said by St. Paul, His holy ones even now reflect "as a mirror, the glory of the Lord, [and] are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3: 18). And again, he speaks of our "light affliction which worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4: 17). As the outward is only a manifestation of the inward, the image of the glorified Lord is first perfected in our
spirits through the Holy Spirit, and then in our immortal bodies.
Those who think of matter as something gross, and ill-mated with spirit, and a clog upon it, and therefore as something transient, and which through death we are happily rid of, do well to remember that its constitution with all its qualities was determined upon before it was created, when it was resolved in the Divine counsels that the Son should take to Himself a created nature, of which matter was to be an essential and permanent element. There is no reason to believe that any created being exists that has not a material embodiment, and a local habitation.
Having said that all things were made by the Word, and for Him, the Apostle adds, "In Him was life." The term "life" cannot be defined, yet we continually recognise it as present or absent in the two modes of being, the living and the non-living. From the Word, as from a fountain, flows forth life—not any one form only, but all forms, each with its peculiar properties, from the lowest to the highest. The life of God cannot, indeed, be given to the creature; it is eternal, incomprehensible, incommunicable. The highest type of creature life is that of man, and the Apostle adds, "And the life was the light of men." Another form of life is that of the angels. According to the measure of the life will be the spiritual vision, the power of seeing God, and of communion with Him. And this life, with its light, is given through the Son to every man coming into the world. It is elsewhere spoken of by the Lord: "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6: 23).
Of the two forms of human life, the natural and the supernatural, or that of Adam and of the risen Christ, mention will be made later.
As we can know the full meaning and power of life only a^s seen in the Incarnate Son, so also the meaning of death can be rightly understood only as seen in its relations to Him. As the separation of the two constituent elements, body and soul, because of sin, death holds a most important place in the economy of redemption. Humanity as seen in Adam was tried, and it fell and came under the law of sin and death. As no longer good, but corrupt and evil, it must be put away. It could not serve the purpose of God. There must be a new and better form of life, but not a new creation; the old must be made new. This was effected through death, the separation of soul and body. Here was the significance of the Lord's death. The fallen nature inherited from His mother was put away as something unworthy, and incapable of answering God's purpose, and a higher type of life took its place. The Lord died, but was '' quickened in the spirit.'' He took again His body, essentially the same, but now so united to the quickened spirit as no more to be separated from it, but to be made partaker of its quickening power. Thus out of death came life. He took flesh and blood that "through death He might bring to naught him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2: 14). The great enemy was defeated in the stronghold of his power.
Thus we see how death, in itself "the wages of sin" and abhorrent to God, is made through His grace the means of the attainment of a higher life. It is not that the separated soul enters at once into this higher life, but that the body of corruption is laid aside. The state of separation is, therefore, preparatory to the higher state of the resurrection. Death is the gateway to life in that we put away the old body that we may take the new. The departed, quickened in spirit, rest in hope of the resurrection; the living, partakers of Christ's life, wait for the translation. (Rom. 8: 23; 1 Thess. 4: 17.)
We now turn to the relation of man to the earth as his habitation.
Man, having in the foreordination of God a material body, must have a material dwellingplace. The Bible teaches us that there were distinct preparatory stages in the earth's formation, and it was not until these were completed that man appeared upon it. Of the time thus occupied, nothing is said except in the mention of days, as indefinite periods, but we see a progress upward from lower to higher, and we learn that this will continue till it culminates in a new earth. We thus find a close connection between the material construction of the earth and the physical constitution of man, the latter determining the former. The two are adapted to each other; an illustration of which we see in the eye and light.
But man has more than a material body, he has also mind, and this was to find development through his study of nature. He finds in his examination of the constitution and relation of the various material objects around him, proofs of the existence of a creative mind, and learns ever new lessons of the Creator's power and goodness. Through his studies of nature, his mental capacities are enlarged, he discovers almost daily new properties of matter, new laws and forces; and with increasing knowledge comes increasing power to control and use them. The earth was so constituted in the beginning as to furnish in the several stages of man's history, through the possibilities of change inherent in matter, a great means of mental and spiritual education. All forms of good and evil have their visible symbols —light and darkness, health and disease, beauty and deformity, rest and toil, life and death. The spiritual is seen in the sensible, the invisible in the visible, the future in the present. As has been truly said, the earth "was so framed as to be a storehouse of indications and figurative intimations of future higher things." » It is an open book, which gives to the intellect vast stores of knowledge, and reveals to the spiritual eye many mysteries—the deep things of God. The Lord's parables teach what prophetic meaning may lie hidden in the most common things.
Thus the earth as made for man, primarily for the God-man to be the place of His birth, and home during His earthly ministry, and the seat of His Kingdom, had far higher ends in the Divine intent than to minister to our bodily wants. Here man was to be educated, all his powers, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, were to be developed and were to find full scope for their activity. Consider only his imaginative powers in the field of language and literature. What would language be without its metaphors? What would the earth's literature be if the similes and illustrations drawn from the ever-changing skies over us, from the moon and stars, from the revolving seasons, from the oceans and rivers, from the storms and winds, from the forests and flowers, from the glories of morning and evening were all to be stricken out?
1 A remarkable instance of this is seen in the creative words, "Let there be lights, and let them be for signs, and for seasons " (Genesis 1:14). As showing forth the mind of God, or as moral indications, they have a more than physical value. (Mark 13: 24; Matt. 25: 29, and often in the Old Testament.)
Yet it might have been so. The earth might have given us the means of bodily subsistence, without any such profusion of material riches and beauty. Human life on an earth unlike our own in many points is doubtless possible, but how monotonous and barren would be our life if all this outward stimulus of our faculties, and these manifold sources of delight, were taken from us.
In preparing the earth for man's abode, it was prepared to meet not only the earlier but the later phases of his history. Not only has there been an adaptation of its physical state in general to man, but so far as geographical arrangement and local position affect the place and development of races and nations, these have been Divinely ordained with reference to God's purpose in its inhabitants. In this provision for the future, He does only what any wise builder of a dwelling-house does,—looks forward to coming generations and their needs. As Adam had his special abode in Eden given him, so we may believe in regard to his posterity that it was not chance that determined the course of the two great rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and the formation of the fertile plain of Babylon. The same may be said of Egypt and the Nile. Still more is it obvious that Palestine in the Divine purpose was made what it is in its great physical features for His Covenant people—the sea on the one side, the desert sands on another; eastward its deep chasm and swift-rushing Jordan; northward, the lofty peaks of Lebanon; its Tabor and Hermon, its Zion and Moriah, its Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee—not only that there His people might dwell safely and alone, but that they might also be educated by the various forms of nature around them, giving such varied wealth of illustration to the poets and prophets. And doubtless the present arrangement of the earth's great physical features—of its continents, of its oceans and islands, of its mountains and rivers—serves not only to furnish national boundaries, but to furnish also a fit theatre for His present and future work in the history of our race. It is not by chance that the nations of Christendom occupy their present geographical positions. He has set the bounds of their habitations (Acts 17: 26). No one can tell, for example, how much the position of the Mediterranean Sea has affected the history of nations, and may affect it in time to come.
As made to be the orb where the Word should be made flesh, and live His earthly life, and as man's permanent abode, the earth holds a unique moral place among all the starry orbs. Has it also a unique physical place? Does astronomy give us any intimation of this? This question will be best considered when we speak of other worlds and their habitability.
That the earth as man's habitation should be so small in comparison with other orbs, is in perfeet keeping with what the Bible tells us of the Divine purpose in our humanity. Here the trial of man was to be made, and for this end great multitudes were not needed. The earth should be of such extent that its inhabitants might know and realise their unity—that they have a common parentage, common interests, a common history, and a common destiny. Only in this one way could the one gospel be preached unto all, and there be a Catholic or Universal Church. Upon this unity, possible only in a small orb, the Bible lays great stress, especially as to be realised in the Kingdom of the Son when into His city the nations bring their homage and glory. All peoples are to know and to feel that they are one, that there is a universal brotherhood, and so universal peace.
Taught by astronomy that there are millions of stellar orbs, and many of them vastly larger than the earth, we find ourselves lost in the immensity of creation, and cannot believe that we can be such objects of God's watchful care that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge. But a little reflection shows us that we need not be so overpowered by these countless material worlds as to lose the consciousness of our standing as His children. We are not shining bubbles swept along on the endless tide of the ages, seen for a moment and then vanishing for ever. Man, small and weak as he is, is of greater value in the eyes of the Creator than all the worlds He has made. Let us imagine an infant lying in his cradle at the foot of Niagara, with its "mighty waters rolling for evermore." How feeble, how helpless! His plaintive cry is not heard in the cataract's roar, a tiny wave would sweep him to destruction. Yet in God's eye that infant is more than the earth-shaking cataract, for he is His child, made in His own Image. He will live in his Father's house, radiant in immortal beauty, and his voice will be heard singing his Creator's praise when the rocks around him shall have been ground into dust, and silence rests on the dry and desolate ravine where now the resistless torrents run.