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Now it would be a grievous calamity if there were no help for this ignorance : if, because no man hath seen God, therefore no man, however desirous and piously sincere, could become acquainted with his character and will. His we are, and from his hand nothing can deliver us. We must be sensible of the power which he has over us, whether for good or evil, happiness or misery, if we either turn to the constitution of the body or the soul. Can it, then, be a matter of indifference, a light matter, whether we are the objects of his anger, or his favour? whether he is reconciled to us, and we are at peace with him?
Here, then, is the blessing which we receive from that vast event which St. John has been announcing, “ God manifest in the flesh :” God revealing himself to us, by his Son, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. Or, as the same truth is expressed in St. Luke, (x. 22,) “ No man knoweth who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.”
The Jewish Scriptures certainly furnish much knowledge of God; all the knowledge which could be given by description. He is represented as “ God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible.” He is represented as “the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him to a thousand generations.”3
3 Deut. vii. 9.
“ All his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” The Psalms of David abound with great and lofty thoughts concerning the majesty and goodness of God. And the prophets fill up the outline, and describe“ the High and Holy One, who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, yet humbleth himself to behold the things that are upon the earth,” and to “ look on him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at his word.”5
St. John, however, was no stranger to this. He was brought up in the knowledge of it, as belonging to the Jewish nation ; a nation distinguished from the rest of the world, because they had this knowledge; because they did not “ change the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man,” or suppose that the world was either self-created or had no beginning.
And yet St. John clearly implies in this sentence that the incarnation of the only begotten Son of God, who is in the bosom of the Father, has declared God to us, as he could not otherwise be declared ; has given us an acquaintance with him which we could not otherwise have enjoyed.
And it is easy to perceive this. Let us trace it in regard to the two attributes with which we are most concerned, his JUSTICE and his MERCY.
1. We are told, plainly told in Scripture, that God “cannot look upon evil ;" that “ he will by no means clear the guilty.” Vengeance is mine, I 4 Deut. xxxii. 4.
5 Isaiah lxvi. 2.
will repay, saith the Lord.” But men invent a thousand reasons, why they should not believe this. Therefore the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared it. He declared it, when he was lifted up on the cross to “ bear the sins of many :” to “bear our sins in his own body :” to “give his life a ransom :” to “ die unto sin :" to show that between sin, and misery as the consequence of sin, there is an inseparable connexion—and that “ if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die ;” for “the wages of sin is death.”
A king, (let us suppose,) an earthly sovereign, has proclaimed to his subjects, that every wilful offender against his law shall die. What irresistible force would be added to his proclamation, if rather than leave the law unsatisfied, he did not spare his son, his only son! Here, then, the incarnation of the only begotten Son of God has declared to us the JUSTICE of the Father with a plainness not to be misunderstood.
2. But God is also revealed to us as “ fering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” And surely the gospel of Christ Jesus has declared this in characters which shine as a sunbeam. There his MERCY is beheld in active exercise : “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' As the apostle writes, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The only
begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has declared the Father to us, as planning the wonderful scheme of our redemption; as testifying his goodness by that “mystery of godliness,” which “the angels desire to look into :” as sending out his ambassadors to a rebellious world, that the world may be converted to God : “ as having prepared for them that love him ” glory which cannot be expressed, and “such good things as pass man's understanding."
Behold, then, the character in which God is revealed to you : He, whom no man hath seen at any time, “ though he is not far from any of us : He with whom you have to do. However boldly men may contend and cavil, you cannot know him except as he has revealed himself. Behold, as St. Paul says, looking to this very thing—“behold the goodness and severity of God : on them which fell, severity ; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness : otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."6
“ Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish.” Behold, ye that are penitent and poor in spirit, and rejoice : yea, again I say unto you, rejoice.”
6 Rom. xi. 22.
JOHN'S ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF. HIS BAPTISM.
John i. 19–28.
19. And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent Priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
20. And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
21. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias ? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
22. Then said they unto him, Who art thou ? that we may give an answer to them that sent us.
What sayest thou of thyself?
23. He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
John had taken upon himself a character of great importance. He had stood forward, and called upon all to consider their ways, 66 before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.' “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He might expect to be inquired of, Who art thou ; what sayest thou of thyself? Art thou“ he that should come to redeem Israel ?” Or, art thou Elias, who, according to the scribes, “must first come ?"
1 Matt. xvii. 10.