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some of his own proofs as he might fairly be; he seems to include the palmary prediction just mentioned, and urged Matt. i. 23 among those "citations from the Old Testament which are rather of the nature of classical passages, capable of a descriptive application to the events, than direct prophecies;" and states, what to us sounds most strangely, that "the doctrine of the miraculous conception has no necessary influence on the determination of the great point in the controversy concerning the person of Christ." So that the author's observations are not, it would appear, intended so much to establish the truth of this doctrine, as for the purpose of substantiating the authenticity of the disputed passages, for the sake of some texts included in them, to which he has occasion to refer; and of shewing how cautiously a zealous inquirer after truth should shun the reckless and flippant style of criticism of the Socinian school. These objects are, indeed, excellent, and worthy of his best efforts; but they are not, nor ought to be, the only result of a careful investigation of the important passages under consideration; which not only prove, as Dr. Smith justly admits-nay, contends they do,-the truth of the miraculous nativity; but also shew that this doctrine has a most "necessary influence on the determination of the great point in the controversy concerning the person of Christ." It appears to us to pervade every thing that relates to him; and on its truth or falsehood depends much of the essential peculiarities of our holy religion. We are the more surprised at our author's concession on this subject, as he does not deny, but believes, the doctrine. The uncertainty of tone which rests upon his general argument in this chapter, may probably be accidental and not intentional; but it materially derogates from the repose with which we could wish to place his argument in the hands of a Socinian.
CHRIST, OBSERV. No. 345.
The chapter on the evidence from the miraculous nativity is followed, as we have already stated, by one on the office and testimony of John the Baptist, which are aptly shewn to bear strongly on the general proof of our Lord's Divinity. Then succeeds a third chapter, occupying a large portion of the volume, as well the copiousness and importance of its argument required, on the declarations, intimations, and admissions of our Lord himself, relative to his own character. This division of the argument has ever appeared to us most striking and impressive. Concede but the single point that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of common honesty and veracity, and we want no more to prove, from his own words or intimations, all that is included in the orthodox doctrine relative to his sacred person and offices.
Dr. Smith has given us the following summing up of the chief heads of his elaborate and satisfactory chapter on this portion of the discussion.
"In the survey which we have taken of the doctrines which Jesus, in his personal ministry, taught concerning himself, either directly or in a remote and implied manner; or which, though proceeding from others, he admitted and acquiesced in ; we have found the following particulars.
"He was described by the voice of inSon of the Most High; in reference to spiration as being the Son of God, the his miraculous birth, and to his royal dignity and power, as the Sovereign of a new, spiritual, heavenly, and everlasting dispenhis enemies, that he was the Son of God, sation. He admitted, on the charge of in a sense which the highest judicial authorities of his country considered to be which were not compatible with the rank a blasphemous arrogeting of attributes of a human being. He declared that a perfect knowledge of his Person was possessed by God his Father only, that he himself had the same perfect and exclusive ledge was reciprocal and equal, and that knowledge of the Father, that this knowit was above the powers of human comprehension. He affirmed himself to be
the Son of God in such a sense as included with that of the Father; the same domian equality, or rather an identity, of power nion in the arrangements of Providence; the same superiority to the laws which were given to regulate the seasons of human labour; and the same right of religious homage and obedience. In like
manner he asserted that he was the Son of God so as to be One with the Father, by a unity of power; which he justified and confirmed by declaring a unity of essence, or of nature and distinguishing properties.
"Our Lord, with a remarkable frequency, styled himself the Son of Man; an appellation equivalent to that of Messiah, but the least capable of any injurious construction. This designation he often combined with the assertion of a pre-existent and heavenly nature: the condescension of which, in forming a new and interesting relation with mankind, is represented by the same expression that is used in the Old Testament to denote peculiar acts or manifestations of the Divine personal interposition. To this superior nature Jesus appears to refer as a Witness to the truth of his doctrines, in accession to the testimony of the Almighty Father.
"Our Lord further adverted to the pristine condition of his superior nature, as a glory which he had with the Father before the existence of the created universe; and which was to be displayed to the contemplation of holy intelligences, in the most exalted manner, when the purposes of his humiliation to sufferings and death should be accomplished, and that assumed state of humiliation should cease. He shewed that this glory consisted in the manifestation of those moral excellencies which form the unrivalled perfection of the Divine Nature; and this manifestation he affirmed of the Father and of himself, reciprocally. He solemnly averred that he had existed ages before his human birth, and before the birth of Abraham.
"Christ affirmed that a power was given to him, in his mediatorial capacity, which involves the absolute controul of the minds, passions, and actions of mankind, and the management of providential agency; qualities clearly incongruous with any nature or capacities merely created: and he declared the exercise of this power to be coeval with the duration of the present dispensation of the Divine govern
"He spoke of the holding of religious assemblies, as a usage which would be characteristic of his followers, and as an act of religious homage to himself: and he assured his disciples that, on all such occasions, which must of course include all times and places, he would be with them, in such a manner as allows of no rational interpretation except on the admission of his possessing the attributes of omnipresence and the exercise of special grace.
"He described himself, with remarkable strength and particularity of expression, as the Being who will effect the stupendous miracle of the universal resurrection, and will determine the everlasting retributions of all human beings; works
for which infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, and righteousness are indubitably
During the period of his debasement and humiliation, he accepted of religious homage, and that of such a kind and under such circumstances, as cannot be reconciled with the integrity, humility, and piety of his character, upon the hypothesis of his simple humanity.
"He also assumed an absolute juris diction in matters of moral obedience; thus claiming that authority over the hearts and consciences of mankind which can belong only to the Supreme Lord, and which involves both a right and power of taking cognizance of the secret sentiments, principles, and feelings of men's souls. He represented himself as the Sovereign Head of the Gospel dispensation, and was uniformly so considered by his Apostles. Its miraculous establishment was attributed to his personal and peculiar power, a power to modify and controul the laws of nature: and, in all its arrangements, offices, ordinances, diffusion, and success, he is constantly declared to be the real and ever-present Agent. The exercise of this power manifestly implies a universal dominion over the whole course of natural and moral events; the causes and occasions of human action; the understandings, passions, and motives of men, in every state and of every character; and the efficient determination of the issue to all the purposes and actions of all mankind. In a perfect analogy with these high prerogatives and powers, the Lord Jesus ascribed to himself a spontaneous power to relinquish his own human life, and to resume it, and the resurrection of his body from the state of death, is expressly imputed to his own will and agency.
"With all this, Jesus uniformly maintained his entire subordination to the will of God his Father; that all which he performed and suffered, taught and commanded, in the great work of his mission to mankind, he did, for no private or separate purpose, but solely in pursuance of the appointment, and for the accomplishment of the gracious designs, of Him who sent him. Not only did he reject the idea of having any detached interests or objects, but he even affirmed that he had not a detached existence from the existence of the Father. The will and work and glory of the Father, are repeatedly stated to have been identically the will and work and glory of the Son. It is declared that the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father; and that He and the Father are One.
"Such is the purport of the testimony which our Lord Jesus Christ bore concerning himself. Whether these particulars have been fairly deduced from their premises, by legitimate criticism and honest interpretation, has, throughout the
preceding disquisitions, been carefully submitted to the judgment of the learned and intelligent reader: and he is again requested to exercise that judgment upon this recapitulation of the results. It has been, also, my honest endeavour to present the grounds of the evidence, at every step, in a manner so detailed and perspicuous, that I flatter myself any attentive and serious reader, though not possessed of the assistances to be derived from an acquaintance with the original languages of Scripture, will find it no difficult task to follow each argument, with a clear perception of every thing on which its validity can depend.
"Let me entreat him, then, to meditate anew upon the character, both mental and moral, of the Person by whom all these attributives have been avowed as his own, or plainly assumed, or more or less indirectly implied, or permitted to be ascribed to him by others: and let him consider whether it is possible to believe the soundness and sobriety of mind of that Person, and still more his perfect holiness, humility, and piety, on the supposition of his knowing himself to be nothing more than a mere human creature, however singularly wise and virtuous; a fallible and peccable man: and whether, on the other hand, it is not necessary, in order to support the integrity of his character and the truth of his teachings, to believe that he possessed, not the nature of man only, but another Nature, superior and pre-existent, celestial and really Divine." pp. 357-363.
We have not space to argue out in detail these condensed notices, which furnish the matter for numerous capitules and sections of the chapter before us; nor need we, since no impartial reader, we think, can peruse even in their nakedness this brief syllabus of our Lord's statements, without coming to the conclusion that if he who made such declarations, or gave such intimations, as the foregoing, was not guilty of the grossest falsehood and duplicity, he was truly the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Saviour of the world, in the highest sense which the great majority of Christians, from the primitive times to the present, have been accustomed to attach to those expressions. The Socinian glosses and dilutions on this subject are such as would deprive language of its power of conveying ideas, and render it merely a vehicle for deception. Take, for
example, the following illustration, or rather darkening, of such passages as John iii. 13: "No one hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven;" a text of itself amply decisive of our Lord's pre-existence and glory.
"The opinion preferred by Mr. Belsham, and by the generality of modern Unitarians, may be thus represented:
"The Jewish notion of a local heaven, say they, is an absurd and puerile hypothesis. God is at all times equally and every where present; and heaven is a state, not a place. To be perfectly virtuous and to be perfectly happy, is to be in heaven. To ascend into heaven is a Hebrew form of expression, to denote the acquisition of such knowledge as lies remote from by the ordinary faculties of men: for excommon apprehension, or is unattainable ample, Deut. xxx. 11. Prov. xxx. 4. Baruch iii. 29. Rom. x. 26. The phrase, therefore, here denotes, No one is instructed in the Divine counsels.' The next clause is to be understood in the same figurative manner, and is perfectly correlative with the first; signifying, Excepting the Son of Man, who had a commission from God to reveal his will to mankind.' This form of expression also is used in Scripture, to signify what is of Divine origin or authority; as when our Lord asks, The baptism of John, was it from heaven or of men?' Matt. xxi. 25. The last clause in John iii. 13. is a continuation of the same figure, so that the true sense of the whole text may be expressed thus: No one has ever been admitted to a participation of the Divine counsels, except the Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth, who has been commissioned to reveal the will of God to men, and who is perfectly instructed and qualified for this office."" pp. 116, 117.
Can any thing be more farfetched, jejune, and, we scruple not to say, preposterous, than this paraphrase? Dr. Smith replies at considerable length to this objection. We shall give the substance of his argument, which is well-constructed and satisfactory.
"1. The idea of a local heaven runs
through the whole tenor of the Old and New Testament, and may be held without involving any absurd or puerile conceptions, without at all derogating from the most exalted belief of the Divine immensity, and without any inconsistency with the facts of just science. That there from man, and inhabiting other parts of are orders of intelligent creatures distinct the universe than our planet, is rendered
to the highest degree probable by modern discoveries in astronomy,' and is, in a variety of ways, asserted and implied in the volume of revelation. There is nothing incongruous with the most rigid philosophy in the supposition that the very locality of perfectly holy and happy beings should be distinguished by peculiar, and even external, manifestations of that favour of the Deity, which is rich and diversified in its resources above all human conception. All known analogies countenance such a supposition. Neither is there improbability in the idea, that some part of the inconceivably-extended universe may have been prepared by the wisdom of God, as a region above all others proper for the most sublime manifestations of that glorious favour. To such an idea the language of the Scriptures is not merely favourable, but decidedly and constantly proceeds on its admission. To affirm that the omnipresence of the Divine Nature renders impossible any such peculiar manifestation, is a gratuitous assertion, and could not be maintained without virtually denying the attribute of omnipotence. The question does not refer to the essential presence of the Deity, but to special manifestations of his attributes.
"2. The statement of Mr. Belsham is not correct when he says, 'to ascend to heaven is a Hebrew form of expression, to denote the knowledge of things mysterious and remote from common apprehension.' The four passages referred to by him and other writers, evidently signify a real and local ascent, with a view to obtain the knowledge, or other blessing, adverted to in the connexion of each. Let the reader impartially examine them. That the sacred writers believed in the possibility of such a corporal ascent, no more derogates from their inspiration than does their being ignorant of the true construction of the solar system. It was no part of the design of revelation to teach men natural philosophy. In their using the phrase, 'ascending into heaven,' the writers evidently conceived of a real penetration into the regions of celestial light and happiness, in order to the acquisition of the knowledge which is peculiar to the Divine Being. When Jesus, in the case before us, employs the expression, he neither affirms nor denies the hypothetical possibility of such ascending into heaven; but he states the fact to be, that no human being ever had actually so ascended.
"Other examples which occur in Scripture of this phrase clearly refer to a real ascent. The following are all that I have been able to discover, which can affect the present inquiry: Deut xxx. 12; Prov. xxx. 4; Ps. cxxxix. 7; Isai. xiv. 13, 14; Acts ii. 34. These instances plainly shew that the expression was commonly understood among the Jews to signify a
real translation to heaven as to a place. This is not contradicted, but confirmed, by the hyperboles and metaphors which are derived from this phrase, and applied to lofty towers, the waves in a storm, splendid prosperity, exalted privileges, and prodigious sins.
"3. The correlate expression, to descend from heaven, is repeatedly used in Scripture in reference to the Divine Being. Yet it cannot be supposed that a local motion of the Infinite Spirit is intended. The design of such passages undoubtedly is to describe any remarkable manifestation to men of the power, intelligence, mercy, or other attributes, of Him who inhabiteth eternity.'
4. By a natural and easy figure, arising from the phraseology just mentioned, any revealed doctrine, precept, or prediction, or any signal interposition of the Divine government, is in Scripture said to be, or to come, from heaven. So it was predicted that, in the constitution of the Gospel, righteousness should look down from heaven: the baptism of John was from heaven;' every good and perfect gift is from above; the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men ;' and, in the Apocalyptic visions, special acts of the Divine dispensations, respecting either the present state or the retributions of the future, are described as 'coming down from heaven;' and in these passages it is evident that the imagery requires the idea to be maintained of a real and local descent. It is also observable that, in every instance in which a person is said to be or to come from heaven, a real and literal presence of the person is manifestly in the design of the sacred writer; and that the improper or figurative use is applied to things, such as doctrines and messages, promises, threatenings, and providential dispensations.
"5. Though this figurative use of the expression, in application to signal benefits conferred by God, is of frequent occurrence in Scripture, and it would have been scarcely less natural to have employed the same in relation to eminent persons raised up by Providence for peculiar services to mankind; yet no instance of such application exists, excepting to the Saviour of the world. Upon the notion of the Unitarians, that the expression is synonymous with bearing a Divine commission, we might well have expected to find it often used in such a sense. we find not this phrase, or any one like it, ever applied to any illustrious deliverer of the Hebrew nation, though commissioned and miraculously supported by God; such as Moses the greatest of political bene factors, or any of the Israelitish judges, or David, or Cyrus, or Zerubbabel; nor to any prophet, though divinely inspired to bring glad tidings from the Fountain of Mercy, as Elijah, Isaiah, or Malachi ; nor
to any of the inspired teachers, who 'received not their doctrine from man, nor were taught it' by any human means, as Peter, John, or Paul. On the contrary, in the sequel of the passage before us, this is made the very ground of distinction between John the Baptist and Christ. 'He who cometh from above is over all: he who is from the earth is from the earth, and from the earth he speaketh : he who cometh from heaven is over all.'
"6. From a careful examination of the scriptural use of the expressions, from heaven, and being, coming, or descending from heaven, it appears to me that the idea intended is a Divine origin, which is of course applied variously, according to the nature of the subject. Now, if we compare the passages in which such language is employed in relation to Christ, with those which are acknowledged to refer simply to the peculiar manifestation or energy of God, we shall find that the former are fully as express and definite as the latter for denoting an actual and personal presence in distinction from any merely figurative idea.
"The weight of philological and scriptural evidence appears to me to determine the passage at present before us to this signification:
"If ye are so averse from apprehending and embracing my testimony with respect to those subjects of religion which refer to your own reason and conscience in the present state, how will ye be capable of understanding those more sublime truths, the knowledge of which is entirely dependent on a revelation from the Deity himself? Yet doubt not my ability to give you correct information, even on those exalted themes. No human being, indeed, has ever been, or could be admitted to that most immediate and perfect manifestation of the Divine Presence which would communicate to him that knowledge. But the Messiah, whose superior nature is eternal, omniscient, and in every respect divine, has assumed
the nature of man for the express purpose of bringing this knowledge and all other Divine blessings to your enjoyment.' pp. 117-129.
In turning over this chapter we observe the following remark, at the conclusion of a critique upon the phrase "I am," as used by our Lord: "Before Abraham was, I am."
"But there seems to be little reason for debate about the tense of the verb, when it is considered that Jesus, speaking in the dialect of his country, most probably used no verb at all. The idiom of the Hebraic languages would have required, I HE, as it occurs in several passages of the Old Testament, which contain a peculiar and most solemn declaration of the supremacy and eternity of
Jehovah; or, as the clause before us is translated in the venerable Syriac version, whose antiquity is nearly apostolic, and whose language differs by very slight shades from that which was spoken by Jesus and his countrymen, I, I myself."
From the several foregoing considerations, it plainly follows that an unexceptionable translation of the clause would be this,' Before Abraham existed, I myself existed.'
"Thus we are led, both by the facts of the case and by the phraseology, to the conclusion that our Lord certainly affirmed himself to have a superior and pre-existent nature." pp. 185, 186.
A reference from the canonical Greek text to the venerable Syriac, or the supposed vernacular words of our Lord, is only justifiable for the sake of explanation, illustration, or confirmation. The appeal to the Greek text, where that text is explicit, ought to be final. On first reading Dr. Smith's Syriac, or Hebraic illustration, it struck us as a very happy reference; but upon fuller consideration it does not so well satisfy our minds; for to mean any thing specific it must be moulded into something like the following "Our Lord spoke in a diashape: lect which was ambiguous; and St. John, putting his words into Greek,
may have used a different tense to that which he meant; he perhaps meant the past, while St. John uses the present." Dr. Smith certainly cannot intend this; and so far from thinking it necessary to disparage the Greek reading, he shews that its idiom well allows of "I am " being here satisfactorily understood in the sense of " I was ;" but in this case the Syriac reference avails nothing. We doubt whether in any language, at least as spoken, the present and the past are equivocal; the tone or inflections of voice would in speaking point out the difference; even a little child who in its first efforts to speak omits the auxiliary parts of its sentences, does not usually leave us at a loss in this matter of tense; and we doubt not that the Greek inspired text is a true fac-simile of our Lord's vernacular speech, with all such shades of meaning as were