“The glory which I had with thee before the world was.” John 17:5
The, prominent features which discriminated the life of Jesus, when upon earth, from all other characters which have at any time appeared upon the stage of this world, will be placed in the most advantageous point of view, if we previously examine the evidences we have of his pre-existent state and dignity. These, no doubt, are the great criteria of his divinity, and can alone enable us to comprehend many of the august events which followed in his life. My chief object in the present sermon, therefore, will be to collect such accounts as we have of this doctrine in Scripture, and bring them before you, together with the evidences of our Lord’s character, as described by the sacred writers; which will tend, I hope, greatly to ascertain, and prove beyond all doubt, his right to a divine nature.
Happy indeed is it for mankind, that many of them are self-evident, and require no explanation. The word of God, which is intended for common use, is adapted to common apprehension. And though it is written with all the marks of the most consummate wisdom, yet it wonderfully condescends, at the same time, to the humblest capacities, particularly in the great and essential points of knowledge, in which there is nothing but what the most uninformed mind through grace is capable of receiving. Divine goodness in this, as well as many other instances, plainly shewing, that however these things may be hid from the wise and prudent, yet hath he revealed them unto babes. ” God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty,” (I Cor. 1. 27.)
Nothing can more strikingly prove this, than the several passages of Scripture which have a reference to our present argument. For example, we see the most positive and express declaration of Christ’s pre-existence and dignity in the words of the text. For when our blessed Lord says, “he had glory with the Father before the world was,” what possible conclusion can any man make of this, but that Christ had existence in glory with the Father before the world? No …evasion can do away the very evident sense of the phrase. It is likely many different opinions may arise in the minds of different persons concerning the nature and degree of the glory here spoken of; and men fond of disputation and argument may spend much time in conjectures upon it: but if the words of Christ himself can be supposed to have any sense or meaning, his pre-existence and connexion with the Father must be admitted. ” He had glory with the Father before the world was.”
So again, when our blessed Lord, upon various occasions, expressed himself on this subject, and without a figure, in words like these; “I came down from heaven,” (John 6. 38.) proceeded forth, and came from God,” (John 8. 42.) ” Before Abraham was, I am,” (John 8. 58.) ” No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven,” (John 3. 13.) And in a conference with the Jews, he contrasted his nature and character with theirs, in language liable to no misconception; ” Ye are from beneath, I am from above. Ye are of this world, I am not of this world,” (John 8. 23.) “What, and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?” (John 8. 62.) What construction can any one possibly put upon these very plain phrases that shall deprive them of their evident sense and meaning, “that Christ came down from heaven,” and that “he proceeded, and came forth from God.”
It must be, I conceive, departing exceedingly wide from the point intended, to reduce them into mere figure and metaphor. That the apostles of Christ accepted them in their literal sense is evident; for upon an occasion of this kind, when our blessed Lord was discoursing to them upon the subject, and expressed himself in much the same language, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world and go to the Father,” (John 16. 28,) his disciples acknowledged that Christ spake plainly, and spake not to them in proverbs; and they expressed their faith in this doctrine in terms which, one would have thought, might have been safely followed by all sincere processor of Christianity to the end of the world: “Now (say they) are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God,” (John 16. 30.)
Once more. When the apostle John says, in one or his epistles, “We know the Son of God is come:” and again, in his gospel, “The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father:” in both these passages the meaning is liable to no misapprehension, upon, the supposition of Christ’s eternal nature; but the whole is abundantly clear, intelligible, and not to be mistaken. But put this out of the question, how ridiculous and absurd would it be to say, “the Son of God is come,” if Christ was not really and truly the Son of God, and did not possess in exclusive privilege to this title? or, why should the apostle particularize so plain and obvious a proposition, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” if our Lord was simply no other than a human being, and never existed before his birth from the Virgin Mary? How should a human being be otherwise made than flesh? And whom should he dwell but with men? Above all, what possible claim could this man of flesh have to the dignity mentioned; the glory which was beheld in him, as of “the only begotten of the Father?”
And here I cannot help digressing one moment, just to observe, how necessary it must be for all Christians who are sincerely desirous of coming to the knowledge of the truth, carefully to consult the sacred volume, in its pure and uncorrupt state, and in its own beautiful simplicity and plainness, unaltered by commentators of any description. It was the commendation given to the Thessalonians by the apostle Paul, that when “they received the word of God, they received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh in them that believe,” (I Thess. 2. 13.)
But I proceed to the further selection of those passages of Scripture which more particularly point out the pre-existence and dignity of our blessed Lord.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God.” This memorable passage, which so fully and circumstantially asserts the divinity of Jesus (by ascribing to him such attributes is are only compatible with Godhead), hath been examined with the most nice and scrupulous criticism, from the days of the apostles to the present hour, in order to invalidate the meaning, and to prove, if possible, that by the term Word, the sacred writer intended nothing personal. But all attempts of this kind must be insufficient. For when the apostle so plainly declares, that the Word was not only in the beginning with God, but actually was God, surely nothing can be more decisive: for this would be utterly impossible without admitting a personality. And, as if to remove all objections, and that no doubt might remain concerning the true sense of the word, it is remarkable, that the same apostle… uses the same expression in one of his epistles, and there annexes such positive qualities to the term as fully decide the point in question. “That (says he) which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life.” Terms these, highly expressive of person, and impossible to be accepted in any other sense. And observe how striking to the purpose what follows: “For the life (says he) was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” (I John 1. 1, 2.)
” That eternal life;” what a sublime expression! which not only confirms the certainty of its being personal, but also proves, according to the apostle’s ideas, the eternal nature of Him to whom it belongs. Both which are well known to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ. So conclusive and satisfactory are the writings of this beloved apostle in the very exordium both of his gospel and epistle, on this important doctrine. And were not facts against it, I should think it impossible that any one could open the Testament to these chapters, and read them with an unprejudiced mind, who could close the book without the fullest conviction of the divinity of Jesus.
Again: the apostle Paul exhorting the Corinthians to charity, makes use of the following remarkable passage: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his proverty might be rich,” (2 Cor. 8. 9.) In this verse the apostle plainly refers to a point which he assumes as a thing unquestionable, and which the Corinthians were not only informed or, but believed; namely, the dignity of Christ, previous to his appearance in the flesh. For otherwise the expression is unwarrantable and false. Christ we know was born and bred in the humblest poverty, and from the first hour of his entrance into the world, to his departure out or it, respecting worldly circumstances, was most poor, and wretched indeed: how then could the apostle call him rich? It is, therefore, clear that he alludes to that glory which Christ himself tells us he had with the Father before the world was, and which he put off when he came upon earth. And it is still more worthy your observation, that the apostle refers this to the consideration of the Corinthians, not as a new matter which they had never heard of before, or was at all questioned, or disputed among them, but as a fact with which they were all well acquainted, and which no man denied “Ye know (says he) the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich,” &c.