I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. -John 8:24
This is a very awakening scripture, and ought to rouse up your particular attention. The doctrine here maintained is the self-existence of Jesus Christ; which is not a mere speculative point, it is not an indifferent thing, whether you believe it or not; but your eternal salvation is so much concerned in it, that if you do not believe it, you will die in your sins, and will have every one of them to answer for at the tribunal of God. Is not this an interesting subject? Is not every one of us nearly concerned in what is to befall us after death? And has not our Lord here forewarned us of what is to befall them who deny His divinity? “They shall die in their sins.” And this He repeats twice in the text, the more strongly to impress it upon their memories. And what is it then to die in their sins? Is it a light trifling matter not worth your care and consideration?
To die in the midst of the pollution of a sinful life, to be taken away with all the guilt of it upon your heads, and to find after death no atonement, no Mediator, to protect you from the just indignation of the most holy God, who has declared that He is of purer eyes than to behold the least iniquity – Is all this of no consequence to you? Does not the danger come near enough to alarm even the most stupid and insensible sinner? But yet this is not the worst of dying in their sins. It is the most striking circumstance to consider to what a depth of misery your pollution and guilt must sink you. Sin and misery are inseparably connected, and none can deliver you from sin, but He who came to take away the sins of the world; and He cannot deliver you as man, He must be God who can have merit sufficient to take away sin, therefore if you deny Him to be God, your sins remain, and misery must be your portion – misery, the greatest you can suffer in soul and body, among the condemned spirits in hell for ever and ever.
This is the meaning of dying in your sins; and can there be any truth more affecting, or any subject more interesting? Does not the very proposing it awaken your hopes and fears? Every one of you is concerned at the peril of his eternal happiness to come to a point in this case, and to be determined; and therefore, men and brethren, let me entreat you to examine the matter strictly and solemnly. The divinity of Jesus Christ is the very foundation of the Christian religion. It is the first and principal article. The whole rests upon it; even what is called the morality of the gospel receives its obligation from His being the true God. If He was in any respect inferior to the Father, Christianity would be altogether the most stupid and absurd system of religion, and the most gross piece of
“That all men should honour the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). May He send His Spirit into all your hearts and convince you that He is God indeed, while I am speaking upon the two propositions contained in the text.
First, Jesus Christ is the self-existent God.
Secondly, If ye believe it not, ye shall die in your sins: “therefore I said unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I AM, ye shall die in your sins.”
First, the self-existence of Jesus Christ is declared in these words, believe that I AM, that I have existence in Myself, and exist by a necessity of nature: For I made all things, and without Me was not any thing made that is made. I am the Creator, they are My creatures. And the Creator must exist in a different manner from the creatures. All things are dependent upon Me, and have only a derived existence – they are what I made them, and they continue as long as I support them. No creature ever came into life without My power, and when I take away their breath, they die, and turn again to their dust; so that they have only a dependent being, whereas My existence is necessary and underived. I AM is My incommunicable name, and what it means is My incommunicable attribute.
Thus our blessed Savior is the great and eternal I AM. He is Jehovah: for He exists in a different manner from all other beings and things, as the word Jehovah denotes. The Christian writers, as far as I know, are unanimous in their interpretation of this divine name; they all agree that it relates to the existence of the divine essence, and is descriptive of that independent property by which Jehovah has existence in Himself, whereas all other beings and things derive their existence from Him. And to this the very Jews assent, acknowledging that Jehovah signifies the essence which necessarily exists. This therefore is a settled point. Now our Savior is frequently called Jehovah in the Old Testament, and thereby the self-existence of the divine nature is ascribed to Him. Thus the prophet, Isa. 43:11, “I, even I, am Jehovah, and besides me there is no Savior.” There was no Jesus, no Savior but Jehovah: therefore Jehovah and Jesus are one. And again we read, chap 49:26, “All flesh shall know that I Jehovah am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the mighty one of Jacob.” And the prophet Jeremiah says, “Their Redeemer is strong, Jehovah of hosts is his name” (Jer. 50:34); the name Jehovah belongs to the Redeemer; it is His incommunicable title. And since it is agreed on all hands, that Jehovah signifies the self-existent essence, consequently Jesus Christ is self-existent, for He is Jehovah. This argument is, I think, very clear and full, and the force of it may be thus summed up: Jehovah is self-existent, but Jesus Christ is Jehovah, therefore He is self-existent.
In this sense our Lord says in the text, If ye believe not that I AM, that Jehovah is in Me of a truth, ye shall die in your sins. I AM cannot relate to His created being: all the sophistry of Arianism and Socinianism cannot wrest the words to such a sense, because the Jews could not but believe that He existed, when they heard Him say, I AM; or if it was possible to disbelieve it, yet it would not have been a capital crime, unless He had been something more than a created being: therefore the very reason of the thing proves that He claimed some manner of existence different from human, and which it is absolutely necessary for every man to believe, unless he would die in his sins, and suffer the punishment due to them for ever. The translators have done great injury to this scripture by inserting the word he, I AM he, which is not in the original, and by putting it in, they have destroyed both the sense of the passage, and also the force of the argument: for, I am he, ought to refer to something said; but it has no reference, no sort of connection, either with what goes before or follows after. And therefore it is as absurd to insert the word here, as it would be in Exodus, where, upon Moses’ inquiring for some descriptive name, by which the Israelites might know that the God of their fathers had sent him to deliver them, “God said unto him, I AM THAT I AM, and thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” Would it not be abominable nonsense to read the words, I am he that I am he, and I am he hath sent me unto you? The learned world, Christians and Jews, would not allow of this glaring absurdity; for they have allowed that this passage in Exodus is expressive of the self-existence of the Deity. I AM denotes the necessary manner in which He exists, and since this is the meaning of it in one part of Scripture, certainly it must mean the same thing in every part of Scripture, especially when it is used by that Person who claimed to Himself all the attributes of divinity: and therefore the meaning of the expression if there was any obscurity in the usage of it in the New Testament may be clearly ascertained from its usage in the Old. When God sent Moses to the Israelites, with this divine name I AM, and when Christ, who never scrupled to call Himself God, assumed the same name I AM, certainly the same words spoken on the same subject must convey the same idea of self-existence, and whoever is self-existent is the true God, but Christ is self-existent, therefore He is the true God.
When the Arians and Socinians are pressed hard with Scripture arguments, they will allow Christ to be God in some limited and restrained sense of the word; but they cannot bear to hear of His self- existence, because this makes Him equal with the Father, which they deny: for it seems an insuperable difficulty to them, that He whom the Scripture calls a Son, should have the same self-existence with the Father. This is a standing objection with them, and with every other species of infidels, but this objection upon the true state of the case vanishes at once: for it is founded upon a very gross mistake, both of the nature of the doctrine, and also of the scripture explanation of it.
The nature of the doctrine is this. In the unity of the divine essence there are Three persons equal in all perfections and attributes, so that none is before or after another, none is greater or less than another, but the glory is equal, the majesty co-eternal. The trinity in unity is thus expressed in Scripture, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one” (1 John 5:7). “One,” says the unbeliever, “how can that be? How can Three be One? That’s a contradiction.” If it be, it is a contradiction of his own making: for unless they be Three in the same respect as they are One, which opinion could never be maintained by any man in his senses, then he must take the contradiction upon himself; and there may be, for any thing he knows to the contrary, Three persons in one essence, unless he can prove that the unity of the essence absolutely excludes personality. But before we can allow him this, he must first give us a plain account of the manner of the existence of the divine essence, and must demonstrate that it cannot admit of any persons in it; which he cannot possibly demonstrate by the light of nature. The most acute and enlightened genius is not equal to the subject. It is as far above his capacity, as the heavens are above the earth. Let him soar aloft upon the strongest pinions of moral reasoning, and try to measure infinity with the longest chain of metaphysical argument; yet when he came down from his towering flight, he could give us no fresh intelligence concerning the divine existence. The mode and manner of it would be still unknown. We know that there is an immortal spirit united to the body; but does any philosopher pretend to determine the mode of the existence of this created spirit? What idea can he form of it? Whence does he borrow this idea? Or in what kind of language will he communicate it unto another? If he be not clear in this more easy point, how can he form an idea of the mode of the existence of Jehovah? Can he determine how an infinite spiritual essence exists? What idea has he of the manner of the existence of an essence which was from eternity, and which was the first cause of all other beings?
How can you pretend to account for the manner of the existence of an infinite uncreated Spirit, after you have owned that you cannot account for the manner of the existence of a finite created spirit? Even to pretend to it is a most glaring absurdity; and therefore we may conclude, upon the footing of sound reasoning, that there may be three Persons in the unity of the divine essence; and the Scripture positively maintains there are Three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three are One. And
If nothing remain for the infidel to object to the state of the doctrine, what can he offer against the Scripture explanation of it? There can be no difficulty but what arises from the names of the divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and these have been a great handle of objection, and are still with unbelievers who are so blinded with their vices, that they know nothing of the true sense and meaning of Scripture, but only look into it for matter of cavil
I wish it was in my power to explain the Scripture doctrine in such words, as you may all easily understand. The doctrine of the Trinity is the most necessary article of the Christian religion, and we cannot take one safe step in the way to heaven without being clear in it. And since it is the very foundation of faith, I therefore entreat your more particular attention, while I am considering it. The Persons are each equal in every perfection and attribute; none is before or after another, none is greater or less than another; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. And consequently Christ, who was from eternity co-equal with the Father, did not make Himself inferior, because He covenanted to become a Son, nor did the Holy Spirit, who was from eternity co-equal with the Father and the Son, make Himself inferior, because He covenanted to make the spirits of men holy by His grace and influence.
The whole economy and government of the world, from the time of its creation to the final dissolution, was put into His (Christ) hands; and therefore the Scripture expressly assures us, that He created it, that He governs it by His providence, that He redeemed His people by His blood, and that He is to come again at the last day, in all His glory to judge it. And He, who was almighty to create all things, who was all-wise to govern all things, who had infinite merit to redeem His body the church, and who is to be God the Judge of all at the last great day, certainly this almighty, this all-wise, this all-meritorious, and divine Judge, must be self-existent. And being possessed of these offices, He might truly say, I AM; because he could not but have necessary existence in Himself, who was the first cause, and who gave existence to every other being and thing.
. Christ is the great and eternal I AM, true and very God, equal in all things with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as touching His Godhead; and therefore to the holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, we ascribe equal dominion, and honor, and worship, now and forever, according to the doctrine of the Scripture.