We must labour to have our minds and faith well established in the true knowledge of the person of Christ, since it is a truth of so great moment unto us, and the mischiefs of erring about it will be destructive to our souls.
And the weight or importance that our faith be set and kept right in this point appears in that errors and mistakes herein, as they have been frequent, so fatal in all ages, and to all sorts of men that have had the knowledge or hearsay of our Christ.
1. To the Jews 'Christ was a stumblingblock,' 1 Cor. 1:23, both in what his person should be, as appears John 10:33 and other places, as also that his righteousness alone, through faith, should be the righteousness of a sinner, is in like manner said to be a stumbling block, Rom. 9:33. Their heads were mightily then taken up and busied who that man Jesus should be; and how many various opinions did the devils buzz into their minds to divert them from that which was the truth, and alone was to save them! Some said he was John the Baptist, some Elias, others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. And thus it is now at this day. The Jews, according to the principles and fancies of that age, had those forementioned several opinions of him, and perhaps many more. And in this age, according to other principles which Satan possesseth men's brains withal, several opinions are raised up, what this Christ should be, whilst all are zealous to profess him.
Then, again, Christ himself foretold it, as a forerunning sign of the destruction of Jerusalem, that the Jews having rejected him, the true Christ, they should be given up to many false Christs, [Gk.]. Now, those days, and the occurrences thereof, afore Jerusalem's destruction, are made types of the like to fall out (even in this particular point) in the days preceding the end of the world (whereof Jerusalem's destruction was itself a type in Christ's intention in that chapter). And accordingly these days now. Although Jesus at Jerusalem is more generally acknowledged by almost all that profess Christianity, yet in assigning what and wherein his being Christ consists, herein men have and shall run into as many several sorts of Christs as the Jews had done; one saying, Here is Christ, another, There is Christ; one that this is Christ, another this.
And such buddings and sproutings forth of such errors began in those first times, whilst Paul and other apostles were on earth, amongst those that pretended to Christian profession, witness those more than hints in several epistles, which Paul plainly styleth the 'preaching of another Christ' than what himself and the other apostles had preached. What else meaneth that passage, 'For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin unto Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another Spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him,' 2 Cor. 11:2-4. That in these passages he glanceth at some false teachers that had come in among them, as those words, 'if he that cometh to you preach,' &c., ver. 4, evidently imply, that at least such were then abroad in the world, and have been in other churches, and were ready to come to theirs, which Paul was afraid of. But more plain and directly, 'For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works,' ver. 13-15. And these expressions do import that the doctrines which these had vented concerning Christ were framed and raised up to so high an appearance of spiritualness, as were not only apt to take with believers, and deceive them, as ver. 3, which made Paul so jealous over them, ver. 2; but further, they seemed so angelical and seraphic, that in these, if ever in any (his depths, as they are called), Satan had shewed his depths, and had played the counterfeit of an angel of light, and transformed himself thereunto in his inventions of them; and when yet, as Paul plainly tells them, that it was but a counterfeit Christ, 'another Jesus than he had preached,' 'another Spirit,' and 'another gospel.' So as the Christ which these false apostles had dressed up, had so high an appearance of Christ's spirit and gospel, as seemed to vie with that true Jesus, &c., which the apostles taught, for glory and spiritual excellencies. And this also, that new form of an oath which the apostle useth upon that coherence, ver. 10, a new one framed to this occasion, 'As the truth of Christ is in me,' &c., says, he which he speaks to import that in those other teachers there was a false Christ, and not the true.
And to affect the Corinthians the more, and arm them with wariness against, and shew them the danger of entertaining any new doctrines about Christ's person, he presenteth and enforceth the moment hereof, under the similitude of marriage, 'I am jealous over you with godly jealousy' (the subject which jealousy is increased about, is fear of what may rise to the breach of the marriage-knot), lest you should entertain the embraces of another; and so it follows, 'for I have espoused you to one husband, and I would present you a chaste virgin to him,' that is, to Christ, to whom as yet you are but espoused. And it is as if he had said, There is but one spiritual husband, and there can be but one, your only husband, Christ. It is not as in the case of other marriages, if you have not such a man you may have another as good, yea, perhaps a better. But if you mistake here in obtaining this one, only one for your husband, you are undone. There can be no greater errors committed in marriage than error personæ, a mistake of the person you are to marry; and when thinking you marry such a man, you marry another. Yea, and if after marriage to one husband you should be deceived, as many women (as stories and experience shew) have been, when their husbands have been long absent and out of sight, others, that have had some resemblance of the true husband, or some privy mark of him, have put themselves upon their wives, and they entertained their embraces. How fatal a thing is this! 'But I fear,' says he, 'lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Even through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ,' ver. 3. The devil hath a special malice at the person of Christ, of all other truths concerning him; and to put this high abuse upon him, specially goes about to deceive his spouse in his person, to misrepresent him and deform him; yea, and if possibly he can effect it, put this trick upon him, and great imposture on her, that she should take another Jesus for him, the devil's Jesus instead of God's. and to effect this, of all other, he will use his utmost subtilty. And having been himself an angel of light, he will transform himself in pretended manifestations, and incomes, and ravishments of spirit, that shall accompany the entertainment and embraces of his Christ. He will use all means ('if by any means,' says Paul) to second, credit, and help forward this new match.
And one great occasion of their aptness to be deceived is the simplicity that is in the person of our Christ, not only in his human nature, a carpenter's son, a crucified man, a Christ in flesh, but that when besides for his divine nature, they think they have heard and known already well enough what God's nature is, by what is said of him in the Old Testament, and so in the Father, and to know but the same over again in Christ; this is no great addition to their knowledge. And that no other thing can be affirmed of him but that he is God, and that to think that he should have but the same simple uncompounded nature that God hath, and not be distinct from God therein. They think they are but as wise as they were in this, and so are apt to listen after such representations of a Christ, as shew him to be some divine Spirit that comes out of God, differing from God, which they fancy will afford matter of some new and manifold wisdom, besides that knowledge they have of God by other means. And thus the simplicity of his person (as they esteem this) is apt to cause them to listen after some other story of him. Whereas the glories and wisdom which ariseth from that union of God and man in one person is such, as transcends all other imaginations, though never so raised, which either angels, men, or devils have or could for ever invent concerning him.
And the deceits and trains that Satan lays herein, he compares to those wherewith the serpent deceived Eve, 'Lest, as the serpent beguiled Eve,' &c. He put it into their heads that there was a higher knowledge they might attain than in that keeping of God's law, they had already, or could attain thereby: and further, that themselves should be gods; so seducing them from God. And thus here there is not only a promise of a higher and more spiritual knowledge than that simple story of Christ God-man affords; but that themselves should be Christs. And they frame such a story of Christ as should serve to persuade this, and their capacity of this advance. For a Christ in flesh, which this man Jesus is, say they, you shall have a Christ in spirit. For a Christ without you, that is, God substantially, you shall have, every one of you, a Christ within you; yea, and if need be, they will not stick to affirm, yourselves shall be God substantially; and not be united only to God and Christ, but so united, as to exist in the form of God, and to be one and the same with God. Such or the like workings of this mystery of iniquity, deforming and perverting of the true Christ into another, you find in Paul's time amongst the Corinthians, or of which from false teachers then gone abroad, they were in danger of.Something answerable, or like to this, the Church at Colossus also were in danger of. Those philosophical teachers which, chap. ii. 8, he gives them warning of, 'Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.' Their doctrines perverted not only the purity of the worship of the gospel, but were intended to the misrepresenting the person of Christ, as appears by many characters; both 1. In that in the very next words, 'For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.' He gives them a perfect definition or description of the person of Christ, as in himself considered, and in his fulness to us, ver. 10, 'And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.' And this in a direct opposition (as the coherence shews) unto their philosophical Christ, which they for wisdom and excellency would needs compare with the apostle's Christ. And, 2. In opposition to their counterfeit Christ, it is, that he also sets out his Christ in all the personal excellencies and fulness, the like nowhere in all his epistles, Col. 1:15-18. And then also of his gospel, which is the revelation of him, Col. 1:23, 26, 27 to the end; and as it is the mystery of God the Father, and of Christ, Col. 2:2, 'In whom are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' Exhorting, that as they had received Christ, so they would walk in him, ver. 6, as in matter of order, so for faith; for unto both those that exhortation is directed, as appears by the coherence with ver. 5, but especially in their faith about the person of Christ, with which he therefore begins, ver. 7, 'Stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving,' being thankful to God he had revealed such a Christ, his Christ to them; for they could not have a better or another. And then follow those words, 'Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy, after the tradition of men, rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.' Some of the teachers of those times, finding in philosophers (then in credit) in Plato, Orpheus, Hesiod, Pythagoras, and in the Jewish traditions, many divine things about [Gk.], the Word, and of emanations, and genealogies, and descents from God, as Irenæus shews, of him from God, and of the creatures from him, they dressed up a Christ and a divinity with those philosophical clothes, and colours, and paint, which the apostle says, was not 'after Christ,' as you say a false picture of a man is not after the man, being not taken from him, nor resembling his person, but another clean. They were descriptions of him, not taken from the life or truth that was in him. Whom, therefore, Paul sets out in the substance of him, 'In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,' or (you shall give me leave to translate it) 'personally.' And so it was another Christ. And therefore, Col. 3:19, these are said not to hold the head, that is, him, ver. 10, he had styled 'the head of all principalities and powers;' and Col. 1:18, 'the head of the body of his church,' they having clean perverted him to another Christ. And as it was then, so it is now. Men have gone about to bring Paul's, the Scripture-Christ, to Plato's; and as such would obtrude him on the saints.
Thus it was in Paul's time; but John lived longer, after all the apostles, and saw these seeds and buddings then sown come to a greater ripeness, and open and more gross discovery, from blade to ear; and writing that first epistle to the Christian Jews in a more special manner, he seeing what Christ had foretold should fall out about the time of Jerusalem's destruction, both afore and after it, to be fulfilled, doth therefore, 1 John 2:18, give this warning: 'My brethren, it is the last hour' (because the last period of time afore that fatal overthrow of that nation), 'for even now there are many antichrists' (as our Lord had foretold), 'whereby we know that it is the last hour,' we seeing it thus fulfilled. And, 1 John 2:22, 'Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is, [Gk.]' the Christ, the sole and only Christ? And he is an antichristjhat denies the Father and the Son, the distinction of these two, and the personalities. 'And whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.' And, 1 John 4:1, 'Many false prophets are gone out into the world.' And what was the great false point of odds which they endeavoured to sow and diffuse? 1 John 4:3, ' They confessed not that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh,' and that Christ was God; and therefore the catholic faith of all true believers, in opposition to those errors about his person, he gives us; 1 John 5:20, 'And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.' They had other doctrines about their Christs whom they held forth, which were a full denial of all this. You have the like in his second epistle, ver. 7, 9. And to obviate those errors about the person of Christ was it that he wrote those epistles, and his gospel of John, after all the other evangelists and epistles written, exhorting them to hold fast to that Christ whom they had heard and known from the beginning, as himself and the holy apostles had set him forth, 1 John 1:1-8, 'That 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; (for the life 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); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.' And 1 John 2:24, 'Let that therefore abide in yon which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye shall also continue in the Son, and in the Father.' The like Epistle 1 John 2:9, declaring those that fell into such errors, and continued in them, to be such apostates as never had truth of grace: 1 John 2:19 'They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us;' and hints how some of them so sinned therein, as that withal they sinned the sin unto death, never to be recovered, 1 John 5:16, 17 (though not all; those words ver. 16 do imply), 'If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.' And of all he judgeth them such, as, without repentance, the saints should have no communion with, 1John 2:9, 10, 11, 'Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed: for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.' Of this consequence is true faith in this doctrine.
Now, as it was then, so it is now; those times, and the occurrences which then fell out (foretold by Christ) among Jews and Christians afore Jerusalem's destruction, being types of what should now fall out in the last days afore the end of the world; and we have yet but the buddings of what perhaps will grow up to greater ripeness and spreadings, as then they also did.
Multitudes of those that are orthodox in their opinions, or speculative judgments about the person of Christ, yet perish, because they know not, apprehend not, this true Christ, as he is in himself really and spiritually. They know not 'the truth as it is in Jesus,' as Eph. 4:20, 21, the apostle speaks. And this hath and doth fall out amongst all that live in the church. But others begin to err about the very notion of his person, coining other Christs, by diminishing from or adding unto the person of him, as they would represent him to us. And this is as easy as it is dangerous, even as it was an easy thing to make another gospel, and to entertain it, as in the Galatians' example appears, Gal. 1:6, 'I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel.' And in that forementioned 2 Cor. 11:15, the apostle speaks the like of preaching another Christ, considering men's aptness to err herein; it is no great thing (says he), though great in respect of the moment of it, yet easy and soon done. And that is the apostle's scope in that speech. And again, as some churches then embraced another gospel (as the Galatians), so upon other churches the devil endeavoured to obtrude another Christ.
And he is soon (in the doctrine about him) made another Christ, either by taking away from him, or adding to him.
1. By taking away from him, as if you take away his Godhead, this alters the person quite, as taking away the reasonable soul from the body of a man, takes instantly away the man, and leaves a brute beast in his room. It turns him into the carcass of a Christ; let him be set forth in words never so gorgeously or gloriously, the substance of his person is stolen away. Or else,
2. By adding to him; for if the joining works to Christ's righteousness, in matter of justification, made another gospel, as the epistle to the Galatians shews, then surely adding the persons of all the saints to the individual one Lord, one husband, Christ, and that they all should be Christ as well as he, equal with him, their union with God the same that he is, this is to un-Christ him.
—Thomas Goodwin, THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE FATHER, AND HIS SON JESUS CHRIST