Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ralph Erskine on the birth and incarnation of Christ: No footing for fancy, nor for imaginary ideas

"Does faith’s view of an incarnate God, or of the eternal Son of God become man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, or the believing view of God in our nature, and clothed with our flesh; does it include, or rather does it not exclude any carnal fleshly view of him? If the flesh profit nothing, what a vain imagination is the view of an absent man, or a fanciful thinking, that because Christ was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted, that he is altogether such a one as ourselves? Does an imaginary view of the man help, or rather does it not hurt and hinder the saving sight of the God man, and the believing view of the glorious person of our Immanuel, God with us? The word was made flesh; but imaginary ideas of that flesh are unprofitable fancies: we do not believe till we behold his glory, as the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, John i. 14. To see Christ savingly, and without a delusion, is not to see flesh, but God manifested in the flesh, 1 Tim. iii. 16. Faith cannot fix upon Immanuel as man with us, but as God with us. It cannot see nor rest upon our nature in God, but upon God in our nature.

Can that be any part of the object of faith which is perceptible by the fancy of every man, and is obvious to natural discerning? While the Spirit of God says, The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; because they are foolishness unto him: neither can they know them; for they are spiritually discerned, 1 Cor. ii. 14. The things of man are known by the spirit of man; but the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Nay, the things of God that are taught by the word and Spirit of God, are indeed the objects of faith; but the things of man, which a natural man can receive, and carnal man can discern, are the objects of sense, and of vain unprofitable imagination. As faith looks through the history of the gospel to the mystery of it, so does it through the material flesh of Christ to the mystery of God incarnate. Though we are to believe that Christ is flesh of our flesh, yet the flesh or humanity of Christ is only the glass or veil through which we behold the glory of God. The fancy that terminates on the flesh, is not only vain and unprofitable, but pernicious and prejudicial to the faith that is of God’s operation; which, coming from God, leads to God, and cannot terminate upon Christ himself, but upon God in Christ. Hence the object of saving faith is no image of Christ, seen by fancy, or imaginary idea; but Christ, who is, and as he is the image of the invisible God: and faith’s acting upon this object, is a seeing of him that is invisible, and no sight of him visibly by the bodily eye, or perceptible by natural fancy and imagination. To make faith then include any carnal conception of Christ’s humanity, is a deep deceit and delusion, and as remote from saving faith, as the image one in this part of the earth may frame in his head of the emperor of China. That part of Christ that is visible, was the object of sense on earth, and is the object of vision in heaven, and may be the object of any man’s fancy or imagination; but never was, nor ever will be the object of faith, but as the invisible God is seen therein and thereby. Nothing sensible, nothing corporeal, nothing visible can properly be the object of that faith which is the evidence of things not seen, Heb. xi. 1. and looks not to the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen, 2 Cor. iv. 18. Hence our believing on Christ, a visible Christ present or absent, is not faith, but fancy, if we believe not on the invisible God that sent him, John xii. 44. Jesus cried and said, he that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And verse 45. He that seeth me, seeth him that sent me. And chap. xiv. 9. He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father. Matth. x. 40. He that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. Mark ix. 37. Whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me."~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy

"As the intellectual powers of nature can no more bring any man to the saving knowledge of God, than imaginary ideas can bring him to the right knowledge of Christ’s human nature; so this human nature of Christ was never seen or known to any saving advantage, but by the same supernatural powers and spiritual faculties whereby we see him to be God, and to be God-man in one person: For it is not in one light we see Christ as man; and in another as God; and in a third as God-man in one person; but in one and the same light we see the glorious person of our Immanuel God-man, when God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, shines into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face, or person of Christ. 2 Cor. iv. 6. Gal. i. 16. John i. 14."~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy

“The human nature of Christ is the object of faith, in so far as the invisible God is to be seen in the marvelous and preternatural conception and birth of it. And so it is proposed to our faith, Luke i. 35. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: Therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. Faith looks to the testimony of God in his promise of this wonderful birth, Gen. iii. 15. Isa. vii. 14. and in his word declaring the accomplishment of that promise, as he does in the gospels writ by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and the glory of God’s faithfulness, power and pity, manifested therein. In these respects it is the object of faith, and not at all the object of sense and fancy. The imaginary idea of a natural birth cannot help us to believe so much as the truth of the fact, That to us a child is born, whose name is, The Mighty God: Nay it cannot help to believe, that in such a place a woman brought forth a child. It is true, as the imaginary doctrine says, none can believe it without the imaginary idea of a woman and a child: Yet one’s having the idea of both these can no more help him to believe any remarkable story of a woman that brought forth a child, than a man’s having the idea both of a mountain and a moon, would help him to believe that a mountain brought forth a moon. Nay such ideas help people only to know the materials that are the objects of sense. And this knowledge all mankind have, that are in their wits, and have common sense. But this ideal and imaginary knowledge cannot help them to believe any proposition relating to these materials to be a truth or falsehood, a thing credible or incredible. The formal object of the human faith of this, That a woman brought forth a child, is some human testimony asserting it as a truth. And the object of divine faith relating to this mystery, the incarnation of Christ, or his human nature, its conception and birth, is the divine testimony, asserting this truth, That a virgin did conceive and bring forth a son, whose name is called Immanuel, God with us. Of this blessed wonderful incarnation of the Son of God, and the design of it, some of the ancient fathers write very sweetly; whose words quoted by Davenant in Col. p. 250 may be thus translated from the Latin. Irenaeus says, “How can the Ebionites be saved, if he be not God who wrought their salvation on the earth? And how shall man come to God, if God do not come to man?” Athanasius says, “If Christ had not been the true Son of God, man had not firmly been united to God: for what a mere man has got, may be lost, as it fell out in Adam. But, that the grace and gift might remain firm, God put on our flesh, that through this might be given to us all spiritual good things in sure possession.” Cyrillus speaks thus: “The Word is made flesh, that in him, and in him alone, the nature of man, being crowned with the praise and glory of innocency, might be enriched with the Holy Spirit, never to depart thence now, as it fell out with Adam, but to abide therein for ever.” The Son of God was incarnate, that human nature, being pulled away from God by sin, and alienated from the life and fellowship of God, might this way be most fitly restored to communion with God, and most firmly preserved therein; and that, as Athanasius said, our flesh, being of earth, might not go to earth, but being joined to heaven by the Word that was made flesh, might by him be brought to heaven. This mysterious birth and incarnation of Christ, and the glorious rays of divine power, wisdom, and grace thus shining therein, is indeed a sweet object of faith: But there is no footing for fancy here, nor for imaginary ideas.”~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy

"That imaginary idea that cannot think of him justly, but only of the flesh that profiteth nothing, must be a very ill neighbor, yea a neck-break to faith; which will have nothing to do with a half Christ, but conceives of, receives and matches with the whole person of our Immanuel."~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy 

"Christ's human nature is the object of faith, so as it cannot be the object of fancy, or of an imaginary idea. It is fit to observe, that, when a person or thing in the abstract is said to be the object of faith, such as the person of Christ, or the thing that is understood by the humanity of Christ, that person or thing, being the subject, cannot be understood to be the object of faith properly, without supposing a predicate, or something enunciate or declared concerning that person or thing, or some proposition, truth or record anent the same. Therefore, when the person Christ is spoken of as the object of faith, then the meaning is, Christ as held forth in such words, propositions, truths or records, as these, namely, That he is the Son of God; That he is the Sent of God; That he is the Redeemer, and the like; For then faith hath a truth or testimony concerning him to believe; and lays hold upon his person as exhibited in that testimony, by receiving it, and setting to its seal, that God is true, John iii. 33. Hence an unbeliever is one that believes not the record that God hath given of his Son, 1 John v. 10. Again, when any thing relating to Christ is said to be the object of faith, such as his human nature, then the meaning is, his human nature as held forth in such words, propositions, truths, or records as these, namely, That Christ is the Son of David; the Son of man; That to us a Child is born, whose name is, The Mighty God; That a virgin hath brought forth a son, whose name is Immanuel, God with us; That the Word was made flesh; That he was made of a woman, made under the law, made in the likeness of man. And the like: Then faith hath a truth or testimony concerning that human nature, that it is no natural thing, having any existence in itself, separate from the Son of God, but that holy thing which is called the Son of God, Luke i. 35. faith receiving the good tidings of great joy, That unto us is born in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord, Luke ii. 10, 11. and consequently that he is the true Messiah, the true Christ, who was the babe of Bethlehem; which, however little among the thousands of Judah, was justly renowned for being the prophesied place of such a birth. Hence the Christian poet's saying, Sancta Bethlehem caput est orbis quæ protulit Iesum. The testimony of God in his word, or his truth and verity , (as I have said elsewhere,) is the first object and immediate ground of faith. Charnock says, "The first act of faith considers God as true.--The first language of faith in receiving the testimony of Christ, is a testifying, or setting to the soul, that God is true, John iii. 33" The understanding is first exercised about the word as verum, true; before the will be concerned in it as good. These things being premised, the human nature of Christ is to be considered as the object of faith."~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy

"O seek, my friends, to be delivered from the strange delusions, the strange deities, the strange gods of the time wherein you live. Besides, the evident errors of the time, some that profess to be contending against errors, which is so far right and well done; yet are plunged over head and ears, in the gulf of new imaginary doctrines of their own; particularly, that strange doctrine of imaginary ideas of Christ as man. O beware, beware, of an imaginary idea of Christ as man, and of reckoning this to be knowledge or faith! For, that is nothing but a dead image of Christ in the brain, and is no part of rational knowledge, far less of revealed religion. As long as you have but an imaginary idea of Christ, as man, you have no view of the person Jesus Christ; for Christ, as man, was never a person; the eternal Son of God, in our nature, is the person of our Immanuel. While you look to a Christ painted in the fancy, as man, his voice will never quicken your dead souls; but when, by faith, you look to the man Christ, as Immanuel, God-man, and listen to his voice, as it is the voice of the Son of God, then the dead shall hear, and hearing, shall live."~Ralph Erskine, CHRIST's Quickening Voice