Christmas

Hercules Collins on the Hypostatic Union

Hercules Collins (1647-1702) made clear his own personal commitment to this union of two natures in Christ in his own writings. Among his 36 recommendations to preachers on how to rightly handle the Word of God in The Temple Repair’d, Collins included an explanation of how scriptural language often reflects this understanding of the union of the two natures.

In holy Scripture you will sometimes find that which properly belongs to one Nature in Christ is attributed to another by virtue of the personal Union; hence it is that the Church is said to be purchased with the blood of God; not that God simply consider’d hath Blood, for he is a Spirit; but it is attributed to God, because of the Union of the Human and Divine Nature. Moreover, it is said that the Son of Man was in Heaven, when he was discoursing upon Earth: Here that which was proper to the Godhead and the Divine Nature, is attributed to the Human Nature, because of the Union of the Natures.

Here Collins’ commitment to the hypostatic union becomes an important hermeneutical principle. He indicated the importance of explaining this in one’s preaching “with all the clearness imaginable,” because this doctrine “is so necessary to Man’s Salvation.” For Collins and his fellow Particular Baptists, doctrine mattered. Indeed, the salvation of individuals depended upon the proper explication of the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Collins considered the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures to be at the very core of orthodox Christianity.

In his Marrow of Gospel-History, Collins extols the theological truth of the hypostatic union in poetic terms. While attempting to describe the unique identity of the virgin born God-man, Collins expressed wonder at the mystery of the incarnation.

But yet that King, and holy Thing,
Which was in Mary’s Womb,
Was God indeed, of Abr’am’s Seed,
True God, and yet true Man.
Who understands, how God and Man,
Should in one Person dwell?
One Person true, yet Natures two,
But one Immanuel.

Collins does not seem to know how to explain the mystery of the incarnation, but he is committed to affirming and rejoicing in this divinely-revealed truth. Later in the same work, Collins expressed a similar amazement at how God was able to preserve Jesus as a man from the effects of original sin.

And tho this Man from David sprang,
He’s pure without, within:
And tho is made of Abraham’s Seed,
Hath no Orig’nal Sin.
Pow’r Infinite can separate
Between the Virgin’s Sin,
And Virgin’s Seed, for there is need
Christ be a holy Thing.

The sinlessness of Christ was important to Collins because the God-man had to be fully human, yet sinless in order to atone for the sins of other humans. Collins knew that it was the mystery of the divine-human union which preserved Jesus from the effects of original sin. He expressed the connection between the union of the two natures and the sinless of Christ and mankind’s salvation in the following verse.

A King of Peace, and Priest most high,
Who offer’d once for all;
Not for his own, but others Sins,
Himself, not Beasts did fall.
The Peoples Covenant thou art,
In Substance, Person, Name;
And hence art called Immanuel,
Two Natures, Person one.

Once again the important issue for Collins was how this doctrine relates to the doctrine of salvation. Humans need a savior who is simultaneously divine, human, and sinless. This is precisely the kind of savior which Collins saw set forth in Scripture. Therefore, this doctrine was of central importance. In the end, the never-ending union of the divine and human natures of Christ serve as an illustration of the eternal union between God and his elect because of the work of Christ.

That tho by Sin Man’s separate
From God, the chiefest Good,
Yet now in Christ united are;
Man shall live still with God.
And if the Union cannot cease,
Call’d Hypostatical;
No more can that ’tween God and his,
Because ’tis Eternal.

Seventeenth-Century English Baptists on the Incarnation

The Second London Confession of Faith was issued, in part, to set the record straight with the general public that Thomas Collier’s heterodox views on the Trinity and the eternality of Christ’s human nature did not represent the Particular Baptist community as a whole. The latter is addressed in the confession’s strong statement on the full divinity and humanity of Christ united in his one person.

The Son of God, the second Person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Fathers glory, of one substance and equal with him: who made the World, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made: did when the fullness of time was come take unto him mans nature, with all the Essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her, and the power of the most High overshadowing her, and so was made of a Woman, of the Tribe of Judah, of the Seed of Abraham, and David according to the Scriptures: So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, were inseparably joined together in one Person: without conversion, composition, or confusion: which Person is very God, and very Man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and Man.

Contra Collier’s position on the eternality of Christ’s human nature, the confession asserts that Christ “did when the fullness of time was come take unto him mans nature, with all the Essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.” The human nature was assumed at the incarnation and did not exist prior to this point in human history. At this point, the framers of the Second London Confession were following the wording found in the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration. Just after this section, however, the Second London adapts language from the First London Confession not included in either of these historic Protestant confessions. This wording further emphasized the full humanity assumed by the second person of the Trinity at Bethlehem. They added: “the Holy Spirit coming down upon her, and the power of the most High overshadowing her, and so was made of a Woman, of the Tribe of Judah, of the Seed of Abraham, and David according to the Scriptures.” This issue was important because these Baptists believed that the same human nature possessed by Eve, Judah, Abraham, and David was shared by the Christ. Only in this way could the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s coming be fulfilled.

Christmas Through the Eyes of Simeon

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. (26) And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (27) And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, (28) Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, (29) Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: (30) For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, (31) Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; (32) A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (33) And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. (34) And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (35) (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Luke 2:25-35

Do you remember how long it used to seem to take for Christmas to come as a child waiting? It seemed like an eternity. In a real sense, the whole nation of Israel’s history as recorded in the Old Testament is a period of waiting.

Simeon himself was waiting on the “consolation of Israel” (v. 25). All Old Testament saints similarly waited for Christ. Throughout the Old Testament there is a sense of anticipation.

  • Eve waited for the coming of Christ. When her first son was born, she said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” (Genesis 4:1). She may have thought that Cain was the answer to God’s promise to give the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. Cain the sinner, of course, was far from being Christ the Savior! Yet, you can see the expectation already for the One who would undo the effects of sin in this world.
  • Abraham, who took his only son Isaac to offer for a burnt offering, expected the Messiah and expressed his faith by saying to Isaac on their way to Mount Moriah, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb” (Genesis 22:8).
  • Jacob expected the coming of Jesus for he said on his deathbed to his son Judah “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10).
  • Moses spoke of the coming deliverer and said, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, of your brethren, like unto me: him shall ye hear” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
  • David celebrated Christ in his Psalms as the King to whom all kings bow (Psalm 2).
  • Isaiah the prophet spoke of the manner of the birth of the Messiah when he said, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah and Malachi all looked ahead to the coming of Christ. They were all waiting for the “Consolation of Israel.” Simeon stands together with all of them in a long line of Old Testament saints. He is a bridge between the two testaments. Tradition says that he was over 100 years old at this time. He is waiting. So many promises had been given through the prophets. Simeon himself had received a personal message from the Lord that he would not die until he saw the Messiah (v. 26).

Most in Israel had given up by the time of Simeon. Four hundred years had passed since Israel had received its last prophetic word from God. The people had grown tired of waiting. Simeon was one of the few left who was still waiting. Perhaps he remembered the Word of the Lord to His prophet Habakkuk in Habakkuk 2:2-4,

Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.

Simeon sees Salvation!
When Simeon sees the baby Jesus, he sees Salvation. To see Christmas through the eyes of Simeon is to see salvation (v. 30). A salvation that includes both Jews and Gentiles. This was not anything new to those who knew the Old Testament because, although the Jews were especially blessed by God, their blessing is referred to many times as the means to show God’s glory to the nations. Some of the greatest prophetic material concerning the Messiah are the “Servant Songs” of the book of Isaiah. In one of these, the prophet Isaiah records a conversation between God and His “Servant,” Christ. Look at Isaiah 49:6,

Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’

Simeon realizes that this salvation is “prepared” (v. 31). It is part of the plan of God from all eternity. Salvation is part of God’s eternal purpose.

Amazingly, Simeon didn’t have to see the public ministry of Jesus, or His miracles, or His death and resurrection. Seeing the baby Jesus, he had seen enough. He had witnessed the “Consolation of Israel.” He had seen God’s “salvation.” He had seen the “light to the Gentiles” and the “glory of Israel.” Simeon says, “I can die now” (v. 29).

Simeon not only sees salvation, he also sees suffering! The cross casts a shadow over the manger in Bethlehem. It’s impossible to truly celebrate Christmas without remembering the cross. That’s the reason He came. Jesus was born to die!

Years later as Mary stood at the foot of the cross as a Roman soldier pierced the side of her firstborn son, she probably remembered the words of Simeon, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.” When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he foresaw suffering.

This baby whose birth the prophets had foretold and whose birth was announced by angels became a man and died on an old, rugged cross. He is God’s salvation. All who have seen Him with the eye of faith may say along with Simeon,

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Luke 2:29-32

Three Lessons from the Wise Men

This post is the third in a series of three discussing the account of the worship of the Christ-child by the Magi in Matthew 2:1-12. In the first post, I played mythbuster by exposing three common misconceptions about the wise men. In yesterday’s post, I considered the significance of the three presentations (gifts) made by the wise men. In this concluding post, I would like to draw three points of application.

The Necessity of Special Revelation / Scripture
General revelation could only take the Magi so far. They needed special revelation to actually find the child-king. General revelation is what is revealed to all men everywhere through creation and conscience. Special revelation is the more detailed revelation that is revealed at specific times to specific people. If creation is the primary type of general revelation, then Scripture is the primary type of special revelation. The Wise Men saw something in the stars which led them to search for the Christ, but they only found Him after hearing the words of the prophet Micah that He was to be born in Bethlehem. Similarly all attempts to find God apart from His revealed Word will end in disappointment. But all responses to what is revealed in General Revelation will be rewarded with Special Revelation.

The Folly of Knowledge without Action
We’re so used to this story that the most startling thing about it has lost its edge. Pagans are worshiping the long promised Messiah, instead of the Chief Priests and Scribes who knew of His coming. The religious leaders of the day knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah. They were even able to tell the Wise Men exactly where He was to be born. But there is no indication in Scripture that any of these religious leaders took the 5-6 mile journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King. It’s important to know the Bible, but failure to act on that knowledge will result in condemnation. There are many who could explain the gospel story, but who have never personally placed their faith in Christ Jesus the Lord. What a tragedy!

The Priority of Worship
But the main application of this text is the priority of worship. Matthew shows us that the child whose birth was recorded in chapter 1 is worthy of worship as the King of the Cosmos. This must be our priority as we prepare to embark upon a new year. How should we then worship? Follow the model of the Magi by worshiping Christ as the ultimate King to whom every knee shall bow, the Great High Priest who has offered one sacrifice for sin forever, and the buried and risen Savior. He is worthy of our worship in 2011 and throughout all eternity! The scene of the wise men is a foreshadow of another scene that the apostle John was privileged to see and he recorded it in Revelation 5:11-14.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” [13] And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” [14] And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (ESV)

The Three Gifts of the Wise Men

In yesterday’s post, I played mythbuster by exposing three common misconceptions about the wise men. In today’s post, I will consider the significance of the three presentations (gifts) made by the wise men.  A final post on Thursday will offer three practical applications that we can learn from the story of the wise men.

The gifts of the wise men are the heart of the story of the wise men and the reason that it is recorded by Matthew in Matthew 2:1-12. Matthew desires to show how the Christ child was recognized and worshiped as a King by pagan astrologers.

The word translated “worship” means to fall down at one’s feet and worship. This is emphasized by the added description that they “fell down.” “Falling they fell at his feet and worshiped Him.” What a scene this must have been! A band of Oriental travelers entering a humble abode and falling flat on their faces at the feet of a toddler in an act of worship. And they brought gifts! This is either the most ridiculous scene in human history or this baby is the God-man, the heir to the throne of David, Christ the Son of the living God! And if this is the case, the Wise Men’s response is the only proper response.

The Wise Men’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were highly significant. These gifts were significant on two levels. First, from the Magi’s perspective these gifts were costly gifts worthy of a great king. They were seeking to honor this one who was born King of the Jews.

But the gifts of the Magi were significant on another level as well. Gold was the metal of kings. Frankincense was a sweet-smelling gum imported from Arabia that was used by priests in temple worship (Lev 2:1, 2, 15-16). Myrrh was a fragrant gum which was used as medicine and as a perfume, as well as to embalm the bodies of the dead. Thus, unbeknownst to the Wise Men each of their gifts meant more than they could have probably understood. These facts moved Bible commentator William Barclay to write:

Gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh for one that was to die – these were the gifts of the wise men, and, even at the cradle of Christ, they foretold that he was to be the true King, the perfect High Priest, and in the end the supreme Savior of men.

But what an indictment it is upon the religious elite of the day, that the birth of the Jewish Messiah was noted by Gentile foreigners! Where are the scribes? Where are the chief priests? They’re in Herod’s palace seeking favor with the political power from a man who within a few short years will be dead. While at the same moment the King of the entire universe has invaded planet earth. Talk about misplaced priorities!

Excursus: Herod the Great was a crafty and cruel ruler whose paranoia cost many of his own family members their lives. He murdered his favorite wife, her mother, two of her sons, and his own eldest son. The Roman emperor Augustus said it was better to be Herod’s pig hys than his son hyios.

Mythbusting the Wise Men

One of my family’s favorite television shows is Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel. On this program, co-hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage scientifically test popular assumptions, with the result either being that the myth is confirmed or busted.  The story of the wise men who came and worshiped baby Jesus is a familiar one, but there are a lot of unbiblical misconceptions about this story. Maybe you don’t know the story as well as you thought you did.  In this post, we’ll see just how well you know this story as I play myth-buster by exposing three common misconceptions about the wise men. I will follow up this post with one tomorrow that will consider the three presentations (gifts) made by the wise men.  A final post on Thursday will offer three practical applications that we can learn from the story of the wise men found in Matthew 2:1-12.

There are at least three common misconceptions about the Wise Men that are perpetuated every year by Christmas cards, carols, plays, and nativity scenes. They are their total (how many), their title (what are they called), and their timing (when did they come).

Their Total
Nowhere in Scripture are we told that there were three Wise Men. The Greek term (magoi) used is plural indicating that there were more than one, but no specific number is given. The number three, of course, is based on the fact that three gifts were given: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There could have been three Magi, but virtually any other number is almost as likely. Pick a number, any number.

Their Title
Nowhere in Scripture are they called kings. This legend was probably originally based on passages like Psalm 72:10, 15, and Isaiah 49:7 which speak of kings bringing gifts to Israel’s Redeemer. Of course, no where do those texts say that these gifts will be brought to the Christ child. I think they are probably best interpreted as referring to the future age in which the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord.

Seven hundred years after the birth of Christ, these “three kings” are even given names: Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. In Scripture they are simply called “wise men” or (magoi) from which we get the term Magi. It can mean one who is trained in astrology and dream interpretation or a magician/sorcerer. These were obviously astrologers because they came in response to a star which they had seen. In short, there was only one King present when the Wise Men visited, and his name was Jesus!

Their Timing
Nativity scenes regularly depict the “three kings” kneeling with their gifts before the manger along with the shepherds, cows, donkeys, etc. This almost certainly did not happen. The visit of the Magi could have been as much as two years after the birth of Jesus. It is very possible that Jesus was already walking and talking by the time the Wise Men arrived. There are at least two reasons for this conclusion. First, verse 11 clearly states that Mary and the Child were in “the house.” No cattle were lowing, no shepherds were present, no baby was in a manger. Enough time has elapsed for Joseph to secure a place for his family to live. Second, Herod asks the Wise Men when they began to see the star (v. 7) and on the basis of that knowledge had all the male children killed who were 2 years old or younger (v. 16). Evidently the Magi told him that they had begun to see the star signaling Christ’s birth 1-2 years earlier. In other words, contrary to what is commonly assumed, there were not three kings kneeling at the manger on the night of Christ’s birth.

In tomorrow’s post, I will set forth a more positive account of what the Bible actually says about the wise men and the significance of their gifts to the Christ-child.