The Fact of the Incarnation
Bishop William R Nicholson, D.D.
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.—John 1:14.
[Note: This is an old sermon by a preacher in the 1930's. It should help you to better understand Christ’s Birth.
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.]
It has been well said of this sentence that, if it were measured by the number of its words, it is very short; but, if measured by the meaning of its words, it is long exceedingly. It is, indeed an ocean in a drop. I propose to consider it only from one point of view—simply the statement that it makes of a fact.
"The Word was made flesh." The fact of the incarnation—this is our subject. First, Who was made flesh? "The Word." And who was the Word? Connect with verse first. Some one who was before the beginning of creation; "in the beginning was the Word" (Gen. 1:1). Uncreated, then—eternal. This eternal Some One, antecedently to the creation, "was with God"; not with God as your walking stick is with you, but as your friend is with you. Intercourse, communion. A Person, then —an eternal Person. This eternal Person was ‘with God; two eternal Persons, therefore in fellowship together, antecedently to all creation.
Again, "The Word was God"; the eternal Person who was with God was Himself a Person of the Godhead. Such was He who is here called the Word. Manifestly the Son of God, as other Scriptures speak of Him, the only begotten of the Father, as He is expressly called in the words following our text.
And hence His title, the Word; for as our words are begotten of our thoughts and are the expression of ourselves, so He is the begotten of the Father, and is the Father’s revelation of Himself to the universe. He— an eternal, divine Person, the second Person of the Godhead, the Son, the begotten of God, the filial Deity. He it was who was made flesh. Accurately speaking, it was not Jesus who was made flesh, for He was not called Jesus till He had become flesh; nor was it Christ, for He came into the office of Christ only after He had been made flesh. It was the Word who was made flesh: the same who was in the beginning, and was with God, and was God.
Second, What was He made? "Flesh." This word can only mean in this place perfect human nature—body, soul, and spirit. Soul (John 12:27). Spirit (John 11:33; 13:21; 19:30). Totality of human nature (Heb. 2:14). But why, then, is it not said in the text, that He was made man, instead of He was made flesh? Certainly He was made man, and He called Himself a man (John 8 :40). But flesh is more directly suggestive of birth, and the one nature of all Adam’s children, and of the fleshly weakness incident to them all; in a word, of the identical nature of mankind.
This is what He was made: one of us; as identically man as though He had been nothing mare. The eternal Son of God, the filial Deity, He who from eternity was in fellowship with the Father, and was Himself Deity in common with the Father, He was made one of us, as really, as perfectly, as mentally, as morally, as actively, as feelingly, as sufferingly, as enjoyingly, one of us as either of us is one of us. Then it was He was Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.
Third, How was He made manifest? Literally, "became flesh." He was the Word, and the Word became flesh; as we say of a man, he was a friend, and he became a helper; that is, by his own will and exertions. The eternal Word willed, in unison with the Father, to become flesh, and by His own power, in unison with the Father, He became it. As in the third verse it is said, "All things became by him," so now "He became flesh," i. e., as by His own creative power, under the Father, He gave being to all things, so by His own creative power, under the Father, He gave being to His own human nature—He became flesh.
He became flesh, first, by emptying Himself, for a time, of the divine form or mode of appearing (Phil. 2:7; II Cor. 8:9); and secondly, by taking upon Himself human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary by an act of miraculous power; not from a human father, but as all things became by Him, in unison with the Father, and in the energy of the Holy Ghost, so by His own power in power, in unison with the Father, the energy of the Holy Ghost, His human nature became a child of the Virgin.
Fourth, He became flesh, but not a human person. As having no human father in taking human nature upon Himself, evidently He did not take upon Him the person of any one man, nor a human person at all. His divine eternal Person was the one only Person of the Word become flesh. This is also indicated in the connection of the two clauses of our text. Jesus Christ, while having perfect human nature, did not have a human person. In nature He was God-man; in person He was only God.
Himself in the womb of His mother while being, because of His birth of woman, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, yet was without the moral taint-’which would have resulted from the ordinary generation (Ram. 8:3; II Cor. 5 :21); but lie had no sin of His own. In those weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh which He had in common with us, and which made more intense and practical His human brotherhood with us, such as hunger, weariness, a sense of the want of sympathy, etc., lie was still without sin, absolutely the spotless man. It was our own veritable human nature, but sinless, which He took into union with His divine nature, and which He thus absorbed into His one eternal personality. And so, speaking with comprehensive accuracy; He became not a man, but man.
Sixth, He so became flesh that henceforth He forever retains the two natures. He did not cease to be what He was before —the ‘Word, the filial Person of the Deity, the immaculate and all glorious. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us": the Word who became flesh was the same He who dwelt among us. And the Word whose glory was that of the filial Deity was the same He of whom after He became flesh John said, in the words next after our text, "We beheld his glory, the j glory as of the only begotten of the Father."
And as thus, in becoming flesh, He ceased not to be what He was before, so He should ~ never cease to be what He had become. He did not assume humanity as something which could be laid aside, for He became humanity; not as if He had put it on as a garment, which might afterwards be put off, but as if a garment, in the putting on, had come to be a living part of a man himself.
He became flesh. The Lard Jesus Christ is humanity as truly as He is Deity. It is now as integral a part of Himself as is His eternity, or His sonship in the Deity. Henceforth and for ever and ever, God the Son is God the man, as much so as you are a man, as I am a man; whether as now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, o’~ as hereafter coming in the clouds of heaven, or as throughout our eternal state, after having wiped all tears from our eyes, leading us whithersoever He goeth.
Seventh, the two natures are in Him as united, but not as confounded. In Jesus Christ we contemplate the perfect union, under the one divine Personality, of two perfect and distinct natures, the deity and the humanity. An old Latin line represents the Word made flesh as saying, "I am what I was, that is, God; I was not what I am, that is, man; I am now called both, that is, both God and man." The union of the two natures, and yet the distinctness of each, is what must be emphasized. The union is perfect, but it is union, not mixture.
The deity was not lost in the humanity, nor the humanity in the deity, nor were the two so combined as to produce a third thing unlike either of the two. United they were, but not blended. The distinctness and the value of the deity, and the distinctness and the value of the humanity, are each preserved, but uniting as one harmonious whole in one divine august Person, as somewhat similarly a man’s body and soul are united, not mixed, in his one person. Of this union of distinctions and the distinctions in union are fundamental to the redemption work of Jesus Christ, for except as being distinctively man He could not stand for man in the punishment due to man; and except as being distinctively God, His sufferings could not suffice for all men, nor indeed could be even permissible in equity.
And, in addition to what we have said, both the distinctions and the union are beautifully illustrated in the correspondence of the text to the first verse of this Gospel.
"The Word was God," and, "The Word became flesh"; eternity and time, the divine and the human, each distinct, yet both together. "The Word was with God," and, "The Word dwelt among us," the mode of the existence of Deity and a living and historical connection of that existence with human life, each distinct yet both united.
"The Word was in the beginning"; and, "The Word became" (in time); He as beyond all measured duration, yet as manifested in measured duration—the one thing successive to the other, yet both things uniting in His one Person, in whom are thus reconciled for us the opposite elements of life and thought, the infinite and the finite.
Eighth, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." These eight words may remind us of a military encampment in the midst of surrounding foes, guarded on all sides, watchful at every point. First, there come those who deny that Jesus Christ is God, and these words thunder at them, that it is the Word who became flesh, and the Word was God. Next, there have been those who denied that He was really man, and our text has driven them back by the statement that the Word became flesh. And there are those who say that, while He had a human body, He had not a human soul, His deity taking the place of a soul, and our text again repels the attack by that word flesh, which in the light of the Savior’s own words elsewhere, it is impossible to understand here as meaning less than perfect human nature. Others have said that He assumed flesh only for a time, and then laid it aside, as being that which was foreign to Himself, and our text meets them with the truth that He became flesh, and did not merely clothe Himself in it.
Still others have confounded the two natures, mixing them up, and producing a third thing unlike either of the two, as when an acid and an alkali are compounded together, and our text overthrows them by keeping the two terms, the Word and flesh, side by side. And there have been those who, while keeping the natures distinct, have doubled the personality, and said that He was both a human person and a divine Person, and our text repulses them by the fact that the one He who dwelt among us was the eternal Word who became flesh.
Such is the fact of the incarnation; the Word, the Son of God, the filial Deity, becoming all that belongs to the essence of man, without regard to sex or race or time. And this fact is historical; not an unsubstantial legend, but a veritable occurrence. If there were nothing else, as proof, than the historical character of Jesus Christ, towering heaven-high above all attainments of mankind, blooming afresh in every succeeding age and filling the world with fruit, thus demonstrating that He came to be of men and among men not as any other man began to be, it alone would be proof unanswerable.
But there are many, many proofs, and all of unrivaled force, even the enumeration of which we have no time to give. There is just one little feature of our text, which we may glance at as adding confirmation to the great mass of evidences. It is the unpretentious style of statement in which the fact of the incarnation is given. A more wonderful fact was never expressed in words, was never even conceived. If all the marvels of all the ages were condensed in one, they would not make so marvelous a thing. And yet how briefly and simply it is told. The modesty of the text is a wonder only less wonderful than the fact it states. It is not in human nature to speak with such reticence of what is so overwhelmingly wonderful. If the alleged fact had been the writer’s invention, or even his superstitions, expletives and exclamations would have piled around it, sentence upon sentence; pretentious analysis and labored commentary would have bristled in its defense like "quills on the fretful porcupine." A more than human inspiration must needs have controlled the writer who was so quiet an historian of the transcendent fact of the incarnation. Therefore it is a fact.
Wherefore did the Word become flesh? To seek and to save the lost, to suffer and die. Tremendous, then, must be the sinner’s wretchedness; tremendous the blessedness He would secure to the sinner; tremendous the appeal He thus makes to the sinner. For remember, you are not saved by the mere fact of His becoming flesh, for He did not take upon Him your person, as we have seen, but only the nature common to all men. Therefore, to he saved by Him, you must come yourself into individual connection with Him. You must believe on Him. Then you will have been born again —made a Son of God in Him the eternal Son.
And what as regards the believer? The reality and greatness of his estate. The solid ground of his confidence. The beauty and blessedness of his thinking. Its urgency upon him as against sin, and especially against abuse of his body. And what a range of splendor opens before him, as to his future.
For of what character must be the blessedness, which shall fittingly follow so mighty a fact as the incarnation? That his body shall be glorified must of necessity result from the present glory of the body of Christ. And that his soul shall be filled to its utmost capacity with a blessedness only less than God’s, must follow from the subsistence of the human soul of Christ in personal union with Himself in the glory of His Father.
But what more? "We talk of mountains," says one,
"before we have seen the Alps; but when once we have looked on the
glittering glaciers and the desolate wastes of eternal snow, the word has
a sublimity of meaning it never had till then." So, although we gain from
the Scriptures some true and noble conceptions of the heavenly
immortality, dim and poor must our anticipation’s be as compared with what
shall be —those ultimate realities amid which believers are yet to find
themselves as the result of that surpassing wonder, "The Word became
flesh." Measure the measureless depth of that wonder of the past, and then
may you scan the invisible height of yon coming wonder.