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The A-B-C’s of the incarnation.
G. Campbell Morgan on the alphabetizing of the incarnation.
Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research recently published their comprehensive State of Theology report for 2022, which offers a glimpse at the current state of affairs in theology and religion and spirituality across a smorgasbord of backgrounds and demographics and denominations. This endeavor, they say, is an undertaking that attempts to measure “the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and to equip the church with better insights for discipleship.” Needless, to say, if the 2022 findings are any indication, America’s “theological temperature” is verging on hypothermic! Case in point: in response to statement no. 7 — “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God” — Ligonier and LifeWay found that 43% of evangelicals agreed, which is significantly increased over 2020’s 30% in the same category.
It should be alarming to you, as it is to me, that we’re verging on half of the United States’ evangelical sector stating matter-of-factly that they disagree with this most basic and fundamental tenet of all Christian doctrine. (Maybe, as Abilene Christian University theology professor Brad East asserts, “evangelical” and “evangelicalism” has lost more than a little of its worth and weight. He’s written extensively about this over on his blog. See, especially, “The problem with evangelicalism.”) This, of course, isn’t necessarily 21st century Neo-orthodoxy, but is, in fact, ancient heterodoxy rearing its ugly stinking head again. As early as John’s Gospel and epistles, Christ’s church was embroiled in debates over the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was both God and man at the same time, with the bulk of the early church’s apologetic efforts being engaged in asserting the harmony of Jesus’s humanity and divinity. The writings of St. John, indeed, remain the premier specimens for articulating the truth of Jesus’s identity as both God and man. Such is why his first letter and his Gospel begin, essentially, in the same manner (John 1:1–18; cf. 1 John 1:1–4). His unquestionable aim was to demonstrate that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31; cf. 1 John 5:13).
All of which to say, the need of the hour in our churches is much the same as in St. John’s day. That is, our overriding conviction and joy ought to be preaching the glory and grace of “that which was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1), of “the Word [that] was with God,” in the beginning, through whom all things were made and by whom all divine knowledge is expressed and enfleshed (John 1:1, 14; Col. 1:15–17). That’s what the church must recover, in my mind. And, furthermore, why would the church’s leaders feel the need to articulate anything else? What other message compares to the message of the infinite Word taking on skin and bone, and dwelling with us and, what’s more, dying for us? Indeed, none. We ought, I think, to take a page from G. Campbell Morgan, who, in a sermon upon John 1:14, exhibits the profundity and plainness of God’s incarnation in Christ, and why it should pervade every syllable of Christian teaching. Morgan writes:
“In the beginning was the Word” . . . “the Word became flesh.” What does this signify? Eternity, the ageless age, coming into time; expressing itself in the language of time, manifesting itself in the method of time. “In the beginning was the Word,” the utterance of God; not letters, or syllables or words merely; not a literature which I can commence here, and finish presently, but the Word of God. Not only that which fills the whole fact of space so far as I can imagine it; but “the Word became flesh,” that is, came to a locality; it came to a place to which I can travel; it came to a place to which coming, I can see.
“The Word was in the beginning,” the infinite, but it became flesh, the finite. “In the beginning was the Word,” the infinite Wisdom, the all-encompassing Wisdom, the Wisdom that lies at the back of all manifestation, the Wisdom of which the preacher sang long ago in the Proverbs. But “the Word became flesh,” that is, Wisdom began to spell itself out in an alphabet. We sometimes quote the words of Jesus uttered to John in Patmos as though they were full of dignity. So they were, but they have another tone also. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.” There is some sense in which in God there is no first, no last; and, consequently, that is not a figure of completeness intended only to create amazement and wonder. It is the symbol of simplicity, it is the figure of the alphabet.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” the alphabet which the little child may learn. Yet remember that all literature lies within the compass of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Do not talk to your children about a thing being as easy as A B C. It is the hardest thing we have to learn. You have forgotten the task, but it was such. You did not know it, but in that task you were beginning to climb up to that literature which you love, and all its vast reaches lay before you. So when the Word became flesh infinite Wisdom expressed itself in an alphabet. That began nineteen centuries ago. There had been attempts before, hieroglyphics before, but at last the mysterious hieroglyphics of the past found the key of interpretation in Alpha and Omega — the Alphabet.
We must be little children to begin; but we never arrive at the infinite literature to which it introduces us until we have learned it. The Word, the infinite Wisdom, dwelt with God, and was the mighty Workman at His right hand when He created, by whatever process I care nothing. That Wisdom became an alphabet when a baby Boy lay upon His mother’s breast in the Judean country. (2:234-36)
The wisdom of our day can’t often agree with the foolishness of God (1 Cor. 1:25–27). It is inconceivable that the Creator of all things would demonstrate such condescending compassion that he’d even stoop to assuming a creature’s body in the process. But that’s precisely what he does in the person of Christ. He is the embodiment of the thrice-holy God, the enfleshed wisdom of the Godhead, who everlastingly expresses the fullness of divine grace and truth. Don’t let modern theology sway you from the concrete revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, who abides in glory as the God-Man who made atonement for the sins of the world. Though some have forgotten the essence of this beloved gospel, perhaps the church, and those who shepherd it, should take them back to the A-B-C’s of the incarnation.
Grace and peace to you, friends.
G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit: The Preaching of G. Campbell Morgan, Vols. 1–10 (Fincastle, VA: Scripture Truth Book Co., 1954).