1 Timothy 3:16
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels…
I. I AM TO ILLUSTRATE THE DOCTRINE OF GOD MANIFEST IN THE FLESH. It is an undoubted truth, that the perfections and glory of God the Father were manifested in the Incarnation, life and death of His only begotten Son. If these, in one respect, veiled the Divine glory, they gave, in another, a new and fuller view of its brightness. The Scripture conceals not the reasons why God was thus manifest in the flesh. Perhaps, some may inquire, how can it be said that God was manifest in the flesh? Did not the nature He assumed, and the purposes of humiliation and suffering for which He assumed it, obscure, rather than manifest, His Deity? If, however, some circumstances of Christ's incarnation indicated meanness and abasement; in others, Divine majesty and greatness were manifested. Heaven and earth, angels and devils, kings and subjects, friends and enemies, unite to do honour to His birth. Let me now direct your attention to the practical improvement of this subject. Judge not the opinions or character of any man, or society of men, by their outward circumstances. Despise not, for His birth, His poverty, or mean appearance, the man who teaches an excellent doctrine, or who exhibits an eminently virtuous example. Just ideas, and a correspondent behaviour, not wealth or indigence, are the true tests of worth. Think how wretched and forlorn thy circumstances, which required so great and astonishing means of deliverance. Admire and improve this amazing condescension. Let the warmest gratitude inflame every breast while contemplating the love which gave rise to this condescension. Labour that He who was manifested in your nature may also be manifested in your persons: or, as Paul expresses it, "That the life of Jesus may be made manifest in your body" (2 Corinthians 4:10). Reflect how highly human nature is dignified and ennobled by the incarnation of the Son of God. Improve and exult in the foundation laid, by God manifest in the flesh, for the encouragement of faith. Sink not under thy doubts and fears; for to rescue sinners from destruction He, who was in the bosom of the Father, pledged His heart as their ransom that, as their Advocate, He might approach to God and successfully plead their cause.
II. Paul describes this doctrine as a MYSTERY. The word "mystery" is borrowed from the secret religious rites and exercises among the heathen, to which only a few, after trial of their secrecy, were admitted by the Hierophant or Mystagogue. Hence, it is transferred to the incarnation of Christ, and its important causes and consequences, which could be discovered only by the Spirit, not by our senses, imagination, or intellectual powers. To men, who have no other guide than nature's light, the wonders of redeeming love were wholly unknown: and unknown they must have for ever remained, had not the first stewards of the mysteries of God learned them by inspiration, and been authorized to teach them. Under the Old Testament the Jews had only dark types and obscure prophecies of those good things to come. The wisdom of God in a mystery was a hidden wisdom, which none of the princes of this world knew; for, had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. Again, the gospel is a mystery; for to few who enjoy the external dispensation of the gospel is its native beauty and Divine energy inwardly revealed. Saints alone are divinely enlightened to perceive its certainty and glory.
III. THE DOCTRINE OF OUR LORD'S INCARNATION, AND OF ITS CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES, IS, WITHOUT CONTROVERSY, A GREAT MYSTERY. It has not only been confirmed by the fullest evidence; but it is without controversy to all to whom Jesus hath manifested the Father's name. Well, too, may this doctrine be termed great. It exhibits truths in their own nature transcendently excellent. All this, however, wilt not excuse our stumbling at this wisdom of God in a mystery, or these deep things of God.
IV. THE DOCTRINE OF OUR LORD'S INCARNATION IS A MYSTERY OF GODLINESS. It is allowed that truths altogether unknown, and doctrines perfectly unintelligible, can be no motives to piety. But, notwithstanding this, motives to piety may be derived from that, in a mystery, which is known and understood. Though I cannot comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity, or the Divinity and Sonship of Christ, I may understand enough of the love of the Father, in sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world, and of redemption being purchased by His blood, to influence my temper and conduct. Articles of natural religion deeply affect us which yet are obscurely and imperfectly known. Now, all this was revealed that we might be sanctified through the truth. The view which it exhibits, both of the justice and goodness of God, affords the strongest motives to reverence of God's authority, value for His favour, trust in His mercy and obedience to His laws.
V. THE DOCTRINE OF THE INCARNATION IS THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH: NOT OF TRUTH, OR EVEN RELIGIOUS TRUTH IN GENERAL, BUT OF THE WORD OF TRUTH, THE GOSPEL OF OUR SALVATION, IN WHICH THAT PLAN OF REDEMPTION IS PUBLISHED: WHICH REASON COULD NEVER HAVE DISCOVERED. The original word, rendered ground, occurs nowhere else in the sacred writings. But it evidently signifies that upon which anything firmly rests. Here, therefore, where it relates to a building, and is joined to the word "pillar," it means foundation. A pillar only supports part of a fabric. A foundation bears the weight of the whole building. The metaphor intimates that the doctrine of the Person and Incarnation of Jesus is necessary to the support of the whole doctrine of redemption; and that, if the doctrine of the Incarnation were taken away, the whole doctrine of redemption would fall to the ground. Every other article of faith rests upon, and derives stability from, its connection with this. If the Son of God did not assume a true body and a reasonable soul, He was not the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." The first thing in a building is the laying the foundation; and the first thing peculiar to Christianity which the apostles taught was the incarnation of Jesus, and His redeeming us to God through His blood: though to pave the way for this truth being received, they also inculcated the principles and obligations of natural religion, and the evidences of Christianity, from prophecy and miracles (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). And now, what is the conclusion of the whole matter? Think it not strange that the gospel often meets with bad entertainment, that some pronounce the mysteries of its foolishness, and others account the godliness these mysteries tend to produce an insupportable yoke. Learn from this subject to distinguish true religion and genuine piety from counterfeit appearances. Heathenism and popery have their mysteries; but they are mysteries of iniquity. Entertain this doctrine in a manner suitable to its nature. It is a mystery. Affect not to be wise above what is written. Admire and adore what thou canst not fully comprehend. It is a mystery of godliness. By indulging ease and security, while profligate and immoral, act not as if it were a mystery of iniquity. Remember that mere speculative knowledge will condemn, not save thee. It is the pillar and ground of truth. Prize that gospel which has published to thee a doctrine so transcendently glorious and important.
(J. Erskine, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
WEB: Without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and received up in glory.