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…
We have no faculty by which to obtain an immediate perception of the Great Supreme. The King eternal, immortal, invisible, is by all unseen; and in His existence, His perfections, His purposes, He is to all beings a profound secret, except as He voluntarily discloses Himself to them. With what angels may know of God, or with what devils may know of God, we are not now particularly concerned. The text speaks of a manifestation of God to man. Man was not created to eat, and drink, and die; to pass his earthly existence absorbed in carnal pursuits, and earthly cares, and transitory pleasures. He was made to have communion with God, to serve Him, to contribute to His glory. But a God unknown and unrevealed cannot be worshipped nor obeyed. "God was manifest in the flesh." I do not feel it necessary to prove to you now that this actually took place at the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is as plain as it can be upon the face of the passage, that this is the event to which the sacred writer refers. We wish to consider the Incarnation as a manifestation of God. It does appear as though God, whose it is to bring good out of evil, and to make the wrath of man to praise Him, had made the guilty trespass of man which needed the Incarnation in order to its atonement, the occasion of bringing Himself nearer to His creatures, and laying Himself more open to their astonished and admiring gaze, than He could have done, had not that which He abhors presented the occasion. We mean not to imply, of course, that God was wholly unknown in the world before the Incarnation, and that no other way existed or was possible than this, of arriving at a knowledge of His existence and attributes. There is a light in nature which reveals God, and there are lessons respecting Him spread out before the eyes of all men. But revelation has surpassed nature. We speak not now of its meeting those new necessities which the apostasy has introduced, and for which nature has not the semblance of a remedy; but of this one particular, which is now before us — the making known of God. Prophet and priest fulfilled each their course to teach the people knowledge; psalmists added their heaven-born strains; the Spirit of God, Himself the Author of these various lessons, taught them to the heart illumined by His grace. And here, again, if we knew not, from the actual fact, what was yet in reserve, we might be ready to ask what farther could be added to these teachings, so abundant, so comprehensive and so explicit of the Word of God, to make Jehovah better known? And yet, though the language of inspired communication may leave nothing untold which words can convey, and nothing farther to be desired, nothing even possible, in the way of description of the nature and perfections of the Most High; still it would introduce us to a nearer acquaintance with this dread Being if, instead of merely distantly hearing about Him, we should be made witnesses of His acts, and be permitted to gaze direct upon positive exhibitions of those attributes of power, and justice, and grace, of which we had been told. Here is another advance in the presentation of the knowledge of God. Thus, the fearful overthrow of Sodom, the plagues sent on hardened Pharaoh, the judgments on murmuring Israel, speak more impressively than any language, the holiness, the justice, and the dreadful vengeance of our God. So the various interpositions of God on behalf of His people, for their deliverance from danger and for their rescue from their foes, the magnificence of His descent on Sinai, the food He vouchsafed them in the desert, the guidance of the pillar of cloud and of fire, give a more vivid conception of God, and let us more into the beatings of His gracious heart, and show us more of the glory of His nature than any words can express. And now one might, with strong appearance of reason, conclude that the various modes of revealing God must be complete, and that nothing more can be imagined to be added to those already recited. And still the wisdom of God has shown us that it was not yet exhausted, that there was something yet possible, superior to them all. We would have pronounced it incredible had it not actually occurred. It is for the invisible God to make Himself visible, and assume a habitation among men, to be born, and live, and die. This, which was in appearance forbidden by His spirituality, His omnipresence, and His eternity, was nevertheless accomplished by God being manifested in the flesh. The unseen, eternal, omnipotent God dressed Himself in a human form, and gave Himself a local, temporal, tangible existence, so as to bring Himself within reach of our corporeal senses; He came down to dwell among us, not by a mere symbol of His presence, but really, personally, visibly. And thus He disclosed Himself to man, not at second hand, through the ministry of His servants, nor by occasional and momentary displays of His own dread power and magnificence, but by a life of intimate, uninterrupted converse in their midst. And now we ought, for the proper presentation of our subject, to go in some detail regarding the various perfections of the Divine nature, and show how, in respect to them all, our knowledge receives new confirmation and additional clearness by this manifestation of God in the flesh; and how, in the case of many, it receives large accessions above all that was previously known, or could, apart from the Incarnation, be known regarding them. And here be it observed, that we are not now speaking of Jesus as a teacher. The very existence of God receives new confirmation here. Indeed, some have referred to the miracles of Jesus as affording to their minds the only argument which was absolutely irrefragable, that there is an intelligible Being, the Author and the Lord of Nature. The unity of God is also freshly demonstrated both against the thousand deities of an idolatrous Paganism, and the two independent principles of good and evil of the Persian superstition, by the unlimited authority which Jesus freely exercised, commanding obedience in the kingdom of darkness as well as that of light. But we cannot delay on these and similar points. We pass to the holiness of God. This was set in a light by the Incarnation in which it never appeared before, and in which (without designing to limit the wisdom or power of God) we may say that, as far as we can judge, it could not have appeared without it. Our proof of this is drawn not from the fact, melancholy as it is, that the idea of holiness is entirely lost among the heathen, to whom God has not made Himself known. And thus it is with all the attributes of God. They all gather fresh lustre from the mystery of the Incarnation; and when they are viewed in the face of Jesus Christ, they appear with an impressiveness which they never before assumed. Where was the long-suffering of God ever so exhibited as we see it in Jesus? If He had given proofs before of His regard for the human race, what a nearness does this induce beyond anything else that is conceivable, that He should come and live among us and wear a human nature, become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, partake of our infirmities and weaknesses, that He might deliver us from them, and take our nature with Him to glory. We would like to have pointed out to you how the feelings of man's natural heart toward God were exhibited here likewise, in their treatment of God manifest in the flesh; how perfect goodness and celestial excellence raised against Him the malice which betrayed, condemned, and crucified Him; and how it is the same enmity of the natural heart still which leads so many to side with His persecutors, and if they do not madly cry, "Away with Him!" nevertheless to show by their lives as well as by their professions, that they will not have this Man to reign over them.
(W. H. Green.)
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.