The Mystery of Godliness
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…


1. The fact that God was manifest in the flesh.

(1) The manifestation affirmed is the manifestation of God. It is the manifestation of Jehovah — of the Creator, Preserver, and Lord of all — of Him to whom all worship is due, and all dominion and glory belong. This much lies upon the very surface of the text. Is there nothing more to tell? There is more. God is One. But the Persons of the Godhead are three. And this is not the manifestation of the First, or of the Third, Person of the Godhead, but of the Second. It is the manifestation of God the Son.

(2) As to the other question — the nature of this manifestation — we remark that it was personal. There are many manifestations of God — manifestations of Him in the world and in the Church, in His works, and in His Word. But these are manifestations of character and perfections. A manifestation of the Divine wisdom, and power, and holiness, and love, is a manifestation of God; but it is not a personal manifestation. It is a manifestation of the attributes and glory of God, and of the attributes and glory of the Persons in the Godhead; but it is not a manifestation of the Persons themselves. There is a manifestation of the Father in those who are His children; there is a manifestation of the Son in those whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren; and there is a manifestation of the Spirit in all whom He regenerates and sanctifies. Yea, doubtless, the Divine Persons are thus manifested. But, though the. manifestation be a manifestation of Persons, it is not a personal manifestation of them. They are manifested mediately, not immediately — as the worker is manifested by his work. There is no immediate personal manifestation of God, which has been afforded to man, except that manifestation of Him which constitutes the mystery of godliness. We do not overlook the manifestations of God that were enjoyed by the patriarchs — such as that which Abraham had in the plains of Mature, and that which Jacob had at Peniel. These were foreshadowings of that mystery of godliness which the fulness of time disclosed. The personal manifestation of God is highly to be prized. We may judge of it by the desire which is felt to see the sage or philosopher who has enriched the stores of our knowledge by his speculations and discoveries. We may have read the great man's history again and again; we may be familiar with what he has achieved; we may have seen the fruits of his genius, his toil, his valour; we may possess his portrait too; but the effect of it all will be, not to diminish, but to increase, the desire to behold his person, and to see himself. Just so it is in the case before us. The knowledge of God's ways and doings, the light east upon His character and glorious perfections by the teachings of Scripture and the experience of the Church, will never quench the desire for the vision of God Himself. We must further remark, with respect to the nature of this manifestation of God, that it was a manifestation "in the flesh." "God was manifest in the flesh." We read of the Holy Ghost coming down in a bodily form, like a dove. But the Holy Ghost was not a dove. He took, for the occasion, the visible form of a dove; but there was no real dove in the case, any more than there is in the image or likeness of a dove which the pencil of the artist may create. God the Son, however, was man. He was Man as truly and really as He was God. Had He come with no more than the figure or likeness of a man — that likeness being temporarily assumed — it could not so well be said that God was manifested. It may serve to open up still farther this manifestation of God in the flesh, if we explain a little, as we can, and as Scripture enables us, how the manifestation was brought about. This much we are in a condition to say — that God was manifested in the flesh by the assumption into His Person, on the part of the Son, of the human nature, as consisting of a true body and a reasonable soul. The Son assumed human nature into His Person. He assumed it into His Person so that God the Son and the man Christ Jesus were not two Persons, but one. It was not that a new Person was constituted out of two Persons previously existing. His human nature never existed by itself, or as a person; and the Person of the Son was eternal. Into that Person the human nature was taken, or assumed, as has been said — the identity of the Person remaining unchanged. There was no conversion of the Divine into the human nature. Had that been the case, He must have ceased to be God by becoming man. Nor was there any mixture of the natures. The two natures did not become one nature, combining their attributes. There was a union, however, between the two natures. But this union was not like other unions with which we may be acquainted. It was unlike the union between the soul and body of man. It was unlike it in this — that body and soul make but one nature between them. It was unlike the union between Christ and believers; for that is a union where distinct personality is preserved. And it was unlike the union among the Persons in the Godhead. The cases, indeed, are completely in contrast. There, we find distinct Persons, and one nature. Here, we find one Person, and distinct natures.

2. Passing now from the fact declared, that God was manifest in the flesh, we come to the reason of it. The reason was no other than the salvation of sinful man. A created nature was necessary, because a created nature alone could suffer, and on a created nature alone the stroke of wrath could fall. He took not, however, the nature of angels. The human nature was necessary, to connect Him more closely with our broken covenant, on the one hand, and with us who broke it, on the other. It was flesh that He took, because He was to be the second man, the last Adam; and, in that capacity, to magnify the law and make it honourable, and bruise the serpent's head. But a finite nature must have failed by itself. It need not have failed in purpose, or for want of will; but it must have failed in sufficiency, and for want of strength.


(A. Gray.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

The Mystery of Godliness
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