December 17, 2017

Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

John Marvin Dean, D. D.

Director of the Dean Campaigns of Evangelism and Bible Study

Editorial note: We are in the midst of a series of posts from the messages delivered at the Pre-Convention Conference of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1920. From the Conference the Fundamental Fellowship was formed which is today known as the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The messages from the conference were published in a book called Baptist Fundamentals. The book has been digitized by Maranatha Baptist University and is available as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives collection in Logos format, available here. Links to previous posts will appear at the end of this post.

Northern Baptists are Trinitarians. They worship Jesus Christ. He is their sovereign God. “The Word was God.” They do not believe merely in the Lordship of Christ, but with Thomas they cry, “My Lord and my God!” They do not have mental reservations concerning Christ’s deity. They would be false to the best that their minds and hearts teach them, false to the Sacred Scriptures, false to the testimony of the centuries, and false to human experience in the spiritual laboratory of prayer if they did not worship the Lord Jesus Christ. To the Jew Christ may be an impostor; to the Unitarian he may be a moral example; to the Catholic he may be a remote God, to be approached only through the mediation of Mary and the saints; but to the Baptist he is the Creator-Redeemer, to whom the soul of man moves inevitably and directly, and before whom it rightly bows in humble adoration and solemn worship. Baptists give a glad assent to the words of Lyman Abbott when he cries, “I have no thought of God that goes beyond Jesus of Nazareth.” Baptists claim that no sin compares with the rejection of Christ as God and Saviour. The Baptist’s message to the world is, “Turn from sin and self-sufficiency and fall at the Sovereign Saviour’s feet.” The Baptists feel that he is blind indeed who has not seen the glory of Christ’s deity. Baptists do not deify Christ, for one cannot “godify” God. They only, with very great reverence and godly fear and with unutterable tenderness, recognize and acclaim the eternal fact of the Triune God, and call upon rebellious men to join with angels and with saints and with the innumerable witnesses of the vast creation in unitedly adoring the Christ of God. If the Baptist hymn-book were reduced to a single selection that selection would be:

All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown him Lord of all.
Let every kindred, every tribe,
On this terrestrial ball,
To him all majesty ascribe
And crown him Lord of all.

Northern Baptists believe that the twelve apostles were the first Baptists. In substance and essence their teaching is our teaching. We stand willing to correct our doctrines and amend our conduct by their standards. If they were living on the earth today we would hasten to join ourselves to them in fellowship and cooperation. They taught unequivocally the deity of Christ. In particular they taught his preexistence. His life, they declared, did not begin at Bethlehem: the Son of Mary was also the Eternal Son of the Father. Language was exhausted to describe his prerogatives. He was “before times eternal.” He was “in the form of God, yet considered not his being on an equality with God a thing to be retained,” but for our sakes descended to the Cross. “In the beginning was the Word.” “The Word was God.” “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father.” “That which was from the beginning our hands handled, and we declare unto you.” “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth.” “A Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, yea, and forever!” The significance of these statements is far greater than we are apt to think. We have been Trinitarians so long that we forget these utterances fell from the lips of men who had been the most intense of Unitarians. When pious Israelites, born and matured in the most radical of monotheistic schools, teach the preexistence and eternal nature of an earthly human associate, their words should not only have the value of gold but the weight of gold.

Why did the apostles teach the preexistence of Christ? The facts compelled them to. There was the fragrance of another world about Jesus Christ. They lived with him for three years, and they rightly concluded that such living and thinking evidently had their source in another world, differently conditioned and conducted from this world, a realm where values and standards were wholly unlike their own. He impressed them equally as a Brother and as a Foreigner. His whole life persisted in running counter to the grain of the world to which they were accustomed. His deeds had the motives of heaven: his speech had the accent of heaven: his philosophy assumed the authority of heaven. He utterly refused to accept the stamp of the commercial, social, ecclesiastical, or scholastic world of the time. He manifestly brought with him his credentials from a ranking, heavenly jurisdiction.

The profound allusions of the Son of God deeply impressed them. Sometimes casually, sometimes with solemn emphasis, he dropped sentences that amazed and staggered them: “I came from the Father; I go to the Father.” “The glory I had with the Father before the world was.” “In heaven they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God.” “I am the bread that cometh down from heaven.” “Before Abraham was, I am.” These and numerous other utterances spoken with the vast miracle of his life to enforce them, broke down their preconceived ideas of him, pushed out the partitions of their minds, and led them on to final convictions. They discovered that he who lived as though under the rules of heaven and not of earth, could speak intimately of that condition and realm from whence he came.

The apostles did not fail either, to note with more than fascinated interest the recognition accorded him by the angels and evil spirits. In these they believed. But they were not prepared to see them so subservient to Christ. As the followers of the Nazarene went on from experience to experience, the angelic evidence accumulated. There were angels to herald him. At his cradle the sky glowed with them. At his temptation they ministered unto him. They attended him as the birds of the field were wont to flutter about the head of the holy Saint Francis. They were at his tomb and at his ascension. Twelve legions of them stood, full-panoplied and ready, in the shadows of the Garden of Gethsemane. And there was not only the bright testimony of the angels; there was the dark endorsement of frightened evil spirits. These knew him. There was recognition. They had seen him before Mary saw her Babe at Bethlehem. “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the Most High God? We know thee, who thou art, thou Holy One. Hast thou come to torment us before the time?” Thus beings bright and fair and spirits dark and sinister alike acknowledged their Master in realms other than human and earthly, and the amazed disciples took notes, pondered, and went steadily on toward the ultimate truth of his person.

But more weighty than these considerations in the minds of the apostles was the fact of his deathlessness. To their astonishment he did not die. His body died, but he survived it and revived it, transformed it and appeared in it openly and repeatedly for forty days before finally leaving his Church in the Ascension. It was easy to discover the preexistence of Christ by the illumination of his post-ascension life. Standing in the glow of the resurrection, they saw with startling clearness the eternal nature of their Master.

Long prior to the resurrection they had accumulated part of the materials from which the Christian doctrine of the Deity of Christ was to be erected. It was material largely having to do with the astounding moral miracle of his sinlessness, as well as with the considerations already advanced as operative in their minds. As we, even in our day, read such an interpretation of the person of the Nazarene as Bushnell gives in his “Character of Jesus,” or such an argument from the human Nazarene to the Divine Logos as Carnegie Simpson follows in “The Fact of Christ,” or the conscientious analysis of the qualities of the Son of Man that Speer attempts in “The Man Christ Jesus,” we find ourselves partially able to get the effect that the Life of Lives thus had upon the apostolic mind. But the apostolic mind owed no slight acceleration to the frequent glimpses that, even before Pentecost, his followers had obtained of his omniscience, his omnipotence, and omnipresence. The resurrection and the early days of the apostolic history completed the evidence and thus gave final form to their definition of Christ.

They found him possessed of more than human wisdom. Not alone the high and unique order of wisdom exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount, but the dramatic foretelling of events as, for instance, his own violent death, its manner, his resurrection, the destruction of Jerusalem and the victory of his Word. The full evidence of the omniscience of Christ could not be known to them nor even the full value of the evidence they themselves presented. It has, for instance, taken long centuries to appreciate the true altitude of the Sermon on the Mount. As we travel away from it in time, it rises higher and increasingly dominates the moral and intellectual landscape. The apostles were hidden in the foothills of this mighty peak, too near perhaps to realize the intellectual grandeur of his utterances or to appreciate the vast perspectives of his far-seeing mind. They were perfect reporters. But it has taken the ages to adequately interpret and assay his wisdom, and that work is not yet fittingly accomplished. But they found him unhesitatingly to be All-wise. He was to them omniscient. Of all men then living on the earth they had perhaps the greatest depth of soul. Under the shadow of the Cross they tested him with their yearning, eager questions, and even when the shadows were darkest, and the light of the resurrection had not been vouchsafed to them, they clustered about him in the upper room and passionately declared: “Now know we that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.” There was no need of asking him more soul-questions. He had answered them all. They had found their point of rest in the wisdom of Christ.

He was found also to be omnipotent. It was their high privilege to turn page after page in the book of his strength. They assisted him at his clinics where he reversed the processes of disintegration and decay and shortened the long, patient healing processes of nature into the flash of a single second. He drove before him the fevers, cancers, and leprosies of men. He called men back from the portals of Hades. He reached the long arm of his healing across the nineteen miles of space from Cana to Capernaum. He suspended the law of gravitation and made the unstable waters his sufficient pavement. He breathed upon “a great storm” and smoothed it into “a great calm.” He who had not a place to lay his head accepted the obligation of five thousand guests in a desert place and sent them away well satisfied. He transmitted his healing powers to others. He made health contagious. Nature was made for him and made way before him. The very universe seemed to salute him. Death threw its shadow over him and paid the penalty of its affront by losing forever, from that time forth, its power to throw a shadow into any soul that trusted in him.

They also discovered him to be omnipresent. This must have been to them a supreme discovery. It is true that he had said, “Lo, I am with you alway.” It is also true that he had said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst.” But they may have taken these words figuratively. They were soon, however, to experience their blessedly literal fulfilment. Hardly had the Church begun its work, than the good news began to come in that Christ was everywhere! The apostles and disciples compared notes. On the very day that Christ showed himself near Damascus to Paul, it was found that he could show himself to the Twelve in Jerusalem and to Philip in Samaria. It is difficult for us to imagine the splendor of that great revelation — the triumphant truth that the Risen Christ was with every one of his disciples everywhere they might go in his name. When this was realized the Church became irresistible. It is true that imprisonment and death threatened them in every place, but Christ also waited to welcome them in every city and town. No committee met without him, no church worshiped without his presence, no apostle wended his way through a desert place unaccompanied by his Lord, and no lone martyr endured the final bite of the Empire’s jealous hate without the mysterious recompense of a Saviour’s dying grace. His multiplied leadership was in the very air.

Lo, on the darkness brake a wandering ray —
A vision flashed along the Appian Way,
Divinely in the pagan night it shone,
A mournful Face, a Figure hurrying on.
“Lord, whither farest?” Peter wondering cried;
“To Rome,” said Christ, “to be recrucified.”
Into the night the vision ebbed like breath
And Peter turned, and rushed on Rome and death!

He was in Jerusalem, but also in Antioch; he was in Ephesus, but also in Rome; he was in Alexandria, but also in Illyria. Jesus Christ was discovered to be omnipresent.

It was, then, experiences such as these that gave to the world its first Baptists, men committed profoundly to the only possible interpretation of his being; namely, that he was the incarnate God himself. In the cathedral at Copenhagen stands the benignant figure of Thorwaldsen’s Christ. It has become a Mecca for the lovers of beauty and for the devout in heart. A traveler came from afar to see the famed production. He looked long and critically, standing first near and then back, then to the right and again to the left. He finally turned away disappointed. But a little child standing beside him and eagerly watching his face said: “Oh, sir, you cannot see Him that way. You must get very close, and fall on your knees and look up!” It was this that the manifest Deity of Christ had led the apostles to do, and in the doing of it that Deity was still further unveiled and unfolded to their ardent gaze. Their loyalty to his teaching followed as a matter of course. They would have permitted themselves to be torn limb from limb rather than change his orders or his ordinances. Their vivid conviction as to his Deity photographed like a flash of lightning upon their sensitized hearts an indescribably strong devotion to his person. Who would have dared suggest to them the whittling and belittling conceptions of Christ contained in modern liberalism? They cut their way sharply through the false religions and confusing philosophies and corrupt culture of their day. No system, however pretentious or subtle or insinuating, could daunt or defeat or swerve these first Baptists, for they had stood on the holy mount with Christ. He alone could save. He alone could organize his Church. He alone would be permitted to present to it its doctrines. And he alone would be recognized in the executing or the changing of its ordinances. They worshiped him. And their spiritual children still worship him! The millions of modern Baptists, marvelously blest of God despite all their unworthiness, still proclaim the Triune God, still press his claims upon the souls of men, still declare the infinite compassion of his redemption through sacrificial blood, and still baptize those who in penitence turn to a living, reigning Christ, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Yet the modern Baptist does not believe in the Deity of Christ alone because Paul and John did so. Christ is revealing himself directly to his modern disciples. We cry with the delighted Samaritans: “Now we believe, not because of thy speaking: for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” Men are constantly meeting the Divine Christ. Slow-witted Moody met him, and became a field-marshal of the kingdom of God. Desperate John Woolley met him, and turned from thoughts of suicide to a noble achievement in service to humanity. Gordon, of Boston, met him in the quiet of his library, and the Clarendon Street Church became famous the world around. And what shall we say of Florence Nightingale and Thomas Chalmers, and William Booth, and Hudson Taylor, and Charles Spurgeon, and John G. Paton, and George Muller, and Andrew Murray? Yes, Baptists of America! What shall we say of Henry Morehouse, and John A. Broadus, and P. S. Henson, and William Cleaver Wilkinson, and Henry Weston, and George C. Lorimer, of Mabie and Chivers, of Haskell and Armitage, of Seymour and Carroll, of Boardman and Hoyt, of Conant and Wooddy, of Hovey and Wayland, of Bickel and Clough? Did they not know the Divine Christ? Did they not march under Immanuel’s banner? Did they not gladly bow the knee to the Supernal Son of God? Did they not know him in whom they had believed? Were they the sons of doubt or the sons of faith? Shall we substitute for their kind of leadership the endless interrogations of the German universities? Shall we shrink our thoughts of the Christ to fit the latitudinarianism of the hour? Or shall we expand them in a worthy attempt to make room within our minds and hearts for the transcendent facts that have to do with a proper faith in God the Son of God?

These are not the days to believe less. Time does not dilute, it enriches the stalwart creed of the Baptists. “The Bible has passed through the furnace of persecutions, literary criticisms, philosophic doubt, and scientific discovery, and has lost nothing but those human interpretations which cling to it like alloy to precious metal.” The centuries have a like witness to the Deity of Christ. Time but clears the mists from the towering fact of the redemptive manifestation of God in Christ Jesus.

Yes, the Eternal Christ is with us. He is ours to worship and to serve. His bugles are pealing throughout the Church Militant. A great hour is upon us. Vast victories are within our grasp. Northern Baptists! let us repudiate apostasy. Let us demand a leadership in our denomination that is above suspicion. Let us inaugurate, by a holy loyalty to Christ our God, the noblest era of evangelism, missions, justice, and righteousness in all recorded time since Calvary became a fact of history. Let us whole-heartedly return to our first love. Let us exalt the Name and splendor and preeminence of our majestic Redeemer. Then we cannot fail of a stupendous triumph in the hearts of men.

Lead on, O King Eternal;
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home:
Through days of preparation
Thy grace hath made us strong,
And now, O King Eternal,
We lift our battle-song.
Lead on, O King Eternal:
We follow, not with fears:
For gladness breaks like morning
Where’er Thy face appears:
Thy Cross is lifted o’er us:
We journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest:
Lead on, O God of Might.

Link to Baptist Fundamentals and other works available in Logos format as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives, produced by Maranatha Baptist University.

Baptist Fundamentals series:


Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Historic Baptist Principles? … or the seed of defeat in the soil of revival

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (1)

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (2)

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage

Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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