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A H O M I L Y
The Son of Man.
"Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am ?”—Matt. xvi. 13.
HE Son of Man—such is one of the many
appellations by which the Messiah was prophetically indicated, ages before our Lord's advent in the flesh. “I saw in the night visions,”
writes the prophet Daniel, “and behold one like unto the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came unto the Ancient of days,” &c. It is also that particular appellation, by which He most loved to designate Himself, during His public ministry among us. Often as He spoke of God as His Father, it is but seldom we find Him calling Himself “ The Son of God.” Occasionally, it is true, He does so, and at times too, He calls Himself simply “The Son”; but “The Son of Man" is the designation He most loved. ACcordingly, it is frequently to be met with in the pages of the New Testament; and though never applied to Him by others until after His ascension, when for the first time we find it employed by the martyr Stephen, who declared that he saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God,” it is of continual recurrence in our Lord's own mouth. Has it ever occurred to you to consider its import, or the reason why He should have selected this particular appellation in preference to any other title under which He was predicted? The commentators upon scripture give us but a very poor and inadequate account of its large significance, and a few suggestions upon the subject may perhaps, therefore, not be unworthy your attention,
Looked at even in its lowest aspect, as an emphatic assertion of His real and proper humanity, it will immediately strike you as conveying an intimation of another, and a higher nature than the human. For what sane man, who was merely a man, would ever think of going about, and declaring himself to be really a man? Neither prophet nor apostle, however eminently gifted and distinguished, ever thought it necessary to do that. Their humanity was evident enough, and needed not that they should endeavor to impress others with the conviction of it. Christ's humanity was also evident enough ; so palpable, indeed, that when He spoke of God as His Father, the Jews took up stones to stone Him, for what shocked them as an intolerable impiety. Yet man, as He evidently was, He was not satisfied with being seen and known as a man ; but everywhere, and on all occasions, in private conversation, and in public discourse, to his friends and to his enemies, to all with whom he came in contact, He constantly spoke of Himself under an appellation, one evident design of which was to declare and enforce the plain, obvious, unquestionable fact, of His real and proper humanity. Think of it for a moment, and then say whether, had He been nothing more than man, is it possible that He should have acted thus?
Take then the statements of Scripture, that, though born of a woman, He had no human father ; that a virgin was His mother, and that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost ; that He had stooped to the assumption of our nature ; that one with the Father from eternity, He had by His own voluntary humiliation, taken upon Him the form of a servant, and been made in the likeness of men, and then nothing will seem more natural and appropriate, than that He should thus assert and insist upon the fact of his humanity. For what a fact it is! How great! How wonderful! How momentous ! How could it be otherwise than continually present to His own mind? Or how, feeling its greatness as He must have felt it, could He have been otherwise than anxious, that those for whom He had thus stooped should feel its greatness too? To the Jews, who looked upon Him as a blasphemer, it might indeed seem strange and offensive, that He should thus be always speaking of Himself in language so emphatically declaratory of that which they saw with their own eyes, and which it was impossible for them to doubt. They, in their perplexity, might well enough demand, “Who is this Son of Man ?" But to us, to whom the great truth has been revealed, that as He was really and perfectly human, so He was really and perfectly divine, God as really as He was man, nothing can be more signally consistent with the fact of his condescension, than that He should thus continually insist upon it, and identify Himself with man, by calling Himself “The Son of Man,” even as He identified Himself with God, by declaring Himself “The Son of God.”
It was also in perfect consistency with the motive and object of His humiliation. For it was all His own pure love for man that had brought Him down from Heaven. Fallen as we were, his "delights” had ever been “with the sons of men.” It was to redeem and restore them, and to make them great, that He had become incarnate; and the love which led Him thus to humble Himself, and which spoke out in every action of His life, spoke out also in the appellation in which He spoke of Himself. It was the earnest, irrepressible utterance of the strength of that love, the depth of that compassion, which had led Him thus to humble Himself; to become “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.”
The appellation, however, involves much more than this. It obviously contains an intimation of something extraordinary in His humanity ; something singularly distinguishing Him from all the sons of men, at the same time that it identifies Him with them. For He does not style Himself a son of man, that is, a man, as all of us are men, but The Son of Man, that is, THE MAN, emphatically, peculiarly, sublimely, as none others are or can be. " Whom do men say that I, THE MAN, am ?" I, THE Man—as if He stood by Himself, alone, in wonderful and conspicuous peculiarity; or as if He were the only real man in existence, and all others were men only in part or in appearance. Strictly speaking, indeed, such was the fact. According to the divine idea of man, they were not men, real, genuine, Godmade men, but creatures of a very different stamp. Man, as God originally created him in his own likeness, perished at the Fall, when that terrible inversion took place, by which the spiritual nature was sunk beneath the animal, and the divine image was destroyed. Our humanity is a degenerate and disordered thing, now that men are naturally “ alienated from the life of God,” and governed, not by reason and conscience, but by sense and passion, and the instincts and appetites of our lower nature. Our humanity is humanity marred and spoiled and brutified by sin. But in Jesus Christ there was no sin. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." His humanity was without stain or flaw, pure and perfect as on the day when “God saw eğerything He had made, and behold, it was very good.” In Him there were no rebellious insurgences of appetite and passion, no disorderly conflict between the lower nature and the higher, but the flesh was in absolute subjection to the spirit, and His whole mind and heart in entire and strictest harmony with the mind and heart of God. So that there He stood, the very “beauty of holiness,” the living human image of God; the perfect embodiment of the divine ideal of humanity ; of all mankind the only genuine man; “ The Man," on whom all eyes and hearts were to rest and fasten.
The appellation also further imports our Lord's total exemption from all those constitutional and discriminating peculiarities, which are determined by the circumstances of race, or climate, place, or parentage. We speak, for instance, of the several varieties and races into which the great human family is divided : the Caucasian, the Ethiopian, the Mongo lian varieties ; the Saxon race, the Celtic race, and so on; and unquestionably they have each of them their own characteristic peculiarities, which, however they may have originated, are perpetuated and transmitted from generation to
generation with wonderful distinctness. The peculiarity of our Lord's humanity was, that it was humanity exempted from all these peculiarities, unaffected by any modifying influences of any kind. He was the impersonation of humanity in the abstract; “The Son of Man"; the Man, not of one nation, but of all nations ; not of one race, but of all races; not of one age, but of all ages. True, He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, but He was not thereby constituted a Jew. He was born of a Hebrew mother in the city of David, and was brought up at Nazareth, in the midst of a Hebrew population ; but neither had He any of the hereditary peculiarities of the Hebrew race, nor was His character moulded and fashioned by the manners and customs and modes of thinking of his time. He had none of the Jewish sympathies, predilections, or prejudices ; nothing of the exclusive nationality of the Jew about Him. He was subject to the Mosaic Law, and observed the Mosaic ritual; but with all this, He was quite as much a Greek, a Roman, an Arab, or a Scythian, as He was a Jew. He ignored all distinctions of blood. He acknowledged no natural relationships or affinities, but such as extended universally and equally to all mankind. It was not the Jewish nature that He had assumed, but human nature; human nature in its original simplicity and wholeness, and He therefore called Himself not the son of Mary, nor the son of David, nor the son of Abraham, but The Son of Man; The Man, equally related to every age, and to all peoples ; equally the brother of every individual, of every race, tribe, caste and complexion, in every region, throughout all time.
And all this was necessary in order to qualify Him for the office He sustained, and the work which was given Him to do; an office, and a work wide as the world, co-extensive with mankind; reaching back to Adam's fall, and onwards to the last of Adam's race ; comprehending all in the universality of its scope. He was officially “The Man”; the Representative Man, the Substitutionary Man ; the Representative of, and the Substitute for, our common humanity.