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Immanuel Against the Idols (A retro-post by John Newton)

Monday, February 26th, 2018

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,” Romans 1:18–22, NKJV

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“The prevalence of idolatry was early, and (with an exception to the people of Israel) soon became universal. Men who boasted of their reason, worshipped the sun and moon, yea, the works of their own hands, instead of the Creator. And even where revelation is vouchsafed, the bulk of mankind live without God in the world. But he is known, trusted, and served, by those who know Messiah. To them his glory is displayed in the person of Jesus Christ.‡ His agency is perceived in the creation, his providence is acknowledged, and his presence felt as God with us.

The Conflict 

As fallen creatures, God is against us, and we are against him. The alienation of our hearts is the great cause of our ignorance of him. We are willingly ignorant. The thoughts of him are unwelcome to us, and we do not like to retain him in our knowledge. Guilt is the parent of atheism. A secret foreboding, that if there be a God, we are obnoxious to his displeasure; and that if he takes cognizance of our conduct, we have nothing to hope, but everything to fear from him, constrains many persons to try to persuade themselves that there is no God; and many more to think, or at least to wish, that if there be a God, he does not concern himself with human affairs. What a proof is this of the enmity of the heart of man against him! that so many persons who would tremble at the thought of being in a ship; driven by the winds and waves, without compass or pilot, should yet think it desirable, if it were possible, to be assured, that in a world like this, so full of uncertainty, trouble, and change, all things were left at random, without the interference of a supreme governor. But this enmity, these dark apprehensions, are removed, when the Gospel is received by faith. For it brings us the welcome news, that there is forgiveness with him; that God is reconciled in his Son to all who seek his mercy. In this sense, likewise, Messiah is ‘Immanuel, God with us,’ on our side, no longer the avenger of sin, but the author of salvation.

Our Mediator, Representative, & Head

‘Immanuel’ is ‘God with us,’ God in our nature still. He suffered as a man, and as a man he now reigns on the throne of glory; exercising all power and authority, and receiving all spiritual worship both in heaven and upon earth. He is the head of all principalities and powers, thrones and dominions. Thus man is not only saved, but unspeakably honoured and ennobled. He is brought into the nearest relation to him, who is over all blessed forever. The angels adore him; but only redeemed sinners can say, ‘He loved us and gave himself for us; he has washed us from our sins in his own blood;’* he is our Saviour, our Shepherd, our Friend, our ‘Immanuel, God with us.’”

‡ 2 Cor. 4:6.

* Gal. 2:20; Rev. 1:5.

John Newton, “Sermon V: Immanuel,” in Messiah: Fifty Expository Discourses, on the series of Scriptural Passages Which form the Subject of the celebrated Oratorio of Handel (preached during 1784 & 1785) in The Works of John Newton, Vol. 4, ed. Richard Cecil. (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 64–66. [Italics original.]