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The Mystery of Godliness

The apostle Paul adopts what appears to have been a 1st Century Christian creed or hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16–in which he introduces a six line refrain about Christ with the prologue, “Great is the mystery of godliness:”

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.”

The first two lines highlight the Person and work of Christ; the second couplet, highlights those who bore witness to Him and His saving work; and the third couplet highlights the effect of the accomplishment of His saving work (cf. George Knight NIGNT: The Pastoral Epistles p. 183). What one could easily miss––on a cursory reading of this passage––is that Paul teaches that Jesus Christ is the source of all godliness. There is no godliness apart from Him. His Person and saving work is the singular and exclusive source of that godliness that God requires and provides. Our God gives what He requires of Himself by coming in the Person of Christ. Adolph Monod, the 19th Century French Reformed pastor, captured this so well in one of his farewell sermons, “Jesus Christ.” He explained:

"When we contemplate Jesus Christ, we at first consider Him as a man, but we soon perceive that He is not an ordinary man. We find in Him an infinite fund of love, a benevolence always ready to come to our help, and strength always sufficient to deliver us —a Master and a Redeemer, healing the diseases of the body, to shew that He can also heal those of the soul, even in its most secret and intense misery. We find unspotted holiness, the holiness of God himself, brought down upon the earth; and finally, in a human body and in a human mind, a Divine essence of truth, of strength, and of love, such as no man ever possessed or even imagined, and which draws us towards Him whom we are instinctively assured can, and can alone, grant us every deliverance that we need. But soon, in listening to the Scriptures, and listening to himself, the mystery begins to be solved, but only to give place to another mystery still greater.

We learn that our Lord Jesus Christ—for such is the man that we have been contemplating—being born in a supernatural manner, is not only the Son of man, but at the same time the Son of God: Son of man, that is to say, man; Son of God, that is to say, God. If there is in Him a Divine grace, power, holiness, and goodness, it is that He is God; He is the image of His person, and the brightness of His glory, and ” in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead, bodily.” It is the mystery of godliness—God manifest in flesh—God saying to His disciples, as we have just read, ”He that hath seen me hath seen my Father.” This is, my dear friends, according to my deep and increasing conviction, and that of all the faithful from first to last.—the prophets, inasmuch as it was given them to know, the patriarchs, the apostles, the witnesses, the martyrs, the fathers (the faithful fathers of the church), the reformers, the servants and handmaids of the Lord in all ages,—this is properly the key of the Gospel edifice and the basis of the whole Gospel. This is the centre from whence diverge all the acts of faith and obedience to which we may be called; and so entirely does the Christian life rest upon this foundation—Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh—that by the rejection of this truth Jesus Christ is not’only dethroned, but also God himself. The living God is no longer living; we have instead the God of the Deists, the God of the Pantheists, the God of the Nationalists,—a God who is but a dead God, who has never either saved, or sanctified, or condoled any one, because the true God is He who reveals himself to us, and not only reveals, but who gives himself to us in Jesus Christ; for, as it has been so well said, in creation God shews us His hand, but in redemption He gives us His heart.

Jesus Christ God, and yet Jesus Christ man, really and truly man, really and truly God, seems to many a doctrine for speculation rather than a doctrine for practice; (My God, strengthen my feeble voice and my languishing soul!)—but this is rot the case; and far from being a speculative doctrine, it is the basis of the practical Christian life. St Paul, while he calls it a mystery, calls it a mystery of godliness : ” Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness.” There is no Christian life, no Christian consolation, no Christian strength, no Christian death, without this doctrine; it is the basis of all the rest, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ shed abroad in our hearts is our only strength, as it is our only hope."1

1. Adolph Monod Adolph Monod’s Farewell to His Friends and His Church (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1858) p. 130-133