/ Incarnation / Stephen Steele

Veiled in Flesh?

Have you heard of the carol: Hark how all the Welkin rings? That was the opening line of Charles Wesley’s 1739 ‘Hymn for Christmas-Day’, until George Whitefield changed it to the more familiar Hark! The Herald Angels sing

Some would say Whitefield’s changes didn’t go far enough. People sometimes get concerned with the line: ‘Late in time behold him come’. I can’t say I’ve ever looked into it, but we can probably assume Wesley wasn’t suggesting Jesus arrived late.

Two lines later however, we find something a bit more problematic: ‘Veiled in Flesh, the Godhead see’. I must confess I’d never noticed it until Jonty Rhodes pointed it out at the recent Banner of Truth Borders’ Conference. But once you see it, it’s hard to unsee. ‘Veiled in Flesh?’ Surely it should be the opposite: ‘Revealed in Flesh’.

The Son, after all, is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15). Although ‘No one has ever seen God, the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known’ (John 1:18).

Jesus himself says: ‘no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (Matt 11:27). The Son is the Revealer of the Father. ‘Whoever has seen me’, Jesus says, ‘has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). It was the testimony of the Apostle John that ‘the eternal life which was with the Father…was made manifest to us’ (1 John 1:2). 

‘The Godhead was not veiled in flesh. The Godhead was revealed in flesh. God makes himself known, not hidden, in flesh’.[1] 

As the Reformer Philip Melanchthon reminds us: ‘We seek a God who has revealed himself’.[2] ‘God’s infinite amiableness’, says John Colquhoun, is ‘manifested especially in the person and work of our adorable Redeemer’.[3]

‘Wherever Jesus is’, said Luther, ‘there is the whole Godhead’. He went as far as to say that: ‘God is become so manifest and resplendent in this flesh, as to render it impossible for him, when divested of it, to be known and worshipped’.[4]

Without Christ ‘we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge’.[5] God, says Calvin, ‘cannot be enjoyed in any other way than in Christ’.[6] 

To despise Christ is to despise God, because ‘he has nothing to do with us but by his Son’ (John Owen)[7]. Far from veiling himself in Christ, Jonathan Edwards says ‘The one grand medium by which [God] glorifies himself in all is Jesus Christ, God-man’.[8]

So why does all this matter?

Mike Reeves describes an experience surely not unique to him:

‘I found myself interested in heaven, interested in salvation, even interested in Jesus, but not attracted to God. I longed to escape hell and go to heaven, but God’s presence was not the inducement. Quite the opposite: I would have been far more comfortable with a Godless paradise’.

But through reading the great early defender of orthodoxy, Athanasius, Reeves came to realise that: ‘there is no God in heaven who is unlike Jesus’.[9] 

So: veiled in flesh? Yes, there were the ‘veils of his outward weakness and condition in the world’ (Owen).[10] But the great truth of the incarnation is not God veiled – but God revealed:

Revealed in Flesh, the Godhead see
Hail the Incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Immanuel.

[1] https://docsandlin.com/2018/03/25/god-was-in-christ-reconciling

[2] Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes (1543), trans. J. A. O. Preus (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1992), p. 18, cited in Reeves, Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), pp 92-3.

[3] John Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel (Edinburgh; J. Ogle, 1816), p. 104

[4] Luther, cited in Nathanael Vincent, ‘How may we grow in the Knowledge of Christ’ in Puritan Sermons, 1659-1689being The Morning Exercises, iii, 299. 

[5] Luther’s Large Catechism, Article III.

[6] Calvin, commentary on John 14:6.

[7] John Owen, Works (Goold), vii, 49.

[8] Jonathan Edwards, ‘Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design’ in Sermons and Discourses, 1743-58, p. 116.

[9] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-god-i-could-love

[10] Owen, Works, vii, 49. 

Stephen Steele

Stephen Steele

Stephen is minister of Stranraer RP Church in Scotland. He is married to Carla and they have four children. He has an MA from Queen's University Belfast where his focus was on C19th Presbyterianism.

Read More