Introduction to Ambrose of Milan: Dr. Steven J. Lawson in the second volume of his landmark series: “A Long Line of Godly Men” writes regarding Ambrose of Milan: “At the end of the fourth century, Ambrose of Milan became the most prominent figure in Western Christianity. He is consdered the supreme defender of the Christian faith in his time. Certainly he was a leading foe of Arianism; in fact, it has been said that Ambrose, more than any other individual, was responsible for the ultimate defeat of heresy in the West. He was unquestionably Italy’s greatest preacher and bishop. Scholars have characterized him as a magnificent minister, a powerful preacher, and a man of great dignity, spiritual force and unction.”
Lawson goes on: “He introduced Eastern theology into the Western church, establishing Nicene orthodoxy. He also wrote hymns and was instrumental in establishing sacred singing in public worship.” Dr. Lawson and other church historians have noted that Ambrose was used by the Lord to preach the scriptures and in one of those preaching services, a young, brilliant pagan became converted by the name of Augustine. We have already sampled Augustine in this current blog series and have noted the influence God wrought through him.
The piece below is an excerpt from Book 2, Chapter 11 of Ambrose’s work: “Exposition on the Christian Faith”, which contains Five books in all. The wonderful website: http://www.biblehub.com has the entirety of Ambrose’s collected works and is highly recommended to anyone desiring to read more of what the ancient church fathers wrote. The link for today’s ancient advent meditation is found at: http://christianbookshelf.org/ambrose/works_and_letters_of_st_ambrose/chapter_xi_the_purpose_and.htm. May the reader be edified and blessed in the reading of what Ambrose writes below concerning the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ as God in human flesh.
Book 2, Chapter 11: “The purpose and healing effects of the incarnation”
“The purpose and healing effects of the Incarnation. The profitableness of faith, whereby we know that Christ bore all infirmities for our sakes,—Christ, Whose Godhead revealed Itself in His Passion; whence we understand that the mission of the Son of God entailed no subservience, which belief we need not fear lest it displease the Father, Who declares Himself to be well pleased in His Son.
Let us likewise deal kindly, let us persuade our adversaries of that which is to their profit, “let us worship and lament before the Lord our Maker.” For we would not overthrow, but rather heal; we lay no ambush for them, but warn them as in duty bound. Kindliness often bends those whom neither force nor argument will avail to overcome. Again, our Lord cured with oil and wine the man who, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among thieves; having forborne to treat him with the harsh remedies of the Law or the sternness of Prophecy.
To Him, therefore, let all come who would be made whole. Let them receive the medicine which He hath brought down from His Father and made in heaven, preparing it of the juices of those celestial fruits that wither not. This is of no earthly growth, for nature nowhere possesseth this compound. Of wondrous purpose took He our flesh, to the end that He might show that the law of the flesh had been subjected to the law of the mind. He was incarnate, that He, the Teacher of men, might overcome as man.
Of what profit would it have been to me, had He, as God, bared the arm of His power, and only displayed His Godhead inviolate? Why should He take human nature upon Him, but to suffer Himself to be tempted under the conditions of my nature and my weakness? It was right that He should be tempted, that He should suffer with me, to the end that I might know how to conquer when tempted, how to escape when hard pressed. He overcame by force of continence, of contempt of riches, of faith; He trampled upon ambition, fled from intemperance, bade wantonness be far from Him.
This medicine Peter beheld, and left His nets, that is to say, the instruments and security of gain, renouncing the lust of the flesh as a leaky ship, that receives the bilge, as it were, of multitudinous passions. Truly a mighty remedy, that not only removed the scar of an old wound, but even cut the root and source of passion. O Faith, richer than all treasure-houses; O excellent remedy, healing our wounds and sins!
Let us bethink ourselves of the profitableness of right belief. It is profitable to me to know that for my sake Christ bore my infirmities, submitted to the affections of my body, that for me, that is to say, for every man, He was made sin, and a curse, that for me and in me was He humbled and made subject, that for me He is the Lamb, the Vine, the Rock, the Servant, the Son of an handmaid, knowing not the day of judgment, for my sake ignorant of the day and the hour.
For how could He, Who hath made days and times, be ignorant of the day? How could He not know the day, Who hath declared both the season of Judgment to come, and the cause? A curse, then, He was made not in respect of His Godhead, but of His flesh; for it is written: “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” In and after the flesh, therefore, He hung, and for this cause He, Who bore our curses, became a curse. He wept that thou, man, mightest not weep long. He endured insult, that thou mightest not grieve over the wrong done to thee.
A glorious remedy—to have consolation of Christ! For He bore these things with surpassing patience for our sakes—and we forsooth cannot bear them with common patience for the glory of His Name! Who may not learn to forgive, when assailed, seeing that Christ, even on the Cross, prayed,—yea, for them that persecuted Him? See you not that those weaknesses, as you please to call them, of Christ’s are your strength? Why question Him in the matter of remedies for us? His tears wash us, His weeping cleanses us,—and there is strength in this doubt, at least, that if you begin to doubt, you will despair. The greater the insult, the greater is the gratitude due.
Even in the very hour of mockery and insult, acknowledge His Godhead. He hung upon the Cross, and all the elements did Him homage. The sun withdrew his rays, the daylight vanished, darkness came down and covered the land, the earth trembled; yet He Who hung there trembled not. What was it that these signs betokened, but reverence for the Creator? That He hangs upon the Cross—this, thou Arian, thou regardest; that He gives the kingdom of God—this, thou regardest not. That He tasted of death, thou readest, but that He also invited the robber into paradise, to this thou givest no heed. Thou dost gaze at the women weeping by the tomb, but not upon the angels keeping watch by it. What He said, thou readest: what He did, thou dost not read. Thou sayest that the Lord said to the Canaanitish woman: “I am not sent, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” thou dost not say that He did what He was besought by her to do.
Thou shouldst hereby understand that His being “sent” means not that He was compelled, at the command of another, but that He acted, of free will, according to His own judgment, otherwise thou dost accuse Him of despising His Father. For if, according to thine expounding, Christ had come into Jewry, as one executing the Father’s commands, to relieve the inhabitants of Jewry, and none besides, and yet before that was accomplished, set free the Canaanitish woman’s daughter from her complaint, surely He was not only the executor of another’s instruction, but was free to exercise His own judgment. But where there is freedom to act as one will, there can be no transgressing the terms of one’s mission.
Fear not that the Son’s act displeased the Father, seeing that the Son Himself saith: “Whatsoever things are His good pleasure, I do always,” and “The works that I do, He Himself doeth.” How, then, could the Father be displeased with that which He Himself did through the Son? For it is One God, Who, as it is written, “hath justified circumcision in consequence of faith, and uncircumcision through faith.”
Read all the Scriptures, mark all diligently, you will then find that Christ so manifested Himself that God might be discerned in man. Misunderstand not maliciously the Son’s exultation in the Father, when you hear the Father declaring His pleasure in the Son.”