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Sunday, December 24

We see now what it meant for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor. It meant a laying aside of glory; a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony – spiritual even more than physical – that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it. It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely human beings, that they through his poverty might become rich. The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity – hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory – because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.
We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christan all the year round.
It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.
The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.
There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be. If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thought he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’ (2 Cor. 8:9). ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 2:5). ‘I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.’ (Ps. 119:32).

Saturday, December 23

Imagine God wholly absorbed in the creation of human beings – in his hand, his eye, his labor, his purpose, his wisdom, his providence, and most of all, his love. All these things were shaping the outlines of humankind, for whatever form and expression he gave to the clay of the earth, it was always in his mind that one day Christ would become a man… For the Father had already said to the Son, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.’ And God made humankind after his image, which is the image of Christ… Therefore that clay that was even then putting on the image of Christ, who was to come in the flesh, was not only the work but also the pledge and surety of God.


Friday, December 22

Let us settle in our minds this great truth, that Jesus Christ was verily and indeed Man. He was equal to the Father in all things, and the eternal God. But He was also Man, and took part of flesh and blood, and was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted. He had a body like our own. Like us, He was born of a woman. Like us, He grew and increased in stature. Like us, He was often hungry and thirsty, and faint and weary. Like us, He ate and drank, rested and slept. Like us, he sorrowed, and wept, and felt. It is all very wonderful, but so it is. He that made the heavens went to and fro as a poor, weary Man on earth! He that ruled over principalities and powers in the heavenly places, took on Him a frail body like our own. He that might have dwelt forever in the glory which He had with the Father, amidst the praises of legions of angels, came down to earth and dwelt as a Man among sinful men. Surely this fact alone is an amazing miracle of condescension, grace, pity, and love.
I find a deep mine of comfort in this thought, that Jesus is perfect Man no less than perfect God. He in whom I am told by Scripture to trust is not only a great High Priest, but a feeling High Priest. He is not only a powerful Saviour, but a sympathizing Saviour. He is not only the Son of God, mighty to save, but the Son of man, able to feel….
I see a marvelous proof of love and wisdom in the union of two natures in Christ’s person. It was marvelous love in our Saviour to go through weakness and humiliation for our sakes, ungodly rebels as we are. It was marvelous wisdom to fit Himself in this way to be the very Friend of friends, who could not only save man, but meet him on his own ground. I want one able to perform all things needful to redeem my soul. This Jesus can do, for He is the eternal Son of God. I want one able to understand my weakness and infirmities, and to deal gently with my soul, while tied to a body of death. This again Jesus can do, for He was the Son of man, and had flesh and blood like my own. Had my Saviour been God only, I might perhaps have trusted Him, but I never could have come near to Him without fear. Had my Saviour been Man only, I might have loved Him, but I never could have felt sure that He was able to take away my sins. But, blessed be God, my Saviour is God as well as Man, and Man as well as God – God, and so able to save and deliver me – Man, and so able to feel with me. Almighty power and deepest sympathy are met together in one glorious person, Jesus Christ, my Lord. Surely a believer in Christ has a strong consolation. He may well trust, and not be afraid….
It is impossible to conceive a Saviour more suited to the wants of man’s heart than our Lord Jesus Christ – suited not only by His power, but by His sympathy – suited not only by His divinity, but by His humanity. Labour, I beseech you, to get firmly impressed on your mind that Christ, the refuge of souls, is Man as well as God. Honour Him as King of kings, and Lord of lords. But while you do this, never forget that He had a body and was a Man. Grasp this truth and never let it go.

j.c. Ryle

Thursday, December 21

So he united God with man and wrought a communion of God and man, we being unable to have any participation in incorruptibility if it were not for His coming to us, for incorruptibility, whilst being invisible, benefitted us nothing: so He became visible, that we might, in all ways, obtain a participation in incorruptibility. And because we all are implicated in the first-formation of Adam, we were bound to death through the disobedience, it was fitting, therefore, by means, of the obedience of the One, who on our account became man, to be loosed from death. Since death reigned over the flesh, it was necessary that, abolished through flesh, it release man from its oppression. So, ‘the Word became flesh’ that by means of the flesh which sin had mastered and seized and dominated, by this, it might be abolished and no longer be in us. And for this reason our Lord received that same embodiment as the first-formed, that He might fight for the fathers and vanquish in Adam that which had struck us in Adam.

Since it is true, then, that the Lord redeems us by his own blood, that he gives his life for our life and his flesh for our flesh, that he pours out the Spirit of the Father to unite God and humanity and bring them into communion, bringing God down to human beings through the Spirit and, conversely, bringing humanity up to God by his own incarnation, and that, furthermore, he truly and securely gives us incorruptibility at his coming by creating communion with God – since all this is true, the teaching of the heretics are destroyed.
The people who assert that his appearance was a matter of mere seeming speak emptily, for these things did not seem to happen, they did happen, in objective reality… They do not see that just as, from the very beginning of our shaping in Adam, the breath of life from God gave life to humanity because it was united to the work which God had shaped, so also, in the end, God’s Word and God’s Spirit, united to the ancient substance produced by Adam’s formation, have brought about a living and completed humanity which embraces God in all his completeness – all of which means that as, in the order of ordinary life, we have died, so in the spiritual order we are all made alive.


Wednesday, December 20

For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!

John Calvin

Tuesday, December 19

God is faithful. He has made himself our debtor, not by receiving anything from us but by promising us so much. The promise alone was not enough for him: he wanted it in writing, so that he could be held to it, practically entering into a contract with us that listed the promises he was making. In that way, when he began to fulfil his promises, we could see the order of their fulfilment by looking in Scripture. Therefore, the time of the prophets was (as I have said so often) the time of making promises.

He promised us eternal salvation and an unending life of blessedness with the angels, and an imperishable inheritance, the joy of seeing his face, a dwelling-place with him in heaven, and the fear of death removed from us through the resurrection. This is, if you like, his ultimate promise. We look forward to it, and when we reach it, we will want nothing more. But as to how this final end is to be reached, he has also told us in promises and prophecies.
He has promised to men that they will be like God; to mortals he has promised immortality; to sinners, righteousness; to the lowly, glory.

Indeed, brethren, because what God promised seemed incredible to men – that from mortality, decay, weakness, lowliness, dust and ashes they should become equals of the angels of God – he did not only sign a contract with them to convince them. He sent, not just any prince, not just any angel or archangel, but his only Son. The road by which he was to lead us to the end he had promised us – through his Son he would show us that road.

Even so, it was not enough for God to send his Son to point out the way – he made his Son the way itself, so that we can go on our journey guided by him as he walks along his own way.

So the only Son of God was to come to men, to take on humanity, and thus to die, to ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of the father, and so to fulfil what he had promised among the nations. After that promise to the nations had been fulfilled, he would fulfil his other promise, to come, to demand the return of what he had given, to separate the vessels of anger from the vessels of mercy, to give the wicked what he had threatened and the righteous what he had promised.

All this had to be prophesied and foretold. It had to have its coming announced. It could not come suddenly and unexpectedly, causing terror and alarm: people had to be awaiting it with faith. 

Monday, December 18

For the sun to fall from its sphere, and be degraded into a wandering atom; for an angel to be turned out of heaven, and be converted into a silly fly or worm, had been no such great abasement; for they were but creatures before, and so they would abide still, though in an inferior order or species of creatures. The distance betwixt the highest and lowest species of creatures, is but a finite distance. The angel and the worm dwell not so far apart. But for the infinite glorious Creator of all things, to become a creature, is a mystery exceeding all human understanding. The distance between God and the highest order of creatures, is an infinite distance…

Did Christ stoop, and you cannot stoop? Did Christ stoop so much, and you cannot stoop the least?

Sunday, December 17

Although Christ took our filth upon himself, nevertheless he is not himself defiled by the pollution, but in his own self he cleanses the filth, for it says, the light shown in the darkness, but the darkness did not overpower it.

Gregory of Nyssa

Saturday, December 16

God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, December 15

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple*, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

John Chrysostom

Thursday, December 14

In this act, his infinite condescension wonderfully appeared, that he who was God should become man; that the word should be made flesh, and should take on him a nature infinitely below his original nature! And it appears yet more remarkably in the low circumstances of his incarnation: he was conceived in the womb of a poor young woman, whose poverty appeared in this, when she came to offer sacrifices of her purification, she brought what was allowed of in the law only in case of poverty; “According to what is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24). This was allowed only in case the person was so poor that she was not able to offer a lamb (Lev. 12:8).

And though his infinite condescension thus appeared in the manner of his incarnation, yet his divine dignity also appeared in it; for though he was conceived in the womb of a poor virgin, yet he was conceived there by the power of the Holy Ghost. And his divine dignity also appeared in the holiness of his conception and birth. Though he was conceived in the womb of one of the corrupt race of mankind, yet he was conceived and born without sin; as the angel said to the blessed Virgin: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you, shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

His infinite condescension marvelously appeared in the manner of his birth. He was brought forth in a stable, because there was no room for them in the inn. The inn was taken up by others, that were looked upon as persons of greater account. The blessed Virgin, being poor and despised, was turned or shut out. Though she was in such necessitous circumstances, yet those that counted themselves her betters would not give place to her; and therefore, in the time of her travail, she was forced to betake herself to a stable; and when the child was born, it was wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger. There Christ lay a little infant; and there he eminently appeared as a lamb. But yet this feeble infant, born thus in a stable, and laid in a manger, was born to conquer and triumph over Satan, that roaring lion. He came to subdue the mighty powers of darkness, and make a show of them openly; and so to restore peace on earth, and to manifest God’s good-will towards men, and to bring glory to God in the highest; according as the end of his birth was declared by the joyful songs of the glorious hosts of angels appearing to the shepherds at the same time that the infant lay in the manger; whereby his divine dignity was manifested.

JOnathan Edwards

Wednesday, December 13

Lord, bowed down as I am, I can only look downwards. Raise me up, that I may look upwards. My sins are heaped over my head; they cover me over and, like a heavy load, crush me down. Save me, disburden me, lest their pit close its mouth over me… Lord, I am not trying to make my way to Your height, for my understanding is in no way equal to that, but I do desire to understand a little of Your truth which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I can believe, but I believe so that I may understand; and what is more, I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.

For God has shown the magnitude of his love and devotion towards us by the magnitude of his act in most wonderfully and unexpectedly saving us from the evils, so great and so deserved, by which we used to be beset, and returning us to the enjoyment of the good things, so great and so undeserved, which we had lost… For it is appropriate that, just as death entered the human race through a man’s disobedience, so life should be restored through a man’s obedience; and that, just as the sin which was the cause of our damnation originated from a woman, similarly the originator of our justification and salvation should be born of a woman. Also that the devil, who defeated the man whom he beguiled through the taste of a tree, should himself similarly be defeated by a man through tree-induced suffering which he, the devil, inflicted…

For we affirm that the divine nature is undoubtedly incapable of suffering, and cannot in any sense be brought low from its exalted standing, and cannot labor with difficulty over what it wishes to do. But we say that the Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, one person in two natures and two natures in one person. In view of this, when we say that God is suffering some humiliation or weakness, we do not understand this in terms of the exaltedness of his non-suffering nature, but in terms of the weakness of the human substance which he was taking upon himself… For we are not, in this way, implying lowliness on the part of the divine substance, but are making plain the existence of a single person comprising God and man. Therefore, in the incarnation of God it is understood that no humiliation of God came about: rather it is believed that human nature was exalted.


Tuesday, December 12

The Lord has come into this world!
“Nay, nay, that cannot be;
The world is full of noisomeness
And all iniquity.

The Lord–thrice holy is His name–
He cannot touch this thing of shame.”
The Lord has come into His world!
“Ah, then, He comes in might,
The sword of fury in His hands,
With vengeance all bedight!
O wretched world! thine end draws near,
Prepare to meet thy God, in fear!”
The Lord has come into His world!
“What! in that baby sweet?
That broken man, acquaint with grief?
Those bleeding hands and feet?
He is the Lord of all the earth,
How can He stoop to human birth?”
The Lord has come into His world!
“A slaughtered Lamb I see,
A smoking altar, on which burns
A sacrifice for me!
He comes–He comes–O blessed day!–
He comes to take my sin away!”

B.B. Warfield

Monday, December 11

He remained what he was; what he was not, he assumed. No ‘because’ is required for his existence in the beginning, for what could account for the existence of God? But later he came into being because of something, namely your salvation, yours, who insult him and despise his Godhead for that very reason, because he took on your thick corporeality…

He was begotten – yet he was already begotten – of a woman. And yet she was a virgin. That it was from a woman makes it human, that she was a virgin makes it divine. On earth he has no father, but in heaven no mother. All this is part of his Godhead. He was carried in the womb, but acknowledged by a prophet as yet unborn himself, who leaped for joy at the presence of the Word for whose sake he had been created. He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the Resurrection he unloosed the swaddling bands of the grave. He was laid in a manger, but was extolled by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by Magi…

He hungered – yet he fed thousands. He is indeed living, heavenly bread. He thirsted – yet he exclaimed: ‘Whosoever thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’ Indeed he promised that believers would become fountains. He was tired – yet he is the rest of the weary and the burdened.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Sunday, December 10

“Once God was incomprehensible and inaccessible, invisible and entirely unthinkable. But now he wanted to be seen, he wanted to be understood, he wanted to be known. How was this done, you ask? God lay in a manger and lay on the Virgin’s breast. He preached on a mountain, prayed through the night, and hung on a cross. He lay pale in death, was free among the dead, and was master of hell. He rose on the third day, showed the apostles the signs of victory where nails once were, and ascended before their eyes to the inner recesses of heaven… When I think on any of these things, I am thinking of God, and in all these things he is now my God.”

Bernard of Clairvaux

Saturday, December 9

First, all that he parted with, all that he did, all that he suffered, all that he does as mediator; he parted with, did, suffered, does on the account of his love to and esteem of believers. He parted with the greatest glory, underwent the greatest misery, he does the greatest works that ever were, because he loves his spouse – because he values believers. What can more, what can further be spoken? How little is the depth of that which is spoken fathomed! How unable are we to look into the mysterious recesses of it! He so loves, so values his saints, as that, having from eternity undertaken to bring them to God, he rejoices his soul in the thoughts of it; and pursues his design through heaven and hell, life and death, by suffering and doing, in mercy and with power; and ceases not until he bring it to perfection.

Second, he does so value them, as that he will not lose any of them to eternity, though all the world should combine to take them out of his hand… Herein, indeed, is the depth of his love to be contemplated, that whereas his holy soul hates every sin (it is a burden, an abomination, a new wound to him), and his poor spouse is sinful (believers are full of sins, failings, and infirmities), he hides all, covers all, bears with all, rather than he will lose them; by his power preserving them from such sins as a remedy is not provided for in the covenant of grace. Oh, the world of sinful follies that our dear Lord Jesus bears with on this account! Are not our own souls astonished with the thoughts of it? Infinite patience, infinite forbearance, infinite love, infinite grace, infinite mercy, are all set on work for this end, to answer this his valuation of us.

John Owen

Friday, December 8

In short, he took what was ours to be his very own so that we might have all that was his… When they say that the Word of God did not become flesh, or rather did not undergo birth from a woman according to the flesh, they bankrupt the economy of salvation, for if he who was rich did not impoverish himself, abasing himself to our condition out of tender love, then we have not gained his riches but are still in our poverty, still enslaved by sin and death, because the Word becoming flesh is the undoing and the abolition of all that fell upon human nature as our curse and punishment…

Is it not wicked and shocking to try and take away from God the Word his birth from a woman according to the flesh? For how could his body possibly give life to us if it were not the very own body of him who is Life? And how could it be that the “blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7) if it was in reality only that of an ordinary man subject to sin?…

Indeed the mystery of Christ runs the risk of being disbelieved precisely because it is so incredibly wonderful. For God was in humanity. He who was above all creation was in our human condition; the invisible one was made visible in the flesh; he who is from the heavens and from on high was in the likeness of earthly things; the immaterial one could be touched; he who is free in his own nature came in the form of a slave; he who blesses all creation became accursed; he who is all righteousness was numbered among transgressors; life itself came in the appearance of death. All this followed because the body which tasted death belonged to no other but to him who is the Son by nature.

Cyril of Alexandria

Thursday, December 7

In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity… But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders. Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both colored now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colorless in the dark, he lost his color too.

In this descent and reascent everyone will recognize a familiar pattern: a thing written all over the world. It is the pattern of all vegetable life. It must belittle itself into something hard, small and deathlike, it must fall to the ground: thence the new life reascends… Death and Rebirth – go down to go up – it is a key principle. Through this bottleneck, this belittlement, the highroad nearly always lies… The pattern is there in Nature because it was first there in God. All the instances of it which I have mentioned turn out to be but transpositions of the Divine theme into a minor key.

C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 6

What, then, was God to do? What else could he possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in his own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.

In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need.


Tuesday, December 5

Without doubt you do not come to him and bring him to you; he is too high and too far from you. With all your effort, work, and labor you cannot come to him, lest you boast as though you had received him by your own merit and worthiness. No, dear friend, all merit and worthiness is out of the question, and there is nothing but demerit and unworthiness on your side, nothing but grace and mercy on his.

This is what is meant by “Thy king cometh.” You do not seek him, but he seeks you. You do not find Him, he finds you.your faith comes from him, not from you; everything that faith works in you comes from him, not from you; and where he does not come, you remain outside; and where there is no Gospel, there is no God, but only sin and damnation. Therefore you should not ask, where to begin to be godly; there is no beginning, except where the king enters and is proclaimed.

Martin Luther

Monday, December 4

Learn, then, who it is who suffers and who shares his suffering, and why the Lord is present on the earth – in order that, having garbed himself in the sufferer, he may carry him away into the heights of heaven.

He arrived on earth from the heavens for the sake of the one who suffered. He clothed himself in the sufferer by means of a virgin’s womb and came forth as a human being. He took to himself the sufferings of the sufferer by means of a body capable of suffering, and he destroyed the sufferings of the flesh.

Melito of Sardis