THE PERSON OF CHRIST.
I. THE doctrine of the Trinity lies at the foundation of that of Christ’s Person.
That doctrine is that three persons subsist in one divine nature. It was one of these persons, and not the divine nature itself, that became incarnate.
1. It was not the Godhead that became incarnate, but one of the persons of the Godhead.
2. It was not the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit, but it was the Son alone.
3. It was not God abstractly and unitedly, but God personally, the Word that was with God, and that was God, that was made flesh.
4. It was not, therefore, that which was common to the three persons that assumed our nature; but it was that which, in the economy of the Trinity, is distinguished from the others.
5. It was, therefore, not the divine nature or essence, but a person who subsists in that divine nature equally with the others, yet who is distinguished, in his relation to that divine nature, from the other persons of the Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is therefore essentially involved in that of the Person of Christ. It is because of the fact of individual personality in the divine Being, by virtue of which, though his nature and essence and being are so one that he is one God, he is yet three-fold, that personal distinctions also exist, and that one person, who is God, can become incarnate without involving the incarnation of the other persons.
Personal distinctions in the Trinity are not necessary to the incarnation of God, but are to that of a divine person.
They are also necessary to the work which Christ performed. Were God only one person, he could not manifest rule, and yet empty himself of it; could not send, and yet be sent; could not be lawgiver, and also voluntary subject; could not make atonement, and yet receive it; could not pour out wrath, and yet endure it.
The Scriptures, therefore, persistently teach, not that “God came,” “was sent,” “was made flesh,” but that God “gave his only-begotten Son,” “sent his Son not to condemn the world,” “sent forth his Son made of a woman,” “sent his only-begotten Son into the world,” and that “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” Indeed, the first chapter of John, which sets forth the doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity, plainly declares (John 1:18): “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
II. This Person, in his incarnation, preserved unaltered his essential relations to the divine nature or essence.
1. The only Scripture passage which seems to oppose this is Phil. 2:5-8; but a proper consideration of this passage shows that it does not. The subordination, thus voluntarily assumed by the Son, was manifestly official, and that of one divine person to another. It could not have been a subordination of one divine nature to another, for there is but the one divine nature. It is, therefore, a subordination of one person to another, the Son to the Father. Neither, in that subordination, was there any separation of Christ from his divine nature. Such separation was not necessary to his incarnation. It was only necessary that he should appear to men as man, and not as God. His divinity was, therefore, concealed in his human form. But he, being God equally with the Father and the Spirit, possessed, of right, rule and authority over all creatures and worlds. This he continued to possess essentially as God; but, as the Son, he yielded its exercise exclusively into the hands of the Father; so that during the period of his earthly residence, he consented to be as one that was sent, and thus as the servant of the Father, doing his will and obedient to his authority. The context shows this to be the only meaning. The object in introducing this statement is to induce the Philippians, in a like spirit of self submission, to esteem others better than themselves (a case, therefore, of subordination among equals). And after this statement about Christ, Paul enforces this obligation by showing how the Father had so rewarded this act of the Son, that the rightful dominion and power, which belong essentially to God, and to Christ therefore only in his divine nature, had been conferred upon him in his human nature, so that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father.” Phil. 1:11.
It was this official position of rule and dominion which constituted the glory which he had with the Father, and which he prayed the Father to bestow upon him again. Such prayer was not necessary to secure it for himself as God, for, in his divine nature, be had continued to possess although not to exercise it; but it was necessary, since this was also to he conferred upon him as man, and in this respect it could only be conferred as a reward or gift, and by the consent of all the persons of the Trinity. (Compare the 2d Psalm, especially verses 6-8, but the whole Psalm.)
The Scriptures go no further than this idea of official subordination. They say nothing of Christ leaving his divinity behind him, as though it had been cast off like a garment. They do not say that for his dwelling on earth his divinity had to cease or to be absorbed in that of the Father and the Spirit; nor that it had an indefinite existence in a transition state, awaiting a reunion after the incarnation work.
It is well to remember that they not only do not, but could not thus teach, for some men imagine this and overlook what may be next shown, namely:
2. That the Scriptures teach that while he was incarnate, he was truly God.
So fully is this taught, that we have no evidence at all of Christ’s divinity which is not presented with equal force of him while on earth.
All the attributes of divinity are ascribed to him, eternity of existence, self-existence, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, presence in heaven and on earth, the contemplation of and unity with the Father, and co-working with him. These are declared of him and manifested by him while he stood in the form of man in the midst of his disciples and the multitude.
It was while in the same form that he performed acts which none other than God can of himself do, declaring that these acts were done by his own power. He turned water into wine, not by the ordinary and slow process of nature, but instantly and without a word. He created bread and fish in the hands of his disciples. He controlled the winds and the waves. He forgave sin. He gave life to the dead. He made known events in distant places. He searched the hearts and revealed the secret thoughts of men. He laid down his own life and took it up again.
The constant workings of his divine power and energy, by which he is essentially, as God, always working with the Father, were indeed concealed; but thus, at times, before the people at large, and more frequently before his disciples, the divinity shone through the veil which ordinarily concealed it, and testified that he was as truly God as he was also man. See the remarkable statements of Christ himself as to his co-working with the Father in John 5:l7-31.
3. He allowed himself to be treated as God during the incarnation.
How could he be called God during his days in the flesh, or receive worship as such? how could it be the will of the Father that men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father? how could Elizabeth call Mary the mother of my Lord? or the angels announce to the shepherds that Christ the Lord was born? or Peter declare to the Jews that they had crucified the Lord of glory? or Paul describe the people of God to the Ephesian elders as the Church of God (or, according to another reading, “the Lord”) which he had bought with his own blood? How can men be warned lest they crucify the Son of God afresh and tread him under foot? How could Thomas cry out to him, “my Lord and my God?” and how Peter confess, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”? It was because, though a servant, he was still the Lord, having his relations to his divine nature unimpaired, and entitled to the names, as he was also able to perform the acts and display the attributes of God.
The importance of this fact of the Scripture teaching cannot be over-estimated. In its appropriate relations to the other truths taught it becomes the foundation of every hope. It is not a mere speculation. It enters into the very life of the Christian, enabling him to say: “I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day.” 2 Tim. 1:12. It is not sufficient for us to know that the person who died for us was divine before he came into the world. The Scriptures assure us, and we need to comfort ourselves with the assurance, that he was equally divine when a babe in Bethlehem, when suffering upon the cross, when ascending from Olivet, and even now, while in human nature, he rules as Mediatorial King, or makes intercession with the Father as our great high Priest. We must even go beyond the idea of some kind of divinity, and recognize him as the unchangeable God, who was, and is, and ever shall be, the Almighty, the well-beloved Son of the Father, whom that Father always hears, and to whom all things have been entrusted, in order that the consummation of his glorious kingdom may be fully attained. The incarnation has been indeed, of only one person of the Godhead, but of a person truly and essentially divine, whose relations to the divine nature have remained unaltered during his incarnation on earth and in heaven.
III. That Christ became incarnate in such a sense that he became man.
The Scriptures tell us that “he was made flesh and dwelt among us;” that he was “made like unto his brethren;” that he was the “son of man;” that he was “man.” The apostle says (Rom. 5:15): “one man Christ Jesus.”
(1) By this is not meant that this Divine person co-existed with a human person, so as to be, after all, two distinct existences or persons, the one receiving grace and favour from the other. In this sense God may be said to co-exist with all men, especially with the righteous.
(2) Nor is the idea only of such indwelling, that the glory of God is manifested as so specially present that the human person was the temple of the divine. In this sense God dwells even in material substances, as in the tabernacle and temple of God. In this sense the Holy Ghost dwells in the bodies of believers in a still more perfect union. And such indwelling will attain its highest form when God shall dwell in the temple to be composed of his redeemed saints.
(3) But, though the body of Christ is the temple of God, it is such as the result of a union not less strict than one which makes the indwelling person actually and truly a man. While the relation to the divine nature remains unchanged, and Christ is still truly God, the relation to the human nature is so assumed that Christ also becomes truly man. He is born of a woman. He comes in the flesh. He assumes a human nature which becomes, as truly and really, though not as eternally and essentially his, as his divine nature.
The Scriptures reveal to us a proper humanity, consisting of a real body and a rational soul. Christ is represented as combining in his humanity all that is in ours, except that he, being without sin, exhibited that perfection of humanity which has appeared in no other of the race except in Adam before his fall.
1st. He had a human body. This is now no longer questioned. In early days heretical views existed on this point. Because matter was deemed inherently evil, it was supposed Christ could have had no material body. His body was supposed, therefore, to have been merely a phantom, an appearance of a man. Probably to such a heresy the Apostle John refers. 1 John 4:3; 2 John 7. Those who in early times held this opinion were known as the Docetæ. But these heresies soon disappeared, and it is now no longer disputed that Christ had a true human body composed of bones, and flesh, and blood, as are the bodies of other men.
The Scripture statements as to this fact are unquestionable. Christ is spoken of as conceived in his mother’s womb, as born, as drawing nourishment from her breast, as receiving circumcision, as growing in stature, as hungering, thirsting, wearied, as eating, drinking, sleeping. We are told of his bodily pain, of his bloody sweat, of his sinking under exhaustion, of his pierced body, of his bones that were not broken, of the wounds made in his hands by the nailing to the cross. The parts of his body are mentioned,–his hands, his feet, his side, his head, his brow, his cheek and his breast on which the beloved disciple leaned. The entire representation presents him possessed of such outward form, influenced by such bodily feelings, and engaged in such bodily acts as assure us of the reality of his body. No other theory is possible except that of the Docetæ.
(1) Against the Docetic theory it may be said that if the assumption of a real body were derogatory to Christ, the effort would not have been so persistently made to present that body as real and to induce the multitude and his disciples to believe it such.
(2) Three passages in Scripture give direct testimony against it.
Heb. 2:14: “Since, then, the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same.” While this refers, indeed, to human nature in general, it cannot be taken of that to the exclusion of the very characteristics by which that human nature is described.
The other two passages are stronger, for they directly hear upon phantom appearances, and Christ denied that such was his nature. One is the narrative of Christ walking on the sea to the boat which held the disciples, Matt. 14:22-33. In verse 26 they are said to cry out: “It is an apparition,” and in verse 27 Christ to reply: “It is I.”
The other is the account of that interview in which those who had walked with him to Emmaus report his presence with them to the Eleven, Luke 24:13-48. The language of verses 36-39 is: “And as they spake these things, he himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they beheld a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and wherefore do reasonings arise in your heart? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold me having.” He then showed his hands and feet, and still further called for meat, and ate “a piece of a broiled fish.”
This action of Christ either meant nothing, or meant that he had, even then, a real body, with all its functions in due exercise.
The fact, therefore, that Christ in his incarnation possessed a real human body, subject to all the sinless infirmities of our bodies, is put beyond all question.
2d. He had a human soul also. The evidence of this has been regarded almost equally conclusive. The only difficulty is that some suppose that if he had a human soul, he must have been two persons and not one only. Hence Apollinaris taught that he had no human soul, but that his divine nature took its place. His theory was rejected with almost singular unanimity, but it has been revived from time to time, gaining only brief and limited acceptance, only to be forgotten again when the true doctrine has been set forth.
The fact of such general acceptance of the existence of a human soul in Christ is strong evidence of its truth. It is not certain but strongly probable evidence. When the theory of the divine nature becoming the human soul has been known, such general faith in the other doctrine shows the impression naturally made by the Scripture; because there have been no reasons from prejudice, or passion, or self-interest, to mislead.
The objection that thus there must be two persons in Christ is an objection to the unity of his being; and this is all that leads to the acceptance of the doctrine of the divine nature as substituting the human soul. If, therefore, such be the union, that Christ can as one person subsist in two natures without involving that personal duality, the full objection to the human soul is removed. We shall see hereafter that this can be done. If it could not, then we should have two theories, each with difficulties: the one which arises only from our inability to comprehend what may after all be a psychological fact; the other, which involves such an explanation of the Scripture statements as to Christ as to deny that to be human action in him which would be so regarded in any other, and which also forces us to ascribe to divinity change, suffering, temptation, and death.
Let us examine these two theories first in the light of the Scriptures.
1. We most not forget what has been before stated as to the relations of the persons of the Godhead. Because of the unity of God the Son does not possess a separate divine nature from that of the Father and the Spirit. When it is said, therefore, that Christ’s divine nature took the place of his human soul, is it meant that the divine nature which he had in common with the Father and the Spirit assumed humanity? If so, the incarnation was of the whole Godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Or is it meant that some kind or portion of divine nature which Christ had separately from the Father and the Spirit did that? If so, what was that divine nature? He had none except that which he had in common. To maintain otherwise is to assert, not a trinity of persons in the Godhead, but three Gods. The very unity of the divine nature forbids the doctrine of Christ’s divine nature being the substitute of his human soul.
2. But compare the two theories as to Christ’s intellectual and spiritual life here on earth.
Neither denies that there were intellectual and spiritual acts performed by Christ while in the flesh.
The common theory asserts that some were performed by Christ by virtue of his divine nature, and some by virtue of his human soul. The manifestly divine acts are ascribed to him as God, the manifestly human to him as man.
That there are divine acts is therefore held by those who hold this common theory, as well as by the others. They also admit that some acts are difficult so to classify as to determine whether they are divine or human.
The question between the theories, therefore, is whether there are any intellectual or spiritual acts or experiences of Christ here on earth which could not have resulted from a divine nature, but which are stamped with a distinctively human character? If there were any, Christ must have had a human soul.
The inquiry is limited to this, though we might press the arguments of the ancients against Apollinaris and his followers; as, how can the Scripture he justified in calling Christ a man and in representing his humanity as a qualification for his work of righteousness and atonement, if he had but a human body only? Does the body alone constitute humanity? If the body alone suffered, how then are the souls of men healed? If when he appeared upon earth as a man, he had only the body of a man, was he not, in the most important element of humanity, only an appearance or phantom of a man? Was it the body only of mankind that had sinned and was condemned, and did the soul need no redemption? Was the virtue secured by the divine nature in such incarnation human virtue? Was it indeed any virtue at all?
But these inquiries are not needed. The Scripture statements are themselves more than sufficient. What then do they say?
1. Of the theory of the substitution of the divine nature for the human soul not one limit is given throughout the entire Scripture. Not a syllable is there which teaches any thing more than that a divine person became incarnate. Nothing is said of the absence of a unman soul; nothing of the incarnation being in only a partial human nature; nothing to show that the divine nature had any thing to do with the work, except that the divine nature was possessed by him who became incarnate, but possessed by him, not separately from, but unitedly with, the other persons of the Godhead. The Scriptures teach, not that the divine nature (God) became incarnate, but that he, who, as well as the Father and the Spirit, is God, became man.
2. But the instances of human emotion are abundant.
(a) Notice first the experiences already mentioned in connection with the body; that it was not simply a temple in which Deity dwelt; but that Christ experienced in his body all those sinless passions and desires which arise from association of the body with a human soul. Whence come weariness, fatigue, thirst, &c.? Does the body experience them when separated from the soul? Did the body then affect the divine nature of Christ as it does a human soul? Is the divine nature capable of such affection from a mere material organization, a mere shell of a man? Would such an idea he admitted for a moment of the influence of our bodies on the Holy Ghost within? A more vital union must exist. That which thus affects must be personally united with the nature thus affected. Can the body of a man be thus personally united with the divine nature of Christ? Does the union with the nature occur in any other way than through union with the person in divine nature? If so, why may not the soul also be in like manner united? Is a twofold personality created in the one case any more than in the other? Yet the objection is made to the existence of a human soul that thus twofold personality must exist, and that as Christ is but one person, his divine nature must have been his human soul or must have been substituted for it.
But it may be said that the affections referred to are those of the body only, and that, even among men, they are not associated with the soul, and that the life indicated in them is only the physical life possessed by all animals, and that such life is not inconsistent with the absence of a rational soul. The position assumed is not correct; but, if granted, it gives no advantage to the theory we oppose. Is it not still the fact that the body exercises more or less influence on the mind, as well as the mind over the body? Bodily disease enfeebles the mind. The mind, by its will, sustains, and, by its mental trials, depresses the body. When, therefore, we see such results in Christ, we must attribute them to the same causes as among men. What then gave occasion and power to the tempter in the wilderness except the bodily desire arising from the previous forty day fast? To what was due Christ’s inability to carry his cross to crucifixion, if not to the failure of his bodily powers, resulting from the mental agony endured in the garden and the judgement hall? In his temptation, too, what was tempted by his bodily hunger? Was it God? Was it the divine nature which had taken the place of a human soul? The apostle James declares (1:13, 14) “God cannot be tempted with evil.” In the face of a declaration so positive, and so unqualified–written, too, after the temptation of Christ, and with a full knowledge of all its facts–we must believe that the intellectual and spiritual nature of Christ then tempted was not divine, and, therefore, must be human.
(b) But the Scriptures not only show Christ liable to these mutual influences of body and mind, and to the resultant temptation by Satan; but they teach us that he also received the gracious influences of the Holy Ghost. That the body was thus affected is undoubted, for the body was conceived by the Holy Ghost. But the influence of the Spirit over the soul is also taught. At the baptism of Jesus we are told that “the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him.” Luke 3:22. After the baptism Jesus, full of the holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” Luke 4:1. After the temptation, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee.” Luke 4:14. At Nazareth, in his first recorded public discourse, “he found the place where it was written, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor.” Luke 4:17, 18. “And he began to say unto them, Today hath this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears.” Luke 4:21. These were certainly influences upon his soul. How could they have been exerted, and why so exerted, if that soul was the divine nature? what need could divinity have for consecration, for grace? what need to be led, or, as Mark (1:12) expresses it, to be driven into the wilderness? How could a divine being lack in that which was essentially divine? That the wants of the body might be supplied, is not strange. The body is human, but if he had no human soul, what was it that the Holy Ghost influenced?
(c) The Scriptures, however, do not represent Christ as receiving aid from a divine person only. At the close of the temptation angels came and ministered to him. It may be said that this was only to the body; but it is doubtful if it were of the body only, for much of his temptation was mental. But, certainly, it was the agony of the spirit of Christ, and not of the body, which the angel in Gethsemane was sent to relieve.
(d) We have also such action of Christ as is not consistent with the idea that he had no human soul. We find instances of such intellectual and spiritual restraint, limit and subjection as cannot be true of God.
The declaration that Christ marvelled at the unbelief of certain persons is perfectly intelligible, when spoken of a human soul; but not, when ascribed to the mind of Deity. So also Luke’s statement that “Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.” Luke 2:52. Also, that other assertion of Christ, so plainly and distinctly made, of his ignorance of the time of the final judgement, Matt. 24:36, can be comprehended as possible only of his human soul, to which had not been imparted the knowledge which he must have possessed as God.
What shall be said also of his subjection to his parents after the dispute with the doctors in the temple? Was it only bodily subjection? What does exclusively bodily subjection mean? Is it not the mind, and the heart, that yield obedience, and submit to authority? What, then, was it that was thus subject? Was it his divine nature? Was it God himself? Can God be thus subjected to a creature? Yet, if Christ had no human soul, there were then at Nazareth two human beings, to whom the infinite and omnipotent God, the Ruler of the universe, was subject in his real divine nature, giving them reverence and obedience, and recognizing in them an official superiority, and submitting to their will.
(e) How account for Christ’s prayers, if he had no human soul? Were they only prostrations of his body by the indwelling divine nature, or were they the utterances of a soul oppressed with heavy burdens, delighting in converse with God, and, knowing that there is a place for prayer, and seeking and rejoicing in the privilege of offering it? Is that soul, God? or is it the man, Christ Jesus, lifting up the voice of supplication to his divine Father?
These prayers too, are for himself; not for others only; most frequently for himself. See a signal instance in Gethsemane. He proposes to withdraw for prayer with three of his disciples, telling them that his soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death. Mark (14:33,) tells us that this was because “he began to be greatly amazed and sore troubled.” “He went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him,” v. 35. He returned “and again he went away, and prayed, saying the same words,” v. 39. He did this three times. Is this not human action? What is there here befitting, or possible to a merely divine intelligence, or spirit? If his were a human soul, how otherwise would he have acted? But, if divine, what reality could there be in these emotions, what need could he have? what comfort, what strength could he gain in such an act? Upon the supposition of a human soul, the presence of that strengthening angel is accounted for, but, how explain the strength which any creature, however exalted, can give to the Almighty Creator?
(f) The very language of Scripture as to the condition of his soul in that hour of trial, is conclusive. To the expression just quoted, may be added his prayer, that “if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him,” Mark 14:35; also his petition, “remove this cup from me.” Mark 14:36. “Now is my soul troubled,” he exclaims, “and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour, but, for this cause, came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” John 12:27. “0, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me.” Matt. 26:39. What have we here but trouble, and anguish, and doubt, and fear, and trust, and desire of release, and yet full resignation? Are these characteristics of a divine mind? or do we not see here the complete humanity of Christ revealed for our comfort and assurance? For what other purpose the record of these facts? Can God be honoured by showing his divine nature thus racked and agonized, in the performance of that great work which it is claimed must be done by God alone? Surely, it is the humanity of the Saviour that is thus revealed, even before the final agony and triumph. The proof that this same person is God, is not lacking. It is indeed the Son of God, who thus, in human soul, and body is doing the work. But it is his human soul, not his divine nature that thus pleads, and shrinks, and fears, and which still willingly submits, resolves to press on, is strengthened by God’s messenger, and again, confident in God, goes forward with sublime self-devotion to the cross. The distance between this and God is infinite; this soul, the creature, the finite, the fearful, the mutable, the suffering, the trusting, the dying; and him, the creator, the infinite, the support of those who trust, the immutable, who cannot suffer, who cannot die. The acts due to the divine nature are marked, and characteristic, and so also are those of the human nature. While we look at the former, we must say, this is God; none but he can perform such acts, can possess such attributes, can be called such names. Equally, while we look at the latter, we must say, this is man. None but man can thus suffer, can thus be limited, can thus pray. The very nature of God forbids that he should change, that he should be limited, that he should be dependent, that he should be affected by anything outside of himself, that he should be ignorant of any future event.
Christ, therefore, had a human soul, as well as a human body. To deny this, and to assert that the divine nature became his soul, we must deny the unity of God, which establishes the undivided nature of his essence, and also the perfection of God, which makes him unchangeable, and omniscient, and independent, and impassible; and we must assert, when Scripture presents him amid intellectual and spiritual experiences, which are foreign to God, but are of the nature of the human soul, that those were not the experiences of a human soul, but of Divinity itself. If we thus deny that the names, attributes, acts, and experiences, natural to a human soul, are proof of complete humanity, we need not be surprised that others deny that he was God, however abundantly the Scriptures ascribe to him divine names, attributes and acts.
IV. There was but one person in the two natures.
We have not here a God and a man; but we have one who is God, and who also is man; and who, being thus one person, unites in himself through these two natures, the many exactly opposite characteristics needed for his work. Despite the contradictory character of his natures, the personality is but one. That in him which we call “I,” the myself which marks individuality, that in which he was not the Father in the Godhead, nor the Spirit, was common to both natures. With the divine nature, however, it is inseparably, necessarily, eternally and essentially united; for that nature cannot change, nor assume new relations; not even doing so when the divine person, which subsists in it, assumes humanity. But, with the human nature, the personality was associated voluntarily and separably, though permanently; the human nature having been created for that purpose, and assumed by the divine person of his own will, in the fulness of time. Hence our Lord invariably uses the word “I” whether in his human or divine nature or in both; whether speaking of himself as Son of God, or as Son of Man, or as the Messiah; and whether referring to his human actions and emotions, or to his divine works and attributes, or to his official work as Mediator.
But, as Christ assumed no additional personality to that which he had before the incarnation, and as personality in man is certainly essential, the question arises: Did he thus really become a man? Is this being made like unto his brethren?
(a) To this it may be replied, that if the Scriptures represent this as all that was done, and yet teach that Christ became a man, that teaching is sufficient; we need no further testimony. God knows what is essential to the constitution of man.
(b) But consider the difficulty thus presented. It is said that to be completely a man, Christ must also be a human person. Granted; but is his person not a human person so far as respects humanity alone, just as it is a divine person so far as respects divinity alone? Does individuality acquire character separated from the nature which belongs to it? Would Christ be any longer divine if Separated from his divine nature? If he were to cease from his incarnation, would he be any longer a man? What is personality but individual existence, and what gives it character, as human, angelic, or divine, except the nature in which it inheres?
A person is simply an individual intellectual and spiritual existence in some nature. A divine person is one who is this in divine nature. An angel is one who is this in angelic nature. A man is such in human nature. Christ, therefore, was and is a man because of his individual intellectual and spiritual existence in human nature, and is God because of his individual intellectual and spiritual existence in divine nature. He is the God-man because as one being he is a person in both natures, having individual intellectual and spiritual existence in a human nature and also in the divine nature. He is, therefore, properly a human person and a divine person, but not two persons, for it is the subsistence of the one person in both of these natures that makes him one being only. He is as properly a human person, therefore, as he would be if not divine, just as he is as properly a divine person as he would be if not a man.
(c) Within the same race, too, what constitutes personality? Is it the continued retention unchanged of the same identical portion of the common nature, the same body and soul? Science teaches constant change in the body, leaving not a particle now of what existed years ago. While the soul cannot thus be measured, experience teaches us that great changes occur even there; in its capacities, emotions, habits, tendencies, and in numerous other respects. Yet, amid all, the personality remains unchanged. Newton was the same person in maturity as when a babe.
(d) Even the moral nature undergoes change without the change of personality, as shown in the difference in Adam before and after the fall, and in Paul at Stephen’s martyrdom and when he exclaimed in contemplation of martyrdom, “I am already being offered.” 2 Tim. 4:6.
(e) Nor is it destroyed by actual separation from a part of the nature which belongs to it. The thief in Paradise was the same person to whom Christ spoke peace, though he had left his body hanging on the cross. The saints with Christ are the same persons who once dwelt on earth in bodies now mouldered into dust.
(f) It is recognized as existing unimpaired even in a state of utterly unconscious connection, as in a senseless condition produced by outward pressure on the skull, or by the use of chloroform and other anesthetics; if this be not also the condition of healthy slumber.
If these are facts, why may not a person who possesses one nature assume another also, and yet he as truly a person in that nature as any others who possess it?
(g) But some one may object that the difficulty arises, in the case of Christ, from the union in the one person of two natures essentially different, in one of which Christ had before existed, and with which he is essentially united, while the other is only assumed in time, and that, too, voluntarily.
But this finds sufficient analogy in the two-fold nature united in ordinary human persons. Personality here exists inseparably from the soul, separably from the body. This is evident when at death the personality is with the soul in the presence of God, not at all with the body in the corruption of the grave.
It is true that we cannot speak of these two elements of our nature as separated from each other as widely as humanity and divinity; yet how vast is the distance between matter and spirit! so vast, indeed, as to be only surpassed by that between the finite and the infinite.
It is also true that we cannot speak of such essential union between the human soul and its personality as we can between Christ and his divine nature. Yet we have reason to believe the union so complete, that from the beginning of the soul’s existence throughout all eternity, there shall be no separation.
Upon no grounds, then, can it be asserted that the absence of a separate personality for Christ’s human nature made Jesus, in any respect, not like unto his brethren. Scripture affirms, and reason supports the idea, that the same person, existing and operating, we know not how, but according to the nature of God, was truly God; and, also, existing in human nature, and operating as we do through its conscious relations to the real body and human soul, of which that nature was composed, was truly man. In each nature he knew of his relation to the other; as God, knowing that he was man, and as man, knowing that he was God. Yet the divine nature did not partake of that human knowledge and experience which he had of affliction, suffering and temptation, any more than the human nature experienced the conscious relation of Christ to the Father in the divine nature, or possessed the attributes of omniscience or omnipresence. No limitations or changes which he experienced in his human nature could deprive him of complete divinity; nor could any influence nor any value, arising from the essential union of his person with his divine nature, take away from the absolute and real humanity assumed by Christ, and consciously realized by him, when he became man. However united, he was capable of separate experience, action, thought and knowledge, and, indeed, of separate conscious existence in the two natures. Thus is it at least with us. We have separate experiences of the sufferings and joys of our souls and our bodies, and this fact removes any difficulty in believing that it was so with Christ, as to his divine and human natures, when we find the Bible thus teaching.
It is here that we are to find the full explanation of the many seeming contradictions involved in what is taught us of the person and work of Christ. So intimate is the union of the one person with two such distinct natures, that we cannot always separate what Christ says of himself as God, from what is said of himself as man. This, however, may puzzle us in interpreting the word of God, but not in harmonizing its statements. But, without this doctrine, the word of God cannot be made to agree with itself. When, however, we remember that, though truly divine, he is human, and that because of the one person, all that he does in either nature may be as fully said to be done by him as though he had no other, we see the Scripture statements fall beautifully and regularly into their respective ranks, and, in that two-fold unity, each receives its full force. It is thus that he who is said to fill the universe was contained in the womb of Mary; that he whose are the cattle upon a thousand hills felt the pangs of famishing hunger; that he who made the world had not where to lay his head; that he who had given the fig-tree its fruit, and knew what it was bearing, came to it, if haply he might find anything thereon; that he to whom, as God, are known all things from the foundation of the world, yet offered up fervent prayers, with agony and strong supplication, not for others only, but chiefly for himself, and also declared that he knew not the judgement day; that he who, as God, had given salvation to men before his incarnation, because of the certainty of the work he would accomplish, yet, as man, approached with shrinking, and perhaps with fear of failure in his work, praying the Father that the cup might pass from him. And, hanging upon the cross, how amazing the mystery of contradiction! As God, he enjoys supreme felicity in the unchanged blessedness of his divine nature; as man, he is in vital agony both of body and soul. As God, the eternal outflowings of the mutual love of the Father, and of the Spirit, and of himself the Eternal Son, continue to bestow unabated mutual bliss. As man, he is the victim of the Father’s wrath, which, because of the sin upon him, culminates in that Father’s withdrawal amid the agonizing cry of the Son: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” With a loud cry, the mortal man dies; but the eternal life of God remains unchanged.
The full statements of the Scriptures on this subject may be thus expressed.
1. There is one God, in three persons, distinct in personality but undividedly and unchangeably the same in essence and nature.
2. We may speak of a divine person, but not of a divine nature. We must say the divine nature.
3. A divine person, may, therefore, become incarnate, and yet the incarnation be not of the whole Godhead, for the persons are distinct; but the divine nature cannot, because, as common to all, its incarnation would be that of the whole Godhead.
4. It was a person of this Godhead, the Son, the Word, who so united to himself human nature, as to become a person in that nature, a man.
5. In this union he assumed all that constitutes a man. The fact that he had no other personality than such as had always subsisted in the divine nature, does not make him an impersonal man. It only forbids the idea of an additional personality exclusively in the human nature.
6. This human nature was assumed because necessary to the work of salvation, it being impossible that a being only divine could undergo the experience necessary to redeem man.
7. In its assumption the divine nature of Christ was wholly unchanged, and the human nature still remained purely human.
8. The characteristics of personality, however, allow a most vital union of the two natures in his one person.
9. Thus uniting in himself God and man, Christ suffered.
10. There was here, therefore, no participation of the divine nature in the suffering. Such participation would involve actual suffering of that nature.
11. But there was this connection of God, even of the undivided divine essence, that he who thus suffered subsists eternally and essentially in that essence, and is God.
12. Yet, intimate as is the connection of the two natures, they are not merged in each other, nor does the Son of God lose his separate conscious existence with either, nor the possession of those peculiarities which make the one divine and the other human. It is one person, truly God and truly man; as much God as though not man; as much man as though not God. The human can add nothing to the divine, except that it gives to the person that is divine the means of suffering for and sympathizing with us. The divine adds to the human, only that it gives to him that is thus man that dignity, and glory, and power, which enable him to perform the work of salvation, and to give to that work an inestimable value.
Another form of expression of the Scripture facts may also be given:
1. God is one in nature, essence and being; therefore there is but one God–one divine nature.
2. God is three in person–Father, Son and Spirit. Hence in the one undivided divine nature subsist three persons.
3. One of these persons (the Son), and one only (not the Father and Spirit also), became man. It was not the three persons that became man; therefore not the divine nature which is common to the three, but one person only. God, therefore, was manifested in the flesh, not because the Godhead or the divine nature became flesh, but because the Son or the Word, who is God because he subsists in the divine nature, became flesh.
4. In becoming man he still remained God, because he still continued to subsist in the divine nature.
5. In becoming man he became as truly man as he is truly God, because he assumed a true human nature in both its form–body and soul–and subsisted in it as really as he did in the divine nature.
6. As it was the same person who became man as well as God, there were not two persons–one divine and one human–but one at the same time divine and human.
7. This one person, therefore, had, by virtue of his divine nature, all divine experience; and by virtue of his human nature, all human experience; thinking, willing and purposing as God, and exercising all the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence, etc., and thinking, willing and purposing as man, with limited powers and limited knowledge, subject to temptation, suffering, doubts and fears.
8. This one person was, therefore, able to suffer and bear the penalty of man’s transgression, because, being of man’s nature, he could become man’s representative, and could also endure such suffering as could be inflicted upon man; yet, being God, he could give a value to such suffering, which would make it an equivalent, not to one man’s penalty, but to that of the whole race.
9. All the difficulties in the way of believing these things to be true and possible are removed by the analogy which is seen in the union in man of two natures in one person. This shows, in a most remarkable way, an almost exact likeness in each man to that constitution and nature of the God-man which the Scriptures reveal in the doctrine of the person of Christ.