Could Christ Have Sinned? and if not, How Can He Sympathise?
by William Kelly (1821-1906)
Biblical scholar and author William Kelly penned a helpful 62 page book entitled Christ Tempted and Sympathising in which he gets to grips with Hebrews 2:18 “For in that he [Christ] himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb 2:18). In the course of his remarks, Kelly addresses such questions as:
- Was Christ tempted to sin?
- What was the nature of Christ’s humanity?
- Did Christ have both a human and a divine nature?
- Did the Lord take anything from Mary in His incarnation?
- Could Christ have sinned?
- If Christ could not have sinned, how can He sympathise fully with me?
Kelly’s 17,000 word essay is reproduced in full below. It is worth the effort to read it through. F.F. Bruce said of Kelly that he was, “…a master of biblical and historical theology who held intelligently to the Chalcedonian definition of our Lord’s person1 and taught his disciples accordingly.”
Here is Kelly’s carefully thought through treatise on the Lord Jesus Christ – tempted and sympathising.
The sympathy of Christ is associated with His priesthood on high. He sympathises not with sin, nor with sinners as such, but with the suffering saints of God. At the same time the Holy Ghost looks back upon Christ’s own experience when He was upon earth. He was tempted, but then the temptation was not in any way from within. There was in Him no propensity to evil that answered to the trial of Satan; but, on the contrary, all that the enemy found was dependence on God, simple unwavering faith in His word; never a carnal working, as in our hearts.
Hence, as there was in Christ the total absence of self-will inwardly, as He in every respect hated and rejected evil, there was nothing but thorough suffering. The effect of temptation on fallen humanity is not suffering, but rather pleasure, if we can call that pleasure which is the gratification of our evil nature. Christ knew nothing of this in either His person or His experience. Of motions in the flesh, inward solicitations to sin, He had none: He “knew no sin”. Hence, in order to guard against error on so holy and delicate a theme, it is necessary that we should hold fast the truth of Christ’s person as God has revealed it.
It is thus the Holy Ghost introduces the matter in the Epistle to the Hebrews. He begins with the person of the Lord Jesus. He insists upon that which, after all, is the most necessary foundation – His divine glory (Heb 1). From Old Testament witnesses Messiah is demonstrated to be the Son (vers. 1-5), object of angelic worship (ver. 6), to be God (ver. 8), yea, to be Jehovah (vers. 10-12). If I do not start with this as my faith in Christ, as the basis on which all His other glory is built up, my perception of the truth of Christ will be soon seen to be radically false. No one thing at bottom can be right with us, if we are wrong as to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Next, having thus fully shown His proper divine dignity, the Holy Ghost takes up His humanity (Heb. 2); but there is the most careful exclusion of all thought that Christ assumed humanity in the fallen and morally feeble state in which it is in us. Because the children (the objects of God’s favour in this world) were “partakers of blood and flesh, he also himself in like manner took part of the same, that through death he might annul him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil: and deliver them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (vers. 14, 15). It was needful that He should become a man, in order, by His death, to vindicate God, annul Satan’s power, and accomplish redemption. But it was in no way incumbent on Him to take into His person here below the smallest taint of the fall. Nay, it was essential that He should not be thus defiled. If it is required of a steward that he be faithful, no less indispensable is it that an offering should be pure and spotless for the altar of God. The Lamb of God must needs be free from the remotest degree of infection. And so Christ was in all respects and to the full. Other scriptures prove this amply in detail, and fully confirm what we have definitely in the Hebrews – that He took blood and flesh without the very least element of fallen nature in connection with it. As to proclivity, or even liability to evil, there is absolute silence; yea, rather, we shall see that such thoughts are carefully cut off beforehand.
In the Gospels, where we naturally look for the complete, because inspired, historical accounts of the person of Christ, more particularly in the Gospel of Luke, where He is displayed specifically as man, we find the fullest evidence of this. “The angel answered, and said unto her [i.e., the Virgin Mary], the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called [the] Son of God” (Luke 1:35). It is evident, therefore, though truly born of a woman, though deriving human nature from His mother Mary, there was, even in respect to this, a divine action which distinguished our blessed Lord most signally and strongly from all others from His birth. What Rome has lyingly, and as a thing of but yesterday, decreed of Mary, is most true of Jesus: He, not she, was immaculate in His human nature; and this through the energy of the Holy Ghost (as even the most rudimentary symbols of Christendom confess, I thank God), the result of the overshadowing power of the Highest. Hence therefore “That Holy Thing” could be its description from the first. He alone of all men was born “holy”; not made innocent and upright only, like Adam, still less – like Adam’s sons — conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity. He is designated “That Holy Thing”, it will be observed, when the question was not of what was simply divine (which indeed it would be wicked folly to doubt and needless to affirm here), but of what was human. “That holy thing which shall be born [of thee]2 shall be called the Son of God.”
Matthew had already presented the birth of the Lord suitably to the design of his Gospel. “When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us” (Matt. 1:18-23). He was thus Messiah-Jehovah, called Jesus consequently (for He should save His people from their sins), the virgin’s Son, Emmanuel, according to prophecy. His humiliation, His rejection by His own people, follows; but, first of all, there is the clearest statement that what was begotten in Mary, what was born of His mother, was of the Holy Ghost. It is wretchedly low and even dangerous ground to say, with divines of repute, that Jesus was born holy because born of a virgin. He was indeed so born of the virgin; but the holiness of His humanity, though of the very substance of His mother, turned upon the miraculous conception by the Holy Ghost.
Jesus then was not only Son of God from all eternity in virtue of His divine nature, but He was so called also because of the divine energy manifest in His generation as man, and therefore the unparalleled blessedness of His conception and His birth, immeasurable though the humiliation was for Him to take manhood at all. The Babe of Bethlehem, the virgin’s Son, was not born, we may surely say, of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God in the highest sense. It was not merely as we are said to be born again, to see God’s kingdom, which Christ is never — could never be — said to be: in His case it would be altogether derogatory, and a denial of His holy humanity,3 to say nothing of His Deity. If we may so express it, He, the man Christ Jesus, was generated holy. “The word was made flesh”. God “was manifest in the flesh”. But even the process by which He came into the world, though “by the woman”, was the fruit of God’s power; it was a miracle of the highest rank, differing not in degree merely but in kind from the birth of Isaac, wondrous as it was; or from that of John the Baptist, filled though he were with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.
There is another most serious consideration which ought not to be forgotten. Fallen humanity calls not for amelioration but redemption, and needed it wherever it might be. Were the notion true that the Word was united to fallen human nature here below, He must have died to redeem it, that is, to redeem Himself! — overthrowing not only His work of atonement for others, but His own person. In every point of view, the idea is as false as it is destructive — an intellectual trifling with the great mystery of godliness.
There was therefore no admixture of the minutest trace of that sad heirloom of inward evil which Adam had handed down to his posterity. Human nature there now was in His person, as surely as He was and is God; but, by God’s will and power, it was unsullied and holy. There was secured the absolute exclusion of the poison which sin had instilled into man’s nature in every other instance. Hence the Lord Jesus was born of the woman, not of the man, being in quite a peculiar sense the woman’s Seed. For thus it was the Holy Ghost was pleased to set aside for the humanity of Jesus every taint of sin inherent in fallen human nature (of course, in His mother herself, as in all others of the race). Being so born, even the humanity of our Lord was “holy”, as we have seen. Accordingly, in His person there was the most perfect suitability for the work on account of which He came, sent of the Father. On the divine side He could not but be perfect, for He was the true God and eternal life; on the human side there was miraculously effected the complete disappearance of all evil from the body which God prepared Him. The power of the Highest overshadowed His mother from the outset, and thus only was “that holy thing” born of her in due time. “Who can bring a clean [thing] out of an unclean? Not one”, Job 14. This, and far more than this, was “that holy thing” which was born of the virgin. With God nothing is impossible. Thus, long afterwards, the angel disclosed what baffled Job of old and satisfied Mary on the spot. Christ alone is, in every sense, the power of God and the wisdom of God.
With this agree the types of the Old Testament. Take that most conspicuous one in Leviticus 2. In Leviticus 1 Christ is represented as the burnt-offering; in chapter 2 it is Christ as the meal or cake-offering. This (the minchah, a gift or oblation) had nothing to do with what we call “meat”; it was essentially bloodless. In the burnt-offering there was the giving up of life: but in this there was no question of sacrificing animals, or of anything that involved the shedding of blood. It was of fine flour, and thus aptly set forth what the Lord’s state was as connected with the earth (that is, in His body derived from His mother). There was, of course, no leaven or corrupt nature allowed, nor even honey or the mere sweetness of natural affection, pleasant as it is, but unfit for an offering to God. Frankincense was there, and the salt of the covenant of God; and, what is much to be noted in contrast with leaven, there was oil mingled with the flour in forming the cake.4 This answers exactly to the passage in Luke 1. It was the well-known emblem of the Holy Spirit of God, who shut out what otherwise must naturally have sprung from the virgin. Thus her child by His power was absolutely free from sin. Of necessity all the offerings of Israel belonged to the earth. The bullock, the sheep, the goats, the lambs, the pigeons, the turtle-doves, etc., were necessarily of this creation, if man had to offer them. But there could be nothing where there entered less suspicion of evil than in flour. It was expressly also “a thing most holy of the offerings of the Lord made by fire.” It was the growth of the earth, and set forth the Lord’s human nature.
I employ the expression “human nature”, as I presume is ordinarily done, abstractly for humanity, without a question of the state in which it was created originally, or into which it quickly fell. Just so the word “flesh” is used sometimes in scripture for man’s nature simply, as in “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), God “was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16), Jesus was “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18), “Jesus Christ come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2, 3 etc.), etc. The special doctrinal sense of the term, as characterising the moral condition of the race, particularly in the Epistles of Paul, looks at the principle of self-will in the heart. But what believer, thinking of our Lord, would contend for, who does not shudder at, such a meaning in His case? By the context we discern its proper bearing.
Thus, ordinarily, “human nature” is, or may be, used irrespectively of its actual evil state, unless morally contrasted with the new nature. Human nature was in unfallen Adam; it was in Christ; and we of course have it now. But however really in all, it evidently was in a totally different state in Adam before the fall, and in Adam as in us since the fall: in Christ alone scripture pronounces it holy. There are thus three distinct phases of humanity here below — innocent, fallen, holy. Christ’s manhood was in the condition of Adam neither before nor after the fall.
Plainly therefore the state of human nature is altogether independent of its real existence. The fall altered the condition of Adam’s humanity; but humanity remained as truly after that as before. In like manner the Son of God, the Word, could be made flesh, and did become man, though ever infinitely more than man, taking human nature into union with the divine, so as to form one person; but the condition of His humanity must be ascertained from the scriptures which treat of it. Thus in Luke 1: we have seen that, from His conception and all through, Christ’s humanity was “holy” in a sense never said of any other; not merely that the Holy Ghost was poured out upon Him, but that He was “that holy thing,” born of His mother and called the Son of God.
Is it now asked, what was the object of the outpouring of the Spirit on Christ when He began to be thirty years of age? Assuredly it was in nowise for resisting inward liability to evil, or for any moral dealing with His human nature: for in Him was no sin. The Spirit was poured out for the testimony and display in man of God’s power over Satan and his works. It was the Holy Ghost, not regenerating, nor cleansing (for there was nothing in Him, no, not in His human nature, that needed or even admitted of any such operation), but in power. Thus the Lord Jesus, going forth to be tempted of the devil or in the public service of God, was pleased to act in the might of the Holy Spirit. Enduring temptation, working miracles, preaching, all was done in that divine energy. We alas! may enter into temptation by the flesh, but in the Holy Ghost the Lord repelled evil, yet endured all trial. Hence the anointing with the Holy Ghost was a question of divine power,5 as it is said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Ignorant irreverence gathers from this that Christ had fallen human nature, and that, being liable to sin, the anointing of the Holy Ghost was given to keep Him from yielding! All who say this unwittingly blaspheme His person and moral glory. That Adam unfallen was peccable, the fact itself proved; that Christ ever was peccable, denies the truth of what He was and is, both in His Deity and in His Holy humanity.
And here weigh the deeply instructive type of Leviticus 8. Aaron alone is anointed first without blood (ver. 12); when his sons come into question, he is with them, and then the blood of consecration is put on him and them (vers. 23, 24), as the righteous ground for their being anointed with him (ver. 30). So Jesus alone could be and was anointed (and as man, mark, it was) without blood-shedding. The Holy One of God, He needed no offering to receive the Holy Ghost thus. But if He would have us enjoying the fellowship of that unction from on high, blood there must be and was. So He, first anointed before His death, enters the holiest for us with the virtue of His blood; and being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, shed forth what was seen and heard at Pentecost and thereafter. What a testimony, first to His holy manhood, next to the value of His blood for us!
The doctrine of Irving in its worst shape was, not that the Lord was ever guilty of sin, nor that He ever yielded to the overtures of Satan, but that, having all the frailties within that we have, His triumph over them by the Holy Ghost becomes the ensample to us that we too should gain the victory over the same evil in our nature by the self-same Spirit dwelling in us. Irving insisted loudly on the holiness of Christ’s person. His heresy lay in imputing fallen humanity to Him; and Christ’s holiness was simply therefore what any saint’s might be in kind, if not degree, through the energy of the Holy Ghost, and not in the speciality of His person!
That Christ was made “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, scripture declares; but even this shows that fallen nature, peccable humanity, was not in Him, though truly a man, without anything to single Him before the outward eye from others; a man who could be buffeted, spit upon, crucified, and slain. The Lord Jesus, thus viewed, had nothing apparently to mark Him out from the crowd. It could not have been said that He was in the likeness of flesh, any more than that He was in the likeness of God; for this would have denied the truth of His humanity and of His Deity. “The Word was God”; “the Word was made flesh.” The one was and is His eternal glory; the other, what He deigned to become in time and will not give up for evermore. But it could be and is said also, that He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, which, as far as it goes, proves that He had not the reality of sinful flesh, but only the likeness of it. Otherwise He could not have been a sacrifice for sin, He could not have been made sin, as He was, on the cross. In “a body hast thou prepared me” the same truth is indicated, as we have already seen. Christ’s body, though as much a human body as that of any man, was not generated and made after the same fallen fashion as ours. Even in this His humiliation God prepared Him a body as for none else, that it should have a specific character, suited for the singular work He had to do (Heb. 10). It is all a blunder to suppose that the reality of the incarnation involves the condition of either Adam fallen or of Adam unfallen.
The dilemma is not only fallacious but heretical that Christ must have been limited to the one condition or the other. I deny the alternative, which depends on the profound mistake of shutting us up to the condition of the first Adam, utterly ignoring the glorious contrast of the Second man. The assumption is that if Christ took neither unfallen nor fallen humanity, He could not have taken man’s nature at all. Fatal oversight of the Christ of God! It is agreed that bare unfallen humanity, such as Adam originally had, is not true of Christ; but what an abyss of evil is the conclusion, that therefore His was fallen manhood! How plain too that the error goes very deep: for if simple unfallen humanity be exploded, and if Christ, in order to be man, can only take fallen humanity into union with His Deity, it must be fallen humanity still, or He has ceased to be man. This was just the dilemma in which Irving involved himself (“Human Nature,” p. 135) in attempting to fix it on those who challenged his heterodoxy. But Christ is contrasted with Adam as a fresh stock and a new head, the Second man and last Adam, not a mere continuation of the first, unfallen or fallen. He is not a mere living soul (as Adam was before he fell), but a quickening or life-giving Spirit ( 1 Cor. 15). “I came that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Was Adam unfallen either righteous or holy?6 Scripture never says so, and it cannot be broken. But I go farther: what scripture does say is inconsistent with such a standing. Absence of evil, creature good, is not holiness. There was this positive intrinsic superiority to evil in the Lord Jesus even from His very birth and before it. We are conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity; the Lord’s flesh was neither conceived nor made thus, but holy by the power of the Spirit.
It is not true that a fallen man has merely flesh and blood; he has “the flesh” besides, as we see in the Epistle to the Romans and elsewhere. All do not distinguish rightly between “the flesh”, and “flesh and blood.” In us there is both, but Christ never had the flesh in this moral sense of the expression: because He had not, indeed, God condemned it morally in His life — executed sentence on it judicially (but in grace to us) in His death. Not only for “our sins” did Christ suffer, but for “sin”. He took on Himself, as our substitute, not merely the acts and ways and workings, but the root of evil. Him who knew no sin, God made sin for us, as it is written, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. Thus it is not all the truth that sins were laid upon Him, but He was dealt with as to the subtle principle of sin. God did what the law could not do. The law could only take up positive transgressions, but the bottom of the evil the law could not reach, still less in grace to us. The law, even the holy and just and good commandment of God, could not do what God did in sending His own Son — could not get hold of this hidden spring of evil to deal with it summarily and for ever, and in mercy withal to us. Christ both manifested the total absence of the flesh in His life (for He never did anything but the will of God, and thus detected the rebellious ruined condition of every other man), and in His death bore its judgment, that we might stand before God in His risen life, free from all condemnation. “God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” This was precisely the impossibility of the law. The law could condemn the sinner; it could work wrath; it could put sin to account; it could give knowledge of sin; but it could neither blot out and forgive sins, nor execute God’s sentence on the root of sin, so as to deliver the believer. God in Christ condemned the whole principle of fallen humanity or “sin in the flesh”, and “for sin,” i.e., sacrificially: the cross was the divine condemnation of it all, root and branch.
Thus in our Lord personally, besides His being the eternal Word, the Son of the Father, there were these two distinct things: first, that which answered to the type of the mingling of the oil with the pure flour unleavened (Lev. 2:5); next, that which corresponded to the pouring oil thereon. The first is the action of the Holy Ghost described in Luke 1, from the very outset of His humanity, in order that what was conceived and born of the Virgin should be “holy”. The second is what is described in Luke 3:22 and Acts 10:38. It is the force of the former truth that so many in our day, as of old, and doubtless all through, are apt to overlook, confounding it with the latter, which is quite another matter. Consequently they have so far lost the person of Christ. They have (as regards the human side of His person) reduced the Saviour, the salvation of God, into a mere child of Adam, singularly blessed no doubt, but far beneath the Christ of God. They apprehend not the mystery of His person, in itself altogether distinct from the anointing of the Holy Ghost, which accordingly only came on Him when He was baptised in the Jordan before He entered on His public service some thirty years after. His person then is the truth at stake, nor can anything be so truly fundamental.
The anointing in question points not to the formation of human nature in absolute purity (though of the virgin) for the person of Christ, but to the Spirit’s conferred energy over and above that pure nature. It was for His public work; it was with a view to the display of divine power in the humble and obedient Man: “him [the Son of man] hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27). His own internal experience was not more really holy or acceptable to God afterwards than before. The point was the manifestation of the mighty grace of the Spirit in man to others. No doubt Satan did then come and try our Lord — did set in movement every possible engine of temptation, as we are told in Luke 4:13. But “temptation” here is used, as scripture ordinarily uses the word, not for the working of inward frailty or evil, but for the solicitations of an external enemy, for the devil’s presentation of objects here to allure from the path of God.
The first of the three great temptations, when the forty days’ exposure to the devil was ended, was the suggestion which appealed to the Lord’s feelings of hunger. “If thou art Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Why not? He was God’s Son, He was hungry. Surely it was an admirable opportunity to prove His divine mission, as well as to satisfy the natural need of the body. Could He not turn stones into bread? This was what may be called the natural appeal. The second (at least in the Gospel of Luke, who was inspired to present the temptations in their moral order, whether or not the order of historic sequence was preserved) was the worldly appeal — the offer of all the kingdoms of the world on condition of Christ’s doing homage before the devil. The third (in Luke – for Matthew here keeps to the simple order of the facts and shows it was the second historically) was the spiritual appeal, and so not merely on the pinnacle or edge of the temple, but through the word of God. But in all, the Holy One of God defeated the devil, and this through the word used in obedience.
Thus we have seen the Lord entirely refuses the temptation to make the stones bread. It was the devil’s suggestion, not God’s word, which itself, and not bread, is the true food of the believer’s life. With unwavering perfectness Christ lives as man, the Son of God on earth, by the word of God; He does homage to Jehovah His God, and serves Him only, as the Son of man; and trusts Him as the Messiah, not tempting Him as did the people of old in the desert. And here remark a feature in this scene which distinguishes Christ from others who might seem to approach Him, at least circumstantially. Moses and Elijah fasted forty days; but Moses was in the presence of God, sustained so long on high; and Elijah was miraculously fed by an angel before entering on a similar term of abstinence. It was not so with the Lord Jesus, who was in the presence of Satan, unlike the one, and was without any such previous sustenance as the other had enjoyed.
It is true the Lord Jesus did not come into an earth stainless and happy, but fallen. But to argue thence that He was in a fallen condition of humanity is utterly, inexcusably, impiously false. He could and did suffer, no doubt, from hunger, thirst, and weariness; but these things are in no way the index that human nature was fallen in Him, but of the circumstances through which humanity, holy or unholy, might pass. In his innocence Adam had no such experience; after his fall this and more was his lot. The holy person of Jesus did know these circumstances, and magnified God in them: what have they to do with the state of His humanity? with its holiness as contra-distinguished from a fallen or an unfallen Adam’s? Who will venture to affirm that Adam, if kept from food even in Eden, would not have suffered from hunger? The argument is worthless, save to betray the will to depreciate the Lord of glory. The grand vice of it all is merging Him as much as possible in the fallen condition of the race. If innocent human nature had to do with a Paradisaical state, certainly neither fallen humanity nor holy humanity when here below was spared from tasting the bitterness of a wilderness world. This therefore does not affect the momentous point of the different state of humanity in Adam fallen and in Christ even while living here below. Thus the argument founded on our Lord’s suffering hunger and thirst and weariness is a manifest sophism, because it confounds the circumstances which humanity may experience with humanity itself; it assumes from these circumstances an identity in the state of manhood, contrary to the most express teaching of the Bible and to all true knowledge of Christ. God tells us the facts to enhance our sense of the Saviour’s grace and exalt His moral glory in our eyes; man, set on by Satan, hastens to pervert the facts so as to tarnish His humanity and debase His person.
To assert that the Lord Jesus was liable to sin is not only to deny His perfect humanity, but evinces, to say the least, the grossest ignorance of His person. It is an insult to the Son because of His humiliation, which no consideration can palliate, which man’s unbelief and Satan’s malice can alone account for. Certainly He was tried and did suffer to the uttermost; but thence to infer or allow that He had from the fall such frailty and inwardly temptable nature as ours is, I must regard and denounce as a heinous libel on Christ, as a lie most destructive to man. Scripture, while it clearly reveals the manhood of the Saviour, seems more careful to uphold His unstained glory than that of any other person in the adorable Trinity. And no wonder. God is jealous lest the Saviour’s unspeakable grace should expose Him to dishonour. How painful that He should be wounded afresh in the house of His friends!
Some doubtless do not go so far or fast as others; there are, too, misled as well as misleaders. But there are not a few who stop short, for the present at least, of the natural consequences of the system they have somehow admitted into their minds. They may not allow liability to sin, and yet contend for fallen humanity, in Jesus. But will they affirm that He could have fallen nature in His person without touching the unsullied glory of His person? It is hard to see how the person stands if one of the natures composing it be fallen. Let them beware lest the only door of refuge be that of Nestorianism, which divides the Lord’s person, virtually setting up a double personality in sharp antagonism (not two natures united in one person), in order to save His divine glory from being darkened by the shade of a fallen manhood.
Take a single chapter of Matthew — the very one from which men have drawn a weapon against the Saviour’s glory in humiliation, willing to wound and not afraid to strike in His case — Matthew 8, and let us see the perfect man in Him who was perfectly a man. “Lord,” says the worshipping leper, “if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” The hand of man, the power of Jehovah, was there: who else could? who else would? He was come of woman, come under law: had this been all, He must have been defiled Himself instead of cleansing the leper. But as He was thus God, He was open to the need of man, not of the circumcision only, but of the uncircumcision also, were there but the faith that caught a glimpse of His true glory. And there was. For the Gentile centurion confessed Him supreme in His power and authority, so that not His bodily presence only (ever sought by the godly Israelite) but His word would suffice. “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but only speak a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me…. And on hearing it, Jesus marvelled.” He was indeed very man; but how much more! He said to the centurion, “Go; and as thou hast believed, be it done to thee.” And his servant was healed “in that hour.” Next, He comes to Peter’s house and sees his mother-in-law laid down and in a fever; but in divine goodness He touched her hand; and not only did the malady leave her, but, restored to strength, she arose and served them. Nor was it only where a special tie existed. He was here below in grace, passing through a ruined, needy, sorrow-stricken world, ready to help any that came, all that were brought, demonised or sick; and a word was enough for the worst. Thus was fulfilled Isaiah 53:4 (not yet the vicarious work of ver. 5, et seq.). Certainly that was not sacrificial; still less does the application sanction the revolting idea of our Lord’s liability to our infirmities and diseases. It was the very reverse; it was the power that dispelled sickness from every patient in contact with Himself; and this withal as One not in unfeeling distance, but who (in love as deep as His power) took all, bore all, upon His spirit with God. Divine grace and human sorrow filled His heart, guided His mouth, and directed His hand. Yet none the less, but the more, was He the outcast Son of man. The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but He-! He had not where to lay His head. It was not law; nor was it necessity of circumstances or position; it was His grace in a world gone from God. If flesh offered to follow, it had better weigh whither Jesus goes and leads: for He does claim the heart, even at cost of breaking the nearest ties of nature. The burial of a father must yield to the paramount call of the despised Nazarene, if indeed we know His glory and have heard His voice. Jesus is Lord of the living. Those who do not follow Him are dead; they love their own. Leave the dead to bury their own dead. Is it not so, O faithless disciples? Do you presume to have greater love than His? to know His mind better than the Master? I do not say that there are not storms, and that the bark in which the disciples follow Jesus is not frail; but the Man who slept in it through all was the Divine person who arose at their cry and stilled their unbelieving fears by the word which rebuked the winds and the sea. Such was the Man who next cast out demons after a sort that could not be mistaken; but the world preferred the swine, demons, and all, to Jesus, unanimously beseeching Him to depart out of their coasts! Such is man; and such was Jesus even here below in the days of His flesh.
If we turn to John 11, we have a different but most instructive display of Jesus on the earth. For what is seen there is no remedial measure in a living Messiah. Nothing of the kind could adequately meet the depth of the ruin even for those who believed in Him and were loved of Him. Death must take its course. It was no use merely to heal: man was too far gone. The Lord therefore remains till all was over, and Lazarus slept in death. Jesus saw things in the light of day: this sickness was not unto death but for God’s glory, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. He awaits therefore His Father’s will and goes to raise the dead. Martha had no just estimate of the power of death any more than of the Lord’s glory: “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died; but I know that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” Neither did her orthodox creed meet the case: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth on me, though he have died shall live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (vers. 21-27). No; Martha did not enter in, though a believer, and this because she had but Jewish thoughts of Christ. Present resurrection power in Him was beyond her. She went her way and sent Mary, who, if she did not yet anticipate His power better than Martha, at least fell down at His feet, and wept as did the very Jews. Death was there; and now Jesus was there. He was the Son, very God, yet did He estimate death as none could but Himself who, a man, was that eternal life which was with the Father. He groaned in His spirit, apparently with the strongest indignation and pain, at the power of death over the spirit of man, and troubled Himself or shuddered. In divine grace He weighed and felt it all in spirit — wept, too, as they asked Him to come and see where the dead saint lay. Little did Jewish comment penetrate the reality; but the more did Jesus groan in Himself as He came to the grave, whence, spite of Martha’s unbelief, the glory of God was seen in Lazarus coming forth at the voice of the Son. Nothing can be more blessed than this sympathy in entering into the sorrow and power of death, Himself all the while conscious of the power of life, but using it only as the Sent of the Father. This introduces into a new scene through the door of resurrection, when death has closed all connection between God and nature. Decent and dull orthodoxy finds its prototype in Martha: value for the person of Christ may be slow, like Mary, but, waiting on Jesus, at length sees light and life in His light.
If we look, again, at the doctrinal statements of scripture, Heb. 2 shows us the singularly honoured place of man in the person of Jesus according to Psalm 8: “But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for [or, on account of] the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every [man].” Incarnation could not deliver, all-important as it is. The person of the Deliverer was thereby manifested, but death was the pivot of blessing, if man was to be brought out of sins according to God: no otherwise could there be a righteous basis, for thus only is there a due dealing with our evil before God. “For it became him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (ver. 10). Thus it was fitting that Christ should pass on high through sufferings for the many sons God is bringing to glory. Their state demanded it; grace made it His path. But there is the greatest care to guard against irreverence toward the Lord Jesus. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (ver. 11). The phrase “all of one” is exceedingly, and designedly, abstract. Still He is the Sanctifier, as risen from the dead; for so the quotation of Psalm 22:22 in Heb. 2:12 proves. Then first did our Lord put the disciples definitely in this relationship (see John 20:17). “All of one” means, not His entering into their state, but His taking them into His. The foundation was laid in His death: as risen, He at once associates them with Himself. They were “all of one” thus. It is not men as such, but “the sanctified” (οἱ ἁγιαζόμενοι). He does not call them His brethren till He became a man; and only then distinctly when risen, according to the passages cited. The nearest approach before was when He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt. 12:49, 50). But this is vague compared with “Go to my brethren”, connected as it is with His ascending to His Father and their Father, and to His God and their God. It is manifest also that the Son’s incarnation is, in verse 14, introduced as the necessary means for making void through death the power of the devil, and delivering those who were in bondage all their lifetime through fear of death. Alone He wrought this mighty work, by virtue of which, when risen, He gathers the sanctified into association with Himself; but in both as really man, for such the children were.
Power, the power of God, was in Christ. Was it the less bright because it shone through a life of absolute dependence on His Father, and the sorrows of His unfathomable humiliation in pity to man, love to His own, and devotedness to God’s glory? Look at that extreme point of it all, the cross, the foolishness, and the weakness of God. Do they appreciate it who unwittingly slight the rights of God’s person? “I have power [not δύναμις merely, but ἐξουσία, title or right as well as power] to lay it [my life] down and I have power to take it again.” Yet was it exercised only in obedience, as He blessedly adds, “This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:18). That Christ therefore “had in His nature not only a possibility and aptitude, but also a necessity of dying,” is a statement so unsound that the reputation of a man, able and learned as Bishop Pearson was, will not avail to consecrate it (Expos. Of the Creed, Art. iv.). Had he confined himself to the more guarded language with which the next paragraph concludes, there might be nothing to object; for it is agreed that “by voluntary election He took upon Him a necessity of dying.” But this is a very different proposition from having that necessity in the nature He assumed. It is John 10:18 which is cited in the opening of this latter paragraph. Even here, however, the doctrine is exceptionable. The short time in which it pleased the Lord to die (so surprising to Pilate when reported), coupled with the loud voice with which He cried just before (so marvellous to the centurion who heard), points to the practical testimony of His power in death as in life, not to the total exhaustion of bodily vigour as the effect of previous sorrows, to which the bishop refers it — I might almost say more naturalistic than the heathen judge or the heathen soldier. To say that when by an act of His will He had submitted to the death of the cross,…it was not in the power of His soul to continue any longer vitality to the body (i.e., that when He had voluntarily given Himself to die, He could no longer live) is true indeed but very like a truism. But that from the first He had in His nature the necessity of dying, or that at the last His vigour was so exhausted that He must therefore die, is to cloud the truth of divine glory in His person by assigning to it a dissolution necessarily inherent in His humanity. It indirectly touches atonement also; for how deeply is God’s grace in His death undermined, if He merely anticipated on the cross a death which must have been in some shape within a generation later? To me, I confess, the scheme ominously symbolises with the taunts of some who surrounded the cross: “He saved others; himself he cannot save.”
The life of fallen humanity is doomed; but our Lord goes infinitely farther than negativing any such constitutional necessity in His human nature. He claims a power beyond Adam unfallen, or any other creature. None but the Holy One of God, and a divine person withal, could say, “I have power to lay down my life,” etc.
Hence the bishop’s note to the preceding page (though he justly insists in the text as well as note on the reality of the Lord’s death, and, of course, on the separation of His soul from His body) is utterly beneath the intimations of the scriptures which he quotes. For all this eminent man draws from them is, that they teach not a mere λειποθυμία, or deathlike swoon, of which we hear in the later Greek writers, but an absolute expiration; and therefore, he thinks, we have not only the ἐξέπνευσεν of Mark and Luke, but in Matthew ἀφῆκεν τo πνεῦμα, and in John παρέδωκεν τo πνεῦμα. Of course, his inference is true; but what intelligent believer will say that it represents the truth here revealed? Who but Jesus, Jehovah-Messiah, could be said to yield up, or dismiss His spirit? Who but a divine person, the Word made flesh, could deliver up His spirit? Only He who had before asserted calmly His full authority: — “I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man [no one] taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” The Nestorianism which divides the person is as dangerous and destructive as the Eutychianism which confounds the two natures to the overthrow of both. From the conception Deity was never severed from the humanity of Christ, no, not even when His spirit was in Paradise and His body lay in the tomb.
The truth is, that the statements of the great Anglican expositor of the Creed are not trustworthy as to the (if possible) still more essential and critical truth of the Son’s proper and supreme Deity. I can well imagine the indignant scorn of the younger clergy, whose impulse is at all costs to defend their text-book. Graver men too among the better sort may be slow to accept such a charge. With such slowness I sympathise, provided there be along with it an honest and open heart to adhere to holy scripture as the sole unerring standard of truth. However this be, the doctrine under Art, i. is, that the Father has the divine essence of Himself, the Son by communication from the Father. “From whence he acknowledgeth that he is from him, that he liveth by him, that the Father gave him to have life in himself, and generally referreth all things to him, as received from him (John 7:27; 6:57, 5:26). Wherefore in this sense some of the ancients have not stuck to interpret those words, ‘The Father is greater than I’, of Christ as the Son of God, as the second person in the blessed Trinity; but still with reference not unto his essence but his generation, by which he is understood to have his being from the Father, who only hath it of himself, and is the original of all power and essence in the Son. I can of mine own self do nothing, saith our Saviour (John 5:30), because he is not of himself,” etc. At the end of the paragraph the bishop repeats the texts (John 5:26, 6:57), and enforces the same doctrine in the following paragraphs.
Now it is certain that Pearson misinterprets these scriptures, on which he (following some if not most of the fathers) rests this strange doctrine — a doctrine which soon turns to the denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ, and, in more audacious minds, to Arianism. The real starting-point in the passages of St. John is the Son, but viewed in the position He took here below: the Word, who was God, become flesh, who refused the very appearance of independence, was come down to do the will of Him that sent Him, did nothing of Himself but only whatsoever He saw the Father do, or what the Father assigned Him only to do. So absolute was His dependence that He could say, “The living Father hath sent me, and I live because of the Father” (διτo ν π., not δια τοῦ π., as the Authorised Version would require). Still less difficulty is there in the reference to John 7:28, 29. It is His mission, not subordination in the Godhead, which is in question. I think then that I am warranted in saying, that, throughout, the perversion of these scriptures is gross and perilous to the highest degree. What can be worse than habitually applying to the intrinsic glory of Christ the language which He, in lowly love, uttered in His place of voluntary subjection on earth? Can any man taught of God dispute the fact that Pearson fell into this error? The same John, who in the Gospel lets us hear the Saviour say that the Father has given to the Son to have life in Himself in his First Epistle shows us “that eternal life, which was with [not, from] the Father and was manifested unto us:” not a hint of the Father’s giving Him to have life in Himself save here below.
Hence even some Romanist theologians are in this respect sounder, if not more candid than the “great divines” of the Anglican platform. Compare for instance the apologies for the Ante-Nicene fathers (Justin M., Clement of Alexandria, Origen etc.) in Bishop Bull’s Jud. Cath. Eccles., with the frank admissions of Petavius in his Opus de Theol. Dogm. I fear that the acute Jesuit did not find the admission painful; for he was thereby enabled to insist the more keenly on that which is the foundation of his own system (and, alas! of many not there yet), that it is the church’s function to decide and define what the truth is that man has to believe unto salvation. The Anglicans,7 on the contrary, from the first have ever been under bondage to the earlier Fathers and Councils; and hence their leaders have never freed themselves from the lowering influence of the semi-Platonism which tinctures those ancient writings, and gives their admirers a wrong bias in the interpretation of scripture. For my part, fully allowing that the church (where and what is it now?) is, or ought to be, the pillar and ground of the truth, I believe that the truth is already definitely revealed in the scriptures, and with far greater clearness, fulness, and perfection than in any human formularies, either of the fourth and fifth centuries, or of the sixteenth and seventeenth. To receive, keep, witness the truth is the obligation and joy of the church; to declare with authority what the truth is belongs to God and His word; to teach and preach the truth the Lord raises up and sends His servants. If we mix things divine and human in the faith, it comes to the same disastrous effect as mingling works with grace for justification; being false in principle, the practical issue is, that the divine element is neglected, and the human one becomes an idol. “Our church” usurps the place not of God’s church only, but, more or less, of His word.
I observe with regret the influence of patristic or human theology on Dean Alford as to this foundation truth. How else can one account for the terms of his note on Romans 9:5? “That our Lord is not, in the strict exclusive sense, ὁ ἐπι πάντων θεός, every Christian will admit, that title being reserved for the Father; but that He is ἐπι πάντων θεός none of the passages goes to deny.” I affirm, on the contrary, that no Christian, if fairly instructed, will admit but deny what is here predicated of the Father and of Christ. “In the strict exclusive sense, ὁ ἐπι πάντων θεός belongs to the Father no more than to the Son or to the Holy Ghost. The Father is supreme God, Jehovah; but so is the Son, and so is the Spirit. It is really true of the Godhead and of each person in it. (Compare Isaiah 6 with John 12 and Acts 28). They are not three supreme independent beings, but One Supreme with a threefold personality: all three persons supreme God, but none exclusively. But it is striking to see that, while the Creator in Romans 1:25 is said to be “blessed for ever” (εὐλογητoς εἰς τοuς αἰῶνας), while the God and Father of our Lord Jesus is said to be the same in 2 Cor. 11:31 (ὁ ὢν εὐλογητoς εἰς τοuς αἰῶνας), it is to Christ and to Christ alone that Romans 9:5 applies the still stronger terms, ὁ ὢν ἐπἰ πάντων θεoς εὐλογητoς εἰς τοuς αἰῶνας. Indeed I am not aware that so forcible and explicit a statement of divine supremacy can be found elsewhere in the Bible. So mistaken is the allegation of the Dean in every particular, that, as we see, the very text under his consideration proves that the strictest and largest form of that title is reserved not for the Father but for Christ; not because the Father and the Holy Ghost are not equally with the Son supreme God, Jehovah, but because the Son, having stooped to become man and die, needed the plainest appropriation of it which scripture gives to any person in the Godhead. The Father will have all to honour the Son even as they honour the Father. Faith sees it in the word and worships: unbelief stumbles at the word, but must bow perforce in the judgment. Can one but feel with Gregory of Nazianzus: “I am filled with indignation and grief (would that ye could sympathise with me!) for my Christ, when I see my Christ [surely it is not less, I would add, when the soul thinks of Him as the Christ of God] dishonoured for the very reason for which He should have been honoured most. For, tell me, is He therefore without honour because for thee He was humbled?”
I return then with the firmest conviction that the death of our Lord was, in the fullest sense and up to the last, voluntary, though in obedience to His Father. He tasted death by no doom of fallen nature, but by the grace of God. And this is entirely borne out by Phil. 2:8, which clearly shows that in His case death was in no way through the common mortality of fallen flesh. For, “being found in fashion as a man,” He did not necessarily die; but because of the purposes of grace, He “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” It was for our sins, and therefore, as far as He was concerned, on a wholly different principle and for ends transcendently divine. Adam, failing man, disobeyed and died; Christ became obedient up to that point of death, the death of the cross. He too was made sin for us; He was made a curse for us; He was crucified in weakness. It was from no necessity in His human nature, which libels Himself, and would, if true, destroy our hope. It was the triumph of grace in the Son of man, who was giving His life a ransom for many. God was thus glorified in Him; and “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again.” I know not what of truth, or love, or obedience, or atoning efficacy for others, or of moral glorification of God in death, is left standing by the fatal error that makes Christ, from the birth to the grave, necessarily subject to the laws of fallen humanity in His own person.
Again, the Authorised Version of Heb. 2:16, is unequivocally false. The passage says nothing about taking up a nature or not, which was just settled explicitly in vers. 14, 15. The real meaning is: “For of course (δήπου) it is not angels he taketh up (i.e., helpeth), but he taketh up Abraham’s seed.” It connects Christ specially with the line of promise as the objects of this special interest to the exclusion of angels. I am aware that some ancient expositors and modern divines go with the English translators; but it is certain that they are wrong. For the connection of the thought is broken thereby, and a feeble reiteration of the truth, already stated more fully, is imported. And the error in sense led to a further error in form; for the translators could not say that He is not taking on Him the nature of angels, but He is taking on Him the seed of Abraham. Hence, in order to make it suit at all they were forced into the blunder of rendering ἐπιλαμβάνεται He took, etc.
“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make expiation [or atonement] for the sins of the people” (ver. 17). Having thus prepared the way, the Holy Ghost did not feel it needful to guard the strong assertion that Christ was in all things made like to His brethren. Those who believed that He was the Sanctifier, as the risen Man, the Son of God who had by Himself purged our sins, need not to be told that fallen humanity formed no part of His person. The exclusion of sin in nature is added where it was more requisite, when the apostle (Heb. 4:15) states how fully He was tempted like us.
Observe, moreover, in Heb. 2:18, “in that he himself hath suffered being tempted,” there never was anything else: it is not that He suffered after being tempted, for this a man may do who yields and repents. There was not, there could not be, distress of conscience in the Lord Jesus, any more than the workings of unbelief, such as we may feel. He suffered in the entire moral being the sufferings of holiness and grace. He loathed and rejected all that the enemy presented to His holy nature. Hence He who in human nature knew trial and suffering beyond all is able to comfort the tried saint. This is the real idea and application of temptation here. It does not mean inward susceptibility of, or proclivity to, evil; it does in James 1:14, where it is expressly connected with lust: if any man dares to apply this to Jesus, let him speak out, that we may know what he is, and that the sheep of Christ may flee from the voice of a stranger. But James, in the same chapter (vers. 2, 12), uses the word in its more ordinary scriptural application to trials. The confusion arises from not heeding the difference between such an inward working of fallen nature as is described in James 1:14 and the being tried by Satan without. The true faith of the Son of God ought to have rendered such suggestions impossible in His case. There was no sin in Adam and Eve when they were tempted: hence fallen humanity is not necessary to temptation. But let it be noticed that, when our first parents were tempted, there was no suffering then: they yielded. It is in contrast with the last Adam, who was incomparably more tempted but in nothing yielded. He met every assault by the word of God, instead of letting it slip and transgressing it as they did. He came to do God’s will, not His own. He acted in the power of the Holy Ghost, who brings out the suited scripture for the need, whatever it be. We, it is true, as men, have fallen humanity, which He had not; but then, as believers, we are born of God (Christ Himself being our life), and we have in the Holy Ghost power to resist, especially bearing in mind that Satan is now to us, because of Christ, a conquered enemy. But the old nature in us is still there and no better: victory, as far as we are concerned, depends not on its improvement but on our faith.
This false doctrine is sometimes betrayed by a wrong thought of Christ’s state under the law. It is imagined that, from the humanity He assumed, there was moral feebleness, if not a repugnance to the law, as in other children of Adam. This is a fatal error; it degrades the Lord beneath His servants. I deny that the Christian’s obedience is to do the will of God because he is obliged. Spite of the old man in us, there is also the new man; and scripture always speaks of us according to that new life that characterises us. Hence it speaks of us, when delivered, as loving to obey, as cleaving to God’s word, as sanctified unto obedience — set apart by the Spirit for this very purpose (1 Peter 1). Now Christ never had the wrestling that we know from the old man’s opposition in us to the Holy Ghost. In Him there was the absolute surrender of every thought and feeling to the will of God. There was but one apparent exception, where He prayed in His agony, “Let this cup pass from me.” But how could He, who ever enjoyed the unbroken sunshine of God’s favour throughout His career on earth, desire to be forsaken of God? It would have been indifference and not love, it would have been to despise the blessed fellowship between the Father and Himself. Therefore was it a part of the perfectness of Christ to say, “Let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not my will but shine be done.” His humanity because perfect (may I say?) could not wish for that unutterable scene of wrath: but here too He was, as in all things, subject to the will of God. “The cup which my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it?”
Looked at then in the light of God’s word, Christ’s humanity was as real as ours (which itself differs not a little from human nature as it came from God); its state was totally different from Adam’s either in integrity or in ruin. In its singularly blessed source and character, as in its practical development, there was that which, even on the human side of His person, contra-distinguished Christ from Adam whether in or outside Paradise. Was the agency of the Holy Ghost in His generation a small matter? And what of the fact that in Him all the fulness was pleased to dwell? There was nothing in Adam innocent that could be represented by the oil mixed with the fine flour any more than by the subsequent anointing with oil; nor was he at any time (as Christ always was) simply and solely in his life an offering to God, from which the salt of the covenant was never lacking. In the type of the Pentecostal saints, spite of their wondrous privileges, in that new meal-offering unto Jehovah, the two wave-loaves were expressly baken with leaven, and hence necessarily had their accompanying sacrifice for a sin-offering (Lev 23:15-21): first-fruits indeed to be offered, but not to be burnt (as was the oblation that represented Christ) on the altar for a sweet savour.
We may now glance at Hebrews 4:15: “For we have not an high priest unable to sympathise with our infirmities, but tempted as he hath been in all things alike apart from sin.” There is a notion too prevalent among theologians and their followers that the blessed Lord Himself was compassed with infirmities? Where is such a statement warranted in scripture? Do they call it an infirmity for a man here below to eat, drink, sleep, or feel the lack of these things? Do they or do they not go farther? What do they make of Matthew 2 and 3? or of Matthew 8:17, “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses”? of His anger against the sabbath-perverters? of His walking in Solomon’s porch, not in the sanctuary? of His sleeping outside Jerusalem and other holy cities? of His agony in Gethsemane? Need I dwell now on still more painful insinuations founded on erroneous views of the Psalms, on the types of the law, and on the prophets? Oh! it is grievous to think that these men pass current with heedless disciples, no less than with the blind multitude, as ministers of Him whom they systematically defame. Some may mean nothing wrong by isolated expressions and hasty ideas culled from old divines (not knowing, like Peter, what they said): but others work it out more daringly, little conscious that it is Satan’s scheme for slighting Christ. None assuredly should predicate of Christ what scripture does not; all on such a theme should beware what they draw from a text here or there, savouring of natural thoughts as to Him whom none knows save the Father, lest haply they be found fighting against God.
Christ could be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, nay, was in all points tempted like as we are, sin excepted. The word “yet” interpolated into the Authorised Version, makes the sense equivocal, if it be not spoiled; at any rate, “yet” probably helped on the misinterpretation that the words teach no more than that He did not yield to sin — that He was tempted, fully and like us, yet without sinning. But this is not the force. He was tried in all things after a like sort (καθ᾽ ὁμοιότητα) apart from sin (χωρίς ἁμαρτίας). Tempted as He was in all things similarly, in this He differed essentially that He had absolutely no sin in His nature. This therefore very materially guards the resemblance from trenching on the state of humanity as it was in His person — “without [or, apart from] sin,” and not merely from sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:18). Consequently we have inward temptations connected with sin in us, such as James speaks of, which He never had. The passage then proves the precise contrary of this pernicious doctrine; for it qualifies the resemblance of His trials to ours by excepting sin. With sin He had nothing to do in temptation, though He had all to do with it in suffering on the cross. He had not the smallest tendency to it in His humanity; though a partaker of blood and flesh, He had not what St. Paul calls “the flesh”. There was no liability to sin in Him who was perfect God and perfect man in one person; there was in the first man, Adam, and he accordingly fell. But the Second man, the last Adam, had no such infirmity, though He had it in the sense of a capacity to suffer in body and soul and to die on the cross, if and when He pleased, yet in obedience to God for our sins (2 Cor. 13:4). Of inward moral infirmity He had none.
Miserable comforters are ye all who found your hope of sympathy on His degradation! Had Adam been “born of God” in his entire nature and in the highest sense, he, without being a divine person, could not have sinned (1 John 3:9). When the Christian sins, it is because he, spite of the new nature and of the indwelling Spirit, yields to the old man which is never born of God; he is off his guard, is wrought on by the enemy, and fails. Liability to sin there would not be in a nature exclusively holy. Who would affirm such a liability of Christ when He comes again in glory? Now, the self-same expression — “without sin” (χωρῖς ἁμαρτίας) – is employed about Him then (Heb 9:28) as when tempted here below (Heb 4:15). In the days of His flesh He was “without sin.” On the cross God made Him “sin for us.” By and by, when He appears a second time to His own, it is “without sin.” Once for all He was offered to bear the sins of many; soon will He appear for the salvation, not judgment, of those that wait for Him, but appear absolutely apart from sin, having fully done the will and work of God about it through the offering of His body once for all. Without the smallest particle of sin or tendency to it in His humanity, He was assailed to the utmost by the devil; next, He was to put sin away by the sacrifice of Himself. The second time He will be seen apart from sin, having settled all the question and perfectly glorified God about it in the cross. He will come again, therefore, without sin for salvation. No man is heterodox enough to impute to Christ in glory the least exposure to any inward evil; but if they dare so to speak or think of His humanity while He lived on earth, it is formally contradicted by the very scripture they are wont to allege — Heb 4:15. The Holy Ghost predicates the same thing, χωρίς ἁμαρτίας, about Him in both cases. He was on earth, as He will soon appear in glory, wholly without sin.
Indeed had there been an infinitesimal particle of fallen humanity in Christ, how could He be a meet sacrifice to God for sin? Even the typical animals must needs be unblemished after their carnal pattern. No offerings, it is remarkable, were more stamped with holiness, if so much, as the meal-offering, and the sin and trespass-offerings. They emphatically were “most holy” — Christ in His human activity, and Christ made sin for us. The paschal lamb without blemish, the daily lambs without spot, the red heifer of the wilderness wherein was no blemish, and upon which never came yoke (note it well), all proclaimed that in the great Antitype fallen humanity could have no place. Had Christ been, as born of woman, under the yoke of fallen manhood in any sense or degree, had He been born into a relation of distance from God, even without question of a single failure in His ways, He never could have been a due adequate sacrifice for us; because there must have been thus the gravest possible defect in His humanity. For what so serious in such an offering as the signs of the fall, no matter how suppressed or attenuated? None can deny that the fall vitiates the entire constitution, save men blinded into thinking God is altogether such an one as themselves. This doctrine therefore makes atonement impossible, unless God can accept a fall-stained victim; and (what is worse) it undermines and assails the person of Christ, the Son, touching God’s glory in the point of which He is most jealous.
As to the argument which demands how Christ could sympathise without personal consciousness of fallen humanity, it is worthless otherwise, besides evincing the judicial falseness and profound iniquity of the system. For if Jesus must have Adam’s fallen nature to sympathise with mine, alas! I have also yielded to evil: am I then, on this view, to have or to lack sympathy therein? Certainly it is not because the poor sinner, however guilty, does not need pity. If the argument prove anything, it goes much too far; logically, it requires actual failure (and to what amount?) in the Mediator in order fully to sympathise with us!
The sympathy of Jesus is in scripture based on wholly different grounds. I admit that His divine glory alone suffices not; but it does give lustre and infinite worth to His most real suffering as Man tried, and in every way conceivable, sin excepted. He must have the nature of those whose cause He undertakes, though not in the same fallen state; He must have proved the anguish and bitterness of temptation here below; and so He did incomparably more than any other. In holy humanity He could thus feel sympathy with our infirmities, having felt the wiles and power and malice of the enemy, and so much more than we do, as His dignity and holiness and love transcended ours. Never having known sin (which, if known, narrows and blunts the heart), but having suffered infinitely, His affections are large and free to go out to us, in our sore distresses as saints, who have not only the same outward enemy to try us, but also a treacherous nature within.
The truth is that the believer, resting by faith on redemption as a work already and perfectly accomplished for him, does not want Christ to sympathise with his indwelling sin, any more than with his sins; he has started with the divine assurance that Christ died for both. And if Christ be risen, so is the believer with Him; and is this nothing, or is it not everything as a groundwork of comfort from above against fallen nature and its bad fruits? Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree:8 in Him crucified, sin, the flesh, is already condemned. Am I not to believe it all, and accept humbly, thankfully, the peace of a triumphant suffering so wholly and unmistakeably of God’s grace to me?
Not that there is not a wise and holy dealing of God with the believer who has been unwatchful and failed. But it is neither the Arminian plan that denies the permanent relationship of the child of God, and sets him to begin anew with another and another recourse to the blood of atonement, as if we were Jews and not Christians; nor is it the Calvinist idea, that finds a resource in Christ’s holy eating, drinking, sleeping, praying, worshipping, etc., for our respective failures in these things, and so in all else. The principle of both errors seems to lie in Simon Peter’s hasty words in John 13:8-9, as the truth which corrects them both shines out of our Lord’s reply in ver. 10. “He that is washed (λελουμένος bathed) needeth not save to wash (νίψασθαι) his feet.” The bustling earnestness of the one scheme fails to give its true value to the bathing of the person; the hard cold fatalism of the other sees not the need of the continual cleansing of the feet, because the person is once bathed all over. Christianity maintains both, neither weakening the fundamental and eternal character of the new birth nor denying the all-importance of continual self-judgment and confession. The bathing is never repeated; the feet-washing is ever needed here below, if we pretend to communion with Christ. The Holy Ghost carries on the work here in answer to the intercession of Christ above, and cleanses with the washing of water by the word (Eph 5:26) him who is already washed from his sins in the blood of Christ, already born of water and the Spirit.
And such is the doctrine of the typical Red Heifer in Number 19. On the basis of the complete sevenfold sprinkling of her blood before the tabernacle of the congregation, the rest of the sacrifice was duly reduced to ashes as a standing purification for sin. Then, if an Israelite were defiled, the remedy was, not a renewal of the blood-sprinkling, but the sprinkling of the unclean with the water of separation (i.e., running water mingled with some of the ashes of the burnt heifer). The defiled soul is made to feel by the Spirit, and word of God, what his trifling with sin cost Christ, the Son of God, who bore the unsparing judgment of it all before God when made sin for him. Such is the doctrine of scripture, old and new; such is the holy way of God in actual experience.
But the sympathy of Christ with sin (or even with sinners as such) would be an opiate for sin, to us most perilous, to Him most dishonouring. Not so: His sympathy is with the regenerate in their great weakness, who hate sin, who have to endure the contradiction of sinners, and who are opposed by Satan acting on the flesh and in the world. This therefore is the needed and the spiritual consolation: “We have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, without sin.” It is not merely that He did not sin when tempted, but that no principle of inbred evil, which we know so distressingly, was in Him. So, at the close of His career, the prince of this world came once more, but it was the same tale of perfectness, early or late: he hath “nothing in me” (John 14:30). Socinianism denies the divine nature that was in Him; this scheme imputes what was not in Him, and what, if it were, would ruin alike His person and His work. Everyone, no doubt, is liable to error, especially if self-confident or trusting to human cisterns that can hold no water, to the disparagement of the fountain of living waters. But if any man of intelligence deliberately persevered with such doctrine as this, would it be right to regard him as bringing the doctrine of Christ?
Hebrews 5 may illustrate a little more fully the readiness with which man falls into the snare of despising Christ: “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity” (vers. 1, 2). This is frequently taken as a description of Christ; whereas it is the contrast of an ordinary human high priest with Him. Ignorant and erring men have a priest like themselves — one compassed with infirmity. Such is not Jesus, the Son of God, who has no need on account of this infirmity, “as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.”9 Doubtless, an analogy with Aaron follows in that “Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest, but was called of God.” In fact He waited till He ascended, and entered on His priesthood on high. For perfection was not by the Levitical priesthood: the law perfected nothing (Heb. 7:11, 19). Clearly then the passage contrasts Aaron and his sons in this with Christ. They were infirm men. For us Jesus, the Son of God, is the priest in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man. This did not hinder His knowing sorrow as none ever knew, but always the sorrow of righteousness and love: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he being Son, [yet] learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (vers. 7, 8). He had to learn obedience because it was a strange thing to Him who knew only to command. And being perfected (that is, having fully done the work necessary to secure eternal salvation, not for Himself but for others, and being accordingly perfected on high), “he became the author of eternal salvation, unto all them that obey him, called of (or, addressed by) God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec” (vers. 9, 10).
There is another false doctrine connected with this, that Christ by His incarnation took us into union with Himself. Indeed it was this too common but most dangerous error that brought in Irvingism — the notion that union is with Christ in flesh and blood. This, if pushed out, involves either universal salvation or that we must be saved otherwise than by Christ, thus leading to salvation by ordinances, or by works, or by both. Contrariwise we, Christians, are taken out of our natural condition and made members of Christ through the Holy Ghost: not Christ one flesh with us (in the sense of one common state of fallen humanity, which would subvert both incarnation and atonement), but we made one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor 6:17). All this system of doctrine, it is evident, treats the birth, not the death and resurrection, of Christ as the basis of union, and so puts wholly in the shade God’s judgment of sin in the cross. Yea, it makes so light of fallen humanity that Christ could have it without harm! Truly, “some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”
There was no such thing then as union, no membership of His body, till Christ died, rose, ascended, and sent down the Holy Ghost to baptise the saints into one body. “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). Again, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). So the three unities in John 17 are prayed for as distinctly future then. Life there was of course in the Son always for him that believed; and this abides still: only now it is in resurrection. “I came that they might have life, and that they might have abundantly” (John 10:10). But to be united to Him as Head of the body is another privilege, which demands not regeneration only, but the baptism of the Spirit. “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). Scripture is express that not even the disciples were so baptised till Pentecost (Acts 1:4, 5:2).
Like all error, this tends to lower the person of Christ and to exalt fallen humanity, and therefore man as he is. Real faith in Christ is the secret, in the Holy Ghost’s hands, of all preservation from evil doctrine and practice, which is always, I think, attributable, if not always traceable, to some false view of Christ. The right faith as to Christ, the receiving Him with simplicity on God’s word, is the foundation of all that is good in any soul: looseness allowed here, lowering Him, admitting anything that sullies or obscures His glory, is the gravest sin, the issues of which none can tell. Enough for us to know, fearing as we bear it in mind, that its least beginning is the beginning of a very great evil; since it sets itself against the main object for which the Holy Ghost is now come from heaven — the assertion of the glory and rights of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Never does scripture represent our union with Christ as before the Advent, or in His life here below, or even in His death, but with Him risen and glorified. It is true that when united to Him thus, scripture does speak of the Christian being crucified with Christ, baptised into His death, dead with Him, buried with Him, as well as risen. But nowhere is such language used of the faithful till after the work of redemption was wrought and He was glorified: then, no doubt, what was true of Him as their great Substitute might be, and is, said of them. It is idle in such a question to speak of the counsels of God. His choice of the saints in Christ before the foundation of the world is a precious truth; but it is not their union with Christ till they are actually called and brought into the membership of Christ by the Holy Ghost. So, again, His purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began, is not to be confounded with our forming part of Christ’s body. Were we members of Him (save in divine counsels) before we were converted or even existed? The question is as to living union with Christ as Head, which, I maintain, is invariably in scripture made to follow redemption and the presence of the Spirit sent down from heaven after Christ went on high. If divine purpose be made to decide the matter, one might thereby justify the heterodoxy of those who say the resurrection or the judgment is past already, and the eternal state come; for these equally exist before God’s eyes, and we look on them all by faith.
2 Corinthians 5:14-18, again, is a full and bright testimony to the same truth, uprooting all notion of a righteous foundation for sinful man short of the cross. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” Not till then came out the complete demonstration of God’s love and of man’s hatred, of God’s holy judgment of sin and of man’s hopeless evil and rejection of good. The sorrowful fact, proved in Christ’s death, was that all were dead. But grace gives us not only to pronounce on man morally but to judge what God was doing and manifesting there. “He died for all [nothing less could meet the case], that they which live [Christians] should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again.” The conclusion is, that “henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” — i.e., not in the condition in which error conceives we are united to Him. Incarnation stops short of the proof of total ruin on one side, and on the other of the sole adequate basis for union with Christ, which demands His death as a groundwork, and is actively exercised in relation to Him risen and ascended. A born Messiah was the crown of joyful hope to the Jew; to the Christian, even if he had been a Jew previously, the new place of Christ dead and risen eclipsed all such thoughts, showing him that his Christian ground of relationship is on the other side of Christ’s grave — expressly not “after the flesh,” but in resurrection. Therefore, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Not even the foundation for this was laid till His death and resurrection; then indeed He arose from the dead, the power and pattern as well as Head of those that are Christ’s. Before that a process of probation was still going on; henceforth He stood in the new and final estate in which He, the first- born, could have many brethren in due time predestinated to be conformed to His image. “And all things are of God who hath reconciled us to himself,” etc. Even “now,” as we are told also in Colossians 1:21-22, “hath he reconciled” us “in the body of His flesh through death” — through death, remark, where alone our evil was judged and righteously put away. By-and-by the world will be cleared and blessed in virtue of His work; for the blood of His cross avails not for our peace only, but to reconcile all things unto Himself whether on earth or in heaven. Meanwhile the unspeakable grace of God has reconciled us by Christ, yea, has united us to Him who has glorified God in His death for us and all things. For Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; the same is He which baptises with the Holy Ghost; first, vindicating God about sin, then uniting us to Himself, not in flesh but in Spirit.
Finally, scripture is everywhere express and consistent that union is not with the Eternal Son as such in His Deity: else we should be deified, and such Christianity would be Buddhism. Neither is it with our Lord in His incarnation simply and as such: else all flesh absolutely must be saved. His being God the Son was His competency to undertake the work of redemption as man for men. But even He was not Head till God (being glorified in Him, not in living obedience only, but in death for sin and our sins) glorified Him in Himself above. (Compare Ephesians 1:20-22, and all the scriptures which treat of His headship.) He was born King of the Jews: only when He is risen and ascended do we hear of Him as Head. Hence Philippians 2 contrasts what He entered as man with His place of exaltation. Incarnate, He took upon Him the form of a servant; and, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore also God hath highly exalted Him, etc. This is headship, if you will; that was humiliation, and in contrast with it. So, in Heb. 2, His being set over the works of God’s hands (all things being put under Him) is unquestionably founded, not on His title nor on His manhood, but on His suffering unto death. Similarly, in Col 1:18, Christ appears as head of the body, as the beginning, the first-born from the dead; and this distinguished from His being the first-born of all creation, which He was when living here below (ver. 15). Thus too the truth gives due essential prominence to the death and resurrection of Christ, while falsehood shuts it out or makes it an incident by the way, not the turning-point of God’s glory in respect of sin nor consequently of our justification.
It is of painful interest to notice, as I do in closing, that the notion here exposed is the chief point of contact between Rationalists and Tractarians. A friend of mine asked a certain dignitary of the Establishment what the essential difference was between his system and his evangelical father’s. “This,” answered the astute and eloquent prelate; “that the value my father assigned to the atonement, we (the Oxford party) give to the incarnation.” This witness is true, and, the reader may be assured, of incalculable moment. The same idea underlies the Broad-church theorists. Reconciliation for them is the bridal of the King’s Son with humanity; His taking our flesh, which is a blessed truth, being viewed as our union with Him, which is the same pestilent error I have been refuting. By this device the enemy contrives to shift the true epoch of full deliverance by faith, to hide the proper character and extent of Christian privilege, and to relegate souls to a state when redemption was not wrought for the putting away of sin, the Spirit not yet given, and Jesus not yet glorified; contrariwise, the legal system, with its carnal ordinances, earthly priesthood, and worldly sanctuary, was still in undiminished force. Through men of sentiments less pronounced, who jumble the birth, service, and death, of Christ in a common vicarious lump, his aim is to reduce all the ways of God to confusion, to destroy the definiteness of grace and truth, and to seal men in uncertainty, half Jews and half Christians, clinging to the Saviour, yet not, as far as happy consciousness goes, either within the veil or without the camp. Incarnation, blessed a truth as it is, was neither reconciliation through the death of Christ nor union through the baptism of the Spirit. Scripture carefully distinguishes them; tradition confounds all three, as does rationalism: — the former in consonance with the sacerdotal system, the latter in the pride of fallen humanity. The judgment of sin by divine grace, in the cross of Christ, and the new relationships in the power of the Spirit, when taught of God, deliver the Christian from both.
- The Council of Chalcedon held in Turkey in 451AD stated; “…our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in deity and the same perfect in manness, truly God and truly man, the same of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the deity and the same consubstantial with us according to the manness, like us according to all things except sin; begotten of the Father before the ages according to the deity and in the last days the same, for us and for our salvation, [born] of Mary the virgin, the God-bearer, according to the manness, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, being made known in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of the natures being by no means removed because of the union but rather the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons but one and the same Son…” This Chalcedonian statement put to rest many of the Christological heresies of the first 4 centuries AD. Docetism was rejected by stating that the Lord was truly man, consubstantial with us in His manhood; Sabellianism was rejected by distinguishing between the Son and the Father in title and role; Arianism was rejected by declaring that the Lord possessed full and perfect deity; Apollinarianism was rejected by attributing to the Lord Jesus a ‘rational soul’ i.e. a human spirit; Nestorianism was rejected by affirming the unity of Christ’s person; and Monophysitism was rejected by affirming two natures in Christ, unmixed yet indivisible.
- I [William Kelly] bracket these words, not because they do not affirm a precious and essential truth (expressly taught in Matt. 1:16), but because the testimony of the best MSS. (Alex., Vat.. Sinait., Bezae Cant., and in fact all of the first class, save the Rescript of Paris) excludes their title to a place in this text.
- The root and character of this error will appear from the words of Mr. Irving’s treatise on the Human Nature of Christ. “The only difference, therefore, between Christ’s human nature and the human nature of a regenerated man standeth in these two things: first, that Christ was in the condition of a regenerated man from the very first of his existence as a man; and secondly, He had the Spirit without measure, and therefore his regeneration was always effectual unto the perfecting of his faith and holiness, and the complete subjection of the natural inclinations of the fallen manhood” (p. 31). “We maintain the clean contrary, that every part of Christ was, in all its actings, Most Holy, yea, and in all its thoughts, yea, and in all its inclinations; and this not through any operation of its own, but through the operation of the Holy Ghost, which the Father gave to Him without measure,” etc. (p. 78). Their favourite phrase about Christ was, holiness not of but in humanity by the Holy Spirit. [Three lines from p. 64 of the above treatise are in this edition omitted, as being a quotation by Mr Irving himself rather than his own words].
- I am aware that an author, whom I will not name, tells us that this type of Leviticus 2 cannot be applied to the human nature of the Lord Jesus without dangerous error. For the Holy Ghost, he says, was not commingled with the human nature of the Lord, as the oil was commingled with the flour. Divine and human elements were not commingled in either of His two distinct natures. And then, in a note, Hooker’s reference to certain heresies is cited in his well-known comment on the ancient formulary ὰληθῶς, τελέως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀσυγχύτως (i.e. truly, perfectly, indivisibly. distinctly, in opposition to Arians, Apollinarians, Nestorians, and Eutychians respectively). — Now it is evident that this fear of dangerous error is due to his own absolute blindness respecting Christ’s person. For the Eutychian error did not consist in affirming the real operation of the Holy Ghost in the conception of the Virgin’s Son (which is a truth essential to the faith of God’s elect), but in a monstrous blending of the Word with the flesh of Christ. Eutyches, in effect, reversed the momentous words of St. John (chap. 1:14); for, were his doctrine true, we ought to read (not “the Word ἐγένετο flesh,” but) the flesh became the Word. This fatal error (which confounded Deity and humanity, and made a new thing which was neither) has not one point of contact with the revealed truth of the Holy Ghost’s action in counteracting fallen humanity from the outset of the Virgin’s conception, and in so securing by divine power that the fruit of her womb should be holy (not fallen). No sober Christian ever admitted the strange delusion which seems to have originated with certain fathers, as it has been since adopted by some Socinians, that one part of Christ’s human nature was framed by the Spirit and joined with another part received from the Virgin. This device was merely to cover their exclusion of the truth of His eternal Sonship, by construing one part of His humanity, thus imagined, as the Son of God and the other as the Son of man. What can one think of the spirit which compares with this Socinian dream the faith that maintains Christ’s holy humanity against those who hold it to be fallen? And what can one think of the chief evangelical organ going lately out of its way to commend a doctrinal tract of this man? They used to denounce the same root of evil in Edward Irving, but alas! some of their own friends are now infected with it; and then again zeal for law, and over-strong feeling against some who condemn them ecclesiastically, lead them to welcome the most heterodox of adversaries.
- Even Augustine, who is not a whit behind the chiefest Fathers, stumbles, like one in the dark, at the anointing of Christ by the Holy Ghost. He has the temerity (De Trin. xv. 46) to deny that our Lord was anointed, when the Spirit descended on Him as a dove after His baptism. I presume the difficulty was partly owing to the just revulsion of godly minds from the hateful reveries of the Gnostics, which may account for this; partly to a want of simple-hearted subjection to scripture statement as to the difference of the Spirit’s action in the incarnation and then at the Jordan. “Ista mystica et invisibili unctione tune intelligendus est, quando Verbum Dei caro factum est (Joan. i. 14); id est quando humana natura sine ullis praecedentibus honorum operum meritis Deo Verbo [sic MSS., at Ed., Dei Verho] est in utero virginis copulata ita ut cum illo una fieret persona. Ob hoc eum confitemur natum de Spiritu sancto et virgine Maria. Absurdissimum est enim, ut credamus eum cum jam triginta esset annorum (ejus enim aetatis a Joanne baptizatus est) accepisse Spiritum sanctum; sed venisse ilium ad baptisma, sicut sine ullo omnino peccato, ita non sine Spiritu sancto.” It is curious to perceive the uncertain sound of Bishop Pearson on this head, evidently struck by the plain evidence of scripture and yet swayed in another direction by the jarring notes of Gregory Naz., Ambrose, and Jerome. It is hardly needful to say that none of these divines has laid hold of the simple but weighty difference of the Spirit’s work in rendering the humanity holy for its union with the person of the Son; and then in due time anointing Him as man with power for His service on earth.
- It is all error common to Irving and the theologians in general to confound with the general state of unfallen Adam that which was true of Christ here below and is true of the Christian now as standing in Him. Thus the former says “Manhood in Adam was sinless, set up in righteousness and true holiness by the Creator.” It were invidious to specify the latter, who have made the same mistake; for their name is legion.
- Think of a professed commentator like Dr. C. Wordsworth committing himself and the Dict. of the Bible (iii. p. 1358) to the stupendous error that God made Jesus to be Jehovah! He refers to Acts 2:36, which really treats of official glory, not of the Deity or Jehovahship of Jesus. The Fathers so erred before him.
- 1 Peter 2:24, in employing ἀναφέρω explicitly shuts out the notion, for which some contend, that Christ had our sins previously and bore them up to the tree. Προσθέρω admits of previous action, but ἀναφέρω never means this in such a connection; it is exclusively sacrificial. What thoughts of God and of sin can these men have! What anguish the mere anticipation of this cost Jesus! “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:”7). So too the horrors that pressed on Him at Gethsemane, when His soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death; and an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him (as, when the great wilderness temptation was over, angels had ministered unto Him). But it was for deeper conflict and more intent prayer and His bloody sweat (Luke 22:43, 44). He was in no way forsaken then; on the cross, made sin, He was.
- It might seem past belief that any man of note among Christians could entertain a thought so deplorable. I must therefore be forgiven if I cite the words of the famous Hugo Grotius to prove that not even the language of ver, 3 sufficed to keep him from applying the entire description of an earthly high priest to the Lord: — “Sequitur Christum quoque obtulisse pro se ὑπeρ ἀμαρτιῶν, i.e., ut a doloribus illis, qui peccatorum poenae esse solent, et occasione peccatorum nostrorum ipsi infligebantur, posset liberari.”