Chapter III. The Incarnation and the Atonement
THE Old Testament leads up to, and the New Testament records, the fact of the Incarnation. The Church has clearly expressed the teaching of Holy Scripture, and the inferences which must be drawn if the assertions contained in Holy Scripture are to be maintained. In the Incarnation the Son of God became Man. He is Himself the eternal Son, who possessed throughout eternity the fulness of Godhead, who is Himself God equally with the Father. In his incarnate life He remains all that He has always been. There is no abandonment, no lessening of His divine life. Throughout the most splendid, and throughout the most lowly, acts and sufferings of His human life He is really and fully God. And the human life which He takes to be His own is no less real and no less complete than His divine Being. In it He Himself, the eternal Son of God, is conceived and born, lives as child and man, is tempted and suffers, dies and is buried. He has in all fulness body and mind and spirit with all their organs and faculties. Of these organs and faculties there is real exercise, properly human, in His acts and sufferings. To the two co-ordinate truths of His Godhead and His manhood the Church is pledged. To make Him anything less than God even in the deepest humiliations of His human life, or to make Him not fully Man at any time since the beginning of His human life, is to slip into heresy. The one Being, the Son of God, is really, completely, inseparably, indissolubly, God and Man. As God and Man He is the supreme example of human life, He is able to make atonement for human sin, and He can unite human beings to Himself.
The human life of the Son of God has a miraculous character both in itself and in its effects. He was the Son of a Virgin Mother, He wrought many miracles, He rose from the dead. It is as fitting as it is reasonable that He who is God as well as Man should be, even in His human life, more than He would have been had He been only Man. -
There are subtle and difficult questions about the relations of the divine and the human natures in our Lord, about the influence of His divine Being on His human knowledge and the capacity of His human mind to receive from His Godhead, about the effects of His divine power on His human weakness and of His human weakness on the exercise of His divine power. Such questions, which have been discussed by the Schoolmen of the middle ages and by modern theologians, are altogether outside the scope of this book. About them there are differences of opinion among Anglo-Catholics, as there were among the Fathers and the Schoolmen and the Tractarians; but these are differences which are found together with the agreement that the incarnate Son of God is one Christ, true God and true Man.
Theologians have differed as to the relation of the Incarnation to the Fall. The answer to the question whether the Son of God would have become Man if man had not sinned was one of the many points of disagreement between the two chief groups of the mediaeval Schoolmen. In the time of the Tractarians the question was not prominent, and differences about it on the part of those who had considered it do not seem to have excited much attention or caused any alarm. A little later it was much discussed in England. Interest in it has again become less, and it is not likely that any considerable number of Anglo-Catholics would attach great importance to it.
Whether it be true or untrue that the Son of God would have become Man if man had not sinned, the Incarnation as it actually took place was a remedy for sin. The sin for which a cure was thus found included both the original sin which is the result of inheritance and the sin which men in their own lives commit. To study the history of the doctrine of original sin affords one of the most fascinating as well as one of the most difficult of inquiries. It is of absorbing interest to observe how what attracts one mind repels another, how what to one seems dictated by strict reasoning appears altogether unreasonable to another. The differences are not new any more than the facts of life and the characteristics of temperament which suggest them. Anglo-Catholics can hardly ask that, where so great divergencies have existed in the Church all along, there should be complete uniformity of opinion in their own ranks. But they can agree that, whether or not a fuller meaning is to be attached to original sin, human nature as it now comes into the world at the conception and birth of a child is not as it ought to be and as it might have been, but is at the least impaired by a defect and a weakness which are due to that sin in the past which is known as the Fall.
It was an object, then of the Incarnation to cure original sin, to supply the help which man needed even apart from the sins which individual men commit. But the needs of human life, as it was at the time of the Incarnation and as it still is, are far greater than the mere removal of original sin. The study of history and attention to contemporary events alike show the failure of mankind as it is illustrated by evil deeds and by good left undone. While original sin may not be left out of account, actual sin presents one of the chief problems of life.
The Incarnation is the answer of God to man's conviction that he needs help. For it is through the Incarnation that the Atonement is wrought. The life and death of our Lord have atoning power. In Him human life at its best and noblest, human life without sin and with moral perfection, makes an offering in dedicating itself so supremely to the will of God the Father that the sacrifice does not stop short of willing death. Were it only a human sacrifice, it would have high value. But it is not only a human sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of Him who, besides being Man, is also God. And therefore the efficacy of it is not only that efficacy which it might have from complete self-surrender, perfect self-sacrifice. Besides all that it might thus possess, it has also the power of God. It is true that the nature of the Atonement is not defined in Holy Scripture. It is true that on this subject the authorized formularies of the Catholic Church have maintained a deep reserve. But neither Holy Scripture nor the official theology of the Church can be satisfied with less than a doctrine which sees in the Atonement the loving provision of God the Father for the sinful human race, and the powerful act of God the Son made Man by means of which there is forgiveness for the sins of men. In their insistence on this truth Anglo-Catholics are in harmony with their Tractarian predecessors as well as with the Evangelical precursors and contemporaries of the Tractarians.
The offering of Himself by our Lord did not end with His death on the cross. His death was the prelude to His resurrection, and the resurrection was the prelude to His ascension and heavenly life. In glory at the right hand of the Father He is a priest on His throne. His offering continually pleaded is an abiding sacrifice, the sacrifice of Himself. The commemoration which Christians make of His work for them is a commemoration of the Lord Himself, and therefore of all the acts and sufferings of His human life, and notably of His passion and death, His resurrection and ascension, His session on His throne in heaven.