Project Canterbury

The Imitation of Our Lord
A Series of Lectures Delivered at All Saints', Margaret Street
In Lent, 1860.

by the Rev. T. T. Carter, M.A.,
Rector of Clewer, Berks.

London: Joseph Masters, 1866.

Lecture VI.
The Union of the Two Natures.
1 S. Pet. ii. 21.
"Leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps."

BEFORE closing the series of subjects which I proposed, there is yet a deeper line of thought into which we must seek to enter, or we shall fail to discern the real moving principle of a saintly life. The will, which last we considered, is the inner spring that animates and sustains all the graces, but the will itself has its own hidden source of power beyond itself, and this lies in the constituent elements of our being. While the will acts alike on all the attributes and faculties, the action of the will depends on the nature of the being itself. In our LORD the action of the will depends on the perfect union of the Divine and human natures in His Person.

It is necessary therefore to enter, so far as may be given to our feeble gaze, into this inner, deeper view of our LORD'S life, if we would see the bearing of His example. This view may on first thoughts appear to be foreign to our subject; for it may be asked, what has the nature of a person to do with his example?

Is not an example an external pattern set forth in the life of one person to be copied in the life of another? If this were all that we mean by the example of JESUS CHRIST, then indeed it would be irrelevant to enter into questions of His nature. But this were a wearisome task indeed, this were a most oppressive precept, if the life of our LORD were set before us merely as an external picture, after the likeness of which we were to be perpetually aiming to conform ourselves. How could we ever then hope to attain it? His sacred life is this indeed. It is the Type of restored Humanity, external to ourselves, more and more to be discerned as we behold Him, and more and more to be copied in our continual efforts after perfection. But when our LORD is spoken of as an example, it is with this additional view. He is Himself the Life which He represents before our eyes. He imparts His sacred nature to us, forming in us what we behold, so that we become one nature with Him, as He unites Himself with us. This mysterious indwelling gives to our LORD'S example a wholly different meaning from what the word ordinarily bears. It is no longer a mere picture, which the student copies with toilsome difficulty, but it is a blessed inward influence infusing its likeness by its own power, and transforming the soul that beholds Him into Itself.

We have to contemplate therefore the innermost working of our LORD'S life, and then the innermost working of our own.

There are three distinct kinds of Divine Unity descending in order from GOD.

I. There is first the unity between the Three Adorable Persons of the Blessed Trinity. By this union the Being of Each impresses itself perpetually on the Other. Each One is in a transcendental sense an Example to the Other, for they mutually represent to Each Other Their own perfections, and concur in acting on Each Other to the fulfilment of Their own perfect ends. This is the highest Unity of different Beings within the very sources of Being, acting and reacting on the issues of Infinite Life.

II. The next degree of unity is that of the two natures, the Divine and the human, in our LORD. This is known as the hypostatic union, so called because the hypostasis, i.e., the substance, of the one nature is so united with the substance of the other nature, that they form One individual Person. In consequence of this union the action of either nature is the action of the whole Person, so truly that Man is GOD, and GOD is Man. It is this, which it is so needful to have clearly on the mind, as the inner groundwork of our LORD'S life. He Himself continually asserts it, as the truth on which the restoration of Humanity turns. When, e.g., our LORD said, "I and My FATHER are One," He was not merely declaring His true Divinity, He was also declaring the true union between the nature of the GODhead and the nature of the Manhood. The "I," which is one with the FATHER, includes the Manhood, and the Jews so understood Him: "Then the Jews took up stones to stone Him." This stoning was the appointed punishment of blasphemy, and they explain what kind of blasphemy they understood Him to assert; "because that Thou, being a Man, makest Thyself GOD." This claim was indeed the turning-point of His rejection by the Jews, the direct cause of His Crucifixion. The first time that they "took up stones to cast at Him," was when He said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I Am:" the incommunicable Name of JEHOVAH assumed by One Who was truly Man. Because of the same assertion the sentence of death was at last decreed, when all the false charges had failed. "The High Priest answered and said unto Him, I adjure Thee by the Living GOD, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the CHRIST, the SON of GOD. JESUS saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless, I say unto you, hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven. Then the High Priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death." It was the assertion of the true Eternal GODhead personally united with the true Manhood, and visibly manifested before their eyes, which they understood Him to claim, and which they rejected.

The consequences of this perfect union in our LORD unfolded themselves in various ways to the disciples who were brought nearest to Him. To S. Philip, e.g. He says, "Believest thou not, that I am in the FATHER, and the FATHER in Me? The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself; but the FATHER that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works." The human word and the human act were the perfect, true expression of the mind, the character of the invisible GODhead. To see the one was to see the other. It was the Infinite Life putting on the features of the finite creature, and thus expressing itself to the eyes of men. "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the FATHER; and how sayest thou then, Show us the FATHER?"

The FATHER indwelling in the SON, in the Manhood of the SON, was guiding, moulding the life of the sacred Humanity. Again, in other words the LORD declares the same truth; "The SON can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the FATHER do." The Divine Nature is at once the example, and the living power of the human in CHRIST. It is the example which has life in itself. Thus the sacred Humanity was perfect, because by an inner consciousness the Soul of CHRIST perpetually saw the forms of the Divine Nature with which it was conjoined, and the Divine Nature perpetually impressed Itself on the obedient will and faculties of the Manhood. This is the second Divine unity.

III. The third degree in the scale is the unity between our LORD'S Manhood and our own fallen humanity, and through union with His Manhood union with the GODhead. And though this be indeed a unity of a far lower degree and different order from the union of the Godead and Manhood in our LORD, and is in us only by grace, and in measure, yet is His own hypostatic union of the two natures a true type and example of a similar unity in ourselves, for His intercession ever arising for us is, "That they all may be one; as,"--in some like manner as,--"Thou, FATHER, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us." "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one." The consecrated Humanity of JESUS, our Blessed LORD, is therefore to us at once the example, and also the indwelling Presence of power which, through the Spirit, forms that ideal in us. What this will be when perfected, when fully developed in us, when the GODhead is revealed to us in the fulness predestined, and our nature is expanded to its utmost intended range of faculty and sensation, we have no power to comprehend. But we may draw an image of what shall be hereafter, from what is now a constant consciousness in our actual state in the natural world; for this lower nature is a dim shadow of the mysteries of the Invisible, and we may gather the surest conclusions from its typical character.

There is a Presence in the world around us, which acts upon and pervades us, and which we cannot doubt is of GOD, in the wondrous thrilling harmonies of music, the sweet beauty of flowers, the branching woods, the repose of the mountains, the quietness of the valleys, the grandeur of the sea, the voices of birds, the balm of the summer air, the pure light of the stars, the radiance of the sun. How do these natural influences entrance, and fill, and carry us away, and overpower to intoxication the whole sensitive frame of our being, so that we are transported out of ourselves in the exquisite enjoyment of an enraptured, boundless life! And yet this lower nature is but the outskirts of His magnificence, the very refuse of His true glory, the mere earthly smoke struggling up, before the brilliant flame breaks forth. What will those higher glories be, of which these are but poorest types? What can He be, Who is greater than the greatest of all that He has created? What shall we be, when our sensations are as truly adapted to the Divine Presence in a higher world, as our natural senses are now adapted to this natural world, and the overpowering ecstasy around, within, absorbs us, and we are lost in the unutterable consciousness of a sensible union with GOD, and with the highest creatures of GOD?

But even now the unity of the Divine Nature and our own actually exists, though it be of the feeblest kind, rudimentary, with no power of sense to perceive what by faith we marvelling believe and adore. But, however unconscious and imperfect our union with GOD be as yet, it is most real; and in this unity lies the hope of our nature receiving the sacred impression of the example of our LORD. We are following His steps, just in proportion as the impression of the indwelling GOD moulds the features of our character. Consider the unutterable mystery of redeemed human life, judging only from the few insights which Holy Scripture reveals of the new nature working within us, as the inheritance, not only of the higher order of Saints, but of all true redeemed humanity. S. Paul says; "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the heart, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of GOD." In every earnest prayer we cannot tell how much is the aspiration of our own soul, how much the breathing of the indwelling GOD Who has possessed us. Again, the Apostle says; "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is GOD which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure." When we put forth our energy to will, when we exert our faculties to act, we cannot tell how much of the energy of the will, how much of the exertion to work, is of our own proper nature, how much is the direct influence of the GODhead, Which, through the union of our LORD'S Manhood with our own, pervades and moves us. We cannot disentangle the mysterious skein of the intermingled threads of the Divine and Human natures, of which we are the wonderful development; and so penetrating, so all-pervading is the Presence of the indwelling GOD, that even our lower, our bodily elements are become, to an extent we cannot ascertain, His organs and instruments. "Know ye not," says S. Paul, "that your body is the temple of the HOLY GHOST which is in you, which ye have of GOD, and ye are not your own?" Again, "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of CHRIST? Shall I then take the members of CHRIST, and make them the members of an harlot?" So that the horror of an impure touch, and the dreadfulness of an unclean imagination, is grounded, not on the failing to follow the holy example without us, but on using for the commission of sin the very organs of the mind or body which the indwelling GOD has assumed as the mode of His own development in us, on which He is by His very touch and pressure seeking to infuse His own purity. Thus acting throughout our whole being, by an inner moulding power constantly operating in His true elect, our LORD causes His example to be only another form of His own life in us, in a mysterious unity of being with Himself.

IV. If we carry our view yet further, it will appear that not merely is there this community of inner life with our LORD, but the process and conditions under which it is formed are, in some measure at least, the same. In two respects the resemblance may be traced.

1. It is evident that there is only a progressive and growing unity between our LORD'S Humanity and our own. Slowly, at the very best, and we know not through how many ages, after this earthly scene is closed, will advance that transfiguration of ourselves, of which the mystery of Mount Tabor was an intimation. By what stages the gradual perfecting of our nature within the veil will be accomplished, and with what closer embraces of the GODhead, will be revealed only in its actual fulfilment in our future destiny. But all the experience of this world teaches us, that as it is now, so it will be then--gradual, progressive. It was thus also, in some measure at least, in our LORD. What has been said before of the development of His perfect obedience being learnt by the things that He suffered, is one proof of this law of His innermost life. What manifestly took place in regard to His sacred Human Body is a sign of some similar growth in the powers of His Soul. His was at first a body of humiliation, marred more than any man's. It was transformed when He rose from the grave; so that, as He stood by the side of the tomb, or on the pathway to Emmaus, or on the shore of the lake in the early morning, the disciples scarcely knew Him. His Body assumed a further development as He ascended through the clouds. It must have assumed a yet further, and yet more mysterious change, as He is now at the Right Hand of the Majesty on high, while at the same time His Body is invisibly present with the sacred elements of the Holy Eucharist. There was an increase also of wisdom in our LORD'S Humanity, and in the different stages of His sufferings His human will advanced to higher and more transcendent acts of conformity to the Divine Will. The submission of His will in the Agony is one recorded instance of this progressive development of His Soul in its advancing correspondence with the Eternal Godead. There was in that most awful and mysterious sorrow a yielding of the human will which perfected its harmony with the Divine.

[The following passage from S. Athanasius shows in what manner the FATHERs explained the progressive development of our LORD'S sacred Humanity. Though it relates only to the one attribute of wisdom, yet the same principle applies to all other faculties.

"It is not the Word, considered as the Word, who advanced, who is perfect from the perfect FATHER, who needs nothing, nay, brings forward others to an advance; but humanly is He here also said to advance, since advance belongs to man. Of the body is the advance; for, it advancing, in it advanced also the manifestation of the GODhead to those who saw it. And as the GODhead was more and more revealed, by so much more did His grace as man increase before all men.......Not Wisdom, in respect of Itself; but the Manhood advanced in wisdom, transcending by degrees human nature, and made GOD, and becoming and appearing to all as the organ of wisdom for the operation and shining forth of the Godhead. Wherefore, neither said he, 'The Word advanced,' but JESUS, by which Name the LORD was called when He became man; so that the advance is of the human nature." (Advers. Arian., chap, xxix., ยงยง 14, 15.)

Newman, in his edition of this treatise (Library of the Fathers, vol. 19, p. 473, note) observes; "It is the doctrine of the Church that CHRIST, as man, was perfect in knowledge from the first, as if ignorance were hardly separable from sin, and were the direct consequence and accompaniment of original sin." "That ignorance," says S. Austin, "I in no wise suppose existed in that Infant, in Whom the Word was made flesh to dwell among us; nor can I suppose that that infirmity of the mind belonged to CHRIST, as a babe, which we see in babes." (De Pecc. Mer. ii. 48.)

Newman, moreover, in another note, (p. 474,) quotes the belief expressed by the Ed. Ben. in Ambros. Incarn. who "considers the advancement of knowledge spoken of to be the 'scientia experimentalis' alluded to in Heb. v. 8."]

2. Again, we are subject to cloudings of the Divine indwelling Presence. His Presence is but feebly apprehended at the very best; we apprehend only by faith. We have but the faintest means of grasping the reality. It is, though within us, only as some faint light on the horizon, which the eye catches and then loses, and then doubts whether it ever saw, and then, ceasing to look, is content to say, "It is surely there, and I did just catch the sight." We cannot doubt, even though we cannot see; for what are all these bright gleams in sorrow, what these raptures in devotion, what these sensations of wonderful strength in trial, what these floods of sweetest consolations,--but glimpses of a Presence, which is only not seen, because it is too pure and bright for a sin-stained nature to see, and live? But sometimes even these tokens of the inward Presence are gone, and the soul is plunged in utter darkness, and the sufferer pleads with GOD, saying, "Oh, that I was as in months past! as in the days when GOD preserved me, when His candle shined upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness! as I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of GOD was upon my tabernacle!" Can it be possible that there is sympathy between our LORD and us, in this the saddest gloom that darkens the children of GOD in this life? Could the hypostatic unity of the GODhead and the Manhood admit any possible approximation to such a trial of a burdened soul as this? Can GOD cease to be as GOD, or cease to feel His own Presence; or the Source of light lose light? It is possible. He did experience this very trial in His own Person; it was felt by Him in a deeper form of horror than ever fell on any soul save His. "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour JESUS cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani? that is to say, My GOD, My GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'" It was a crisis of interior, desolate darkness, out of which is heard a voice that never ceases to speak, saying, "I have tasted the depths of the soul's horror, when it feels after GOD and cannot find Him; when it has given up all for GOD, and yet has lost GOD; when it feels nothing but its own burdened lonely spirit, and is tossed on the waves of a terrible despair. And in this horror I know all lesser forms of doubt, of fear, of dryness, of gloom, of earthliness, of depression, which are ordained to try the steadfast will, and teach the elect to live by pure faith, when hope has passed away, and love has lost all its sweetness." When our trial hour comes, may He, Who for our sake was thus touched "with the feeling of our infirmities," "that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to GOD," give us all grace to "know Him, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death."

V. It is not my purpose now to dwell on the means through which the Divine Humanity is imparted, and grows within us, or I should have to speak of the grace of sacraments, specially of the Holy Eucharist, and all the ordained instrumentalities through which the HOLY SPIRIT works His wondrous works within us; hut in closing these remarks I would point out briefly certain main conditions requisite in all of us, in order that such grace may have its due effect.

1. One such essential point is a recollected spirit, the constant remembrance of the awful Presence that dwells within us. We know the effect produced in a mind which has learned to recognise the dignity of the gift of reason; how thoughtful, how reverent, the tone and demeanour of one who is conscious of the powers of a high intelligence, or the responsibilities of an exalted station. Such feelings are the natural type of the consciousness of great spiritual gifts. For surely it is impossible to believe that we bear about us a Divine Presence, Who is speaking in our voice, Who is acting in our energies, Who is pervading our manifold organs, without a sense of awe at the grandeur of our state. We move to and fro as gifted beings; we are raised above created things; we are not mere creatures: we are supernatural, being "made partakers of the Divine Nature." We have a period of probation on earth, and have to work out our own destinies, and fulfil our ends among earthly relations. But we bear a charmed life, and Angels view us with amazement. We not merely walk to and fro as heads of this material world, and the creatures do us homage; but we are already one with GOD, and we are nearer to the Creator than to any being with whom we have to do. We are literally closer to GOD than one can be to the wife of his bosom, or his friend who is as his own soul. To apprehend by faith this stupendous truth, the mystery of our re-creation in JESUS CHRIST our LORD, through the indwelling Spirit, and to live in the constant recollection of it, is to lay the only true foundation of the graces of a saintly life, whether those of a higher order, as e.g., purity, truth; love, humility, patience, or the lesser forms of grace, as gentleness, sweetness of temper, reverence of manner or of speech.

2. Again, of all graces that specially tend to soften the soul, to enable it to receive the impressions of GOD, love is predominant. Here we may see the reason why love is represented in the Scriptures to be the fulfilling of the law, and identical with keeping the commandments of GOD. Love inclines the heart at once to the will of the loved one. All the inward energies are centred on giving the loved one pleasure. Love removes all obstacles, all hardness, all self. It is the only overcomer of self. It is what fire is to metal, enabling it to fuse and take the impression of the mould. It is the secret of tenderness, the source of sympathy. It moved the Divine Nature to adapt Itself to the human nature. It united the two natures in our LORD; "GOD so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten SON." If it is faith which grasps hold of the Infinite to stay itself thereon, it is love that like the soft breath of spring coming over the earth, releases the bound-up soil, and makes it receptive of the powers of heaven as they descend to renew it into life. Love to GOD is the most vital grace that causes the soul to flow into the true form of human sanctity and beauty, which is CHRIST.

3. Once more. The habit of contemplation practised in some form, however simple it may be, is essential to the same end. The very idea of an example necessitates the habit of contemplation; for an example to have influence must be studied. It must be before the eyes. It must sink through the eyes into the soul; it must abide in the soul as a permanent impression; it must deepen its impression by ever renewed observation of its form and lineaments. How can this be effected, but by some form of meditation? An example must needs tell upon us, if the person be an intimate companion, if there be a frequent interchange of thought, if there be constant opportunity of observing the manner, the gait, the look. And what is contemplation, but making the Invisible thus intimate, thus constantly present, thus habitually assimilated? When our LORD described the life of Angels, in saying of them,--"They do always behold the face of My FATHER Which is in Heaven,"--His words implied, that the contemplation of the Divine Countenance is an essential condition of angelic natures, and it follows that none can rise into the life of the Angels, except there be some habitual practice of the same mind. It may not be possible to practise formal meditation. It may be possible only to ponder on holy things in passing along the crowded street, or while others are by our side in the family circle, or in the brief intervals of laborious business, irregularly, by catches; but a contemplative habit after some form there must needs be, for how can there be a growing moulding of our form and character into a likeness which we never behold? How can there be a deepening love, and desire after the life of our LORD, as one's own form of life, unless we become filled with the vision of its beauty, unless its beauty in our eyes makes all other charms to pale, and transcends all attractions of earth?

O Eternal Beauty of the Living GOD, Divine and human alike in Thy perfectness, when shall I turn from the shadows of created love, to admire, to embrace, to cleave to Thee? Oh! that this thick veil of the creature might open but for a moment; that the perfect Vision might shine in upon my soul; that but for a moment I might behold the One Object adequate to the greatness of my renewed powers. Surely the impression would not fade away; like the great Apostle, I should not be "disobedient to the heavenly vision." Oh! that I might apprehend even now, though unseen, by faith, as the end of all my aspirations, the adorable Form of Love, from Whose Face all the hosts of the Blessed drink in unceasing streams of untold rapture. O GOD, uplift me from the mire and clay that I sink not, and set my feet upon the rock, and order my goings, and put a new song in my mouth, even a thanksgiving unto our GOD. Unto Him now, and for ever, be all glory and praise. Amen.

Project Canterbury