Project Canterbury

The One Christ
An Enquiry into the Manner of the Incarnation

By Frank Weston

London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1914.

It may, I think, be said with certainty that the Evangelists intend us to see in the life of the Incarnate an exhibition of the weaknesses that are proper to manhood, side by side with His works of abnormal power.

I. While they magnify His power to heal they never regard it as being used to save His manhood from the burden due to hunger, thirst, weariness, and exhaustion. [Matt. 21:18. John 4:6; 11:35; 19:28.] They tell of how He required and accepted help from Angels; [Mark 1:13. Luke 22:43.] but His divine powers seem to have been so restrained that He never interfered with His own laws of nature in order to save Himself from the common lot of mankind.

Again, His life of submission is not pictured to us as the result of a series of acts of will, as though He willed to restrain Himself at one moment that He might feel hunger, and at another moment that He might be weary. This view of His self-restraint, once so popular with Christologians, has no support in the Gospels. On the contrary, He is shewn to us as really and truly man, with man's natural weaknesses and limitations. He assumed this human weakness in the moment at which once for all He imposed upon Himself His law of self-restraint and was conceived in Mary's womb.

On the other hand there is nothing in the Gospels to allow us to hold the opinion that Christ was subject to sickness or to any weakness that is due to inherited sin. As He was Himself sinless, His manhood could not fall under the law of corruption in any sense. [John 19:36. Acts. 2:31.] Christ as man, taking His manhood from a race that had been separated from God, was by the divine law mortal: but death had no rightful power over Him as an individual. Both because He was sinless and because His manhood was constituted in the person of the divine Son, death had no power over Him that it did not receive from Him. [John 10:17, 18.] He met death as its lord and master; He raised the dead, and saved the sick from their pains and sorrows.

But since He had come to endure our penalties in our name He willed not to resist death. He would not use divine powers that mankind could not share; and as man it behoved Him to meet and conquer death. Hence from the first the law of self-restraint required that the Lord of Life should die. To see corruption was neither possible to Him nor necessary to His work of redemption. For He came to conquer death, whereas corruption is the mark of the vanquished. He Who would raise our corruptible bodies must Himself be incorruptible. Thus it is legitimate to say that the Saviour assumed the weaknesses that end in death, as He assumed all truly human weaknesses; but it is not true to say that there was anything in Him that could give death power over Him; nor is it true to say that He could see corruption.

II. Side by side with this power of resisting corruption we notice His power of self-preservation. [Luke 4:28-30. John 8:50.] He saved Himself from His enemies lest they should kill Hun before His time. Also we find Him displeased with His Apostles for thinking that the waves could be His master; [Matt. 8:23-27. Cf. John 6:16-20.] and St. John tells us how He compelled His enemies to do Him homage before He surrendered Himself to them. [John 18:5, 6.] There was manifestly a divine power in the Christ upon which He relied: a power of health, a supremacy over nature, a power of self-preservation.

But it is equally evident that this power was exercised entirely through his manhood, humanly. It was a power that His manhood had made its own. It was not so superhuman that men could not assimilate it, each in his measure. Thus St. Peter could have walked on the waters with Christ had he had the faith. [Matt. 14:22, 23.] God's power appropriated by faith is not to be measured; and we need have no doubt that all the power of the Incarnate was really and truly mediated by His manhood. It was never external to His human nature, except in as far as it belonged to His divine Person, in whom that nature subsists.

The manner in which He saved Himself is of course open to discussion. It may well be that when He passed through a hostile crowd the people themselves had been so excited or distracted as to have lost sight of Him in some confusion. The Holy Spirit may have been the author of some salvation, or angels may have been sent to His help. It is certain that in His Passion He spoke of angels as if they alone could have brought Him safety. [Matt. 26:53.]

But I think our point is to be taken into account. In whatever way the Incarnate may have used divine power to save Himself from enemies, in whatever way He used such power to master the winds and seas, the power was always so humanly mediated as never to compel belief in His divine nature on the part of those who watched Him.

III. Of a very different kind is the power in which He worked His miracles, although that too was mediated humanly. Not only so, but it was communicated to His disciples and their fellow workers.

The power of working miracles would seem to be the divine, creative mind moving out to the restoration of the divine law in the universe. It reasserts the fundamental law of life and order, while appearing to override some less fundamental law, or some human generalization from particular instances that has been mistaken for a general law.

This power is always regarded in Scripture as belonging to the man Christ Jesus. It is the power of God, it is the touch of the Finger of God, [Luke 11:20.] it is the activity of the Holy Spirit; [Matt. 12:28.] but in the last resort it is all carried out by the man Christ Jesus. His works witness to His personality, to His origin, and to His divine life. [John 5:36; 3:2; 10:3; 14:11, etc.] They are signs given to a stubborn generation. But they are so entirely the action of His manhood that few see the divine person in whom that manhood is constituted. Jesus of Nazareth became the prophet of the people, their healer, who went about doing good. [Acts 10:38. Cf. Luke 24:19.]

The tendency of modern writers is to argue that so human were His works that they are to be regarded as mere human actions done by manhood's power, with the assistance and under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Of course the parallel between Christ's miracles and those of the prophets and Apostles is to be recognized; for it helps us to grasp how entirely the divine power was appropriated by the manhood. But if we are asked to say that the parallel holds in regard to the divine power that lies behind the workers of wonders we must hesitate to answer. For the parallel will only hold up to a point. The Apostles worked miracles in a twofold power: the power of the indwelling Christ and the power of the Holy Ghost. What, then, in the Incarnate is parallel with His indwelling power in the Apostles?

The Kenotists answer that the Incarnate's miracles are to be ascribed to the external influence of the Spirit acting upon the manhood of Christ. The Athanasian and Cyrilline position, on the whole, would be that the Incarnate was exercising divine omnipotence, independent of manhood's measure. But neither of these answers is quite satisfactory. The Gospel story supports both of those views to some extent; but it gives no support to one as against the other.

The Incarnate acts always through the Spirit. He depends personally upon Him. In the Spirit He goes to His battle with Satan; through the Spirit He casts out devils; but there is nothing to support the view that this dependence is that proper to a merely human person. It is the Spirit of Jesus upon whom men lean: [Acts 16:7. Rom. 8:9, etc.] that is, upon the Holy Spirit who has found His temple in the manhood of Jesus. Why this difference?

In the first place, surely, the eternal Son, the Word of the Father, always acts from the Father through the Spirit. God is one and not three. The will to become incarnate was from the Father, and was accomplished by the Son through the Spirit, in whose power the sacred manhood was conceived in Mary's womb. His power it was that overshadowed Mary ; as it was His power that had striven down the ages to make possible Mary's obedience and the birth of Christ. So too since the moment of the Ascension it is the power of the Holy Spirit in which men are united with Christ's glorified manhood through faith in the redeeming blood. Apart from the Spirit the Son could have found no way into the world: and the coming of the Son may not be isolated from the activities of the Father and the Spirit. We must emphatically assert that in becoming incarnate the Son moves out from the Father, in and through the Spirit. [Luke 1:35. John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15. Acts. 2:38. Rom. 8, etc.]

Therefore the Incarnate at every moment acts from the Father through the Holy Spirit. Just as His initial act of self-restraint is from the Father through the Spirit; just as His modified, limited, and conditioned self-consciousness is from the Father through the Spirit; so every action of His incarnate state is from the Father through the Spirit. To conceive otherwise is to postulate a fundamental change in His divine nature.

It is thus impossible to conceive the Incarnate working a miracle apart from the Holy Spirit. His divine self-expression is always through the Spirit. And however modified is the self-consciousness of the divine Son in manhood, it must always be a consciousness of Himself in relation to the Father and the Spirit. True, the consciousness of the Incarnate is limited in content by the capacity of His human soul: but limitation in content is not change in essential relationship. We must therefore bear in mind that there is a sense in which no action of the Incarnate can be isolated from the eternal activity of God the Holy Ghost.

But, secondly, we must weigh the fact that the Evangelists do not refer to the internal, essential relationships of the Son with the Spirit. Their references are apparently to some external power of the Spirit, that dates from His descent upon the Christ after His baptism. [Matt. 3:16 and parallels. John 1:33.]

We have no means of determining the exact reference of our Lord's own words about the power of the Spirit that was in Him. When He said that He cast out devils by the Spirit, He may have been speaking about the internal relationship. But apart from such passages, we are sure that the Evangelists do mean us to believe that the manhood of Christ was illuminated and empowered by the Spirit, descending upon Him from above, as from without.

Such indeed we should have expected to hear. For the very true manhood of Christ must depend for its growth and development upon the same divine powers that are necessary to all men. Manhood must receive of the Spirit if it is to be spiritual. The Spirit who formed the manhood in Mary's womb continuously inspired and strengthened it as the years went by, watching and forwarding its growth in wisdom, until in the baptism He could perfectly equip it for its work of ministry. The manhood of the Incarnate could not be independent of the external power of the Spirit unless its perfection were to be of a kind different from our own. And the very fact that the manhood was allowed to limit and condition the activities of the Incarnate establishes its need of the power of the Spirit to develope its faculties and to enlarge its capacities.

Once more, it is possible to see the fitness of this external action of the Spirit upon the Christ. The manhood of Christ is the centre of the race of the redeemed. It is the fountain of our life, and the temple of the indwelling Spirit. Thus it must be the centre of the peculiar activities of the Spirit in the work of sanctification, as distinguished from the actions of the Incarnate of which the Spirit is the mediator. As regards the internal, essential relations, the Spirit mediates all the activities of the Incarnate. But as regards His external relation to the manhood of the Christ, He is the agent of the sanctification of the world, working through that human nature but proceeding from it as from His temple. Thus we may easily understand the vital importance of the Gospel witness to the external action of the Spirit upon the Incarnate.

Putting together, then, these two truths of the relations of the Incarnate to the Spirit we are able to understand the Gospel picture of the Incarnate working His miracles. We can see His personal activity mediated by the Spirit, the activity of the divine Son under conditions of manhood. And we can realize how wonderfully His human faculties were strengthened and developed to make them able and fit to assimilate and to communicate the divine, creative mind. The touch of Jesus, His mere word, even the hem of His garment, all are instinct with life and power and health. The divine power made human was not to be resisted. The Incarnate Word, working within the sphere of those special relationships that constitute His state of incarnation, fulfilled the Father's will through the agency of the Spirit by the medium of His manhood; just as in creation He had fulfilled the Father's purpose through the agency of the same Spirit apart from any human limitations and conditions. The miracles of the Incarnate witness to His oneness with the Father in mind and will and in power; they are the fruits of the conditioned mind of the Incarnate Word as manifested in cooperation with the Spirit through the assumed manhood. And the miracles of the Apostles and their followers witness to the indwelling of Christ, and to the cooperating power of the Spirit Who in Christ dwelt in them.

The necessity of the uplifting of manhood into cooperation with the divine power in the reassertion of the divine laws becomes evident as we dwell on the nature of sin. By the rebellion of the human will against the divine will the universe had been thrown into confusion, and by the obedience of the human will the sovereignty of God was once more recognized. By disobedience man's will shut the way against the power of God, and by the obedience of the Christ that way was once more opened. Hence the importance of the mediation of the divine power by the manhood of the Son of Mary. The Incarnate looks ever upward, signifying the continuous surrender of His personal will to the Father. Through the offering of His human will to the Father's will a true union of holy willpower, divine and human, was effected, whereby the evil willpower, which Satan represents, may be defeated.

God the Father, the loving Creator, has no way into the hearts of men except through their wills; and that way was opened to His restoring and redeeming power through the obedience of the human will of Jesus. This obedience, however, is that of a person: of the Incarnate Son living under conditions of manhood. And once this way was opened the divine power poured forth into the world; the sick were healed, cripples were made whole, the dead were raised, and the final miracle was wrought on Pentecost, when the dead bones of a sin-slain race were clothed with the flesh and inspired by the spirit of the risen and ascended Christ.

IV. Thus it becomes possible for us to reconcile the strength and the weakness of the Christ.

We put on one side, as inadequate, the theories that so exaggerate the freedom of the divine power in the Incarnate as to render the weakness chiefly dramatic, as if each instance of it were the result of a particular withdrawal of normal divine strength.

We also reject as marring the unity of the Redeemer's life and work the theories that ascribe the weakness to unaided humanity, and the strength to an external power alone.

And in place of these theories we plead for the conception of the Incarnate as being so truly conditioned by manhood that He exhibited all the weaknesses which are compatible with perfect humanity; that He manifested normally a divine power of supremacy limited by the measure of His perfect human faculties, and that He exercised upon due occasions, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, such special power as could be communicated through His manhood and appropriated by His faithful people.

He is at once most powerful and most weak: He Himself, the Incarnate. For His manhood is the measure of His power and His weakness: and as true manhood it can only mediate power in obedience to the divine laws that govern human nature.

We may well marvel at this miracle of weakness: at the self-restraint of the eternal Son as He clothes Himself with our flesh and carries the burden of our limitations.

But we shall the more marvel as we realize the capacity of our own nature for union with God, as we behold manhood framed without sin, united to the person of Him Whose coming is the coming of the Father and the Spirit, and enabled to be the medium of divine life and power. Perfect, God-assumed manhood is the measure of the divine gift of power to men, as sinful God-rejecting manhood is the measure of the human need for God.

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