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.

Chapter XII.--The Christ and His Father

The dependence of the Incarnate upon His Father, both in its measure and its mode, is best seen in a study of the normal prayers of the Christ. Such a study is necessary to any adequate view of the manner of His incarnate life.

To some men the prayers seem to be satisfactorily explained by assuming a quiescence of the divine Word, leaving the manhood free to express itself humanly before the Father. As God, the Christ rules the universe: as man He prays: and both within the state of His Incarnation.

To others, the fact that the Incarnate prayed at all appears to require the theory of a self-abandonment of His divine powers, and the very real exercise of the human qualities of faith and hope arising from an ignorance of the future. They argue that the prayers in Gethsemane and on the Cross are not sincere, but rather dramatic, if so be the Christ had a full knowledge of the issue of His Passion and death.

The theory that I seek to establish requires a line of explanation different from both of these; and I hope to shew that it takes account satisfactorily of all the evidence before us.

I. The Incarnate was accustomed to pray. He spent long nights in solitary communion with the Father on the mountains; He prayed at His baptism; and several of His prayers on important occasions have been recorded for us.

But it is striking that He never prayed in company with others, except in the services of the Temple; and that He is not said to have asked anything for Himself except when He prayed that "the cup" might pass from Him, and when He asked to be glorified with the Father. Thus His normal prayer is pictured to us as peculiar.

St. Matthew and St. Luke tell us how once He broke out into praise to God that His will is what it is, and that it is always fulfilled. It was as though in His manhood the Incarnate must cooperate with and rejoice in the divine will and purpose. [Matt. 11:25. Luke 10:21, 22.]

St. John records how at the grave of Lazarus the Saviour gave thanks that it was always the Father's will to do what His human will had resolved to perform to the divine glory. He rejoices in the union of His will with the Father's, and in the wonderful exhibition of divine power which that union had made possible. [John 11:41.]

Again, St. John records how the Incarnate was troubled at the prospect of His death, and how He resolutely surrendered Himself to fulfill the purpose for which He had come. This prayer was the personal utterance of the Incarnate, offered through His human soul; and the answer that came was audible to human ears. Through manhood He prayed, and through manhood He was answered. The fact that the answer was so given as to impress the bystanders does not make the medium of the prayer and answer any the less real. It was not a scenic effect: it was an unveiling of the normal. [John 12:27, 28.]

So far, then, we have found nothing to justify us in saying that He who prayed must have been deprived of His divine powers. There is every reason to believe that the eternal Son conditioned in manhood would rejoice in His Father's will, His joy being mediated by His human soul. There is no ground for saying that such a prayer implies ignorance of the divine purpose. Rather is it an expression of Christ's joyful acquiescence in what He knew and apprehended of the Father's will. The Saviour speaks as one who is certain of His ground; His certainty being none the less compatible with a sense of complete dependence.

Nor have we any ground for believing that these prayers come from the Incarnate as man, His deity lying inactive. For, in that case, who is it who actually prays? The divine Word cannot pray if His divine nature be inactive; nor can He pray if it be in the exercise of unlimited power. Such a view of the matter robs the prayers of their realty. They are made to appear as dramatic utterances; the purpose of which it is not easy to determine.

There should be no fundamental difficulty in conceiving the Incarnate as personally praying to the Father. It is recognized on all sides that in dealing with prayer stress is to be laid upon communion between the soul and God; and upon the union of the human will with His, to whom we dedicate ourselves in prayer. Petition is not the primary characteristic of prayer: it is rather the fruit of filial love which dares to open its heart to the Father, leaving its sorrows and needs at His feet, to be dealt with as He sees fit. The soul desires to speak with Him of itself and its state; to ask anything for itself is rather the sign of undeveloped sonship. But primarily we pray because we love God, or want to know Him, and because we desire that He will knit our wills with His and empower us to walk in His ways, and to cooperate in the works of His kingdom.

If, then, prayer is primarily an act of communion, we may be assured that the Fatherhood of God is characterized by what we may call a desire for communion with us. And since His nature is unchangeable and His Fatherhood eternal, we may safely consider that He has always exhibited this desire; and therefore that it has always been satisfied. But how could this be before men had been created? St. John helps us by his phrase, "The Word was with God." That is, the eternal Son was always in active personal communion with the Father. [John 1:1. See Westcott and Godet in loc.] It was His as Son always to satisfy the desire of God's Fatherhood for the offering of filial love. Thus not only was it fitting that He who should raise mankind to communion with the Father should be the eternal Son; but it is almost impossible to conceive the Son in manhood refraining from prayer. The desire of God the Father that was to be satisfied by man's love must first be satisfied by the love of the Son in manhood; and He whose nature it is to have communion with the Father could not refrain from prayer in His incarnate state.

II. The great prayer of our Lord written down for us by St. John will afford a very real test of our theory. [John 17.]

It is marked by three great characteristics. First, it is the prayer of one who, being conscious of Himself as limited, has yet a vivid sense of an unlimited freedom, and a strong certainty of being set free. The Incarnate speaks of Himself as "Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." He is an object of knowledge and a source of life equally with the Father; but His state is not that of the Father. His state can only be described under a human name, Jesus; and the essential characteristic of it is self-surrender. He was sent to it. That is, He knows Himself as divine Son under limitations, in conditions of manhood. "Jesus whom thou hast sent." Yet at the moment He is mindful of the glory that He had with the Father before the world was; and to this glory He is certain that He is now come, and that to it He will hereafter bring His chosen people.

These are not words of the eternal Son, unlimited and free. Nor are they words of the Son after He has abandoned all His divine attributes. But they do exactly suggest the Incarnate conditioned in manhood, holding communion with the Father through His manhood, and desiring to raise that manhood and His people in it and through it to the state of divine glory.

Secondly, it is the prayer of one who knows that He will be heard and answered as He wishes. "Father, I will" is the keynote to the prayer. It is not a series of requests made in hope by a faithful heart. It is rather the articulation of the will of a Son whose position in His Father's house is supreme.

The Incarnate's human will is so identified with the Father's will, being as it is the medium of the personal will of the Son, that the union of the two makes impossible any hindrance to the fulfillment of the desired purpose. The prayer of the Incarnate consists in the laying of His human will side by side with the divine will: this done, the divine power passes into the hearts of those for whom the surrender was made. There is no hindrance to the power except individual rebellion against God.

And thirdly, it is a human prayer. Starting from obedience it lays before the Father the will of the Incarnate for Himself and His people. I say the will: for as I have shewn above, the Incarnate exercises His divine will whenever He Himself acts through the human will He assumed. His wills are strictly two: but as God the Son His function of will is merely a function or manifestation of Himself; and the will through which He prays is the human will by and in which His divine will or divine personal action is conditioned.

III. And at this point it is necessary to discuss in what relation our Lord stands to the virtues of faith and hope.

It has become a commonplace of modern writers to attribute to Him both faith and hope, in opposition to the more ancient view in which these virtues seemed incompatible with foreknowledge and divine power. [Representative of the older view is Thomas Aquinas. See III, ยง 7, 3.] Bishop Westcott, for example, deduced from a statement in the Epistle to the Hebrews that our Lord exercised faith [Westcott's Hebrews, second edition, p. 427; and note on 12:2.] and Bishop Gore, [Gore, Dissertations, pp. 82, 83.] quoting him with approval, seeks to prove that the prayers of the Incarnate necessarily imply anxiety, terror, and a dark future, and therefore require His exercise of faith and trust.

Surely everything depends upon what we mean by faith, and trust or hope.

Faith is variously defined: but in the last resort it is usually regarded as the power to submit the reason to the truths revealed by God; accepting them fully, and holding them with certainty. So defined it is regarded as a God-given power for the removal of the weakness of human reason; a cure for spiritual blindness; and a means of attaining the knowledge of things that belong to the sphere in which unassisted reason has no place. Acts of faith are therefore exercises of the spiritual faculty with a view to the consecration of reason to God, and to its elevation to the level of divine truths.

The Pauline view of faith is wider: it would, I think, include the will. The reason being endowed with spiritual vision, seeing everything in God and God in everything, man is able to dedicate his will in complete self-surrender to Christ Jesus, placing himself under the law of the divine holiness. In this sense, faith is viewed as being in some degree a remedy of sinful weakness and blindness; and a cure for the natural man's wayward self-pleasing.

The interpretation of faith as the power of spiritual vision opens the way to regarding it as a means of perceiving the real nature and true purpose of all that happens, so that the present becomes tolerable for us in the light of the glory that shall be revealed. Here, of course, it touches upon the sphere of hope: in fact, it is here that it is seen to be the basis of hope. And in this sense faith is held to be the antithesis of anxiety, fear, and ignorance of the future.

It would appear, then, that faith is the gift of God to illuminate the mind of sinful man, with a view to the opening to him of the heavenly vision in ever-increasing degree, to the confirmation of his confidence in God's future restoration of all things, and to the removal of all anxieties and terrors of the soul.

So explained faith is certainly to be spoken of as made necessary to man by his weakness that is due to sin. And were we to ascribe to Christ such faith as this we should be not emphasizing His true humanity but denying His perfection. It is impossible to conceive perfect man as requiring deliverance from an intellectual blindness due to sin, or from incapacity for the spiritual vision, or from inability to surrender himself to God. The measure of His perfection is the absence of such blindness and weakness.

And in fact the Evangelists [Matt. 16:21; 17:9-12; 20:17-19, and parallels. Also John 2:19; 3:14; 7:6; 11:8-10; 12:27; 13:1. etc.] are very clear in the witness that they offer to Christ's foreknowledge of the details of His Passion, and its issue in glory. They describe Him as going to meet His death as one who knows exactly what will befall Him and the hour at which each incident will occur. There is not the least evidence of any ignorance, or anxiety about the results.

Thus theologians of many ages have agreed in denying to Christ the possession of faith. It has seemed to them that to ascribe to Him faith is to admit His anxiety and ignorance. And Bishop Gore, who follows the opposite opinion, does not hesitate to say that our Lord felt anxiety and terror, and triumphed over them by the exercise of faith and trust. It is, in fact, argued that such a faith is essential to real humanity.

There is, of course, a real difficulty here: due partly to the narrow definition of faith, partly to a too limited view of a perfect human soul, and partly to an undue emphasis upon anxiety and ignorance as necessary to manhood. For, in fact, faith can be defined as the perfect spiritual vision of man. It is essentially the crown and completion of human reason; and only by accident the cure of blindness and the remedy for faintheartedness. Faith is the power by which the soul beholds Him whom it was created to adore; and also it is the act by which it adores Him. Its existence is in no way dependent upon the presence of ignorance, weakness, or blindness. It is a positive quality of the soul, granted indeed to the sinner to save him, but to the Sinless One as the necessary crown of manhood.

In this sense we cannot deny to Christ Jesus the possession and exercise of faith. But neither can we speak in this sense of our own faith. Our faith is to Christ's faith as our power of forsaking bad habits is to His supreme holiness. In both cases the root is one: the fruits are very different. And it would be well to keep in mind this distinction before we teach men that Jesus exercised human faith. Certainly in the sense in which modern textbooks of the Church define faith our Lord did not possess it.

But we do regard our Lord as depending upon His Father, inasmuch as He has assumed all manhood's conditions; so that through the perfect spiritual vision that is His as man He entirely submits Himself to the Father's will. His foreknowledge is in fact mediated by this perfect power of human faith, using the word in the broader meaning that I have claimed for it. He has such perfect faith that all through the Passion He sees with certain eyes the joy that is set before Him, and goes forward calmly through death to glory.

Such a vision and such confidence preclude anxiety and ignorance of the future. But they require for their true interpretation a really deep dread of the pain and shame of the Passion, and of the horror of sin and its works. The Incarnate's perfect faith is not only His spiritual vision: it is His faculty for knowing God's power and purpose even in the desolation upon the Cross. In fact, the characteristic fruit of perfect faith, the outcome of true vision is obedience--obedient dependence, obedient self-surrender--and prayer is the articulation of obedience. Thus the prayers of the Incarnate do not point to the presence of anxiety and terror; but to the complete realization of what was to come upon Him, its pain and its sorrow, and to His perfect, obedient, self-surrender to the Father's will.

And surely it was exactly this that He taught His disciples, shewing them that true faith lies in the apprehension of and the search after the Kingdom of God, and in indifference to everything else. [Matt. 6:19-34.] He portrays faith not as a remedy for ignorance and anxiety, but as a state of mind in which there is no thought for the morrow and no worry for today. In fact, we struggle with anxiety and fear not because we are ignorant of the future, but because we are ignorant of God.

Hope does for the will what faith does for the mind. Thus if we follow the narrower definition of faith we shall give an interpretation of hope that is inapplicable in the case of the Christ. Hope is ordinarily regarded as a divine power infused into the soul with a view to the strengthening of the weak and sinful will in its endurance of trials and temptations, and to the removal from the mind of all pessimistic views of life and its issues. Hope is the groundwork of spiritual strength; the means of our obedient following of the Crucified; and the basis of our confidence and our trust.

Here, of course, we find hope to be the antithesis of despair and weakness of will; and in that sense we must never ascribe it to the Incarnate, lest we deny the perfection of His manhood, God-aided and God-assumed.

Rather let us interpret hope in its widest sense as the God-given power that enables the human will to unite itself permanently with the invincible divine will. So defined it is the faculty of obedience raised to its perfection, obedience free and absolute; springing from the will to endure to the end because of the certainty of victory. Hope is the crown of obedience, as faith is of vision. Thus hope can exist apart from despair. It is not the mere negation of despair, nor a remedy for pessimism; but the perfection of the human will through God-given power. Perfect man must possess this perfect will that cleaves to the divine will: he must possess perfect hope. And the Incarnate's human soul possesses and exercises hope as the perfection of obedience, thus conditioning the dependence and surrender that mark His eternal Sonship.

The reality of Christ's perfect hope is not to be measured by the assumption that He went to His Passion ignorant of its end, filled with terror, tending to despair. Rather it is measured by the obedience that underlay His surrender of Himself to sufferings and pain, of which He had foreseen the full extent and bitterness and shame.

Enough has been said, I think, to shew that faith and hope may be ascribed to our Lord in the fullness of their perfection, but not in the sense in which they are associated with our most unworthy movements Godward. Also I trust it has been made clear that just as the Gospels lend no justification to the view that Christ was anxious and fearful and ignorant of the issue of the Passion, so faith and hope are found to be in no sense the necessary antitheses of ignorance and fear. Faith and hope, in their perfection, are the necessary crowns of spiritual vision and moral obedience; and in the Christ they go to form the conditions within which the Incarnate manifests His self-dedication and His obedience.

Thus His prayer stands out as being ultimately the expression of His very true obedience to the Father's will, of His dependence upon the Father's love, and His confident certainty of the triumph of His Father's purpose.

IV. The prayers of the Incarnate, then, are the manifestation of obedience, the assertion of the fittingness of the issue of divine power along the way opened up by His obedience, and the expression of the joy that He feels in His Father's will and power. In short, they are the expression of the Incarnate's consciousness of Himself as divine Son in manhood. They are the means by which He shewed His recognition of His Father's claim; they are the acts by which as man He laid hold upon His Father's will.

Viewed as the act of the Incarnate's mind, prayer is the reception of the word of the Father; it is the vision of "what the Father doth." [John 5:9.] In those long nights of secret prayer upon the mountain tops His soul saw God: and in the power of the spiritual vision He came down to His work of ministry and mercy. In this sense He is the author of our faith, [Heb. 12:2.] of our spiritual vision. But the vision granted to the soul was essentially due to the place in which the soul was between the Son and His Father. The Son in manhood holds communion with the Father through His human soul. So that the vision may be explained truly in two ways. It is the result of the constitution of the soul as the medium between the Father and the Incarnate; but also it is the power by which the human soul is enabled to be the human medium of divine self-consciousness.

Viewed as the act of the Incarnate's will, prayer is His cooperation in manhood with the Father's will. In secret prayer day after day He surrendered His human soul to the Father, accepting His will to the uttermost, consciously counting the cost; becoming our leader in the life of hope, of confident self-sacrifice. And it was this manifestation of the fundamental habit of obedience that was the basis of the atoning sacrifice. But here, again, this surrender of the human will is the conditioned expression of the eternal oneness of will between the Father and the Son.

Viewed as the act of the Incarnate's heart, prayer is His joyous, loving response to the vision of the glory, the holiness, and the love of Godhead. It is the conditioned, human expression of the filial love of the Son to His Father.

Viewed as the act of the Incarnate in the entirety of His being, prayer is the mysterious communion of the Son conditioned in manhood with His Father; it is the inexplicable approach of the Son to the Father in and through our manhood which He has made His very own.

V. And lastly, the prayer of the Incarnate is the point in which the divine and human willpowers meet in alliance against Satan's evil will. Divine power, which is God's loving will in action, cannot have free way in the world without the cooperation of the wills of men. While Satan swayed mankind the Incarnate came, caught up human willpower into personal union with Himself, and laid it side by side of the Father's will. In that moment divine power was given its entrance into the hearts of men. The Incarnate moved up and down amongst the chosen people healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out devils. Then followed His final dedication of His will in the Passion, and the foundation of the kingdom of divine love and power, the Church of Christ.

Herein lies the true meaning of the corporate prayer of the Church in Christ. The manhood of Christ is the medium of His priestly activity. The Church's prayer is her obedience translated into speech: an obedience that is His first, and hers only by His free gift; and a speech that is articulated by His lips alone, in the power of His own Spirit. And the answer to the prayer is the gift of power that comes down to the Church from the Father through the Incarnate's manhood, in the power of the same Spirit of Jesus.

Had the Incarnate been unable to pray, manhood's will had never linked itself to God's will. The victory would have been to Satan.

All that I have tried to say will, I think, be more clear when in the next chapter we discuss the prayers of the Passion. Enough has been said to establish the sufficiency of our theory to take account of the normal dependence of the Incarnate upon His Father.

The picture is that of a divine person in manhood's bonds, having perfect foreknowledge of the day and hour of His arrest, the manner of His trial, the nature of His punishment, and the duration of His sleep in death, together with an absolute certainty of His resurrection, ascension, and glorification. Such an one is found to have a habit of prayer--of prayer different in kind from that which He taught others; differing in intensity from that of the ordinary man. How is the picture to be viewed? Is it the portrait of one single person, or is it a composite picture?

We have tried to supply a reconciliation. It is the picture of the one Christ, the divine Son incarnate, conditioned and limited by manhood. His foreknowledge is divine, conditioned by the limitations of a perfect human mind. His knowledge is the basis of His dependence upon God. And the purpose of His prayer is in part the expression of filial joy and thanksgiving; partly the manifestation of His dependence; partly communion with the Father; and partly the obedient surrender of Himself and all His human powers to the Father.

And always, behind all that is human in the prayer lies the eternal response of divine Sonship to divine Fatherhood.

The Incarnation was the raising of manhood to the level on which it can mediate the relations of the Son to the Father and to men. The prayers of the Incarnate are His normal self-expression before the Father upon that level.

The first prayer was that of the little child at Mary's knee; and its consummation will be in the endless age of the glory of the Christ, when the prayers of the multitudes of the redeemed will be gathered up into His prayer and be presented through His manhood to the God and Father of us all.

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