Chapter XIII--The Christ in His Passion
In the presence of the Passion of the Incarnate we are aware of the supreme difficulty of arriving at an explanation of the manner of His life and our manhood. For on the one side the Gospels are so emphatic in their witness to the calmness and strength of the sufferer, to His confidence in His power to conquer, and to His personal supremacy over His judges and executioners; [e.g. John 10:18; 18:4-8; 19:11] while on the other side they are no less strong in their assertion as to the real weakness and sufferings of the Crucified. [Luke 22:44. Mark 15:21, 22. John 19:28, etc.]
The Cyrilline Christologian is hard put to it to explain what to him is the inactivity of the divine nature in Christ which allowed His manhood to suffer and to die. Such a view requires a quick succession of activity and inactivity upon His part: now shewing His power, now accepting human weakness; for there is no one state that will allow of both strength and weakness as being the proper activities of His personal will. He heals the ear that Peter struck off, exercising His divine nature: He is bound and led away because He restrains His divine nature, making it inactive. Again, He pardons the penitent thief by His divine power; He cries out in bitterness by restraining His divine nature. Always the sufferer is conscious of a self within Him, in the same sphere of the Incarnation, who cannot be the subject of suffering. Can we be content with such a view? Is it not a dual Christ who is thus pictured before our eyes?
Kenotic Christologians of the extremer type are also in a difficulty. For they assume an abandonment by the Son of many of His divine attributes, but they do not name Him merely human; so that in the last resort they have still no real explanation to offer of His weakness and desolation. He who is God, how can He be in agony? How can He be desolate? To answer that He was so living in manhood as to share its ignorance is to deny the Gospel evidence as to the foreknowledge that Christ had of His Passion and glory. Again, the evidence requires us to allow for sufficient divine power to carry the Saviour through death to the Resurrection, and on the Kenotic theory He could have had no such power at all.
The solution of the problem which is now before us presents us with a different explanation. It will be best to test its validity and adequacy by applying it to the three great crises of the Passion, each of which called forth from the Saviour a startling prayer.
I. And first we will consider the action of the Saviour at the moment when He was told that the Greeks wished to see Him. [John 12:20-30.]
It was the Tuesday before the Crucifixion. Some Greek proselytes of the Gate who had been listening to the teachings of the Christ craved permission to speak with Him. "Sir, we would see Jesus." As they were admitted to His presence the Incarnate began to speak of the atonement that He would make, not for Jews and Greeks only, but for the whole human race. As He spoke, the realization of what the Passion would mean to Him "troubled His soul." His whole being was profoundly moved. Living in manhood, completely depending upon His human faculties for His self-expression, personally conditioned by human nature, He was Himself disturbed by the realization of His sufferings and death. It was not that He allowed His manhood to triumph over His deity for the moment, that by an act of divine will He might suffer; it was not that His deity was so emptied as to be unable to resist the weakness of the manhood; it was that He Himself, conditioned by manhood, must naturally experience manhood's horror at pain and death. He Himself, then, was troubled, because He was self-conscious only through a troubled manhood.
Then it was that He uttered the prayer that opened the heavens.
In the natural weakness of His manhood He is tempted to ask that He may be saved from the hour of the Passion. "What shall I say? Shall I say, Save me from this hour?" At once He turns the temptation aside. [On the interpretation of this passage, see Westcott and Godet in loc.] Such a prayer He cannot utter, for He has come into the world to meet His Passion. Then with a great act of self-surrender He prays His great prayer of obedience, "Father, glorify thy name." As Incarnate He lays His will by the side of His Father's will. His human faculties tremble as He prays; it is not a strong nature that of Adam's sons. But in the power of the Spirit manhood is found capable of self-surrender: the Incarnate pledges Himself to glorify the Father.
Do not let us minimize the reality of the struggle: do not let us think that manhood, however perfect, can easily mediate the personal will to suffer on a cross and to die. And if we realize that the Incarnate could neither know nor express Himself except through His manhood we shall understand with what pains He came to His self-dedication.
Because the struggle was both really severe and openly contested, the divine Father answered the Incarnate: a real answer to be by Him humanly received, in a voice so startling as to seem to the witnesses of the struggle like thunder or the voice of an angel.
Here, then, the world was given a glimpse of the union of the will of the Incarnate with the will of the Father: a union centring in the manhood.
The crisis passed, the Incarnate spoke once more quite calmly of being lifted up upon the Cross, foretelling the downfall of Satan and the powers of evil. After which came His day of rest, to be followed by His last day with His disciples. And then the second crisis, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
II. The Incarnate has entered the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And, as by symbolic action, He crosses the valley of Kidron and withdraws into the solitude of Gethsemane. [Matt. 26:36-46. Mark 14:32-42. Luke 22:39-46.] There under the olives He stands before God while the shadow falls upon His soul. He is come to His last battle. The forces of evil are met against Him. They will spread their attack throughout the next few hours: Him they will pursue through judgement and condemnation: they will attack numberless souls in the holy city : priests and people, Herod and Pilate, false apostle and true friend: all alike will suffer attack, and each in his measure see defeat: but the fight begins now, in the loneliness of Gethsemane.
And of all the host that is to sustain God's battle against sin, Jesus alone is conscious of the conflict; He alone is alive to its issues; and He alone is prepared to endure all things to the end. More than that, He sees the conflict before His eyes: He can foresee the falls of those that shall fall, the victory of those few that shall endure. He knows the victory is sure: but He also knows the cost at which He must win it.
And once again, He recognizes that those who fall will fall in spite of all that He is to endure for them; while He is keenly alive to the needs of those, the victors, whose strength must come from His acceptance of weakness.
With all this knowledge adding to His personal weight of heaviness, Jesus tears Himself away from His three friends and casts Himself on His face before His Father.
There is borne in upon the soul of Jesus the bitterness of death, the dishonour done to God by sin, the needs of weak souls, the loss of hardened hearts, the utter failure and corruption of the race of which He is the Head. All these thoughts strike His soul. And these very thoughts are to be Satan's weapons! If only he can make the Saviour refuse His cross, or repine at His lot, or set pity for mankind over against the divine justice!
But Jesus resists him: resists him in the power of His divine person conditioned and limited by His manhood. He has a human mind that must think right: truly human it is, though the mind of God: a mind fuller of divine light than we can measure, yet still human. He has a human heart that must love to the end, in all circumstances: truly human it is, though it is the heart of God; a heart fuller of divine love than we can conceive, yet still human. He has a human will that must obey to the end, in all pain and suffering and torture: truly human it is, though it is the will of God; a will stronger in divine power than we can think, yet still human.
Apart from this manhood the Incarnate can do nothing: He cannot even be conscious of Himself. And now the human mind is darkened, in horror at the thought of death, so cruel a death; the human heart is deadened by the sense of friendship betrayed sacrifice despised, and a mother's soul pierced; and the human will is stretched to the uttermost.
For see what lies still before the Christ. The Crucifixion in itself may well stun His manhood's powers: but that of which the Crucifixion is a symbol! What shall we say of that? In crucifying the Christ the Jews will be acting for Satan and for Satan-ridden humanity. By one supreme act they will in the name of sinners finally and utterly reject God, casting Him out from their midst. So doing, they will call down upon themselves and upon the whole race which they represent the ultimate curse of the divine law: "Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee." They will drive God from His Temple, His city, His world: and God will veil His Face from them.
All this is present to the soul of Jesus. For "the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." He must bear the penalty of the very act that constitutes His murder! His it will be to see the veil fall between His soul and the divine Face. Alone He must enter that darkness: alone He must abide while the darkness thickens: alone He must be at the moment that the Light fails Him. For His mind will cease to mediate actively His longing to pray: His heart will faint within Him. And as He lies in the garden the very contemplation of what is yet to come paralyses His faculties. In an agony of bloody sweat He struggles to find that in His manhood which will mediate His self-surrender and His obedience. The drops fall: the ground is wet beneath Him: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" This bitter cup: this last triumph of the shadow! His mind cannot think it. His heart cannot endure it. But His will breaks through the hostile ranks: "Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done."
So He prayed: so He willed: and in the triumph of His manhood, through His will, He exercised His self-consciousness as God self-limited in manhood; and thereby established Himself as captain of our salvation. By this victory in Gethsemane He was constituted for ever as our leader before the Father. He is now in His mystical body, through His divine power, fighting and conquering: always limited by the measure of our human response; always suffering in us; and it is always in the union of our will with His that He leads us to our victory. Alone then, He is never alone now. And in union with Him the lonely warrior finds the invisible hosts of God to welcome him.
Is Gethsemane more easily interpreted by assuming that alongside of the Christ-consciousness that was the field of the struggle there lay a dormant God-consciousness? or by arguing that His was a composite, divine-human consciousness? Surely not!
No, He went as God-in-manhood to Gethsemane: the battle was fought on human lines with human weapons: but He who wielded the weapons and conquered is the Son of God. God was making His own our struggles, our weakness, our death. He used our faculties: and He knew Himself only as limited in His use of divine power by such capabilities of cooperation as His human faculties possessed. Had the manhood failed Him, at that moment all the relationships that make up the Incarnate's sphere would have ceased to be. An impossible thought? Yes, but a thought that reminds us how entirely real His manhood is, how entirely it mediates His self-consciousness as Incarnate God, and how necessarily it depended upon the power of His divine personality for a victory that was impossible to mere human strength.
This indeed is the wonder of Gethsemane: that the Warrior of God, Who is divine, can do, can know nothing except it be mediated by the nature that He shares with us for whom He suffered.
And no theory of the Incarnation will be ultimately acceptable that allows for a self-consciousness as God apart from manhood; or at the other extreme so emphasizes the manhood at the cost of divine attributes as to make the Warrior conquer in merely human might. The Gospel Christ has no consciousness of a self that did not truly lie in agony before the Father, really suffer, and really die. But He Who did so really suffer and die knew Himself as the Son of His Father, and in His own personal, divine power won the battle for us.
III. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This is the cry that marks the third crisis of the Passion. [Matt. 27:46. Mark 15:34.]
It is the answer of humanity to Satan's taunt: "Will man serve God for nought?" [Cf. Job. 1:9.] Here is the Son of Mary serving the divine purpose not only for nought but in the face of immeasurable hindrances, spiritual sufferings, and bodily pain. Like Job He has patiently parted with those whom He loves; like Job He has tasted poverty in its barest forms; like Job His body is one vast source of suffering and pain. Unlike the patriarch, however, the Lord Jesus has accepted the loss of His good name: He has made Himself a curse for us, Who knew no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. The Ideal Penitent, He has exhibited before God the perfect acceptance of the deserved penalties that men had written to their corporate and individual accounts. In all He has been obedient; in all He has been patently penitent; in all He has preserved the filial attitude to God. Never for a moment has He doubted the Father's love or challenged His justice, or imputed to the loving God the penalties men had brought upon themselves by ignoring or defying the laws of their divinely ordered nature.
More than this: He has by His attitude of patience and filial love confessed the righteousness of the Father's laws, acknowledged the perfect reason that framed them, and accepted as just and wise the penalties attaching to their breach.
Nor is this all. There is a mystery lying behind this bitter cry which, while we cannot hope to fathom it, we must needs consider.
As we have already seen, in Gethsemane Christ had pondered the consummated sin of the human race, which was to be exhibited by the Jewish people, aided by ignorant Roman soldiers, in the crucifixion of God in His person and in His manhood. He had measured the sin, and realized its penalty. Man's final rejection of God by the crucifixion of Jesus must bring its proper penalty. Men had loved the darkness rather than the light, therefore must He, their representative, experience in His manhood the bitterness and loneliness of spiritual darkness, lest they perish for evermore. He had chosen to experience it for the sake of those very Jews, and for all who share man's corporate sin.
Yes, surely that which lies behind this fourth word from the Cross is in some way connected with the supreme act of human sin, the crucifixion of God in His manhood, and with the supreme act of human penitence, the acquiescence in the corresponding darkness of the human soul. This view of it seems to me to help us to understand a little the mystery that passes understanding.
He has only His humanity, as Incarnate, through which to realize His deity: this is His purpose, this is His self-oblation at every moment. As captain of the Lord's people He wills to be as they are, though always and entirely divine. He has, I say, only His humanity, sinless but truly human, in which to endure the desolation and darkness that are coming upon Him. Apart from His manhood He has determined not to appear for us before the Father; for so had the Father willed with and in the Holy Spirit. He will go nowhere where He cannot carry manhood and, in His manhood, the whole human race.
As, then, the Incarnation is real and effective, so in the same full measure is the desolation real: terrible and overwhelming in its reality. To regard it as only scenic, dramatic, didactic is to rob the Incarnation itself of its meaning and value. For it is the true weakness of the manhood that makes the desolation possible; just as it is the true perfection of that same manhood that demanded its glorification.
The vision of God was suddenly withdrawn from the soul of Jesus: and alone He entered the darkness. One by one the faculties of His manhood became inactive. Hitherto living in the light of the Divine Vision, they had opened to it as flower buds open to the sun. But the Vision gone, the sun, as it were, below the horizon, the powers of manhood became inoperative, as flowers close at the approach of night. His heart could feel no answering love: His mind could perceive no illuminating presence: all was dull and lonely and dark. He could not pray as He was wont: heart and mind alike failed Him; failing not in desire, not as sinning, but through sheer inability to reflect God and to express themselves.
There remained to Him in action only His will: a human will, flawless, sinless: yet weakened in this, that it could gain no responsive, active aid from either heart or mind: and with that will Jesus clung to the Father.
Can it stand the test? Is Jesus so truly Saviour that He will carry humanity through its last and greatest struggle? The angels cease their singing; Nature veils her face, her veil striking terror into all whom its edges touch; [Luke 23:44-48.] Hope is almost dead.
Then from the Cross, through the darkness, the last and supreme cry of penitence pierces a way for itself to the throne of Love. "My God, My God." The will has held its own. Not for one moment has it wavered, not one step has it yielded to the foe. God is Love; God is Righteous; God is Just. Man is Hatred; Man is Lawless; Man deserves death. "My God, Thou art Love! In spite of this desolation, Thou abidest Love. My God, Thou art Righteous: this darkness has come deservedly upon Me, the Head of a lawless race. Why hast Thou forsaken Me? Surely because Thou art Just, and we deserve to lose Thee: yet Thou art My God, My God; always God, always My God."
So did the Incarnate suffer and triumph: and in Him penitence was perfected. And with the swift speech of one who knows the end has come, He uttered His last words, fulfilled His task of filial love, and yielded up His life.
Thus died Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, in His manhood making atonement for all sins, and for the sin that is the head and crown of all sin. Wonderful love! Wonderful wisdom! That great cry which the malicious scheming of the Jews and the ignorant strength of the Romans called forth was itself the atonement for the Romans and the Jews. Sin was consummated, atonement was accomplished in and by that awful cry.
The mystery of the relation of the glory of the Logos to the desolation of the Incarnate may not be pressed in way of objection to this account. Whatever on this score may be urged against the reality of the desolation of Jesus may with equal force be urged against the reality of His prayers, His human weakness, and His temptation. This is only to say that the mystery of the Incarnation does not press more heavily upon us at one point than at another, except in so far as our individual minds are inclined to limit divine power and love in one direction than another.
Other objections will, of course, be urged. It is difficult to imagine a general agreement upon so great a mystery: nor would I claim for my account either pre-eminence or adequacy. I venture to give it, lest any should think that the theory of the manner of the Incarnation for which I plead will not bear the test of application to this, the most crucial, passage of the Gospel story. In order to anticipate objections let me summarize the chief points in my interpretation of this passage.
Leaving on one side the relations of the eternal, unlimited Logos which have nothing to do with the Incarnation, we find Jesus the Lord depending upon manhood as the medium of His communion with the Father and with men. The manhood becomes inoperative, inactive, almost paralysed by the withdrawal of the Divine Vision. The medium of His self-expression seems to fail Him. Then by a supreme act of will Jesus sends up His cry of confidence, of penitence, of acceptance of penalty: and so crying completes the atonement for sin.
And the special cause of this special cry I have dared to look for, and have thought to find, though I may not press my view, in the drinking of the last dregs of the hateful cup of suffering for sin: in the need, that is, of atoning for the supreme, final, consummating sin--the Crucifixion itself. The act that consummated human sin was marked by a peculiar act of penitence.
Thus did God Himself, in our nature, taste for us and with us the bitterness of the suffering we have ourselves incurred; for us and with us He faced the awful power of sin, and the darkness in which death comes to the sinner; for us and in our name He passed triumphant before us into the Light beyond.
It may indeed seem merely rhetorical so to speak, but in fact Christianity is only a message of hope so long as this statement is literally true. If it had been impossible that God should so come in our flesh to hand-grips with death; if we must denude the Incarnate, stripping Him of His divine powers before we can conceive Him desolate upon the Cross; if manhood, mere manhood, can be thought of as capable of so glorious a victory, why was the Incarnation necessary? To bring God down from heaven because we were too weak to fight alone, and to restrict Him not only to human weapons but to human power when He is in our midst, is a process of thought against which reason rebels. The Victor of Calvary is God, though the weapons that he used were human. No power was brought into action which He could not use in and through His sinless humanity. The power with which He drove back the Prince of Darkness at the last was divine in essence, but always mediated by a human will and human faculties. Therefore may we too conquer and pass triumphant through the Valley of the Shadow of Death if and so long as we dwell in the Incarnate and He in us. This, in short, is the message of the Gospel.
It will be seen that in this interpretation of the Passion we have found room at once for the power and the weakness of Christ.
We have avoided the sharp contrast of His divine nature and His manhood, for we cannot conceive of His personal activity apart from His own eternal nature. That is to say, we do not regard the impassibility of the divine nature to imply the inactivity and quiescence of the divine Person in the Passion of the Incarnate. Rather we would think and speak of His divine self as conditioned by His manhood. The power of the Crucified is the power of the divine Son limited and modified by its expression through human faculties alone; and the weakness of the Crucified is the weakness of the divine Son limited by and in manhood's conditions. It is one and the same Christ who is powerful and weak, as His manhood demands. For He has become man in order that He may die, and by dying conquer.
So also we have avoided conceptions of the Incarnate as self-abandoned. We have provided for the Scriptural evidence as to His divine power that conquered sin and death; finding it present just in the degree in which His manhood was capable of assimilating and using it.
Truly this Man was in the fullest sense the Son of God; God the Son; the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity; but equally truly may we cry, "Behold the Man!"