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 XIV--The Christ in Death and Glory

It remains to ask, How could the Incarnate die? And what do we know of His life in glory?

I. We know that the death of the body, followed by corruption and dissolution, is the due punishment of sin; following upon the sacrifice of the gift of divine life to human pride and lust. We are led to think that the spiritualizing of the body might have been accomplished as by way of transfiguration through infusion of divine life and glory by the indwelling Word. [Matt. 17:1-8. 1 Cor. 15:51, 53. 2 Cor. 5:2, etc.] But being what we are, we look for the redemption of our nature to the purification of the penitent soul after death, and to the remaking of our body after its dissolution ; the temporary separation of soul and body being terminated in the resurrection from the state of the dead.

The Incarnate Lord conquered death by carrying manhood to perfection and glory without falling a victim to the forces that make for corruption. [Matt. 17:1-8. 1 Cor. 15:51, 53. 2 Cor. 5:2, etc.] Had His flesh seen corruption He would not have been the conqueror of death. [Acts. 2:31.] He went to death as man; for man's flesh must die to live. He could not exempt His own body from the law of death, inasmuch as that law had by His own divine will become universal. To have done so would have meant a refusal to be as we are. But He did not see corruption: He conquered death by presenting it with a perfect manhood on which it exercised its powers in vain.

Thus we conceive the dying Christ as truly human. He is the divine Son conditioned in manhood; the Lord of death and Hades. He has come to vanquish death and deliver us from its power. He is not self-abandoned of His might: for His might alone will win us the victory. But no might does He exercise that is not truly mediated by His sinless manhood.

The Incarnate bowed His head in death; His soul passed, conquering and to conquer, into the realms of the dead; [1 Peter 3:18, 19.] while His body lay triumphant in death, incorruptible, indissoluble, in the grave by Jerusalem. Manhood had conquered because, both in life and death, it had been made to mediate the power and consciousness of the Son of God.

We cannot advocate the view that ascribes to the dying Christ the plenitude of divine power in action. Such a view has no help to give us: rather it makes the death largely dramatic. What is the death of the Son of God, when His power in no way depends upon the manhood for its self-expression? But regard the Incarnate as self-conscious only in manhood, as expressing Himself only through manhood, and at once we understand how He died, and how the grave is redeemed, together with the life that lies beyond it.

For we see the Incarnate, for three days, appearing before God in His human soul alone: having no help in self-expression from His body. We see Him powerfully living in and redeeming that state of disorganized manhood which to us is so full of wonder and terror. His self-consciousness as God the Son Incarnate is mediated by a soul separated from its body, in order that all who shall come so to live may find redemption and power.

Meanwhile for those three days His body lay in the grave preserved from dissolution and any the least corruption. Separated from its soul it lay powerless, inactive, dead. But powerless as it was to mediate the self-expression of the Incarnate we may not think of it as separated from Him altogether. From Him it derived its power of incorruptibility: and in that divine power it was constituted the seed of immortality and life eternal to the whole human race.

Thus both soul and body remained in union with Him, though themselves separate the one from the other; but He had only one centre of self-consciousness and that within His soul.

II. There remains the still more mysterious problem of the relation of the Incarnate to the death of the soul.

The death of the soul is the penalty of consummated sin, which deprives a man of all vision of God. It is at once the ordained penalty and the natural consequence of the soul's own sin.

It will be evident, I think, that our Lord would not have conquered death in the soul if He had experienced it in all its fullness; just as He would not have vanquished death in the body had His flesh seen corruption.

Yet He experienced the attack of this spiritual death. It was that which made for Him the desolation on the Cross, paralysing as it were His heart and His mind. But through it all, as we have seen, His will endured; and His exceeding bitter cry proved Him to have passed through the conflict alive in soul: alive to God's Love and Holiness and Justice.

He experienced the full force of the attack, thus enduring the ordained penalty of our sin, but Death did not succeed in its efforts to slay Him. No! the conquest does not lie in experiencing the victory of the enemy! Jesus held fast to His Father with His will. He conquered death in the flesh by dying without seeing corruption. And He vanquished death in the soul by feeling the desolation without losing His hold upon His Father.

Consider, then, the power that was needed for so great a victory! Because our manhood was weak, the eternal Son took manhood into Himself that He might carry it safe through death. A self-abandoned Logos could not have done it: for without divide power He could not have effected what human power had utterly failed to accomplish. Nor could the unlimited Logos, in the fullness of His power, have so restrained Himself as to experience truly the utter desolation on the Cross: His cry would have been true in respect of but half His being, and that half the human nature that He had assumed.

But the Incarnate conditioned by manhood, exercising just so much divine power as His manhood could mediate, was at once weak enough to feel the attack personally in its reality, and strong enough to hold fast to God until the force of the attack was spent.

Thus the Incarnate could really die, and in dying really endure the utmost penalty and consequence of sin. So did God love the world that He sent His Son to do for us in our nature all that we could not do, and to endure all that we could not endure; in order that we through union with Him, the Son in manhood, might be set free from the consequences of our revolt against divine law, and confirmed in our obedience to our Father's will.

III. Our final task is to speak of the Incarnate in His glory.

Nor is it a difficult task to pass from such a conception of the dying Christ to a conception of Him in His resurrection life. For death was vanquished both in body and soul, the power of Satan was broken. Christ's manhood had passed naturally into the world of spirit, and it remained for Him to reap the fruits of His victory, and to appropriate the divine glory that was once more His own.

The Incarnate therefore received in His manhood that measure of glory that is fitted to His perfect, God-assumed humanity. His whole manhood was made subject to the laws of the spiritual world, being free from the laws that govern this world of matter; and in being so subjected to the Spirit it received, during the stages that followed the resurrection, all the divine power that a finite, created nature can assimilate and make its own. Of the measure of that glory and power we can form no conception. It is revealed to us that it surpasses any measure to which mere creatures can attain, and in metaphorical language the Incarnate in His manhood is seated with the Father on His throne. [Rev. 3:21.] Anything short of actual deification may be ascribed, then, to the manhood of Christ.

But the distinction between the divine and the human remains true for evermore. Revelation shews us the Incarnate in heaven in His manhood. For as man He is our High Priest, who ever lives in our nature to make intercession for us. It is as man that He shewed Himself to St. John: as man ruling His Church and judging sinners. [Rev. 1:12-18, etc.] And it is as the Lamb of God that He is pictured by the Spirit to the same Apostle: the Lamb, the Man Christ Jesus, who reigns with the Father, and with Him is the Light of the heavenly city for evermore. [Rev. 22:1, 3, etc.] And the promise to us is not that we shall sit with Him on His Father's throne, but on His own throne; [Rev. 3:21.] that is, we shall share His glory as Incarnate: His glory conditioned by the capacity of His exalted manhood.

Yes, glorified and empowered, that manhood remains the one medium of the self-consciousness of the Incarnate. Within those special relationships that make the state of the Incarnation He is for ever dependent on His glorious manhood as a medium for His self-expression and His power. And this state is that of His mystical body, His Church. As Incarnate He is her Head, the Firstborn of the Redeemed Creation, the High Priest and King of the new race of the sons of God.

As man, in manhood that is one in origin with ours, He beholds the Godhead face to face. All that can be known by one who is in some sense limited, the Incarnate knows and that immediately through His glorified human soul.

Thus all that may be known of God by us His creatures, each in his measure, is manifest in Him, mediated to us by His glorious manhood: and in that manhood, as in a mirror, the faithful saints behold the glory of God, His beauty, and His Holiness.

So also on the other side, the adoration and obedience which the Incarnate in His human nature offers to the Father is without parallel, and can be measured only by God Himself. No human mind can compass it. And this it is which is the consummation of the Sacrifice of Calvary. His obedience is the representation in terms of human life of that initial act by which He, the Eternal Son, imposed upon Himself the law of self-restraint at the moment of the Incarnation; and that representation was made supremely real in the moment that He shed His blood and poured out His life on Calvary.

And all that mankind may offer to God of adoration, penitence, and obedience is gathered up into that glorified manhood in which we have our new being ; and mingled with the adoration, penitence, and obedience of His own perfect heart, it is presented before the Father by the Incarnate, the divine Son in manhood.

There is no room for a Kenotic theory that views the Incarnate in heaven as possessing powers which on earth He had laid aside. Nor can we see our way to the opinion that the Incarnate in heaven, as on earth, possesses and exercises in the sphere of the Incarnation divine powers that even His glorified manhood cannot mediate.

The Christ of the Bible is one: one Person in two natures. His divine nature is inseparable from His person ; its activities are His personal activities, and cannot be isolated from Him. But His human nature is the medium at once of His self-knowledge as Incarnate Son and of the exercise of His divine powers. Thus the limits of the capacity of His manhood constitute the limits of His freedom in His Incarnate life. This is the law of His being as Incarnate: a law unchanging and unchangeable. He became man truly and really; and we may trace the growth and development of His self-consciousness as Incarnate step by step as we trace the growth and development of His manhood. The Incarnate Son in infancy; the Incarnate Son in boyhood; the Incarnate Son in manhood; the Incarnate Son in glory: One and the same Person throughout, possessing the powers of deity, but conditioned as to His consciousness of Himself and His power by the manhood He had assumed.

His ascension is, therefore, the enlargement of His human capacities to a degree that we cannot measure and it carries with it a corresponding increase of the content of His consciousness and of the exercise of His powers. There is no break in continuity, no change of state, no resumption of powers that had been laid aside. The great and fundamental law of the Incarnation is found to be valid at every stage: from the conception in the womb of Mary to the present day; the limits of the capacity of His manhood are at each moment the limits of His freedom in His incarnate life.

IV. "It became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." And again, "He learned obedience by the things that He suffered." [Heb. 2:10; 5:8.]

The Incarnate moved towards His perfection. Himself He is God: He has no need to advance in any sense towards perfection. But as God in manhood, as God self-conscious in manhood, He is not at birth perfect in the sense of complete attainment; but only in the popular sense of being free from sin and from the lack of anything necessary to Him at the stage of life in which He was. Perfect God in perfect babyhood is a term of less content than perfect God in perfect manhood. Each is perfect in one sense; but the former may in another sense advance in perfection. Hence progress of a kind was not only possible but necessary.

The Scriptures shew us the progress under two heads.

First, there is the divine self-realization as the penitent Head of the redeemed race: the Incarnate manifesting in progressive perfection His will to bear the sins of the world, in true obedience accepting the ever-increasing burden of sin's penalty. He was destined to be High Priest, eternal in the heavens, the basis of His priesthood being His obedience in suffering and death. So that the Incarnate actually did move to His perfect character and work as Priest along the path of pain and suffering.

Secondly, there is the divine self-realization in glorified manhood, which was also a matter of time and development. The Incarnate as boy was not able to be head of the Church: first it behoved Him to pass through Death and Ascension, which together form His glory. Hence the need of the discipline of pain, and of the natural growth and development of the Incarnate's manhood, with the corresponding increase of consciousness of the meaning of divine Sonship conditioned in manhood.

True growth towards perfection, in this sense, we need not fear to ascribe to the Incarnate. Let us remember that the unlimited Logos is the Logos as working outside the state of the Incarnation; and that, in order to become truly man, the eternal Son first condescended to be conscious of Himself as God in infancy! So thinking, we are carried along with the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in adoring contemplation of the gradual expansion of that consciousness: until He who once knew Himself as God in infancy came to know Himself as God in manhood ascended and glorified on the throne of the Father.

For this did He become man, raising manhood little by little to the level of the superhuman, the conditioned divine: and in His manhood mankind is being uplifted into the glory for which it was created.

How these things could be we may not know now. But we shall know all that human mind can grasp of this mystery of divine power and love in the day in which, with souls purified and bodies glorified, we stand before the Incarnate Son in manhood, looking into His face; and at the same time with the eye of our soul behold Him, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, in the free, unlimited, divine life of the Godhead. Then and then only shall we be able to understand how He who upholds all things by the word of His power is able at the same time to condition His self-consciousness and His activities within the limits of our manhood.

Meanwhile we believe and confess Him to be true Son of God in manhood's bonds. God is born of Mary! God reigns from the Tree! God is gone up with the sound of the Trump! Lord Jesus, Son of Mary, Thou art my Lord and my God. I have seen Thee: and I have seen the Father.

Project Canterbury