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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


The Person of Jesus Christ

J. M. Pendleton

From Christian Doctrines: A Compendium of Theology, 1878

If there is a promised Saviour, his person claims attention. “Who is he?” is a question of the greatest importance. Manifestly, salvation depends on what he is, as well as on what he does, for what he is able to do depends on what he is.


We are accustomed to say that Christ is God, and that Christ is man, and what we mean is true, but neither statement is perfectly accurate. The second person of the Godhead, apart from his assumption of human nature, is not the Christ; nor is the Son of man, apart from his union with the divine nature, the Christ. The only-begotten Son of God dwelt in the bosom of the Father from eternity, but he was not the Christ till by his incarnation he became the Son of man. A union of divinity and humanity was essential to the constitution of the person of the Christ. It follows, therefore, that the Christ is God-man. Divinity and humanity are united in him, but they are not blended.


Humanity is not deified, and divinity is not humanized. This is plainly impossible. Divinity cannot take into its essence anything finite, and the human is finite. Humanity cannot be so absorbed in Deity as to become part of it. The two natures must ever remain distinct, while the person of Christ formed by their union will ever be one and indivisible. That he has two natures in one person is true, and must ever be true, of the Messiah.


The union of the two natures is confessedly mysterious, but the doctrine is not on this account to be rejected. Its rejection for this reason would be strangely inconsistent in men who cannot understand the union of matter and spirit in their own persons. So far as we know, there are no two things more diverse than matter and spirit. The point of contact between the two is not only invisible, but the manner of contact defies comprehension. The fact however, of the union between soul and body in the person of every man, is unquestionable. To doubt it would awaken a suspicion of lunacy.


While, then, we can neither deny nor comprehend the complexity of men's persons, we must accept as true what the Scriptures teach concerning the person of Christ. Divine and human elements belong to it. The explanation of this fact is given when we are told that the Word, who in the beginning "was with God," and who "was God," "was made flesh and dwelt among" men. There was on his part a voluntary incarnation, for the incarnation pertained to the second person of the Godhead, and not to the first or the third.


It is not, therefore, strictly proper to say, without qualification, that the divine nature became incarnate, for this would imply the incarnation of all the persons of the Godhead. It is better to say that the divine nature in the second person of the Trinity—or, better still, that the second person himself—became incarnate. The act of incarnation was his, and the result of the act was the manifestation of God in the flesh. I do not mean by this language that the incarnation was not approved by the Father and the Holy Spirit—far from it—but that it was the personal act of the only-begotten Son of God. He it was who "though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor" (II Cor. 8:9), and "made himself of no reputation."(Phil. 2:7)


There have been various false views of the humanity of Christ. To only two of these views will I refer. It was supposed by some at an early day, perhaps in the latter part of the apostolic age, that Christ was not in reality a man, but that he only assumed the appearance of a man. Whether this opinion grew out of the difficulty of believing that a Divine Being assumed human nature, or out of an unwillingness to believe that Jesus really suffered and died, it is useless to inquire. It seems almost certain that John intended to meet and refute this heresy when he wrote as follows: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life." (I John 1:1)


There seems to be a striking gradation in the proofs given of the possession of a human body. First, we have hearing, then seeing as more convincing than hearing. Next, looking upon, intently contemplating, as more satisfactory than seeing, and lastly, handling, as rendering the proof complete. Jesus was really a man. He called himself a man when he said to the Jews, "But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth which I have heard of God." (John 8:40) There is additional proof of his humanity in these words: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same." (Heb. 2:14) We could not be taught more clearly than in this verse that the Son of God assumed the nature of those he came to redeem. He partook of their "flesh and blood."


The other false view, which also deserves most decided condemnation, is that Christ had no human soul. It is supposed by the advocates of this theory that the Word in becoming flesh took a human body only into union with himself. The necessity of a human soul is denied, and is thought to be superseded by what is called a "divine soul." Hence, in passages in which the soul of Jesus is referred to, it is said that his "divine soul" is meant. It would perhaps be difficult for them to say just what they mean by a "divine soul." Whether they make a distinction between this "divine soul" and Christ's proper divinity, I will not undertake to say. If they do, they seem to attribute to the person of Christ an element not strictly divine or human. If they do not, it is needless to use the words at all, for the term "divinity" or the phrase "divine nature" would answer every purpose. I imagine that some obscurity rests on the views of those who refer to Christ's "divine soul," and they would perhaps find it impossible to dispel the obscurity. It is surely not our business to attempt it.


To prove that Jesus had a human soul it is only necessary to prove him a man. This surely is not difficult, for he was pleased to call himself "Son of man." If the phrase "Son of God" indicates that Jesus was divine, the phrase "Son of man" indicates that he was human. Isaiah prophesied of him as "a man of sorrows," and God by the mouth of Zechariah said, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts." (Zech. 13:7) I have shown already, by reference to John 8:40, that Jesus called himself a man. Paul says, "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven." (I Cor. 15:47) "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (I Tim. 2:5) Language cannot more plainly declare that Christ is a man.


But the advocates of the theory I am opposing will admit this. They say without hesitation that Christ is a man. They suppose that his assumption of a human body made him a man. This I deny, and to present the matter in a clear light it is proper to ascertain what man is, what the term "man" means. We cannot do better than to go back to the first use of the word: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him." (Gen. 1:26, 27) This language cannot refer to a bodily image, for God is a Spirit. The reference must be to man's rational, spiritual nature.


The formation of man's body is described as follows: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground." Gen. 2:7. In view of these passages of the divine word it is evident that spirit and matter both enter into the constitution of the person of man. The union of the two elements is so essential, that without it there cannot be a man. That is, a rational spirit or soul is not of itself a man, and no form of matter is of itself a man. In proof of this I need only say that when a man is dying we call him a man till he is dead—not after he is dead. We then speak of the disembodied spirit, but we do not apply to it the term "man." We talk about the corpse, but we call it "body," not "man.” Why these forms of expression? They grow out of the universal belief that the union of soul and body is so essential to a man, that when it is dissolved the term "man" cannot be properly applied to either of the severed parts.


Now, the bearing of all this on the point under consideration is obvious. For, if Jesus Christ did not possess a soul as well as a body, he was not a man. The union of a body with his divine nature would not make him a man. In such a union the more important element of humanity would be absent, for there would be no human soul. There must be the union of a human body and a human soul to constitute Jesus a man, and then there must be the union of his humanity with his divinity to constitute him the Christ. Nor are we for a moment to suppose that he has two personalities. He has two natures, but one person.


The view now presented supplies the only basis for a rational interpretation of certain passages of Scripture. For example, it is said, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52) It is evident that increase of wisdom referred to his soul, while increase of stature had reference to his body. The term "wisdom" cannot be applied to the material part of man. Shall I ask whether the divine nature in Christ was capable of degrees in wisdom? He who answers affirmatively must have low views of divinity, but those whose theory I deny must answer affirmatively or not at all. They are shut up to affirmation or silence, and if they preserve silence, it is because it is too startling to a firm.


In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." (Matt. 27:38) No words could more fully express the fact that the emotional nature of Jesus was excited to the highest degree of intensity. It was his soul that was sorrowful, and it was his human soul, because he was a man. That the soul of Christ, like the souls of men was capable of separation from his body, appears from these words: "He hath poured out his soul unto death." (Isa. 53:12) Should it he said that "soul" here means life, the import of the passage would not be materially changed. For when the life is poured forth death occurs, because the soul leaves the body. The soul of Jesus left his body at death, as does the soul of every man in the dying hour; and therefore the only reasonable view of the matter is that the soul of Jesus was a human soul.


The Deity of Christ having been proved in another place, his humanity is, if I mistake not, demonstrated in this chapter. Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of Mary. The statement of this fact suggests that, by virtue of the constitution of his person, he possesses all needful mediatorial qualifications.


"Great is the mystery of godliness;" and to many it seems a mystery that we can say of Christ's one person what is true, but which is not true of both of his natures. His one person is more frequently referred to than his two natures. Whatever is true of his person is true of one of his natures. If this were not so, the element of truth would be wanting entirely.


We learn from the Scriptures that Christ hungered, thirsted, slept, and wept. This is true of his person, and true of his human nature. He hungered as a man, thirsted as a man, slept as a man, and wept as a man. But these things cannot be affirmed of his divine nature. We dare not say that he hungered, thirsted, slept, and wept as God. This would not be true. On the other hand, it is true of the person of Christ and true of his divine nature that he withered the fruitless fig tree, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cast out demons, and raised Lazarus from the dead. These things, however, if affirmed of his human nature, would not be true. Does anyone question the accuracy of these statements?


To make the matter plainer, if possible, I may say that the same principle is illustrated in men every day. Should it be said of a man, that he is tall, or corpulent, or sick, everyone would know that the body was meant. The declaration would be accepted as true of the man in his physical nature, but not in his mental nature. Should it be said of a man, that he is wise or ignorant, sad or joyful, the truth of the statement would be granted in its relation to man's mental constitution, but its truth would be denied in its application to the body, because the body is not wise, ignorant, sad, or joyful. It may be said of every man that he is mortal, and also that he is immortal. Two expressions cannot be more contradictory than these, but they are both true. How? Both true in relation to man—the one in relation to his body, the other in relation to his soul.


Thus it is concerning Christ. All that the Scriptures say of him is true as to his person, but it does not follow that it is true of both his natures. Nor should we anxiously concern ourselves about the matter. It is safe for us to believe that what the Scriptures say of Christ as to his person is true, even though we may be utterly unable in many things to discriminate between the emotions and operations of his divinity and his humanity.


We read, for example, as follows: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." (Isa. 9:6) In pondering these sublime words we know that the being described is the God-man, the Christ, and we know from other scriptures that Christ was born, that he died, that he was buried, that he rose from the dead, that he ascended to heaven, and that he is making intercession for us at the right hand of God. Infinite value must attach to all the acts and sufferings of such a being in the room of guilty men.

 

I close by quoting the following from a very able theologian now living, and who, I trust, will live for many years to come:


"Thus have we seen, in the review of the Scripture teachings as to the doctrine of the suffering Christ, that in the possession of an unchanged and proper divine nature, and a complete human nature, Christ suffered on our behalf. The Sufferer was God and was man. Yet it was not God that suffered, but he that is God, being also man, suffered in his human nature. As the same person, however, was united with both natures, and as that person was the Son of God, so we may say that the Son of God suffered.


“This, however, is the suffering of a divine person, not of the divine nature, and of that person, otherwise incapable of suffering, through the assumption of human nature. If, therefore, called upon to give expression to the Scripture statement upon this whole subject, we may express it thus: There is one God in three persons, distinct in personality, but undividedly and unchangeably the same in essence and nature.


“We may speak of a divine person, but not of a divine nature; we must say the divine nature. A divine person may therefore become incarnate, and yet the incarnation be not of the whole Godhead, for the persons are distinct; but the divine nature cannot, because, as common to all, its incarnation would be that of the whole Godhead.


“It was a person of this Godhead, the Son, the Word, who so united to himself human nature as to become in that nature a man In this union he assumed all that constitutes a man. The fact that he had no other personality than such as had always subsisted in the divine nature does not make him an impersonal man. It only forbids the idea of an additional personality exclusively in the human nature. This human nature was assumed, because necessary to the work of salvation, it being impossible that a being only divine could undergo the experience necessary to redeem man. In its assumption the divine nature of Christ was wholly unchanged, and the human nature still remained purely human. The nature of personality, however, allows a most vital union of the two natures in his own person.


“Thus uniting in himself God and man, Christ suffered. There was here, therefore, no participation of the divine nature in the suffering. Such participation would involve actual suffering of that nature. But there was this connection of God, even of the undivided divine essence, that he who thus suffered subsists eternally and essentially in that essence, and is God Yet, intimate as is the connection of the two natures, they are not merged in each other, nor does either of them lose its separate conscious existence or the possession of those peculiarities which make the one divine and the other human.


“It is one person, truly God and truly man—as much God as though not man, as much man as though not God. The human can add nothing to the divine, except that it gives to the person that is divine the means of suffering for, and sympathizing with, us. The divine adds to the human only that it gives to him that is thus man that dignity and glory and power which enables him to perform the work of salvation, and to give to that work inestimable value.” Baptist Quarterly, vol. iv. pp. 409-411.