« PreviousContinue »
In discussing this question, it is necessary, first of all, to disencumber it, or to separate it from several others which have been confounded with it.
1. The question before us, then, is not, whether the Divine Being is in such sense immutable, as to be incapable of anything like a succession of views and exercises. Many excellent Christians have believed that there is, and must be, in the mind of God, something like a succession of views. Not that anything ever presents itself to his infinite mind, which was before unknown or unanticipated. God foresees, because he has purposed, all future contingencies and events. But then a foreseen event is not yet an actual event, nor is foreknowledge, even to the mind of God, precisely the same as present knowledge. Ten thousand things which were but foreseen yesterday, have come into actual existence to-day; and in passing from the foreseen to the actual, there has been, in respect to each, a real change. All these changes God has seen. He must have seen them, if he sees things as they are. And the seeing of them, as they came along, must have constituted a continual succession of views.
And as God is immutably holy, this change of views must have been followed by a corresponding change of holy feelings or affections. As God does not view things to-day precisely as he did yesterday (and for the very good reason that things actually are not to-day as they were yesterday, and God must view them at all times as they are) so he does not feel towards them to-day just as he did yesterday. His feelings, both days, have been unchangeably and perfectly holy; but in order that they might be so, they must have corresponded perfectly, and that too at every instant, to the constantly changing condition of things.
So have thought and reasoned some of our soundest and ablest theologians, both in ancient and modern times. But in so doing they have not conceded, nor have they thought of conceding, that the Divine nature of Christ participated directly in his last sufferings. The two questions are as remote from each other as almost any that can be imagined.
2. The question before us is not, whether God is in such sense impassible, as to feel no emotions, under any circumstances, which are in themselves unpleasant, or even painful. The Scriptures represent God as not only the subject of emotions, but of emotions in themselves unpleasant, in view of evil. He hates sin with a perfect hatred. He has no pleasure in iniquity. All sin and suffering are, in themselves, undesirable to him, and of course unpleasant. Such is the uniform representation of Scripture, and it is obviously a just representation. If God
Christ's Divinity sustained his Humanity.
is infinitely and immutably benevolent, it must be so. But the fact of such emotions by no means proves, that God endured, or directly participated in, the sufferings of the cross. The two things have almost no similarity. God may feel emotions in themselves painful in view of existing evils, and not himself bear those evils. He may have sympathized with the suffering Redeemer on the cross, and not himself have endured those sufferings in his own Divine nature.1
3. Nor is this the question before us, whether Christ suffered as a mere man. It is sometimes said that those who confine the sufferings of our Lord to his human nature believe him to have suffered as a mere man. But this is not true. At least, it is not true of Trinitarians. Our Saviour did not suffer as a mere man, for the very good reason that he did not exist as a mere man. He was God and man united in one person; and it was this same mysterious, glorious personage who suffered. But did he suffer in his Divine nature? Was the God, as well as the man, crucified? Did the Divinity die?
4. Nor is this the question to be decided, whether the Divine nature of Christ was not indispensably concerned in the work of his atonement. We hold that it was indispensably concerned — so indispensably, that without it no atonement could possibly have been made.
I pretend not to say how many important purposes the union of the Divine with the human in the person of Christ may have answered, in reference to the atonement. But I can easily conceive of the two following: First, his Divinity was necessary to sustain his humanity to endure the requisite amount of suffering. It is a great mistake to suppose that our Saviour, in his last agonies, endured no more than a mere man would have done, in the same time. From the very nature of the case he must have suffered inconceivably more. And then it is perfectly evident, from our Saviour's appearance in the garden, from the shrinking of his human nature in view of the scenes before him, and from all the
It is just at this point that Chalmers and Harris have been misunderstood by some who have discussed this subject. All that Chalmers means to say (and the same is true of Harris in the passage which has been quoted from him) is, that the God of the Bible is not "a Being devoid of all emotion and of all tenderness," "but that in the bosom of the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity, there live and move and have their busy operation, all the resentments of perfect virtue against the sinner, and all the regards of perfect love and of infinite compassion towards the righteous who obey, and the penitent who turn to him." It is God the Father of whom Chalmers and Harris speak, and they represent him, and that truly, as loving the Son, and deeply sympathizing with him in his sufferings. But the question whether the sufferings of the Son were confined to his human nature, or reached also to the Divine, they do not touch. See Chalmers on Romans, Lect. 62. Harris's Great Teacher, p. 106, 108.
circumstances of the crucifixion, that his sufferings must have been, to the last degree, dreadful.
It has been said that our Lord did not meet his death with as much firmness as some of the martyrs have shown in like circumstances. But there is no comparison between the cases, and it is little better than impious to attempt a comparison. Our Saviour did not die as a mere martyr. The principal causes of his sufferings, their attendant circumstances, the amazing issues depending, the ends to be answered-all were different, and all in his case peculiar. I can conceive that our Saviour suffered more, in a few hours, than any martyr could have sufered in a thousand years. He suffered more. I have no doubt, than mere unassisted human nature could have sustained at all. Without the personal, all-powerful support of the Divine nature, the human must have been crushed in a moment.1
But there is a second reason why the Divine nature of Christ was indispensably connected with the human in his sufferings. It was to impart dignity and worth to those sufferings; to give the requisite value to the sacrifice. The atonement derives all its efficacy from the fact that it was made by the Eternal Son of God; by a person so ineffably dear to the Father, and sustaining to him such intimate relations. No being less than the Son of God could, in this view, have made expiation for sin. And yet it is not necessary to suppose that the Divinity in Christ directly suffered. The God sustained the man to endure all that eternal justice required. Our Saviour drank the bitter cup to the bottom, and wrung out the dregs. It was the Divinity of his person, too, which gave all its value and efficacy to the sacrifice. Without this, it
'I do not here refer to spiritual supports and consolations, such as have been enjoyed by martyrs and other Christians in their last extremities; for from the dy. ing Saviour these seem to have been wholly withdrawn. But I refer to that physi. cal, supernatural, omnipotent support, which the God, in personal union with the man, afforded to the immaculate sufferer, and without which, the burthen imposed on him could not have been borne, and the work of our salvation had not been achieved.
Speaking of Christ's sufferings, Pres. Edwards says: "How dreadful was the cup itself! How far beyond all that can be uttered or conceived! Many of the martyrs have endured extreme tortures; but there is reason to think that these all were a mere nothing compared with the last sufferings of Christ on the cross." Works, Vol. VIII, p. 167.
Prof. Stuart, after having expressed the idea that the sufferings of Christ were confined to his human nature, and after having recounted the painful circumstances of his dying scene, adds: "all combine to show that the suffering was such as the world had never witnessed, and that it is probably not in the power of language to express, nor of our minds to conceive, the extent of the agony which Jesus endured." Sermons on the Atonement, p. 12.
Christ's Human Nature only suffered.
could have had no more efficacy than the sacrifice of a bullock or a lamb.
I have endeavored, in these remarks, to separate the question before us from others with which it has been confounded. We now return to the question itself. Were the vicarious sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ confined to his human nature, or did they reach also to the Divine nature? Did the God, as well as the man, suffer? Did the Divinity die?
To prove that it did, a class of Scriptures have been adduced, in which it is said, without limitation or qualification, that Christ suffered; implying that he suffered in both natures, or in his whole person. "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh." "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust." 1 Pet. 3: 18. 4: 1. The argument from these and the like passages rests wholly on the assumption, that whatever is affirmed of Christ in the Scriptures, is affirmed of him in both natures, or in his whole person. But is this true? Can such an assumption be sustained? "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." Heb. 13: 8. "Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever." Rom. 9: 5. "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ: this is the true God and eternal life." 1 John 5: 20. In each of these passages, there is something affirmed, and that too without any limitation, of Christ. But is it affirmed of him in both natures, or only in one? Every reader sees that these passages have respect entirely to the Divine nature of Christ. They cannot be applied to his human nature.
increased in wisdom and "And Jesus began to be
Take, then, another class of texts: "Jesus stature, and in favor with God and with man.” about thirty years of age." "Jesus therefore, being weary, sat thus on the well." Luke 2: 52. 3: 23. John 4: 6. In these passages, certain things are, in the most unqualified manner, affirmed of Christ. But are they affirmed of him in both natures? Or are they not obviously and certainly limited to his human nature?
Some have made a distinction between the acts and the sufferings of Christ, and have said that though the former may be ascribed to him in one of his natures, the latter cannot be. His sufferings must belong to both. But when we look into the Scriptures, we perceive, at once, that this position is untenable. In one of the passages just quoted, our Saviour is represented as suffering from weariness. But was the almighty God weary? In other places, Christ is said to have suffered from hunger and thirst. Matt. 4: 2. John 19: 28. But are we to suppose that God ever suffers in this way? Our Saviour also suffered from tempta
1 Prof. Lewis, in Bib. Repository for July, 1846, p. 397.
tion, and from fear. He "suffered, being tempted. He "was heard in that he feared.” Heb. 2:18. 5:7. But "God cannot be tempted of evil." James 1:13. And of what has he to be afraid? Or how is it possible that he should suffer from such a cause?
Perhaps it will be said that the required limitations, in the passages here referred to, need not be expressed in words, flowing as they do from the very nature of the subject. To ascribe hunger, thirst, weariness, fear, and temptations to the Supreme Being, would be inconsistent with all his perfections. And is it not equally inconsistent with his perfections to ascribe to him the sufferings of the cross? We affirm that it is; and if the assertion requires proof, the proof shall be furnished in the proper place.
Other Scriptures are cited to prove that the Divine nature suffered on the cross, which are thought to be even more decisive than those which we have considered. 66 Ye killed the Prince of Life." Acts 3: 15. "They crucified the Lord of Glory." 1 Cor. 2: 8. "Feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Acts 20: 28. But to the sober interpreter of the Bible, these passages present not the slightest difficulty. We hold them to mean just what they say. That mysterious personage, who is properly styled "the Prince of Life" and "the Lord of Glory," the Jews did actually kill and crucify. But to this same personage, all Christians (unless it be Monophysites and Unitarians) believe that there belonged two distinct natures, a Divine and a human. In which of his natures, then, was "the Prince of Life” killed, and "the Lord of Glory" crucified? Was the Divinity killed? Was God crucified? The affirmative of these questions the passages before us go not a step towards establishing; and it is well for the credit of the Scriptures that they do not.
Of the other passage quoted, there are several readings; but we incline to the commonly received text. And as it stands in our Bibles, what is the language of it? What does it say? That a certain Divine person one who with the strictest propriety may be called God— hath purchased the church with his own blood. But this wonderful personage was human, as well as divine-man, as well as God: and did the blood which was shed, and with which the church was purchased, proceed from his Divinity, or his humanity? This question the passage itself does not answer; and hence it fails to prove that the Divine nature of Christ was a partaker, directly, of his sufferings.
To our interpretation of these passages it will be objected, that though
It is one thing to affirm that Christ, a Divine person, suffered, and quite another to affirm that he suffered in his Divine nature. To the former position, all orthodox Christians would assent; to the latter, very few.