Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



The Historical Manifestation of the Redeemer.

We have dealt with the Person of our Lord from a philosophical point of view and we must now consider His actual life on earth and how He was and is manifested to mankind.

(a) The Incarnation.  

We have seen already that the Incarnation is not merely the origin of a new individual in the race, but the pre-existent Son of God coming into the human race from above. It is the conjoining of divine and human nature in a new order of being, a theanthropic being. It was a new order of humanity (Eph.4:24) which is the ground of the mediatorial work and of our regeneration and sanctification.

While the Incarnation is not specifically declared in the Old Testament it is hinted at and declared in veiled mystery. And though it is true that there is no one plain word in the Old Testament, no event in the New Testament is more expressly and variously announced as the accomplishment of the ancient oracles. (Cf.Isa.7:14; 9:6; 49:1).

The New Testament writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw clearly the prediction in the Old Testament of the coming Messiah and of His being born in a miraculous way of a virgin. The fact that the word for "virgin" in the Hebrew text is ambiguous and can mean a marriageable young woman is no argument against the doctrine.

Neither is the fact that the Jews did not expect the Messiah to be born in this way nor understood the verse so. It is far more to the point that the translators of the word rendered the word by a Greek word `parthenos` which can only mean "maiden" or "virgin".

They clearly sensed something deeper in the word used by Isaiah, and Matthew could have meant nothing else in his account and in his use of the quotation from Isaiah, than that our Lord was born of a virgin.

The Christian Church has always maintained the fact of the virgin birth. There is no textual objection to the historical record and no other theory has been produced which has been able to be substantiated.

Most of the denials that did come were based on philosophical objections to the fact that matter could be other than sinful and thus the Son of God could not be born into the world of a human mother. Those who deny the virgin birth involve themselves in greater problems than those who admit its miraculous nature.

It was the only possible way for sinless man to appear, and it was the only possible way in which God could have been born in the form of human flesh. Dr.Quick in his "Doctrines of the Creed" makes the following statements". Apart from the perpetual virginity of our Lady, the Virgin Birth loses its devotional significance; and it is precisely as the condition of the further doctrine of the perpetual virginity that the Virgin Birth itself is chiefly valued by Christian piety."

No statement could possibly be more wide of the mark. The whole purpose of the virgin birth is the necessity of the birth of the "sinless man", the "God man". The perpetual virginity and the question of Christian piety do not enter into the matter. In fact many who hold most strongly to the doctrine of the virgin birth do not believe in Mary's perpetual virginity.

The historical account is contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew seems clearly to have been written from Joseph's point of view, and Luke from Mary' s. It is worth noting also that the account in Luke plainly states that the Holy Ghost Himself was the one who formed the Divine-Human Person within the womb of the Virgin.

The passage runs, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God,"(Luke 1:35). There is almost no mention of the fact after the historical accounts, it is taken for granted. As Dr.Pope points out, the reproach during our Lord's lifetime was rolled away by the resurrection.

"It is remarkable that after this most full and explicit narrative (i.e. of the birth of Christ), the mystery of the miraculous conception by which God became incarnate is never once alluded to. But it is always presupposed and in such a variety of ways as to confirm the truth of the record which the subsequent silence of the New Testament is supposed to contradict.

In fact, the decorum of Scripture treats this supreme Miracle with a reticent dignity that gives a law to us: proofs are abundant of the death and of the resurrection and even of the Divinity of the Redeemer, but His generation in the flesh of man is left to the vindication of God.

Direct evidences we are forbidden to seek for; the indirect abound everywhere in the Gospels themselves. For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37): this one word should be a sufficient answer to all possible preliminary objections that sense or reason may urge. But Mary kept all those things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19): this sentence sheds light on much that follows.

The blessed Mother of our Lord was the human custodian of the mystery, nor did she depart until the light of Pentecost confirmed her witness; though a veil which we must not penetrate, falls upon her communications. It was part of our Lord`s loneliness to bear the reproach which sprang from the paradox of its human birth: His cross began from His conception, and His mother bore it with Him, the sword piercing her soul also from the beginning as well as at the end.

This reproach He has endured at the hands of both Gentiles and Jews to this day; but reverence forbids our further examination of it. Once more, the silence of our Lord and His disciples as to the fact may be explained on the general principle that the Divinity of the Redeemer was to be independently demonstrated, and that again would demonstrate His Divine birth.

Lastly, the supreme evidence of the Human Conception was reserved until it was perfected in the resurrection, with which birth from the dead St.Paul connects the ancient word: "Thou art it Son., this day have I begotten Thee". (Acts 13:33). The Person and the Work of the Incarnate Son were both consummated then: He was at length perfectly raised up and begotten in our nature.

Meanwhile, whatever His disciples knew, Jesus Himself always spoke and acted as One "Who made of a woman" (Gal.4:4) knew that God was His only Father: evidence of which abounds from His first testimony to Himself, 'Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?' down to the end, 'He that bath seen Me hath seen the Father". (Luke 2:49 & John 14:9), (Comp.of Christian Theol.Vol.2 p.147).

(b) The Two Estates.

The life of our Lord is usually divided into what are called two Estates or Conditions i.e. the Humiliation and the Exaltation. There has been difference of opinion as to exactly the point at which the Humiliation changed to the Exaltation.

Some place the change at the Descent into Hades, others at the cry "It is finished". The point is not important and we shall ourselves make the Humiliation terminate at the cry from the cross "It is finished".

i. The Humiliation.

There is a great deal of contrast in the conditions in which Christ is presented to us in the Scriptures and the problem before us is as to how these are to be reconciled. We have to consider what really was the exact nature of Christ's humiliation, and in what sense His Deity was curtailed, if at all, by His incarnation.

The Scripture passage on which all the theories are founded and which is the only passage which really deals with the matters is found in the Epistle to the Philippians chapter 2,verses.5-8. It reads as follows in the A.V. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

It is not an easy passage to understand and to expound, especially the words "thought it not robbery etc." and "made Himself of no reputation". Before we go on to discuss the passage further, it will help our understanding of it to give other renderings.

The R.V. is as follows — "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servants, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yes the death of the cross."

Weymouth (1903 edition) reads — "Let the same disposition be in you which was in Christ Jesus. Although from the beginning He had the nature of God He did not reckon His equality with God a treasure to be tightly grasped. Nay, He stripped Himself of His glory, and took on Him the nature of a bondservant by becoming a man like other men, and being recognized as truly human, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."

Finally, Phillips has "Let Christ Jesus be your example as to what your attitude should be. For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God's equal, but stripped Himself of all privileges by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying and the death He died was the death of a common criminal."

The passage reveals a twofold self-renunciation of our Lord. While He was still in the eternal gloxy? He renounced Himself to become man; and having become man, He renounced Himself to the death of the cross.

As Wiley points outs, each of these renunciations had three stages. While still subsisting in the form of Godsthere was

  1. Self-renunciation, He counted it not a prize or thing to be grasped at to be on an equality with God.
  2. Self-emptying, 'He emptied Himself".
  3. "He took the form of a servant,being made in the likeness of men:' Then, being in the likeness of men, there was again (1) Self-renunciation, "He humbled Himself" and this led to further steps as in the former case. (2) Subordination, "He became obedient even unto death" and (3) the perfecting of His humiliation as the sinners' Representative, "Yea,the death of the cross".

Two other words in this passage are also important: the word "form" in v.6 and the word "fashion" in v.8, "form" (morphe) means the inward substance and reality as well as the outward appearance. The word "fashion" (schema) refers to the outward appearance. The verse therefore implies that within and behind the form of man there still lay the reality and substance of God.

The crux of the problem lies in the meaning of the words "made Himself of no reputation" or "emptied Himself" as it is literally. The theological discussions concerning Christ went through three stages. In the controversies concerning the Trinity the point at issue was that of the relation of Christ to the Godhead.

In the earlier controversies concerning the Person of Christ the point at issue was that of the relation of the two natures to the One Person; in the later controversies, starting especially from the Reformation, the problem is the relation of the one nature to the other through the One Person.

These are the issues under consideration in this section. The views and interpretations have been many and varied and a very brief outline must suffice.
The first of the theories arising at the time of the Reformation was called by its Latin name "Comnunicatio Idionatua" which means tho communication or interplay of the attributes. This signifies the" communication of the attributes of the two natures of Christ to the one Person and through that Person from one nature to another".

The powers of the divine nature could be communicated to the human but as the human nature had nothing to add to the divine, this was not reciprocal. The result in effect was such a permeation of the human nature by the divine that the theory emphasized the divine almost to the point of ignoring the human.

Following on this came what were called the Depotentiation Theories, "Depotentiation" meaning the laying aside of power! There were two schools of thought both holding that our Lord possessed the attributes of Divinity e.g. omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience from the time of His conception, but interpreting His humiliation in different ways.

  1. The Kenotists (derived from the Greek word "kenoo" or "I empty", being the word used in the Philippian passage). These distinguished between the possession and the use of the attributes and stated that Christ emptied Himself of their use during His humiliation.
  2. The Kryptists (from the Greek word "kruptos", "hidden or secret"). These hold that Christ possessed the divine attributes during the humiliation but they were hidden. It can be seen that the difference between these two schools was purely technical.

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