Skip to main content

The Person of Christ by R.A. Finlayson

By April 10, 2011April 12th, 2016Christology

We may well face at the outset the question so often asked: Is there any need for a presentation of the Person of Christ in theological terms?

I can recall some years ago where a particularly close study had been given to a theological analysis of the Person of Christ at a meeting of the Tyndale Scottish Fellowship, a minister of the Church of Scotland with a Pentecostal background, a warm-hearted man, whose evangelical fervour was very pronounced, said to me with a very pained expression on his face: ‘Yes, yes, but surely it is not necessary to present our Saviour in that way; all that is necessary surely is to accept Him as the Son of God and our Saviour, and not confuse His people with an analysis that must seem to them so irrelevant.

There must be many today in all the churches who adopt this attitude with great fervour and sincerity. Yet I think they are wrong and doing a disservice to the One whose Person they would fain leave unexplained and uninterpreted.

It raises really the question of the place of knowledge in the activity of faith. In this sphere Anselm’s classical formula ‘Credo ut intelligam’ still holds. Faith seeks knowledge, and faith is the pathway to knowledge. In no realm is this more impressively true than in the doctrine of the Person of Christ, the personal object of faith. Faith has received from the lips of the Master Himself the question: ‘What think ye of Christ, whose Son is He?’ In no age of its history was the church of Christ unresponsive to this challenge, and its Creeds and Confessions bear ample testimony to its attempts to understand the Christ of Faith.

It is true that when the grasp of the theology slackened and its domain was restricted to the inner consciousness of the soul, interest in this doctrine, as in many other doctrines, declined, and both Schleiermacher and Ritschl discouraged further study. The relation of Christ to God Ritschl forbids us to enquire into, as the problem, he says, is insoluble, the solutions attempted are valueless, and Christ is offered to faith, not to our understanding.

But we cannot leave it at that. Neither mind nor heart will consent to an arrest of our endeavour to attain to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. Rather would we emulate the devotion of Melanchthon who in his early days could say: ‘To know Christ is to know His benefits, not as they (the Schoolmen )teach, to contemplate His Natures and the modes of His Incarnation.’ A worthy enterprise, surely, and yet on his death-bed, on the day before his departure, when he began to enumerate the felicities into which he was about to enter, he said of his soul: ‘Thou shalt learn how the two natures are united in Christ.’ This had been to him a theme of profound contemplation, but the full solution eluded his comprehension, and his understanding returned from the attempt not fully satisfied. But in the presence of God he would know. To refuse to carry the doctrine of the Person of Christ as far as thought can reach, or fully attain, is to miss the experience of wonder, love and praise in the presence of the Son of God who became our Kinsman-Redeemer.

It is, therefore, as imperative today as ever to restate the Faith of the Church as it centres on the Person of Jesus Christ her Lord, and the question that still confronts us is the question of the ages: what are we to think of the Person of Christ in terms of deity or humanity or both?

Theology speaks of the Theanthropic Person in an attempt to indicate that in the complex Person of Jesus Christ there were two natures, a human and a divine. How the two natures were related to each other, and to the Person has been the pre-occupation of theology from the earliest ages. Are we to approach the Person of Christ from His manhood or from His Godhead? Is it the manhood receiving into itself the Godhead? Or the Godhead receiving into itself the manhood?

On the main proposition that our Lord was both human and divine, the Church Catholic is agreed. Perfect man, True God, one Christ are in themselves simple terms. It is in their relation to one another that all the insoluble problems arise, and it is on a discussion of this, that we now embark.

Perfect Man

The complete and perfect manhood we must hold fast. But to speak of Christ as superman, or superstar or have Him referred to in patronising terms as a religious genius, a man with an abnormal consciousness of the divine, as if He were a human prodigy, the finished product of the evolutionary process, is to betray our spiritual ignorance and to demonstrate our disloyalty to our Lord.

To declare that Christ was humanity as represented by Adam be. fore the Fall is equally gratuitous and irrelevant, since we cannot tell what Adam was like before the catastrophe of moral and spiritual Fall, and can establish no contact with him in that condition.

We repeat that Christ was a perfectly normal man in the humanity that He inherited from fallen Adam, but unblemished by Adam’s sin, which is the supreme miracle in the history of mankind. The absence of sin is not a deprivation, but rather a guarantee of His true humanity. Sin was an intrusion from without that made man less than man, with a heart of stone rather than a heart of flesh.

Christ’s development was natural, it was balanced, including the whole of His nature, mental and physical, spiritual and social. ‘He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man’ (Luke 2:52). He learned obedience by the things He suffered and was made perfect in His human sympathies through suffering. And so He grew into manhood, His intellect unclouded, His morality untainted, His will obedient.

This is to say that Christ knew human life fully in His personal experience. There are no human traits lacking in the picture that is drawn of Him in the Gospels. He had the mind of a man, the heart of a man, the spirit of a man. Physically not distinguishable from other men, mentally gaining knowledge as other men gain it, morally subject to temptation, spiritually in need of communion with a Heavenly Father. At the Baptism in the Jordan the opened heavens proclaimed the Father’s satisfaction with the thirty silent years remote from the scrutiny of man: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17).

Sacred art – so called – has made an attempt to depict Jesus Christ as different, with a halo of light around His brow, and an other-worldly look on His countenance. It is significant that the only material representation of Himself that Christ left with us is broken bread and outpoured wine, from which it is impossible to construct any portrait of Him. The truth would seem to be that He willed to be seen only in the character and life of those who bore His name, or as the Authorised Version quaintly puts it ‘admired in all them that believe’.

True God

Alongside His perfect human consciousness there was another consciousness that was more than human. It staggers us to read that early in His ministry among men He made the confession of Himself as ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16. 16) to be the foundation on which He was to build His Church. That would suggest that it was the foundation of His entire religion. Existing side by side with the qualities of His human virtue that made Him the meekest and humblest of men, there is the claim that He is the way to the Father, that no man knoweth the Father but by Him, that He that hath seen Him hath seen the Father, that He and the Father are one. During His trial before the highest Jewish court – the Sanhedrin – Jesus, a prisoner in bonds, proclaimed Himself as the Son of God, knowing full well that this would lead to His death. And on this charge He was tried, and He was condemned on this legal basis: ‘We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God’ (John 19:7). A word of explanation from Him would have rebutted the charge, and surely He could not justly have withheld it. Instead He told His judges that one day their positions would be reversed, and they would appear at His judgement seat.

Not only was this His public witness, but it was His personal comfort in His sufferings. From the inner sanctuary of His soul there came the confident prayer: ‘And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with the glory I had with Thee before the world was’ (John 17:5).

As we asserted that on a reading of the record of His life Christ was not a superman, a religious genius, a prodigy among men, so now we assert that He was not a demi-God, one who almost reached the divine in character and vision. He was indeed God – God manifested in the flesh.

As we examine His life, so radiant with grace and glory, we enquire as to its beginning, and its ending, its origin and its destination.

A phenomenon so exceptional must surely have had an origin equally exceptional. A special law must have presided over His birth. There the delicately worded record presents us with a thinly veiled miracle, as if to suggest that on this occasion nature stepped aside to let God pass. And indeed Christ always referred to Himself, not as being born, but as being sent, as coming into the world.

The angelic enunciation to Mary said that He would be called the Son of God, and then the record tells us that she brought forth her first born son, so He was first the Son of God, and then the Son of Mary.

So also at the end. At the close of His life He met death in its most painful physical form, and yet it did not seem to have been a case of life ebbing out, as His physical nature became exhausted. Rather did He cry with a loud voice, ‘It is finished’, and gave up His spirit.

Without doubt He died death outright and His lifeless body was laid in Joseph’s tomb. But the grave was broken open from within and He appeared to Mary as recognisably the same Jesus ‘declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4).

And as He visibly left this world and the earthly ties were dissolving, He ascended into another realm of existence with which He now had stronger ties, and then a cloud – what may well have been the Shekinah cloud, the vesture of deity that proclaimed the inscrutability of God – took Him out of the sight of the onlookers.

We can confidently assert that Jesus Christ, as a mere man and no more, is a figure unknown to history, and all attempts to garb Him merely in the garments of earthly wisdom and moral goodness, and no more, is but to re-enact the mock coronation transacted in Pilate’s Judgement Hall: ‘Behold the Man.’

One Christ

This is the Theanthropic Person of the Son of God. Let us understand what is meant by Person, and how it is distinguished from the term Nature. Nature is regarded as the totality of qualities which make the world what it is – what makes, say, a man human. Person is regarded as the complete substance endowed with mind, heart and will in active operation, so that it is a co-ordinated and responsible agent answerable for its actions. The person, it should be noted, harmonises opposites, brings into harness and full co-operation what otherwise might be regarded as irreconcilables. For example, things or qualities which cannot be harmonised by logic, can be perfectly harmonised in a person A person thus forms a unity in which truths cohere in operation which would not harmonise or cooperate apart.

When we say that Christ, divine and human, is a Person, we mean just that. In His Person there dwelt what would seem to us incompatibles, God and man, though in actual fact this is not so. If man is made in the image of God, there can be no outrage on the nature of God or of man that they should be found in one Person.

And Christ was one Person. There is no evidence in His Consciousness of a dual personality, far less, a split personality, no ‘I’ and ‘thou’ in His inner life.

But we have in the Person, Christ, more, much more, than the mere coexistence of two natures, or an inter-penetration. We have operating within this one Person all that is distinctive of man and all that is distinctive of God. The one or the other became uppermost as the occasion demanded. While He acted often as man, He acted on occasions as only God could act. At times He approached a situation with what seemed ordinary human intelligence; at other times He penetrated into the unseen as only the Eternal Mind could do. Though on some occasions He spoke with true human consciousness, at other times He spoke with a divine consciousness, as when He declared, ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30). Though at times He expressed what was purely a human desire or will, as when He said at Jacob’s well, ‘Give me to drink’ (John 4:7), He followed this by expressing what was a divine will: ‘If thou knewest the gift of God, thou wouldest have asked of Him and He would have given thee living water.’ Yet at Jacob’s well we behold, not a complicated personality, unique and apart, but what the woman recognised Him to be, a wayfaring Jew, and yet one who claims to be the possessor and communicator of eternal life.

Now the question that has troubled the mind of the Church from ancient times was this: if He retained all His divine attributes in active operation, was this consistent with the experience of a human life?

The answers generally given can be divided, historically, into two, and they have been labelled the Krypsis (from the Greek verb, to hide), and the Kenosis (from the Greek verb, to empty) respectively, and neither is satisfactory

The Krypsis theory [ While the Kenotic theory is still generally regarded as a valid expression of incarnational theology, ‘Krypsis’ is not a current theological world. Finlayson seems tp be describing a form of Docetism (from the Greek dokein, to seem), which holds that Christ cannot be truly God and truly man simultaneously. This finds expression in current incarnational theologies which seek to drive a wedge between the ‘Jesus of history’ and the ‘Christ of faith’.] holds that there was no relinquishment of any of the divine attributes involved in the Incarnation, but that there was a concealment or veiling of the divine glory under the vesture of human flesh. While this might seem to do justice to the divine aspect of His nature, where does it leave the humanity? Were the human attributes of Christ merely the vehicles through which His divine attributes were revealed and exercised? Had He no human consciousness, no human will, no human urges? Were that so, He was less than man. And this finds no support from the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. It finds no support from the Apostolic interpretation of His Person, as one who was in all things like unto His brethren, sin alone excepted. They represent Him as of the seed of Abraham, not of the seed of unfallen Adam, and therefore inheriting all the faculties and limitations of our manhood: ‘made in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Romans 8:3).

The other main view, as I said, is the Menotic theory. The name, if not the theory, is based on Philippians 2:7 where the verb is rendered by the Authorised Version as ‘He made Himself of no reputation’. In the Revised Version and many other versions it is translated as ‘He emptied Himself, though in the New English Bible as ‘made Himself nothing’. This verb ‘to empty’ is used only three times by Paul and in every case figuratively. In Romans 4: 14 faith is made void; in 1 Corinthians 1:17 ‘the cross made of none effect’, and in 2 Corinthians 9:3 ‘boasting should be in vain’.

The translation of Philippians 2:6 which says ‘He did not count existence in a manner equal to God as a prize to be grasped’ highlights the comparison intended. ‘Existence in a manner equal to God’ is not the same as ‘being in the form of God’. It indicates not the nature or essence but rather the mode of existence, which may be changed, while the essential nature is immutable. While ‘being in the form of God’ meant that existence in a manner equal to God was eternally His to enjoy, it did not mean that He could not choose to relinquish that dignity in order to become the Servant of God and the Saviour of man. He came down to the level of those He came to save. He set aside one form of manifestation in which all the facts of equality with God were expressed, for another form of manifestation in which the fact of equality with God must be hidden by the submission of the human to the divine. The ’emptying’ involved was that He now relinquished the heavenly and eternal form of manifestation, for now it was God manifest in the flesh. ‘In all parts human, in all essentials divine.

Those who fastened on the idea of self-emptying had to answer the questions: ‘What did the Son of God empty Himself of! What did He renounce in becoming man?’ Three distinct types of the Kenotic theory have emerged in more recent times.

  1. That He emptied Himself by laying aside some of His divine attributes, such as omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence.
  2. That the emptying involved parting with, or giving up, all a tributes, metaphysical and ethical, of the Godhead, in order to b come man in the most complete sense of the word.
  3. That it involved abandoning the divine mode of existence order to assume the human.

All these theories have had to maintain that Jesus on earth was something less than God; either His deity was laid aside, or distinctly modified. This resulted in holding that the earthly life of Jesus was an entirely human phenomenon, and that He lived on the purely human level. Strangely enough it enabled them also to retain faith in His essential deity. How there can be deity that is less than divine is hard to understand, since deity is an absolute term, not subject to degrees.

The Kenotic Theory appeared as a hypothesis to meet a main difficulty – that of relating to the knowledge and infallibility of Jesus.

Dr. Liddon had pointed out that it is impossible to deny our Lord infallibility in historical and literary matters, and yet maintain that He was infallible spiritually and morally. Liddon maintained that ‘the Gospel history implies that the knowledge infused into the human soul Jesus was practically equivalent to omniscience’. He represented or Lord as being all His life in the habitual exercise of a double consciousness, acting and speaking now as God, and now as man.

Dr. Westcott repudiates this: ‘It is unscriptural,’ he says, ‘to regard the Lord during His historical life as acting now by His human, and now by His divine nature only.’ The two natures he adds ‘were inseparably contained in the unity of His Person. In all things He acted personally’ .

Bishop Gore contended that this was not faithful to the language the New Testament. He claimed that ‘within the sphere and period of His incarnate, mortal life, He did habitually – doubtless,’ he adds, ‘by voluntary action of His own self-limitations and self-restraining love – cease from the exercise of these functions and powers, including the divine omniscience, which would have been incompatible with a true human experience’.

We would reply that if the Lord had surrendered whatever was inconsistent with a human life, then it was not an incarnation, but as D. M. Baillie puts it, a metamorphosis such as pagan mythology abounds in.

We feel that this Kenotic theory is a tremendous structure to build, upon a passage of Scripture which properly understood cannot bear it. [ It is difficult to assess the status of modern kenoticism; it is true that modern Christologies generally incorporate more or less of these views. Inevitably kenoticism, as a theory designed to explain the incarnation, leads to metaphysical speculation; and as Prof Finlayson says, the passage (Philippians 2) so interpreted cannot sustain the theory.]

That the humiliation of Christ was real and did involve abnegation, that ‘though He was rich yet for your sakes He became poor’ (2 Corinthians 8:9), there can be no denial. That it involved divesting Himself of the attributes of deity is historically untrue, and theologically impossible to hold consistently with His place at the head of the redemptive process. The Church’s theology from Chalcedon onwards has taught an abnegation, a renunciation, on the part of the Son of God as involved in the Incarnation. That it was a voluntary abnegation was recognised: it was the exercise of His free choice, an act of the divine willingness to become a creature.

But if the renunciation is carried so far as to involve parting with His divine self-consciousness and will, it is not clear what is left in the way of identity or continuity at all. ‘He emptied Himself of all but love’ may be accepted as poetic licence, but in reality it is a self-contradiction. If He retained the divine love – He retained divine holiness, divine justice, divine power. No attribute of God can be isolated. God – almighty, eternal, infinite – is in every one of His attributes, so that if His love is there God is there. While God is more than the sum of all His attributes, He is present in His infinitude in every attribute.

Of course, it could more forcibly be argued that the same attributes only took on a new form when the Son, who was in the morphe of God, took the morphe of the servant. But was it a form consonant with His nature and status as Son of God and His identity as divine?

For example, did His divine knowledge give place to human ignorance? Or more incredible still, could there be in the same consciousness both knowledge and ignorance of the same thing?

Or did His divine omnipotence give place to human impotence, or was it that the exercise of His divine power was restricted to certain directions and held in abeyance in others?

But if He placed a voluntary restraint upon His divine powers, if He willingly let go His hold of these prerogatives, how was He able at will to manifest a power over nature and disease that was truly supematural?

If His professed lack of information on even one point – as is reported of Him in Matthew 24:36 – how was He able to speak with confidence and authority on many things outwith the reach of the human mind?

I would suggest that help towards a solution may be found in a consideration of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the earthly life of the Lord Jesus.

The following passages of Scripture are relevant to our study.

  1. The prophetic words of Isaiah 61.1 which Christ quoted as applying to Himself: ‘The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the meek.’ This refers to His ministry in general.
  2. In reference to His birth there are the words of the angel to Mary as recorded in Luke 1:35: ‘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.’
  3. The words of Peter in Acts 10:38: ‘How that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good.’
  4. The words of the writer to the Hebrews: ‘Who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God’ (9: 14), in referring to His self-giving in death.
  5. Paul, referring to His resurrection, says in Romans 1:4 that Jesus Christ was ‘declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead’.

Thus we find that the Spirit not only prepared the way as the Spirit of revelation for the full unveiling of the divine redemption, but that He took an active part in preparing the Person of the Redeemer for the execution of His office, and at the last strengthened Him for His final Offering. The ministry thus brings us deep into both Christology and Sotcriology.

Let us look at it again:

  1. The preparation of the sinless body.Here the Spirit is presented as the Creative Power, antedating the conception, and then taking charge of the newly formed humanity, preserving the unborn child from the taint of His mother’s sin.
  2. The growth and development of the man Christ Jesus.As Jesus increased in wisdom and knowledge He learned by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. There was an endowment of His human nature with extraordinary gifts and faculties, such are consistent with human nature, by the Spirit who attended to their progressive development and exercise.
  3. The preparation for His ministry.At the Jordan the Spirit visibly descended on Him, not to constitute Him the Messiah, but to designate him publicly for the office and to quicken His self-consciousness regarding His divine office and vocation. Similarly the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to meet His temptation and sustained Him through the ordeal.
  4. The energising of the Spirit in His ministry of miracles.Those signs which attended His ministry attesting Him to be the Messiah, He Himself attributes to the Holy Spirit: ‘If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils, then the kingdom of God is come unto you’ (Matthew 12:28). It is significant, perhaps, that no miracle had been performed by our Lord before His baptism in the Jordan and the descent of the Spirit upon Him without measure.
  5. The upholding by the Spirit in His sufferings and deathIn His sufferings our Lord was upheld in His weakness, patience and silence under wrong by the continual ministry and grace of the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who brought His human will into full and complete harmony with His will as Son of God. When the supreme and final offering was given, the Spirit was there as His unfailing attendant, sustaining our Lord’s manhood in the act of self-giving. The Spirit who had never left Him for a moment, who dwelt with Him all His earthly life, who perfected Him in His active obedience, now sustained Him in His passive obedience, even unto death. And so ‘through the Eternal Spirit He offered Himself without spot unto God’ (Hebrews 9:14). Thus it was through the power and energy and fervour of the Spirit that the manhood, in all its perfection and submission, was laid upon the altar and offered unto God.

In this area of thought it is difficult to dogmatise, but it is difficult also not to theologise.

First, we ask: ‘Was the Spirit the means of communication between the human and the divine natures of Christ?’ ‘Was it the activity of the Spirit that unified both natures in one Person, true God and true man?

There is nothing unlikely here. If we accept the office of the Holy Spirit in the inter-personal relations within the Trinity, may not the same Spirit be the medium of communication within the complex Person of the God-man? That the Spirit should minister to the conscious ness of the man Christ Jesus the light, the grace, the power needed for the perfecting of His commission and the accomplishment of His work is surely consonant with what we know of the office of the Holy Spirit

That in this voluntary self-emptying, Christ relinquished His hole of the resources of Deity, and these were ministered to Him constantly by the Holy Spirit as He needed them for His task, is perhaps our best understanding of the Kenosis.

Secondly, may it not also be the solution to what is known as the nescience of Jesus – what He did not know. We refuse to believe that the Lord Jesus could not know certain things which lay beyond Hi! natural vision. For in face of Mark 13:32, where He declared that He did not know the day of His return, may we not safely conclude, that as this did not lie within His commission as Redeemer, it was not communicated to Him at that hour by the Holy Spirit, or as someone hat put it, the divine Spirit veiled that good hour from the sight of the Son during His life in the flesh.

Thirdly, there is also possible a solution of the problem of our Lord’s will and His self-consciousness. Had He a single or a two-fold consciousness? P T Forsyth affirms in name of many writers: ‘There could not be two wills or two consciousnesses in the same personality by any psychological possibility now credible. This is perhaps to ask psychology to give an authoritative ruling in a sphere to which it has no access.

But if we recognise the unceasing ministry of the Spirit, can we not accept that the Spirit was communicating continually the light of the divine consciousness to His human consciousness, and of the divine will to His human will. When He said in the Garden, ‘Father, if it be Possible let this cup pass from me’, that was surely the perfectly human soul of our Lord shrinking from so fierce an ordeal. And when He added, ‘not My will, but Thine be done’, may there not have been a flash of illumination to His human mind of the eternal covenant to which He was a party, and the will of God that He should be the surety of that covenant. May there not have been a communication from the divine Spirit who was with Him in that dread hour? And that is the Spirit who sheds illumination for us still on the sufferings of Christ.

What shall we say then of the Person who trod our earth and drank our cup and endured our death? Perhaps we can sum up the earthly pilgrimage of Jesus in the words of B. B. Warfield in commenting on the New Testament portrait of Jesus: ‘It is the portrait not of a merely human life, though it contains the delineation of a complete and completely human life. It is the portrayal of a human episode in the divine life. The Jesus of the New Testament is God tabernacling for a while among men.

This is in accord with Christ’s self-revelation to John in Patmos, as He laid His hand upon him saying: ‘Fear not, I am the First and the Last and He that liveth and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore and have the keys of death and of the eternal world’ (Revelation 1:17, 18). The eternal past is there: ‘I am the First and the Last and He that liveth.’ The eternal future is there: ‘I am alive for evermore and have the keys.’ And in between this blood-starred chapter of humiliation and suffering – ‘And I became dead’ – an abiding chapter in the eternal biography of the Son of God.

‘Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?’ (1 John 5:5).