Ridley Systematics: Christology

23 10 2012

)Over the past few posts we’ve talked about epistemology, that is how we can know God and ourselves, we’ve spoken of how God is one divine being who eternally exists in three persons call the Trinity, last week we spoke of how God is our redeemer.  We used Thomas Boston’s definition of a Redeemer, which is as follows:

Under the law, when a man was not able to act for himself, to assert and use his own right, one that was akin to him, had a right to act for him, coming in his room, and standing up in his right.

-Thomas Boston, A View of the Covenant of Grace

In this post we’re going to push that discussion further along with the subject of Christology.  It is not enough to acknowledge that we are in need of a redeemer, but we must acknowledge that we are in a need of a specific type of redeemer.  Speaking of our redemption, Anselm of Canterbury wrote in the 11th Century his famous Cur Deus Homo provocatively wrote::

No being, except the God man, can make the atonement by which man may be saved.

His thesis was based upon two points.  Because sin infinitely offends a Divine Person, only a Divine person could bring a satisfaction and offering of infinite worth.  That is why our redeemer must be God.  However, the penalty for sin, as we reviewed last week, was death.  A divine person cannot die.  Only a mortal creature can die.  Thus our redeemer has to be a man.  Neither nature, the divine nor the human on its own can adequately be the redeemer we need.  Thus our redeemer must be a God-man, fully God able to offer an sacrifice of infinite worth and fully man, able to pay the wages of sin, that is death.  My strategy in this post is to explain why our redeemer must be fully God and fully man existing in one person.  As that’s laid out, we will of course articulate this union of two natures in one person and explore some aberrant, or heretical views of this union.

Our Redeemer must be Fully God:

The first thing I would like to explore with you is the notion that our Redeemer must be fully God.   In scripture, this proves to be the case for the following three reasons.  The first reason is that only God can save.  In other words, Scripture does not give us permission to describe another as a savior.  Second, the ransom required for our redemption is an infinite ransom can only be paid by a person of infinite worth.  Finally, as a sub-point to the last reason, one man, no matter how good, cannot render to God a sufficient sacrifice to atone for the sins of man.

Only God Can Save:

Consider the following:

        I, I am the LORD,

and besides me there is no savior.

I declared and saved and proclaimed,

when there was no strange god among you;

and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.

(Isaiah 43:11-12 ESV)

        But I am the LORD your God

from the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

and besides me there is no savior.

(Hosea 13:4 ESV)

 Only God can Provide a Sufficient Ransom:

What is sin? Anselm defines sin as the withholding by the creature from God the honor that is due him. Therefore, sin is debt, or the failure to render to God full and proper obedience:

“One who does not render this honor [i.e., obedience in every act of will] to God takes away from God what belongs to Him, and dishonors God, and to do this is to sin. So then, every one who sins ought to pay back the honor of which he has robbed God; and this is the satisfaction which every sinner owes to God” (Book I, ch. 11).

This view was seen as based on a the feudal system of the medieval period and has because of this has recently fallen out of favor.  And though I agree that we should not build theories of the atonement based off of the feudal system, or later during the Reformation on crass analogies with the market place, there does seem to be in scripture an idea that the ransom required of man is so steep that he can never pay it.  Consider the following:

Truly no man can ransom another,

or give to God the price of his life,

for the ransom of their life is costly

and can never suffice,

that he should live on forever

and never see the pit.

(Psalm 49:7-9 ESV)

And yet the possibility of redemption from death is admitted by Hosea, who prophesies the ability of God to ransom even from death:

        Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?

Shall I redeem them from Death?

O Death, where are your plagues?

O Sheol, where is your sting?

Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

(Hosea 13:14 ESV)

Finally, based off of this last point I can make on following sub-point.  Perhaps there is a man, one very righteous man who was without sin.  Is it possible that one very righteous man might redeem others with his righteousness?  This is essentially the logic of Arianism, the first Christological heresy I would like to introduce you to.

Arius believed that the Son was a creature made in time.  This son, though righteous, is nevertheless not a divine creature.  His own righteousness is enough to prevent him from needing redemption, but his own righteousness is not enough to redeem others from the pit.  As John Owen remarks:

To suppose that a mere man, by his temporary suffering of external pains, should make satisfaction unto the justice of God for all the sins of all these persons…is to constitute a mediation between God and man that should consist in appearance and ostentation, and not be an effect of divine wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, nor have its foundation in the nature and equity of things themselves

What Owen is saying is that a mere man, though without sin he would be in no need of redemption, cannot possibly render to God a sufficient sacrifice.  Therefore our Redeemer must be truly God

Our Redeemer Must be Truly Man:

Our redeemer must be truly man for the following two reasons.  The first reason is that since a human being sinned, only a human being can pay the price for sin.  Second, because human nature was overthrown by Satan, if God’s purposes for humanity are to stand, then a human being must overthrow Satan and restore humanity.

The Price of Sin is Death:

Consider the following:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

(Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord

(Romans 6:23-7:1 ESV)

The penalty for sin is death, but a divine being cannot die.  Therefore our redeemer must be a man.

The second point to be made is that it was human nature that was overthrown.  Therefore, it must be human nature which overthrows the serpent.  In some circles this has been called recapitulation, the most famous articulation of which that I’m aware of is from Irenaeus. Irenaeus wrote:

For He came to save all through means of Himself- all, I say, who through him are born again to God- infants, and children, and boys and youths and old men.  He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age…so likewise He was an old man for old men…Then at last, he came to death itself.

In the above Irenaeus understands Jesus to be recovering the different ages that people have passed through by passing through them himself, and living out those different stages of human development in a righteous and innocent way.  In other words, he is not overthrown by sins common to children, teenagers, young adults etc. but actually lives them out the way they were always mean to be lived out.  But there is more to be said of recapitulation than this.  We can also see, in certain aspects of the Gospels, where Jesus is recapitulating the history of Israel and in some instances even the history of Adam.  For example, consider the following:

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”
(Luke 4:1-4 ESV)

In the above Jesus is recapitulating several things.  First, he is reliving Israel’s wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  But more in line with our present discussion, he is reliving the temptation in the garden.  Rather than being overthrown by the devil, Christ overthrows the devil with the word of God.  This is the very thing Adam should have done and it is the very thing Christ does.  Thus God’s purposes for humanity stand, because a man resists and overthrows the devil.

Thus our Redeemer must be fully man.  The second Christological heresy I would like to introduce you to is Docetism. This heresy says that our redeemer only appeared to be man, but that our redeemer never truly suffered or was crucified.  But our redeemer needed to fully man, otherwise the wages for our sins were never paid and God’s purposes for humanity have not stood.

 Fully God and Fully Man:

Our redeemer then needs to be fully God.  But our redeemer must also be fully man.  Both natures, the divine and human are needed for the work of redemption.  These two natures are joined in one person, the person of Christ.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14 ESV)

The Word does not cease to be the Word and the man does not cease to be a man.  Jesus is fully man.  He is born.  He hungers, thirsts, has friends, loses friends, is happy, is sad, he suffers, and he dies.  Thus our Redeemer has two natures.  Our redeemer has a divine nature.  Our redeemer has a human nature.   From here on out we must be very careful what we do next.  The two natures are united by the person, or personality of the Divine Son. The Council of Chalcedon (5th century) puts it this way:

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;  the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεὸν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

This union of two natures in one person has traditionally been called the hypostatic union, but I find it less confusing and more accessible to call it, with Calvin, a personal union.  Two natures existing in one person.

Let’s be careful to avoid two heresies.  One heresy is called Nestorianism.  One heresy is called Apollinarianism.

Nestorianism:  Nestorius thought hat since there were two natures there must be two persons, and therefore Christ our Redeemer has a bit of a split personality.  This is unacceptable.  If Christ is a split personality, only a created person dies.  That is not sufficient for redemption.  One person, a divine person must be made capable of death by taking on flesh.  That’s the point of Phil 2.

Appolinarianism:  The two natures are mixed up, not distinguished in one person.  Thus Christ is like a divine/ human hybrid and this has some fairly large implications for our devotional life.  Consider this quote from Bernard of Clairvaux: “But perhaps you fear also in him (Christ) the divine majesty, because though he became man, he remained, nevertheless God.”  The point Bernard is making in this quote is, “you can’t really bank on the fact that Christ will have mercy on you, because he’s not really like you.  His divinity is something like a performance enhancing drug that gives him an advantage that you don’t have.  Bernard esolves his dilemma by searching for a purus homo who has been resurrected from the dead.  By purus homo Bernard means a human whose nature is purely human.  He settles upon Mary, who having been assumed and being composed of one nature fulfills both criteria.  Therefore she is purus homo.  Because she has been assumed into heaven, we therefore have confidence that purus homo like ourselves might also attain to heavenly glory.  Thus Bernard writes “If you want someone who pleads for you with him, then turn to Mary.  After all, in Mary is pure humanity, not just ‘pure’ as ‘free from all stains’ but also ‘pure’ in the sense of a person with only one nature.”  Bernard’s concern is founded upon a Christological error that emphasizes the divinity of Christ above the humanity to the exclusion of the unity.  Jesus is fully man, just like you and I.  We must never lose sight of this.

Let me close with one or two observations.

Christ is a work of the entire Trinity.  It is right for us to be Christ-centered because in Christ the fullness of God is revealed to us.  The person of Christ is not simply a work of the Son but a work of every member of the Trinity.  The love of the Father is revealed because he sends his Son.  The love of the Son is revealed because he dies for sinners.  The love of the Spirit is revealed because he forms Christ and empowers Christ for the work of salvation.  Only the person of Christ reveals all of God to us.

Christ lets us know God is sympathetic to us in our sin:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV)

Because of Christ, we know that there is nothing that we can encounter that God himself does not understand and have pity and compassion for.  That is because in Christ, God himself has become involved in the mess of a fallen humanity and experiences it in profound ways.  To be sure, only the Son takes on flesh, but the Father and Spirit also are aware of the pain and suffering of the Son.  This makes the whole of God sympathetic to us in our weakness.  God will never say, ” I don’t understand why you did that.”  He does, probably far more than you do.

Christ being fully man is exemplary:

For this section I will rely heavily upon 17th century theologian John Owen.  John Owen once observed on the exemplary nature of Christ:

God designed and gave Christ grace and glory; and he did it that he might be the prototype of what he designed unto us, and would bestow upon us.  Hence the apostle shows that the effect of predestination to conformity unto the image of the Son is the communication of all effectual, saving grace, with the glory ensues thereon (Owen, I.171)

The saints therefore, ought to expect their spiritual experience of God’s love to be like, or analogous to the spiritual experience of Christ.  Those who have been “reckoned Christ,” can expect to be made like him, but like him in such a way as not to exceed their own human capacities.  Thus they are made like Christ according to his own human nature, not according to his divine.  Owen’s treatment of the integrity of the human nature can be quite unexpected, and it demonstrates to what extent Owen considered the integrity of the human nature in the operations of the person of Christ.  First, Owen notes that it was the “rational soul” of the human nature that was the immediate cause of all of Christ’s moral activity.

His divine nature was not unto him in the place of a soul, nor did immediately operate the things which he performed, as some of old vainly imagined; but being a perfect man, his rational soul was in him the immediate principle of all his moral operations even as ours are in us. (OwenIII.169)

The human nature of Christ did not borrow the psychological experience of moral decision making from the divine person.  To do so would be for the divinity to annihilate that portion of the human nature responsible for such actions common to humanity.  Rather, the human nature of Christ had this experience in a manner that was common to the rest of humanity according to their shared capacity.  Christ’s human, “rational soul” was the direct cause of all his moral actions.  And just like all humans, Owen sees the rational soul of Christ regarding moral issues in a state of constant development deepening his understanding of such issues.  Owen writes “The human nature of Christ was capable of having new objects proposed to its mind and understanding, whereof before it had simple nescience” (OwenIII.170).  Owen is here arguing that Christ began in his human nature in the same way that all humans do.  Namely, the human nature of Christ was ignorant of many things, including his own divine sonship, and had to grow in knowledge common to the experience of humanity.

If Christ began in the same way that all humans do, that is in a state of ignorance and immaturity, how then did Christ according to his human nature mature?  Owen attributes this growth to the direct and immediate work of the Holy Spirit.

In the representation, then, of things anew to the human nature of Christ, the wisdom and knowledge of it was objectively increased, and in new trials and temptations he experimentally learned the new exercises of grace.  And this was the constant work of the Holy Spirit in the human nature of Christ. (Owen III.170)

Owen’s point is that Christ must grow in the moral life and in knowledge in the same way that all humans grow.  That is through the Holy Spirit.  Because the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit is responsible for this growth, Owen is quite happy to call this process sanctification.  This introduces the unique, and startling conclusion that Christ according to his human nature was in need of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.  He writes:

the human nature of Christ being thus formed in the womb by  creating act of the Holy Spirit, was in an instant of its conception sanctified, and filled with grace according to the measure of its receptivity. (Owen III.168)

By regarding Christ as in need of sanctification, Owen is not implying that Christ was tainted with original sin, and thus in need of sanctification.  Rather, according to Owen, Christ was born in a state of innocence, much like Adam.  However, even original innocence is not enough.  The “natural faculties of the soul,” writes Owen, “be created pure, innocent, undefiled…is not enough to enable any rational creature to live unto God.” (Owen III.168).  What is needed, even in a state of innocence, is an infusion of grace to enable the rational creature to live wholly unto God.  This infusion of grace, or habit, was bestowed upon Christ in the womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Christ being infused with this grace at birth continued to rely upon it throughout his life as he grew in holiness and gained self-awareness as God’s Son and the mediator between God and the Church.  For Owen, the crucial point is that Christ, being made to rely on the Holy Spirit is made like us, who also must rely on the Holy Spirit.  He writes:

Now in the improvement, and exercise of these faculties and powers of his soul, he had made a progress after the manner of other men; for he was made like unto us ‘in all things,’ yet without sin.  In their increase, enlargement, and exercise, there was required a progression in grace also; and this she had continually by the Holy Ghost. (Owen III.169)

But if Christ has been made like us in relying on the Holy Spirit, the inverse is also true, that we are made like Christ as we rely on the Holy Spirit.  Thus as Christians rely upon the Holy Spirit, they participate in the life of Christ by being like him, relying according to the human nature upon the Holy Spirit.  In an age where some are consumed with WWJD bracelets, perhaps they should start with simple reliance on the Holy Spirit.  This is after all, not only what Jesus would do but what Jesus actually did.

In closing, one more quote from dear John Owen.  Because of Christ is a perfect redeemer, because he reveals the whole of the Love of God to us, because he informs us of God’s sympathy towards us in our weakness, and because he is exemplary of what human nature is called by God to be and what human nature is being made to be by his power, then we should of course focus on the wonderful mystery of Christ, two nature (human and divine) united in one person.  Thus Owen exhorts us:

Let us strive to love Christ more, to abide more with him, and to be less in our selves:  He is our best friend and ere long will be our only friend.  I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of every thing else but converse and communion with him; yea, of the best of my mercyes so farr as at any time they may be hindrances thereof.


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