THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST.
In considering this subject the first thing to do is to define the term Divinity. If I err not, this word. is misused by theologians. The orthodox idea is that Christ the Son is identical with God the Father,-Jesus is "the very unoriginated God," the creeds say; and this absurd and utterly incomprehensible dogma they call the doctrine of Christ's divinity. I think it should be called the doctrine of Christ's deity; the word divinity, as it seems to me, is misapplied in this connection. Divinity is Godlikeness; this was Christ's birthright; He is "the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person;" this is the plain teaching of the word. But that Christ was absolutely the Deity himself-that the Son was his own Father, is not only senseless but altogether unscriptural. We proceed at once to consider the subject from a Bible standpoint.
The strongest passage urged to prove the absolute deity of Christ is undoubtedly the first two verses of the first chapter of Gospel of John.* "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with "God." By the term Word, Jesus undoubtedly is meant, and the declaration that "the Word was God," is considered by the advocates of the orthodox view to settle the question as to Christ's deity; Jesus was God, here is the direct, positive statement; what appeal can there from this? Let us see. If we take the view that this statement teaches the absolute identity of the Son and the Father, what shall we do with the other statement in this passage, equally positive, and twice repeated, that "the Word was WITH God?" If the Word and God are identical, one and the same being, then they could not be with each other, for one being cannot properly be said to be with himself. Thus the orthodox view makes this passage contradict itself:-it makes the statement, twice repeated, that "the Word was with God," utterly meaningless. If you say you can prove by the clause, "the Word was with God," that the Father and the Son are one, in the sense of being identical, I say I can prove by the another clause, "the Word was with God," that they are two; and I have the best of the argument, since he latter statement is twice repeated, to only once of the former. But a view that thus makes Scripture self-contradictory cannot be the correct one, so we must look for another interpretation of the passage.
Jesus said, "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30). Did he mean that they were one and the same person,-one in identity? Is there any need to take such an extreme and far-fetched view as this? Is it not more reasonable to understand the declaration to mean that they were one in spirit and purpose? That there was perfect harmony between them? Did Jesus ever claim to be God the Father? Look at the context of the passage we are considering. Said Jesus, "I and my Father are-one." Then the Jews took up stones to stone him; Jesus asked them, why they stoned him; they answered, "because that thou being man makest thyself God." Jesus answered them, "is it not written in your law I said ye are gods; (see Psa. 82:6) if he called them gods, say ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemist because I said,"-said what? That he was God? This is what we should expect from the drift of Christ's words; as though he had said, if God called them gods, do you call me a blasphemer because I say that I am God? But Jesus does not say this; he makes no such claim, but finishes the sentence with the simple words,-"because I said I am the Son of God?" This is all Christ ever claimed; he never said one word that indicated that he considered himself the absolute Deity. He was one with the Father in spirit, in harmony, and this declaration, thus understood, is in perfect accord with another one he made,-"My Father is greater that I." (John 14:28). In harmony then with the foregoing I understand John's statement that "the Word was God;" not in the sense of identity of being, but of identity of purpose and spirit; there was such a "unity of spirit," that the Agent could be said to be the Principle. We know that in the beginning two were at work in the creation; "Let us make man," etc. Christ has his part of the work in the creation of every man, for "all judgment is committed to the Son"; hence "without him was not anything make [completely made,-finished] that was made."
Now all this is confirmed by John 17; if we should take the extreme view that Christ is one with God in the sense of being one and the same being, "the very unoriginated God," then we should have to conclude from passages in John 17 that those for whom Christ prays in that chapter were ultimately to be one with God in the same sense, literally and absolutely become God; one and the same being; for Christ prays, "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; . . . that they may be one even as we are one. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." Now in whatever sense Christ is one with the Father, believers are to share in the same unity; is the Father and the Son one in the sense of being identical, so that the Son is "the very unoriginated God?" Then believers are to be one in the same sense, for they are to be one in the Father and the Son even as they are one. But can this be true? Are the redeemed to become absolutely God and identical with the Deity? It must be so if Christ is one with God in that sense. Is it not rather true that Christ is one with the Father, as we have said, in the sense of being in perfect union and harmony with him? And He prays that "those whom the Father had given him" might be one with them in the same sense,-that they all may be one, even as we are one, that they may be made perfect in one; and the purpose of this unity is "that the world may believe," "that the world may know." No one would entertain so wild a notion as that those for whom Christ prayed would ultimately be incorporated into the Deity, so as to become literally and absolutely God; and yet they are to be one with God, as Christ is one with God. Is it not plain then that this unity is not identity of being, but identity of purpose and spirit-perfect harmony? Which unity Christ has always possessed, and in which unity the believer shall ultimately share.
Thus we learn in what Christ's divinity consisted, viz., God-like-ness; not that he was absolutely God himself, but that he was His "image" (Col. 1:15) or perfect likeness. He was the first man made in God's image and likeness, the pattern man of God's finished creation. This view agrees with reason and scripture. To say that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God is nonsense; the words convey no meaning to our minds, for we cannot conceive of a son being co-existent with his father, any more than we can conceive of a round square or a straight curve. But that Jesus is the son of the Eternal God we can readily accept. All scripture agrees with this view. So Christ spoke of himself, calling himself "the Son of God," as we have seen. So the apostles referred to Christ, as the Son of God, (e.g. see Acts 9:20) and none of them has left on record a hint that they considered Christ to be "the very unoriginated God." The Father himself bears the same testimony. At his baptism the voice from heaven proclaims, "this is my Son, the Beloved." Read the first chapter of Hebrews and notice how the divinity of Christ is set forth;-He is not the Deity, but is in His likeness. "But" says one, "does not the Father call the Son God?" (verse 8). Yes; and the Father called Moses, God, (Ex. 4:16; 8:1) and he calls others gods, as we have seen; but it is the Son still that is thus styled God, and this is all Jesus himself claimed, as we have also seen; "Unto the Son [God the Father] saith, thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Is this God talking to himself, in the person of his Son? what absurdity! It is the Father, and God of the Son, expressing his perfect satisfaction in His Son, and pronouncing blessing upon him. So Jesus speaks, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God, and your God." (John 20:17). Your Father no less than my Father; my God as much as your God.
Perhaps someone will ask if Paul does not say that Christ was "equal with God"? (Phil. 2:6) , if he did, that would not be saying that he was absolutely identical with God. But Paul says nothing of the kind; on the contrary he says virtually just the opposite; the clause is a mistranslation; it should read, "He thought it not a thing to be grasped to be on an equality with God." (See New Version, and margin).
Now we ask in what sense and to what degree was Christ divine or godlike? "In him all fullness dwells," (Col. 1:19) "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;" (Col. 2:9). "In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3) and in his face we behold "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God." (2 Cor. 4:6). "No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father He hath declared Him." (John 1:18). "No man knoweth the Son but the Father, and no man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him" (Matt. 11:27). Thus Christ is the perfect image, likeness and revelation of God, and in this sense he is divine; so perfect is the harmony that we may say, "the Word was God;" and Jesus could say, "I and my Father are one;" so exact is the likeness that Jesus declares again, "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also," (John 8:19), "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father also." (John 14:9). Thus is it plain that the divinity of Christ consists in his perfect godlikeness.
We will notice one more point which still further confirms the foregoing, and sets forth the wonderful and blessed relation that subsists between Christ and his own. The relation of Christ to his followers is that of a sample to the whole; in the Bible this relation is represented under the most striking figures. For example, Christ is the vine, we are the branches. Christ is the elder brother, ye are the members of the same household. He is "the first born among many brethren." Christ "is the chief corner stone" in the "building of God," ye are "lively, or rather, living stones" in the same building, built up a "spiritual house" "for an habitation of God through the spirit." Christ is the heavenly Bridegroom, the church is the bride, "espoused as a chaste virgin unto him," and they twain are one. "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church;" (Eph. 5:32) and yet again Christ and believers are one body of which He is the Head, and they are the members; "Ye are the body of Christ and members in particular." (1 Cor. 12:27). Now if we carry out this last figure we might reason that if Christ and believers constitute one body then every member must share in the same experience that every other member has, whether of sorrow or joy, pain or pleasure, humiliation or glory. This is of course the truth with reference to the members of the literal body, and according to the word it is also the truth with reference to Christ's mystical body; as it is written, "there should be no schism (or, margin, division) in the body; but the members should have the same care one for another; and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored all the members rejoice with it." Now the Head of this mystical body is Christ, and if it be true that every member shares in the experience of every other member, then the Head shares in the experience of all the members, and all the members share in the experience of the Head. This indeed is the wonderful truth that runs all through the New Testament. Believers are represented as passing through the same experiences, enduring the same sufferings, having the same promises and encouragements, and finally sharing in the same exaltation and glory as their Lord and Savior. Whatever promise or declaration is made of Christ, either of suffering, dishonor or humiliation, or of joy, honor, or glory, the same or a similar promise or declaration is made of his followers. To forestall misapprehension I will say at once that the Bible teaches that there are certain particulars in which Christ differs from all other human beings, viz.: 1. Pre-existence; 2. The manner of his Birth; 3. "He knew no sin"; therefore, 4. He never was estranged from God through sin and guilt and ignorance; 5. He was perfectly Divine, i.e. Godlike. And yet it is true that He was "made in all points like unto his brethren," i.e., all points essential to his humanity; the above differences were in addition to his complete humanity; and those differences, let it be noticed as I showed in the last paper, were "of God." Jesus had no advantage over the weakest human being because of those differences. Of himself he could do nothing; (John 5:30) no one is any weaker than that. But Jesus being the "Beginning of the creation of God," must differ in some particulars from the unfinished race, but wherein he did differ it was God that made him to differ. (1 Cor. 4:7).
Now we return again to our proposition; that as Christ was "made in all things like unto his brethren", so his brethren are to be made in all things like unto him. (1 John 3:2.). I have already given many proofs and illustrations of this truth in the article on the humanity of Christ; in that article I think I made it plain from Scripture that, in the fullest sense, Jesus was made a "partaker of flesh and blood," (Heb. 2:14) i.e. of human nature; in this article I want to show how believers are made "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Pet. 1:4). Every Christian understands that we must deny self, forsake all, and follow Jesus in his sufferings here, if we would share in his glory by and by. It is a precious thought that it is possible for us to know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. (Phil. 3:10). The period of "the sufferings of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:11) has not yet expired, for the believer "fills up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ," (Col. 1:24) and "if one member suffers all the members (including the Head) suffer with it." As the members now suffer with the Head, so the Head still suffers with the members. When Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus, as the latter was on his way to persecute the Christians at Damascus, He said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me?" Saul had never persecuted Jesus personally, but he was doing despite to the members of his body, hence Jesus says, "Why persecutes thou me?" In this view we may be able with Paul to "glory in tribulation," "to take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake," because thereby we are "made partakers of Christ's sufferings," (1 Pet. 4:13) that we may ultimately be partakers of the glory that shall be revealed." Suffering with Christ is a part of our calling; "for even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps." Again, Paul says, "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Phil. 1:29). Thus it is our privilege, a gift of God, to share with Christ in his humiliation and afflictions, and if we thus share with him we shall also share in his honor and glory,-and to as full an extent as Christ himself; though this may seem almost too much to say, yet it is no more than is fully warranted by plain Scripture.
Christ and believers are perfected by suffering; see Heb. 2:10, with I Peter 5:10. Both are appointed to the same destiny. Is Jesus "a Son of God?" Believers are also sons; Jesus is "the first born among many brethren,"-one among "many sons." Is Jesus an "heir of God?" Believers are "joint heirs with him." Does there dwell in Christ all the fullness of the God-head bodily? Believers are to be "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). Is Christ a Prophet, Priest, King, Judge and Savior? The saints share in all these offices; (see Rev. 1:6; 1 Cor. 6:2,3; Obad. 21). Has Christ a throne and a kingdom? The saints share both; (see Rev. 3:21; Dan.7:18). Is Christ to rule and reign? The saints are to rule and reign with him; (Rev. 2:26,27; 20:4). Is Christ the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image or his person? Believers are to be "like him," (I John 3:2). We all with open faces (face unveiled) beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord." Is Christ divine? Believers shall also be "partakers of the divine nature," (2 Pet. 1:4). "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." Is Christ holy, harmless, undefiled? We are to be made "partakers of his holiness" (Heb. 12:10). "Ye shall be perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," (Matt. 5:48, N.V.*). Is Christ called God? So God's people receive the same lofty title, as we have already noticed. Is Christ one with God? Believers are to share in the same unity, of the same kind, and to the same extent,-"that they all may be one even. as we are one." Now all this is most wonderful and blessed, and plainly indicates how throughly believers are "made partakers of Christ." (Heb. 3:14). Whatever he has been, is, or may be, they must be, are, and shall be; and oh, how near this great truth brings Christ to the believer! He is our elder brother, sharing with us and we with him in all the experiences of fallen man; and still mutually sharing in all the exaltation and glory of "the perfect man" (Eph. 4:13). Thus the divine Jesus imparts his divinity to the elect,-the promised "Seed"-through whom the same divinity shall be transmitted unto "all the families of the earth," until there shall be a race divine,-Godlike,-"and there shall be no more anything accursed" (Rev. 22:3, N.V., margin).
*I say nothing about 1 John 5:7, as it is now universally acknowledge that the passage is spurious.
**i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)