« Prev Sec. 2.—Inferences in respect to the Divine… Next »

Sec. 2.—Inferences in respect to the Divine Nature of Jesus.

The Christian Church, in all its genuine branches, confesses and teaches, besides the true humanity, the proper Divinity of Christ, and has from its earliest days laid down, in very definite formulae, the manner in which the Divine and human natures are inseparably united, and yet distinct, in the Person of the God-man. To test these formulae, or even to enter into any general examination of them, is beside our purpose, which aims rather at an apologetic than a 197doctrinal treatment of our subject. On the other hand, it is, however, quite in keeping with this, to direct attention to the fact that the article of faith which is now in question is not a matter of merely ecclesiastical or doctrinal detail, but one founded upon primitive evangelical testimony. It rests, moreover, not on the testimony of the apostles only, but on that of Jesus Himself. In this last respect, then, to treat of the internal verification of this testimony, is to deal with a matter which has a very decided bearing upon the sinlessness of Jesus. And here we would, first of all, call attention to the following facts: how the Lord Jesus, with a confidence raised above the very slightest degree of hesitation, makes Himself the central point of His work of redemption, the object of saving faith, and the beginning and end of His mission. He attributes to His death the most wide-reaching results for all mankind, and combines with His own exaltation the sending of the Holy Ghost. He institutes baptism as the sacred act by which all nations are to become His disciples, and the Lord’s Supper as a celebration of His death until His coming again. He says of His words, that though heaven and earth shall pass away, they shall not pass away. If, then, no other particulars of His life were known to us than these, we should even then be constrained to infer that He was assuredly conscious of being more than man. In all this, the limits of the human are far surpassed; for it is absolutely unbecoming in any created being to make himself an object of faith, an object of religion and religious worship, and to place his own person in such a position with regard to the salvation of the whole human race, as Jesus undoubtedly does.

Besides, it is no less certain to all unprejudiced minds, that He ascribes to Himself in plain terms, besides human existence, a nature superhuman, heavenly, and Divine. And this not only in sayings recorded in St. John’s Gospel, but 198also in sayings essentially agreeing with these in the other three Gospels. The very manner in which He calls God ‘the Father’ His Father, points to a relation of a peculiar kind; still more so, that in which He represents Himself as ‘Son of God,’—not as a son, but as the Son, in a sense unparalleled; for it is only He, as being this Son, who fully knows the Father, and is, on His part, fully known by Him.252252   Matt. xi. 27; Luke x. 22; John vi. 46. All true knowledge of the Father is brought about by Him alone, and no man cometh to the Father but by Him.253253   John xiv. 6. The Father is glorified in Him, and He in the Father.254254   John xvii. 1, 4-6, xiii. 31, 32. He that seeth Him seeth the Father; nay, He and the Father are one.255255   John xii. 45, xiv. 9, x. 30. Moreover He, in the most decided manner, attributes to Himself Divine attributes and operations: an existence before the world was, in and with God,256256   John viii. 58, xvi. 21, xvii. 5.—the office of judging the world,—the power of quickening whom He will.257257   John v. 21, 22, 26, 27, xvii. 2, xi. 25; Matt. xxv. 31, etc. In the institution of baptism, He connects His own name with that of the Father, and that of the Holy Ghost; and at His departure from the world, He announces to His disciples that all power is given Him both in heaven and in earth, and that He will be with them alway, even to the end of the world.258258   Matt. xxviii. 18-20, with which connect xi. 27 and xviii. 10. In short, He represents Himself as One who, from the beginning to the close of His earthly existence, participates in and experiences all that is human, but who, at the same time, bears within Himself the fulness of the Divine nature and life.

What, then, is the relation between this self-testimony of Jesus and the doctrine of His sinlessness? Evidently this: that if there are good grounds for accepting the latter, there must be equally good grounds for believing the former. The two must stand or fall together. He who was perfectly pure 199and sinless, and who must therefore have been most moderate and conscientious, could never have affirmed aught concerning Himself of so supremely exalted a character, unless He had felt a certainty, surpassing every other certainty, that such pre-eminence was indeed His own. Besides, the bare fact that a being actually appeared who, on the one hand, assumed such a position with respect to God and a higher world, and, on the other hand, displayed such mental and moral sublimity, is inexplicable, on moral or psycho-logic grounds, unless this position to God and a higher world be a true and genuine fact. The reverse would indeed be far more incomprehensible. It would be a mental aberration, to estimate whose greatness no standard could be found, and utterly incompatible with every established fact of a mental and moral kind, which has been handed down to us concerning the Lord Jesus. If, in this highest of all respects, either self-delusion or wilful deception of others were found, such an error would be one which must necessarily pervade the whole nature of Jesus; and, in this case, far from being the sinlessly perfect One of the Gospels, He could not be the mentally and morally exalted character which even rationalism esteems Him, but something for which the correct expression has yet to be invented.

Nevertheless, in this respect also, it is not our purpose to appeal to the expressions Christ Himself as our sole authority. Here, too, the doctrine of His sinlessness furnishes an internal proof of the doctrine in question, which, in an apologetic point of view, must be by no means overlooked.

In our contemplation of the moral phenomenon presented by the life of Jesus, we saw that there was everywhere originality and absolute independence, that it exhibited a harmony in which all the antagonisms of human existence were reconciled. A life of such perfection gives a direct impression of 200being the result of a Divine operation. Where the human is the only element, we ever meet with some measure of dependence and imperfection, some conflict between flesh and spirit, some antagonism between the intellectual and the moral, or some other disproportion or irregularity. Where, however, we find the reverse of all this, we already discover in this very fact a trace of the Divine. To this same inference are we also led by that quality which we recognised to be the principle of the life of Jesus. This principle is holy love. Now holy love constitutes the nature of God Himself; hence, in the same proportion in which this principle is found to be present and effective in a personality, are we constrained to conceive God Himself to be present. Consequently, where a perfect manifestation of holy love takes place, there must we believe also in a perfect indwelling of God.

But to say this, might seem to be affirming a principle of gradation, which might in its application to the Lord Jesus exhibit Him as merely possessing in the highest degree that which others shared in their measure. We perceive, however, in Him something besides, and that a thing entirely peculiar,—even the grand peculiarity of His sinless holiness. Others may be found truly pious, glowing with holy love, and in whom, therefore, God’s more abundant presence must be assumed; but we do not meet with one who is sinless,—one who, absolutely conscious of His sinlessness, succeeds in making Himself acknowledged as such,—however carefully we may scan the boundless field opened before us by the history of the known races of men. An explanation, then, of this absolutely unparalleled phenomenon259259   Pelagianism denies that Jesus was an utter exception in a moral point of view. It is therefore driven to maintain that it is possible for other men to be sinless. If it was possible for Jesus in His human nature to remain sinless, it must also be possible for others, inasmuch as, according to the Pelagian doctrine, all men enter life with their moral powers in perfect integrity. Even if Christ were the only example of sinless perfection hitherto seen, there is no reason why there may not arise another like Him in the course of time. This particular view is connected with the entire Pelagian conception of Christianity, in which the idea of the Redeemer is left quite in the background, and example and doctrine alone are considered to be essential. Along with Pelagianism, Nestorianisin has been reproached with holding the same view: this was so, at all events, in the West, where it was supposed to be connected with Pelagianism. It was argued, that if the Divine and human natures are distinct, and holiness and sinlessness are regarded as the privilege only of the human nature, it follows that other men may attain the same moral elevation, without special communion with God. Compare Gieseler’s Ecclesiastical History, Pt. i. § 86, especially the Observ. p. 447. This was, however, an inference from his doctrine, which Nestorius would never have conceded; for he did not in reality maintain such a separation of the Divine and human, and the presence of such a complete moral power in human nature in its present condition, as that deduction presupposes. It is a remarkable fact, that a renowned teacher of the ancient Church, the father of orthodoxy, Athanasius, seems, although from an utterly different point of view, to assume the sinlessness of other human individuals besides Jesus. He says not only generally, ἐξ ἀρχῆς μὲν οὐκ ἦν κακία· οὐδὲ γὰρ οὐδὲ νῦν ἐν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐστίν, οὐδ᾽ ὅλοις κατ᾽ αὐτῶν ὑπάρχει αὕτη (Contra Gentes, ab init. t. i. p. 2, edit. Colon), but also, developing the thought with greater specialty, he observes further, that the character of the Divine image, of the Divine Sonship in Christ, cannot consist merely in moral unity with God, because in that case other spiritual beings also, and especially liken, might be designated sons of God: hence the peculiarity of Christ must rest rather on His oneness of nature with God. In the sense of moral unity with God, he adds, patriarchs and prophets, apostles and martyrs, and even Christians now living, might be called the sons of God; for they resemble God, and are compassionate, like their Father in heaven,—they are imitators of the Apostle Paul, as he imitated Christ (Contra Arianos, Orat. iv. t. i. p. 455, and especially pp. 462, 463, edit. Colon). Still we cannot with perfect certainty conclude from these expressions that Athanasius distinctly held the view that other individuals were sinless besides Jesus. In the first passage, it is to be remarked that the word κακία is too general and indefinite. In the other passages Athanasius avails himself of the thought of a repeatedly occurring moral perfection, only to strengthen another doctrinal line of argument; and it is doubtful with what degree of definiteness, and to what extent, this notion was applied by its author. is required, and this 201leads us to recognise in Jesus Christ a relation to God which, as well as the effects resulting therefrom, must be regarded as of an entirely exceptional kind.


By viewing sinlessness as an attribute of the human nature of Jesus, we have maintained the notion that a human development characterized by perfect purity is possible, because neither human nature, considered simply as such, nor the idea of development, necessarily involves any element of sin. But then the question arises: If this be the case, how comes it that experience furnishes only one example of freedom from sin? Why have not others of the human race risen up from time to time, making the same claim, and compelling their fellow-men to acknowledge their pretensions? Why is there not at least one besides Jesus, who had the same faith in himself, and was able to beget it in others? This cannot be the result of accident. The reason must be, that sinlessness, though not unattainable by human nature, as such, is not, neither has been, nor can be, attained by man in his present state, because sin has gained a mastery over the whole human race, by virtue of which it is not possible for man, by his own unaided powers, to maintain a perfect freedom therefrom. But if man’s own strength is not sufficient for this, it can only be effected by a power which is exalted above the sphere where sin prevails, and which, notwithstanding, enters into that sphere without contracting defilement; and this is precisely the Divine power. Consequently, when we meet with a man who has actually proved himself sinless in his conduct, we have grounds for inferring that a Divine power has in the fullest sense been operating within him,—that here is one who was indeed man, but who was also more than man.

But this point must now be more fully elucidated. If all men are sinners,—and, with the exception of the Holy One of the Gospel, not even one is sinless,—it is a plain proof that a principle of sin, is implanted in human nature, not indeed by original constitution, but, certainly in its present state, that sin, although not the true, is still the second nature of man, 203that it pervades and rules the whole race. The principle of sin being in such a manner ingrafted in human nature in the condition in which experience presents it to us, only one supposition can render intelligible the existence of a sinless man,—namely, that the chain of sin has been broken, and that, in consequence, a personality has arisen in the midst of the sinful race, endowed with perfect soundness, with powers thoroughly pure, and amply sufficient for leading a life entirely in accordance with the will of God. But this is only possible as the result of a Divine creation. Such a person could not be the product of a race infected with sin. In this aspect, He in whom there really was the possibility of being sinless, is a totally new man, the second Adam. He is that Person in whom a new beginning of the higher life was to be made, and from whom a new race, a race new in this sense, might proceed.

But the moral development and office of this second Adam evidently differ from those of the physical ancestor of the human race. He was not, like the latter, introduced in a state of full consciousness into a world as yet untouched by sin, but was born as an unconscious infant into a world in. which sin had already become a power. In this world He was not, for His own sake alone, to preserve in its purity the yet unspotted Divine image, but to restore to mankind, by His conquest of sin, that image which had been lost or obscured. In the same proportion as the task set before Him was incomparably higher, was the difficulty of accomplishing it infinitely greater. This difficulty lay chiefly herein: that a human life was to be developed in perfect purity from its very earliest stages, and that, nevertheless, this development could only take place in the midst of a sinful. world. If the soul had entered at once into conscious possession of its freedom, it might have been capable of directly waging war against all that was carnal and sinful, and of 204carrying on such war to a successful issue. But the moral, as indeed the whole mental life in man, as now born into the world, comes forth in the midst of a state at first unconscious, then semi-conscious and half dark, and but gradually attaining to the full light of complete consciousness. Under these conditions, if sin comes upon him from his surroundings, it gains possession of him before he knows it; and when he has attained to fuller moral consciousness, it has already obtained a footing in some form or other.260260   Comp. Gess, Lehre von der Person Chr. pp. 229, 239. Thus perfect sinlessness is excluded, and a development perfectly free from sin is inconceivable, under the given circumstances, by merely human means. But if, as we have found in Jesus, such a development has, notwithstanding, been brought to pass, we ought not to feel any hesitation in assuming the presence of something over and above, and in union with, the integrity of constitution originally given. In Him whose development was thus sinless, there must have been an infallible sureness, enabling Him during its whole course, and even at those stages of it when He was not as yet awakened to full consciousness, to reject everything impure, untrue, and sinful, and to appropriate for His inner life only the pure, true, and good, from that which the surrounding world presented to Him. If we regard this merely as the result of a Divine care, operating from without, of a continuous Divine agency, we could not then understand why God should have suffered His grace to be thus efficient in this one Person only, and not in others also. Besides, we should thus be assuming that, in the case of Jesus, sin was ever on the point of breaking forth, and was only repressed by a Divine influence exerted from without. Our only reasonable course, then, is to conceive it as the result of a principle which acted from within. And indeed only such a principle could have worked with the required infallible certainty, and have separated and 205rejected the sinful as something alien and hostile to its own nature. It must therefore be conceded, that a Divine principle conditioned the original integrity of Jesus, and was a constituent element of His personality, which, developing in perfect harmony with the human element, did not hinder, but on the contrary favoured, the natural progress of the latter, and maintained its perfect purity. Clearly, however, we cannot understand by this Divine principle merely something akin or bearing a resemblance to God, such as is in every man; for sin can, and actually does, co-exist therewith in every man. We must therefore conceive it as the Divine in its uncorrupted and true essence. In this way we are led from the sinless Son of Man to the Son of God, and the recognition of the pure humanity of Jesus ends in the conviction of His true Divinity.261261   What has been advanced, must not, as is self-evident, be so understood as to make the Divinity of Christ a mere auxiliary proposition to the conceivability of His sinlessness. For axis would be to place that which should fill the highest place in a subordinate position. Our purpose is only to show how the sinlessness of Jesus points from itself to His Divinity. We may with equal correctness say, because God was in Christ, Christ was free from sin; or, because He was sinless, we have grounds for believing that God was in Him. The first proposition pertains more to the doctrinal, the second to the apologetic point of view; and since it is with this that we are here concerned, the latter naturally occupies the more prominent position. For the manner in which the results deduced from the development of the doctrinal side of the question coincide with those to which we are led, see Liebner’s Dogmatik aus dem Christolog. Princip dargestellt, B. i. pp. 291-352.

Summing up all together, we may say then, Jesus was sinless as a man, for the idea of sinlessness is only applicable to human nature; not, however, in the general sense of the term, man, not, in short, as a ‘mere man,’ but as the man, in whom the humanity was on the one hand endowed with extraordinary powers, and on the other hand was pervaded, animated, and energized by a Divine principle. In a word, He was sinless, because He was the second Adam, and the 206God-man. Only in virtue of the former condition was a development in any sense, and therefore a sinless development, possible to Him: only in virtue of the second could He accomplish it in face of a world full of evil, and which on all hands enticed Him to sin. Thus, although His sinless holiness was a quality of the human nature of Jesus, it had its proper roots in His character and essence as God-man. From His sinlessness, therefore, we may equally infer His pure and perfect humanity and His true Divinity; and inasmuch as we can only conceive of both as in complete unison and interpenetration, we infer further that He is God-man.

Such are the inferences with respect to the Person of Jesus resulting from His sinlessness. The peculiarity of His moral character and conduct in the midst of a sinful world, testify, as well as His own assertions, that in Him we have to recognise a Person in whom God and man are entirely one;—a Person, therefore, who on one side as much commands our reverent adoration, as on the other He stands before us as the pattern of a perfect life in and before God. That the last and highest stage—so far as the personal realization of the perfect religion is concerned—is thus attained, is self-evident; for in this respect nothing can surpass the indwelling of God in human nature undisturbed by sin, and a human life passed in the spotless purity resulting from union with God, and terminated by an act of supreme self-sacrifice.

The question, however, which now arises, is, how far—if Christianity is proved to be the perfect religion—did this Person furnish and accomplish all the conditions essential to the true and eternal salvation of the sinful human race? In this respect also, as we shall proceed to show, most important conclusions may be deduced from the sinlessness of Jesus.

« Prev Sec. 2.—Inferences in respect to the Divine… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |