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The Doctrine of God-Man
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “God the Father, God the Son.” The series of sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1955 and was first published in 1996.
In the last lecture we were considering a number of texts concerning the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, some clearly asserting His deity, others equally clearly asserting His humanity; but before we go on to the consideration of the doctrine itself, there is just one other piece of evidence that we must give, and that is the fact that the Scriptures very clearly teach His subordination to His Father. We shall not consider this evidence in detail, so I shall just give you headings, but you can easily discover the scriptural references for yourself.
The first is this: He said specifically that His Father (or `the Father') was greater than He Himself: `My Father is greater than I' (John 14:28).
Second, He is described as `begotten of the Father': `God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son' (John 3:16). 'Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee'---how often is that repeated in the Scriptures (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Hebrew 1:5; 5:5)!
Third, He told us that He lived because of the Father, or `by the Father': `As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; [or because of the Father]: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me' (John 6:57). That is most important.
In the fourth place, He said that He had been sent by the Father. There are innumerable examples of this. `And this,' said our Lord in John 6:39, `is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing . . .'; or again, in John 8:29, He said, `He that sent me is with me.' And he constantly repeated that.
In the fifth place, He said that he had received commandment from the Father as to what He was to do. John 14:31 tells us that, and so does John 10:18---`This commandment have I received of my Father.'
In the same way--- sixth---He said that He had received all His authority from the Father. `For as the Father hath life in himself: so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man' (John 5:26-7). All this is indicative, you see, of His subordination to the Father.
In the seventh place, He said He could do nothing independently of the Father. He could do nothing by Himself. In John 5:19, for instance, we read, `Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.' That, again, is a very striking statement of His dependence upon, His subordination to, the Father.
Indeed, in the eighth place, He actually said that He had received His message from the Father. He said, `I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him' (John 8:26); and He continued, `I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things' (v. 28). `The words that I speak unto you,' He told His disciples, `I speak not of myself' (John 14:10). His words were given to Him by His Father.
He said the same, in the ninth place, about the works that He did. `The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works'---John 14:1(3 again. His words and His works were all given to Him by the Father, and what He did, He did because the Father had given Him this work to do. You will find it again in John 17:4: `I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.'
Tenth, He said that a kingdom, His kingdom, had been appointed to Him by the Father: `And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me' (Luke 22:29).
The eleventh argument is that we are told specifically by the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:24, that at the end He will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, and then that He Himself will be subject to the Father, `that God may be all in all' (v. 28).
Twelfth, in 1 Corinthians 11:3 there is a most important statement to the effect that God the Father is the head of Christ: `But I would have you know,' says Paul, `that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.' You notice the sequence and the argument. The man is the head of the woman, Christ is the head of the man and God is the head of Christ.
Then, the thirteenth and last argument is that He said constantly that it was His work, His function, to lead us and to bring us to God; and there are innumerable statements to the same effect in the various New Testament epistles---`in bringing many sons unto glory', says the writer of Hebrews (2:10). `Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling,' writes Jude, `and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy ...' (v. 24). So the work did not end with our Lord Himself; He takes us and brings us to God.
Now all these, of course, are indications of the subordination of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Father. But let me emphasise this: you will notice that every one of them has reference only to the incarnate Lord. Not one of them says any of these things about Him before His birth, before His incarnation. They are not descriptions of the pre-existent Word of God. That is a most important distinction.
So, then, having thus collected our evidence, we must put the doctrine like this. The Bible states that Christ was truly God but that He was also truly man, and we must be most careful to assert both these things, and to do so correctly. Now as we consider this great doctrine we must always be careful to guard ourselves against certain dangers. Those who are familiar with the history of the Church will know very well that the Christians of the first three to four centuries spent much time debating the doctrine of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. All sorts of heresies came in. Very sincere, very genuine people, in an attempt to understand this amazing truth, began teaching what was clearly error, and several councils of the Church were held in order to correct them, and to define the doctrine.
So I would say once more that any Christian who says that he or she has no time for this sort of thing is not only displaying terrible ignorance, but is doing something that is exceedingly dangerous. Heretics were generally very sincere people, and some of them were very devout. Not only that. The New Testament itself warns us against heresy, and against the various antichrists and their teaching, so we must pay attention to these things. Let me, therefore, try to classify the particular dangers that we must avoid.
The first danger is that of denying the reality of His divine nature. That is one of a whole group of dangers propagated by the people who teach that He was only man. There were many such groups in the early Church and there are the Unitarians today. Now the people who fell into this error did so because they were anxious to safeguard the doctrine of what is called monotheism---the belief that there is only one God. As we have seen, they felt that if you asserted that Jesus Christ is God, then you would be saying that there are two Gods, and if you say the Holy Spirit is God, you are asserting that there are three. So, in an attempt to avoid that, they went to this extreme of denying the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is heresy. And the whole purpose, in a sense, of the Gospel of John is to deny that particular error. John himself states it quite clearly. His object in writing his Gospel was that we might know that `Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God' (John 20:31). This is an unmistakable assertion of His deity.
But the second group of errors, of course, goes to the opposite extreme; these deny the reality of His human nature. Many people, for instance, taught, and still teach, that Jesus was only a man but that the eternal Christ came upon Him at His baptism, continued in Him and worked through Him until just before He was taken to the cross, and then left Him, so that it was only the human Jesus that died. There were all kinds of refinements of this teaching, with which we need not be concerned, but we must emphasise the principles. They are all a denial of His true human nature---teaching that He had a phantom body, drawing a distinction between the eternal Christ and the human Jesus, and ideas like that. The first epistle of John was specifically written to counteract that error. John says that the test of the Holy Spirit is that, `Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist . . .' (1 John 4:2-3). So we must assert the reality of the human nature as well as of the divine nature.
Then the third group were errors and heresies that denied the integrity of the natures, the divine and the human. You may have heard of Arianism which was a great cause of trouble to the early Church. The error of the Arians was that they denied the reality of the divine nature. They said that this Logos, this Christ, was the first and the highest of all created beings. He was not God, but He was not man. He was something in between, the first created being, the highest of all the beings that God has ever created.
Then, on the other hand, there was once more a denial of the integrity of the human nature; people taught that Christ had a body and an animal soul, but that His mind and His spirit were not human. He was only human up to a point, they said. So they were not granting Him a full or a real human nature.
And the last group of false teachings with regard to His person, were the denials of the unity of His Person. This is generally known as the Nestorian heresy. The Nestorians said not that He was one person with two natures, but that He was two persons. They said, `He is God and man, a personal God and a personal man.' They were so anxious to emphasise the two sides that they went too far and said that He was two persons, God and man, instead of saying that He was one person with a divine and human nature.
And, as a part of that particular error, we must mention the case of those who denied that there is a distinction in the two natures. It is extraordinary how these views always contradict one another; people always will swing from one extreme right over to the other. It seems very difficult for most people to keep to the middle of the road, and to hold the two in balance. The Nestorians said, `Yes, we must emphasise the divine and the human, and they went so far as to say He was complete God and complete man---two persons. Then at the other extreme was the heresy which taught that the two natures became blended into one nature. Instead of keeping the divine and the human separate, they had blended them together, and taught that there is a new sort of nature, partly divine and partly human. But that is equally heretical.
So then, as over and against all these errors, we claim that the Bible teaches that He is one person who has two natures. I can do nothing better at this point than to read to you the famous statement of the Council of Chalcedon of AD 451. This doctrine had been discussed, let me remind you, throughout the centuries. People had met at their councils and conferences, and, at last, they made this great comprehensive statement, which is not so much a definition, as a statement of certain things which are and are not true. They found it impossible, as we still do, to give an adequate statement of the doctrine, but because of all these errors, they laid down certain statements to safeguard the true position, and this is how they put it.
Our Lord is truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body, consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days for us and for our salvation born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God according to the manhood; 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, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.
What a glorious, what a magnificent statement! We rather tend to think, do we not---at least some people do today---that we have advanced a great deal since the fifth century; we are the wonderful people of the twentieth century! Yet that is the sort of thing they taught to Christian people in the fifth century. I hope we all appreciate it! Christian people lacking all our educational facilities and advantages were given truth like that. And you notice how comprehensive it is. It deals with practically all the errors and the heresies which I mentioned to you, and it lays down these great propositions. So that is the statement of the Council of Chalcedon of AD 451. Get it and read it for yourselves. Notice that its emphasis is this: one person, two natures, the two natures unmixed, joined but not mixed, not fused, not intermingled, remaining separate, God and man.
But why is it so essential that we should assert these two natures? Why did the early Church contend for it in this way, and why must we? Well, we must assert the manhood because since man sinned, the penalty must be borne in the nature of man. No one can bear the penalty of man's sin except someone who is man Himself; it is the only way to redeem man. Then the payment of the penalty involves sufferings of body and of soul such as a man alone can bear; sufferings which God could not bear. `My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death' said our Lord in the Garden (Mark 14:34). The suffering involved must include the body and the soul, so He had to be a man.
And then He has to be a sympathetic high priest, argues the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, and He can only be a sympathetic high priest by having a human nature, by being `in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin' (Hebrew 4:15). It is because He is like us that He is able to bear with us. He understands us, He knows our feelings and our frailty. We have a high priest who has been `touched with the feeling of our infirmities' (Hebrew 4:15). He knows us in that sense because He has a human nature.
And in the same way the Scriptures tell us so often that He is an example to believers. He is not an example to anybody else, but He is an example to believers, for we are to follow in His steps, `Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not' (1 Peter 2:22-23). We are to follow Him. He is our example in Christian living. There, then, are the main arguments for the absolute necessity of the human nature.
But it is equally necessary that we must assert the Godhead or the divine nature, and for this great reason: in order that His sacrifice might have infinite value, He had to be God as well as man. Or I might put it like this: in order that He might render perfect obedience to God, without failure and without possibility of failure, He had to be God. Adam was perfect, but he fell. God made him perfect, in His own image and likeness, but he fell. So in order to ensure a perfect carrying out of the law, in order that He might bear the wrath of God redemptively, and free us from the curse of the law, without the fear of failure, it was essential that the Godhead should be combined with the manhood.
So, having said all that, shall we try to bring it to a focus by attempting to consider the mystery of His person? We have been saying extraordinary things, as we must if we are scriptural. We have been making these great assertions about His deity, about His humanity, about these two natures in this one person, and people have always asked: How is all this possible? Now, let me make it quite plain that I do not pretend that I can give an adequate or a full explanation. No one can. We are confronted by `the mystery of godliness' (1 Timothy 3:16). It is beyond us; it is beyond reason; it is beyond our understanding. As we have had to say in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity, and with many other doctrines, it is not for us to understand; our business is to submit ourselves to the Bible.
Constantly, you see, we come back to that. In a sense, that is what faith is---that we accept this, that we are guided by this. We know nothing but what revelation tells us, and we do not desire to know anything beyond that. And there is, therefore, a point at which we must always cease to attempt to understand. We must cease trying to span the infinite with our finite reason, indeed with our sinful reason, and we must receive the truth as it is given, knowing that if we do so we shall progressively understand, and that when we go to glory we shall understand fully and finally. But here we must accept by faith. So let us approach this doctrine in that way, and with those preliminary observations very much in our minds.
Now it has often been suggested that certain analogies may help us to understand this, and if we remember that they are only analogies, they will help us, but they are not the complete picture and we must never press them too far. It has often been suggested, for example, that there is, in man himself, an analogy with respect to the two natures in the one person of our Lord. Man, after all, is body and soul. The body and soul are distinct and unmixed; they are separate and yet they are united together in one person. I can say, therefore, that I have a body and I have a soul. Everything that happens in the body, and in the soul, is essential to the person. For instance, if I have a pain in my body I say that I have a pain. It is really only in my body, but I say that I have a pain. And in the same way, if something happens in the realm of my soul and my spirit, I still put it in terms of myself. The things, you see, that happen in my body and my soul I ascribe to myself. From the two natures, as it were, I ascribe things to the one person.
In the same way, you notice that the biblical doctrine does that with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. `Had they known it,' says Paul to the Corinthians, `they would not have crucified the Lord of glory' (1 Corinthians 2:8). The Lord of glory! Now, in a sense, you cannot crucify God, but He had to have a human body before He could be crucified. Yet Paul does not say that His body was crucified, he says that ‘the Lord of glory' was crucified. In other words, what happens in the one nature or the other is ascribed to the one person.
It always seems to me, also, that there is another analogy. I cannot recall ever having read it, but I put it to you for your consideration I am rather helped myself by the thought of `the old man' and `the new man' in the Christian (Ephesians 4:22-4). Here am I as a Christian and I am aware of the old nature and the new nature. These two are not intermingled and fused, I am aware of them as distinct entities, yet they are both united in me. I, as a person, contain these two or the two are parts and expressions of me, my person and my personality. Now I am only using that analogy in order that we may have some sort of a glimmer as to the possibility of our Lord having two distinct natures within Himself, yet being one person, not two persons.
However, let me put it to you in terms of Scripture. There is no doubt that the most helpful Scripture with regard to this question is in Philippians 2:5-8:
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, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Now this passage has often been misunderstood. If I had been delivering these addresses, say, forty or fifty years ago, in the time of the new theology, so-called, and the 'kenosis' theory, I would have had to spend a great deal of time on these verses. The Revised Version unfortunately translates `made himself of no reputation' as 'emptied himself', and that word `emptied' has led to all the trouble. Incidentally, it is a bad translation; the Authorised Version is altogether superior there, as I hope to show you.
Now I often feel that people have got into trouble with this passage because they have forgotten the context. The passage begins, `Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,' and the context is, `Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.' Paul is not setting out here to give a doctrine, as it were, of the person of Christ; he is giving a practical appeal about conduct. So what does he say? Well, take this word form---‘Who, being in the form of God'---what is this? Form is the sum total of the qualities that make a thing what it is. Take, for instance, a piece of metal; that piece of metal can be either a sword or a ploughshare, though it is the same metal. And when I talk about `the form' of a sword I mean the thing that makes that piece of metal a sword rather than a ploughshare. So if I take a sword and smelt it down and turn it into a ploughshare, I have changed its form. That is a most important point.
Then there is this word `being'---‘Who, being in the form of God'---that means that He already was in the form of God before He came into this world. He always was God. That is the assertion. Then take the phrase, `thought it not robbery to be equal with God'. Now the Authorised Version is not quite so good here; the other translations are better: He `did not regard it as a prize to be grasped at'; He `did not regard it as something to be held on to at all costs'. No, He did not do that. He did not hold on to this form of Godhead, to this equality with God which He had. What, then, did He do? Well, instead of that, He `made himself of no reputation'. He did not `empty himself' of anything; He took another form.
And so the apostle says, in effect, `Now you Philippians ought to be doing what He did. You are all of you looking after your own things and not the things of others. You ought to be very grateful that the Son of God did not do that. He did not hold on to His equality with God; He made Himself of no reputation. He did not look on His own things; He looked on you and your needs, and He came down to earth in order to help you. You must do the same.' Notice the emphasis. Paul is not telling these Philippians to turn their natures into something else. No. He says, `You must now humble yourselves, though you still remain what you are.' So our Lord did not empty Himself of anything. He did not empty Himself of His Godhead. But He did not hold on to the manifestations of that Godhead. He did not hold on to the power of the Godhead, as it were, to the assertion of it. No, as Paul says again in verse 8, `he humbled himself'. He remained the same, but He came in this humble form. He came, Paul tells us, ‘in the form of a servant'. Now, as we have seen, the form is the consummation of those qualities that make a thing what it is, so He really was a true servant. He came and lived as a real servant, though He was still God. He did not empty His Godhead out or cease to be God. What happened was that He did not go on asserting this equality, but came in `the form of a servant'.
Now the apostle is obviously emphasising this point I am making, because why else does he say `in the likeness of men'? If our Lord had left the Godhead behind and become a man, Paul would never have used that phrase; he would have said He was `made a man'. But he does not say that; he says He was made `in the likeness of men'. Then again, he says, `And being found in fashion as a man'. Why these expressions? If He had emptied Himself of deity, if He had ceased to be God, Paul would not be talking about `likeness' and `fashion'; he would just say that He who was God also became man. Again, he does not say that, but what he does say is that though our Lord was still in the form of God, He became man also. Far from pouring anything out, He took something on.
That is the doctrine of the Scripture, that He who is still God, took the form of a servant, He was made `in the likeness of men' and was found `in fashion as a man'. He took on this something extra. He who was eternally God became man also. And He lived and did His work in this world as a servant. That is what Paul teaches. Let me give you a quotation from the great Dr Warfield which I think will help you: ‘The Lord of the world became a servant in the world. He whose right it was to rule, took obedience as his life characteristic.' What a wonderful statement!
What, then, does all this mean? It means that there was no change in His deity, but that He took human nature to Himself, and chose to live in this world as a man. He humbled Himself in that way. He deliberately put limits upon Himself. Now we cannot go further. We do not know how He did it. We cannot understand it, in a sense. But we believe this: in order that He might live this life as a man, while He was here on earth, He did not exercise certain qualities of His Godhead. That was why, as we saw in the last lecture, He needed to be given the gift of the Holy Spirit without measure. That was why He found it necessary to pray. He had not ceased to be God. He said, in effect, to Nicodemus, `The Son of man who is on earth and who is speaking to you is still in heaven' (John 3:13). Yes; but He chose to live as a man. He did not cease to be God, nor did He resign any part of His Godhead, but He was now living in this form as a servant and as a man.
And as we look at it like that, we see how it becomes possible that He could grow `in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man' (Luke 2:52). We see, too, how it was that He did not seem to know certain things at certain times, and yet clearly at other times asserted His Godhead and His unity with the Father, and said, `Before Abraham was I am,' and so on. It was all true, and all this was happening at one and the same time. This eternal Son of God, who was still the eternal Son of God, having taken unto Himself this human nature; this one indivisible person, who had two natures instead of one, chose to, and actually did live as a man, taking the form of a servant and humbling Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Ah, we have been looking at a great and wonderful and glorious mystery. I know of nothing, as I have emphasised repeatedly, more wonderful for us to contemplate and consider. Do you not feel your minds being expanded and stretched? Do you not feel that it is a great privilege to be allowed to look into such wondrous mysteries and glorious truths? God has given us His word that we might do so, not that we might skip over it lightly, but that we might delve into it and try to grasp what has happened. For the message is that God so loved you and so loved me that He called upon His Son to do all this. The Son did it, though He is eternal God. He went into the womb of Mary and was born as a babe and was put into the manger, still God eternal, the Son by whom all things were made. Yes, and He even endured ‘such contradiction of sinners' (Hebrew 12:3) and was spat upon and crucified, and died and was buried. And He did it all because it was the only way whereby you and I could be saved. The only way whereby our sins could be forgiven was that He should bear their punishment. The only way whereby you and I could become partakers of the divine nature was that He should have taken human nature. And having done so, He is able to give us this new nature and prepare us for heaven and for glory.
We have been contemplating the marvel and the mystery of the age, the thing that makes the angels in heaven astonished, the thing that they are looking into---God coming in the flesh and for sinners, vile and despicable sinners, rebels against God, to make them the children of God. Beloved friends, let us continue to look at Him, to consider Him, to look unto Him, and let us measure and estimate our spiritual life, not by feelings and experiences, but by our knowledge of Him and our love for Him. He is the centre of everything. `This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent' (John 17:3). May God give us grace to do so.(277-288)
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