Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Seventeen: The Eternal Humanity of Christ
The contents of this Chapter do not have to be accepted for the general argument of the book to stand, but if the considerations here presented are understood, they carry with them a tremendous additional confirmation to the truthfulness of the conclusions reached.
Professor Laidlaw of Edinburgh wrote in The Bible Doctrine of Man:
"Earnest thinkers in theology have often sighed for some pathway that would lead direct from an original relation of the eternal Logos with the human race to the actual incarnation of the Redeemer. Some have even said that the theory of expiation can not retain its place in the thoughts of the Church unless it can be shown that the death of Christ as a propitiation and a sacrifice for the sins of men is the highest expression of an eternal relation between Christ and the human race.
"Doubtless there is something more in the great texts (Col. 1:15-17; Eph. 1:10-22; Rom. 8:15-23, etc.) which combine the relation of the Son to the universe with that of the glorified Redeemer to the 'restitution of all things' than the Church has ever formulated. In that direction there is theological territory to be possest."
R. W. Dale to the same point wrote in his work on The Atonement:
"The relation of Christ to mankind is, however, only part of a larger question--the relation of Christ to the created universe. The Church has been content to acknowledge that Christ created all things, and that in some sense He upholds all things. It has never felt any keen and practical interest in the nature of His permanent relation to the universe. In the dread of Pantheism, and in its eagerness to maintain the freedom and personality of the living God, it has rather shrunk from conceiving any other kind of relation between the Creator and the creation than that which exists between the builder of a house and the house he has built. But there are many passages in the New Testament which are inconsistent with such a conception as this."
We desire to study for a little the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, for "in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," and we doubt not that in Him will be found the solution of every difficulty and every mystery.
In respect to the great mystery of the God-man we have always felt it to be a difficulty to accept the usual doctrinal statement that He was not man until He "was made flesh, and dwelt among us" and that ever after He had the indissoluble personality as the God-Man. It seemed to us as if the Godhead, in the Person of the Only Begotten Son, added something that it did not have before, and, as a consequence, was not absolutely complete in the past.
The text (John 6:62), "What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?" rather startles us. We take the title "Son of man" as especially emphasizing His humanity. We have had no difficulty in accepting the pre-existence of His deity, but this Scripture seems to assert the same of His humanity, viz., that as "Son of man" as well as "Son of God" he had a preexistence.
John 3:13 deserves notice. It asserts that "no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." This is ordinarily taken as spoken by our Lord to Nicodemus; but we believe that a careful study and exegesis of the context, as well as the text, will clearly indicate that this verse marks a new paragraph which was spoken by the evangelist. The fact of its beginning with the word "And," signifies nothing from a Hebrew standpoint and John wrote from that standpoint. Look at almost any chapter in Genesis and see the use of "And," it will be found that "And" frequently begins new paragraphs. Without stating all our reasons, we understand the latter phrase, "even the Son of man which is in heaven," to mean that John says that the Son of man is in heaven when he is writing. To us this verse has the same fundamental truth as in John 6:62, that the Son of man first came down and then returned to heaven.
Eph. 4:9,10, contains the same remarkable teaching: "Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things." The identity of the Christ, that is, the divine-human personality, is the same in coming down from heaven and in ascending into heaven. Not only His divine nature but His divine-human nature must have pre-existed.
These considerations are strengthened by the fact of the persistence and continuance of His human nature, as well as His divine, after His return to heaven and after His glorification. At His Second Coming, which has not yet taken place, He will be identical in personality, the divine-human Jesus, for Acts 1:11 declares, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." The Lord Jesus always will be the God-man. He must have pre-existed, in fact, must have always existed, not in our fallen flesh, but in a truly spiritual and potential humanity, inseparably and vitally joined to His deity. These facts do not imply, as many of the Church Fathers and others assert, that His deity became human and His humanity became deity; for His deity was absolute; His humanity was relative. The relative can never become the absolute. His deity was uncreated, His humanity of necessity was created, even tho its creation was before time. The created can never become the uncreated. Creation can never become the Creator in the absolute sense. Our Lord's humanity was always and everywhere perfectly dependent upon the Father. All other of humanity and creation have access to and union with God only in and through Christ, because of His divine-human, eternal existence.
We will note a few more important verses. "And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them" (John 17:22). Christ, as God, that is, as part of the absolute God, had and has all glory, none could be given Him that He did not have; but as Son of man, He won a glory and was given a glory, and, by faith, in this wonderful prayer our Lord anticipates the work as done and the glory won. Verses 11, 12, etc., speak of "those whom Thou hast given Me," and verse 24 also tells us of a "glory which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world."
We believe that the difficulties of Phil. 2:6 can be explained only by taking into account the eternal existence of our Lord not only as God but also the eternal existence of Him as Son of man. The verse reads, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God" (Phil. 2:6). The latter part of this verse should be translated, "He thought it not a thing to be grasped as a robber's prize to be equal with God." The temptation to be equal with God did not belong to His deity, for that was God and there was nothing to be grasped; but in His humanity, which altho eternal, was created, and therefore, was dependent, there might have been the temptation to make His humanity equal with God. He never even entertained the temptation. It seems that Satan, who was only a creature when he attained to greatness under the blessing of God, sinned in this kind of temptation, in striving to make himself like God. "For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars (angels) of God . . . I will be like the most High" (Isa. 14:13,14).
The word "being" in the expression "being in the form of God" needs attention. It is a stronger word than "being," and the phrase should be translated "subsisting from the beginning in the form of God."
There is also evidence from Hebrews 1:2,3, that the Son who came on this earth in a true humanity was in the form of God; for those verses tell us that He was "the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His substance" (literal).
Altho we hold the true and essential deity of our Lord, yet we believe the text Phil. 2:6, is witnessing to victory in His eternal humanity; and only on this ground yields its true meaning. Christ was and is, and will be as He was eternally, the God-Man.
Phil. 2:4-11 speaks of the humiliation, suffering, death and exaltation which He has as Son of man endured and through which He won the highest honors. "For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross," etc. (Heb. 12:2). We can not conceive of all these words having applicability to anything but to His humanity. We, therefore, believe that He was always the God-Man, and will always remain the God-Man.
We do not think, in the "emptying" of Himself, i.e., "made Himself of no reputation," that the Lord Jesus Christ ceased to be the Son of God, but that in His humiliation He did not take His deity nor the glory and eternality of His humanity, into account. Peter the Great, Tsar of all the Russias in the seventeenth century, in disguise hired himself as a laborer in their shipyards and worked at hard work three months or more. He was still Tsar of all the Russias, but for that time he did not take his Tsardom into account,--so the Lord Jesus Christ. His humanity was a real humanity, an eternally created humanity, He condescended to our fallen condition, He "was made flesh, and dwelt among us." He was born of a woman; He grew; increased in wisdom and stature"; learned as any boy who trusted God would learn. In His deity, He knew everything; in His humanity He became like us. He wrought His miracles by faith; He prayed and had answers to prayer; he was dependent on the Father for words and works; He trusted the Father; He wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost. Asman, He was tempted, "God can not be tempted"; He withstood temptation through faith in the Word of God; He became like us in all things, and yet, in addition to all this, He was more than humanity, for humanity is creaturely, and He received worship. He would never have done this if He had not been truly a part of the absolute Deity as well as a part of humanity. As Deity He was the "only begotten Son," as man He is the "first begotten." (See Chapter, Since God Is Love.)
There are certain things which can be explained only by recognizing the fact of the eternality of the union of our Lord's humanity and His Deity. Think it not strange that even a creaturely humanity can have eternality; but anything that is creaturely can have only a received, or a derived eternality. Only Deity can have an essential and an absolute eternality.
It may be necessary to state that we do not mean that our Lord looked like us in our fallen nature on earth, when He was in eternity. A great change was noticed in Him as man after His resurrection, and especially after His glorification. Stephen, Paul, and John saw Him, and He was more like a most glorious angel, that is, in His humanity. His Deity can not be apprehended, but by faith. What His humanity will be when He finishes the work and presents the kingdom to the Father no word has told us, but it will be transcendently great and glorious.
This truth of our Lord's eternal humanity explains the origin and dignity of man. If the humanity of our Lord came down from above, then all humanity has thus descended, not, however, for the same reason and in the same manner. The angels and men that fell came down because of their sin. They lost the light and life of Christ; they died to His presence and awakened to the lower world of sense and sin.
In this time when the hypothesis of evolution is dominating most of our thinking, we need to learn that altho it uses many facts, in itself it contains but little truth. If it were all true as developed, it would contain no more than a half truth; for there never is any evolution unless there is first an equal involution. Besides this, the whole truth of man's origin as revealed in God's Word is entirely neglected. Man in his original was created in Christ's humanity, on a higher and more glorious plane than the angels. There has been a terrible degeneration, and there is need of a recreating regeneration. Nature itself, as we know it, has fallen from what it was originally; and all its groans and travail are a working toward what it was. Of itself it will not reach the goal; the life and light of Christ must be born in it again.
Phillips Brooks, in a remarkable sermon on "The Eternal Humanity," writes:
"Christ says, 'I am eternal.' Now that must mean not merely that He has existed and shall exist for ever, but also that in the forevers of the past and the future He is eternally Christ; that the special nature in which He relates Himself to us as Savior never had a beginning and shall never have an end. Now what is that special nature? Christ! The word includes to our thought such a Divinity as involves the human element. Christ is the divinely human and the humanly divine . . . There are two words: God and man. One describes pure deity, the other pure humanity. Christ is a word not identical with either, but including both . . .
"Stop here one minute and see how this exalts the human nature that we wear. In the midst of the eternity of God there bursts forth into being the new life of man. What shall we say of it? Is it just a creature of the moment which witnesses its birth? Is it just another of the world's ephemera, with a little longer space of life than some of its time brethren? Is it a new type of being made to be born and die? What if this other truth be true? What if the type of this life I live were part and parcel of the everlasting Godhead? What if it be the peculiar glory of one of the persons of that Godhead that He has worn forever, bound with His perfect deity, the perfect archetype and pattern of this humanity of mine?
"If this truth be so, then we can not but feel that there is much in it to enable us to feel rightly with regard to every one of the new theories which look to a confusion and a loss of the distinctive type of manhood. We have all had our interest excited by the apparent tendencies of modern science toward a depreciation of what has always been considered the unshared honor of humanity. Wise men come forward and tell us of a course of structural development, wherein man becomes not a new creation, for whom a new word was spoken from the creative lips, a new gesture made by the creative hand, but merely the present completion of the natural progress of lower natures working up thus far by some process of selection whose law is resident within itself. The gorilla in his generation is seen climbing through the gradations of a more and more perfect apehood, to attain the summit of his life in men. 'Man is in structure one with the brutes'. All are but coordinated terms of nature's great progression from the formless to the formed; from the inorganic to the organic; from blind force to conscious intellect and will'.
". . . What am I only a higher attainment of those poor dumb brutes, digging the earth a little deeper for the roots I am to eat, piling a little more delicately the den I am to live in, crying a little more articulately the pain or pleasure that I feel? . . . Let science show me my affinities with the lower life: a mightier hand points me to my connection with the higher. I go back beyond the first rudiments that curious hands have found, buried in the slime of formless worlds; I go hack beyond the forming of the world in which man was to live, back to the beginningless Alpha of all being, and lo, in Him I find the eternal pattern after which my nature was to be fashioned, the eternal perfection which my nature was to seek."
The creation of our Lord's humanity in eternity implies that the whole creation was originally eternal, for it was all created in Him (Col. 1:16). If it were otherwise, Christ would not be complete, the eternal creation would not be complete and God's glory in eternity would not be complete.
This is further confirmed by the facts that the ruins of our fallen nature witness to a former glory that belongs to a state of things that is not temporal, and besides, the conditions of time never fully satisfy the heart of man.
In the Scriptures, John 6:62, "What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?" we are given truth which is for all men, for the title "Son of man" is Christ's title as man and as man's vital Head and Representative. If He was there originally we were also there, and if He ascends there again, so will we when Christ finishes His redemptive work.
We also know that when He ascended He took up with Him a glorified body, that is, a body made up of the gross elements of this world, glorified. All this shows that nature and creation were once spiritual and glorious, and through Christ are to be restored; for the material was a vital part of Him. Vitally united to Christ again, man and all creation will be eternally in God.
In the death, resurrection, and glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ, all creation has potentially passed through that process; and in the ages to come it will have all wrought in it which was wrought in Him. "He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things." And when He does so fill, every longing of His whole creation will be satisfied.
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