His Human Spirit and Soul

From: The Crowned Christ

F W Grant

We come now to consider the deeper question of spirit and soul in Christ. "Docetism," which denied the reality of His flesh, needs now no argument to be spent upon it, for it has no adherents at the present time; but that to which we are now come involves, to begin with, the question of what spirit and soul are in man; and many are not yet clear as to this. We can hardly therefore understand what true humanity involves in the Lord, except we first understand what it is in men at large.

If, for instance, we take up such a book as "Hodge's Outlines of Theology," (a book which has been praised by a justly celebrated man, lately deceased, as a "Goliath's sword-none like it" for the Christian armory,) we shall find the writer saying:-

"Pythagoras, and after him Plato, and subsequently the mass of Greek and Roman philosophers, maintained that man consists of three constituent elements: the rational spirit, (nous, pneuma, mens;) the animal soul, (psuche, anima;) the body, (soma, corpus.) Hence this usage of the word became stamped upon the Greek popular speech. And consequently the apostle uses all three when intending to express exhaustively in popular language the totality of man and his belongings: 'I pray God that your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless' (1 Thes. 5:23; Heb. 4:12; 1 Cor. 15:45). Hence some theologians conclude that it is a doctrine given by divine inspiration that human nature is constituted of three distinct elements."

To which view he objects:-

"That the pneuma and psuche are distinct entities cannot be the doctrine of the New Testament, because they are habitually used interchangeably and often indifferently. Thus psuche as well as pneuma is used to designate the soul as the seat of the higher intellectual faculties-(Matt. 16:26; 1 Pet. 1:22; Matt. 10:28). Thus also pneuma as well as psuche is used to designate the soul as the animating principle of the body-(James 2:26). Deceased persons are indifferently called psuchai, (Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 6:9; 20:4); and pneumata, (Luke 24:37, 39; Heb. 12:23)."

These are all his objections, and at the first glance they are very unsatisfactory. How much of the precision and trustworthiness of Scripture must disappear if we are at liberty to credit apparent distinctions of this sort to popular phraseology! On the contrary, the Old Testament is as clear as to these distinctions as the New, long before philosophy had moulded the speech of Greece, and outside altogether the Greek that it had moulded.

All through Scripture, from the first chapter of Genesis on, the beast is credited with a "soul." "Everything wherein there was a living soul' is the designation (in Gen. 1:30, Heb.) of the mere animal as distinct from man. True, man also is made a living soul; but that is not his highest-his special character. God is the "Father of spirits" (Heb. 12:9), not of souls; and as the son is in the image of his father, man is thus by a special work created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Thus also it is the "spirit of man that is in him" that "knoweth the things of a man" (1 Cor. 2:11); and this spirit is therefore never ascribed to the beast. The writer of Ecclesiastes in his early "thoughts" raises a question about it, but which he answers at the close (3:21; 12:7), and it is merely the doubt of a man in a fog, not divine truth, as is evident, nor given as that.

The spirit and soul are always viewed in Scripture with perfect consistency in this manner. Scripture is always self-consistent, and never loose in what it says. The faculties proper to man, the mental and moral judgment are ascribed to the spirit; the sensitive, instinctive, emotional nature is ascribed to the soul. Yet there is a knowledge that can be ascribed to the soul, as there is a joy of the spirit; and if "heart" be substituted for "soul," and "mind" for "spirit," we can understand this without realizing any confusion or inconsistency in the matter.

As to the death state, if spirit or soul be absent the body will be dead, and either may be mentioned in this way; yet here, too, Scripture will be found perfectly at one in all its statements. In the body, (and through its connection with it, doubtless, in the "natural" or "psychic" condition already spoken of,) man-though he has a spirit-is a "soul;" so that "soul" becomes, as in our common language also, the equivalent of self; while out of the body, though he has a soul, he is a "spirit."

This will explain all passages, except perhaps those in Revelation, where also that in chapter 20:4 is only a somewhat emphatic use of soul for self or person; while the "souls under the altar," as applied to martyrs, are but figured as persons whose lives had been offered up in sacrifice. The usage is not really different.

"Spirit and soul and body," then, make up the man; and here the spirit it is that is the distinctive peculiarity of man, as is evident. To be true Man the Lord would surely possess both these; and both are accordingly ascribed to Him in Scripture. He can speak of His soul being troubled and sorrowful (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34; John 12:27); and it can be said of Him, that "His soul was not left in hell" (or hades), (Acts 2:31). On the other hand, in His youth He waxes strong in spirit (Luke 2:40); He perceives in His spirit (Mark 2:8); He rejoices and is troubled in spirit (Luke 10:21; John 13:21); He commends and gives up His spirit to His Father (Luke 23:46; John 19:30).

Thus the proof of His true humanity is complete. Here too He is in all things made like unto His brethren; and how much, in fact, depends upon this! That, we must seek to get before us later on; but first, we must turn to certain denials or explanations otherwise of what these texts seem to teach; old speculations having been revived of late, and calling for fresh examination. It will be of use to trace it first in its older form and then in its modern phases. The older form is known (in Church history only) as Apollinarianism; the later is all around us to-day in what is known as Kenoticism.

Apollinaris was a man in high esteem among the orthodox, and in opposition to Arianism a zealous Trinitarian. It was, in fact, in opposition to Arianism that his views seem to have been developed. "The Arian doctrine of the person of Christ," says Dr. Bruce,6 "was, that in the historical person called Christ appeared in human flesh the very exalted-in a sense,-divine-creature named in Scripture the Logos [or Word],-the Logos taking the place of a human soul, and being liable to human infirmity, and even to sin, inasmuch as, however exalted, he was still a creature, therefore finite, therefore fallible, capable of turning, in the abuse of freedom, from good to evil. Apollinaris accepted the Arian method of constructing [conceiving? ] the person, by the exclusion of a rational human soul, and used it as a means of obviating the Arian conclusion."

He did not deny a human soul in Christ in the scriptural sense of soul, but a rational human soul, which was the philosophic term for which Scripture uses the term "spirit." The spirit of Christ he maintained to be His Deity; and in this way he thought not merely to escape the Arian doctrine of moral frailty in the Lord, but to obtain other results of the greatest importance.

Of these the first was the avoidance of all possibility of supposing a dual personality in Christ, such as in fact some of his opponents fell into. Quoting Dr. Bruce again: In his view "Christ was true God, for He was the eternal Logos manifested in the flesh. He was also true man, for human nature consists of three component elements, body, animal soul, and spirit;" and all these Christ had "True, it might be objected that the third element in the person of Christ, the nous [mind] was not human but divine. But Apollinaris was ready with his reply. 'The mind in Christ,' he said in effect, 'is at once divine and human; the Logos is at once the express image of God and the prototype of humanity.' This appears to be what he meant when he asserted that the humanity of Christ was eternal,-a part of his system which was much misunderstood by his opponents, who supposed it to have reference to the body of Christ. There is no reason to believe that Apollinaris meant to teach that our Lord's flesh was eternal, and that He brought it with Him from heaven, and therefore was not really born of the Virgin Mary; though some of his adherents may have held such opinions. His idea was that Christ was the celestial man; celestial, because divine; man, not merely as God incarnate, but because the divine spirit is at the same time essentially human."

"This," Bruce remarks, "was the speculative element in the Apollinarian theory misapprehended by contemporaries, better understood, and in some quarters more sympathized with, now."

And here is our interest in all this matter, that in the ferment of men's minds at the present time so much of the dead and buried past is being revived; oftentimes in fragments which it is useful to put in their place therefore again, that we may see their natural connection, and realize their significance.

But Apollinaris would have urged, no doubt, that this last part of his view was not simply speculation. He might have appealed to John 3:13, "the Son of man which is in heaven," or better still to 1 Cor. 15:47, "the second Man is (ex ouranou) out of heaven.7"

Nevertheless, "made in all things like unto His brethren" could not be said, as is manifest, of Christ as he has pictured Him, except we admit a self-emptying so great as that this divine humanity shall be able to take the true human limitation, be tempted as we are, increase in wisdom as in stature, be the new Adam, Head of a new race of men: without this it is plain we have not the Christ of the Scriptures. He is so unlike us that we would not have courage to claim Him for ourselves. Nor can we think of Him as in the agony of the garden, or in the darkness of the forsaken sorrow upon the Cross. The whole mental and moral nature of man, Apollinaris rightly conceived to be in that spirit of man, which he denied the Lord to possess. Spirit, He had brought (according to this theory) from heaven with Him; or rather this was the very One who came. Thus it became now indeeed "the spirit of a Man"; but a human spirit it could not be called, except by an argument which leaps over an infinite difference as if it scarcely were one, while in the interests of the theory, (that is to provide against the mutability of the creature,) it is appraised at its full worth.

But there was a third advantage that Apollinaris conceived to arise from this divine humanity of Christ, that it made God Himself to stoop to suffering and death, as no other view did, and this he believed to be essentially necessary to give power to His redemptive work. But the view he took of this is in contention.

On the whole, there can be no right question that Apollinarianism, though it had long disappeared, and only for a short time indeed maintained itself, was none the less a step towards Kenoticism, which has of late been spreading in many quarters, and which was needed to round out the elder doctrine to any consistency. An American writer of this school even "founds his theory on the basis of the essential unity of the human and divine"; "the incarnation, according to him, being the human element (the Logos) eternally in God, becoming man by taking flesh, and occupying the place of a soul." (Bruce.)

Of Kenoticism, in connection with our present theme, a very slight notice will suffice. Its main position is that the Son of God, in becoming man, contracted Himself really within human limitations, so as either actually to become the human spirit of Christ, or else to take place along side of this in one human consciousness. Always the aim is, as with Apollinarianism, to escape the attribution to the Lord of dual personality, to make the Christ of the Gospels more simply intelligible, while conserving His actual Deity. Deity can, they say, without real self-impairment, lay aside what belongs to it except essential attributes; and omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence are not these, but only expressions of free relation to the world which He has made. "Incarnation is for the Son of God, necessarily self-limitation, self-emptying, not indeed of that which is essential in order to be God, but of the divine manner of existence and of the divine glory which He had from the beginning with the Father, and which He manifested or exercised in governing the world. Such is the view," says Thomasius as quoted by Bruce, "given by the apostle in the epistle to the Philippians, such the view demanded by the evangelic history; for on no other view is it possible to conceive how, for example, Christ could sleep in the storm on the sea of Galilee. What real sleep could there be for Him, who, as God, not only was awake, but, on the anti-Kenotic hypothesis, as Ruler of the world, brought on, as well as, stilled the storm?"

The writer quoted here does not go the extreme length of Gess and others, who reproduce the Apollinarian view of the Lord's humanity; but we need not cite more to show from what questionings Kenoticism has arisen, or the answer which essentially all forms of it supply. Who does not know these questions? and does not know also how we are baffled by them? Is this difficulty after all capable of satisfactory solution? or does it show us that we are face to face with the inscrutable, only affirming to us the Lord's own declaration that "no man knoweth the Son, but the Father"?

It must give us pause, at least, to realize how truly hypothetical all the answers are,-how little Scripture can be even pleaded in their behalf: and here surely is the very subject upon which we should fear to hazard a word without the safe-guard of Scripture. We may, however, look at what is advanced, if only with the conviction that the feebleness of all our thoughts is what will be demonstrated by it. Even this may have its good also in keeping us within the limits of trustworthy knowledge, that with the psalmist we may not exercise ourselves on things too high for us, and incur the sure penalty that follows presumption.

Kenosis is indeed a word taken from Scripture: it is the "self-emptying" of the second chapter of Philippians, the real force of the word which in our common version is poorly rendered, "He made Himself of no reputation" (heauton ekenosen). It thus professes to be based upon Scripture-indeed to be the only adequate interpretation, as we have seen, of the passage referred to: a wonderful passage indeed, with which we cannot do better than refresh our memories and our hearts. Wonderful it is that it is an exhortation for us to the imitation of Christ in it:-

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, did not esteem it a thing to be grasped at, the being equal to God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming in the likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

The alteration from "thought it not robbery" to "esteemed it not a thing to be grasped at" is in accordance with the alternative in the margin of the Revised Version and with what is preferred by many at the present day. The point evidently that the apostle insists on is, not that Christ could claim to be equal with God, but that He did not hold fast that claim: He emptied Himself-gave up the form of God for a servant's form. The point that the Kenotic theory invites us to consider is what is involved in this self-emptying.

The fact itself is manifest: He was here a Man, in a servant's form. He did not come in the form which was proper to Him as God, though He was God. That is surely plain. It does not seem necessary to go back of the simple truth with which every Christian is acquainted, to understand this emptying. There is no fresh revelation apparent in it: rather, it is to this general Christian knowledge that the apostle appeals.

We are entitled to seek the full worth of these expressions: that is surely true. He emptied Himself of the form of God to take a servant's form: there is the antithesis; but it only implies the actuality of His manhood. When in manhood He Himself speaks of "the Son of man who is in heaven" (John 3:13). Was He in heaven, then, in the servant's form? Nay, one could not say so. But then the servant's form which He had assumed did not limit Him to that; the kenosis was not absolute and universal, but relative to His appearance upon earth; it was only what was necessarily implied in His coming into the world as Man, and not to be carried back of this. It agrees perfectly with the passage in Philippians as an appeal founded upon the facts of Christian knowledge, and not a new revelation for the first time communicated.

Again when the apostle assures us in Colossians (1:19, ) that "it pleased all the fullness (of the Godhead-the whole Godhead) to dwell in Him," this is impossible to make consistent with the Kenotic view of self-contraction within the limits of mere manhood. We may be indeed very feeble in understanding what is meant by this, but it is not contraction at all but expansion of our conception of Christ as Man. It is not Kenoticism, nor consistent with it.

But, apart from Kenoticism, the Apollinarian conception of the Lord's humanity does not present a basis for a human life capable of faith, of temptation, of sympathy with ordinary human experience, of growth in wisdom such as is explicitly attributed to Him. The singleness of personality which is indeed very manifest in it-and which is its attraction to the perplexed intellect-is gained at too great a cost. We must assert against the Apollinarian His true Manhood, and against the Kenoticist His complete Godhead; even while we own that the connection between these is inscrutable, and must remain so: comforting ourselves with the assurance that that is after all what our Lord Himself has declared. We know not the Son in the mystery of His nature; but we do know Him in His union of Godhead and manhood the living Link between God and His creatures, which can never be undone, and will never give way whatever be the strain upon it. In Him before God, accepted in the Beloved, we are "bound in the bundle of life with the Lord our God" in a way no human thought could have dreamed in its highest imagining. But it is no imagination, but the assurance that He Himself has given us: "Because I live ye shall live also" (John 14:19.)
 


6 "The Humiliation of Christ," pp. 42, 43.

7  So the editors read it now.

 
 

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