GOD'S INSPIRED WORD is beautifully balanced. His revelation is marvelously
adapted to the needs of His creatures. Darkly, at first, it deals only
with what is present, but gradually becomes more luminous, as we can
bear it, and reveals the past and the future. Christ is a dim shadow in the Hebrew Scriptures. Even at His advent, little is
revealed of His higher and brighter glories, except through that disciple who was His
bosom friend (Jn. 13:23). It is through Paul that we learn most concerning the secret of
Christ. He reveals His future celestial exaltation and His past glories as the channel of
When He is fully revealed to our
adoring eyes, we no longer doubt His "pre-existence," but praise and worship Him
as God's Creative Original in Whom and through Whom all else has been brought into
existence. He was the Effulgence of God's glory and the Emblem of His assumption, with His
seat at the right hand of the divine Majesty. He was worshipped by His messengers. To the
Father He was the beloved Son, the intimate of His heart. But His greatest claim on our
affections is the self-effacing disposition which led Him, being inherently in the form of
God, to lay aside His pre-eminence for the form of a slave, and to humble Himself and go
down to the accursed cross.
May this supreme exhibition of love
keep us from ever denying His inherent dignities, and stir us up to emulate His example
and to aclaim His name and fame to every creature in the universe!
THE KENOSIS OF THE CHRIST
THE supreme example of self-abasement set before us in the Scriptures is the descent of
Christ from the form of God to the death of the cross, from the zenith of celestial glory
to the deepest depth of earthly degradation. We are exhorted to cultivate His humble
disposition, so contrary to all our own ambitions and counter to the spirit of the world
about us, that we may emulate Him in devotion to the welfare of others, through it
involves our own humiliation. In the course of this exhortation we are reminded of the
kenosis of the Christ, that which changed Him from the form of God to the form of a slave.
The Authorized Version does not really translate, but substitutes the oratorical
paraphrase, He "made Himself of no reputation." The Revisers courageously give
the bold but literal root rendering, He "emptied Himself" (Phil. 2:5-11).
This simple statement would never have caused the untold
confusion which still seems to surround it, if the commendable zeal of the early fathers
and the Nicean council against the Arian faction had not led them to invent a creed,
calculated to clear up its meaning. The supposition that men could express clearly and
concisely what the Scriptures had failed to clarify is repugnant to anyone who has imbibed
but a modicum of the self-effacing disposition which is in Christ Jesus. The early fathers
of the church not only fought for their own superiority in the church but their councils
actually considered their creeds superior to the inspired utterances of the Scriptures.
These earnest men would probably have excused
themselves on the ground that the creed was in accord with the Scriptures, hence not in
conflict with the sacred writings. They desired a condensed summary of its teachings. They
flagrantly ignored the exhortation to retain the pattern of sound words (2 Tim.1:13) and
finally settled on expressions which they themselves were reluctant to allow. One such was
the Greek word homoousion, literally, LIKE-BEING, or like-estate, as descriptive of
Christ in the form of God. This by no means settled the point, for it was far more
susceptible of devious interpretations than the text it was supposed to explain. As the
dogmas of the Nicean creed still dominate the theology of the day, especially the kenosis
of the Christ, we will give it as it was first issued by the council.
THE NICEAN CREED
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker
of all things, both visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is to say of the substance of the Father,
God of God and Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one
estate [homoousion] with the Father, by whom all things were made on earth; who, for
us men and our salvation, came down and was made flesh, made man, suffered and rose again
the third day, went up into the heavens, and is to come again to judge the living and the
dead, and in the holy Spirit....
This was much modified by succeeding councils, for it did not
prove to be as satisfactory as they hoped. Indeed, when we come to examine it, what is
there in it? Most of it is a jumble of scriptural phrases, to which we can offer no vital
objection except the absence of their contexts. The non-scriptural phrases (which we have
italicized to make them prominent) are also unscriptural and irrational. They have been
"explained" for more than a millennium, yet no one knows what they mean. They
are still repeated as though of far greater sanctity than the words of God Himself. What
is the "substance" of the Father? How can God be "of God?" What is
Light "of Light?" What is "very" God "of very" God? What is
the "one estate" (or substance) of the Father?
We do not bring up these questions to answer
them, but to press the point that they cannot be answered. All acknowledge this. Some seem
to think that this alone proves that they are true, as though God is more intent on
mystifying His creatures than on revealing Himself. We desire to make the definite charge
that these false, futile additions darken counsel by words without knowledge, and must be
repudiated rather than acknowledged, if we are ever to have any satisfactory insight into
the past or future glories of the Son of God. To confine our investigations to the sacred
text should ordinarily be sufficient. Yet earnest and honest truth seekers have become so
saturated with the errors of the creeds, that they, unconsciously no doubt, view the
oracles of God by the light of these human speculations and theories instead of allowing
the human accretions to wither away in the light of divine revelation.
A collection of creeds is an interesting and instructive
exhibition of human incapacity. With hardly an exception they are unscriptural in
every place in which they are non-scriptural. Even when they present fragments of
the pattern of sound words, these are isolated from their special setting and divorced
from their true application. I see no harm in a series of propositions, expressed in
scriptural language and kept in their proper place, to indicate the dominant ideas which a
group of saints desire to declare and defend. But I would insist on two essentials: the
words must be "sound" or scriptural, and the context must be indicated. In this
way they are linked up with the divine oracles themselves and the deplorable confusion
fostered by the creeds can never occur.
The rational reaction to the Nicean creed should be somewhat as
follows: As it was made in the heat of controversy, mainly to oppose Arian teaching, it
probably fails, in going to extremes in the opposite direction. The desire to emphasize
the deity of Christ led to statements unwarranted by the Word. The causes which called
forth the creed were by no means ideal. Its effects also have been most unsatisfactory.
Instead of clearing up the matter once for all, it has been the fruitful source of
innumerable and unprofitable speculations, until the verdict has finally been given that
it not only has not but cannot be understood. Then the subject is
conveniently relegated to the occult by calling it "the mystery of the
This is a most mischievous "mystery."
It is not only unknown to the Scriptures but altogether contrary to the whole purpose of
revelation. God has written a book and has sent His Son in order that He should not
be a mystery. He desires to be known by means of His various revelations in our Lord Jesus
Christ. If this is a "mystery," beyond mortal minds, then His whole purpose is a
failure. There are secrets in the Scriptures which men could by no means imagine until the
time of their revelation. These are called "mysteries" in some of our versions.
But the relation of Christ to God was never made a secret. Failure to understand it is not
due to God's hiding but to human faithlessness and lack of spiritual perception.
We cannot help having a deep sympathy for the early fathers in
their effort to understand what they professed to believe. Faith is not credulity, and
craves the consent and cooperation of the mind. While it is intensely "rational"
to believe God, even when we can not understand Him, it is the height of credulity to
believe men when their statements clash with the evidence of our senses or the operation
of our intellect. If the Nicean creed were inspired by God, nothing would be more
reasonable than to believe it, though its statements transcend reason. Being of men, it
cannot be super-rational, and must be irrational.
The Nicean creed drove the church into the darkness of the middle
ages. The Reformation revived the subject of Christ's humanity and deity, and sought to
reconcile them on the same lines as the early fathers, who never solved the riddle.
Beginning with the same misconceptions, modern theologians have been no more successful.
They cloud the issue with credal pre-suppositions which effectually keep them from
actually considering the Scriptures. Some have made close, scholarly, consistent studies
of Christ's kenoosis, which should have made the subject clear. But even they are
forced to conclude that the solution is as far away as ever. Their eyes are holden by the
"truth" with which they approach the subject. Their light is darkness. No wonder
the Scriptures refuse to unlock with such a key!
A thoughtful consideration of the matter should suggest to them
that their credal assumptions are the cause of all the confusion. It is these that prevent
the Scriptures from shining forth. But, like apostate Israel, there is a veil on the heart
of Christendom and its orthodox leaders. Evangelical Protestant expositors are more
enslaved by the "infallibility" of the ancient fathers than others are by the
decrees of the Roman pontiff. If they could only see that the course of the church is to
be down and not up, then they could readily understand that its councils are more likely
to be wrong than right. They are by no means a court of appeal from the Scriptures.
Besides the intellectual paralysis induced by credal tradition,
the subject is heavily handicapped by unsound words and phrases. Much is made of the two
"natures" of Christ, and we are continually referred to His "Person."
Nothing concerning these can be found in the Word, but the church council at Chalcedon
declared that these two "natures" are perfectly and organically united in one
"Person," yet are distinct(!). We are told that we must neither "confound
the natures, nor divide the person." The best way to do this is to ignore them both,
yea, rather, deplore them both, and rigidly exclude them from the problem, for they are
false factors which will lead us off into an inextricable maze and mental mist.
In Paul's exhortation he presents for our
emulation two distinct acts of Christ, the kenoosis and the tapeinoosis, the
emptying and the humbling. The first describes His descent from the form of
God to the form of a slave; the second His descent from the fashion of a man to the
fashion of death most detestable to men and most obnoxious to God--the death of the cross.
As He was in the form of God before He took the form of a slave and a human frame, the kenoosis
is the inspired term for the change which accompanied His incarnation. Hence it has been
made the focal point for the discussion of His "nature and Person."
First let us define our terms. What is the literal meaning of ekenoosis?
We may at once discard the common rendering "made Himself of no reputation." The
words do not at all represent the Greek, and they have acquired a sinister tinge akin to disreputable,
which is far from the spirit of the passage. We may be sure that Christ did not commit
some sin, some offense, in order to lose His reputation. It is appalling to think that
devout and sincere followers of our Lord, who would lay down their lives for His Word, are
content to support and circulate such an inconsistent and suggestive translation of this
All are agreed that the literal meaning of the Greek root ken
is EMPTY, hence the Revisers translate "emptied," which the CONCORDANT VERSION
modifies to "empties," because it is a question of fact, not of time, as
indicated by the use of the indefinite. There is no strictly literal example of this
meaning of the word in the Scriptures. The nearest we can get is used in the phrase
"send away empty" (Mark 12:3; Luke 1:53; 20:10,11). In Mark we have a slave sent
to farmers to collect the rent for his master. He expects to carry away some of the fruit
of the vineyard, but they dispatch him "empty" -- without any grapes. We have
the same illustration in Luke 20:10,11.
In most of its other occurrences English idiom forbids the use of
the word "empty." Instead, the Authorized Version uses "vain" or
"make void." The latter phrase is, perhaps, as close as we can come to the
idiomatic meaning of kenooo, the word we are studying. There is no better way to
assimilate the true meaning of "He empties Himself" than to consider every other
passage in which the word occurs. In Romans 4:14 we read: "if those of law are
enjoyers of the allotment, faith has been made void [literally, emptied],
and the promise has been abrogated." An "empty" faith would, in this case,
be one without any effect.
In 1 Corinthians 1:17 we read: "For Christ does not
commission me to be baptizing but to be preaching the evangel, not in wisdom of words,
lest the cross of Christ should be made void," (or empty). The
Authorized Version gives the thought here in its rendering, "lest the cross of Christ
should be made of none effect." If it were "emptied" the result
would be the same as if there were no cross at all.
In the two remaining passages, 1 Corinthians 9:15 and 2
Corinthians 9:3, Paul is concerned that his boasting should not lack results. In the
latter instance he has been boasting that "Achaia has been prepared a year
past!" If, after all, they should not be ready, then his boasting would be
"empty." In these passages the idea is referred to the past, hence they are not
as helpful as the other occurrences in fixing the meaning of the word.
Now we are ready to make the application. If faith
"emptied" had no effect whatever, and the cross "emptied" totally
nullified any results flowing from it, then when Christ, in the form of God, "emptied
Himself," or "made Himself void" (as in the other passages), He made the
form of God of none effect, He carried nothing that was His in that form into the form
of a slave.
This is the Scriptural answer to innumerable
theories as to the extent and character of His kenoosis. The bare word
"empty" must be enriched by its usage in the Scriptures before we fully,
comprehend its force in this passage. Perhaps a more colorful and accurate rendering would
be, "He vacates Himself." We should not ask, "Of what did He
empty Himself?" The passage fails to specify the details because it includes all.
Naught that He was in the form of God was transferred into the form of a slave. He
retained only Himself, or as a theologian would express it, His personality. The effect of
the form of God on the form of a slave is expressed by the literal "empty" and
the idiomatic "void" or "none effect."
This conclusion "empties" the kenoosis of its
imaginary value in determining the two forms in which He is found in this passage. The
form of a slave was not merely a veiling of the form of God. It was no mere limitation of
His powers. It was not acting a part. He did not retain all His supposed
"attributes" except "omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence," as
some assert. The very variety of these theories should be sufficient proof that they have
no substratum of truth. The difference between the two forms must be gathered from the
qualifying words. One was the form of God; the other of a slave. These
suggest a contrast rather than a continuation.
Our conclusion is in happy harmony with the purport of the
passage. The disposition which is in Christ Jesus is one of complete humiliation. Applying
it to our conduct, we are not asked to limit it to a few of our greater dignities. The
specific statement is a decided negative: "not each noting his own
things." The same may be seen in the lesser example, Paul, who could say "I am
deeming all to be a forfeit" (Phil.3:8). He had much indeed, in the flesh, of
which he was proud. He gave it all up in order to be found in Christ. He had the
disposition of Christ Jesus.
THE MEANING OF "FORM"
Nowhere, in this passage, do we find the
influence of the creeds more powerfully present than in the attempt of many orthodox
theologians to give the word "form" a special and extraordinary significance. In
fact the Nicean creed did little else than to repudiate the word "form" and
substitute "substance" or homoousion "like-estate," and add
other confirmatory phrases. Form refers to external appearance. They insist that it must
include internal essence. We ourselves were carried along with this traditional view,
notwithstanding the concordant evidence against it. The following passages constitute the
||He was manifested in a different form to two of
||subsisting in the form of God
||taking the form of a slave
|until Christ may be formed in you
||having the form of knowledge and truth in the
||having a form of devotion, yet denying its power
Leaving the Philippian text out of consideration, only one of
these passages will allow the popular idea that "form" is intrinsic and
essential, and is "indicative of the interior nature." In Galatians Paul is
certainly speaking of an inward work of grace, not a mere outward copy. He desired to see
Christ formed in them. This passage satisfied us, at one time, that the word
"form" meant more than what strikes the eye. We failed to note that this sense
is conveyed by the word in, not by the verb form. Its presence is against
our supposition. It would
not be needed if form itself meant an inward work. It proves positively that
"in" is absent from its meaning.
The other occurrences are most helpful and suggestive, for in
each case there is a decided contrast. In Romans (2:20) the word form is used of the
opposite of reality. The Jews did not actually possess the knowledge and truth in the law.
All they had was the outward form. This usage of the word should be conclusive, yet it is
no more so than Paul's description of the men in last days who have a form of
devotion, yet deny its power. If that "form" is not superficial, lacking
the corresponding inward grace, it certainly would not be devoid of power. What could be
more conclusive than these two contrasts? In each the form is in contrast to the reality.
It does not correspond to that which is within.
We must recognize that our Lord's descent from the form of God to
the form of a slave is not the only change of form which He experienced. On the holy mount
He was transformed (metamorphoomai, Matt.17:2; Mark 9:2). After His resurrection He
was manifested in a different form to two of them (Mark 16:12). A careful consideration of
these incidents will lead to the conviction that there was no intrinsic change in Him on
these occasions. His face shone and His garments became white as the light, but there was
not the least indication of inward alteration when He was transferred.
After He rose from the dead, He was seen by Mary Magdalene. He
was evidently the same in appearance as before His death, for she eventually recognized
Him even though she was not expecting to see Him alive. But when He accompanied the two
disciples to Emmaus, He assumed a different form. For the purpose in hand there was
no necessity for Him to make any essential change in His "nature" or essence.
All He needed was an appearance which they would not recognize. Indeed, they partially
pierced His disguise, for their hearts responded to that which came from within Him, which
the outward form failed to affect.
For our purpose it is sufficient to insist that our Lord is not
confined to the two forms of which the apostle speaks in Philippians. After He appeared in
the form of a slave He was temporarily transformed before some of His disciples in the
midst of His ministry, and He assumed an unusual form after His resurrection. We might
insist that His subsequent appearances in glory, such as blinded Saul of Tarsus, and
caused the beloved apostle to fall at His feet as dead, are still different forms, suited
to His new glories. Certainly He is no longer in the form of a slave. In His future
Revelation He will be invested with a form in keeping with the might and majesty of His
But one more occurrence remains. This is found in the passage
itself. At first sight it seems to contradict all that we have learned concerning the true
meaning of the word "form." Our Lord took the form of a slave. Are we to
understand that He became a servant only in appearance, not in fact? All are agreed that
Christ was the ideal Servant. He was not merely clothed in the habiliments of service, but
He served. He Himself assures us that "the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but
to serve.." (Matt.20:28; Mark 10:45). Paul gives Him the title "Servant of the
Circumcision" (Rom.15:8). There can be no question that Christ is the supreme Servant
of God and of men. Why then merely assume the form of a servant, as it is usually
The solution is simple. He did not take the form of a servant,
but of a slave. The Revisers insert "bond-servant" in their margin. Nor is this
a trite distinction. It is maintained throughout the Greek Scriptures. Nowhere else in the
more than one hundred and twenty occurrences of the word slave (doulos) is it ever applied
to our Lord. He was a slave extrinsically, not intrinsically. He appeared as a slave, but
He was never in bondage. His own characterization of slavery was never true of Him.
"The slave is not aware what his lord is doing" (John 15:15). His was
intelligent, voluntary service.
The Greek word for slave or bond-servant doulos has a
more definite and specific signification in the Scriptures than in the Septuagint. There
it was used for the Hebrew obed, any sort of service or servant. It is certainly
not confined to bond service, for it is used of Jacob's service for his wives (Gen.31:41).
It is translated till and dress, in reference to Adam's farming and
gardening (Gen.2:5,15). It is frequently called upon to denote the service of the
tabernacle. It is the true Hebrew equivalent of our serve and servant.
During the three hundred years between the Septuagint and the Greek Scriptures, the Greek
word diakonia assumed the meaning of service, and forced douleia into
the specific sense of involuntary servitude. It is often rendered bond (1
Cor.12:13; Gal.3:28; Eph.6:8; Col.3:11; Rev.13:16) in antithesis to free. Our Lord
was never in bondage, however He may have given that impression by His aspect.
Moreover, the expression "slave" falls far short of
indicating what He really was. Even "servant" deals with nothing more than His
work. It does not tell us Who the Servant is. As a matter of fact, all will agree that His
service was not that of a slave but that of a Son. If "form" indicates
the inward reality, He should have appeared as the Son of God. If we apply the evidence of
this phrase logically, we must admit that, actually, He was far, far above a slave, and,
therefore, when He was in the form of God, He must have been far, far above God. But if
the "form" is assumed in each case for the purpose of divine revelation,
all is clear. It is not the function of Christ to display Himself but to reveal God.
To put the matter bluntly, the form of God was not an outward
indication of what He was Himself, but a representation of His God. The word
"form" is out of place if we simply mean that His external appearance was
consistent with His internal essence. That would not even need to be stated. The mere use
of the term form should be enough to prove that outwardly He seemed to be Another. His
exaltation consisted, not in actually being that Other, but in having the visible
appearance proper to the Deity.
Furthermore, just as the Philippian passage does not give all the
forms in which He appeared after His incarnation, for He was not in the form of a slave on
the holy mount, so it does not refer us to all the forms which He took prior to His kenoosis.
Besides appearing in the form of God He also appeared in the form of a man and as a
messenger. In Philippians we are called upon to consider His highest and His lowest
manifestations, for these alone are called for by the exhortation. This discussion has
been almost paralyzed by the assumption that Christ had one settled pre- incarnate form,
and one fixed form on earth, and a single unalterable form in the resurrection. This is
contrary to the facts.
Much light is shed on the form of our Lord before His incarnation
by the statement that humanity was created in the image and likeness of God. Mankind is
not the original, but a copy. This must have reference to externals, for the language is
otherwise unnecessarily involved. In our Image and as our Likeness,
suggests, first of all, that the invisible God has an Image and Likeness from which a copy
could be made. Humanity cannot be a replica of God Himself, Who is Spirit and invisible.
The race was made in accord with the form taken by Christ as the Image and Likeness of
God. Therefore, if we find our Lord in a form like a man, that is not because He has
imitated us, but because humanity was patterned after Him.
He it was Who communed with Adam in the garden of Eden.
There is no need to debate whether He was in the form of God or that like man when He
visited Adam. It was probably both, for the first man was himself clothed in a robe of
light and had an aura of glory which we might mistake for divine. Undoubtedly, the Elohim
of that early paradise was in the form of God, which is always presented with human
characteristics. It is not that God imitates mankind, in order to reveal Himself to
humanity, but that man was formed after the divine Image, and is a replica of his Maker.
Our Lord, therefore, probably appeared in Eden as a Man of surpassing outward glory,
subdued, perhaps, to accommodate Himself to the capacity of His creature.
It is probable that, in His subsequent patriarchal appearances,
this glory was further dimmed, or mortal men could not have lived in His presence. Cain
was able to endure the sound of His voice. When He came to visit Abraham as one of three
men (Gen.18:2), the patriarch is evidently aware of His identity, for he calls Him the
Judge of all the earth (Gen.18:25), yet he entertains Him as though He were a man. As He
withdrew from familiar intercourse with mankind, His glory was augmented. At Sinai, only
Moses dared climb the holy mount. A few of the people saw the God of Israel. Perhaps it is
only here and in the awful theophanies of Ezekiel and Daniel that we have that
manifestation which Paul characterizes as the "form of God."
Let us remember that the divine form does not preclude the
likeness of humanity. Ezekiel expressly states that, upon the likeness of the sapphire
throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man (adam Ezek.1:26). In the
center of a sublime setting for the vision of God, the divine majesty is seen in human
form with superhuman glory. Isaiah, in his sixth chapter is not so specific. Nevertheless,
what other than a human shape can be imagined? He sits on a throne. He speaks a human
language. All of this seems conclusive that the form of God is like that of a glorified
man, because He is both the Image of God and the pattern of humanity.
In the resurrection the Lord could readily assume another form.
The powers of a physical frame, such as He then possessed, are quite unknown to us, who
are deadened by sin and enslaved by corruption. Before He took a body of flesh, there is
no reason why His appearance to human perceptions should not be absolutely under His
control. It is largely a question of glory or the diffusion of power. When He was
transformed from a slave upon the holy mount His physical frame underwent no change in
shape. The difference seemed to consist principally in the effulgence of light. His very
clothing became glistening. The Son of God is the effulgence of the divine glory. This
shone through the temporary and abnormal form of a slave on the holy mount.
After all of this investigation we came back to the simple,
natural, unforced meaning of the words. The form of God was the material, visible
representation of the invisible spiritual Deity. No one has ever seen God (John 1:18), for
He is invisible (Col. 1:15). In Colossians the Son of God supplies the needed link with
creation because He is the Image of God. In Philippians we have the same thought with only
a slight variation, to suit the context. Both the Form and the Image appeal to the eye.
This is after the manner of Paul. John appeals to the ear, for he calls Him the Logos, or
Word of God. In each case Christ is the Mediator of God and mankind. Human ears cannot
hear God and human eyes cannot see Him, but they can listen to the living Word and
perceive the Image and the Form.
The Form, however, was not the means of communication, but the
evidence of exaltation. When Isaiah saw Jehovah, exalted and uplifted on His glorious
throne, with all the accompaniments of Deity, he was overwhelmed by the awful sublimity
and magnifical Majesty of Him Who sits on the throne. Though he was the great prophet who
rebuked the failings of his people, he is utterly humiliated by the sight, and cries out
in dismay, "Mine eyes see the King, Jehovah of hosts!" The representation he saw
was the Image of Jehovah. The Form that he saw was the glory of God. The marvel for us to
discern is this: that this glorious One was not disposed to exploit that glory for His own
ends. He had the heart of God as well as the form of Deity, and was disposed to vacate it,
empty Himself of it, and take the form of a slave in order to further reveal God's inmost
EQUAL WITH GOD
There is much confusion in our translations in
regard to the equality with God which comes in connection with the form of God. Was this a
possession or a prize which He did not seize? The Authorized rendering, "thought it
not robbery to be equal with God," evidently conveys the idea that He was
equal. The margin in some editions, however, change "robbery" to "a thing
to be grasped at," which implies that He was not God's equal. This
interpretation is followed by the Revisers, who render it, "counted it not a prize to
be on a equality with God" and gives us the marginal alternation, "a thing to be
grasped." The tendency of modern scholarship is against the idea that Christ was, in
any sense, God's equal. This, we are told, is a height to which He did not aspire.
But modern scholars are no more infallible than ancient creeds.
Indeed, since we know that the normal tendency is toward apostasy, we should always ask
for the evidence. A literal concordant translation of the clause is as follows: "NOT
SNATCHing deems THE TO-BE EQUAL to-God." Does snatching harpagmon refer
to the act or the thing? In the original the word occurs in four forms, as
follows: harpazoo, SNATCH, verb; harpax, SNATCHer; harpagee,
SNATCHing, noun, and harpagmos, SNATCHing, another form of the noun. The
poverty of the English language makes it necessary for us to use--ing for two distinct
forms of the noun. The point in our problem lies in distinguishing between them. Why did
the inspired writer use the special form harpagmon in this passage instead of the
The Authorized Version renders harpagee, extortion
(Matt.23:25), ravening (Luke 11:39), and spoiling (Heb.10:34). "The spoiling
of your goods" evidently refers to the pillage of their goods. In both of the
previous references, men are said to be full of extortion or ravening. It is
evident that this word does not refer directly to the act, but to its effects. On the
other hand the ending of harpagmos connects it with a group of words which convey
the idea of action. If one denotes pillage, this should be pillaging,
the committing or carrying out of the act. The same distinction is seen in baptismos,
baptizing (Mark 7:4; Heb.6:2; 9:10) and baptisma, baptism (Matt.21:25, etc.).
Hallowing and cleansing are further examples. The pillaging in this passage is an act, not
Equality with God was not a thing Christ refused to grasp. He
acted as God's equal and He did not deem the act extortion or ravening or spoiling or
robbery, to use the renderings of this root given in the Authorized Version. It was not
pillaging. The point of the passage lies in the extremes--equality with God and the death
of the cross. The apostle is going to the limit in his exaltation of Christ. To all
appearances the form of God put Him into the place of equality with God. Creatures, seeing
Him, saw God, and addressed Him by means of the titles which belong only to God and to His
Image and Form.
The principal objection to this interpretation from the
standpoint of language is the following disjunctive, "but." It would be fatal
were it not for the fact that, in Greek, this disjunctive has a wider range than our
English "but" and includes our "nevertheless" (Mark 14:29; Acts 9:6;
Rom.6:5; 1 Cor.8:6; 9: 2,12; 2 Cor.4:16). He was in the form of God, and deemed equality
no pillaging -- nevertheless He emptied Himself. To show the transcendent humility
of His disposition He must be exalted first. It is no great thing for a subordinate or a
sinner to be humble. It is the marvel of the universe that the highest perceptible Being
has stooped to its lowest depth. Equality always denies identity, and must ever be
relative, or it becomes identity. It is the Form which was equal with God.
Too little attention has been paid to the denial
that equality with God would amount to pillaging on His part. However we translate
the word, all agree that it consists in taking away the possessions of another by violent
or unjust methods. This involves two distinct parties, one of whom lacks what another has.
Christ lacked equality with God, yet, being in the form of God He assumed it. In
doing so He did not deprive God of anything, hence did not deem it pillaging. Indeed,
since He appeared to those who beheld Him as God would appear if He were visible, He could
take nothing from God without, at the same time, investing Him with it. The glory Isaiah
saw was the glory of God, yet he saw it in the form which was Christ.
In this statement we were careful to use the word assume,
because such key words should be taken only from the divine vocabulary. Among the glorious
ascriptions to the Son of God in the opening prelude of the epistle to the Hebrews are the
two declarations that the Son is the Effulgence of God's glory and the Emblem of His
assumption. The usual renderings of this word hupostasis, confidence, person,
substance, must yield to the one idea which suits each text, as we have fully
explained elsewhere. The assumptions of Deity are made known in the Son, Who likewise
assumes the character in which God is presented.
We find then that Christ took all that belonged to God in such a
way that there was no wrong involved. As He was the only Mediator through Whom God could
come into contact with His creatures, He must assume equality with the Deity or fail to
properly present Him. An idol misrepresents God. It would be deception to give it divine
attributes. The true Image reveals God and should have all that may be perceived of Deity.
The word "equal" may easily provide material for
endless controversy. But this is not at all necessary, for all expressions are used in a
relative sense. If all the terms we use were taken in an absolute sense, without reference
to the subject, the scope, or the context in which they are employed, there would be an
end of all intelligent intercommunication. The subject is the visible, tangible Form
of God, such as His creatures can perceive. In every particular this Image appeared to be
equal to, or the same as, God Himself.
Of one thing we may be sure. He did not only empty Himself of the
form of God, but He also left equality behind. When the Jews charged Him with making
Himself equal to God (John 5:18) He does not defend the supposed claim. Instead, He points
out the inequality between the Son and the Father. This may help us to perceive what
constituted the equality. The Son can do nothing of Himself. When He was in the
Form of God no such inequality could be perceived. The fact that the Form of God could lay
aside equality is sufficient to show the distinction between the invisible, immutable
Deity and His Image. He could not lay aside equality with Himself!
The kenoosis of our Lord consisted in vacating His place
supreme, in which He manifested the heights of God's glory, apart from sin, for the place
of a slave, in which He reveals the depths of His love, by suffering for sin.
Much futile reasoning has been indulged in concerning the nature
of God. The Form of God has been identified and interpreted as His nature. This
word is never used in the Scriptures in connection with this theme. To bring it in only
betrays ignorance and creates confusion.
THE FORM OF A SLAVE
We must reiterate the fact that the kenoosis
did not make Christ a slave. He became a servant in the form of a
slave. Though His service is so fully set forth in the Word, there is not a single hint
that He was, in bondage to either man or God. Though the term slave doulos is
freely used of His disciples and the saints, He never takes it or accepts it as His own.
His service was not that of a slave, for He knew His Father's will and what He was
doing. But those who saw His form found no indication of His divine commission in His
physical circumstances. He appeared to be like other men, sold and subject to forces
outside of themselves, entirely apart from their own volition.
Some may ask, How was the kenoosis
accomplished? We know that, in the process, He came to be in the likeness of humanity.
Nothing of the form of God is carried over. His "self," or personality, vacates
the glorious form and takes up its abode in a physical body adapted for His
mission. Like all mankind His body came from Adam through His mother, but unlike them, His
spirit did not come through the first man and his posterity, but directly from God
Instead of confining their attention to the kenoosis
theologians could far more profitably have concerned themselves with the katartisis,
the readjustment, or adaptation, of Christ's body. Whatever body He had before
incarnation, it is evident that it was not fitted for the great object for which He came.
It was not mortal. It could not die. He must have a body, not mortal in the sense of
dying, but mortal in the sense of capable of death. He must be the great Antitype of all
of the sacrifices. Hence we read (Heb.10:5):
"Sacrifice and offering
Yet a body dost Thou adapt
In holocausts and those
dost not delight.
Then said I,
'Lo! I am arriving (in the summary of the scroll it is
written concerning Me)
To do Thy will, O God.'"
The Authorized Version rendering, "prepare," fails to
fully convey its significance. The body He took was in the nature of an equipment,
purposely designed for sacrifice. The human body is especially adapted to this, hence He
was found in the likeness of humanity. Such phrases as this and that which describes Him
as being "in fashion as a man" confirm the fact that the human element in
His constitution was in His body, His flesh, that which has the shape and tangible
likeness of humankind.
This process confirms and emphasizes the facts of our findings.
Almost all theories of the kenoosis demand some definite connection between the
form of God and that of a slave, in order that there may be the transference of attributes
or power or glory or "nature" or something--no one seems sure just what. But
there is no ground for this whatever. The virgin Mary was an entirely new element in His
new form. The spirit of God, His Father, is not identified with His previous form. There
is an entire break, except in selfhood. This may be illustrated by death and resurrection,
though we do not by any means imply that it was either. The body dissolves in death. Other
elements will constitute the resurrected frame. Only the personality continues.
There is no dual "nature," one a remnant of His
previous form and one acquired by generation from Adam. The kenoosis denies this
rather than supports it. It is a vain speculation founded on error. The transference of
personality does not create such a monstrosity. It is reasonable, sane, and scriptural.
Christ could speak of His place with the Father before the world was without implying that
His human body was involved.
Some may marvel that there seems to be no
definite statement on this subject in the Scriptures. Rather let them be amazed that no
attention is paid to the one there given. It is just where we would expect to find it, at
the very opening of Paul's Roman epistle (Rom.1:3,4). The moment he mentions the Son, he
halts the flow of the argument to give a lucid, cogent, and satisfactory explanation of
the incarnation. The parenthesis reads as follows: "Who comes of the seed of David
according to the flesh, Who is being designated Son of God with power, according to the
spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead." His "personality" is
divided into two elements, flesh and spirit. His flesh comes from David: His most holy
spirit comes from God. His soul was the result of their union.
Only His soul is complex. He does not have a divine body and
spirit, and a human body and spirit merged into one. His body was not divine. He had a
spirit which was superhuman. The supposed difficulties connected with the fusing of the
two diverse elements are mostly imaginary. Once we see that the union is found in His
soul, which is the seat of consciousness, sensation or experience, all becomes clear. The
souls of all humanity are the product of these two elements, flesh and spirit. Our own
soul, our own sensation, is the effect of body and breath, just as that of Adam, when he
was created (Gen.2:7). The difference between other men and the Son of God is not in the
number or name of their components, but in the spirit He received at His generation. The
divine spirit operates as readily with flesh as the human spirit which we have.
The differences between Him and us are all connected with the
spirit. Let us note how briefly the apostle deals with His human side. He is of the seed
of David according to the flesh. No further explanation is necessary or desired. But when
His spirit is in view, we are given intimations of the great distinguishing qualities
which emerge. He is designated Son of God with power, or, as we are accustomed to
put it, He is powerfully designated Son of God. The human spirit is weak and is
being destroyed by sin and death. Every human born into the world (except our Lord) is so
lacking in vitality and enslaved to sin, that his life is but a lingering death. In
contrast with this, the spirit He was given made Him powerful and Holy. The
latter quality is emphasized by using the Hebrew idiom--the spirit of holiness--His holy
Man's spirit fails in death. Christ's spirit restores life. There can be no greater proof
that He is the Son of God, that His is a powerful and holy spirit, than in counteracting
the effects of infirmity and sin, by the resurrection of the dead. A preacher once decided
that he would study the funeral sermons of our Lord in order to improve his own. But he
could not find any! Until His own decease, we do not find our Lord in the presence of
death except as its conqueror. He shared the intense vitality imparted to Him by God, in
recalling the dead to life. The little girl, the widow's son, and Lazarus, all
acknowledged the power of His holy spirit, which marked Him off from all mankind. He was
the Son of God as to His spirit. On this all else is based. It is vital. It is
The more vague, yet graphic language of the Hebrew seer suggests
an illustration of this vital union (Isa.11:1):
A Twig shall come forth from the
stock of Jesse,
And a Scion from his roots shall be
The Twig is the natural growth from the stock of David's father,
just as the flesh of Christ came from him by natural generation. The scion, or graft,
however, is abnormal. It is not taken from Jesse, but from his root. It does not grow from
him but is grafted into him. Yet the scion combines perfectly with its stem. It shares the
life of the stock, yet the form and flavor of the fruit flows from the scion, not the
stock. Thus does the flesh and spirit unite in Christ, only the spirit dominates the flesh
and determines the rich quality of His words and works.
The humanity of Christ is best learned by a comparison with Adam,
from whom all humanity flows. This is done by Paul in his first Corinthian letter (15:45).
"The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam is a vivifying Spirit."
The language is emphatically figurative. Adam was not devoid of a body and a spirit, but
these are dominated by his soul. Men today are soulish, ruled by their sensations. In
contrast with this the last Adam was a Spirit. We know that He also had flesh and a soul.
He spoke of both. But these were subordinate to His spirit. Hence He is called a Spirit,
though He vehemently denied being such in resurrection, when He appeared more like a
spirit than before His death. Other men receive no spirit until they breathe at birth. He
was generated by the holy spirit of God.
Similarly, the first man was out of the earth, soilish; the second Man is the Lord out of
heaven. Adam was not entirely soil. God gave him the breath of the living. So with his
descendants. They are soilish, though they breathe the air of heaven. So with the second
Man. His body was of soil, as other men. But his personality is not to be traced to the
soil as ours is. He was in the heavens and came down. He is a celestial.
All of this, though occurring in a passage on resurrection, has to do with His
incarnation, His humanity before He was roused. Then He was the Lord out of heaven and a
life-giving Spirit. He was far superior to Adam. They were not on the same plane. Adam
imparted death to himself and to his posterity. The last, Adam restored life to the dead
who met Him during His earthly ministry, and will impart it to all who die in the first
To conclude: The generation of Christ by the holy spirit of God is the cause of His deity
and the key to His humanity. In mankind spirit and flesh naturally operate to give life
and sensation, or soul. So His divine spirit naturally operated with His human body to
make Him what He is. To insist on meaningless, unscriptural phrases, such as "a real
Man," and "very God" is only a mask of ignorance. He is not
the same as other men. He is not the same as God. He is their Mediator. He
has a divine spirit and a human body. His flesh came through Mary and David and Abraham
and Adam. His spirit came from God.
The humiliation of Christ is the second step in His descent from divine
equality to unexampled shame. It must not be confused with His kenoosis, or
self-voiding. That was effected before His humiliation, and led to His coming into a human
likeness. It was only after He was found in fashion as a man that He humbled Himself. The
same disposition governs both. He refused to exalt Himself and seeks the weal of others.
But the mere fact of becoming a man is not necessarily humiliating. Apart from sin
mankind, made in the image of God, is a noble race. It is no disgrace to be human.
The theologians of the Reformation, as well as more modern writers, are very insistent on
the "true" humanity of Christ. Again and again we are warned that He was a
"real" Man. It reminds us of the opposite extreme of those who insist that He is
"very" God. Then when they try to combine the "real" Man and the
"very" God, by means of the two "natures" they find themselves outside
the Bible altogether, for no such monstrosity is found within its covers. No one is very
sure what "very" and "real" mean in this connection. Only, as it seems
to be the height of heresy to believe otherwise, most of us keep the peace and save
trouble by nodding a dubious affirmation.
If the term "real" implies that He is exactly the same as
other men, we deny it absolutely. His spirit came from God, and differed radically from
others. That He was in all things like His brethren (Heb.2:17) has reference to His
capacity for suffering and consequent sympathy for those in trial. Such expressions must
be subject to their contexts and the facts. He is often called a "Man." It would
be intolerable pedantry if the Scriptures always reiterated distinctions which have no
bearing on the matter in hand. But when the actual subject of His relationship to the race
is discussed--as in this passage--the language is most exact. Then we learn that He came
to be in the likeness of humanity, and was found in fashion as a man
Christ is the Mediator Who links humanity with its Creator, so that He is neither
man nor God in an absolute sense, yet He is either in a relative one. The combination is
not that of two alien "natures" which can never be harmonized, but that of body
and spirit, the same elements which unite perfectly to form the souls of all other men.
His humanity consists in a body derived from Adam through the virgin Mary, His human
mother. His deity consists in a vivifying spirit directly from God. These two fuse freely
to make a Man unique and a God unparalleled--the peerless Man and the only begotten God
That His generation by holy spirit did not affect His physical form in such a way as to
publicly differentiate it from other men is evident. Even when the Jews knew that He
claimed to be God's Son, many could see nothing to substantiate it, or, at best, held Him
for a prophet. His deity was not evident, for His form was that of a slave. He was so like
other men that they took Him for a mere man. How is it that the spirit to which He owed
His life did not alter His physical appearance and make Him a superman whom the world
We must remember that, in the beginning of the race, Adam was formed from
the soil of the ground before the breath of the living was added to vitalize his frame.
When the spirit was added, it did not affect his size or shape. It simply made him live.
That is the function of spirit. It imparts life. The entrance of sin introduced death.
Humanity became a dying race. The spirit remains with its members only a brief span of
years. Sin was perpetuated by the transmission of death. Such would have been the case
with Christ if He had been a "real" man, and had had a human father. Instead,
the spirit gave Him life, abundant life.
Here is the basic distinction between Christ and other men. Their vitality is limited.
Their life is a process of dying. This is what makes them sinners. Sin is not some subtle,
unknown principle which mysteriously passes on from parent to child. It is the by-product
of the death process. This is what we inherit. This is what makes sinners of us all. If
our Lord had received His spirit by human generation, His life also would have been a
process of dying and might have ended in a natural death, and He would have been forced to
sin. But, thank God, the spirit He received gave Him life--abundant life--so that death
was not operating in Him, and sin found no soil in Him. Sin can thrive only in men who are
Let us adoringly acknowledge then that Christ was made in the likeness of humanity.
He was not simply spotless and unsullied in His acts. It was not that He succeeded in
overcoming the universal tendency to sin which afflicts humanity, but that He had no such
tendency to overcome. This was not due to some special miraculous intervention which
counteracted the sin He should have inherited from His mother Mary, but simply and solely
to the divine paternity which endued Him with a fresh, a sin-repelling vitality, which
would have kept Him alive forever if He had not deliberately laid down His life for us, in
order that He might take it up again in resurrection.
There is a designed contrast between the words form and fashion scheema
in this passage. It is usually explained that fashion is the outward and accidental,
while form is the inward and essential. We have seen the fallacy of
this. Form is the external, and by no means necessarily indicates the inward essence.
Christ was not the form of Himself, but of Another. Such a distinction has no place
whatever in this passage. A "fashion" is rather a temporary and special kind of
form. This is evident from the single other occurrence: "The fashion of the world is
passing by" (1 Cor.7:31). The present form of the world is abnormal and fleeting. So
with mankind. Its present "fashion" is degrading, but, like all such fashions,
is due to change.
We are now approaching the heart of our subject--the humiliation. Because He was found
in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself. Being a human being is not in itself a cause
for humiliation. The day is coming when it will be the cause for highest exultation. But
to be found in the shape in which humanity finds itself now, its present
"fashion"--sunk in sin and degradation, at enmity with God--this is the proper
reason for the deepest humiliation and self-abhorrence.
Human depravity was the prevailing "fashion" of the race when Christ found
Himself a member of it. This is by no means its natural state, either internally or
externally. We have so corrupted the meaning of the word nature that we have lost much
light on the problem of sin. Human nature phusis is not at fault. It has not
been debased by sin. The real meaning of the word in the Scriptures is instinct.
The sins which afflict mankind are against nature (Rom.1:26). The nations do by
nature (or instinct) the things contained in the law (Rom.2:14). Nature teaches us
correctly (1 Cor.11:14) if we only heed it. Nature, or instinct, may, like conscience, be
stultified and suppressed by sin, but it is not, in itself, sinful.
The "fashion" of humanity which leads to humiliation is not the
result of a sinful "nature." Nor does the remedy consist in the impartation of a
new "nature." There is no passage of Scripture to prove that the
"nature" of Christ was different from other men. The intrusion of this term is a
hindrance to the apprehension of the truth. It is true that, by nature, or in the course
of natural generation, the Jews became sons of indignation just as did the nations
(Eph.2:3), but nature here is merely the channel, not the cause of sin. Human nature, or
instinct, and human conscience remain in spite of sin and as a protest against sin. Why,
then, make them sin?
The humiliation of the divine Man may be graphically figured by exaggerating the lack of
life, which is the real support of sin. It was as though He alone were endowed with life
and all about Him were putrefying corpses. An intolerable stench and gruesome sights
certify to the degradation of mankind. Indeed, the world to which He came was a vast
cemetery and a slow funeral procession in which all were marching to a ghastly tomb. We do
our best to hide this shame. We deny death and deck it with flowers. We refuse to bow our
heads or humble our hearts, even when death ends in actual disintegration and corruption.
But death, the process of dying, the only form of life we know since Adam's transgression,
was quite as offensive to His sensitive soul as the dissolution of the body is to us. All
about Him death reigned, and was evident to His perceptions by its effluvium, sin. "I
am come that you might have life," He tells them, but their senses are so far gone
that they do not even know that they are dying and reeking with the offensive evidence of
mortal disintegration. Once we see that His spirit, fresh from God, gave Him life
abundant, so that He was mortal only in the sense that He could die, not in the
sense that He was undergoing the process-- as all other men--we hold the key to His unique
humanity and need no creeds to supplement the simplicity of the divine oracles.
He was not as other men in this regard, and, if He had shared the
disposition of His fellows, it would undoubtedly have been the basis of great pride and
boasting. Let us put ourselves in His place. All that we do is right. Almost all that
others do is wrong. Could we endure such a test? Instead of humbling us it would make us
haughty. All we would care to do would be to condemn. Here is where His disposition
shines. Here is a glory, a moral excellence, which could not be revealed by Him when in
the form of God. That glorious theophany was not a full-orbed revelation. It needed to be
complemented by His course when found in fashion as a man. God, in His lofty excellence,
cannot reach our hearts. We must see Him in the midst of misery and woe. Here it is that
He wins our affections through the humiliation of His Anointed.
THE DEATH OF THE CROSS
Death itself is a humiliation, whatever may be its form. It cannot be
dissociated from sin in some shape. Much greater was its shame to Him Who not only had
life in Himself, but Who had recalled the dead to life. It is evident that His death was
entirely voluntary. Neither the Jews nor the Romans could take His life from Him. Whatever
disgrace His death may bring to Him, He brings it on Himself. He needed no one to humble
Him. He humbled Himself. His death was due to obedience, not to man, but to God.
But the shame of His death is not to be compared to the degradation of the cross. It is
the manner of His death that plunged Him into the deepest abyss of abject ignominy and
utter despair. Some forms of death have a halo about them, and call forth the applause of
men. But the cross was reserved for the vilest and meanest of criminals. From the human
aspect the Roman law had no more degrading death than crucifixion. Like hanging at the
present day, it was the symbol of the most shameful end which could be devised to put a
stop to a detestable career. The pain, the publicity, the appalling ignominy far exceeded
the very worst of modern methods of execution.
How far all this is from the mind of Christendom is evident by the present
prevalence of this dreadful symbol. To be sure, there is not the slightest ground for
supposing that our Lord was hung upon a cross of any kind. It was a mere stake or pole,
without any cross-piece. There was nothing ornamental about it. But the figure of the
cross has seized the imagination of the masses. If they had any sense at all of its
shuddering horror, it would be avoided and banned as accursed, instead of lending its
shape to jeweled pendants and ecclesiastic art. All this is a travesty, an insult, to the
awful humiliation of which it is supposed to be the sign.
The human side of the crucifixion is a tragedy not altogether beyond the reach of our
apprehensions. We have some standards of comparison by which to acquaint ourselves with
some aspects of it. If He were a man like other men we could possibly plumb its dreadful
depths. But He was not as others. Shame is relative. A callous brute does not feel an
insult which would torture a sensitive soul. No mere man could suffer from the taunts, the
mockery, the ignominy of the cross, as One Who came from the heights of glory, where the
very cherubim veiled their faces in His presence. He alone can realize the stupendous
contrast, or feel the fearful horror of being despised by the dregs of Adam's degraded
But the manward side of the cross cannot be compared with the Godward aspect of the
accursed tree. Men had long been hostile to Him. The cross was but the culmination of a
long course of events in which He suffered the ridicule and abuse of His fellows. Not so
the curse which fell from heaven when the sun withdrew and the darkness hid the scene from
mortal gaze. Through all of His humiliations heretofore He had been upheld by the hand of
God. At the very crisis of His ministry, when it became apparent that He was rejected, He
could find consolation in fellowship with the Father. "I am acclaiming Thee, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth, seeing that Thou dost conceal these things from the wise and
It must have been in the nature of a grave disgrace for Him to realize
that His efforts had not succeeded in their apparent object. It is extremely trying even
in these days for His servants to find such a feeble response to God's truth,
notwithstanding the knowledge that the apostasy is part of God's plan. Yet He always had
recourse to God and never failed to find solace in His presence. Until He hung upon the
tree God's smile was His constant comfort. He never forsook Him. The more men withdrew,
the closer God came. In the natural course of events, we would expect all others to flee,
but that God would stand by Him in the supreme crisis of the cross.
From this standpoint, we view from afar the starkest tragedy of all creation. Here we are
able to glimpse the bottomless abyss of His humiliation. Here He Who knew no sin was made
sin. Here He Who alone had kept the law endured the law's anathema, "Cursed is
everyone that hangeth on a tree!" Instead of communion He endured God's curse!
Instead of fire coming down from above upon His murderers, it enters His bones. Hitherto
sinless, He becomes sin, and, like the sin offering, He is shut out of God's holy
presence. In solemn sympathy with the awful darkness that enveloped His soul, the sun, a
symbol of God's light and life and love, hides its beams until the work is finished and
His God once more has cars to hear His cry.
"Eloi! Eloi! lema sabachthani?" that is "My God! My
God! why didst Thou abandon Me? " gives us the character and suggests the cause of
Christ's deepest humiliation. His persecution by men and desertion by His disciples is a
disgrace hardly worthy of mention in comparison with His abandonment by the Deity. It
pleased God to bruise Him. Why? That He may bless all others. That He may be just and the
Justifier of those who believe. That God may reconcile all His creatures to Himself. The
abandonment of Christ by God is the source of all salvation, the root of all
reconciliation. This is the folly that is wiser than man, the weakness that is stronger
than all, the display of love which will overwhelm every heart.
We must not miss the vivid contrast presented by the exalted station of Christ as the
equal of God and His abandonment on the cross. He begins as close to God as possible. No
creature could approach the Deity except through Him. To all intents and purposes, He was
God, so far as creation is concerned, and He had the form which is suitable to the
Supreme. In the dark hours of the crucifixion He is at the opposite extreme. In the midst
of physical degradation and moral ignominy He hears the taunts of those who claimed the
closest communion with His God, and the contempt of the lowest of the vicious and the
vile. He is as far as possible from the place He once had occupied.
It were well if all theological theories regarding God and His Christ were examined in the
darkness of the cross. Absolute Deity does not address another Deity as "My
God." God the Father is Supreme. He has no God. If He had He would not be God.
Absolute Deity cannot be abandoned by Another, is not dependent on Another, and certainly
would not suffer humiliation if anyone deserted Him. Neither can He die, and commit His
spirit to God Who gave it. On the other hand a man like other men might do all these
things and affect little except his own soul. Nothing would be accomplished for others. No
One but a Mediator, divine in spirit, human in body, with a soul the fusion of both, will
satisfy our reason or fulfill God's revelation.
We have no hesitancy in averring that death is not possible to proper
deity. We cannot even force our imagination to conceive of the death of God, for with Him
all life would vanish from creation. It is even difficult for us to realize that the Son
of God could sink to such a state. He Who gave life to others, even after they had died,
could have kept Himself alive under all conditions. This is both reasonable and
scriptural. But it is no less rational and revealed that He had the right to die, if it
was God's will. And this is precisely what He claimed. He became obedient unto
death--even the death of the cross!
"Wherefore, also, God highly exalts Him, and graces Him with the name
which is over every name, that, in the name of Jesus every knee should be bowing,
celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming Jesus
Christ as Lord, for the glory of God, the Father" (Phil.2:9-11). It is essential that
we see the close connection of this exaltation with His humiliation, as well as its
contrast to the glories which were His before He emptied Himself. Both can be summed up in
a single word--salvation. It is concentrated in His name. He was Jehovah. Now He is
Jesus--Jehovah the Saviour.
Before His kenoosis, when He was in the form of God, He was such because God had
given Him that honor. He did not seize it for Himself. So also is His present and future
exaltation. It is God's response to His sufferings, a reward for His humiliation. To the
name that once stood for the highest of God's theophanies, Jehovah, has been added the
greatest of God's activities--salvation. As Jehovah, Christ could have coerced the knees
of all creation and required the acclaim of every creature, for He had the right to
universal homage. But He did not choose to enforce His rights, but rather relinquished all
in order to win their hearts by the more potent process of suffering and shame.
If all that He gains in His future exaltation is the forced acknowledgment
of His omnipotence by unwilling knees and reluctant tongues, then all His humiliation has
been in vain. As Jehovah He could have accomplished this, before He descended to the
accursed tree. It is as Saviour that He will receive, without constraint, the acclamation
of all creation, the worship of every living intelligence. The glory and the grandeur of
His exaltation is embodied in the lowly name which shall become supreme. His salvation
shall assure Him universal worship, His deliverance will be the theme of world-wide
The goal of all is the glory of God. The kenoosis of Christ is the first step in
bringing about the Fatherhood of the Deity. It is the only way that He could display the
riches of His affection, the resources of His love. God has revealed Himself as a mighty
Creator in His works. This does not satisfy His heart or the hearts of His creatures. He
desires to be their Father. He must draw them by the cords of love. He must win their
affection. This is the vast task which began with Christ's kenoosis. This is the
glorious consummation to which it leads. In eras yet to come God will be the Father of all
His adoring creatures. This achievement will make the name of Jesus esteemed above all
others in the eons of the eons and beyond.
CHRIST'S PAST GLORIES
GOD'S CREATIVE ORIGINAL
In Colossians Paul reveals the future glories of Christ as the Reconciler
of the universe (Col. 1:20). That speaks of times to come. To balance this we are
entrusted with the marvelous position He filled in the past as the Son of God's love. He
not only dominates all space, but occupies all time. He is the Image of the invisible God,
Firstborn of every creature, for in Him is all created, that in the heavens and that on
the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships, or sovereignties,
or authorities, all is created through Him and for Him, and He is before all, and all has
its cohesion in Him (Col. 1:15-17).
He is before all. We could easily deduce from the fact that He is the Firstborn of every
creature that He was born before them. But, like most of our reasoning, it would be false.
The title "Firstborn" is a figure, used to indicate the place and portion of the
first son who is born in a family, but it is freely used of this pre-eminence, even if it
does not come through literal birth. It may come by adoption. It may be transferred to one
born later, as in the ease of Joseph instead of Ruben. Pre-existence is not
"proven" by the place Christ now occupies, nor is it necessary to prove it. That
it indicates its probability, all will admit. That it is certain, we know, because He is
All was created in Him. As in Adam all mankind was created, so Adam himself and all the
rest of creation were created in Christ. It is impossible to conceive that creation was
before Him in Whom it was created. How could Adam and the race, up to His birth, have been
in the Babe of Bethlehem? And how much more incredible that all the rest of creation,
which existed before Adam was formed, should be in a Man who did not come upon the scene
until four thousand years after Adam! All who really believe Gods Word must bow
before Him in adoration, not only as the lowly Son of Mary, but as the channel of
creation, the highest of all Gods creatures.
Christ is Gods creative Original. According to the Gree, He is the
Original, the Beginning, of the Chief, of every creation of God (Rev. 3:24). The basic
meaning of arche is ORIGIN, and all its forms are to be found under this word in
the Concordance of the Concordant Version. In earliest times, all government was in the
family, and the father, who originated it, was a chief. So the stem came to be
applied to the highest of a class, as the archangel, as well as the archetype,
the pattern, or original.. But the pattern comes before the product, the original
before the copies. This accords perfectly with the fact that all creation was in
Him. Adam was the original of all mankind, and all originated in Him. So Christ
is the Original of creation.
The past and future glories of Christ are complementary. The Image of God calls for all
that finds fulfillment in Him as the complement of the Deity. His pre-eminence is based on
the past as well as the future. As Gods Image He is Firstborn of all creation, and
the universe, in heaven as well as on earth, will be reconcilied through Him. No late
comer to the scene is qualified or capable of accomplishing the far more difficult task of
reconciliation if he had no hand in creation. To deny one is to reject the other. Let us
thank His God and ours, that the future rests in the mighty hand of Him through Whom God
has wrought so marvelously in the past.
One of the wonders of the Greek language is its indefinite verb. God loves, not loved the
world. It is a fact, not a mere act. So also with the pre-eminence of Christ. His glories
are permanent. He was, indeed, before all. But, far more than that, He is before all. This
is almost more than our language will bear, for we are not accustomed to such high
thoughts or refined expressions. When we are old we look back to powers and honors that we
no longer possess, for we are creatures of corruption. Even a president or a premier must
step down or heed the call of death. They look back to when they were exalted. Yes, even
Christ emptied Himself for a season for our salvation. But He never went to corruption, as
we do. He is the One who was before all, and this glory is His permanent possession. Let
us not rob Him of it!
THE EONS PURPOSED IN CHRIST
God disposes of time as well as space. He did not only create the material
universe, but planned its entire history from the beginning to the consummation. As in
creation, He works through a Mediator, for the purpose of the eons was made in Christ
Jesus, our Lord (Eph. 3:11). When Christ was born in Bethlehem, some of the eons had
already run their course. The purpose had long been in operation. Innumerable details had
been carried out and the pattern had largely been set, so far as the earth is concerned.
In fact, His birth was one o£ the greatest of the factors which should carry the purpose
to fulfillment. The titles of our Lord, and their order, are always significant. Jesus,
the Christ, applies to His humilia tion. Christ Jesus can only be used of Him when He is
exalted. In the United States we cannot speak of Mr. Hoover as "President
Hoover," and in England we may not address Winston Churchill as "premier."
They were so once, but they are not so when this is written. So we acknowledge the present
power of our Lord, whether as Prophet, Priest, or King, as the Anointed, in Greek, the
Christ. The purpose of the eons was made in Christ Jesus, before He humbled Himself. It
was not made in the lowly artificer of Nazareth, Jesus, Who is the Christ, but Who did not
take His proper place when He was among us, in order that He might descend to the deepest
depths of death and shame for the sake of our salvation.
WE WERE CHOSEN IN CHRIST
BEFORE THE DISRUPTION
One part of God's purpose was His choice of us in Christ before the
disruption of the world (Eph. 1:4). He was then holy and flawless, God's beloved Son, who
was to be our Saviour, and whose celestial glories we were chosen to share. The time
designated was long before His descent to the earth, and indicates the marvelous basis of
all our blessing, which antedates the cause of all our woe. All creation began in Him, and
now our reconciliation and glory is also deposited in Him. What marvelous grace to find
ourselves in Him before sin has ruined the universe! What a wonderful token of our future
salvation and glory!
THE DESCENT OF CHRIST
The descent of Christ is touched upon by Paul when speaking of His
ascension. "Now the 'He ascended,' what is it except that He first descended also
into the lower parts of the earth? He who descends is the same who ascends, also, up over
all who are of the heavens, (Eph. 4:9-10) that He should be Completing all." For
those who have a celestial destiny the descent of Christ is vital. He is not an earthling,
seeking to usurp a place above the heavenly hosts for which He is not fitted by birth or
station. He came down to earth and ascended to His proper sphere when He faded from sight
"The first man was out of the earth, soilish; the second Man is the Lord out of
heaven." (1 Cor. 15:47). How foolish it is to reason from the accounts of our Lord's
birth that He was out of the earth! His Father was God! He was out of heaven! And He was
not a. mere messenger from above, one of the myriads of workers who do God's bidding, or
.perchance a stray vagabond, thrust out of the elysian fields. He was the Lord out of
heaven! We may look long and tenderly at the Babe in Bethlehem, or at the Boy at Nazareth,
or even at the Man at Capernaum, and see no trace of His celestial rank. Only
occasionally, in His earthly ministry, gleams of heavenly glory break through, as when He
ascends before His disciples into the empyrean. He could not reveal these things to them
before, as they were concerned with His earthly glories, for they would not have
Rich was He, before He humbled Himself· Because of us He was poor. When was He rich? Not
in Beth-lehem, for His parents eradied Him in a manger. Not in Nazareth, for He worked
1'or a living as an artisan. Not during His ministry, for He had nowhere to lay His head.
Not on the cross, for they even robbed Him of His clothes. On earth He was poor. He was
rich before this. He left His eelestiM wealth and station to endure poverty on the earth.
If He had no existence then, how could this be?
THE FOUNDER OF THE EARTH
The evangel of the Uncircumcision reveals a celestial destiny. Therefore
there is special emphasis oft the heavenly side of Christ's glories and His pre-existence.
But there are passages in the Circumcision writings quite as emphatic, though they may be
connected with the earth. In Hebrews (1:10), in speaking of the Son, we read:
"Thou, originally, Lord, dost found the earth,
And the heavens are the works of Thy hands."
Here, indeed, it is not a question of His existence, but of the existence
of all else through Him! Who would insist that He brought both the heavens and the earth
into existence before He Himself existed?
THE SON MAKES THE EONS
Even in the Circumcision writings, the Son is acknowledged as the One
through Whom God made the eons (Heb. 1:2). Hebrews is on a much higher plane than the
previous writings to the Circumcision, and is concerned with a new covenant with better
promises. That is why our Lord is introduced as the Son, to Whom is allotted all, the
Effulgence of God's glory and the Emblem of His assumption (Heb. 1:2-3). The eons were
running their course long before our Lord descended from heaven to die for our sakes.
There can be no question of His existence at their commencement, even as there is none of
His presence at the commencement of creation.
HIS FARINGS FORTH FROM DAYS EONIAN
Not only was Christ's birth in Bethlehem foretold by .the prophet Micah
(5:2), but His previous appearances before this are clearly asserted. The same word is
used of His birth as of His former farings forth. If His arrival in Bethlehem was merely a
prediction, then also his previous farings forth. But if the later event was an actual
occurrence, so must it be with the former. They were not foretelllings, but forth farings.
The stem tza occurs over eleven hundred times and is rendered by over fifty words in the
Authorized Version, but never by anything remotely resembling either telling or
foretelling. He appeared more than once, as to Adam and to Abraham and to Moses. The
prophet speaks of all of these, Hence it is plural in Hebrew -- forth farings.
JOHN'S TESTIMONY TO CHRIST 'S
It is as the Son that our Lord is most often referred to before He came
down to earth, hence we find that John's evangel, in contrast to Matthew, Mark, and Luke,
speaks of His pre-existence. When we refer to His former glories, we do not mean to convey
the idea that He was confined to those which afterward belong to Him as the Christ, the
Messiah of Israel, but that these glories were inherently His before His ministry to
mankind as a Man. His descent into human form was humiliating, and He conformed to this
low estate by clothing Himself with lower dignities. In Matthew He is presented as the
King of Israel, in Mark as the Servant of Jehovah, and in Luke as the Son of Mankind. All
this is confined to the eons and the earth, hence His earlier and higher honors are hardly
But in John He is the Son of God. Consequently, every now and then, gleams of His pristine
powers shine through the clouds and we get a glimpse of His glories belore He condescended
to become a Man. Anyone confining Himself to the earlier accounts of His career might be
pardoned if he is not impressed by His previous place of power, since they are not
concerned with it. But no one. reading John's account can fail to be impressed by the
frequent allusions to His pre-existence and the rich glories which were His, in contrast
to the poor place He took among men.
THE GLORY WHICH I HAD
BEFORE THE WORLD
In the seventeenth chapter of John's account we are taken into the holy of
holies. The Son speaks to His Father and we are allowed to listen to the deep intimacies
of Their love. The Son has glorified the Father on the earth and finished the work which
was given to Him. He now requests, as a reward, that He be given the glory which He had
before the world, with the Father (Jn. 17:5). That, in itself, is a small reward, for He
had laid this glory by in order to fulfill His earthly mission. We may be sure that His
request will be granted and far more, for He has added to these all the value of His
mediatorial humiliation and suffering and a dreadful death.
A deplorable attempt has been made to destroy this passage by explaining the with as the
equivalent of pre-determined by, or prepared for by the Father. But the with is literally
beside, and cannot bear the sense of pre-determined, or prepared for. There are ten
occurrences of para BESIDE, used with the dative case, in John. These are: they remain
with Him (1:39), the Samaritans asked Him to remain with them (4:40), What I have seen
with My Father (:38), What you hear from your Father (8:38), the spirit of truth is
remaining with you (14:17), we shall be coming to Him and making an abode with Him
(14:23), remaining with you (14:25), glorify Thou Me, Father, with Thyself with the glory
which I had before the world is, with Thee (16:5), There stood beside the cross of Jesus
... (19:25). The sense of beside is evident in all these and would have been used in the
C.V. had English idiom allowed it. Christ had a glory before the world beside or alongside
of the Father.
"ERE ABRAHAM . . . I AM"
Some of the Jews who believed on our Lord, denied His pre-existence (Jn.
8:31-59). He said to them, "If ever you should be remaining in My word, you are truly
My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will be making you free."
But they immediately refused His word and prided themselves on their fleshly relationship
to Abraham. By their deeds they demonstrated that they had been fathered by the adversary
rather than by Abraham, who believed God, and walked with Him.
What specially stirred their ire were His words concerning Abraham, as
though He had seen the patriarch Himself. The Jews, then, answering, said to Him,
"You have not as yet lived fifty years, and you have seen Abraham!" Jesus said
to them; "Verily, verily, I am saying to you, ere Abraham came into being, I
am." Here the matter of Christ's "pre-existence is presented as clearly as
it is possible to put it. The apostate Jews insisted that He did not exist in the time of
Abraham. They were sure that His existence dated no longer back than fifty years. He,
however, calmly assured them that it goes back before Abraham, more than two thousand
years, at least. And, instead of limiting His existence to that time, and saying, I was,
He opens the door to untold vistas of the past by saying, "I am."
Did they believe Him? Did they receive Him? His deeds proved that He was a real son of
Abraham. He kept God's word, as Abraham did. But He also exposed their hypocrisy and
unbelief. Instead of falling before His feet and worshiping Abraham's Lord, they pick up
stones that they should be casting them at Him. May we not be like these Jews! Our guilt
would be ever so much greater than theirs, for we have been given light that they never
had. We may not take up literal stones to kill Him, but we do even worse when we deny His
What was before Abraham? It has been suggested that our Lord was chosen before Abraham's
day. Certainly. But the word am or be is by no means the same as choose. You could never
put choose in place of be in a translation. It should never be done in a version unless
our object is to corrupt the word of God. Let everyone try it out and be convinced. Did
John the Baptist say, I did not choose the Christ (Jn. 1:20)? Did our Lord say, I choose
the Bread of life (Jn. 6:35)? Did He choose the light of the world (8:12), the Door of the
sheep-fold ( l 0:7), the Shepherd ideal (10:7), the Resurrection (11:25), the true
grapevine (15:1)? No, indeed. He is all these, and woe to him who seeks to rob Him of
them, or to deny that, before Abraham, He is! We might say He was. But this is expressed
by ere. And the sense is not that He was, and is no more, but He continues to be.
THE BREAD WHICH DESCENDS
OUT OF HEAVEN
The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ. Even as it came down
from above, so He came from heaven. He is the Bread which descends out of heaven. (Jn.
6:58). But even the disciples found this a hard saying and they murmured among themselves.
Did he explain it to them, saying He did not mean that He really had come down from above?
That would have kept them from leaving Him, and we may be sure that His heart yearned over
them, and He did all that He could to hold them. Instead, He repeated the thought in
plainer words, and they left Him.
WHERE HE WAS FORMERLY
"If, then, you should be beholding the Son of mankind ascending where
He was formerly?" (Jn. 6:62). When did He ascend? After His resurrection our Lord
said to Miriam, "not as yet have I ascended to My Father. Now go to My brethren, and
say to them that I said, 'Lo! I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and
your God'." Was this not to heaven? And, after forty days, "while they are
looking, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him up from their eyes. This Jesus
who is being taken up from you into heaven shall come." (Ac. 1:9-11). Then it was
that they beheld Him ascend, not when He was roused from the dead, but later, to the place
where He had been formerly.
How could he put it more plainly? At His ascension He did not go to a place unknown to
Him, a region He had never seen. He returned to a place and a position which He had
already occupied before He laid His glory by and sank to the level of humanity on the
earth. His proper place was not down here, among the degraded dregs of creation, but high
above the celestial hosts, upon the universal throne. They should have worshiped the One
Who had stooped down to their level in order to bring them back to God. They should have
rejoiced that His degradation was only temporary, and that He would once more regain the
glories He had laid aside.
HE WHO DESCENDS OUT OF HEAVEN
The first man was out of the earth, soilish; the second Man is the Lord
out of heaven. He is the Celestial One, Whose image we shall wear (1 Cot. 15:47-49). Thus
He is also presented in John's account. If Nicodemus is not believing concerning
terrestrial things, how should he believe when our Lord spoke of the celestial? Then He
tells him, "no one has ascended into heaven except He Who descends out of
heaven." (Jn. 3:12-13). "He Who from above is coming, is over all. He who is of
the earth, is of the earth and of the earth is speaking, He Who is coming out of heaven is
over all. What He has seen and hears, this He is testifying." (Jn. 3:31-32).
As the true Bread out of heaven, He was foreshadowed by the manna. This did not come up
from the soil, as human food usually does, but came down from above. So the Bread of God
is He Who is descending out of heaven (Jn. 6:33). He said, "I have descended out of
heaven (Jn. 6:38,41,42,50,51,58). Both the manna and Christ literally descended from
heaven. In this they are alike. The contrast is not in their source, but in their
character and the kind of life that they imparted. The contrast between terrestrial and
celestial is literal.