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The Word made Flesh

Frederick William Grant

The Crowned Christ

We turn now from considering the deity of our blessed Lord to see how Scripture speaks of His incarnation. This, of all the Evangelists, the apostle John, the historian of His divine glory, most forcibly expresses: “The Word became flesh,” he says, “and tabernacled among us.” “Flesh” characterizes humanity by that which is its lowest part; and the depth of this condescension, is the glory of the revelation which this expression—the “Word was made flesh”—so perfectly conveys. In His human personality Christ was Himself the gospel that He preached, as “Son of man” was the title He so loved to give Himself.

There was an uttermost depth, as we know, beyond His becoming man; but to which this was the necessary preliminary. But it was much more than this: for out of the abyss into which He descended at the cross He would again immediately ascend,—because of what He was, He could not be holden of it,—while the manhood He has assumed He retains for ever: He has assumed it into His own Person, and it is part of Himself. Upon the throne of God, with the memorials of that deepest possible descent upon Him, He will reign as the Lamb for all eternity.

What an amazing thought is this, that God should come down into the creature place, not simply for a time, and to do a work in it which, however wondrous, would be but for a time, but of His own free choice to abide in it after this manner. God and the creature—His creature—thus permanently together: clasped in an embrace that never shall be sundered! This in its profound significance cannot be a partial or provincial manifestation. It must as a revelation be written not merely in the common tongue of men, but address itself to all intelligences and all beings capable of responding to it. And so Scripture assures us amply that it does, and that “in the ages to come He will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6.)

Could the depths of divine love be shown out anywhere or anywise to creature-ken, without all creatures being affected by it? That surely would be impossible. “Destruction and death” must say, “We have heard the fame of it with our ears.” The hosts of heaven, learning it but as grace to others, even thus must recognize it as tenderest goodness to themselves, who so learn with deepening adoration their own glorious God. And the worship of the Lamb must indeed have raised the whole worship of heaven immeasurably above all that could have been before it.

We have an intimation of this, and of more than this, where the apostle tells us that “from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [1] every family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:15). Every family finds its place in relationship with Him who is thus revealed as the Father of Christ. The revelation of God in Christ makes their own relationship to Him as it were a new thing.

Yet “He layeth not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He layeth hold;” and in this connection it is that the apostle speaks of the incarnation as the necessary step towards the cross. “For it became Him for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings...Inasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise took part in the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”(Heb. 2:10–16).

Here we see why His taking flesh is emphasized sometimes as if it were the whole thing. The flesh was that “vessel of earth” in which the “bird of heaven” was to die, and alone could die. (Lev. 14:1–7.) Flesh is the expression used for humanity in its frailty and mutability; and thus suited to express the depth of the divine condescension, which was on this account also the full display of the glory of God. Hence, “the Word was made flesh,” and “a body hast Thou prepared Me;” which last words the apostle again connects (as perfectly in the line of Hebrews) with His priestly sacrifice: “sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me.”

In the quotation from the second chapter it is “flesh and blood” of which the children are partakers, and in which He therefore takes part; and still more in 1 Cor. 15:50, is the present mutable condition of humanity emphasized: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;”—not from evil in it, for as such God created it, but because of that mutability unfitting it for that which is eternal. It is of the eternal form of the kingdom that he is speaking; and blood is for the supply of waste: it is identified with change,—with the wearing out of material,—with the temporal, therefore, instead of the eternal.

Hence the body that the Lord assumed, to fulfill that sacrificial law which in the volume of the book was written of Him, was not yet in the condition suited to the new creation, though He was Himself the “last Adam” and the Head of it. The body He took was “psychical,” as “natural” should rather be read (1 Cor. 15:44), and not yet “spiritual.” These terms are indeed little understood, and we can at best understand but little of them; yet we may understand enough to avoid some mistakes which are often fallen into. A “spiritual” body does not mean a body formed of spirit, any more than a psychical body means a body formed of psyche (or soul). The two phrases are exactly parallel in Scripture, and used so as to show this: “There is a psychical body and there is a spiritual body: and so it is written, the first ‘man,’ Adam, ‘was made a living soul’; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:44, 45).

Here the apostle’s quotation shows us the psychical body as in suited relation to man as a living soul—a term by which the beast is designated as well as man. Yet man has—as the beast has not—spirit as well as soul; but while in the present body he is not designated by that which is the higher part. Out of the body, he is a “spirit;” in it a “soul.” The psychic body—it is a pity we have not a better adjective for soul—seems to veil his spirit faculties; the soul (which is the sensuous, animal like part, though far higher than the animal) dominating so as to characterize it.

The body is thus really, according to the actual phrase in the epistle to the Philippians (chap. 3:21) “the body of our humiliation;” and that apart from the effect of the fall upon it; though the effects of the fall are not there excluded. In it the spirit is enabled to contemplate outward things only by means of the senses; and in this way it is that slowly and laboriously it gathers knowledge for the possession of the spirit. And this kind of knowledge seems to be that of which the apostle speaks (1 Cor. 13:8–11) as “through a glass darkly” and to “vanish away” in that perfect condition in which we shall see “face to face.” The slow waking up and slower maturing of the faculties of man, as he grows in wisdom, has much, as it would seem, to do with this apparent inversion in rank of spirit and soul.

To this condition the body of “flesh and blood” is perfectly adapted as a “body of humiliation,” for the purpose of “hiding pride from man,” by making him realize day by day his dependence; while the provision for and ministry to his wants bears as constant witness to the care and tenderness of God towards His creature, so as to hold him fast to the Source of blessing.

All this is apart from the fall and its consequences: being what the “first man was made;” not what he afterwards became. The fall brought in all that could give even a moment’s distress in such a condition. The passage in the second of Hebrews carefully distinguishes between the “children’s” equal “partaking” in flesh and blood (now in this fallen state) and Christ’s limited “taking part” in it. The Greek words, if not the English, show a difference in this respect, though they do not define its exact nature. This is not difficult to realize, however, from what is added afterwards, that “it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High-priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” “In all things” declares the necessity of His taking proper and full manhood, that He might be a true Representative of those for whom He went in to God; while for this purpose He must be absolutely free also from any personal impurity or defect. Perfect manhood must be His, without stain or fracture.

How this was secured, the Gospel of Luke bears witness for us. The power of the Holy Ghost accomplished what would otherwise have been impossible; and “that Holy Thing” born of the Virgin was, even as to His humanity, the “Son of God” (Luke 1:35) This does not of itself declare what John declares: it is not equivalent to the Word being made flesh. Luke’s is the Gospel of the Manhood, as John’s is of the Deity of the Lord. The one presents to us the First born, as the other the Only-begotten. And it is essential to His proper glory that both sides should have adequate statement. The power of the Holy Ghost was manifested in the “Man Christ Jesus” being “made in all things like unto His brethren,” while absolutely free from all the sad inheritance of the fall. It was manifested where needed: on the human side, and not on the divine.

Thus, even as to His body, it was “a body prepared,” yet “in all things made like unto” that of “His brethren,” apart from the consequences of sin which, as there was no sin in Him, He could not have in His Person at all.[2] We must carefully distinguish from this the effect of the circumstances in which He was, a paradisaic Adam in this respect, as I doubt not, but outside of paradise; no doubt, as to Adam a state difficult to conceive, and for unfallen Adam a thing impossible. Yet it may be possible in certain relations to understand and speak of it to some extent,—that is, as far as the Scripture statements carry us, and as we ourselves may be given to realize their meaning.

Adam, as we see, in the body of flesh and blood, was exactly suited to the conditional relation in which he stood to all around him. Sin would bring death upon him, as in fact it did. Mortal, as yet he was not: there was no tendency to death in his nature, no subjection to it on his part, no possibility of disease, no clouding of any faculty in this way. All was in vigour, and with capacity to retain that vigor indefinitely at least. With the knowledge growing upon us, as it is to-day, of the wonderful provision even yet perceptible in the human body for the removal of injurious elements, and for the recovery from any effect of these, it is not difficult to conceive that no poison could have affected him at all. The beasts were subjected to him. If we think of the possibility of accident, I believe we should have as to this to fall back upon the certainty of divine guardianship. He was dependent; his body to be sustained by food; and the ministry of the tree of life ordained for him clearly as additional enforcement of so needed a lesson, whatever we may conceive of its real virtues.

Mutability and dependence are seen in all this, hedged round by divine care and love; by which alone suffering and death could, after all, be absolutely excluded. Thus, let the hedge be taken away, suffering and death may come. Liability to it was implied before: it needs but the circumstances to be changed, for one like this to hunger and thirst, and suffer. With the Lord Himself, in the body of flesh and blood which we know was His, all these imply neither mortality, (in the true sense, [3]) nor any position towards God, vicarious or otherwise, to account for them. If He in His grace be pleased to come into these conditions, this is all-sufficient. He may only feel things more exquisitely because of His perfection, and be all through in the unclouded sunshine of divine favor, as, until the significant darkness of the Cross, He ever was.

And this, being His grace, was part of that divine display which the “Word made flesh” affirms. That which looks only like the infirmity of manhood becomes in this way the glory of Godhead. “The Son of man is glorified” in this humiliation; “and God” also “is glorified in Him.”

[1] Most editors leave out “of our Lord Jesus Christ” on the authority of some of the most ancient MSS.; but some have it, along with the Peshito Syriac version (of the second century) and the Vulgate, and it agrees perfectly with the connection here. We should read, “every family,” as in the Revised, and not “the whole,” as in the Common Version.

[2] These things as to the Lord we must keep in careful adjustment to one another: “a body prepared” “made in all things like unto His brethren.” The latter must not be strained so as to include any consequences of the fall: for in this we were not “His brethren”; and limitation is fully declared (as we have seen) with regard to His participation in flesh and blood. On the other hand a “body prepared” must not be strained so as to make it other than fully human. It is instructive in this way to remember that this is a quotation from the Septuagint which substitutes this for the Hebrew: “ears hast Thou digged for Me.” Unless we are to believe that the Hebrew text is inaccurate here, and that the correctness of the Greek is affirmed by the apostle, the latter is but a paraphrase of the former, which he accepts as giving the true meaning. But in this case the “body prepared” does not apply to any special character of the body itself, but to its being the instrument whereby as a Man, the speaker should be enabled to hear—that is, to obey—the will of God. It is not to be supposed that the uninspired Septuagint has given us here a revelation of the nature of the Lord’s humanity unknown to the inspired Hebrew.

Of course what has been said of the Lord in comparison with Adam has reference simply to is body; and the union of God head with Manhood in His Person, with the consequences of this does not come before us here. We hope to speak of these in another place.

[3] Mortal does not mean “capable of dying,” (in which sense some have incautiously applied it to the Lord,) but “subject to death; destined to die” (Standard Dictionary).

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