The Humiliation of Christ: His Incarnation

The Apostle tells us that Christ humbled Himself. In answer to the question, Wherein his humiliation consisted? our standards wisely content themselves with the simple statements of the Scriptures: “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.”Charles Hodge

On all these points the schoolmen and modern philosophical theologians have indulged in unprofitable speculations. All that is known, or can be known respecting them is the facts themselves.

The person of whom all the particulars above enumerated are predicated, is the Eternal Son of God. It was He who was born, who suffered, and who died. It was a person equal with God, who, the Apostle says, in Philippians ii. 7, 8, was made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man. It was the Son of God who was born of a woman, and made under the law. (Gal. iv. 4.) In the Old Testament it was predicted that a virgin should conceive, and bring forth a son, who should be called Immanuel, the mighty God. In revealing these facts the Scriptures reveal all we can know concerning the birth of Christ. He was born of a woman. In the birth of an ordinary human being there are mysteries which neither speculation nor science can solve. All we know is that in conception an immaterial principle, a human soul, is joined in unity of life with the germ of a human body, and, after a given process of development, is born a perfect child. In the case of our Lord, by the immediate or supernatural power of the Holy Ghost, these elements of humanity, material and immaterial (body and soul), from the beginning of their existence were n personal union with the Logos, so that the child born of the Virgin was in a true and exclusive sense the Son of God.

In opposition to the early heretics, some of whom said that Christ had no real human body, and others, that his body was not fashioned out of matter, but formed of a celestial substance, the fathers inserted in their creeds, that he was “born of the substance of the Virgin Mary.” This is involved in the Scriptural statement that He was born of a woman, which can only mean that He was born in the sense in which other children of men are born of women. This is essential to his true humanity, and to that likeness to men which makes them his brethren, and which was se cured by his taking part in flesh and blood. (Heb. ii. 14.)

The incarnation of the Son of God, his stooping to take into personal and perpetual union with Himself a nature infinitely lower than his own, was an act of unspeakable condescension, and therefore is properly included in the particulars in which He humbled Himself. It is so represented in the Scriptures, and that it is such is involved in the very nature of the act, on any other hypothesis than that which assumes the equality of God and man; or that man is a modus existendi of the Deity, and that the highest.

The Lutheran theologians exclude the incarnation as an element of Christ’s humiliation, on the ground that his humiliation was confined to his earthly existence, whereas his union with our nature continues in heaven. This, however, is contrary to Scripture, because the Apostle says that He made himself of no reputation in becoming man. (Phil. ii. 7.) It is constantly represented as a wonderful exhibition of his love for his people. It was for their sake that He stooped to become a partaker of flesh and blood. The objection that his humiliation can include only what is limited to the earthly stage of his existence, is purely verbal or technical. That He bears his glorified humanity in heaven, having transmuted that humble mantle into a robe of glory, does not detract from the condescension involved in its assumption, and in his bearing it with all its imperfections during his earthly pilgrimage.

There are some forms of the modern speculations on this subject which effectually preclude our regarding the incarnation as an act of humiliation. It is assumed, as stated on a previous page, that this union of the divine and human is the culminating point in the regular development of humanity. Its relation to the sinfulness of man and the redemption of the race is merely incidental. It would have been reached had sin never entered into the world. It is obvious that this is a mere philosophical theory, entirely outside of the Scriptures, and can legitimately have no influence on Christian doctrine. The Bible everywhere teaches that God sent his Son into the world to save sinners; that He was born of a woman and made under the law for our redemption; that He became man in order that He might die, and by death destroy the power of Satan. No speculation inconsistent with these prevailing representations of the Word of God can be admitted as true by those to whom that word is the rule of faith.

Christ was born in a Low Condition.

Not only the assumption of human nature, out also all the circumstances by which it was attended enter into the Scriptural view of the humiliation of our Lord. Had He when He came into the world so manifested his glory, and so exercised his power, as to have coerced all nations to acknowledge Him as their Lord and God, and all kings to bow at his feet and bring Him their tributes, enthroning Him as the rightful and absolute sovereign of the whole earth, it had still been an act of unspeakable condescension for God to become man. But to be a servant; to be born in a stable and cradled in a manger; to be so poor as not to have a place where to lay his head; to appear without form or comeliness, so as to be despised and rejected of men, makes the condescension of our Lord to pass all comprehension. There is, indeed, a wonderfu1 sublimity in this. It shows the utter worthlessness of earthly pomp and splendour in the sight of God. The manifestation of God in the form of a servant, has far more power not only over the imagination but also over the heart, than his appearing in the form of an earthly king clothed in purple and crowned with gold. We bow at the feet of the poor despised Galilean with profounder reverence and love than we could experience had He appeared as Solomon in all his glory.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume II                                                                      1797-1878

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