The teachings of Seventh-day Adventists are being widely discussed today. This should not surprise us, for in unfolding such prophecies as Revelation 18:1, have we not preached for many years that before the end of all things this message will come into the spotlight of world interest? Moreover, much counsel has been given us to prepare ourselves for such a time as this. Note these words:
Our people have been regarded as too insignificant to be worthy of notice, but a change will come; the movements are now being made. The Christian world is now making movements which will necessarily bring the commandment-keeping people to notice. . . . Every position of our faith will be searched into, and if we are not thorough Bible students, established, strengthened, settled, the wisdom of the world's great men will be too much for us.—Ellen G. White letter 12, 1886.
This issue Of THE MINISTRY emphasizes some aspects of theology. The theology we espouse makes us what we are. To help our readers better understand certain trends in theological thought, we have gathered some forthright articles, two of which are from outstanding leaders not of our faith. These times demand a much deeper study of God's Word than many of us have realized.
We must never forget that great preaching comes out of clear theological concepts. More important than his method is the content of the preacher's message. And the very heart of that message is Christ, the Eternal Word, the Saviour of mankind, the God-Man----our Priest and coming King. That is why we have given so much space to this theme in recent issues.
One minister from overseas sought guidance in making clear the differences between the nature of Adam in Eden, of Christ during the incarnation, and of ourselves as members of a fallen race. Feeling that others might be helped to a clearer understanding of this tremendous issue and that it would stimulate study, we include herewith a comparative chart setting forth similarities as well as contrasts.
There is nothing more clearly taught in Scripture than that when God became man through the incarnation He partook of the nature of man; that is, He took upon Himself human nature. In Romans 1:3 we read that Jesus Christ was born "of the seed of David according to the flesh," and in Galatians 4:4, that He was "made of a woman." He became a son of humanity by a human birth and submitted Himself to the conditions of human existence, possessing a human body. (Heb. 2:14.)
The Roman Catholic Church by her dogma of the immaculate conception seeks to get around the very real difficulty of the sinless nature of God in the flesh by claiming that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved from what they speak of as original sin. But such teaching does not meet with all the scriptural requirements. If Mary had been sinless, then why would she have said in the Magnificat, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour"? To declare that she was sinless raises more problems than it solves, for how could she be born free from sin when both her parents were sinners? Such a thing would be even more miraculous than the virgin birth itself.
We must never lose sight of the fact that the birth of our Lord was supernatural. It was the result of a special act of God, by the power of the Holy Ghost. When God became flesh it was to fulfill His eternal purpose in bringing a lost race back into fellowship with the universe.
When Adam sinned, the effects of his fall passed upon the whole human family. Since then we have been a dying race. Into that race the Saviour came. At the time Jesus was born, centuries of sin had left their tragic mark upon humanity. Human nature had deteriorated; moreover, Satan claimed this world as his domain. When God became incarnate in the person of His Son, and identified Himself with humanity, it was after the race had been weakened by thousands of years of sin and degradation.
It was in a human form that He came, and He was beset by the infirmities of our physical nature. In the physical form of man He was to feel the stroke and effects of sin. He knew what it was to feel forsaken.
"I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me" (Isa. 63:3).
Bearing the weakness of humanity, and burdened with its sorrow and sin, Jesus walked alone in the midst of men.... He was in loneliness of spirit, in a world that knew Him not.—The Desire of Ages, p. 422.
When we read of Jesus Christ taking the nature of man, it is imperative that we recognize the difference between human nature in the physical sense of the word, and human nature in the theological meaning of the term. He was indeed a man, but withal He was God manifest in the flesh. True, He took our human nature, that is, our physical form, but He did not possess our sinful propensities. Over and over again Ellen G. White stresses "the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ."—Quoted from The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1131.
Note these words: "Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him. . . . Because of sin his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature. . . . But not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity."—Ibid., p. 1128.
He entered the human family and became one with our race, which from the days of Adam had been procreatively degenerating. Yet He was "without sin."
In the September, 1956, issue of THE MINISTRY, eight pages of quotations appear from the pen of Ellen G. White on the theme of the incarnation. Among them is this: "He was born without a taint of sin, but came into the world in like manner as the human family" (p. 22).
Just how He could be victorious while sharing with us all the limited physical nature of mankind is a mystery beyond human comprehension. But the Scripture declares that while being tempted, He was nevertheless "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." In His spiritual nature as the representative of Deity, He was perfect. In His human form as the representative of humanity, He was perfect and triumphant. We repeat, He had a human nature but not a carnal nature.
In considering this sinless One it is important that we differentiate between those two natures. In common with all mankind He did indeed take upon Himself our infirmities, but infirmities such as debility and frailty, the result of centuries of heredity are not sinful. Those infirmities are clearly indicated in the account of His life while here on earth. We read that He "hungered"; He knew the pangs of "thirst"; He was "wearied"; He "wept"; He was "tempted"; He knew "agony." More than eighty times in the Gospels He speaks of Himself as "the Son of man." He had the appearance of a man, and was indeed a man —the sinless Man, the perfect Man, the God-man, the only One through whom we have access to the Father. He felt His need of prayer, but never once did He have to ask to be forgiven, for He "knew no sin."
"He was a mighty petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human natures."—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 509.
"He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions. As the sinless One, His nature recoiled from evil." —Ibid., p. 202.
Both Matthew and Luke, in giving their accounts of our Lord's advent into the world, emphasize the difference between His birth and that of all others born into the human race. After enumerating the long list of generations from Abraham, Matthew says, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise." The expression "on this wise" indicates that the events which brought this birth about were different from those just recorded. Luke quotes the words of the angel: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
By the laws of heredity alone we cannot account for our Lord's generation, for His birth was supernatural. It was a creative act of God, and though He came in the chain of human generation, appearing in human flesh, He was nevertheless God.
In the very first promise of the Redeemer we find the mystery of godliness in embryo. The Lord declared that the power of the serpent would be destroyed by "the seed of the woman," not of the man. His relationship with the human race was on His mother's side. He was "made of a woman," was the "seed of the woman." He had no human father. He was born into the human family, possessed a human nature, and was known as the Son of man; nevertheless He was the Son of God. His human nature was truly human, yet He was sinless—human, not carnal. The difference between human nature and carnal nature is vital and decisive.
Carnal nature is not an integral part of original man; it is the result of sin. Before his fall Adam was human, but he was not carnal; he was spiritual, not sensual. When the Eternal God became the second Adam that He might take His place as the representative of a redeemed race, He came "without sin." When the incarnate God broke into human history and became one with the race, it is our understanding that He possessed the sinlessness of the nature with which Adam was created in Eden. The environment in which Jesus lived, however, was tragically different from that which Adam knew before the Fall. The accompanying diagram may be of help to us as we try to comprehend this mighty truth.
Just how God could accomplish this is impossible of explanation. Human language is altogether too limited to encompass the mystery of godliness. But though we cannot explain it, and must regard it as unfathomable, yet we can rejoice in the redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus.
An outstanding theologian of our day says: "Show me your Christology and I will tell you what you are." Another declares: "He who possesses a debased concept of the nature of our Lord will find that its ramifications extend to every facet of his theology, and detrimentally so." This subject demands earnest, prayerful study.
When we meet with an expression in the Spirit of prophecy like this: "He took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature" (Medical Ministry, p. 181), we must understand it in the light of Scripture, which declares that God "made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21). Now at His birth He was declared "holy." During His life and ministry "He did no sin." But in Gethsemane and at Calvary He bore the sin of the whole world. And not the sin only, but also the effects of sin. We read: He "took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses" (Matt. 8:17). He died a vicarious death. On that dark day He bore "our griefs, and carried our sorrows:" was "smitten of God, and afflicted" (Isa. 53:4). Our sins were imputed to Him. And so vicariously He took our sinful, fallen nature, died in our stead, and was "numbered with the transgressors" (v. 12).
Sin was laid upon Him; it was never a part of Him. It was outward, not inward. Whatever He took was not His inherently; He took it, that is, He accepted it. "He voluntarily assumed human nature. It was His own act, and by His own consent."—E. G. WHITE in The Review and Herald, Jan. 5, 1887. He "who did no sin" "his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Peter 222, 24).
Thank God for such a great salvation. These mighty truths should be our constant theme of contemplation. John exclaims, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us." It is a bestowed love. We cannot earn it, we cannot buy it, we cannot comprehend it, we cannot fathom its depths; but we can accept it, and standing in awe before such a mighty revelation of love and grace, we can repeat His name with reverence, "Emmanuel—God with us."
R. A. A.
* The word "carnal" is here used in the Pauline sense and not in the general sense of the term, which is simply "fleshly."