God and Christ
THE distinctions between deity absolute and relative abound in the Scriptures of truth. Along with the impressive likeness are emphatic contrasts. Some of these are essential to the manifestation of the likenesses. A Mediator Who is invisible and inaudible could not mediate. He must be the opposite of His God in these necessary concomitants of absolute Deity. The Supreme knows no deity above Him. The Son continually acknowledges that He has a God. The glory of Christ was to do the will of Another. What is more splendid, in all His words, than the great renunciation, “Not My will, but Thine?” Could His God have said the same? Quite the opposite. God’s will must be carried out and Christ’s ignored.
The deity of God is the fundamental of fundamentals. It underlies all truth and is lacking in all error. Departure from it is the first phase of human depravity. Knowing God, men do not glorify or thank Him as God (Rom.1:21). This is the source of all mental and moral degradation. This fundamental failing is not confined to unbelievers. It vitiates much theology and darkens the minds of many saints. It is not merely the belief in a deity—few sane intelligences deny that there is a God. Nevertheless few, if any, of mankind fully acknowledge all that is implied in glorifying God as God, in recognizing the absolute deity of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Deity is established by relationship. One Who has a God is not the Deity. He Who, in the absolute sense, gives, is God. He who receives is not. No one can give God anything that is not already His. We receive everything from Him. Paul announced this basic truth to the Ephesian philosophers. “Neither is He, requiring anything, being attended by human hands, Himself giving to all life and breath and all” (Acts 17:25). He is the Sender. He is not sent. He is Supreme. He is not Subject. His will is invincible. He does not yield to the will of another. It is in these relative attitudes that absolute Deity reveals itself in the Scriptures. Theological omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience are not used in the Word to prove His deity. They are philosophical rather than theological. They ignore Christ, hence are an affront to God’s method of revelation.
The truth regarding the relation of Christ to God has been practically blotted out by the theory of the trinity. There has been much searching for passages to support this preconceived relation, but little investigation of the Scriptures as to their actual testimony. A very simple method will help us to get the facts. We will consider the contrasts between Christ and God in their relation to one another and to the universe. We will find that all is out of God, but through Christ. We will discover that God’s will is supreme, and Christ conforms His to it. We will see that God alone has inherent power, and Christ derives it from Him.
OUR LORD HAS A GOD
God has no God. He is the Supreme. His deity would be destroyed should He acknowledge a superior. No one who has a God is absolute Deity. The Son is God in a restricted, relative sense. His orphan cry, “My God, My God, why didst Thou abandon Me?” (Matt.27:46) could never have come from the God and Father He implored. The Supreme cannot appeal to a higher Power. He could not be left helpless to His enemies by another. He could not suffer the death that followed this heartbroken cry, for He is the life of all that lives. On Golgotha we see God and His Christ in keenest contrast.
Absolute Deity cannot acknowledge or appeal to another God. Yet this is the crowning glory of Christ. He has a God. God Himself has no more splendid title than “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To be the God of Christ is His greatest glory. To be known as the Father of His Son is the deepest desire of His heart. In His intercourse with His disciples our Lord continually referred to God as Another, not Himself. But He not only established a relationship between God and His disciples, and associated Himself with them in it, but specifically spoke of One Who was His Arbiter, Whom He invoked in prayer, Whom He acclaimed in thanksgiving. We need not be surprised that a glimpse of this relationship should be seldom given. Rather we should be astonished that the veil was ever lifted, so that we may enter into the intimacies of the fellowship between the Father and His Beloved.
It is striking to note that the contrast between Christ and God was sharpest at the two crises in His ministry, when His work, seems to have failed. After His rejection by Capernaum He relieves His feelings by retiring into the divine intention. He recognized that His apparent failure was only a phase of God’s success. So He acclaims His Father Lord of heaven and earth, because He had hid the message from the wise and intelligent. Apparently, they were working at cross purposes. Christ was revealing. God was concealing. How marvelous to see Christ thanking the Father for His failure! He was willing to fail if it delighted the Deity. Had He been the Deity, He could not have failed.
The fullest display of Christ’s dependence on His God and Father is found in His prayer for the disciples (John 17). He takes a place utterly impossible to Deity in submitting Himself and all His work to His Father. He does not for a moment assume the place of equality. His authority is a gift (17:2). All whom He saves are given Him (17:2). He is carrying out a commission (17:3). He does not glorify Himself, but God (17:4). He does a work, not His own (17:4), and so on, to the end. It is by no means the consultation of two gods “equal in power and glory.” It is the humble, dependent petition of a Son and a Servant to One Who is surpassingly supreme.
SOURCE AND CHANNEL
That great rubric which authoritatively reveals the status of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, defines their relation to the universe by means of two connectives. All is out of God. All is through our Lord (1 Cor.8:6). The contrast here is sharp and clear. It is the key to the part played by Christ in the course of the eons. Nothing originates out of Him or consummates into Him, though He is the Origin and the Consummation. All comes through Him, from the beginning to the end. He is the Channel, not the Source or the Object of all things. It is a proof of divine inspiration that the Scriptures always maintain this point. It is true of Christ in all of His assumptions.
Our common version, however, in such a matter as this, proves that it is not inspired. In the first chapter of John’s account, we read that “All things were made by Him” (3), and again, “ the world was made by Him” (10). In both cases it should be through. The Logos, or Word, of God was the means of making all, not the efficient first Cause of all. Christ is never set forth as the absolute Source. Such a role is absolutely destructive of His mission as Mediator. It has led to the dogmatic confusion which clouds Christian theology.
Peter, in addressing his fellow Israelites on the day of Pentecost, averred that the powers and miracles and signs wrought during Messiah’s ministry, were performed by God through Christ (Acts 2:22), just as later miracles and signs came to pass through the apostles (Acts 2:43). God will judge the hidden things of humanity through Jesus Christ (Rom.2:16). Reconciliation is wrought by God through His Son (Rom.5:10, 11; 2 Cor.5:18; Col.1:20).
We need hardly insist that salvation is through Christ. God Himself is our Saviour. He spared not His Son. He wrought redemption through His Beloved. The same is true of creation, though the Authorized Version always changes through to by. Paul tells us in Ephesians (3:9) that God created the universe through Christ. He elaborates this conception in Colossians (1:16). Still further light is thrown upon His mediacy in Hebrews (1:2) where He is presented as the channel through which the eons are made, so that time as well as matter and force are brought into the world through Him.
NOT MY WILL
God is operating the universe in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11). We are not told of this until He reveals the mystery of Christ, that He is to head up the universe in the final eon. Apart from that revelation it is well nigh incredible. It is only as we believe the promise, that He will bring the present chaos to an end and subject all to the rule of His Anointed, that we can entertain the thought that the present confusion is working out His purpose. There is so much that seems utterly and incurably opposed to God’s will that we are inclined rather to think that the universe is being operated by Satan in opposition to His intention.
It is of prime importance that we do not miss the force of the word counsel. The world is not in line with God’s will. It is in accord with the counsel of His will. In the wisdom of God He uses the opposition to His revealed will to work out His hidden intention. The forces of evil are contrary to His will, nevertheless they are bringing about the end He has in view. Men imagine that they can defy God. The worst crime they ever committed against Him was the crucifixion of Christ. That certainly was contrary to His will! But it was according to His definite counsel. Instead of hindering the progress of His purpose it helped it as no other act has ever done. So with all other opposition to God’s will. He will conform it to His counsel, and use it to attain His purpose.
Let us note that Christ is active only on the positive side of God’s purpose. His acts conform to God’s revealed will. Satan and all the influences flowing from him furnish the negative side. They fulfill God’s counsel by withstanding His will. Christ does it only by conforming fully to it. Hence, in that future eon of the eons, Satan is banished and Christ is crowned the Head of all creation. Then God’s will and the counsel of His will will no longer be distinct. His purpose will no longer require opposition for its fulfillment. Under the beneficent rule of God’s Son, evil will no longer be essential to His revelation. His will will then be done.
It is essential to our present inquiry to see that Christ is not actively associated with God’s underlying intention. He knows of it, but He does not plan it or put it into practice. One incident in His ministry will make this clear. When the cities in which most of His powerful deeds had been done did not repent, He is not disappointed, but worships God, saying, “I am acclaiming to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hidest these things from the wise and intelligent, and Thou dost reveal them to minors. Yea, Father, seeing that thus it became a delight in front of Thee!” (Matt.11:25). Our Lord did not hide His words from the people. He was in God’s will in making them known. While He reveals, God conceals. They work counter to one another. Christ does not change His methods to conform with God’s operations. He acquiesces and worships, but continues to act according to God’s revealed will, not the operation of His counsel or intention. In this matter Christ is active on only one side of God’s operations.
One of the most astonishing and enlightening facts concerning Christ is the utter abnegation of His will. The only human being Who could be trusted to act in accord with His own volition utterly renounced the right to do so. He never carried out His own will. It is true that He was almost always in complete harmony with God’s will, so that there was no clash. But even so, the will originated in God, not in Himself.
Throughout His earthly ministry our Lord never proposed that His will should be followed. It was His mission to fulfill the will of Another. When entering into the world, He said, “Lo! I am arriving...to do Thy will, O God!” (Heb.10:7). This is one of His most gracious glories. Let us not rob Him of it, by making Him identical with the Deity in this regard. If we do He will vanish. The Christ of God cannot be conceived with a will of equal force with the Father. Yet, of all the distinctive attributes of Deity, what is more conclusive than an adamantine will? If there is any “essence” which constitutes deity, it must be largely composed of determination.
“Not My will, but Thine” is the illuminating flash which reveals the relation existing between the will of Christ and His God. It is in contrast to the ignorant arrogance of stupid men who cry “I want what I want when I want it!” Christ recognized the fact that there is room for only one supreme will in a universe which is operated according to the counsel of God’s will (Eph.1: 11). He insists that His own will is not supreme. When He finds Himself out of line with the will of God, He bows to it. In that one act He makes His position clear. As the divine Executive and Representative, His will coincided with the Deity, but, when called upon to suffer as the Saviour, He had to subordinate His own will to the will of God.
The possession of a will is not an exclusive attribute of deity. Probably all of God’s sentient creatures are possessed of some degree of volition. But none of them can carry out their wills except in the measure in which these agree with God’s intention. God’s will is absolute and ultimately triumphant. It never subordinates itself to another. He who aligns his will with the divine purpose is Godlike, but not God. The very fact that he yields to Another is proof positive that his will is not sovereign.
The conclusive proof that Christ did not arrogate to Himself the direction of affairs, even in His own ministry, is found in His repeated assurances that He did not follow His own volition. “I am not seeking My own will” (John 5:30), he told the Jews who questioned His Messiahship. The Anointed is not in Himself the deity Who decides the course of history. He is the One Who carries out the decrees of Him Whose will is supreme. Again He protests to them, “I have descended from heaven, not that I should be doing My will...” (John 6:38).
That He had a will of His own, independent of God’s, is evident from the texts already quoted. But it was always so thoroughly in harmony with His Father’s, that they were practically one in operation. The time came, however, when the will of the Son did not coincide with the will of His Father. In view of the supreme suffering of the cross, His soul shrank back, and His will could not acquiesce. Hence His bitter cry, “Father, if it is Thy intention, carry aside this cup from Me” (Luke 22: 42). He did not want the awful agonies that lay within the path which God had prepared for His feet. He recoiled in terror at the dark shadow which should separate Him from fellowship with God. He was outside the will of His Father. One of them must yield.
It is at this crisis that we see most clearly the wide gulf between God’s will and His. God could not say, “Not My will.” Had He yielded, all of His plans would have failed. The whole purpose of creation would have miscarried. The Sacrifice must be offered, or sin would dethrone the Deity. The hopes of a universe depended at this point on the inflexibility of God’s will. And the expectation of all creation likewise depended on the pliability of the will of Christ. It is just as necessary that the Son should yield as that the Father should be adamant. The glory of God is His resistless determination. The glory of the Son his subjection.
How few of us know the mighty import of that self-effacing cry: “Not My will, but Thine!” At all times, this is the glory of Christ. Before His incarnation, during His earthly life, in resurrection glory, in His final subjection at the consummation, He always yields to the will of Another. Is this the proper function of absolute Deity? It cannot be. Moreover, when, once in His career, He finds Himself athwart the will of God, does He assert His will, as a real God would do? He does not. The only time that He desired to act independently of God, He submerged His will, and preferred His Father’s.
GIVER AND RECEIVER
God and Christ are related to each other as Giver and Receiver. God gave Him the actual words He spoke, the very spirit with which He uttered them, the disciples which they won, His power and His throne and His glory. All are gifts to Him from God. Absolute Deity cannot receive gifts such as these, for He is Himself the Owner and Source of all. Giving to God is only a form. We can only return or acknowledge what is already His. Christ, however, can receive. That is His proper glory, in relation to God.
The declarations which fell from the lips of Christ seemed as spontaneous as though they sprang from His own mind even as they issued from His mouth. Yet they were inspired in a superior sense. When others spoke, the record of their words is usually inspired. But in His case the words themselves are God’s gift to Him, and through Him to His disciples. He did not formulate a philosophy of life and pass it on to His followers. He had a divine outlook, and spoke as no other man ever spoke, because His words were a gift from above. He said, “the declarations which Thou hast given Me I have given them” (John 17:8). Again, “I have given them Thy word” (John 17:14).
He received all of His disciples as a gift from God. He did not claim to win them by His own powers of persuasion. Indeed, He had no expectation that any would follow Him unless His Father had given them to Him (John 6:37). Being the gift of the Father, they were not dependent on His own protection alone, but on His Father’s (John 10:29). His intercessory prayer, in the seventeenth chapter of John, is full of references to those whom the Father had given Him. They receive eonian life (John 17:2). He manifests God’s name to them (verse 6). They are still the Father’s (verse 9). He will keep them (verse 11). Christ had guarded them (verse 12). They shall behold His glory (verse 24). Judas was not one of them, for He lost none of them (John 18:9).
Judgment is given to the Son. It is not His inherent right. That belongs to absolute Deity. It is delegated to the Christ because of His humanity (John 5:22,26,27). All governmental authority is His as a gift also (Matt.28:18; John 17:2). The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David (Luke 1:32). All the glories which are His now and in the future come to Him from the Father’s hand (John 17:22,24; 1 Peter 1:21). All this marks Him as the great Recipient. God is lavish in His presents to His Son. It does not dim His glory in the least degree to “give” God His true place as the great Giver.
The prayer He taught His disciples transferred to them His own attitude toward God’s will (Matt.6:10; Luke 11:2). He did not pray the Father for help to carry out His own will. The disciples, likewise, are to have no will of their own, but to submit to God’s will and seek its fulfillment. Our Lord never sought to put His own will on His disciples. He required obedience to Himself only as authority was given to Him. He came, not in His own name, but in the name of His God and Father. It is His function to efface Himself, so that, eventually, all will be directly subject to God’s will, without His intervention.
It will be objected that we must distinguish between the pre-incarnate Christ and His earthly career, as well as His present and future glories. It is usually insisted that His kenosis, or emptying, will explain His subjection while on the earth. The question can be settled very simply and satisfactorily by determining His final relation to God after the eons are past. Will He then regain His full place in the “trinity” and leave the place of subjection for the sovereignty of Deity? Quite the opposite is true. Little as is revealed of that glorious consummation, His final place in the universe is clearly and definitely stated. The Son also will be subject to God, along with the rest of the universe (1 Cor.15:28).
Subjection is the highest, the ultimate glory of the Son of God. During the last two eons He will exercise power and authority, so that myriads will be subordinate to Him. He will be the Sovereign of the universe. He will subject all of God’s creatures to Him. In doing this He acts like God, He uses the power and prerogatives of God. While He does it He is called God. But when He has accomplished it, He does not return to a state of absolute Deity, as the trinitarian theory must insist, but He resigns the very functions which pertain to Deity. He voluntarily abdicates His throne. He relinquishes His authority over creation, and takes a place subordinate.
It has been suggested that this subjection applies only to His mediatorial work. But the fact is that His work as Mediator is finished at that time. He is neither King nor Priest. He is not even Prophet. All of His mediatorial offices have been fulfilled. They vanish at the consummation, because their object has been accomplished. The subjection is strictly personal. He is not called Christ, but the Son. The Son Himself also shall be subject. He has subjected all else to God, and He joins the company of subjects in order that God may be All in all. He is the One Who, added to the rest of the universe, makes subjection to God universal.
THE SENDER AND THE SENT
The Deity sends, but is not sent. His Son is sent, and never sends His Father. This relationship is basic. It is not a temporary mediatorial arrangement. It exists throughout the course of revelation. These functions are never reversed. The Deity is always the Sender, and the Son is always the Sent One. This is an essential or fundamental relationship which illuminates and reflects the glories of each. The Deity would not be such if He were sent. Christ would be naught if He were not sent by God.
We cannot conceive of absolute Deity being sent. Who is there to send Him? Who has the right to tell Him to go from one place to another? Who has the wisdom to decide His location for Him? And how can He obey, seeing that He is present everywhere? The moment that He acknowledges a Sender He abdicates His throne in favor of a superior. One of the verily, verilies of our Lord insists that a slave is not greater than his lord, neither an apostle greater than He Who sends Him (John 13:16). The one sent is always subordinate to the one who sends him. There may be a mutual agreement among equals, but their equality vanishes when one goes hence in obedience to orders given by the other.
The Son came to do the will of Him Who sent Him (John 6: 38,39,40). It was His very food (John 4:34). He made it the basis of His appeal to the people. He told them “I can do nothing of Myself. According as I am hearing am I judging; and My judgment is just, seeing that I am not seeking My own will, but the will of Him Who sends Me” (John 5:30). The Absolute Deity cannot be sent by another. He goes where He goes, without let or hindrance, if, indeed, we may speak of Him in this way, for He is present everywhere. He sends, but is not sent. He commissions, but cannot be commissioned, for there is no one who has authority to delegate Him. In relation to the Deity, Christ is not the Sender, but the Sent.
The discourse of our Lord to the Jews, when they asked for a sign, reiterates His reliance on the will of God Who sent Him. He told them, “I have descended from heaven, not that I should be doing My will, but the will of Him Who sends Me. Now this is the will of Him Who sends Me, that everyone whom He has given to Me, of these I should be losing none, but shall be raising him in the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who is beholding the Son and is believing into Him may have eonian life, and I shall be raising him in the last day” (John 6:38-40). His own will was entirely eclipsed in all that He did. He was occupied entirely with the will of God.
The word “essence” is often used in reasoning about the so-called “Godhead.” The word “essential” is far clearer. We have been considering several of these essentials, and, in every case, the Supreme Deity possesses them and our Lord Jesus Christ does not. Hence He is not “one in essence” with the Deity. He has a God, Whom He serves and worships. He is the Channel, but not the Source. He has a will, but is subject to a higher. He is a Recipient from One above Him. He is sent and commissioned by a Superior. None of these is compatible with Deity. The Supreme has no God, worships none, Sources all, is subject to no other will, gives and sends, but cannot be commissioned, because He is Supreme, and there is no God above Him.
The fact that our Saviour adores and acclaims Another, that He is not the first Cause, that He is subject to God’s will, that He receives all from His Father and that He is empowered with authority by Him, does not dim His glory by a single beam, for these are His glories. He is not God’s rival, but His Revealer. He is not His master, but our Mediator. God’s glory is in self-revelation. Christ’s glory lies in self-abnegation. After all His mediatorial work is finished, then the Son will be subject, not supreme. The furthest reach of faith’s telescope finds Him first, not in eclipsing the Deity, or in sharing His sovereignty, but in such subjection as will make God All in all.
A. E. Knoch
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