[Mr Irving’s opinions on the human nature of Christ being fully developed in the Treatise on the Incarnation, I have considered it unnecessary to include in this Collection of his Writings the various treatises of a more controversial character which were called forth by the attacks made upon that work. The most important of them was that entitled “On the Human Nature of Christ,” and it was followed by “Christ’s Holiness in the Flesh.” The following is the Preface to the first of these, which I give because in it Mr Irving states with singular clearness the substance of the controversy, and guards himself against misconstruction. -It was ostensibly for his opinions on this subject that he was deposed (in technical phraseology) from being a minister of the Church of Scotland. Ed.]
It is necessary to inform the reader, before entering upon the perusal of this tract, that whenever I attribute sinful properties and dispositions and inclinations to our Lord’s human nature, I am speaking of it considered apart from Him, in itself; I am defining the qualities of that nature which He took upon Him, demonstrating it to be the very same substance with that which we possess. To understand the work which He did, you must understand the materials with which He did it. The work which He did was to reconcile,, sanctify, quicken, and glorify this nature of ours, which is full of sin, and death and rebellion, and dishonour unto God. The most part of those who are opposed to the truth agree in this; but differ from us in maintaining that the substance of human nature underwent a change in the miraculous conception. We maintain that it underwent no change, but was full of fellowship and community with us all His life long, and was not changed but by the resurrection. We hold that it received a Holy Ghost life, a regenerate life, in the conception: in kind the same which we receive in regeneration, but in measure greater, because of His perfect faith: which perfect faith He was able to give by being a Divine Person, of one substance with the Father. The thing, therefore, which we maintain is, That as Adam was the perfect man of creation, Jesus was the perfect man of regeneration; perfect in holiness, by being perfect in faith; perfect in faith, though all the created universe strove to alienate Him from God; and prevailing to believe in the Father, against the universe, through the divinity of his own person, which was thereby proved to be uncreated, and above creation, by prevailing against a rebellious creation, with which He clothed Himself, and under whose load He came. And we further maintain, that there is no other way of seeing His divinity in action save by this only, that His union with the Father by faith stood good against the whole creation, and prevailed to draw creation out of the hands of its oppressors back again, and to reconcile it to God. All which is a dead letter, a fiction, a folly if so be that His creature nature was not part and parcel of the fallen and rebellious creation, in reconciling which He reconciled all. This is the substance of the argument: that His human nature was holy in the only way in which holiness under the fall exists or can exist, is spoken of or can be spoken of in Scripture, namely, through inworking or energising of the Holy Ghost: not by the Holy Ghost mixed up with either the substance of body or soul—which is to confound Godhead and manhood—but by the Holy Ghost, under the direction of the Son, enforcing His human nature, inclining it, uniting it to God; even as the devil, likewise a spirit, without mixing in it, did enforce it away from God. And this doth Christ in the salvation of every sinner resist, overcome, and destroy the devil’s power and work.
2. There is a metaphysical point which greatly affects the understanding of this tract, upon which it is necessary that I should say a word in this preface. It is concerning that which constitutes a man’s personality or individuality. The common thing created by God in Adam, was created in His own image, after His own likeness; and is, therefore, our complete being, visible and invisible, flesh and reason, or, as it is commonly denominated, body and soul. This is what man was created; this hath been added to, for creation never hath been added to; it was completed in six days. The community of man is therefore his compound nature, body and soul, flesh and reason. God has formed our hearts alike, as well as our bodies. Now, where lies the individuality, the personality, that which we denominate, I myself; that which God regards as responsible? I had not proposed this to myself as a question when I wrote my book upon the Incarnation, and when I wrote the earlier part of this tract; which are therefore both written under the common notion that the community is in the flesh, and the personality is in the soul: while yet I perceived all along, that if there is not a community in Christ’s soul with us, the community in His flesh is really nothing but an appearance: that is to say, if His flesh was not united to His mind by the same laws ours is, He had no community with us whatsoever: and for this I have always stood mainly: so that, however the metaphysical point of a man’s personality be held by my reader, the doctrine which I maintain is not affected by it. At present, from what study I have been able to give this subject, I incline to believe that the personality is property superinduced by God upon that community of body and soul which we inherit, being that which connects every man with Himself, as responsible to Him for that common endowment of body and soul and estate which He entrusts us with. For certain, Christ had a body and soul of man’s substance, without thereby having a human person; and, therefore, we can assert the sinfulness of the whole, and the complete, the perfect human nature, which He took, without in the least implicating Him with sin: yea, verily, seeing He subdued those properties which it has in itself, and made it holy, we assert Him to be the only Redeemer of man from sin. I wish it to be steadily borne in mind in reading this tract, that whenever I speak of the flesh of Christ, I mean, except when the contrary is expressed, the whole creature part; which is not a person, but a substance; a substance which we most describe by its properties of sinfulness and darkness and deadness, in order to understand the wonderful work of redemption which Christ wrought in it. What was holy, was His person; and from that came redemption into the nature: what was powerful, was the person; and from that came strength into the nature. Sin, in a nature, is its disposition to lead the person away from God; sin in a person, is the yielding thereto. All creation is sinful, being in a state of alienation from God: it has one law in one great sinful operation. The Person of the Son of God was born into it; He restrained, withstood, overcame this co-operation of a sinful creation, conquered the conqueror, and one it back to God; obtained power over all flesh. This is the great theme which we maintain.
3. The great point between us, the precious truth for which we contend, is, not whether Christ’s flesh was holy—for surely the man who saith we deny this blasphemeth against the manifest truth—but whether during His life it was one with us in all its infirmities and liabilities to temptation, or whether, by the miraculous generation, it underwent a change so as to make it a different body from the rest of the brethren. The argue fro an identity merely; we argue for an identity of life also. They argue for an inherent holiness; we argue for a holiness maintained by the person of the Son, through the operation of the Holy Ghost. They say, that though His body was changed in the generation, He was still our fellow in all temptations and sympathies: we deny that it could be so; for change is change; and if His body was changed in the conception, it was not in its life as ours is. In one word, we present believers with a real life; a suffering, mortal flesh; a real death and a real resurrection of this flesh of ours: they present the life. the death, and resurrection of a changed flesh: and so create a chasm between Him and us which no knowledge, nor even imagination, can overleap. An in so doing, they subvert all foundations: there is nothing left standing in our faith of Godhead, in our hopes of manhood.
Finally, though I have been assailed with all manner of personal abuse, both anonymous writers in all sorts of religious magazines, and likewise by ministers and doctors of the Church who have been honest enough to give their names, I have not once retaliated in that kind. It is fashion to accuse me of being abusive and personal. It is not true of me either as a man or a writer. I defy them to produce out of my writings one word of uncharitableness towards the person of anyone; and I am resolved to abide in the Lord’s rule, never to tell my grievance or offence against any person to the Church, until I have first sought to gain my brother by private and friendly intercourse: and I tell all mine enemies, that, until they learn to walk by the same rule of love, they shall flounder on in error, and never come to see or love the truth. Very different, however, hath been, and ever shall be, my carriage towards error in doctrine and schism in the Church. These I shall always call by their proper names. I will not spare them: oh never! As I love the souls of men, I will expose the errors in doctrine and schisms in practice by which they are holden far off from God. God right his own truth! Amen.
National Scotch Church, London, 10th Jan. 1830