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Edward Irving’s Incarnational Christology, Part 2

Yet for Irving’s contemporaries, this was not the case. Haldane describes the theological foundation behind the culminating objection to Irving’s ideas: “Although Christ came in the flesh, he was untainted by Adam’s degeneracy, for his human nature was prepared by the immediate power of the Holy Ghost. He was therefore holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, as the east from the west, as light from darkness.”[18] Therefore, for Christ to be holy, his flesh needed to be wholly different from that of a normal human being. In Haldane’s reasoning, like that of all of Irving’s opponents, the necessity for Christ to remain sinless in his humanity required that his flesh, or human nature, be separate from sinners, as the east from the west, as light from darkness. There could, perhaps, be no stronger way to describe the difference between Christ’s flesh and the rest of humanity.

Irving clearly condemns this reasoning based purely on the need to have Christ as being intrinsically holy and ‘unblemished by sin’:

The erroneousness of all opinions which make a difference between Christ’s body born and ours born, or Christ’s body risen and his body interred, consisteth in this, that whatsoever was done in him and for his by the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hath no necessary connection with us; proves no love, grace, or holiness of God towards us; holds forth no redemption, salvation, resurrection, nor glory for us, but only for one who had an essential difference from us…[19]


Elsewhere, Irving persuasively exerts the full intensity and importance of this issue:

They argue for an identity of origin 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 [i.e. virgin birth], 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 not was 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, death, resurrection of a changed flesh: and so create a chasm between Him and us which no knowledge, nor even imagination, can overleap. And in doing so, they subvert all foundations: there is nothing left standing in our faith…[20]

Irving held that the flesh of Jesus was the concrete form of our human nature marked by Adam’s fall. This necessitates the very same human nature that needs to be reconciled to God. This assertion leads to the purpose of the Incarnation – the Atonement.


2.3.    Incarnation as the ‘Cradle of Atonement’

We return to Robert Meek as we consider his claim that the purpose of Christ having an unfallen human nature was to act as a substitution on the cross for the sins of mankind:

[Irving’s] doctrine is not only contrary to all our ideas of the immaculate holiness of Christ, but is subversive of our faith in his atoning sacrifice…Had Christ possessed a fallen nature, an atonement for the sinfulness of his own nature would have been necessary. ‘For how,’ it has been justly asked, ‘could a being that was naturally corrupt, in whatever dept of his person the evil resided, ever make a satisfactory atonement for the moral corruption of other beings? An atonement was necessary to take away our sinfulness, and when, or where, or by whom, was that atonement made for Christ’s nature?…If then I could believe the doctrine of Christ’s assumption of a fallen and sinful nature, it would destroy my confidence in his atoning sacrifice.[21]

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Category: Fall 2018, In Depth

About the Author: Trevor W. Martindale has been involved in supporting church-planting ministries in South Africa, where he grew up, and in England and in Scotland, where he now lives. Currently, he is a graduate student at the University of Aberdeen.

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