Human Again

Recently I have seen quoted the early Pentecostal leader Smith Wigglesworth:

If you examine yourself, you will be natural, but if you look at God, you will be supernatural. If you have a great God, you will have a little Devil; and if you have a big Devil, you will have a little god.

While I appreciate that looking at God rather than ourselves releases us from being what Luther calls homo incurvatus in se (‘man curved in upon himself’), this release is not an infusion of supernatural properties but a restored holiness in our character. The point of holy living is not to become supernatural: instead, the point of supernatural power is to be made holy and manifest thereby the righteousness of God.

Confusion on this point often keeps the Church from a coherent view of how to deal with our human social structures in a godly way. It can also lead to all kinds of neo-Gnostic hysteria, sometimes through charlatans and sometimes through certain fanatical watchmen, hysteria worthy of the Montanist heresy: some of us who have lived in California may strangely, though perhaps inappropriately, be reminded of posters advertising astral projection techniques. Confusion on the relation of humanity and supernature may, however, be cleared by an understanding of the two natures of Christ.

Here I may be accused of downplaying the supernatural power of God as actually exercised in the life of the Church, but my conscience is clear of this charge. I agree that God abides with the Church, giving power beyond what man can do by his own nature: our ministry is effective by divine power independent of us, dispensed at God’s good pleasure to beat down Satan under our feet. Apart from this power, the Church could do nothing. Rightly do some point out, therefore, that the Lord worked with the disciples (as he does today), often confirming his word with signs of the Holy Spirit’s power, a power that sanctifies bodies and saves souls and effectually pronounces judgement upon the powers of darkness.

Here, as elsewhere, the divinity of Jesus Christ must be distinguished from his humanity, albeit not separated: what we grow in is Christ’s humanity, which though empowered by the Holy Ghost differs from his divinity not only in degree but in kind. His humanity, while sanctified by the Holy Ghost, has never itself been changed into something supernatural and angelic, but rather has remained human and been nothing other than human, though adorned with a more mature glory than that which graced the first Adam; though Christ did many miracles, these signs were gifts of God outside of his human nature (cf. finitum non capax infiniti). His human nature, even today in glory, is such that his body remains in heaven and does not literally and physically come to earth until the Last Day: thus we deny the doctrine of transubstantiation, since it is (as some have written) ‘against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one’.

The grace of the Holy Ghost, which includes prophetic preaching and spiritually miraculous sacraments as well as some good works that defy scientific explanation, imparts to the members of Christ’s body (through faith) – that is, it restores to us – the natural righteousness of this same Christ, which is defined by love. This imparted righteousness, as it expels the corruption of our nature, enables us to love the Lord, and so diligently to obey his commandments, which St Paul also calls the law of charity. This is an obedience that will stand fearless before all the imperium of Caesar and all the hordes of Attila to call the nations to repentance and embrace of God’s awesome love. Is this enabled by power beyond our own natural ability? Without a doubt. But is the Christian who does these things then supernatural, having gained for himself what is not a proper attribute of man? By no means.

The orthodox definition of the relation between Christ’s two natures, expounded by the fathers of Chalcedon according to the Scriptures, teaches us to be content with being human and not to be the super-apostles against whom even St Paul is compelled to defend himself and his ministry. If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me the grace of God and the humanity of Christ, and I shall be content to trust God to work mightily outside my restored human power.

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