Christ’s Impeccability

Christs Impeccability

W.G.T. Shedd
Dogmatic Theology
Vol. II, Christology, ch. 5, pp. 330-349.

The doctrine of Christ’s person is not complete without considering the subject of his impeccability. That he was sinless is generally acknowledged. But the holiness of the God-man is more than sinlessness. The last Adam differs from the first Adam by reason of his impeccability. He was characterized not only by the posse non peccare [being able not to sin], but by the non posse peccare [not being able to sin]. He was not only able to overcome temptation, but he was unable to be overcome by it.

An impeccable will is one that is so mighty in its self-determination to good that it cannot be conquered by any temptation to evil, however great. A will may be positively holy and able to overcome temptation, and yet not be so omnipotent in its holy energy that it cannot be overcome. The angels who fell could have repelled temptation with that degree of power given them by creation, and so might Adam. But in neither case was it infallibly certain that they would repel it. Though they were holy, they were not impeccable. Their will could be overcome because it was not omnipotent, and their perseverance was left to themselves and not made sure by extraordinary grace. The case of Jesus Christ, the second Adam, was different, in that he was not only able to resist temptation, but it was infallibly certain that he would resist it. The holy energy of his will was not only sufficiently strong to overcome, but was so additionally strong that it could not be overcome. (cf. Supplement 1)

Christ’s Impeccability Proven from Scripture.

The scriptural proof of Christ’s impeccability is the following.

1. The immutability of Christ taught in Heb. 13:8 pertains to all the characteristics of his person. His holiness is one of the most important of these. If the God-man, like Adam, had had a holiness that was mutable and might be lost, it would be improper to speak of him in terms that are applicable only to the unchangeable holiness of God. He would not be “holy, harmless, and undefiled, yesterday, today, and forever.

2. A mutable holiness would be incompatible with other divine attributes ascribed to the God-man. (a) The possibility of being overcome by temptation is inconsistent with the omnipotence of Christ. It implies that a finite power can overcome an infinite one. All temptation to sin must proceed from a created being: either man or fallen angel. Temptation proper, in distinction from God’s paternal trial, must always be finite. God tempts no man, in the strict sense of the term (James 1:13). But if a finite temptation is met by an infinite power of resistance, the result must be the failure of the temptation, and not the defeat of the tempted person. (b) The success of temptation depends, in part, upon deceiving the person tempted: “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Tim. 2:14). A finite intelligence may be deceived, but an infinite intelligence cannot be. Therefore, the omniscience which characterizes the God-man made his apostasy from good impossible. (cf. Supplement 2)

3. A mutable holiness is irreconcilable with the fact that the God-man is the author of holiness. He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). He is denominated the “last Adam” in distinction from the first, and as such he is “a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). This means that unlike the first Adam he is the fountain of spiritual and holy life for others; and this implies the unchangeable nature of his own holiness. In Rom. 1:4 the divine nature of Christ is described as “a spirit of holiness.” The genitive here, is not equivalent to an adjective, but denotes that the noun which it limits is a source of the quality spoken of.

In accordance with these statements of Scripture respecting the person of Christ, the symbols and theologians have generally affirmed his impeccability. Augustine and Anselm attribute this characteristic to him (Neander, History IV. 495-496; Athanasius, Against the Arians 1.35).

Christ’s Impeccability Proven from the Constitution of His Person.

The truth and self-consistence of the doctrine of Christ’s impeccability appear, also, from a consideration of the constitution of his person.

Christ’s person is constituted of two natures: one divine and the other human. Divine nature is both intemptable and impeccable: “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13); “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Human nature, on the contrary, is both temptable and peccable. When these two natures are united in one theanthropic person, as they are in the incarnation, the divine determines and controls the human, not the human the divine. The amount of energy, therefore, which the total complex person possesses to resist temptation, must be measured not by the human nature but by the divine; and the amount of energy to resist temptation determines the peccability or impeccability of the person. Jesus Christ, consequently, is as mighty to overcome Satan and sin, as his mightiest nature is. His strength to prevent a lapse from holiness is to be estimated by his divinity, not by his humanity, because the former and not the latter is the base of his personality and dominates the whole complex person.

Consequently, what might be done by the human nature if alone and by itself cannot be done by it in this union with omnipotent holiness. An iron wire by itself can be bent and broken in a man’s hand; but when the wire is welded into an iron bar, it can no longer be so bent and broken. And yet iron, whether in a bar or in a wire, is a ductile and flexible metal; and human nature, whether in a God-man or a mere man, is a temptable and fallible nature. A mere man can be overcome by temptation, but a God-man cannot be. When, therefore, it is asked if the person named Jesus Christ and constituted of two natures was peccable, the answer must be in the negative. For in this case divine nature comes into the account. As this is confessedly omnipotent, it imparts to the person Jesus Christ this divine characteristic. The omnipotence of the Logos preserves the finite human nature from falling, however great may be the stress of temptation to which this finite nature is exposed. Consequently, Christ while having a peccable human nature in his constitution, was an impeccable person. Impeccability characterizes the God-man as a totality, while peccability is a property of his humanity.

But it may be asked: If the properties of either nature may be attributed to the person of the God-man, why may not both peccability and impeccability be attributed to the person of the God-man? We say that Jesus Christ is both finite and infinite, passible and impassible, impotent and omnipotent, ignorant and omniscient, why may we not also say that he is both peccable and impeccable? If the union in one person of the two natures allows the attribution of contrary characteristics to the one God-man in these former instances, why not also in this latter?

Because, in this latter instance, divine nature cannot innocently and righteously leave human nature to its own finiteness without any support from the divine, as it can in the other instances. When the Logos goes into union with a human nature, so as to constitute a single person with it, he becomes responsible for all that this person does through the instrumentality of this nature. The glory or the shame, the merit or the blame, as the case may be, is attributable to this one person of the God-man. If, therefore, the Logos should make no resistance to the temptation with which Satan assailed the human nature in the wilderness and should permit the humanity to yield to it and commit sin, he would be implicated in the apostasy and sin. The guilt would not be confined to the human nature. It would attach to the whole theanthropic person. And since the Logos is the root and base of the person, it would attach to him in an eminent manner. Should Jesus Christ sin, incarnate God would sin, as incarnate God suffered when Jesus Christ suffered.

In reference, therefore, to such a characteristic as sin, the divine nature may not desert the human nature and leave it to itself. In reference to all other characteristics, it may. Divine nature may leave human nature alone, so that there shall be ignorance of the day of judgment, so that there shall be physical weakness and pain, so that there shall be mental limitation and sorrow, so that there shall be desertion by God and the pangs of death. There is no sin or guilt in any of these. These characteristics may all attach to the total person of the God-man without any aspersion upon his infinite purity and holiness. They do, indeed, imply the humiliation of the Logos, but not his culpability. Suffering is humiliation, but not degradation or wickedness. The Logos could consent to suffer in a human nature, but not to sin in a human nature. The God-man was commissioned to suffer (John 10:18), but was not commissioned to sin.

Consequently, all the innocent defects and limitations of the finite may be attributed to Jesus Christ, but not its culpable defects and limitations. The God-man may be weak or sorrowful or hungry or weary; he may be crucified, dead, and buried; but he may not be sinful and guilty. For this reason, divine nature constantly supports human nature under all the temptations to sin that are presented to it. It never deserts it in this case. It empowers it with an energy of resistance that renders it triumphant over the subtlest and strongest solicitations to transgress the law of God. It deserts the humanity so that it may suffer for the atonement of sin, but it never deserts the humanity so that it may fall into sin itself. When Christ cried, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” the desertion of the finite by the infinite nature occurred in order that there might be suffering, not that there might be sin. Divine nature, at the very moment of this agony and passion, was sustaining human nature so that it should not sinfully yield to what was the most powerful temptation ever addressed to a human nature, namely, the temptation to flee from and escape the immense atoning agony, which the God-man had covenanted with the Father to undergo. This is implied in Christ’s words: “If it be possible, let this cup pass; nevertheless, not my will but thine be done. The cup that my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it?

Again, the impeccability of Christ is proved by the relation of the two wills in his person to each other. Each nature, in order to be complete, entire, and wanting nothing, has its own will; but the finite will never antagonizes the infinite will, but obeys it invariably and perfectly. If this should for an instant cease to be the case, there would be a conflict in the self-consciousness of Jesus Christ similar to that in the self-consciousness of his Apostle Paul. He too would say, “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” (Rom. 7:19-20, 24). But there is no such utterance as this from the lips of the God-man. On the contrary, there is the calm inquiry of Christ: “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:46); and the confident affirmation of St. John: “In him was no sin” (1 John 3:5). There is an utter absence of personal confession of sin, in any form whatever, either in the conversation or the prayers of Jesus Christ. There is no sense of indwelling sin. He could not describe his religious experience as his apostle does and his people do: “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17).

Impeccability Consistent with Temptability.

It is objected to the doctrine of Christ’s impeccability that it is inconsistent with his temptability. A person who cannot sin, it is said, cannot be tempted to sin.

This is not correct; any more than it would be correct to say that because an army cannot be conquered, it cannot be attacked. Temptability depends upon the constitutional susceptibility, while impeccability depends upon the will. So far as his natural susceptibility, both physical and mental, was concerned, Jesus Christ was open to all forms of human temptation excepting those that spring out of lust or corruption of nature. But his peccability, or the possibility of being overcome by these temptations, would depend upon the amount of voluntary resistance which he was able to bring to bear against them. Those temptations were very strong, but if the self-determination of his holy will was stronger than they, then they could not induce him to sin, and he would be impeccable. And yet plainly he would be temptable.

That an impeccable being can be tempted is proved by the instance of the elect angels. Having “kept their first estate,” they are now impeccable, not by their own inherent power, but by the power of God bestowed upon them. But they might be tempted still, though we have reason to believe that they are not. Temptability is one of the necessary limitations of the finite spirit. No creature is beyond the possibility of temptation, though he may, by grace, be beyond the possibility of yielding to temptation. The only being who cannot be tempted is God: ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἀπείραστός [for God cannot be tempted] (James 1:13). And this, from the nature of an Infinite Being. Ambition of some sort is the motive at the bottom of all temptation. When the creature is tempted, it is suggested to him to endeavor to “be as gods.” He is incited to strive for a higher place in the grade of being than he now occupies. But this, of course, cannot apply to the Supreme Being. He is already God over all and blessed forever. He, therefore, is absolutely intemptable.

Again, redeemed men in heaven are impeccable through the grace and power of Christ their head. Yet they are still temptable, though not exposed to temptation. Redemption, while it secures from the possibility of a second apostasy, does not alter the finite nature of man. He is still a temptable creature.

And, in like manner, Christ the God-man was temptable, though impeccable. But his impeccability, unlike that of the elect angels and redeemed men, is due not to grace but to the omnipotent and immutable holiness of the Logos in his person. One of the reasons mentioned in Scripture (Heb. 2:14-18) for the assumption of a human nature into union with the second person of the Trinity is that this person might be tempted. The Logos previous to the incarnation could not be tempted. The human nature was the avenue to temptation; but the divine nature so empowered and actuated the human, the divine will so strengthened the human will, that no conceivable stress of temptation could overcome Jesus Christ and bring about the apostasy of the second Adam.

The temptability of Christ through his human nature may be illustrated by the temptability of a man through his sensuous nature. A man’s body is the avenue of sensual solicitation to his soul. A certain class of human temptations are wholly physical. They could not present themselves through the mental or immaterial part of man. Take away the body, and the man could not be assailed by this class of temptations. These, it is true, do not constitute the whole of human temptations. Fallen man is tempted through his soul as well as through his body. But we can distinguish between the two inlets of temptation. Now, as the mind of man, which may be called his higher nature, is approached by temptation through the body, which is his lower nature; so the divinity of Christ, which is his higher nature, was approached by temptation through his humanity, which is his lower nature. The God-man was temptable through his human nature, not through his divine; and he was impeccable because of his divine nature, not because of his human.

Temptability and peccability may be in inverse proportion to each other, and this proves that the two things are entirely distinct and diverse. There may be a great temptation with little possibility of its succeeding, owing to the great strength of character and the great voluntary resistance that is made. Here, there is great temptability and little peccability. A very strong temptation is required to overcome a very virtuous person. The God-fearing man must be plied with far more solicitation than the irreligious man in order to bring about a fall into sin. Some saintly men repel a species and stress of solicitation, which, if it were applied to some vicious men, would cause them to sin immediately. To such apply the lines of Watts:

Nor can a bold temptation draw
His steady soul aside.

The patriarch Joseph was as strongly tempted as ever Charles II was, but there was less possibility of yielding to temptation, that is, less peccability. A godly poor man with a suffering family whom he tenderly loves may be as strongly tempted to steal or embezzle for the sake of his family as an ungodly poor man in a similar case, but the peccability of the former is less than that of the latter. And for the reason that has been mentioned, namely, that the temptability is in the susceptibility, but the peccability is in the will. And while the susceptibility, or sensibility to the solicitation, may be the same in two men, the wills of the two men have become very different from each other. The will of one has been renewed and endowed with a divine energy of resistance, while the other possesses only the power of a self-enslaved faculty.

Upon the same principle, there may be the very greatest degree of temptation where there is no possibility at all of its succeeding; there may be the highest temptability and absolute impeccability. Such we suppose to have been the case of the God-man. He had a perfectly pure human nature which was exceedingly sensitive, because of this purity, to all innocent desires and cravings. No human being ever felt the gnawings of hunger as he experienced them after the forty days’ fast, during which he was miraculously kept alive “and was afterwards an hungered” (Matt. 3:4). No human being ever felt a deeper sorrow under bereavement than he felt at the death of Lazarus, when the God-man wept. No human soul was ever filled with such an awful agony of pain as that which expressed itself in the words “my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and which had previously forced the globules of blood through the pores of the flesh. “The Lord Jesus endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul and most painful sufferings in his body” (WCF 8:4). It is to this extreme sensibility and susceptibility and temptability that our Lord alludes when he says (Luke 22:28-29): “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” And when he says (Matt. 26:41) with the deepest emphasis, because of the experience he had just passed through, and of the experience which he knew he was yet to have: “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” And when, in reference to this whole subject, he both permits and commands tempted man to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

The fact is, that as there may be the most violent attack upon a strategic point where there is an invincible power of resistance, so there may be the most extreme and powerful of temptations addressed to a person in whom there is absolute impeccability. A holy God-man who can meet Satan’s solicitation with an almighty energy of opposition will be assailed by a fiercer trial than an irresolute sinful man would experience. A far heavier ordnance will be brought to bear upon Gibraltar than upon a packet boat. Christ was exposed to a severer test and trial than the first Adam was. And this, for the very reason that his resistance was so steady and so mighty. Had he showed signs of yielding or had he succumbed in the outset, the stress of the temptation would have been far less than it actually was. Had the first temptation in the wilderness succeeded, it would not have been followed by the second and third. But the more the God-man baffled the tempter, the more the tempter returned to the charge and intensified his attack.

Neither let it be supposed that our Lord’s temptations were slight because they were sinless. An innocent temptation may be greater in its force than a sinful one. Christ was solicited by sinless temptation more strongly than any man ever was by sinful temptation. No drunkard or sensualist was ever allured by vicious appetite so fiercely as Christ was by innocent appetite, when after the forty days “he was a hungered.” For the stress of the appetite was supernaturally heightened in this instance. A natural appetite may be stronger and more difficult to control than an unnatural and vicious one. The craving of the glutton for artificial sauces and highly seasoned food is not so intense as the hunger of the traveler in the desert who is upon the brink of starvation. The thirst of the inebriate, great as it is, is not so dreadful and overpowering as that of an English soldier in the Black Hole of Calcutta or of a Negro slave in the middle passage.

Furthermore, the innocent temptations of Christ were made more stringent and powerful by reason of the steady resistance which he offered to them. Temptations that are accompanied with struggle and opposition against them are fiercer than those that are not so accompanied. The good man, in this way, often feels the distress of temptation far more than the bad man. The latter yields supinely and making no opposition does not experience the anguish of a struggle. The former is greatly wearied and strained by his temptation, though he is not conquered by it. Christ “resisted unto blood, striving against sin, and offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death.” But his people “have not so resisted” (Heb. 12:4; 5:7).

Sinful vs. Innocent Temptations.

At this point, it is necessary to notice the difference between the temptability of Christ and that of a fallen man; for while there is a resemblance, there is also a dissimilarity between them. Christ’s temptations were all of them sinless, but very many of the temptations of a fallen man are sinful: that is, they are the hankering and solicitation of forbidden and wicked desire. The desire to steal, to commit adultery, to murder, is sinful, and whoever is tempted by it to the act of theft or adultery or murder is sinfully tempted. St. James (1:14) refers to this species of temptation when he says that “a man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.” The epithymia [lust] spoken of is the same which St. Paul mentions in Rom. 7:7 as the equivalent of hamartia [sin]. It is also the same thing that is forbidden in the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not lust”—which Luther (ed. von Gerlach 5.25) renders: “Du sollst nicht bose Begierden haben” [Thou shalt not have evil desires]. St. James (1:2-3) bids the believer to “count it all joy when he falls into divers (innocent) temptations” by the will and providence of God, “knowing this, that the trial of his faith worketh patience,” but he does not bid him to count it all joy when he is tempted and drawn away by his own lust.

A man, for illustration, is sinfully tempted when he is solicited to perform a certain outward act, say to preach a sermon, by the craving of pride or ambition. This craving or inward lust after human applause is itself sin (John 5:44; 12:43; Rom. 1:25), and to be tempted by it is to be sinfully tempted. It is idolatry or creature worship in the heart. Even if he does not perform the outward act to which his pride or ambition tempted and urged him, he must repent of his wicked lust or pride of heart and obtain forgiveness for it. This is taught in Acts 8:21-22: “Thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent, therefore, of this thy wickedness (of heart), and pray God if peradventure the thought (epinoia, purpose) of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Simon Magus’s particular lust was avarice; it was wickedness (kakia) and needed the exercise of mercy. Had it been an innocent desire, he might have continued to have it and needed not to repent of it.

When, again, a man is solicited by the lust of gluttony to perform the external act of intemperate eating of food for the sake of the sensual pleasure of eating, he is not innocently but sinfully tempted. This is wholly different from the solicitation of the natural and innocent appetite for food, such as a famishing sailor on a wreck experiences; such as our Lord felt when having “fasted forty days and forty nights he was afterward a hungered.” The craving of gluttony is vicious, and whoever is tempted by it is sinfully tempted. Gluttony is not merely and only physical appetite, but contains also a mental and voluntary element. It thinks of eating as enjoyment and calculates for this. Hunger, pure and simple, on the contrary, is physical merely, not mental and voluntary. Gluttony is a part of original sin; it is the corruption of human nature as respects the body.

Now our Lord was not tempted by the sinful lusts of pride, ambition, envy, malice, hatred, anger, jealousy, avarice, gluttony, voluptuousness, drunkenness; in short by evil desire or “concupiscence” of any kind. He never felt the hankering of pride and vainglory so common to man, but was always in his inmost spirit meek and lowly. The appeal of Satan, in the last of the three temptations, to a supposed pride and ambition in Christ was met with the avaunt: “Get thee hence, Satan.” Christ had no sinful lust of any sort. This is taught in Christ’s own words: “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me” (John 14:30). It is also taught in Heb. 4:15: “We have a high priest who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” This text teaches that the temptations of Christ were “without sin” in their source and nature and not merely, as the passage is sometimes explained, that they were “without sin” in their result. The meaning is not that our Lord was tempted in every respect exactly as fallen man is—by inward lust as well as by other temptations—only he did not outwardly yield to any temptation; but that he was tempted in every way that man is, excepting by that class of temptations that are sinful because originating in evil and forbidden desire. This is evident, because, in the original χωρίς άμαρτίας [without sin] qualifies πεπειρασμένον [tempted]. Christ was tempted without sin, or sinlessly, “in all points like as we are.”

Temptations from evil desire have a different moral quality from those presented through innocent desire. The former are δί άμαρτίας [through sin] or έξ άμαρτίας [from sin], not χωρίς άμαρτίας [without sin]. A temptation from pride, envy, or malice is plainly different in its nature from the temptation from hunger experienced by our Lord in the wilderness or from the desire to be acknowledged as the Messiah or from the dread of suffering experienced by him in the garden of Gethsemane. Says John Owen:

“When a temptation comes from without it is unto the soul an indifferent thing, neither good nor evil, unless it be consented to. But the very proposal from within, it being the soul’s own act, is its sin. Christ had more temptations from Satan and the world than ever had any of the sons of men; and yet in all of them he had to do with that which came from without. But let a temptation be proposed to a man, and immediately he has not only to do with the temptation as outwardly proposed, but also with his own heart about it.” (Indwelling Sin, 6).

Again he remarks:

“Although Christ took on him those infirmities which belong unto our human nature as such and are inseparable from it until it be glorified, yet he took none of our particular infirmities which cleave unto our persons, occasioned either by the vice of our constitutions or irregularity in the case of our bodies. Those natural (and innocent) passions of our minds which are capable of being the means of affliction and trouble, as grief, sorrow, and the like, he took upon him; and also those infirmities of nature which are troublesome to the body, as hunger, thirst, weariness, and pain. Yea, the purity of his holy constitution made him more highly sensible of these things than any of the children of men. But as to our bodily diseases and distempers, which personally adhere unto us upon the disorder and vice of our constitutions, he was absolutely free from them.” (Holy Spirit 2.3)

If Christ, like fallen man, were subject to that class of forbidden appetences and selfish desires mentioned in Gal. 5:19,21, namely, “idolatry, hatred, emulation, envyings, murder, wrath, uncleanness, drunkenness, and such like,” the dignity and perfection of his character would be gone, and he could not be looked up to with the reverence that he is. The words of the dead kings to the fallen king of Babylon would apply: “Art thou also become weak, as we? Art thou become like unto us?” (Isa. 14:10). (cf. Supplement 3)

Reasons for Christ’s Temptations.

The reasons why Christ was tempted are the following:

1. The suffering involved in his temptations was a part of his humiliation and satisfaction for sin. A tempted being is, insofar, a sufferer. Hence we have reason to believe that no temptation is experienced in the heavenly world.

2. In submitting to temptation, Christ sets an example to his disciples of constancy in obedience and resistance to evil. Believers are bidden to “look unto Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame,” and to “consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself lest they be wearied and faint in their minds” (Heb. 12:2-3).

The fact that Christ was almighty and victorious in his resistance does not unfit him to be an example for imitation to a weak and sorely tempted believer. Because our Lord overcame his temptations, it does not follow that his conflict and success was an easy one for him. His victory cost him tears and blood: “His visage was so marred more than any man.” There was “the travail of his soul” (Isa. 52:14). In the struggle he cried, “O my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me!” (Mat. 26:39). Because an army is victorious, it by no means follows that the victory was a cheap one. “One more such victory,” said Pyrrhus after the battle of Asculum, “will ruin me.The physical agony of the martyr is not diminished in the least by the strength imparted to him by God to endure it. The fire is as hot and the pain as great in his case as in that of an unbeliever. Divine grace does not operate like chloroform and deaden pain. The bereavement of a believer by the death of a beloved object is nonetheless sore and heavy, because of the grace which helps him to bear it. The promise is “cast thy burden on the Lord and he shall sustain thee”—not the burden. Such facts show that victory over a temptation does not imply that the temptation is a slight one; that because Christ could not be overcome by temptation, therefore his temptation must have been less severe than that of his people.

On the contrary, Christ’s human nature, while it was supported and strengthened by the divine, was for this very reason subjected to a severer strain than an ordinary human nature is. Suppose that an additional engine should be put into a vessel that is adapted to carry only one and that a safe passage is guaranteed to it. When it comes into port after boring through three thousand miles of billows, it will show marks of the strain such as an ordinary ship, under ordinary pressure, will not. “Gemuit sub pondere cymba” [The boat groaned under the weight] (Aeneid 6.413). The traditions of the Church, and the representations of the old painters, founded upon the Scriptural statements, present Christ’s humanity as weighed down and worn by the awful burden of that heavy cross which the finite nature supported by the infinite was compelled to bear, and which without that support it could not have borne. For “it was requisite that the mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God and the power of death” (WLC 38).

3. By this almighty and victorious resistance of temptation, Christ evinced his power to succor those that are tempted and to carry them through all temptation. He showed that he is Lord and conqueror of Satan and his kingdom: “Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15); “the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord’s anointed; he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2:2, 4); “he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25); “it became him for whom are all things, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). The “perfection” spoken of here is not sanctification from sin; but a suitable preparation and accomplishment for his mediatorial office and work by trial and grief, whereby he is able to sympathize with those that are tempted. Hence τελιώσαι [to make perfect] and not άγιάζειν [to make holy/sanctify] is the word employed.

1. In the first place, then, the Redeemer of sinful men must be truly human not weakly human, unfallen man not fallen, the ideal man not the actual, temptable not peccable. He must be truly human in order to be assailable by temptation and thereby able to sympathize with every tempted man. In order to sympathize with a person, it is not necessary to have had exactly the same affliction that he has. It is only necessary to have been afflicted. A different kind of affliction may make a man all the more sympathetic. Because Christ was sinlessly tempted, he feels a deeper and more tender sympathy with sinfully tempted man than he would had he been lustfully and viciously tempted. And this, for three reasons: (a) Lustful desire deadens the sensibility and blunts the tenderness and delicacy of the nature. (b) There is much selfishness in the sympathy of vice with vice, of one drunkard with another (“misery loves company”), but the sympathy of a benevolent temperate man for a drunkard is disinterested. (c) The strength and reality of sympathy are seen in the amount of self-sacrifice that one is willing to make for the miserable, rather than in the mere fact that one has felt precisely the same misery himself. Tested by this, Christ has infinitely more sympathy for man than any man has had or can have: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). One man may know very vividly from personal experience how another man feels and yet not be willing to undergo any suffering for him, for the purpose of delivering him from suffering. Drunkards have a common feeling of misery, but they do not make sacrifices for one another. On the contrary, they “bite and devour one another” (Gal. 5:15). Satan well knows from personal experience what remorse is and how his fellow angels suffer from remorse, but he has no disposition to help them at his own expense.

2. Second, the Redeemer of man must not be weakly and peccably human, because he must be “mighty to save, travelling in the greatness of his strength” (Isa. 63:1). He must have power to overcome all temptation when it assails himself personally in order that he may be able “to succor them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). Fallen and helpless man cannot trust himself to one who is himself liable to fall from God. The second Adam must be mightier to repel temptation than the first Adam. And certainly if good and evil were so proportioned to each other in Christ that they trembled in the balance, as they sometimes do in his disciples, no fallen man could go to him with confidence of victory over evil. After the cry “O wretched man that I am: who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” there would not be the exulting shout, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” If Christ could meet all the temptations that approached him through his innocent and sinless human nature, from the wiles of Satan, and from suffering positively inflicted by eternal justice upon the sinner’s voluntary substitute, if Christ could meet this vast amount of temptation with only a feeble finite will not reinforced and strengthened by an infinite will, he would not be “mighty to save,” nor would he “travel in the greatness of his strength.” The Monophysite error, which makes Christ to be nothing but God, is not so great and discouraging as the Socinian, which makes him to be nothing but man. For it would be possible for a helpless sinner fainting in the conflict with sin and death to trust in a merely infinite person, but not in a merely finite one.

Supplements (Vol. 3, pp. 395-400).

1. Alfred Edersheim (Life of Jesus 1.298) thus explains the impeccability of the God-man:

“The passage of Scripture in which Christ’s equality with us as regards all temptation is expressed, also emphatically excepts from it this one particular, sin (Heb. 4:15), not only in the sense that Christ actually did not sin, nor merely in this, that ‘our concupiscence‘ (James 1:14) had no part in his temptations, but emphatically in this also, that the notion of sin has to be wholly excluded from our thoughts of Christ’s temptations.

“To obtain, if we can, a clearer understanding of this subject, two points must be kept in view. Christ’s was real, though unfallen human nature; and Christ’s human nature was in inseparable union with his divine nature…Now it is clear that human nature, that of Adam before his fall, was created both sinless and peccable. If Christ’s human nature was not sinful like ours, but morally like that of Adam before his fall, then must it likewise have been both sinless and in itself peccable. We say, in itself—for there is a great difference between the statement that human nature, as Adam and Christ had it, was capable of sinning and the statement that Christ was peccable. From the latter the Christian mind instinctively recoils, even as it is metaphysically impossible to imagine the (infinite and omnipotent) Son of God peccable. Jesus voluntarily took upon himself human nature, with all its infirmities and weaknesses, but without the moral taint of the fall: without sin. It was human nature in itself capable of sinning, but not having sinned. The position of the First Adam was that of being capable of not sinning, not that of being incapable of sinning. The Second Adam also had a human nature capable of not sinning, but not incapable of sinning. This explains the possibility of temptation or assault upon him, just as Adam could be tempted before there was any inward consensus (concupiscence) to it. The First Adam would have been ‘perfected,’ or passed from the capability of not sinning to the incapability of sinning, by obedience. That obedience, or submission to the will of God, was the grand characteristic of Christ’s work; but it was so because he was not only the unsinning, unfallen man, but also the (infinite and omnipotent) Son of God. With a peccable human nature he himself was impeccable; not because he obeyed, but being impeccable he so obeyed because his human nature was inseparably united with his divine nature.  To keep this inseparable union of the two natures out of view would be Nestorianism. To sum up: The Second Adam, morally unfallen, though voluntarily subject to all the conditions of our nature, was, with a peccable human nature, absolutely impeccable, as being also the (infinite and omnipotent) Son of God—a peccable nature, yet an impeccable person: the God-Man ‘tempted in regard to all (things) in like manner (as we), without (excepting) sin.‘”

Jonathan Edwards (Freedom of the Will 3.2) argues the impeccability of Christ from the promises made to him and the operation of the Holy Spirit in him, not from the constitution of his person. The following are some of the principal points:

“It was impossible that the acts of the will of the human soul of Christ should, in any instance, degree, or circumstance, be otherwise than holy, because: (1) God had promised so effectually to preserve and uphold him by his Spirit, under all his temptations, that he could not fail of reaching the end for which he came into the world (Isa. 43:1-4; 49:7-9;50:5-9). (2) The same thing is evident from all the promises which God made to the Messiah himself, of his future glory, kingdom, and success in his office and character as a Mediator; which glory could not have been obtained if his holiness had failed and he had been guilty of sin (Ps. 110:4 ; 2:7-8; Isa. 52:13-15; 53 :10-12). (3) God promised to the church of God of old to give them a righteous, sinless Savior ‘in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed‘ (Jer. 23 :5-6; 33 :15; Isa. 9:6-7: Luke 24:44; Heb. 6:17-18; Ps.89 :3-4). (4) God promised the virgin Mary that her Son should ‘save his people from their sins‘ and that he ‘would give him the throne of his father David, that he should reign over the house of Jacob forever and that of his kingdom there should be no end‘ (Luke 1:45). (5) If it was possible for Christ to have failed of doing the will of his Father and so to have failed of effectually working out redemption for sinners, then the salvation of all the saints who were saved from the beginning of the world to the death of Christ was not built upon a firm foundation.” (pp. 133-140).

2. John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.20.46) thus discriminates between temptation by God and temptation from concupiscence or inward lust:

“The forms of temptations are many and various. For the corrupt imaginations of the mind provoking us to transgressions of the law, whether suggested by our own concupiscence or excited by the devil, are temptations. And these temptations are either from prosperous or adverse events. From prosperous ones, as riches, power, honors, which generally dazzle men’s eyes by their glitter and ensnare them with their blandishments, so that caught with such delusions they forget God. From unpropitious ones, as poverty, reproaches, contempt, afflictions; overcome by the bitterness of which they fall into despondency, cast away faith and hope, and at length become altogether alienated from God. To both of these kinds of temptations we pray our heavenly Father not to permit us to yield, but rather to sustain us, that, strong in might, we may be able to stand firm against all the assaults of our malignant enemy.
. . .
“The temptations of God are widely different from those of Satan. Satan tempts to overthrow, condemn, confound, and destroy. But God, that, by proving his people, he may make a trial of their sincerity, to confirm their strength by exercising it, to mortify, purify, and refine their flesh, which without such restraints would run into the greatest excesses. Besides, Satan attacks persons unarmed and unprepared, to overwhelm the unwary. ‘God, with the temptation, always makes a way to escape, that they may be able to bear‘ whatever he brings upon them (1 Cor. 10:13). To some there appears a difficulty in our petition to God that he will not lead us into temptation, whereas, according to James, it is contrary to his nature for him to tempt us (James 1:13-14). But this objection has already been partly answered, because our own lust is properly the cause of all the temptations that seduce and overcome us. Nor does James intend any other than to assert the injustice of transferring to God the tempting concupiscence which we are bound to impute to ourselves because we are conscious of being guilty of it. But notwithstanding this, God may when he sees fit deliver us to Satan, abandon us to a reprobate mind and lustful concupiscence, and in this manner ‘lead us into temptation‘ by a righteous judgment as a punishment of our sinful self-indulgence (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).”

3. There is a difference between trial and seduction, yet both are brought under the term temptation in James 1:14: “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away (seduced) of his own lust and enticed. So, also, are they in Gal. 6:1: “Considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.” The preceding context shows that the term here denotes seduction or “being overtaken in a fault.” Mere trial without seduction is denoted in James 1:2, 12. Seduction is temptation with sin or sinful temptation. Trial is temptation “without sin” or innocent temptation. J.H.A. Ebrard (on Heb. 4:15) explains the difference as follows:

“Whoever is seduced does not hold a mere passive relation to the seducer, but his own will harmonizes with his; whoever is tried is purely passive. But it is not merely physical passivity; headache is not πειρασμός [temptation]. To get the full meaning of innocent and passive temptation we must mark the difference between nature and spirit, involuntary psychical life and free self-conscious life, innate affections and temperaments and personal character. Our Lord as a real man led a truly human psychical life; he experienced the feelings of pleasure and pain, of hope, fear, and anxiety as we do. He enjoyed life and recoiled from death. In brief, within the sphere of natural involuntary psychical life he was passively excitable as we are. But duty requires of every man that he rule, and not be ruled by, these instinctive natural affections which are not sinful in themselves. The temperaments illustrate this: That a person is of a sanguine temperament is not sinful; but if he suffers himself to be carried away through this temperament to anger, this is sin. A phlegmatic temperament is not sinful: but if it is permitted by the person’s will and character to become sloth, this is sin. In this way every innocent temperament involves temptation in the sense of trial, but not in the sense of seduction. The same is true of the natural and instinctive feelings or affections. That I take pleasure in an undisturbed and comfortable life is not sinful; but if I am placed by providence where duty requires me to enter upon a severe experience and a life full of discomfort, and I refuse, this is sin. I ought to sacrifice my innocent love of comfort to the divine command.”

Our Lord’s instinctive and sinless recoil from agony and death was a temptation in the sense of a trial to him, but not seduction. It was a temptation “without sin,” or lust after ease and comfort.


2 thoughts on “Christ’s Impeccability

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