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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ
Is his existence before he was born of the Virgin Mary. That he really did exist before, is plain from John 3:13 . John 6:50 . &c. John 17:1-26 : John 8:58 . 1 John 1:4 : but there are various opinions respecting this existence. Some acknowledge, that in Jesus Christ there is a divine nature, a rational soul, and a human body. His body, they think, was formed in the Virgin's womb; his human soul, they suppose, was the first and most excellent of all the works of God; was brought into existence before the creation of the world, and subsisted in happy union in heaven with the second person in the Godhead, till his incarnation. These divines differ from those called Arians, for the latter ascribe to Christ only a created deity, whereas the former hold his true and proper divinity: they differ from the Socinians, who believe no existence of Christ before his incarnation: they differ from the Sabillians, who only own a trinity of names: they differ, also, from the generally received opinion, which is, that the human soul began to exist in his mother's womb, in exact conformity to that likeness unto his brethren, of which St. Paul speaks, Hebrews 2:17 . The writers in favour of the pre-existence of Jesus Christ's human soul recommend their thesis by these arguments. I. Christ is represented as his Father's messenger, or angel, being distinct from his Father, sent by his Father long before his incarnation, to perform actions which seem to be too low for the dignity of pure Godhead. The appearances of Christ is to the patriarchs are described like the appearances of an angel, or man really distinct from God; yet such a one, in whom God, or Jehovah, had a peculiar indwelling, or with whom the divine nature had a personal union. 2. Christ, when he came into the world, is said, in several passages of Scripture, to have divested himself of some glory which he had before his incarnation. Now if there had existed before this time nothing but his divine nature, this divine nature could not properly divest itself of any glory. I have glorified thee on earth; I have finished the work thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich, John 17:4-5 . 2 Corinthians 8:9 . It cannot be said of God that he became poor: he is infinitely self-sufficient; he is necessarily and eternally rich in perfections and glories. Nor can it be said of Christ as man, that he was rich, if he were never in a richer state before, than while he was on earth. It seems needful that the soul of Christ should pre-exist, that it might have an opportunity to give its previous actual consent to the great and painful undertaking of atonement for our sins. It was the human soul of Christ that endured the weakness and pain of his infant state, all the labours and fatigues of life, the reproaches of men, and the sufferings of death. The divine nature is incapable of suffering. The covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son is therefore represented as being made before the foundation of the world. To suppose that simple deity or the divine essence, which is the same in all the three personalities, should make a covenant with itself, is inconsistent. Christ is the angel to whom God was in a peculiar manner united, and who in this union made all the divine appearances related in the Old Testament. God is often represented in Scripture as appearing in a visible manner, and assuming a human form.
See Genesis 3:8; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:12; Genesis 32:24 . Exodus 2:2 , and a variety of other passages. The Lord Jehovah, when he came down to visit men, carried some ensign of divine majesty: he was surrounded with some splendid appearance. Such a light often appeared at the door of the tabernacle, and fixed its abode on the ark, between the cherubims. It was by the Jews called the Shekinah, 1: e. the habitation of God. Hence he is described as dwelling in light and clothed with light as with a garment. In the midst of this brightness there seems to have been sometimes a human shape and figure. It was probably of this heavenly light that Christ divested himself when he was made flesh. With this he was covered at his transfiguration in the Mount, when his garments were white as the light; and at his ascension into heaven, when a bright cloud received, or invested him: and when he appeared to John, Revelation 1:13 . and it was with this he prayed his Father would glorify him. Sometimes the great and blessed God appeared in the form of a man or angel. It is evident that the true God resided in this man or angel; because on account of this union to proper deity, the angel calls himself God, the Lord God. He assumes the most exalted names and characters of Godhead. And the spectators, and sacred historians, it is evident, considered him as true and proper God: they paid him the highest worship and obedience. He is properly styled the angel of God's presence.
The (messenger or) angel of the covenant, Isa 72: 1. Malachi 3:1 . The same angel of the Lord was the particular God and King of the Israelites. It was he who made a covenant with the patriarchs, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, who redeemed the Israelites from Egypt, who conducted them through the wilderness, who gave the law at Sinai, and transacted the affairs of the ancient church. The angels who have appeared since our blessed Saviour became incarnate, have never assumed the names, titles, characters, or worship, belonging to God. Hence we may infer that the angel who, under the Old Testament, assumed divine titles, and accepted religious worship, was that peculiar angel of God's presence, in whom God resided, or who was united to the Godhead in a peculiar manner; even the pre-existent soul of Christ, who afterwards took flesh and blood upon him, and was called Jesus Christ on earth. Christ represents himself as one with the Father: I and the Father are one, John 10:30; John 14:10-11 . There is, we may hence infer, such a peculiar union between God and the man Christ Jesus, both in his pre-existent and incarnate state, that he may be properly called God-man in one complex person. Among those expressions of Scripture which discover the pre-existence of Christ, there are several from which we may derive a certain proof of his divinity. Such are those places in the Old Testament, where the angel who appeared to the ancients is called God, the Almighty God, Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, I am that I am, &c. Dr. Watts supposes, that the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul of Christ explains dark and difficult scriptures, and discovers many beauties and proprieties of expression n the word of God, which on any other plan lie unobserved: For instance, in Colossians 1:15 , &c. Christ is described as the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature. His being the image of the invisible God cannot refer merely to his divine nature; for that is as invisible in the Son as in the Father: therefore it seems to refer to his pre-existent soul in union with the Godhead. Again: when man is said to be created in the image of God, Genesis 1:2 . it may refer to the God-man, to Christ in his pre-existent state. God says, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. The word is redoubled, perhaps to intimate that Adam was made in the likeness of the human soul of Christ, as well as that he bore something of the image and resemblance of the divine nature. On the other side it is affirmed, that this doctrine of the pre-existence of the human soul of Christ weakens and subverts that of his personality.
1. A pure intelligent spirit, say they, the first, the most ancient, and the most excellent of creatures, created before the foundation of the world, so exactly resembles the second person of the Arian trinity, that it is impossible to show the least difference, except in name.
2. The pre-existent intelligence supposed in this doctrine, is so confounded with those other intelligences called angels, that there is great danger of mistaking this human soul for an angel, and so of making the person of Christ to consist of three natures.
3. If Jesus Christ had nothing in common like the rest of mankind except a body, how could this semi-conformity make him a real ?Prayer of Manasseh 1:1 :
4. The passages quoted in proof of the pre-existence of the human soul of Jesus Christ are of the same sort with those which others allege in proof of the pre-existence of all human souls.
5. This opinion, by ascribing the dignity of the work of redemption to this sublime human soul, detracts from the deity of Christ, and renders the last as passive as the first active.
6. This notion is contrary to Scripture. St. Paul says, in all things it behoved him to be made like his brethren: he partook of all our infirmities, except sin. St. Luke says, he increased in stature and in wisdom, Hebrews 2:17 . Luke 2:52 .
See articles JESUS CHRIST, and INDWELLING SCHEME; Robinson's Claude, vol. 1: p. 214, 311; Watts's Works, vol. 5: p. 274, 385; Gill's Body of Div. vol. 2: p. 51; robinson's Plea, p. 140; Fleming's Christology; Simpson's Apology for the Trin. p. 190; Hawker's Ser. on the Divinity of Christ, p. 44, 45.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/p/pre-existence-of-jesus-christ.html. 1802.