The Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, that the communicants eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under and with the bread and wine, is largely based upon the omnipresence of our Lord Jesus Christ, the omnipresence of His body and blood and the omnipotence of God. The Lutherans contend that it is a fearful thing to say and hear that God, even with all His omnipotence, cannot effect the body of Christ to be present substantially at one and the same time in more places than one. In our preceding article we quoted from Hodge’s Systematic Theology, in which quotation the author refutes this Lutheran conception. And we promised to attempt an analysis of this quotation and make further comments upon the conception of the Lutherans.
First of all, Luther speaks of three modes of Christ’s presence: local, definitive, and repletive According to the first mode, Christ was present when here on earth, space filling and by space circumscribed. Local or circumscribed presence is, for example, the presence of wine in a barrel. The body simply fills a certain space. This simply means that Christ, according to the human nature, filled a certain space and was circumscribed and limited by it. According to the second mode, the definitive mode, definite presence is incomprehensible, as the presence of an angel or devil in a house or in a man, or the passing of Christ through the tomb or through a closed door. Jesus, we know, vacated His tomb, and He also appeared in the upper room with His eleven disciples. And the third mode, the repletive presence of Christ, means or refers to the incomprehensible omnipresence of God, which fills all space, and is confined by no space. When Christ walked on earth, prior to His death upon the cross, He was locally present; after the resurrection He appeared to His disciples definitively and incomprehensibly; after His ascension to the right hand of God, He is everywhere present by virtue of the inseparable union of His humanity with His divinity.
The Lutherans, therefore, appeal to the omnipresence and omnipotence of Christ, and ascribe this to the inseparable union of His human and divine nature in the one Person of the Son. This Lutheran conception of the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature, its being present everywhere at the same time, is certainly refuted by Holy Writ. It is surely a fact that the fact of Christ’s ascension is emphasized in the Word of God, as in the following passages. Luke 24:50-51: “And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” The apostle John, although not recording the historical fact of the ascension of our Lord as such, surely refers to this wonderful event in the following passages: John 6:61-62, “When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?”John 7:33: “Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me.” John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 16:7: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” John 20:17: “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Also in the book of Acts we have passages that refer to the ascension of our Lord, as in the following passages:Acts 1:9-11: “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven: this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 3:21: ‘Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” And in the epistles we have the following references to this second step of Jesus’ glorification:Eph. 4:8-10: “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up for above all heavens, that he might fill all things).” I Tim. 3:16: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” Heb. 4:14: “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” Heb. 6:19-20: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec.” I Peter 3:22: “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”
In addition to these Scriptural passages, we may add the following. The Lutherans are not in complete agreement with respect to their conception concerning the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature. According to some, Christ’s human nature received these divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence at His incarnation. When assuming our flesh and blood out of the virgin Mary, the personal union of the divine and human natures in the one Person of the Son imparted to His human nature these divine attributes. However, during His sojourn among us He emptied Himself of these attributes; and at His exaltation He once more took them upon Himself. Other Lutherans contend that He assumed these divine attributes only at His exaltation. A passage which they like to quote is Phil. 2:6-9: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion, as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” In connection with this passage we would make the following remarks. In the first place, the expression “made Himself of no reputation” means literally that He emptied Himself. The translation made Himself of no reputation” can be accepted if we bear in mind that Christ made Himself of no reputation in the absolute sense of the word, by emptying, destroying Himself. This is the doctrine of the “kenosis,” Christ’s emptying of Himself. Secondly, the expression, “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” allows a two-fold interpretation. The expression, as such, can mean that Christ was equal with God and therefore did not consider it robbery to claim equality with God. The Lutherans accept this interpretation, inasmuch as they teach (some of them) that the Lord received divine attributes at His incarnation, His coming into our flesh and blood. However, the expression also allows the interpretation that Christ never considered the act of robbery of claiming equality with God. For Christ to have claimed equality with God would have constituted an act of robbery on His part, inasmuch as He then would have robbed the Lord of that which belongs exclusively unto Him. But our Lord never claimed this equality, and therefore never committed this act of robbery. The latter interpretation is undoubtedly correct. Fact is, we read that He took upon Himself the form of a servant, was made in the likeness of man, and was found in fashion as a man. This surely does not teach that He became divine according to His human nature, but that He became human And all this He did while being in the form of God (verse 6) being essentially in the form of God, inasmuch as He is the second Person of the Trinity. And in that human nature He emptied Himself, destroyed Himself. The text does not say that He temporarily laid His divine attributes aside, to take them up later again, but that He destroyed Himself. This, we know, He did upon the cross of Calvary. Upon that cross He surely emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation in the absolute sense of the word, destroyed Himself, inasmuch as He entered into hell, death eternal; He destroyed Himself forever.
Moreover, if the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence belong to Christ’s human nature because of the personal union of the two natures in the one Divine Person of the Son, why should Christ’s human nature not have been omnipresent before His death upon the cross, as well as afterwards? He was the Person of the Son of God before His death as well as after His death. Besides, does not our Lord Himself declare that no man knoweth the time of the end of all things, not even the Son of Man. And that Christ claimed equality with God, did not hesitate to forgive sin, as in the case of the healing of the man sick with the palsy, was not because of His human nature, but solely because He is the Son of God. The Jews had accused Him of blasphemy, and would undoubtedly have been correct if Jesus had claimed this right for His human nature. Had our Lord been a mere man, the accusation of the wicked Jews would have been true. But Christ heals the man sick with the palsy, not to show what His human nature was able to do, but to show that He, although being the Son of Man, is also the eternal Son of the living God. We reject; therefore, the Lutheran doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature, as directly contrary to the Word of God. The miracles which our Lord performed, His healing of the sick, raising of the dead, walking upon the waves of the sea and His quieting of the storm, did not impress upon His disciples what His human nature was able to do, but they impressed upon them the fact that this Jesus of Nazareth, besides being man, was also the Christ, the Son of the living God. Do they not ask the startling question? “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
Secondly, in this quotation of Hodge, we read that the Reformed always understood that the Lutherans maintained the local presence of the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and that the Lutherans denied that they teach any such presence. This, however, can be merely a play on words. The Lutherans may have thought that the Reformed accused them of teaching that Jesus’ body was with the bread and wine in the sense that it was present there, and that it was nowhere else. We understand, of course, as did the Reformed, that the Lutherans believed the body, of Christ to be present at the Lord’s Supper exactly because it was everywhere present. The Lord willing, we will have more to say about this in subsequent articles.