Editor’s Note: This review is a “blast from the past”, a review of a genuine Christian classic originally published in Pulpit Helps in 2008.
On the Incarnation of the Son of God, by Athanasius of Alexandria
Best Recent Reprint: CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, Calif., 2007, ISBN 9781434811240, 98 pages, $15.95, softcover.
Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373 A. D.) was an Egyptian by birth, but he was educated in the Greek tradition. He is best known as an early defender of the deity of Christ and for his refutation of Arius, who taught that Christ was created by Father and did not share eternality with the Him. Through the persistent efforts of Athanasius, Arius was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Nicea in 325 A. D.
Some time before that Council (the exact date is unknown), Athanasius wrote this classic on the incarnation of Christ. He was only a young man when he penned this volume. His spiritual insight and intellectual brilliance left the organized Church an appreciation of the Apostles’ teaching on the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some modern translations of this work contain an introduction by C.S. Lewis which is a valuable read in its own right.
Athanasius explains that it was the plan and purpose of God through the eternal Word (the Son) to create the world. The first man, Adam, was placed in a perfect environment; he was given only one prohibition, “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). When Adam disobeyed God, he brought death and corruption of the entire creation. The eternal Word could have forgiven Adam’s moral lapse, but that would have compromised His holy and spotless character.
“He means that the rescue of mankind from corruption was the proper part only of Him (the Word) who made them in the beginning” (p. 36). “He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself” (p. 43). His life did not satisfy the justice of God. Only His death would suffice to wipe away the guilt of sin. That seems a paradox; the incarnate Son of God came to abolish death, yet He Himself had to suffer death. “A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat” (p. 54).
The resurrection was necessary to demonstrate the Word’s final triumph over death. The death of Christ was the death of a good man only if He did not rise from the death. Without His resurrection, we would not have assurance that eternal spiritual death would not claim us also. “Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot as he now is, the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, not longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him” (p. 58).
The Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day rejected Him as the unique Son of God, coequal with the Father. Athanasius pointed out that the Old Testament Scriptures amply pointed out that the Word proceeded from the Father and that the Jews should have expected Him. “For if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). He holds unbelieving Gentiles guilty of rejecting the eternal Word as well. Their wisest men had shown that the gods had not satisfied the longing of the human heart—the works of the Christ left human wisdom guilty of rejecting what only the true God could accomplish.
Glen H. Jones
Take: Highly Recommended
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