Behold *the Man*: B.B. Warfield on the Perfection of Christ

raphael-nogueira-519766-unsplashWhat a straightedge is to a carpenter’s board, Jesus is to the human soul.
— Fred Zaspel —

In his summary of B.B. Warfield’s theology, Fred Zaspel observes the unique way Warfield presents the humanity of Jesus Christ. Instead of just showing the weaknesses and limitations of Christ, he portrayed our Lord as fully and wonderfully human. In other words, while defending the full deity of Christ, he also insisted on capturing the full and glorious humanity of Christ. Jesus came to identify himself with fallen humanity, yet in himself he was humanity par excellence. Jesus was the perfect man and an image of what mankind was supposed to be and, amazingly, what humanity will be once again, when we see our resurrected Lord.

To get a sense of what Warfield’s view of Christ’s humanity consider these three truths, accompanied by Warfield quotations.

Christ as Humanity Perfected

First, Jesus was and is fully human.

All the attributes of man can be found in him.

There are no human traits lacking to the picture that is drawn of him: he was open to temptation; he was conscious of dependence on God; he was a man of prayer; he knew a “will” within him that might conceivably be opposed to the will of God: he exercised faith; he learned obedience by the things he suffered. It was not merely the mind of a man that was in him, but the heart of a man as well, and the spirit of a man. In a word, he was all that a man—a man without error and sin—is, and must be conceived to have grown, as it is proper for a man to grow, not only during his youth, but continuously through life, not alone in knowledge, but in wisdom, and not alone in wisdom, but “in reverence and charity”—in moral strength and in beauty of holiness alike.’

— “The Faith of Jesus and Faith in Jesus,” SSW 1:161–62; cited in The Theology of B.B. Warfield257–58.

Second, Jesus was the perfect child.

As Luke 2:52 describes, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in the favor of God and man.” Hence, he modeled what a child growing into adulthood should look like.

[Jesus’s childhood is the] only strictly normal human development, from birth to manhood, the world has ever seen. For this child is the only child who has ever been born into the world without the fatal entail of sin, and the only child that has ever grown into manhood without having his walk and speech marred at every step by the destructive influences of Sin and error. . . . This is how men ought to grow up; how, were men not sinners, men would grow up.

— Source unspecified. Cited by Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield259–60.

Third, Jesus perfection far exceeds that of other men.

While other men and women may possess one defining trait of excellence, Jesus was, is, and will forever be the perfect man en toto.

Thus we speak of the faith of Abraham, the meekness of Moses, the patience Job, the boldness of Elijah, the love of John . . . The perfection of Jesus defies such particularizing characterization. All the beauties of character which exhibit themselves singly in the world’s saints and heroes, assemble in Him, each in its perfection and all in perfect balance and harmonious combination. If we ask what manner of man we can only respond, No manner of man, but rather, by way of eminence, *the* man, the only perfect man that ever existed on earth, to whom gathered all the perfections proper to man and possible for man, that they might find a fitting home in His heart and that they might play brightly about His person. If you would know what man is, in the height of his divine idea, look at Jesus Christ.

The Power of God unto Salvation, 12–14; cited in The Theology of B.B. Warfield, 260.

To behold Christ is to become like him (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2). May we give ourselves to seeing him in Scripture, therefore, until we see him face to face.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Raphael Nogueira on Unsplash