For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18 KJV).
No chapter heading in James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology directly addresses the topic of suffering. This does not communicate, however, that suffering was outside of Boyce’s own personal experience, as he and the rest of the faculty suffered greatly during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.1 Nor does the absence of suffering,as a proper title from his final definitive tome, indicate a lack of understanding of the significance of suffering for the Christian. In what follows, Boyce’s theological reflection on Christ’s suffering is recorded.
Within these short quotations, Boyce elucidates Christ’s “intimate” connection between his divine and human nature. Christ’s human nature, “add[s] nothing to the divine except that it gives to the person that is divine the means of suffering for and sympathizing with us,” Boyce writes. Christ’s suffering as a man also enables him to bear our transgressions and sins as a substitute.
And, hanging upon the cross, how amazing the mystery of contradiction! As God, he enjoys supreme felicity in the unchanged blessedness of his divine nature; as man, he is in vital agony both of body and soul. As God, the eternal out flowings of the mutual love of the Father, and of the Spirit, and of himself, the Eternal Son, continue to bestow unabated mutual bliss. As man, he is the victim of the Father’s wrath, which, because of the sin upon him, culminates in that Father’s withdrawal amid the agonizing cry of the Son: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” With a loud cry, the moral man dies; but the eternal life of God remains unchanged. 2
Boyce’s reflection continues to a list of doctrinal statements already in progress:
9. Thus uniting in himself God and man, Christ suffered.
10. There was here, therefore, no participation of the divine nature in the suffering. Such participation would involve actual suffering of that nature.
11. But there was this connection of God, even of the undivided divine essence, that he who thus suffered subsists eternal and essentially in that essence and is God.
12. Yet, intimate as is the connection of the two natures, they are not merged in each other, nor does the Son of God lose his separate conscious existence with either, nor the possession of those peculiarities which make the one divine and the other human. It is one person, truly God and truly man; as much God as though not man; as much man as though not God. The human can add nothing to the divine except that it gives to the person that is divine the means of suffering for and sympathizing with us. The divine adds to the human, only that is give to him that is thus man that dignity, and glory, and power, which enable him to perform the work of salvation and to that work an inestimable value.3
On the following page, a second list, similar to the first but different in expression:
7. This one person, therefore, had, by virtue of his divine nature, all divine experience; and by virtue of his human nature, all human experience; thinking, willing and purposing as God, and exercising all the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence, etc., and thinking, willing and purposing as man, with limited powers, limited knowledge, subject to temptation, suffering, doubts and fears.
8.This one person was, therefore, able to suffer and bear the penalty of man’s transgression, because, being of man’s nature, he could become man’s representative, and could also endure such suffering as could be inflicted upon man; yet, being God, he could give a value to such suffering, which would make it an equivalent, not to one man’s penalty, but to that of the whole race.
9. All the difficulties in the way of believing these things to be true and possible are removed by the analogy which is seen in the union in man of two natures in one person. This shows, in a most remarkable way, an almost exact likeness in each man to that constitution and nature of the God-man which the Scriptures reveal in the doctrine of the person of Christ.4
1 Wills, Gregory A., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
2 Boyce, James P., Abstract of Systematic Theology, ( Baltimore: H.M. Wharton & Company, 1887), 288-89.
3 Ibid. 289-90.
4 Ibid., 290-91.
Any historical record of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is incomplete without an honest telling of their complicity in American slavery and racism. For more on that story, read here.