Christ As Savior Before Creator: H.R. Mackintosh on the Significance of the Post-Resurrection Perspective of the Apostolic Witness

As I work my way through Scottish theologian H.R. Mackintosh’s magisterial work on The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, I continue to be illuminated and blessed by the riches that he was able to mine from the depths of the biblical witness. In the excerpt that I would like to share in this post, Mackintosh offers a brief but powerful reflection on the significance of the post-resurrection perspective that we find in the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. In this specific instance, Mackintosh exposits the beautiful hymn of Colossians 1:15-20. Let’s look first at the passage in consideration and then listen to Mackintosh’s comments:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

In this picture of Christ…the apostle moves onward from historical to cosmic modes of interpretation. We may single out the three main statements: first, Christ is the organ of creation, absolute in function and eternal in existence; secondly, in Him all things are held together, cohering in that unity and solidarity which make a cosmos; thirdly, as all things took rise in Him, so they move on to Him as final goal. The aorist tense is used to affirm that Christ created all things, for the writer is thinking of the pre-existent One; but the fact that he lapses into perfects and presents is a suggestive hint that he contemplates this pre-existence through the medium, so to speak, of the st-paul-conversionexalted Life. Or to put it otherwise, Christ is conceived as creator of the world qua the Person in whom the universe was in due time to find its organic centre in virtue of His work of reconciliation; He was the initial cause of all things, as being destined to be their final end. His function as Creator is proleptically conditioned by His achievement as Saviour.

The apostle’s mind, here as everywhere, starts from the risen Lord… It is interesting to compare an earlier form of the same idea. This is in 1 Co 8:6: “To us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him.” Christ is the agent in creation, yet He is here designated not as Son, but by the title usually applied to the risen Saviour. As in Colossians, the ideas of creation and redemption are united—redemption being the present fact from which thought begins, and in the light of which alone creation can be interpreted. The Son before all time is visible through Christ’s historic work in grace…In the Colossian passage, therefore, we can discern also this inferential counter-movement of thought redemption is a fruit of, and has its basis in, Christ’s place and work in nature.[1]

Mackintosh packs so much substance in so few words that it would take far more than a mere blog post to explain it while doing it justice! I think that we can grasp the essence of his argument, however, if we take careful note of the first sentence of the second paragraph: “The apostle’s mind, here as everywhere, starts from the risen Lord”. This is, in other words, the post-resurrection perspective of Jesus Christ that is evident throughout all of Paul’s writings (and arguably the New Testament as well). That is to say, the apostles did not begin their preaching and teaching about Christ by identifying him as a mere man (as he may have appeared to many people prior to his resurrection) or by expounding his pre-existent, un-incarnate state as the second person of the Trinity. Rather, their perspective throughout their witness is, as exemplified by Paul in Colossians 1, of Jesus as the exalted God-man, forever clothed in our humanity yet inextricably bound up with the identity of the one God of Israel. It is from the point of view of Jesus resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father on high that the apostles articulated the meaning of the person and work of Christ.

While this observation may seem a bit obvious from a casual reading of this passage, it carries with it, as Mackintosh understood, a host of astonishing implications. The person of whom Paul speaks here as the one through and for whom all things were created is not simply the Son of God simpliciter, but Jesus Christ, the very same who was crucified, risen, and is coming again! This is stunning. It seems that Paul was not able to think of Christ as merely the pre-existent Son of God in abstraction from his incarnate humanity any more than he was able to think of Christ as a mere historical figure in abstraction from his pre-existent divine being. In other words, for Paul, the one through whom and for whom all things came into being was the God-man Jesus Christ!

Now this is not to deny the incarnation as a particular event both in history and in the life of God himself; rather it is to emphasize that God brought creation into being through the his Son for the purpose of providing a theater, as it were, in which to enact the glorious drama of incarnation, atonement, and redemption. As Mackintosh puts it, Christ’s “function as Creator is proleptically conditioned by His achievement as Saviour”. This does not mean, of course, that Christ’s achievement as Saviour actually occurred prior to creation; rather it was in view of his redemptive achievement that he exercised his function as Creator. Simply stated, the Son of God was our Savior before he was our Creator. It was in view of the saving history of Christ’s incarnate life that the history of the universe was given its beginning.

Mackintosh’s student T.F. Torrance often referred to this foundational insight in his own theological work. In one of his later publications on the Trinity, Torrance echoed his esteemed teacher’s interpretation of Colossians 1 in a particularly eloquent way:

In virtue of his intrinsic and eternal Fatherhood God always had the power to create, and did actually create because he was and is the Father of the Son. Expressed otherwise, since God is Father in himself, as Father of the Son, he is essentially generative or fruitful in his own Being, and it is because he is inherently productive as Father that God could and did freely become Creator or Source of all being beyond himself. Creation arises, then, out of the Father’s eternal love of the Son, and is activated through the free ungrudging movement of that Fatherly love in sheer grace which continues to flow freely and unceasingly toward what God has brought into being in complete differentiation from himself.

This is a truth which we have come to grasp only through the incarnation of his Love in Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son whom he did not spare but delivered him up for us all. The utterly astonishing truth revealed in the fact that God did not spare his beloved Son but freely gave him up for us on the Cross is that ‘God loves us better than he loves himself, and that, with the gift of his dear Son in atoning sacrifice for our sin, God the Father will continue freely to give us all things. This is why it may be said, not only that our understanding of creation is proleptically conditioned by redemption, but that the actual creation of the universe in the outward movement of the Father’s love was proleptically conditioned by the incarnation of that love within it in order to redeem the creation and to reconcile all things, things visible and invisible alike, to himself. This is another way of expressing what the New Testament Scriptures refer to as the divine act of ‘predestination’ before the foundation of the world, but of course an act of predestination in which we may not and cannot rightly interpret that ‘pre’ in terms of the kind of temporal priority, or indeed causal and logical priority, with which we have to do in the universe of created space and time.[2]

This certainly provides much food for thought. The implications of this are far-reaching, as Torrance illustrates when he mentions the doctrine of predestination (i.e. the impossibility of dividing the scope of creation from the scope of redemption), but I must stop here. May God continue to grant us, as he did to these faithful servants, an ever-deepening understanding of and passionate love for our great God as he revealed himself in Jesus Christ!


[1] H.R. Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), pp.70-1.

[2] T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1996), pp.209-10.


5 thoughts on “Christ As Savior Before Creator: H.R. Mackintosh on the Significance of the Post-Resurrection Perspective of the Apostolic Witness

  1. Trevor 17 March 2017 / 15:10

    I really like your article. Thanks. I had noted previously that Mackintosh was a truly great writer, and theologian, but I really have not read enough of his work.

    Having said that, I would like to raise one point. I think one of my teachers, Rev. Dr. Geoffrey C. Bingham is correct when he asserts, contrary to Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance, that creation is an act of love. It is not, technically speaking an act of grace. The Triune God has always been the God of all grace, that is true. Even so:

    If grace has to do with God in Christ always moving towards us to do us good, amidst, and in opposition to our sin and evil, then, there can logically, really be no talk of God acting grace, prior to the fall, and the entrance of sin. Grace comes, firstly, within the stream of human history.


    • Jonathan Kleis 17 March 2017 / 16:45

      Hi Trevor, thanks for commenting! I’m glad you liked the article. Regarding the point you raise, I understand what you’re getting at, but I would still want to say that creation is an act of grace and not merely love. First, I wouldn’t want to make such a sharp distinction between love and grace so as to have one without the other. Second, I don’t think that God’s grace is limited to his movement toward us in opposition to our sin and evil. Mercy perhaps, but not grace. With Barth and Torrance, I would define grace as God’s giving of himself due to his own desire and initiative rather than because of any inherent quality in the object to whom he gives himself. That is, grace is not a “thing” that can be in some sense construed in abstraction from God himself. Grace is, simply stated, God’s unmerited gift of himself. If so, then we could say that he will be forever giving us grace even after sin and evil are done away with, for he will always be giving himself to fellowship and communion with us. If grace only obtains in the presence of sin, then by definition the disappearance of sin in the age to come will mean the disappearance of grace! But this, to me, seems wrong for the reasons stated above. Thus, the act of creation (which he does for the purpose of freely giving himself to something other than himself) would be an act of grace, for the very existence of creation as the object of his self-giving is not due to any “merit”, as it were, on creation’s part, but only due to his own sovereign initiative and love.


      • Trevor 17 March 2017 / 17:27

        Yea, Nah.

        In the Scriptures, grace always relates God’s dealing with sin. Knowing this, and also that creation in primary, not redemption, Bingham even writes a hymn, which begins extolling God’s self-giving, the emphasis which you seek to show is supreme, whereby God’s self, and deeds are one:

        ‘Amazing Grace is God himself,
        the Father of us all,
        And from his Heart there flows Himself,
        Who flows in full to all’.

        However, Geoff Bingham also writes up this important insight, for teaching grace:

        “When man was created he had no need of grace. What man was made to be by God did not require him to live in grace. For many years I believed that since everything that man has is a gift of God (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7, ‘What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?’), then everything is of grace. If grace means everything has come to us gift-wise then surely all life is grace. I now see, however, that what God gave to man in creation can only be called ‘grace’ in a very general way. Man, by nature of the case, is dependent upon God for his being, but he is given his life by ‘nature’ and not by ‘grace’. Life, then, is not a ‘hand-out’, nor something given in condescension or patronage. Man is not an undeserving beggar being given welfare instalments. God has given him life, and that is that! Let there be no talk of ‘grace’. Man does not have to fawn upon God in order to live.’ (G. C. Bingham, ‘Great and Glorious Grace’, p. 16).

        His reasoning then goes on to show from word studies that grace always has to do with favour where it is not merited, and God’s restoration of humanity where it is not deserved.
        I think you will find his reasoning is more in accord with what Scripture teaches throughout. Even if it is contrary to ‘the two greats’, aforementioned, who did not put it in the best way.

        See his book:



      • Jonathan Kleis 17 March 2017 / 19:27

        Well we’re definitely going to disagree on this it appears. I would strongly reject the dualistic split between “nature” and “grace”. This was something that both KB and TFT were also strongly opposed to (TFT especially), so if you hold to something akin to it, then it makes sense that you would be in disagreement with them on this point. Like them, I see the nature/grace dichotomy (something which, incidentally, is absolutely foundational to all Roman Catholic theology and practice) as giving rise to a whole host of problems, not least a Pelagian, or at least semi-Pelagian, understanding of salvation (i.e. grace simply needs to elevate or supplement the innate capacities of nature). I am much too ardently Protestant on this point to go down that road (which I’m convinced ultimately leads back to Rome if carried through consistently).

        But ultimately, for me, as it seems for you, it comes down to Scripture. For me, Paul’s declaration in 2 Timothy 1:9 is decisive: “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began”. I know this could run into philosophical issues related to time vs eternity, but at minimum it seems clear that Paul envisions grace as that which was granted in the person of Christ even before human history began, to say nothing of before the fall! If this were the only passage to mention this, it would be enough for me to say that creation itself was an act of grace, for it was in view of the grace granted us in Christ before creation that creation was given its very existence!


  2. Trevor 17 March 2017 / 17:28

    Typo: ‘creation is primary….’


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