Today, with the Christmas spirit, our lecture advances several questions further in the Catechism to question 22. Question 22 has been the centre of three of the greatest debates in Church history. The result of these debates were set into creeds. The Latin word credo means, “I believe,” and thus a creed is a statement of faith. Creedal debates in Church history were of no small proportion. During these singular events, leaders of the local Churches, nations, empires, and kingdoms would form an ecumenical council in condemning a raging heresy of the time and establishing a statement of faith. Christology, was the only exclusive doctrine to be fought and won by the Church on three separate occasions in history. Remarkably, each of these three doctrinal wars transpired in the same nation, namely, Constantinople. Constantinople was ground zero for the war on Christology for over 200 years. The first council formed in the city of Chalcedon in Constantinople with over 600 delegates including the Pope and the Roman Emperor. The Council of Chalcedon formed against Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople who denied Christ being one person with two natures. The second Council of Constantinople formed against Eutyches, the leader of a monastery in Constantinople who taught Monyphysitism which believed Christ was one person, yet with only one nature. The third Council of Constantinople formed against the Monothelite controversy, who believed that Christ was one person with two natures, yet with only a divine will and not a human one. These three councils ranged over 230 years and their decisions would influence the following 1600 years of Church history. The result of these 230 years of the greatest debates which Church history has ever witnessed is summed up in in Question 22 of the Shorter Westminster Catechism.
Q. 22: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A: Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.
Having briefly outlined the history of three ecumenical councils in Church history composing the subject of this Catechism question, I am left feeling wholly inadequate to expound further upon the matter. As Thomas A Kempis wrote in his masterful work, “The Imitation of Christ”, “Talk as learnedly as you will about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, it will get you no thanks from the Holy Trinity if you aren’t humble about it.” Thus, recognizing the majesty of these doctrines and witnessing the profound teaching of our Church fathers I find myself truly insufficient for the task at hand. So may the benefit of what I say be in the humility of it, rather than in any perceived learnedness of it.
The subject of this Christmas season and the introduction of Christology commences with the Protoevangelium. This was the term the Church has used to identify the first proclamation of the good news found in Genesis 3:15. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is the first passage we find in Scripture which testifies to the coming Messiah. Genesis 3:15 is the Protoevangelium, the good news before the good news came. Promising, that of a woman’s offspring, one would come to be our Mediator before God. One two bruise Satan’s head. One to be our Lord and Saviour, the Messiah. His coming was prophesied throughout the Old Testament. His coming was symbolized throughout Redemptive History. He would be born in Bethlehem, of a virgin, of the lineage of David’s dynasty, performing miracles, riding a donkey into Jerusalem, to be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, to die with common criminals outside the city, arise from the dead, and ascend into heaven as the Divine Godman. The question is, who is the Messiah?
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
The Catechism testifies to Scripture’s answer of the identify of the Messiah, namely, Christ, the Son of God. The evidence is clear and simple. The Scriptures detail Jesus’ life as the only, perfect fulfillment of the prophecies. The Scriptures only give to Jesus the titles that belong only to God. The Scriptures only attribute to Jesus the perfections which only belong to God. The Scriptures record the words of Jesus which only God can speak. The Scriptures ascribe the actions of Jesus which only God can accomplish. The Scriptures command we offer Jesus a worship that belongs only to God. The most definitive name given to this Messiah is The Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, signifies supreme and exalted authority. Jesus, means “Saviour”. Christ, is the official name of the Messiah and means “The Anointed One.” The Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme Savior and anointed One. As we will see in the end of this lecture, any doctrinal assault on the doctrine of the incarnation is an assault on the title and office of The Lord Jesus Christ.
We have already in previous lectures identified Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Godhead, thus being the Son of God. Now we review how the Second Person of the Godhead became a man. The doctrine of the Incarnation is significant in that it is foundational to Christology (The doctrine of Jesus Christ), Pneumatology (The doctrine of the Holy Spirit) and Salvation. Paradoxically enough, to righty comprehend the Incarnation of the Son of God we must first come to a place of acknowledgement of this doctrine’s incomprehensibility. Puritin, John Flavel takes remarkable strides to this end. “For the sun to fall from its sphere, and be degraded into a wandering atom; for an angel to be turned out of heaven, and be converted into a silly fly or worm, had been no such great abasement; for they were but creatures before, and so they would abide still, though in an inferior order or species of creatures. The distance betwixt the highest and the lowest species of creatures, is but a finite distance. The angel and the worm dwell not so far apart. But for the infinite, glorious Creator of all things, to become a creature, is a mystery exceeding all human understanding. The distance between God and the highest order of creatures, is an infinite distance.” Infinite into finite. Eternity into time. Diety into humanity. The Incarnation is a mystery far excelling human comprehension.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The term Incarnation is composed in two parts. “In carne” with is latin for the Greek meaning of “in the flesh.” Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul. At the very moment of His conception in the womb of the virgin Mary, God the Son assumed the nature and humanity of Jesus. It is critical to note that the Son of God united himself not to a person, but to a nature. These two natures, Divine and human, joined in hypostatical union. Hypostatic can simply mean, “Subsistence.” The Divine subsisted in humanity. The infinite subsisted in finite. The eternal subsisted in time. The hypostatic union was a the union within the Second Person of the Trinity between His Divine nature and His human nature. One person, God the Son, and two natures, Divine and human. The properties of both natures are annexed to the one Person. While His divine nature is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable His human nature is finite, in time, and changeable. His Divine nature is primary but the human subordinate. His Divine nature is unrestricted but the human is restricted. God the Son became man in Jesus Christ, not by becoming a man, but by uniting Himself with man’s nature. The humanity of God the Son never existed as a separate essence or personality, but was united to the Divinity of God the Son inseparably. Jesus was not a schizophrenic. Dr. Morecraft stated this very simply, “The incarnation was by addition, not subtraction.” When God the Son took upon himself a reasonable body and a true soul he did not lose, diminish, or relieve the slightest extent of His Deity. Thomas Ridgeley illustrated this union marvelously. “Thus, in one nature, Christ had all the fulness of the Godhead, and nothing in common with us, nothing finite, derived, or dependent, or in any other way defective. In His other nature, He was made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted. In this nature, he was born in time, and did not exist from eternity, and increased in knowledge and other endowments proper to manhood. In one nature, he had a comprehensive knowledge of all things; in the other, he knew nothing but by communication, or derivation, and with those other limitations to which finite wisdom is subject. In one nature, he had an infinite sovereign will; in the other, he had such a will as the creature has.” One nature omniscient incapable of learning, the other nature unlearned. One nature omnipresent incapable of size or location, the other nature small and isolated. One nature omnipotent, the other nature subservient. As we can see, these two natures are distinct, the Divine did not and could not share in the human nature’s weakness, and the human nature could not participate in any perfection of the divine. As the Westminster Confession states, “Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.” 1 John 4:2-3 draws the line definitively, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not fromGod; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
CONCEIVED BY THE HOLY GHOST
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over shadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” R.C.H. Lenski explained this passage perfectly, “The conception shall be caused by the Third Person of the Godhead; he shall not operate from a distance but shall himself come upon Mary; he shall work the conception by His almighty power; and this shall occur, when like the Shekinah… the power shall overshadow Mary… beyond this we cannot go. All else is impenetrable.” As we noted in our last lecture on the Trinity, the Third Person of the Godhead is the Holy Spirit who takes the office as the executive of the Godhead, the very agent of the will of God. Immaculate conception by the Holy Spirit was necessary for Christ to be preserved from a corrupt sin nature, inheritable from the first Adam, which in turn was necessary for Christ to be our sinless Saviour. One theologian observed this distinction thus, “Through man’s conception and birth, he is unholy, full of guile, defiled, and one with other sinners. Through Christ’s conception he was holy, guileless, undefiled, and separated from sinners. Man is conceived and born in sin, but Christ was conceived and born in holiness.” It is in this regard that the Holy Spirit was necessary not only for the birth of Christ, but also for the preservation of Christ. Dr. Gresham Machen gave two interesting observations on the Holy Ghost’s conception of Christ. First, Jesus is considered greater than all God’s spiritual children and so it was only a simple step to exclude the human factor altogether by making the Holy Spirit in this case, not only an important factor, but the sole factor in Christ’s conception. Christ in being greater than all the prophets was not only filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb as the greatest of all the prophets was, namely, John the Baptist, but furthermore Jesus was to have the very constituting element of His personality from conception to be the Holy Spirit. Secondly, Machen noted that too often the conception by the Holy Ghost was considered as a normal conception. Subsequently, many simply assume that Joseph received Jesus in an adoptive manner. It is on this point that Machen encouraged his readers to consider that we not limit the miraculousness of the Holy Ghost conception. Machen then observed that we cannot say with certainty that Jesus was indeed not, by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, the son of Joseph and offspring of David’s lineage in some sense far more profound than simply adoption. The relationship of Jesus to Joseph was more intimate than that of adoption, in that Joseph was more truly and earthly father of Jesus than any other man. Naturally, many altogether contest the idea of the virgin birth as a myth. But as Dr. Machen noted there are two almost insurmountable difficulties of this theorizing the virgin birth as a myth. First, its difficult to imagine how the idea of the virgin birth could rise to such greatness unless based on fact and in the second place, its hard to see how it attained such trustworthiness unless substantially historical. Finally, if one believes that Christ rose from the dead it will be no stumbling block to consider He was born of a virgin. The strongest evidence against the virgin birth being a myth is that there is no evidence in its favour.
THE NECESSITY OF HUMANITY
Upon reviewing all this complexity and magnitude of the hypostatic union of the Divine and human in the Second Person of the Trinity through immaculate conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin in accordance to 4000 years of anticipation and prophecy the simple question could be asked, why did the Mediator have to be man? Why doesn’t the blood of ox and goat suffice? Why couldn’t God simply say, “I forgive you.” Why such a intricate process? There are four simple reasons why the Mediator had to be human. 1. By law. The law doesn’t exclusively demand punishment for transgression, it further demands obedience and this obedience is demanded directly from man. As with the punishment, the obedience had to be performed not by an ox or goat or simply dismissed by God, but had to be fulfilled by a man. 2. By representation. The mediator, being the go-between before two parties, has to relate to each party on some fundamental level of experience, knowledge, and relation. Thus an exclusive animal or human does not qualify for the position because neither can categorically relate to the Aseity of God nor God categorically relate to the experiential weakness of humans. 3. By office. For the Mediator to make intercession for us, His humanity was necessary. Intercession includes worship, worship presupposed dependence, and dependence is inconsistent with God’s independence. The intercession of the Mediator is prayer and only men pray. Therefore Christ’s intercession for us is possible because of His eternal incarnation. 4. By example. For sinful man to rightly worship and obey God they need a perfect example among them to pattern in life. As far as representation is concerned, we affirm from Scripture that Christ was tempted in all ways as we are, yet He was without sin. Paul Washer astutely observed that Christ’s temptation would have in reality been far more intense. When we are tempted often shortly give in or eventually give in. Yet when Christ was tempted his temptation came, and grew, and increased, and strengthened, and assaulted, and raged, and reached its full degree of volatility agains Christ, yet He did not give in to the crescendoing fortissimo of its rage. Christ was tempted to the highest degree and extent, yet without Sin. As P.E. Hughes wrote, “His perfection consisted in the retention of His integrity, in the face of every kind of assault on His integrity, and thereby the establishment of His integrity.”
THE NECESSITY OF DEITY
The previous question could now be turned and it be stated why the Mediator had to be God. Dr. Joseph Morecraft give a comprehensive list. “1. His deity kept his humanity from sining into oblivion under the weight and full force of the infinite wrath of God and the power of death. 2. His deity gave infinite value and eternal effectiveness to His redeeming work as a man in our behalf. 3. As God, Jesus was able to give His Holy Spirit to His people. 4. Only as Almighty God incarnate could our Mediator conquer all enemies. As all these victories over sin, Satan, the world, and death require infinite power, so it is necessary that He who obtains them should be a Divine Person. 5. Christ is to bring His chosen people to everlasting salvation, He must be God. This is all a truly divine work, therefore, He who performs it bust be a Divine Person. 6. It is essential that our Mediator, Jesus Christ, should be God, because the everlasting happiness of His people consists in their enjoyment of Him.”
THE NECESSITY OF HYPOSTATIC UNION
Our Mediator had to be human to die, He had to be Divine to rise from the dead. Our Mediator had to be human to learn obedience, He had to be divine to obey. Our Mediator had to be human to submit to the law, He had to be Divine to fulfill the law. Our mediator had to be human to suffer, He had to be Divine to overcome it. Our mediator had to be human to to suffer in full-form, He had to be Divine to suffer in full-measure. Our Mediator had to be both to accomplish both in the same act. As one theologian wrote. “It would take a mere finite being all eternity to pay the penalty in finite instalments; it would take an infinite being a limited period of time to pay the penalty in full; it would take a unpersonal being to pay that penalty at once.”
As noted in the first part of this lecture, much controversy has centred itself upon the doctrine of the Incarnation. In A.D 361 the Bishop of Laodicea taught that the person of Christ had a human body but not a human mind or spirit, which contradicts the necessity of Christ being fully man. Gordon Clark wrote, “That Christ assumed a body causes no difficulty to anyone who believes the Bible; but to understand how the Second Person could have a human soul and a human person, and how that mind or soul was related to the divine Person is perhaps the most difficult problem in all theology.” Yet for Jesus Christ to be fully man he had to be a true person with a personality, a will, an intellect, and a soul. Even beyond the logical argument Scripture explicitly states in Matthew 26:38 identifies Christ’s “soul.” The heresy of Apollinarianism blurred the distinction between the two natures. Apollinarianism lowered and corrupted the divine nature by mixing it with the human to replace the perceived void of human mind and spirit. Dr. Matthew McMahon remarked, “All error concerning the incarnation results from an attempt at trying to reconcile the manner in which the two natures bind hypo statically together.” Stated previously, Nestorianism created a schizophrenic jesus by stating there were to separate persons in Christ, not natures. Monyphysitism viewed Jesus with one nature only. This nature was neither human nor divine but a mixture of the two. The Kenotic Theory used Philippians 2:6-8 to state that Christ emptied himself of his deity to become a man. To each of these controversies Scripture speaks the truth of Christ for our Christology.
1600 years ago the Council of Chalcedon gathered its 600 delegates to hammer out the truth of Christ’s incarnation. They debated over the deity and the humanity of The Lord Jesus Christ. The truth of Scripture and the liberty of man was at stake. If the God-man was undermined, the foundation of His Lordship would be levelled and the course cleared for a resurrection of the Babylonian mentality. Man would have built his Tower of Babel on the trespassed ground of Jesus’ Lordship. Man would have crowned himself as the saviour and messiah of all ills and denied Christ’s sufficient, substitutional sacrifice. Ultimately the Greco-Roman philosophy of statism, where man is the highest visible form of life and order on earth, demanding total obedience. For this cause, for this reason, for this stake ecumenical councils gathered, nations went to war with each other, and heretics were sought out. Finally, in A.D. 451 the Council of Chalcedon produced the following creed.
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge on and the same son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respect, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.