“We believe that by this conception, the person of the Son is inseparably united and connected with the human nature; so that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in one single person; yet, that each nature retains its own distinct properties. As then the divine nature bath always remained untreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth: so also bath the human nature not lost its properties, but remained a creature, having beginning of days, being a finite nature, and retaining all the properties of a real body. And though he hath by his resurrection given immortality to the same, nevertheless he hath not changed the reality of his human nature; forasmuch as our salvation and resurrection also depend on the reality of his body. But these two natures are so closely united in one person, that they were not separated even by his death. Therefore that which he, when dying, commended into the hands of his Father, was a real human spirit, departing from his body. But in the meantime the divine nature always remained united with the human, even when he lay in the grave. And the Godhead did not cease to be in him, any more than it did when he was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while. Wherefore we confess, that he is very God and very Man: very God by his power to conquer death; and very man that he might die for us according to the infirmity of his flesh.”
The Belgic Confession, Article XIX
This article speaks of a profound and great mystery, the union and distinction of the two natures, divine and human, in the Person of the Son of God. While much can and must be said in this connection, it remains the incomparable mystery of the wonder of the incarnation. With the words: “by this conception,” the article refers to the subject of the previous article which concludes: “. . . so that in truth he is our Immanuel, that is to say, God with us.” Thus Article XIX contains a most beautiful confession concerning the truth that Jesus Christ is “very God and very man.”
This statement of our faith concerning the Mediator is the product of a long and involved struggle concerning the truth of the Person and natures of Christ. Early in its new dispensational history the church was forced by the great Christological controversies to crystallize and proclaim its faith concerning the wonder of the Person and natures of Christ. A variety of errors were quickly to appear on the scene and had to be dealt with by several great councils of the church. There was the error of Docetism. These denied the human nature of Christ. According to Docetism Christ possessed no real human nature, but only appeared in a human nature for a time. Another error was that of the Arians under the leadership of Arms. They denied the divine nature of Christ and insisted that while Christ was the best man who ever lived, He was nonetheless merely a man and not God. Thus the Arians were really the forerunners of modernism which teaches that Christ was the most “Godlike” of men, but only our example and not our divine Savior. Arianism was dealt with and condemned by the Council of Nicea in 325. In close connection with the error of Arius there arose a group known as the semi-Arians. They taught that Christ did not have the same nature as God, but a nature which was like God’s in every respect. The Council of Constantinople in 381 condemned this error and reaffirmed the church’s position against Arianism. At about the same time a man by the name of Apollinarius who was bishop of the church at Laodicea taught that Christ did have a complete human nature, but that the divine “logos” took the place of the human soul. This error was also condemned at Constantinople in 381. There was also the error of Nestorius. This man denied the unity of the two natures of Christ and, according to some, almost fell into the error of teaching that Christ had two persons. Finally there was the error of the Eutychians who denied the distinction between the two natures of Christ. These spoke of the two natures as being fused together into one. The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned this error. All of these errors were referred to when the church finally adopted its definitive statement concerning the Person and natures of the Mediator at the great Council of Chalcedon in 451. This council declared that the two natures of Christ were united in the one divine Person: “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. II, pp. 62, 63) The position of the church, as is also obvious from the carefully worded statement of Article XIX, has remained unchanged from the position of Chalcedon.
The church confesses with this Article that Christ is personally the Son of God Who is “inseparably united and connected with the human nature; so that there are not two Sons of God, not two persons, but two natures united in one single person.” In other words, the one Person of the Son of God exists in two natures, the divine and the human. A person may be defined in general as an individual subsistence in a rational, moral nature. The person is the subject of all the actions and life of the nature. Or, if you will, the person is that which says “I” and which is the subject of all the activity of the nature in which it subsists. The person is that which remains unchanged through all the changes from birth, to life, to death which the nature undergoes. The Person from the cradle to the grave remains unchanged. It is always the same “I.” The Person of the Mediator is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Person of the only begotten Son of God. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, therefore, assumed a human nature, grew up in that nature, lived in that nature, suffered and died in it, took it out of the grave and into the glory of heaven.
Secondly the article emphasizes the relationship between the two natures within the one divine Person. Concerning the distinction between the two natures, it says that they always retained their own individual properties. This means that the divine nature always remained “untreated, without beginning of days or end of life, tilling heaven and earth . . . .” And, although the divine nature was always present, that nature “always remained united with the human, even when he lay in the grave. And the Godhead did not cease to be in him, any more than it did when he was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while.” The divine nature during the life of Jesus often remained hidden, wrapped in human flesh. Likewise does the human nature retain its properties. It remains “a creature, having beginning of days, being a finite nature, and retaining all the properties of a real body.” Not only so, but while through the resurrection from the dead, the human nature became immortal, “nevertheless, he hath not changed the reality of his human nature; forasmuch as our salvation and resurrection also depend upon the reality of his body.” Thus it is that the two natures of Christ always remain distinct and separate with respect to their own properties. This truth the Reformed churches maintain over against the error of Lutheranism which, in connection with its doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, teaches the ubiquity of the human nature.
Article XIX also refers to the relation between the two natures from the point of view of their being inseparably united in the one Person of the Son of God. The two natures were so inseparably united, the article affirms, that they were not even separated by the death of Christ. This means, the article explains, that when Christ was dying He commended into the hands of His Father a real human spirit. Therefore also the divine nature of Christ was present with His human nature even when it lay in the grave, as the article explains: “. . . And His Godhead did not cease to be in him any more than it did when he was an infant.” This, it must be remembered, is a great mystery. Christ remained all through His life and in His death both very God and very man. It is true that the human nature only partially revealed the divine nature of Christ, while He was on earth. In glory, the human nature of Christ is the perfect instrument of the revelation of the divine nature. We cannot, of course, see the divine nature either of God or of Christ. Yet when Christ is in heaven in all of His exalted glory, the divine nature will be fully and completely revealed to us for Christ is “. . . the brightness of his (God’s) glory, and the express image of his person.” (Hebrews 1:2) And, Christ is “the image of the invisible God . . . for it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell . . . .” (Col. 1:15, 19)
This perfect union of the two natures in the one divine Person of the Son of God is necessary according to this article. It is necessary for Christ to be very God in order that He might conquer death by His power. Only as very God could Christ possess the almighty power necessary to endure the terrible death of the cross. Only as very God was Christ able to bear the full penalty against sin. Only as very God was Christ able to defeat death by His death. Only as very God was Christ able to die the death of the elect and deliver them from that terrible power. Likewise it was necessary for Christ to be very man in order that “he might die for us according to the infirmity of his flesh.” Christ had to die as very man because man had sinned. Man, therefore, had to pay the penalty for sin in order to satisfy the justice of God.
Thus too we see the practical significance of all these great truths. The perfect union between the divine nature and the human nature in the eternal Person of the Son of God is the only possibility of our salvation. This is the kind of Mediator we need in order to be saved. When we understand this truth, then we can also understand that our salvation is fully and perfectly accomplished by our God on our behalf. We need not doubt, therefore, but that all that is necessary for our final salvation and glory has been merited for us by Jesus Christ.
Finally, this doctrine is basic for the whole doctrine of the Covenant. In Jesus Christ, very God and very man, is the closest possible union between God and man. And it is because Jesus Christ is both very God and very man, that when the elect are engrafted into Christ by a true and living faith and become members of His body, they also dwell in perfect and most intimate fellowship and communion with God in the eternal covenant of grace. It is in Christ that God tabernacles with His people. It is in Christ in the highest possible sense of the word that God dwells with His people in friendship and fellowship. In Christ God becomes their God and they become His people. In Christ they enjoy the blessings of His presence and communion for ever and ever. Christ is the temple of the living God in Whom dwells both God and the elect by a true and living faith.