Concerning the human nature which the Son of God assumed, the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that He “took upon him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary. . . . that he might also be the true seed of David, like unto his brethren in all things sin excepted.” There are, in these words, especially four elements that must always be emphasized in our confession concerning the human nature of Christ, and which we must briefly discuss in this connection, namely: 1. That it is a real and complete human nature. 2. That it is an individual and central human nature: He was born in the very center of the line of the promise, the seed of David. 8. That it is a weakened human nature: He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. 4. That it is a sinless human nature: He was made like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted.
The Confessio Belgica emphasizes the same truths, when it declares that He “took upon him the form of a servant, and became like unto man, really assuming the true human nature, with all its infirmities, sin excepted. . . . and did not only assume the human nature as to the body, but also a true human soul, that he might be a real man. For since the soul was lost as well as the body, it was necessary that he should take both upon him, to save both. Therefore we confess (in opposition to the heresy of the Anabaptists, who deny that Christ assumed human flesh of his mother) that Christ is become a partaker of the flesh and blood of the children; that he is a fruit, of the loins of David after the flesh; made of the seed of David according to the flesh; a fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary, made of a woman; a brsnch of David; a shoot of the root of Jesse; sprung from the tribe of Judah; descended from the Jews according to the flesh; of the seed of Abraham, since he took on him the seed of Abraham, and became like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted, so that in truth he is our Immanuel, that is to say, God with us.” Art. XVIII.
That our Lord assumed a real human nature means, first of all, that He was very really born, not created, and that, too, according to body and soul. Even though He was conceived without the will of man, and born of a Virgin, His was not a strange, or specially created human nature, but He took upon Him our flesh and blood. He was organically connected with us. As to His human nature, He did not come from without, but was brought forth by us. He did not stand next to men, but among them, and was of them. He partook of the flesh and blood of the children. He was flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, bone of our bone. This must be maintained, because it is the plain teaching of Scripture. According to the message of the angel to Mary she would conceive in her womb, and bring forth a son,. That which was conceived in her developed in the womb of Mary like the seed of any other human being, and its growth required the same length of time, for while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son” . When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, before the birth of Christ, the mother of John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Ghost, greeted her in the following words: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” . Moreover, Scripture teaches us that “when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” . And “forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” .
From the above passages of Holy Writ, it is also evident that the organic unity of Christ with us was necessary unto our redemption. He must bear our sin, and suffer death in our stead. If this were to be done, the punishment of sin must be born in our nature. The same human nature that had sinned must bear the wrath of God to the end. If Jesus had not been of us, if His human nature had been especially created, He might have been similar to us, but He would, nevertheless, have stood outside of us. And even as He would have been extraneous to us, so His death would have been suffered entirely apart from us. It could not have been our death. In that case, God would really have left the human race in Adam in their sin and condemnation, and created something entirely new. Then we did not die with Christ, neither were we raised with Him, and our life cannot possibly be hid with Christ in God. The truth, therefore, that Christ really assumed the flesh and blood of the children, is essential to the gospel of our redemption.
But, in the second place, the truth that Christ assumed a true and real human nature also implies that this human nature is complete, that is, consists of body and soul. We must not conceive of the incarnation of the Son of God in such a way that by this wonder of grace the divine nature came to inhabit a human body, took the place of the human soul; or even that the Person of the Son of God took upon Him a human body and a human soul, but that the divine nature took the place of the human mind or spirit. The whole human nature He assumed in His incarnation. He was completely human, even as He is truly divine. That this is true is evident from all we read of the revelation of Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh. And more than once our Lord speaks of His soul expressly. Shortly before His death, He declares: “Now is my soul troubled”. And as He entered into the garden of Gethsemane, He complained: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” Matt. 26:38.
It would seem that the theory of creationism meets with a serious difficulty here. According to this theory, as you know, the soul, in the case of the birth of every individual human being, is created by God, while the body only is conceived and born by and from the parents. However, in the case of the incarnation, we confess that the whole human nature, both body and soul, was assumed by the Son of God from the virgin Mary. In His case, therefore, the soul is also born, and not created. It would appear, then, that creationism is wrong, and that we are bound to adopt the view of traducianism, the theory that in all cases the whole human nature is brought forth through conception and birth by the human parents. And yet, we are loath to accept that also the human spirit is propagated through generation and birth, because it would seem that by adopting this view we would destroy the very spirituality of the soul, and change it into the flesh and blood.
It seems to me, therefore, that we must seek to avoid both, crass creationism and literal traducianism. Of course, let us admit it from the outset, when we deal with the questions concerning the human soul and body, we are facing deep problems, problems that are, ultimately, impossible of solution. The relation between soul and body is a profound mystery. Yet, it may be possible, on the basis of Scripture, to formulate some conception that will cover and explain all the facts, especially that of man’s creation, and that of the incarnation of the Son of God. It would seem that the theory of creationism is guilty of completely separating soul and body; while, on the other hand, traducianism must lose the spiritual identity of the soul. Another distinction, therefore, would appear to be more to the point here. I mean the distinction between person and nature. Certain it is that it is this distinction which we face in the incarnation of the Son of God . He was a human being without being a human person. In His case the divine person of the Son of God took upon Himself a human nature, but not a human person. Hence, it is certainly correct to say that in His case the Person came from God, the nature from the virgin Mary. But if this is true of the incarnation, it must also be true of the birth of every human individual: the whole nature is born, the person comes into being by an act of God.
And this would seem to be in harmony with what Scripture reveals to us concerning the creation of man in(1). God formed man, not merely his body but the whole nature out of the dust of the ground; but He also breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And thus, that is, by this one but twofold act of God man became a living soul. He did not form a body, in order then to breathe a soul into it, but He formed the whole man and made him a living soul. With His own fingers God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and by His in-breathing He made him a rational, a personal being, in distinction from the animals who also are living souls. Now, in a similar way, in the conception and birth of a human being, the nature, the whole nature, all that God originally formed from the dust of the ground, comes from the parents; while by a special act of God’s providence, like unto the original in-breathing of God in the creation of Adam, that nature is formed into a personal being. The nature comes from the parents, the person from God.
At all events, thus we must conceive of the incarnation.
From the virgin Mary, the Son of God assumed, not a human body merely, but the whole human nature, both according to body and soul.
But we said, and our confessions emphasize the fact, that He assumed a concrete and individual though a central human nature. He was the “true seed of David.” According to the Belgic or Netherland Confession, he was “a branch of David, a shoot of the root of Jesse, sprung from the tribe of Judah, descended from the Jews according to the flesh; of the seed of Abraham.”
To us this clearly implies, in the first place, that He assumed a very concrete and individual human nature. There are those who deny this and who insist that Christ’s humanity was general. He did not assume a certain concrete form of the human nature, but the human nature in general. He was not a man, but Man. Just as we speak of the general concept the tree, in distinction from all specific trees, so we must conceive of the humanity of Christ as being the human nature.
Thus Dr. A. Kuyper dictated to his students:
“The human nature which Christ assumed was not concrete. With us it is. With each of us the human nature bears a definite, concrete stamp, determined by our individual ego. The human nature in the abstract sense is that which is common to us all. The general human nature is, so to speak, the wax into which each man impresses his own stamp. Christ, however, assumed the abstract and unstamped human nature, while He possessed the divine nature concretely.” (2).
“The view that Christ was a man is Nestorian. . . . To be sure, Scripture teaches everywhere that Christ was man, and that He bore the human nature, but that He was an individual, that among the variations of the seed of Adam there was also the variation-Jesus—is absurd. In the seed of Adam were all the variations of human life, of nations, generations, and persons. And over against this, the Scriptures witness and say that Christ was the second Adam; He was out of Adam as Adam, that is, as one who like Adam carried within Himself endless variations, namely, those of all the elect of God. Because of this every child of God knows that he is in Christ, that he died and is raised with Christ, that he draws his life out of Christ, even as the sinner out of Adam”. . . . (3).
The same view is set forth in De Gemeene Gratie by the same author, II, 138, 139.
The Scriptural ground on which this conception is supposed to be based is especially threefold: 1. The statement inthat Christ is the second Adam. Let it be noted here at once that Christ is not called the second, but the last Adam, and that He is such, not in virtue of the fact that in the state of humiliation he bore a general human nature (even if this could be asserted of Adam, which it cannot, it does not apply to Christ in the flesh), but because He represents all His own, and, as the quickening Spirit is able to impart Himself to all the elect. 2. The fact that Christ is called the Son of man. It is emphasized that He is never called a Son of man, but always the Son of man. And this is supposed to teach us that, while we are all sons of man, He is the Son of man in the sense that he assumed a general human nature. He was not a man among men, but the man in the abstract sense of the word. However, if the name Son of man is derived from , as is generally accepted, it does not refer to a supposed general and abstract human nature in distinction from the specific forms of the human nature other men have, but to the Messiah as He is destined to inherit the glory of His everlasting kingdom. And this is corroborated by such passages as the eighth Psalm in connection with . 3. The fact that Scripture presents the Lord as the Head of the Church, His body. This implies that, even as we partake of the nature of Adam, so we also really partake of the nature of Christ. But according to this theory, this is possible only if Christ is not a mere individual, a man among men, but the Man, and that He assumed a general human nature. But this argument overlooks the fact that we are not partakers of Christ according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, and that this union became possible, not in virtue of a supposed general human nature, which He assumed at His incarnation, but in virtue of His exaltation, and through the Spirit that was given Him. According to the flesh, we are not of Him, but He is of us.
The most serious objection to this theory of a general human nature in Christ is, no doubt, that it really implies a denial of the reality of our Lord’s humanity. What is a general human nature? It is something that does not concretely exist, an abstraction that exists only in the form of a conception, but that has no real, no tangible existence. Thus I can speak of the tree as a concept. I can probably say that the tree has reality in the mind of God. But in reality the tree is nowhere. It exists only in various forms and types of trees, oaks, maples, poplars, etc., and these various classes again exist only in individual forms. The same is true of the human nature of our Lord. To say that it was general is tantamount to saying that it did not concretely, historically exist, that it had no tangible reality . But this is, indeed, absurd. It is evident that our Lord, according to the flesh, had a very concrete form of the human nature. In the days of His flesh He certainly could have been photographed. He had a concrete body. He was of a certain, measurable height, weighed a certain number of pounds, had a certain color of eyes, was white, not black or yellow, and possessed certain definite features by which He was recognized in distinction from His fellowmen. It may seem absurd to mention all this, but the fact is that these concrete statements could never be predicted of a general human nature. And what is true of Jesus’ body is equally applicable to His soul. Even though the gospel narratives are not at all interested in a “Life of Jesus,” and although it is certainly true that one looks in vain in them for a description of His character, the conclusion is not warranted that Jesus had no character, that He had a “general” human soul. That the gospel narratives are not interested in a Leben Jesu is due to the fact, that they mean to be the revelation of Jesus Christ, the incarnated Son of God, Who died for us and rose again, and is seated at the right hand of God. But it certainly must be maintained that, both according to soul and body, our Lord possessed a real, concrete, definite form of the human nature. He was of the seed of David, the Son of Mary, and it is not at all presumptuous to say that He looked like His mother.
Rather than assuming that Jesus possessed an abstract, general human nature, we hold that the Son of God assumed the flesh and blood of the children, that is, that He took hold of the human nature in the very center. This is in harmony with Scripture. He assumed His human, nature, not from the Romans, or from the Greeks, not from the sons of Ham, or from the yellow race, but from the seed of the promise, in the line of the covenant. He is the seed of the woman, the son of Adam, but in the generations of Adam, He is the seed of Seth, not of Cain. He is of Noah, but in the generations of Noah, He is of the seed of Shem. And again in the generations of Shem, He is of the line that culminates in Abraham; in the generations of Abraham, He is of the seed of Isaac; and in the latter’s generations, He is not of Esau, but of Jacob. Gradually, in the generations of Jesus Christ the line becomes narrower, and more defined. The line runs through Israel, but in Israel it is the tribe of Judah that bears the Christ in its loins, and within the tribe of Judah the house of David is pointed out as the everlasting royal line that must culminate in the Christ. And this royal line of David culminates finally in the virgin Mary. Thus the generations of Jesus Christ are like a pyramid, with its base in the seed of the woman and its apex in the virgin Mary. And in the fullness of time, the Son of God took hold of the very heart of the seed of the promise, and thus assumed the flesh and blood of the children. A very definite and concrete, but at the same time a central human nature Christ took upon Himself in assuming our flesh and blood.
(1) Cf. Vol. I, p. 100 ff.
(2) Dictaten Dogmatiek, Locus de Christo, III, 33.
(3) Op. Cit. p. 7.