The early Church, after a long period of controversy about the truth concerning the incarnated Word, finally expressed the faith of the orthodox believers in the Symbol of Chalcedon, in the year 451, as follows:
“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of nature’s 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.”
Briefly expressed, the Church here formulated the doctrine, which since that time has remained unchanged, that the two natures of Christ subsist in unity of divine Person, without mixture, without change, without division, without separation. About each of these chief elements in the doctrine concerning Immanuel, God with us, we will make a few remarks.
First of all, then, it must be emphasized that Christ is one Person, not two persons. In the incarnation of the Son of God, it was not a human person that was united with the second Person of the Trinity, but a human nature, body and soul, which the Son of God assumed. This truth has sometimes been expressed by stating that in the incarnation the Person of the Son assumed an impersonal human nature. This is, perhaps, hardly correct. Better it would seem to express the matter thus, that the human nature of Christ became and is personal only through its assumption by the Person of the Son of God, it has no personal subsistence of its own, but it is personal because the Son of God took up His abode in it. Hence, both the personality of the human nature of the Savior and its union with the divine nature have their ground in the Person of the Son of God.
It is difficult to conceive of and to define what is meant by person. It has usually been defined as an individual subsistence in a rational, moral nature. Only a rational, moral being can be a person. There may be many individual trees, but a tree is not a person. There may be an endless variety of the species horse, but no individual horse is a person. God is personal, for He reveals Himself as having intellect and will. And so, those creatures are persons that are endowed with a rational, volitional nature, like angels and men. This description, however, is rather an answer to the question: what is a person? It does not define what is that mysterious something within us that we call our person, or ego. My person is that which I know to be the subject of all my actions, and, besides, of whose identity I remain conscious and assured no matter what radical changes my nature may undergo. It is not my nature, my body or my soul, my brain, my eye, my ear, my mouth, my feet, that acts, thinks, sees, hears, speaks, runs, but my person: I act, I think, I see and hear and speak and run, in and through my nature. And from childhood to old age, from the cradle to the grave, my nature undergoes many and great changes; yet, my person remains the same. I know that I am still the same person that once was nursed at my mother’s breasts. And even through death my person remains the same, retains its identity. It is I that die, and will be raised again in Christ at the last day.
Now, in Christ this person is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. In and through the human nature of Jesus it is the Son of God that is the subject of all His actions and all His experiences. It is He that is born in Bethlehem, as to His human nature, that grows up in the home of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth, that converses with the doctors of the law in the temple when He is twelve years old, that is baptized and enters upon His public ministry when He was about thirty years of age. The Person of the Son of God, Who is in the bosom of the Father as to His divine nature, appeared in the form of a servant in the human nature, tabernacled among us, spoke to us, performed His mighty works among us. The Person of the Son of God as to and in His human nature is captured in Gethsemane, condemned by the Sanhedrin, delivered over unto death by the Roman governor. The Son of God suffers death, is raised from the dead, exalted at the right hand of God, and received a name that is above every name,—all in His human nature. Always He is the same Person, “not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Were He two persons, He would not be Immanuel, the union of God with us would not be established in Him, His death would have no other significance than any human death, atonement would not have been made through Him, and He could not be the object of our adoration and worship: we could not address Him as: “my Lord and my God.”
The union of the two natures in Christ, therefore, is in and through the Person. Hence, the Church confesses that this union is without mixture or fusion. The two natures in Christ are not merged, blended, or fused into one nature. Christ is not a theanthropos, a God-man. Such a view would be Pantheistic. For Pantheism identifies the essence of God with the essence of the creature. It fuses the Creator and the creature into one vague All. God is the world, and the world is God. The world spirit is the spirit of God, that comes to highest expression and self-consciousness in man. It obliterates the line of demarcation between God and man, the Infinite and the finite. According to this proud philosophy, the incarnation is only the natural development of the human race: in Christ God reached self-consciousness. Hence, He could identify Himself with the Father. He was divine because He was truly human. This Pantheistic view, which in the course of history frequently lifted up its proud head in one form or another, is the destruction of all true religion. If the divine essence is not distinct from the essence of the creature, if the Personality of God and that of man are merged, if my life, my thoughts and my desires, are nothing but little ripples on the swelling tide of the universal Spirit-ocean,—then there is neither religion nonmorality. Then God is the one universal subject in all, and there is no fellowship between Him and us, no responsibility, no sin and no redemption. Then He does not exist, has no being, in distinction from us, we cannot speak to Him, believe in Him, trust in Him, enter into His covenant fellowship. Hence, it is important that the confession of Chalcedon be maintained with regard to the nature of Christ: they are united in the Person of the Son unconfusedly. The Son of God, who is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Ghost, God of God, light of light, assumed the real and complete human nature, body and soul, but so that the two natures, remain forever distinct. God and man are most intimately united in Him, yet so that the two are never fused into one substance or nature.
In close connection with the preceding stands the second limitation, or negative qualification of the union of the two natures in Christ by the council of Chalcedon: unchangeably. Neither the divine nor the human nature was essentially changed through the incarnation. The Son of God did not leave the bosom of the Father to become man: He is, according to the divine nature, in the bosom of the Father, while, according to the human nature, He lies in the manger of Bethlehem, grows up in Nazareth, walks among us in the form of a servant, dies on the cross, is raised and exalted. For the divine nature is immutable. Nor did the Son of God put aside the divine virtues. The infinite was not changed into the finite, but assumed the finite; the eternal did not empty Himself of eternity, but assumed the temporal; the Lord of all did not cease to be Lord, but assumed the form of a servant. Nor did the human nature in any sense change into the divine, or assume divine attributes. In His human nature Christ was finite, temporal, limited in power, knowledge, wisdom and understanding, dependent and changeable. In it He lived our life, thought human thoughts, had human desires, and spoke our language. Yea, He even assumed our weakened human nature from the Virgin Mary. His was not the original human nature, as Adam possessed it in the state of rectitude, but the flesh and blood of the children, subject to suffering and death. The only exception to this was His sinlessness. For He came in the likeness of sinful flesh: not in sinful flesh, but yet in its likeness. Rom. 8:3. And it behooved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, and we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who was in all points tempted even as we are, yet without sin. Heb. 2:17; 4:15. He is eternally very God; He became truly man in time. He is eternally in the form of God; in the fullness of time He also assumed the form of a servant. And thus He could speak that mysterious word to Nicodemus: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” John 3:13.
This already implies that the two natures, the human and the divine, subsist in Christ indivisibly. Yet, the early fathers considered it necessary also to express this negative qualification to bar another erroneous view from entering into the Church. For the heresy had already been taught that Christ assumed only a partial human nature, that the natures of Christ were divided into parts, and that parts of these natures were joined in the incarnation. He was really human in as far as He assumed the human nature, but He was not completely human: the divine Spirit or nature inhabited a human body and a human soul, but not a human spirit or mind. The highest in man, his spirit or mind, was replaced by the divine Spirit. It is my experience that some such conception is often met with in those that believe the incarnation of Christ. Upon questioning catechumens, I frequently discovered that they had the notion that the divine nature inhabited a human body, took the place of the human soul. It must, therefore, be constantly made clear and emphasized that the whole, infinite divine nature was joined indivisibly to the whole human nature, body and soul. Christ is very God, and completely man.
And yet, although each of the natures in Christ retains its own distinct qualities, and the two natures neither are merged or fused into each other, nor supplement each other, they are united in the divine Person of the Son of God inseparably. Although the human nature in Christ never partook of the divine, through the intimate union of the two natures in the Person of Christ, there was a constant inner connection between His human nature and the divine, between His human mind and the mind of God, His human power and the power of the Almighty, instructing Him from within, making Him obedient unto death, sanctifying Him, and sustaining Him even in His deepest afflictions. That is why He is the perfect revelation of the Father in human nature. And that is the reason why He could endure the terrible moment of the pouring out of all the vials of God’s wrath without being crushed.
Beautifully this distinction and union of the two natures in Christ is expressed in the Confessio Belgica, Art. XIX: “We believe that by this conception, the person of the Son is inseparably united 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 hath always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth: so also hath 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.”
This union of the human nature to the divine in the Person of the Son already postulates the sinlessness of His human nature. For God can have no fellowship with sin. In a corrupt human nature the Son of God could not have dwelled. He was the Holy Child Jesus. He was separate from sinners. “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” Heb. 7:26.
This sinlessness of Christ implies especially three elements. It means, first of all, that He was without original guilt. We are born in original guilt and condemnation: the sin of Adam is imputed to us, we being reckoned in Adam forensically. But Christ does not fall under this imputation becausee He is not a human person, but the Person of the Son of God. Although as to His nature He is out of Adam, as to His Person He was not reckoned in Adam. Guilt is imputed to the person. And as Christ was a divine, not a human person, the guilt of Adam’s sin could not be imputed to Him. Personally He did not lie under the wrath of God and under the condemnation of the human race, He was separate from sinners. Secondly, the sinlessness of Christ implies that He was not depraved, that His nature was without corruption, that He assumed a holy human nature. Being without original guilt, He was entitled to a sinless human nature, for He was personally not subject to the sentence of death. And this sinless human nature He assumed, not from a holy virgin, who herself was immaculately conceived, but because the Son of God formed His own human nature through the conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35. And, lastly, this implies that Christ never had any actual sin, that His whole existence, from the manger to the cross was without spot or blemish. He was tempted in all things even as we are, yet without sin. Heb. 4:15.
And in this connection it must be maintained that there was not the slightest possibility that Christ should fall into sin. The first Adam was lapsible, the last Adam was not. And this impossibility was due, not to the holiness of His human nature alone, for Adam also was righteous and holy, yet he fell; but, subjectively, to God’s decree that in Him all things should be made perfect; and, subjectively, to the union of the human nature to the divine in the Person of the Son. To maintain that also for Christ there was a possibility of falling into sin, is to deny God’s immutable decree that He should be made perfect as the Captain of our salvation; and is tantamount to the statement that the Person of the Son could become disobedient to the Father in human flesh. And this is absurd. Hence, it must be maintained that Christ could not sin. This does not render the reality of His temptations less real He was tempted in all things even as we are, yet without sin. The trial or test of anything does not become less real because it is certain from the outset that it will not and cannot break. The strain put upon the obedience of Christ in His sufferings and death is nonetheless real and heavy, because it was a priori established that He could never be crushed under the strain. Also in this respect Christ was separate from sinners. He could never fall. In Him the realization of God’s everlasting covenant is assured from the beginning, because He is the Word become flesh!
Thus He is our Mediator, who is able to bring the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and to deliver us from all the dominion of sin and death. At first sight, the words of the Catechism in question and answer 36 leave a somewhat strange impression, as if only by the holy conception and birth of Christ our sins are covered in the sight of God, and that, too, only our original sins: “What profit dost thou receive by Christ’s holy conception and nativity? That he is our Mediator; and with innocence and perfect holiness, covers in the sight of God my sins, wherein I was conceived and brought forth.” Ursinus, in his Schatboek offers no further explanation of these words. The meaning cannot be, of course, that by Christ’s holy birth my original sins are blotted out. However, if His holy conception and birth are brought into connection with His perfect sacrifice on the cross, all is plain. Because He had no original sin, because He was free from the guilt of Adam’s sin, and from the defilement of the human nature, He could offer Himself up to God, a Lamb without spot or blemish, and perform that perfect act of obedience that constitutes the perfect Yes over against the No of the entire human race, and thus blot out the guilt of all our sins, even of the sins in which we are conceived and born. The Son of God in the flesh is the perfect High Priest, that is able to save to the uttermost all that through Him go to God. By one sacrifice He has for ever perfected all His own!