Part Two, Of Man’s Redemption, Lord’s Day 6, Chapter 2: The Necessity of the Incarnation


Q. 16. Why must he be very man, and also perfectly righteous?

A. Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which hath sinned, should likewise make satisfaction for sin; and one, who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others.

Q. 17. Why must he in one person be also very God?

A. That he might, by the power of his Godhead sustain in his human nature, the burden of God’s wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life.

Q. 18. Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?

A. Our Lord Jesus Christ: “who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

Q. 19. Whence knowest thou this?

A. From the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly, has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.

There is some difference between the original German text of the answer to question eighteen, and our translation of it. The German reads: “Unser Herr Jesus Christus, der uns zu vollkommenen Erlosing und Gerechtigkeit geschenkt ist”. In English the correct rendering would be: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is given unto us for complete redemption and righteousness”. Our translation follows the Latin text, which in turn, evidently followed the text of I Cor. 1:30: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” To the sense, however it makes no real difference, whether the one or the other translation is adopted, though it must be remembered that the one that follows the German text, which is the original, is the more correct one.

As to the contents of this sixth Lord’s Day, the first two questions are still concerned with the question of a possible mediator, and, particularly, with the necessity of his being both very God and real righteous man in unity of person; the third question places us at once before the real Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, in all the fullness of His saving riches and power; and the last question points to the holy gospel as the source of our knowledge of this Mediator.

As we consider the first two questions of this sixth Lord’s Day, we are once more impressed by the fact that our instructor takes his time about the matter. We are even inclined to remark that he is rather slow in coming to the point. After investigating the possibility of salvation, and insisting on the necessity of satisfaction; and after having pointed out the impossibility of satisfaction by man himself, or by any other, mere creature; the Catechism had, in the previous Lord’s Day, reached the conclusion, that if ever we are to be saved it must be through a mediator that is at once very God, and real righteous man. And now, in the sixth Lord’s Day, instead of immediately pointing to the only Mediator of God and man, the instructor first devotes two more questions to a possible mediator, and to the reasons why he must meet some very definite requirements. Ministers that are required to preach on the Catechism must often have the feeling, when they reach this sixth Lord’s Day, that it is difficult to avoid repetition of what was already treated in connection with the preceding Lord’s Day. And, in fact, there is a measure of repetition here. What is stated negatively in Lord’s Day 5, to make plain that it is impossible for man or for a mere creature to bring the required satisfaction, is here stated positively. There it is explained that God will not punish any other creature for the sin man committed; here it is stated that God requires that the same human nature that has sinned shall make satisfaction for sin. There we were taught that we ourselves cannot make the required satisfaction, because we are sinners, and can only increase our debt; here we are told that one who is himself a sinner cannot satisfy for others. There the reason why no mere creature can deliver us was found in the fact that a mere creature cannot sustain the wrath of God and deliver others from it; here we are taught that a possible mediator must be very God, in order that, by the power of his Godhead, he might be able to sustain the wrath of God, and that he might be able to obtain for us, and to restore to us righteousness and life. There can be no question about the fact, therefore, that there is a measure of repetition of what was treated before in this sixth Lord’s Day. The same arguments are used. Only, while in the previous Lord’s Day the instructor adduced these arguments to demonstrate the impossibility of salvation by man or any other mere creature. In this Lord’s Day the same elements are brought forward in order to give reasons for the necessity of the incarnation. This, therefore, must be borne in mind when we explain the first two questions of Lord’s Day 6. And when we consider them from this viewpoint, we can appreciate the fact that the instructor is rather slow in coming to the point, and that he demonstrates the necessity of the real manhood, the righteous manhood, the very Godhead, and the unity of the person of the mediator that is to deliver us from sin and death.

We must remember that, at a very early date in the history of the New Testament Church, all these different elements of the truth concerning the Savior were denied, one after another, by false teachers. It was denied that Christ possessed a real and complete human nature. There were some who taught that His human nature was only such in appearance, not in reality, not of our flesh and blood; even as angels can and often did assume the appearance of men for a time, so the Son of God assumed the resemblance of a human nature. There were others, who insisted that Christ assumed only a partial, not a whole or complete human nature: the Son of God, the divine nature, took upon Himself a human body and a human soul, but no human “mind”, or “spirit”. The divine nature took the place of the human nous or mind. Then, too, at an early date of our era, the real and essential Godhead of Christ was attacked and denied: Christ was a highly gifted and exalted man, who, according to His exalted position and office, is worthy of the title “Son of God”, but who is not one in essence and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Again, by some, both the real Godhead and the real manhood of Christ, was denied, when they explained that through the incarnation the human and divine natures had merged or fused into one nature. They preferred to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Godman, the “Theanthropos”. And, on the other hand, by others the unity of the two natures in the one person was denied; and they so separated the two natures that Christ really became two persons. This controversy about the person of the Mediator was brought to a close, as far as the Church was concerned, by the decisions of the council of Chalcedon, in 381, which declared that Christ is very God and real righteous man, and that the two nature of Christ subsist in unity of divine Person, without change, without mixture, without division, and without separation.

When one considers these early attacks upon the truth concerning the Savior, His person and natures, and is aware of the fact that all or most of these heresies repeatedly arise in the Church on earth, and attempt to destroy the true Christian doctrine concerning Christ and salvation, he will be able to appreciate properly the efforts put forth by the Heidelberg Catechism to demonstrate the necessity of the two natures, and of the unity of the person of Christ. For by so doing, it emphasizes the importance and preciousness of the truth, and it impresses upon believers the urgency of the calling to maintain and defend the true faith in all its purity of doctrine. It shows that there is an inseparable relation between our salvation and true doctrine. Salvation cannot be accomplished except by exactly such a mediator as is described in these two questions and answers with respect to his chief requirements. Deny them, and you deny salvation. Deny that Christ is eternal God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, and you have no Savior left. Deny that He is very man, flesh of our flesh, and blood of our blood, and you lose the Christ of God. Deny that these two natures are never separated, nor ever mixed, but that they subsist in unity of the divine person of the Son of God, and you deny all possibility of salvation. By demonstrating this, the Catechism certainly impresses upon our minds and hearts the necessity of being indoctrinated thoroughly in the truth of the Word of God. And it warns us that we shall not assume a sympathetic attitude toward those that would introduce false doctrine into the Church of Christ in the world.

The Catechism considers the necessity of the incarnation only from the viewpoint of its relation to our salvation. This is wholly in accord with its practical character. It is possible, of course, to view this necessity from a different aspect, and to consider it from a higher, a theological point of view. The ultimate reason for all necessity, for every “must”, is the eternal counsel and good pleasure of God. It was Cod’s eternal purpose that in Christ as the incarnated, crucified, raised and glorified Son of God, all the fullness of God should dwell bodily. And as we stressed before, this is not an afterthought of God, so that Christ is appointed only to repair what has been marred and destroyed by sin and the devil; but it is God’s first and only final purpose. He purposed to reveal Himself, and to realize His everlasting covenant, and thus to glorify His holy name, in the highest possible degree. And this revelation is to be realized in Christ, the Son in the flesh, crucified and raised from the dead. Thus it is God’s good pleasure. And it is for this reason that Christ is called the firstborn of every creature, i.e. the firstborn in and according to the eternal counsel of God, for whom and through whom, and unto whom all things are created. If we consider the necessity of the incarnation from this higher viewpoint, even sin and death, the devil and all the powers of darkness, are but means unto an end: they are subservient to God’s purpose of bringing His Son into the world, and of realizing in and through Him all His good pleasure. However, our instructor does not consider the necessity of the incarnation in its relation to God and His eternal good pleasure, but in its soteriological relation to sin and salvation.

Why, then, must our mediator be very man, real man, and also perfectly righteous? The Catechism answers that he must be very man because satisfaction must be made in the human nature, the same human nature that has sinned; and that he must be righteous man, because no sinner could satisfy for the sin of others. He must be very, i.e. real man. And a real man is one that partakes of our human nature. He must not assume a temporary appearance of a human being, for then he is not related to us. He must not come in a specially created human nature, for then he stands outside of the scope of our race. He must be of us. He must subsist in the very human nature that was created in the beginning, and as far as his humanity is concerned, he must have been with us in the loins of Adam. He must be a very real “son of man”. This is necessary, for otherwise He cannot make the required satisfaction. As we have seen before, God will not punish the sin of man in another creature. This same truth is now positively stated: “the justice of God requires that the same human nature which hath sinned, should likewise make satisfaction for sin.” The punishment inflicted must be equivalent to the sin committed; the evil suffered must be commensurate to the evil done. Such is God’s justice. Human sin is sin committed in and through the human nature, the human soul, the human mind and will and heart, the human body, the human eye and ear and mouth and hand and foot; such sin can be atoned for only by suffering human punishment, i.e. death in the human nature. A cow or a dog could not possibly receive the punishment for sin committed in the human nature. We may add here, that Christ must also be very man, and actually subsist in our nature, because as mediator He must be able to deliver us from death, and impart His own new resurrection-life to us, and this is possible only if He is organically related to us, if He partakes of our human nature. It would be quite impossible to transfuse the blood of a horse into the veins of a human body; and similarly, the resurrected Lord could never transfuse His own life into our hearts, if He were not related to us. A mediator that is to save us, i.e., who is to make the required satisfaction, and who is also able to deliver us from the power of sin and the dominion of death, and give us new life, must be very man.

But he must also be perfectly righteous. This means, first of all, that he must not fall under the imputation of Adam’s first transgression. Though, according to his nature, he is like us in all respects, and was with us in the loins of Adam, yet he must not personally stand in the same relation to the first man Adam as we. He must have no original guilt. Secondly, this also implies that he must be free from original pollution. Even though he is a son of man, born of woman, blood of our blood, and flesh of our flesh, yet the defilement and pollution that adheres to all men, to the whole human nature, may not cleave to him. He must be perfectly righteous. And the reason which the Heidelberg Catechism here gives is, that “one, who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others”. The underlying thought here seems to be that one, who is himself a sinner, would have to satisfy for himself, and could never apply his satisfaction to others. And this is self-evident. But we may go a step further, and say that no sinner can bring the required satisfaction at all, not even for himself. This truth we have repeatedly tried to make plain. Let it suffice now, therefore, to remind ourselves that to satisfy the justice of Cod with respect to sin, one must be able to bring the perfect sacrifice of love. Nothing less will do. And one, who is himself a sinner, is wholly incapable to bring that sacrifice. A mediator, that is to save us, therefore, must be perfectly righteous; he must have neither original guilt, nor original pollution; and all his life and death must be perfectly consecrated to the living God.

But why must our mediator also be very God? In the conclusion of the previous Lord’s Day it was stated that the “sort of a mediator” we need must be “more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also very God”. Let us take note of this, lest we receive a wrong conception of what this name “mediator” indicates. Often it is presented as if a mediator is someone, who stands in between God and man. They, i.e. God and man, are at variance. They are separated from each other. And now a third party interposes himself between them to bring them together. He reconciles God to man, and man to God. But let us notice here, that the Catechism knows nothing of intermediary beings between God and man. A mere creature, so it is taught us, cannot sustain the wrath of God and deliver others. Very well; a mediator must, therefore, be more powerful than any mere creature. Does that mean that we must look for a third, a kind of intermediate being, that is greater than all creatures, yet is not very God? But no; if mere creature is incapable of sustaining the wrath of God, there is only one other possibility: that God does it Himself!   0, indeed, the mediator we need

must also be very man. He must be God and man united. But do not make the mistake that for this reason you consider this mediator a sort of intermediate being, standing between God and man. For such a mediator, who is real man and very God, could not possibly come into being by an act of God and man both, by each coming half way to meet the other; but the very idea of such a mediator implies that God Himself comes down, reaches down all the way to man’s low estate, to become His own mediator in our behalf!

Very God the mediator must be. That means that He must be of the divine essence. He must be the eternal One Himself, the I AM, the infinite God, Who exists in Himself, and has life in Himself, Who is the almighty, the all wise, the omniscient, the Lord of all! The mediator must not be a god, but he must be very God! For, first of all, the Catechism reminds us, he must sustain, “ertragen”, bear completely bear through, and bear to the end, the wrath of God against sin; and this no mere creature can do. There must be divine power to bear to the end, and to bear away, to bear and live through divine wrath. Hence, the mediator we need must be very God. And there must be a very intimate relation, a close union between the divine and the human nature of this mediator. For, although the mere human nature could never sustain the wrath of God and live, yet, it must be in that human nature that the wrath of God must be borne! The divine nature could not be the object of the divine wrath. Nor can the divine nature suffer and die. The relation between the real manhood and true Godhead of this mediator, therefore, must be such, that in the human nature the divine nature sustains the infinite wrath of God, that God bears the punishment for sin in the human nature! He must, therefore, not only be real man and very God, but be man and God in one person! Only then can he sustain the wrath of God to the end and live. Only then can he give infinite value to his atoning sacrifice. And only then can he deliver us from the power of sin and death, and restore to us righteousness and life! Indeed, the incarnation is necessary. Without it there is no possible salvation.