Friday, April 11, 2014

Commentary on Lord's Day 14


Question 35. What is the meaning of these words, “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary?”

Answer. That God’s eternal Son, who is, and continueth true and eternal God, took upon him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, that he might also be the true seed of David, like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted.


The exposition of this question is necessary on account of ancient and modern heretics, who have denied, and who now deny, that the flesh of Christ was taken from the substance of the Virgin. The Eutychians argue: Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost; therefore the flesh of Christ was produced from the substance of the Divinity, or from the essence of the Holy Ghost, and by this means the divine nature was changed into the human. The fallacy of this argument arises from an incorrect use of a figurative mode of speaking; for the terms by, from, or of the Holy Ghost do not signify a material, but an efficient cause, the power, efficacy, virtue, or operation of the Holy Ghost; for it was by the virtue, or operation of the Holy Ghost that the Son of God was conceived in the womb of the Virgin, according to the words of the angel: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” (Luke 1:35.) Christ is also called the seed of Abraham, the Son of David. Therefore he took his flesh from these fathers, and not from the Holy Ghost. As we are born of God because he made us, so Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost; because it was by his virtue and operation that he was conceived; and not because he was formed from the substance of the Holy Ghost.
Obj. But if the particle of or by does not signify a material cause when used of the Holy Ghost, then, in like manner, it cannot signify this when it is said of Christ that he was born of the Virgin Mary. Ans. The cases are not exactly parallel, for in relation to the latter article, it behooved Christ to be born of the seed of David; but when it is said he was conceived of, or by the Holy Ghost, the particle by cannot refer to or signify a material case, for these reasons: 1. Because, if this were true, then that which immediately follows, viz., that he was born of the Virgin Mary, would not be true. 2. Because God is not susceptible of any change, and therefore, cannot be changed into flesh. 3. Because the Word assumed flesh, but was not changed into it.
What, therefore, does the conception of Christ by the Holy Ghost signify? Three things are comprehended in it. 1. That Christ was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin, by the immediate action, or operation of the Holy Ghost, without the seed and substance of man, so that his human nature was formed from his mother alone, contrary to the order of things which God has established in nature, as it is said, “The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” (Luke 1:35.) If it be here objected, that God has also formed us, we reply, that we have been formed mediately, and not immediately as Christ was, from which it is evident that the examples are not the same.
2. The Holy Ghost miraculously sanctified that which was conceived and produced in the womb of the Virgin, so that original sin did not attach itself to that which was thus formed; for it did not become the Word, the Son of God, to assume a nature polluted with sin, for the following reasons: 1. That he might be a pure sacrifice; for it behooved him to make satisfaction for sin. 2. That he might also, by his purity, sanctify others. 3. That we might know that whatever the Son says is truth; for that which is born of flesh, which is sinful, and not sanctified, is flesh, falsehood and vanity.
Obj. But Christ was born of a mother that was a sinner. Therefore he himself had sin. Ans. The Holy Ghost knows best how to distinguish and separate sin from the nature of man; for sin is not from the nature of man, but was added to it from the devil.
3. That the hypostatical union of the two natures, the divine and the human, was formed by the same Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin, immediately and at the very moment of his conception.
The meaning, therefore, of this article, he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, is, that the Holy Ghost was the immediate author of the miraculous conception of the flesh of Christ—that he separated all impurity of original sin from that which was thus conceived, and united the flesh with the Word in a personal union in the very moment of conception.
He was born of the Virgin Mary. It behooved the Messiah to be born of the Virgin according to the predictions of the prophets, that he might be a High Priest without sin, and the type or figure of our spiritual regeneration, which is not of the will of flesh, but of God. Hence it is added in the Creed, that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary:
1. That the truth of the human nature assumed by the Son of God might thus be signified, that is to say, that Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, and was born a true man from the substance of Mary his mother; or, the flesh of Christ, although miraculously conceived, was nevertheless taken, and born of the Virgin.
2. That we may know that Christ has descended from the fathers from whom Mary also was, that is to say, that he was the true seed of Abraham, being born from his seed, and that he was the Son of David, being born from the daughter of David, according to the prophecies and promises.
3. That we may know that the Scriptures are fulfilled, which declared, “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” (Is. 7:14. Gen. 3:15.) From this fulfillment of prophecy, by which it was foretold that Christ should be born of a Virgin of the family of David, and that by a miraculous conception, which the prophets did in a manner foretell, it is most clearly manifest that this man Jesus, born of the Virgin, is the promised Messiah, or the Christ, the redeemer of the human race.
4. That we may know that Christ was sanctified in the womb of the Virgin, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and is, therefore, pure and without sin.
5. That we may know that there is an analogy between the nativity of Christ, and the regeneration of the faithful; for the birth of Christ of the Virgin is a sign of our spiritual regeneration, which is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Question 36. What profit dost thou receive by Christ’s holy conception and nativity?

Answer. That he is our mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sins, wherein I was conceived and brought forth.


There are two benefits resulting from the holy conception and nativity of Christ. First, the confirmation of our faith that he is the mediator; and, secondly, the consolation that we are justified before God through him. The reason of this arises from the fact, that he could not be the mediator between God and man, who is not himself very man, and perfectly righteous, and who is not united with the Word. It behooved the mediator to be, by nature, true God and man, that he might preserve the salvation purchased for us. “For such an High-Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” (Heb. 7:26.)
What, therefore, is the meaning of this article, I believe in Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary?
First, I believe that this natural Son of God was made true man in a miraculous manner, and that he is one Christ having two natures, the divine and human, joined together by a personal union, and that he was sanctified by the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.
Secondly, I believe that he is such, true God and true man, and yet but one Christ, and that he was sanctified from his mother’s womb, that he might redeem and sanctify me, (which he could not do unless sanctification and union were effected in him) and that I have the right of the adoption of the sons of God, for the sake of this, his Son, conceived and born in the manner just described.


The article of the incarnation, or of the two natures in Christ, and their hypostatical union is next to be considered. The questions which are here to be expounded somewhat largely, are the following:

          I.      Are there two natures in the Mediator?
          II.      Do these natures constitute one or two persons?
          III.      If but one person, what is the nature of this union?
          IV.      Why was it necessary that the hypostatical union should be constituted?


That Christ has a divine nature has already been proven. That he has a human nature was formerly denied by Marcion, and is to this day denied by the Swenckfieldians, who hold that Christ is a man only in name. It is, therefore, to be proven against heretics, that Christ is a true and natural man, consisting of a body and soul, perfectly and truly, and subject to all infirmities, sin excepted. The proofs of this are:
1. The testimonies of Scripture, which teach that Christ had all the parts of human nature, and that he was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified, are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore, in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” “For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 2:11–18, & 4:15.) Those passages of Scripture are here likewise in point, in which our Lord himself confirmed the truth of his human nature after his resurrection, as when he said to the disciples, “Handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have,” &c. (Luke 24:39, 40.)
There have been those who have maintained that the Divinity of Christ was constituted the soul of his body. Thus Appollinarius taught, that Christ had indeed a true human nature, but that the Word was united to him in the place of a soul. This heresy is easily refuted by the words of Christ himself, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Matt. 27:38.) The body now cannot be said to be sorrowful, for it is not susceptible of grief; neither can sadness be attributed to the Divinity, for this is free from every passion. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit, and having thus said he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46.) The spirit here signifies the soul, and not the Divinity, because the Divinity never departed from the human nature. And, again, it is said by Paul, Heb. 2:17, “It behooved him to be made like unto his brethren.” But without a soul he would not have been like unto his brethren in all things; for he would not have been a true man. Hence it must needs be that Christ had a human soul.
2. The same doctrine is also confirmed by the divine promises and prophecies; for the Messiah was promised to be such an one as would be the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the son of David, the son of a Virgin, &c. “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” (Gen. 3:15. Is. 7:14. Matt. 1:1. Luke 1:42. Rom. 1:3.) The argument which is drawn from these declarations made in relation to the Messiah, is most convincing; for if the humanity which he assumed was from the seed of Abraham, and of David, then he had a real human nature.
3. The office of mediator demanded in Christ, our deliverer, a true human nature taken from ours, which had sinned, and which was to be redeemed through him, as we have shown in the former part of this work; for it behooved the same nature which had sinned, to suffer and make satisfaction for sin. Therefore, inasmuch as our nature sinned, Christ took this upon himself, and not a nature created out of nothing, or brought down from heaven, &c. Nor did it merely behoove our mediator to take upon him our nature, but it was further necessary that he should retain and keep it for ever; because the Father receives us into his favor only upon the condition that we remain engrafted into his Son. This consolation, too, that Christ is our brother, that he bears our nature, and is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, is necessary for us continually, even in eternity; for we should lose this consolation if Christ had not truly taken our nature, and would not retain it forever. Without this he would not be our brother.
Obj. 1. The flesh of Adam (that is, that which is made over to his posterity by generation) is sinful. But the flesh of Christ is not sinful. Therefore it is not of the flesh of Adam. Ans. There is here a fallacy of accident, in affirming that to be true of the substance which is true only by an accident. Since the flesh of Adam is not sinful in itself, but only by an accident, it also follows that the flesh of Christ is, only in respect to that accident, not the flesh of Adam, but is, according to the substance, the same flesh of Adam. Hence the argument ought rather to be changed thus: The flesh of Adam is true flesh. The flesh of Christ is the flesh of Adam. Therefore the flesh of Christ is true flesh.
Obj. 2. Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost. Therefore his flesh was produced and propagated from the substance of the Holy Ghost, and is for this reason no creature. Ans. We reply to this as we did to the objection brought forward under the thirty-fifth Question of the Catechism, that there is a fallacy in misunderstanding the figure of speech that is employed; inasmuch as the particle by does not signify a material, but an efficient cause.
Obj. 3. In God there are not two natures. Christ is God. Therefore there are not two natures in Christ. Ans. Nothing can be established by mere particulars: for the major does not express what is universally true; but what is true only of God, the Father, and Holy Ghost, and not of the incarnate Son, which is God manifested in the flesh.
Reply 1. But nothing can be added unto God by reason of his perfection. The Son is God. Therefore it is not possible to add human nature to his Divinity. Ans. We grant that nothing can be added to God by way of perfection, so as to change or perfect his essence; but there may be something added to him by copulation, or union; because he took upon him the seed of Abraham.
Rep. 2. God dwells in light inaccesible. Therefore it is not possible that human nature could ever approach him. Ans. It is conceded that human nature cannot approach God, much less become personally united to him, unless he draw, assume, and unite it with himself.
Rep. 3. It is reproachful to God to be a creature. Ans. It would, indeed, be reproachful to God if he were to be changed into a creature; but that he should be united with a created nature, without a change of his own essence, is honorable unto God, as he, by this means, demonstrates to the whole world, his infinite wisdom, goodness and power.


There are two natures in Christ, whole and distinct; but only one person. Marcion taught that there were two Christs: the one crucified, the other not: and that the one came to the assistance of the other upon the cross. But it behooved one to be Christ, because it was necessary that one should be mediator both by merit and efficacy. Therefore there must needs be only one person.
Obj. 1. In whom there are two things which constitute two entire persons, in him there are also two persons. In Christ there are two natures which constitute two entire persons; for the Word is a complete person, whilst body and soul also constitute a person. Therefore there are two persons in Christ. Ans. We deny that part of the minor proposition which affirms that body and soul, in connection with the Word, constitute a person. This appears to be false, according to the definition which we have given of person, which does not belong to the human nature assumed by the Word; for it does not subsist by itself, but is sustained in, and by another, viz., in and by the Word. It was formed and assumed by the Word at one and the same time, and never would have existed, unless it had been assumed by the Word; nor could it even now exist were it not sustained by the Word. It is also a part of another, viz., of the mediator. But a person, according to the definition which we have given, is something individual, intelligent, subsisting by itself, not sustained by another, nor part of another. Hence it is evident that the human nature of Christ is not in, and of itself, a proper person, although it may be said to belong to the substance of Christ, and to be a part of him. The Word, however, was and is a person, and yet has a relation to our nature in as far as he has taken it upon himself. Hence it is correct to say: the person took the nature, and the nature assumed a nature; but we cannot correctly say, the person took a person, or the nature took a person; for the human nature which is in Christ was created in order that it might be made a part of another, so that we may properly say that it is a part of another; yet, when we so speak, all imperfections must be carefully excluded. Many, however, refrain from the use of such language in consequence of the dangers and abuses to which it may lead. Yet Damascenus and others often use this form of speaking.
Obj. 2. But, according to this the Word cannot be a person, because he is a part of the person; and that which is only a part cannot be a person. Ans. That which is only part of a person (and such a part that is not of itself a person) is no person; or, that which is a part of a person, is not that person of which it is a part. And so it may be said of the Word, if it be properly understood, that he is not the whole person of the mediator, although he is in, and of himself, a whole and complete person in respect to the Godhead.
Obj. 3. God and man are two persons. Christ is God and man. Therefore there are two persons in him. Ans. The major is true if we understand God and man as existing separately, without any union. But Christ is God and man in union. There is, therefore, here a fallacy of composition and division; for in the major proposition God and man are taken disjunctively, or as existing separately; and in the minor conjunctively, or as joined together.
Reply 1. But the Word united to himself a body and soul; and, therefore, a person. Ans. It is true, indeed, he united these to himself, but it was by a personal union, so that the body and soul which Christ took, do not exist by themselves, but in the person of the Word.
Reply 2. But he united to himself the essential parts of a person, and therefore he must also have united a person. Ans. This holds true merely in relation to such parts as subsist by themselves; but the body and soul of Christ do not subsist, nor could they ever have subsisted, unless in this union.


The union which exists between the two natures in Christ was made by the operation of the Holy Ghost in the very conception, in such a manner that the two natures subsist in the single person of Christ, without confusion, without change, indivisible, and inseparable, as it is expressed in the Calcedonian creed. It is called the hypostatical or personal union, because the two natures that are different are united in a mysterious manner in one person, whilst the essential properties of each nature are retained whole and entire. It is on account of this union that Christ is called, and is true God and man in respect to the distinct natures of which he is possessed: he is very God according to the divine, and very man according to the human nature. “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” “In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” “The word was made flesh.” “He took upon him the seed of Abraham.” “God was manifested in the flesh.” (Luke 1:35. Col. 2:9. John 1:14. Heb. 2:16. 1 Tim. 3:16.)


The reasons which made it necessary that the mediator should be a true man, and perfectly righteous, and at the same time, true God, have been presented and explained under the 16th and 17th Questions of the Catechism, so that it is not necessary that we should here repeat them. Fo these reasons it was necessary that a personal union should be effected between the natures of the mediator, that he might at the same time be very man and very God, who might be able to restore and merit for us that righteousness and life which we have lost; for had not these natures concurred and met together in the person of the Word, as above described, he could not have accomplished the work of our redemption.

Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 205–211). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.