The Recovery of Fallen Man
We believe that our most gracious God, in his admirable wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had thus thrown himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself wholly miserable, was pleased to seek and comfort him, when he trembling fled from his presence, promising him that he would give his Son (who would be born of a woman) to bruise the head of the serpent and to make him blessed.
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ
We confess, therefore, that God has fulfilled the promise which he made to the fathers by the mouth of his holy prophets, when he sent into the world, at the time appointed by him, his own-begotten and eternal Son, who 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; being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit without the means of man; and did not only assume 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 partook of the flesh and blood of the children; that he is a fruit of the loins of David after the flesh; born of the seed of David according to the flesh; a fruit of the womb of Mary; born of a woman; a branch of David; a shoot of the mot of Jesse; sprung from the tribe of Judah; descended from the Jews according to the flesh; of the seed of Abraham, since (A.V.) he took on him the seed of Abraham, and was made like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted; so that in truth he is our IMMANUEL, that is to say, God with us.
I Thessalonians 5:9 (God did not leave all men to the consequences of sin.)
Titus 3:4–7 (Our salvation is due to God’s sovereign mercy.)
Galatians 3:16 (The Covenant of Grace was made with Christ as the second Adam.)
Genesis 3:15; John 3:16 (God’s grace is manifested, “in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator.”)
Galatians 4:4, John 1:1 ,14; Luke 1:35 (Jesus, our Savior, is both human and divine.)
1. How can we summarize the contents of articles 17 and 18?
Articles 17 and 18 answer to the need which arose in connection with man’s fall and depravity (articles 14, 15), and to the statement concerning election and reprobation (article 16). In article 17 the Belgic Confession speaks of God’s love and grace shown by his promise in Gen. 3:15 of a Savior. Article 18 deals with the fulfillment of that promise in the miraculous birth of his Son, Jesus Christ.
2. Which important biblical doctrine emerges at this point?
The doctrine of the Covenant of Grace, according to which God promises that Christ, the Head and Mediator of that Covenant, will put down the Devil and save Adam and the elect seed.
3. Why is this called the “Covenant of Grace?”
By God’s “grace” we mean that wonderful love and favor given to sinners such as we, who are actually deserving of his most terrible wrath and curse. Article 17 vividly portrays such love and favor. It stresses that by means of the first sin in Paradise man had “thrown himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself wholly miserable.” In other words, man had forfeited his right to God’s loving fellowship. But Jehovah, the ever-faithful Covenant God, “was pleased to seek and to comfort him” even though “he trembling Red from his presence.” And the substance of the divine comfort was that man could with confidence believe God’s promise wherein he guaranteed the gift of his Son “to bruise the head of the serpent and to make him blessed.” In this fashion God reveals that salvation is grounded in his sovereign mercy, according to which he covenants to deliver his children through Jesus Christ. Consistent with its free, unmerited blessedness is its name: Covenant of Grace.
4. How does this article emphasize the indispensability of God’s grace?
Article 17 confesses that salvation is entirely a matter of sovereign, free grace. It stresses that man’s death and misery is the result of his own wrongdoing, so that we justly deserve such horrible judgment. Still worse, we see here that man did not return to God after the Fall, but that he fled in fear from God’s presence. But God went out unto man, sought Adam and brought him unto himself and into his covenant fellowship. Please notice that this is a radically different interpretation than that of Pelagianism or Arminianism, both of which call for man in some degree to return to God of his own free will so that God may restore him to his fellowship.
6. What is taught in the 18th article of our Confession?
We may outline the material covered in this article as follows:
A. Christ assumed the human nature:
(1) God gave the Promise by means of the Prophets.
(2) In the fullness of time God sent his Son into the world.
(3) Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
B. The human nature assumed by Christ was truly human:
(1) He assumed a truly human nature in order that he might be a real man, with body and soul.
(2) In opposition to the Anabaptists, He assumed human flesh of his mother.
(3) His incarnation is the overwhelming teaching of scripture.
7. Did the Church of the Old Testament know about Jesus?
God consistently revealed to his people during the Old Testament time that his Son would be the fulfillment of his promise, Through prophecy, symbol, and type God’s word spoke of the Messiah. Progressively clearer and more specific was the prophetic testimony concerning-the birth of Jesus, Gen. 3:15; 12:3; 49:10; Deut. 18:15; Is. 7:11; etc. The entire temple service of the Old Testament was a symbolism which pointed to the Christ, and the personal types of Christ such as Abraham, Melchizedek, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jonah have their realization in Christ.
8. What is meant by the expression: God sent into the world at the time appointed by him his only begotten Son?
God is active in history! Events which seem to us to be sudden and unexpected are actually scheduled by God. Very likely the Confession here has reference to that familiar text, Gal. 4:4, “but when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son . . .” This means that God prepared the way for Christ and for the work of his church by the development of the Roman empire with its enforced unity and its roads; the translation of the Old Testament into the Greek, called the Septuagint; and by the evident collapse of all non-Christian systems of thought and practices.
9. What error has often appeared in connection with the teaching concerning Christ’s body?
It has been maintained that Christ’s body was not real, but only imaginary, or an illusion, in the days when this Confession was written certain Anabaptists denied that Jesus assumed human flesh of his mother, maintaining that his human nature had its origin in heaven. It was their theory that evil was resident in matter, and so they were eager to have Jesus, the sinless One, escape the consequences of an ordinary material body.
10. Was Christ’s birth in any way an exception to the ordinary birth of human beings?
Yes, Christ was “conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit without the means of man,” and therefore had no human father. His conception and birth is a unique miracle. Thus the Holy Spirit’s power wrought a supernatural work, and Jesus, contrary to the laws of nature, was born of a virgin, without a human father.
11. Why was it necessary for Jesus to assume our human nature both as to body and soul?
Body and soul are the two parts or elements of human nature, and in order to be the Savior of both body and soul he had to assume both. We ought here to be reminded of the fact that Christ differs from us in that we have human personality which is the point of union of body and soul for man. Christ’s body and soul were united to his divine person.
12. Was “the blessed virgin Mary” sinless?
No, Mary was also a sinner. No biblical evidence will support the Romanist theory of the “immaculate conception.” It is maintained that in order for Jesus to be born sinless he needed a sinless mother, This is not true, Jesus owes his perfection to the fact that the supernatural power of God miraculously caused him to be born with a perfectly sinless heart and nature.
13. What is the meaning of the Incarnation for us?
Christ is indeed our Immanuel, that is to say, God with us, which means that the ultimate of human blessedness and salvation is attained in him who is the incarnate Son of God. In him we see the fulfillment of that union of God and his people for which God’s people have ever longed. His incarnation means that Covenant fellowship is a reality, and that we need only to exercise patience until the day dawn in which Christ and his own will enjoy that fellowship in the new Jerusalem.
The Union and Distinction of the Two Natures in the Person of Christ
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 each nature retains its own distinct properties. As, then, the divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth, so also has 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 has by His resurrection given immortality to the same, nevertheless he has 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.
John 1:1 (Jesus Christ, the Word, is God.)
Galatians 4:4 (In the fullness of time the Son of God became man.)
Philippians 2:6 (Christ is equal with God the Father.)
Luke 1:35; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9 (Christ’s divine and human natures united in one divine person.)
Hebrews 7:24, 25 (Christ will always be God and man.)
1. What is the historical background of this article? From the earliest times the Church confessed the doctrine of the two natures of Christ as is evident from the Apostolic and the Nicene creeds. Errors and heresies arose, however, which were refuted by the Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D., at which the classic orthodox statement of the doctrine of the two natures was declared. Chalcedon declared Jesus Christ “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of the natures being in no wise 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.”
2. What is meant by affirming that Jesus is “very God” by his power to conquer death?
We mean that Jesus, from all eternity Second Person in the holy Trinity, had the power by virtue of his deity to conquer our fearful enemy, death. We are wont to adopt an attitude which belittles the enormity of the redemptive work of Christ. Only a mediator who is at once very God as well as man could possibly endure the task of paying for our sin in the way of the suffering and death of the Cross!
3. Is it at all possible to conceive of a being with two natures?
If you mean: Can we understand with human reason the relationship of the two natures in Christ, the answer is obvious that we cannot. The Chalcedonian formula is noteworthy support [or this contention in that it only states negatively certain things in order that certain errors may be avoided. Thus, it is good to know that the Scriptures guard against the idea that the human and divine natures in Christ are confused or mingled. Therefore the Confession emphasizes that “each nature retains its own distinct properties.” And these two natures are one in the divine person. This distinguishes Christ, for example, from the kind of thing the Scriptures describe as demon possession, in which such unfortunates are torn by the opposing will of the demon within. Christ is an integrated being, with one point of unity, that is, in his divine person.
4. How long will the Son of God continue to be man?
Christ, the eternal Son of God, “has not changed the reality of his human nature.” This means that he is unchangeably human, as well as divine, even now in heaven. One day we shall know him perfectly when we join him in the glory of the new heavens and tIle new earth.
5. What special application does this article make of the doctrine of the two natures of Christ?
This doctrine is applied so as to extend to Christ’s redemptive suffering as our Savior. This constitutes an impenetrable mystery, but nevertheless a most blessed truth. We are asked to believe, therefore, that both human and divine natures were active in his suffering and death.
6. What is the significance of this for us?
The Confession thus explains the possibility of a redemption which covers the multitude of God’s elect through the work of one Savior. If it were not so that the eternal Son of God was both human and divine, “even when he lay in the grave,” we could never explain how it is possible for his death to be a ransom for many. Now, however, his awful sacrifice, made possible by the support of the divine nature, is of such value and significance that by the work of the one Savior all the elect are saved.
7. What does this article teach us as to the character of our Mediator?
This article affirms that our Lord Jesus was not a kind of halfway being between God and man, but that he is a person who is both God and man at the same time. He is as truly God as if he were not man at all; and he is as truly man as if he were not God at all. Thus in the record of Christ’s life on earth at one point his deity shines forth, as when he said “Before Abraham was, I am;” at another point his humanity comes to manifestation, as when he said “I thirst.” It is important to understand this lest we conceive of our Lord as something of a freak, who is neither God nor man actually. Fact is that he is both God and man, and that he is our Mediator in that he comes down out of heaven to assume our human nature that he may serve his people as a genuine Savior.
8. How does the fact that Jesus Christ, the Mediator, is truly God guarantee the success of the plan of salvation?
Jesus Christ, the Mediator, as the Second Adam out of heaven could not fail because he was and remained sinless. His ability to withstand temptation and to persist in the way of perfect righteousness is due to his being truly God. Being almighty, Jesus was more powerful than all his foes, and was assured of successful fulfillment of the task laid upon him as our Savior.
9. Was it really necessary for Jesus to be man as well as God?
His very real human nature made it possible for him to die in our stead, to surfer the atoning death, and to sympathize with us in our infirmity and weakness. He became a member of our race—by an act of greatest humiliation!—so that he could rightfully work out the mediatorial task as one like unto those for whom he suffered. By virtue of his human nature the suffering of Christ becomes a basis for the forgiveness of our sins, and the adoption of believers as sons of God.