“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)
The work propounded by the Father in the covenant of redemption infinitely exceeds the power of any mere creature to perform. He who undertakes to satisfy God by obedience must be God, and He who performs such perfect obedience in our place (by doing and suffering all that the law requires) must be man. These two natures must be united in one person, or else there could not be a co-operation of either nature in His mediatory work. How these natures are united in the wonderful person of our Immanuel is the first part of the great mystery of godliness, and it is declared in our verse: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Here the incarnation of the Son is plainly asserted. This assertion contains three parts.
First, the person: “the Word.” He is the second person (or, subsistent) in the most glorious Godhead. He is called “the Word” because He is the scope of the prophetic Word or because He reveals the mind and will of God to us: “The only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18).
Second, the nature: “flesh.” This is the entire human nature, consisting of a true human soul and body.
Third, the assumption: “the Word was made flesh.” He took (or, assumed) the true human nature (called “flesh”) into the unity of His divine person, with all its integral parts and essential properties. And so, He “was made” (or, became) a true and real man (Heb. 2:16). It was the work of the whole Trinity: God the Father in the Son by the Spirit formed (or, created) that nature, yet it was the Son alone who was made flesh. We must not misconceive this to mean that there was a mutation of the Godhead into flesh, for the incarnation was performed “not by changing what He was, but by assuming what He was not” (Augustine). When Scripture says that Christ was “made sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) or “made a curse” (Gal. 3:13), it does not mean that He was turned into sin or into a curse. Similarly, when we say that the Son became flesh, we must not think that the Godhead was turned into flesh, and thereby lost its own being and nature.
This assertion (“the Word was made flesh”) is strongly confirmed by the apostle John: “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.” This was no illusion, but a most real and undeniable thing, for the apostles were eyewitnesses of it (1 John 1:1–3).
Doctrine: Christ really assumed the true and perfect human nature into a personal union with His divine nature, and He remains true God and true man in one person forever.
This doctrine declares one of the deepest mysteries of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). It is a mystery by which apprehension is dazzled, invention is astonished, and all expression is swallowed. We walk here upon the brink of danger, for the slightest misstep might engulf us in the bogs of error. It is a doctrine hard to understand and dangerous to mistake. The Son assumed a true human body (Phil. 2:7–8; Heb. 2:14–16), and He assumed a true human soul (Matt. 26:38; 27:50). Both His natures (divine and human) make but one person (Rom. 1:3–4; 9:5). That we may have a sound and clear understanding of this mystery, I will consider the nature, effect, and purpose of this wonderful union.
The Nature of this Union
There are three dazzling unions in Scripture: (1) three persons in one God, essentially; (2) two distinct persons by one Spirit, mystically; and (3) two distinct natures in one person, hypostatically. My task is to explain the third.
First, we must not think that, when Christ assumed our nature, it was united consubstantially as the three persons in the Godhead are united among themselves. They have but one and the same nature and will, but Christ (though He is one person) has two distinct natures and wills.
Second, we must not think that Christ’s divine nature and human nature are united physically like the soul and body are united in one person. Death dissolves the union between soul and body. But the union between Christ’s two natures is indissoluble. When His soul expired and His body was interred, both His soul and body were still united to the second person.
Third, we must not think that Christ’s divine nature and human nature are united mystically like the union that is between Christ and believers. Though believers are said to be in Christ and Christ in them, they are not one person with Him.
The hypostatical union is that whereby the second person in the Godhead took the human nature into a personal union with Himself by virtue whereof the manhood subsists in the second person, yet without confusion, both making but one person, Immanuel (God with us). Though we ascribe a two-fold nature to Christ, we do not ascribe a double person. The human nature of Christ never subsisted separately and distinctly by any personal subsistence of its own. From the first moment of conception, it subsisted in union with the second person. To explain this mystery more particularly, consider the following five points.
First, the human nature was united to the second person miraculously and extraordinarily, being supernaturally framed in the womb of the Virgin by the over-shadowing power of the Most High (Luke 1:34–35). For this reason, it may truly and properly be said to be the fruit of the womb, but not by the loins of a man. This was necessary in order to exempt the assumed human nature from the pollution of Adam’s sin. Christ received the human nature, not (as all others do) in the way of ordinary generation in which original sin is propagated. His human nature was extraordinarily produced and was a most pure and holy thing (Luke 1:35). The two natures could not be conjoined in the person of Christ if there had been the least taint of sin upon the human nature. For God can have no fellowship with sin, much less be united to it (Heb. 7:26).
Second, the human nature was assumed integrally; that is to say, Christ took a complete and perfect human soul and body with every faculty and member. This was necessary so that He might heal the whole nature of the leprosy of sin which has seized and infected every member and faculty. He assumed all to sanctify all.
Third, the human nature was assumed with all its sinless infirmities (Heb. 2:17). These include hunger, thirst, weariness, sweating, bleeding, mortality, etc. They are not in themselves formally and intrinsically sinful, yet they are the effects and consequents of sin. On that account, Christ is said to be sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Here we see the gracious condescension of Christ for us. He did not assume our innocent nature as it was in Adam before the fall while it stood in all its primitive glory and perfection, but He assumed it after sin had defaced, ruined, and spoiled it.
Fourth, the human nature is so united with the divine nature that each nature still retains its own essential properties. This distinction is not lost by the union. The divine and human are not confounded, but a line of distinction runs between them in this wonderful person.
Fifth, the union of the two natures in Christ is inseparable. The natural union between His soul and body was dissolved for a time by His death, but the hypostatical union remained as entire and firm as ever. Though His soul and body were divided from each other, yet neither of them was divided from the divine nature. When Christ died, His soul and body retained their union with the divine nature, though not (during that space) with each other.
And thus, we are to form and regulate our conceptions of this great mystery.
The Effect of this Union
There are three immediate results of this marvelous union. First, the two natures are united in the person of the Mediator, and the properties of each nature are attributed (and do truly agree) in the whole person. Thus, it is proper to say that the Lord of glory was crucified (1 Cor. 2:8), and that the blood of God redeemed the church (Acts 20:28), and that Christ was both in heaven and earth at the same time (John 3:13). Yet we do not believe that one nature imparts its properties to the other, or that it is proper to say that the divine nature suffered, bled, or died, or that the human nature is omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. The properties of both natures are so ascribed to the person that it is proper to affirm any of them of Him in the concrete, though not abstractly. The right understanding of this greatly assists in teaching the true sense of many dark passages of Scripture.
Second, another fruit of this hypostatical union is the singular advancement of the human nature in Christ far beyond what is possible in any other person. It is filled with an unparalleled measure of divine graces and excellencies (Ps. 14:8), and therefore becomes the object of adoration (Acts 7:59).
Third, Christ acts according to both natures in His mediatory work. The human nature does what is human (e.g., suffering, sweating, bleeding, dying), and His divine nature stamps all these with infinite value. And so, they sweetly concur unto one glorious work and design of mediation.
The Purpose of this Union
The last thing to be considered is the grounds and reasons of this assumption. The divine nature did not assume the human nature necessarily, but voluntarily; that is to say, the divine nature did not assume the human nature to be perfected by it, but to prepare and qualify Christ for a full discharge of His mediatorship in the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. (1) Without this double nature in the unity of His person, Christ could not have been our Prophet. As God, He knows God’s mind and will (John 1:18). As man, He is fitted to impart this knowledge to us (Deut. 18:15–18; Acts 20:22). (2) Without this double nature in the unity of His person, Christ could not have been our Priest. If He had not been man, He could not have shed His blood. If He had not been God, His shed blood would not have been of adequate value for us (Acts 3:28). (3) Without this double nature in the unity of His person, Christ could not have been our King. If He had not been man, He would not have been related to us, and thus He would not have been a fit head for us. If He had not been God, He could neither rule nor defend His body, the church.
It is important to be convinced of this truth, and to defend it against all adversaries. The dividing of Christ’s person (which is one) and the confounding of His natures (which are two) has been the occasion of those errors which have greatly disturbed the peace of the church. The Arians denied His deity. The Apollinarians maimed His humanity. The Sabellians affirmed that the Father and the Spirit were incarnated as well as the Son. Because of that absurdity, they were forced to deny the three distinct persons in the Godhead and affirm that they are but three names. The Eutychians confounded both natures in Christ, denying any distinction between them. The Seleusians affirmed that Christ unclothed Himself of His humanity when He ascended, and that He has no human body in heaven. The Nestorians so separate the two natures of Christ as to make them two distinct persons.
But we have not learned Christ in this way. We know that (1) He is true and very God, (2) He is true and very man, (3) the two natures make but one person, being united inseparably, and (4) the two natures are not confounded or swallowed up in one another, but remain distinct in the person of Christ. Great things hang upon all these truths. We must not remove a single stone from this foundation.
It reveals the love of the Father and the Son. The Father so fervently willed our salvation that He was content to degrade the darling of His soul to so vile and contemptible a state (Phil. 2:7). He seems (as it were) to forget His relation to His own Son. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). And how astonishing is the love of Christ that He would humble Himself to exalt us? It is ravishing to think that He would pass by a more excellent species of creatures, refusing the angelic nature, to take the human nature (Heb. 2:16)—to make Himself a subject capable of sorrows, wounds, and tears. O, that we would get our hearts suitably affected with these high impressions of the love of the Father and the Son!
It reveals the infinite wisdom of God in devising the method of our recovery. Christ is indeed “the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). The divine wisdom is more glorified in Him than in all of God’s other works.
The Christian religion is incomparably sweet, for it shows poor sinners a just foundation upon which to rest their trembling consciences. Formerly, our conscience saw God arming Himself with wrath to avenge; but now we see God coming down and so intimately uniting our flesh to Himself that it has no subsistence of its own but is united with the divine person. Hence, it is easy to imagine what value must be in that blood, and how eternal love flourishes into pardon, grace, and peace. Here is the way in which the sinner may see justice and mercy kissing each other. O, happy are those who have dropped their anchor on this ground! They have peace.
It is necessary that Christ should have a union with our particular persons as well as with our common nature. This union with our nature is utterly useless to us, and will do us no good, except He has a union with our person by faith. It is indeed infinite mercy that God has come so near to us as to dwell in our flesh, and that He has established such an excellent method to save poor sinners. Do we refuse Him and shut our heart against Him? If so, our sin is hereby aggravated beyond the sin of demons who never sinned against a mediator in their own nature. I doubt not that the demons will mock, for all eternity, those who have rejected such a great salvation.
Christ is sensibly touched with the infirmities that attend human nature. This means He has pity and compassion for us under all our burdens (Heb. 2:17–18). O, what a comfort is this! Our High Priest in heaven has our nature to enable Him to take compassion on us.
God has laid the foundation of our eternal happiness in the incarnation of His Son. The glory of our body and soul is founded in Christ’s taking our flesh upon Himself. God will transform our vile bodies and make them conformable to Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21). A greater honor cannot be done to human nature than what is already done by this grace of union, and our persons are incapable of a higher glory than what consists in our conformity to our glorious head, Christ. The flesh of Christ will always have a glory distinct from ours in heaven. It is advanced above our flesh and blood in two ways. First, subjectively, it is the flesh and blood of God (Acts 20:28), and so it has a distinct and incommunicable glory of its own. Second, objectively, it is the flesh and blood which all the angels and saints adore.
It is a comfort to know that He who dwells in our flesh is God. A poor believer can take great joy from this. We are sure our beloved is Christ, and Christ is God. When we say, our Christ is God, we have said everything. We can say no more. He is God and man in one person. As man, He is full of an experimental sense of our wants, burdens, and infirmities. As God, He can support and supply them all.