The Reformed Churches: We Distinguish But Do Not Separate The Two Natures Of Christ

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

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.

It was necessary that our Mediator should not only be a man, and one that was truly such, and perfectly righteous; but that he should also be God—the true and mighty God—and not an imaginary Deity, or one that was adorned with excellent gifts, above angels and men, as heretics suppose. The reasons for this are the following:

1. That he might, by the power of his Deity, sustain, in his human nature, the infinite wrath of God against sin, and endure a punishment, which, although it were temporal as it respects its duration, was nevertheless infinite in greatness, dignity, and value. If our Mediator had been only a man, and had taken upon himself the burden of God’s wrath, he would have been crushed under its weight. It was necessary, therefore, that he should be possessed of infinite strength, and for this reason be God, that he might endure an infinite punishment, without sinking into despair, or being crushed under it.

There was a necessity that the punishment of the Mediator should be of infinite value, and equivalent to that which is eternal, that there might be a proportion between sin, and the punishment thereof. For there is not one sin among all the sins committed, from the beginning to the end of the world, so small that it does not deserve eternal death. Every sin is so exceedingly sinful, that it cannot be expiated by the eternal destruction of any creature.

It was proper, however, that this punishment should be finite in respect to time, because it was not necessary that the Mediator should for ever remain under death; but it became him to come forth from death, that he might accomplish the benefit of our redemption, that is, that he might perfectly merit, and having merited, might apply and bestow upon us the salvation which he purchased in our behalf. It was also required of our Mediator, both to merit and bestow righteousness, that he might be a perfect Savior in merit, and efficacy. But these things could not have been accomplished by a mere man, who and of whatever strength he might have been possessed, if he, nevertheless, had not the power to come forth from death. It was necessary, therefore, that he who was to save others from death, should overcome death by his own power, and first throw it off from himself. But this he could not have done had he not been God.

2. It was necessary that the ransom which the Redeemer paid should be of infinite value, that it might possess a dignity and merit sufficient for the redemption of our souls, and that it might avail in the judgment of God, for the purpose of expiating our sins, and restoring in us that righteousness and life which we had lost. Hence it became the person who would make this satisfaction for us, to be possessed of infinite dignity, that is, to be God; for the dignity of this satisfaction, on account of which it might be acceptable to God and of infinite worth, although temporal, consists in two things—in the dignity of the person, and in the greatness of the punishment.

The dignity of the person who suffered appears in this, that it was God, the Creator himself, who died for the sins of the world; which is infinitely more than the destruction of all creatures, and avails more than the holiness of all the angels and men. Hence it is, that the Apostles, when they speak of the sufferings of Christ, almost always make mention of his Divinity. “God has purchased the Church with his blood.” “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world.” Yea, God himself, in Paradise, joined together these two: “The seed of the woman shall bruise thy head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Acts 20:28. 1 John 1:7. John 1:29. Gen. 3:15.)

The greatness of the punishment which Christ endured appears in this, that he sustained the dreadful torments of hell, and the wrath of God against the sins of the whole world. “The pains of hell laid hold upon me.” “God is a consuming fire.” “The Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all.” (Ps. 116:3. Deut. 4:24. Is. 53:10.) From this we may perceive why it was, that Christ manifested such signs of distress in the prospect of death, whilst many of the martyrs met death with the greatest courage and composure.

Objection: The perfect fulfillment of the law by obedience might have been a satisfaction for our sins. But a mere man, had he only been perfectly righteous, might have fulfilled the law by obedience. Therefore, a mere man, being perfectly righteous, might have satisfied for our sins—and hence it was not necessary that our Mediator should be God.

Answer:

  1. 1. We deny the major proposition, because it has already been shown that when obedience was once impaired, it was not possible that the justice of God could be satisfied for sin, unless by a sufficient punishment on account of the divine threatening, “In the day you cutest thereof, you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17.)
  2. Although we may grant the minor proposition, that a mere man, by his obedience, might fulfill the law perfectly, yet this obedience could not be a satisfaction for the sins of another, be cause every one is bound to obey the law. It was necessary, therefore, that the Mediator should endure a sufficient punishment for us, and for this reason be armed with divine power; for the devils themselves are not able to sustain the burden of God’s wrath against sin—much less could man. If it be objected, that the devils and the wicked do sustain and are compelled to sustain the eternal wrath of God, we answer, that they do, indeed, sustain the wrath of God, but not so as ever to satisfy his justice, and come out of their punishment; for their punishment will endure for ever. But it behooved the Mediator to endure the burden of God’s wrath, that, having made satisfaction, he might remove it from himself, and also from us.
  3. It was necessary that the Mediator should be God, that he might reveal the secret will of God concerning the redemption of mankind, which he could not have done, had he been merely a man. No creature could ever have known, or discovered, the will of God concerning our redemption, had not the Son of God revealed it. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18.)
  4. It behooved the Mediator to be God, that he might be able to give the Holy Spirit, gather a church, be present with it, and bestow and preserve the benefits purchased by his death. It did not only become him to be made a sacrifice, to throw off death from himself, and intercede for us with God; but it became him also to give assurance that we would no more offend God by our sins. This, however, on account of our corruption, no one could promise in our behalf, who had not the power of giving the Holy Spirit, and through him, the power of conforming us to the image of God. But to give the Holy Spirit, and through him to regenerate the heart, is peculiar to God alone, whose Spirit he is. “Whom I will send unto you from the Father.” (John 15:26.) Only he, who is Lord of nature, can reform it.
  5. Finally, it was necessary that the Messiah should be “THE LORD, OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jer. 23:6.)

Objection: The party offended cannot be Mediator. Christ is the Mediator. Therefore, he cannot be the party offended, that is, God.

Answer: The major proposition is true only when the party offended is such as admits of no personal distinctions; which, however, is not the case as regards the Deity.

40. Why was it necessary for Christ to humble himself even unto death?

Because with respect to the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise than by the death of the Son of God.

The Ubiquitarians [Lutherans] believe that the human nature of Christ, from the moment of the incarnation, was so endowed with all the properties of Deity, that the only difference between this and the Godhead of Christ, is that the former has by accident what the latter has by and of itself. Hence it is, that they imagine that Christ in his death, yea, when he was concealed in the womb of the virgin, was not only as to his Deity, but also as to his body, in heaven, and every where. And this is what they call the form of God, concerning which Paul speaks in Phil. 2:6.

1. But in opposition to all these we believe what is affirmed in the Creed, that Christ was truly dead, and that there was a real separation between his soul and body, and that of a real local character, so that his soul and body were not only not together everywhere, but they were not at the same time in one place; the soul was not where the body was, and the body was not where the soul was. “And Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice yielded up the spirit.“And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the spirit.” “Father into your hands I commend my spirit; and having said thus, he gave up the spirit.” “And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.” (Matt. 27:50. Mark 15:37. Luke 23:46. John 19:30.)

Objection: But he gave up the spirit just as virtue, that is, his Divinity is said to have gone out of him.

Answer: There is a difference here which we must observe; for the Divinity whilst united with the humanity did, nevertheless, operate beyond and without it, but the soul departed from the body. The reason of this difference is, that the Divinity is something uncreated, and therefore infinite, whilst the soul is created, and therefore finite.

2. This is also to be added to what has been said, that although his soul was truly separated from his body, yet the Word did not desert the soul and body, but remained, notwithstanding personally united to each; so that, in this separation of soul and body, the two natures in Christ were not disjoined, or severed.

Objection: But if there was no such separation between the natures of Christ, why did he exclaim, “My God, my God, why hast you forsaken me?”

Answer: This cry was extorted from the suffering Son of God, not on account of any separation of the two natures, but on account of the delay of help and assistance: for the two natures in Christ ought not to be disjoined, because it is written. “God has purchased the church with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28.) And it was necessary that he, who would die for our sins, should be the Son of God, that there might thus be a sufficient ransom. So it is also clearly manifest, that the union of the natures in Christ is no ubiquity: for his soul, being separated from his body, was not in the sepulcher with his body, and consequently not everywhere; because that which is everywhere can never be separated. And yet the union of the natures remained complete even in death, and in the grave.

47. Is Christ then not with us even unto the end of the world, as He has promised?

Christ is true man and true God. According to His human nature He is now not on earth, but according to His Godhead, Majesty, Grace, and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us.

This question anticipates an objection on the part of the Ubiquitarians: Christ promised that he would be with us always, even unto the end of the world. Therefore he did not so ascend into heaven as to be no longer on earth and everywhere by his humanity.

Answer: There is here more in the conclusion than legitimately follows from the premises. Christ speaks of his person, to which he attributes that which belongs with propriety to the Godhead, just as he also said that he was in heaven before his ascension. In like manner he said before his passion, when he as yet conversed with his disciples on earth, “I and my Father will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23.) This he spoke of his Divinity by which he was, and is in heaven, and everywhere, and by which he is present with us in the same way in which the Father is. So we might also turn the argument against them by reasoning thus: “I go away,” said Christ. “I leave the world.” “Me you have not always.” (John 14:28; 16:28. Matt. 26:11.) Therefore he is evidently not with us. But this is attributed in an improper sense to his other nature, his humanity, which remains with us by virtue of that personal union which exists between the two natures of Christ, his divine and human, which union consists in the mysterious and wonderful indissoluble joining together of these two natures in one person, in such a manner that these two natures, thus united, constitute the essence of the person of Christ; so that one nature would be destroyed if separated from the other; and yet each retains its own peculiar properties, which distinguish it from the other. The explanation which Augustin gives of this subject is this: “That, which Christ says, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, is fulfilled according to his majesty, providence and unspeakable grace. But with respect to the human nature which the Word assumed, according to which he was born of the Virgin Mary, apprehended by the Jews, nailed to the cross, taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen cloth, buried in the sepulcher, and which was seen after his resurrection, with respect to this his humanity, ye shall not always have him with you. And why? Because, when he had conversed with his disciples for the space of forty days, being bodily present with them, and when they had accompanied him, to see, not to follow him, he ascended into heaven, and is no longer here. For he is now in heaven, seated at the right hand of God; and is here as to the presence of his majesty, which has not departed from us. Or, it maybe thus expressed: Christ is always present with us with respect to his majesty; but as it regards the presence of his humanity, it was truly said to his disciples, Me ye have not always with you. The Church enjoyed Christ only a few days as it respects the presence of his humanity; now it apprehends him only by faith, and does not see him with the natural eye.” Christ is, therefore, present with us,

  1. By his Spirit and Godhead.
  2. By our faith, and the confidence with which we behold him.
  3. By mutual love; because we love him, and he loves us in such a way as not to forget us.
  4. By union with his human nature; for it is the same Spirit which is in us and him, that unites us to him.
  5. In the hope of consummation, which is the certain hope of coming to him.

48. Since his human nature is not present wherever His Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?

Not at all; for since the Godhead is incomprehensible and everywhere present, it must follow that the same is not limited with the human nature He assumed, and yet remains personally united to it.

This question contains another argument, or objection, which the Ubiquitarians are wont to urge. The two natures, say they, which meet in the person of Christ, are joined by an inseparable union. Therefore wherever the Godhead of Christ is, there his humanity must also necessarily be.

Answer: These two natures are joined together in such a way, that the properties of each still remain distinct. There is, therefore, no change of the one into the other, which would be the case, if both were infinite, and every where.

To this answer they oppose the following objections:

1. Where there are two natures, one of which is not where the other is, they are separated from each other, and do not remain personally united. In the person of Christ there are two natures which remain personally united. Therefore, the human nature of Christ must necessarily be wherever his Godhead is, or else this union will be destroyed.

Answer: The major proposition is true if it be understood of two natures which are equal, that is, which are equally finite, or infinite: but it is false if it has reference to two natures which are not equal, if one, for instance, be finite, and the other infinite. For a nature that is finite, cannot be at one and the same time in many places; but that which is infinite may be entire in the finite, and at the same time be complete without it; and this we may regard as being the case in relation to Christ. His human nature, which is finite, is in but one place; but his divine nature, which is infinite, is in his human nature, and without it, and for this reason every where.

Objection 2: There must, however, at least, be a separation between these natures in Christ, where the human nature is not, although this separation may not he where it is.

Answer: Not at all; because the Godhead is complete, and the same in the human nature, and without it, according to what Gregory Nazianzen say, “The Word is in his own temple, and is every where; but is in an especial manner in his own temple.”

Objection 3: But if the human nature of Christ be not endowed with divine properties, it follows that there is no difference between him and the saints; for there can be no difference between Christ and Peter, unless it be in the equality of his human with his divine nature.

Answer: The antecedent is false, because there are a variety of distinctions between Christ and the saints, beside that to which reference is here had.

Objection 4: The difference between Christ and the saints is either in substance, or in properties and gifts. It is not in substance, because the whole Godhead dwells as well in the saints as in Christ. Therefore it is in properties and gifts.

Answer: We deny that the difference which holds between Christ and the saints is either in substance, or in properties and gifts; because this enumeration is not sufficiently full. There is a third difference, which is not here referred to, which is the mysterious and personal union of the two natures, the divine and human, which is in Christ, but not in Peter, or any of the saints. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, in such a manner that Christ-man is God, and Christ-God is man; but it cannot be said that the Godhead dwells thus in Peter, or in any of the saints.

Objection 5: But it is said, “God hath given him a name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9.)

Answer: He hath given him this name together with his Godhead, that is to say, by virtue of the personal union of the two natures which meet in Christ, and not by virtue of any equaling of these natures. For just as the Godhead is given to Christ, so also are the properties thereof.

Sources:

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
Zacharias Ursinus (1534–83), Body of Orthodox Doctrine or The Explication Of The Catechism

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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5 comments

  1. I think Doug Kelly nails this: “We may attempt to state this mysterious truth another way, although we will still be far from even beginning to enter into the depths of it: Christ’s cry of dereliction does not indicate that the Holy Trinity was ever split apart; for that to happen, everything would collapse into nonbeing, for God would have denied who he is, and his character is the stability of the universe. To split up the Trinity would be to destroy the life of God, and that cannot be done to the ever-living One, to the all-sufficient One, to the ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ According to John chapter 1, when the Son leaves the Father to come down to earth to be made flesh, still he abides in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18; cf. John 17:21).

    “Or it could be said this way: since the very being of God consists in the Triune relationships, so that for God to be is to be in relationship within himself, then to break up the inner-trinitarian relationships would be to destroy who God is, and that is impossible, for it would take a power greater than God (and none such exists), and it would require God to be inconsistent with himself (and he cannot deny himself – II Tim. 2:13). Therefore, for the Son to have experienced the abandonment of his Father must mean something other than that.

    “As best we can discern, since the Father is ‘of purer eyes than to behold evil’ (Hab. 1:13), and since the Son has willingly submitted to be identified with the evil of human sin and its guilt (cf. II Cor. 5:21), then the Father for a time turns away his FAVORABLE gaze, with all of its infinite comfort and joy, from the face of his beloved Son. That is what Goodwin means when he says, ‘The Godhead was not separated, though the operation of comfort from the Godhead were sequestered.’ As the Psalm says: ‘in his favor is life’ (Psalm 30:5), and the turning away of the sensible experience of God’s favor is a kind of death (2 Thess. 1:9).”
    —Douglas F. Kelly

  2. “And yet the union of the natures remained complete even in death, and in the grave.”

    I continue to wrestle with this subject, and I appreciate your interaction in Twitter, and the posts here, Dr Clark.

    • Thank you Adam. These are challenging issues.

      Meditating on the ecumenical creeds helps me:

      1. Athanasian Creed

      29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      30. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
      31. God, of the Substance of the Father; begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his mother, born in the world.
      32. Perfect God: and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
      33. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood.
      34. Who although he be God and man; yet he is not two, but one Christ.
      35. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the manhood into God.
      36. One altogether; not by confusion of substance: but by unity of person.
      37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and man is one Christ;

      Chalcedon (451):

      …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 rational 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 theotokos (θεοτοκος), according to the humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures 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]…

      Here the adverbs, “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” are so important.

  3. “On the Person and Office of Christ
    1. A distinction must be made between the whole Christ and the whole of Christ.
    The usefulness of this distinction consists herein:
    1. The whole Christ is said to be omnipresent, but not the whole of Christ;
    2.The whole Christ is said to be worshipped by us, but not the whole of Christ, i.e. not his human nature.

    2. In Christ the human nature is one thing, his divine nature is another thing.”

    -Johannes Maccovius, Ch. XI, The Theological Distinctions of Johannes Maccovius

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