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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie




In this chapter the heart of the redemptive scheme, an outline of which was given in the last chapter, is reached. The Confession and both Catechisms have very complete statements concerning the person of Christ. The Larger Catechism gives a specially full outline of this cardinal doctrine of the Christian system. The Confession unites in a single chapter what it has to say concerning both the person and the work of the Redeemer. In the first three sections the person of Christ is described.

It can scarcely be necessary to insist upon the vital importance of true scriptural views in regard to this great subject. The Standards, though not, strictly speaking, Christo-centric in their structure, yet give very great prominence to the person and work of the Redeemer in their system. They rightly make this the central topic in their redemptive scheme. As that scheme is wrought out by the method of grace known as the covenant relation, and as Christ is the Mediator of that covenant, and the only Redeemer of the elect who are ordained to life, so he is the centre from whose person and work all the lines of redeeming love and grace radiate. It is the glorious person of the blessed Redeemer, as the God-man, that awaits description in this chapter, as it is set forth in the Standards.

I. A General Statement.

In the Confession there is at the outset a general comprehensive statement relating to th. person of Christ as the Mediator of the covenant between God and man. It is first announced that in his eternal purpose God was pleased to choose and ordain for the work of redemption the Lord Jesus, his oniy begotten Son, to be the Mediator of the second covenant between God and man. In this official and divinely appointed capacity, he was commissioned to act as a prophet, as a priest, and as a king. He was, also, the head and saviour of the church, and heir of all things for himself and his people. He was, also, appointed to be the judge of the world; and this judicial function relates not only to his own church and people, but also to the unbelieving world that remains impenitent, and is finally cast out and punished. Then, the gracious purpose of electing love is emphasized by the Confession in this connection. It is said that from all eternity God the Father did give to the Son, as Mediator, a people to be his seed, and that this people are in time to be redeemed by him. In like manner all things involved in their salvation are made certain, so that all this elect covenant seed shall iii due time be called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. Here the representative principle again emerges. On behalf of that people given in covenant to the Son by the Father, the Son stands and acts. Thus his people are federally identified with him from all eternity, in the covenant. They are his sheep given to him by the Father. And those thus federally in Christ through the covenant are in due time to be spiritually united to him in their effectual calling, and then they are experimentally and consciously joined unto him by faith unto justification. It is in relation to this broad and eternal basis of electing love and grace that the person and work of the Redeemer come into view in the Standards.

II. The Two Natures of the Redeemer.

The doctrine of the Standards touching the person of Christ is to the effect that in his person there are two natures, the human and the divine, joined in an eternal union. This makes the God-man, or the theanthropic person of the Redeemer, according to which he is represented as subsisting with these two natures in one person for ever.

1. The divine nature is to be first described. In this respect Jesus Christ, as Mediator and Redeemer, is the eternal Son of God. He is not Son either as the highest and first creature, or as the official Redeemer only. As the eternal Son of God, he is the second person of the Trinity, and truly of the essence of deity. He is thus of one and the same divine essence as the Father, and equal with him in power and glory. In no respect, therefore, is there any essential inferiority in the Son to the Father. This is a plain emphatic statement of the true deity of the divine nature in the theanthropic person of the Redeemer. In view of the ancient heresies, and of modern kenosis theories concerning the person of Christ, this statement, with its scriptural proofs, is of the highest value. In no respect were the trinitarian relations disturbed by the assumption of the human nature, and hence the stability of the Trinity and the true deity of the eternal logos are preserved in the person of the Redeemer. This is a simple statement of the fact, without any attempt to explain its mystery.

2. The human nature is to be next explained. In the fulness of time this eternal Son became man, or took upon himself manís nature. The former is the language of the Catechisms, and the latter is that of the Confession. In some respects the confessional statement seems to be the better one, although the meaning of the Catechisms is afterwards explained in almost the same sense. The eternal Son did not become man in the sense that he no longer retained his true deity. He did take manís entire nature into abiding union with his deity. In the human nature thus assumed there were all the essential elements of manís nature. He had a true human body of flesh and blood, just like that of any man, sin excepted. He was thus of the seed of Abraham, and not of the nature of angels. Then, too, he bad a reasonable soul, which means that he had all the rational faculties, and the moral powers, and the religious sentiments pertaining to human nature. He became man by taking to himself this true body and reasonable soul, and then he grew up from infancy to manhood just like any other member of the human family. Hence, the Scriptures describe him as increasing in stature, as to his body, and in wisdom, as to his soul; and as growing up in favor with God and man.

This human nature, the Confession further states, had all the essential properties and common infirmities of manís nature, with the exception of sin. This means that all the physical, mental, moral and spiritual qualities necessary to true humanity were possessed by him. Every essential quality pertaining to the body, to the mind, to the heart, and to the spirit of maci were possessed by the God-man. By the common infirmities here mentioned are meant, not sinful weaknesses, but the ills and pains to which human nature is heir, together with the sorrows and disappointments which the soul of man may feel. And in these very facts there is further proof of the true and complete humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. III. How was the human nature assumed? is the next question answered in the Standards. To this point the Standards speak but briefly, and in almost similar language in the Confession and both Catechisms. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin. This is simply stating this most mysterious fact in the language of Scripture. The parentage of the child Jesus was not human on the fatherís side. Through a miracle wrought by the Holy Ghost, the human nature of the Redeemer was brought into Union with the eternal Son of God. The work of the Holy Ghost in this connection is worthy of careful remark. He is the divine person by whose agency the two natures were joined together in the incarnation, so as to constitute the theanthropic person of the Redeemer. How far the work of the Spirit is continued in this connection it is not easy to say, and how far the Holy Spirit should even now be regarded as the medium through which the divine nature acts on, or through, the human nature, is an inquiry in regard to which much care is needed. It can hardly be the case, that the Holy Spiritís agency is constantly exercised in holding the two natures together in the God-man. There can be no doubt, however, that the Holy Spirit rested upon Christ and upheld him in his human nature throughout his mediatorial work on earth.

It is further added, that Jesus was of the substance of Mary, and born of her. By partaking of her substance, Jesus truly participated in human nature. That Jesus was thus born of the substance of Mary, sin excepted, excludes those curious theories which maintain that he had not a real human body, but that it was some sort of an angelic body which was given him, and which was brought forth from the womb of his mother, Mary. The body was true and the birth was real, and the incarnation, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, is the answer to the question: How did the Son of God assume the human nature? The whole mysterious process involved in the miraculous conception, and in the remarkable birth of Jesus, is denoted by the term incarnation. And this includes more than an ordinary birth. In its deepest aspects it relates to the way in which the union of a true, yet impersonal, human nature with the eternal Logos, or second person of the Trinity, was effected, in order to constitute the unique and suitable person of the Redeemer and Mediator of the covenant of grace.

IV. The next question raised in the Standards relates to the way in which the natures are united in the one person. This is another difficult point upon which the Catechisms say but little, but of which the Confession speaks at greater length. The former both simply say that Jesus Christ, as Mediator of the covenant of grace, was, and continues to be, God and man, in two entire distinct natures and one person, for ever. The Confession, however, enlarges upon this, and asserts that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, which are termed Godhead and manhood, are inseparably joined together in one person. The whole divine nature of the second person of the Trinity, and an entire human nature were thus united. The divine nature was not robbed of any of its perfections, nor was the human nature wanting in any of its essential qualities, as they were brought into union. The natures were essentially distinct as they were brought together, and though joined in what is called the hypostatic union, which is a personal union, the natures are not blended nor commingled. Moreover, the union thus constituted is inseparable in its nature.

As to the manner in which the union of the two distinct natures in one person is effected, and as to the results of that union, the Confession, after the manner of the ancient ecumenical creeds, says that they are joined inseparably in the one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. To explain all that this statement means would be to recite some of the most earnest controversies of the early Christian church, and it is by no means the purpose of this chapter to do this. Only a sentence or two, by way of explanation, shall be set down. The natures, then, are not converted into each other, either the divine into the human, so as to make a divine man, or the human into the divine, so as to make a human God. Nor are the natures compounded in some strange way, and so blended together as to be no longer one or the other, but a third, different from either. Nor, again, are the natures confused in any way, or so mixed together that the essential properties of both natures are indiscriminately existing in the theanthropic person. But, positively, the Standards teach that in the one person of the Redeemer true deity and real humanity are joined together in an inseparable personal union. Hence, Christ is truly God and really man, yet there is only one Christ and one Mediator between God and man. The theanthropic person is one, yet it is constituted of the two natures, complete yet not commingled.

V. The Standards next take up the question: Why must the Mediator be God? To this interesting inquiry the Larger Catechism alone speaks, and what it states is worthy of study. There are here given, in a simple way, the reasons why the Mediator must be divine. These are now to be mentioned in order.

1. The human nature is thereby sustained. As Mediator the sins of his people were laid upon him, and the infinite wrath of God, as his fixed purpose to treat sin as it deserves, came upon him; and the penalty of death, in all its dreadful punitive meaning, was to be met and endured. This being the case, the human nature, unsupported by the divine, would surely have been crushed beneath the load. Gethsemane and Calvary needed the supports of the divine nature for the burden which rested on the human in the agony of the garden and the sufferings of the cross.

2. The presence of the divine nature gives value to his redemptive work. Though it cannot be said, nor do the Standards teach, that the divine nature really suffered, yet the fact that the human nature, which was the real basis of the sufferings of the Redeemer, was in union with the divine nature, gave a worth and an efficacy to the sufferings in the human nature, which render them entirely different from, and of higher value than, the sufferings of any mere man. This fact marks the difference between the sufferings of Christ and of the martyrs. In Like manner, the active obedience which Christ rendered in the human nature has attached to it a meaning and a dignity far above that which the obedience of any mere man could possibly deserve. And his intercession, too, was endowed with a value and an efficacy of the very highest order, because the divine nature sustained the human. Indeed, without the divine nature, there would have been no access on the part of the Mediator into the presence of God at all. By reason of the exalted dignity given to the person of the Mediator, through the presence of the divine nature, his intercession is all-prevailing.

3. The divine nature along with the human was necessary to give assured success to his work. Here several particulars need only be mentioned in the briefest way. To meet and satisfy the demands of the law and justice of God, one who was clad with divine power and dignity was needed. The favor of God was to be procured, and this could not be done by man alone, but it required one who was the well-beloved Son in whom the Father is ever well pleased. A peculiar people, his elect covenant seed, are to be redeemed, and to give value to the ransom-price the presence of the divine nature was required. To secure the mission of the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, it was requisite that the second person of the Godhead should be so related to the theanthropic person, who made the atonement, as to justify the claim he might make for the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit for his people. Then, too, the enemies of Christ and his people are to be conquered, and this needs more than human power. Satan is stronger than man, but not mightier than God. To crown all, in order to bring in an everlasting salvation from sin and Satan requires one who is at once God and man, that by the omnipotence of his divine nature he may conquer his foes, and bring his people off more than conqueror in the end.

VI. Another question dealt with in the Standards is: Why should the Redeemer be man? On this question the Larger Catechism chiefly speaks, although the Confession has also some valuable statements which bear, indirectly at least, upon the inquiry here raised. To effect mediation between God and man, it was just as necessary for the Mediator to be man as to be God. A few particulars are noted to show this.

1. It was necessary that he should be man in order to advance the human nature. Through union with the divine nature, the human nature was greatly elevated, and endowed with a high and advanced dignity. With this advancement of nature, the man Christ Jesus was qualified to render suitable satisfaction to law in the room and stead of sinful men, and also to make a prevailing intercession for them, seeing that he was made in their nature. Above all, by the possession of a human nature Jesus Christ the Mediator of the covenant, and the Redeemer of his people, was invested with a tender sympathy and compassion, which fully fitted him to have a fellow-feeling for their infirmities. But these points need not be enlarged upon, although they are very important and precious. Having the human nature, he is in every way fitted to be the Redeemer of the children of men.

2. It was necessary that Christ should be man in order that his people might be made sons and heirs. Jesus, as to his divine nature, is the Son of God. Having assumed the human nature, this relation to the Father abides, so that the Son of God is also the Son of man. Thus, by the human nature in the theanthropic person, Christ has lifted up into the relationship of sons all his covenant people. They thereby receive the spirit of adoption, and become the sons of God through Jesus Christ. In addition to all that adoption and heirship implies, they also have the comfort of the children of God, and have access to him with holy boldness at a throne of grace. This sonship and heirship, this source of comfort and freedom of access in prayer, all come through the fact that the Mediator possesses the human nature. If these precious privileges were ever to be granted to sinful men, it was needful that Christ should be man. Christís covenant people have, therefore, in him a great high priest who acts in their nature, and is fully equipped to do for them all that they need.

VII. Another question discussed by the Standards relates to the reason why the Mediator should be of one person. But a sentence is needed here, based chiefly upon what the Larger Catechism says. Since the Mediator is to reconcile God and man, it is evident from the nature of the case that he must not only have the natures of both the parties whom he is to reconcile, but that in his person, as reconciler, he shall be only one. It is in this way alone that the proper works of both natures, in the ministry of reconciliation, are capable of being ascribed to the one person, and be accepted of God for his people, and at the same time relied on by sinful men. The two natures must, therefore, be bound up in the unity of the one person, in order to give efficacy to the works which the natures severally perform as the instruments of redemption.

Herein is seen the importance of the unity of the person. As the result of this unity, the attributes and works of both natures may be ascribed in common to the person, and at the same time they cannot be ascribed to either nature indiscriminately. In like manner, it is proper to remark that, while both natures are necessary to the completeness of the personality of the Redeemer, as distinguished from the Logos, that is, the theanthropos, as distinct from the eternal Son of God, yet the seat of the personality of the theanthropic person is in the divine nature. This is in analogy with the case of man, for while body and soul are both necessary to the personality of man, the seat of the personality is really in his soul, or spiritual nature.

VIII. Why is the Mediator called Jesus and Christ? is the last question raised by the Standards, in regard to the person of the Mediator. This double question may be answered from the Larger Catechism also in a sentence or two.

I. He is called Jesus in the Scriptures, because he shall save his people from their sins. The name Jesus, or Joshua, means ďsaviour,Ē or ďdeliverer,Ē and, as applied to the Redeemer, it denotes the precious fact that he delivers his people from their sins, both in regard to their guilt and their pollution. As Jesus, he is Saviour, or Deliverer.

2. Then, he is called Christ, because he was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure to fit him for his work. The Greek word Christos means ďanointed one,Ē and it has precisely the same meaning as the Hebrew word Messiah. By the anointing of the Holy Ghost he was set apart for his work of redemption, and at the same time he was thereby fully furnished with all ability and authority for his mediatorial service. He was thus qualified in every way to execute the office of a prophet in revealing the will of God, of a priest in making atonement and intercession, and of a king in ruling over his people and defending them from all their foes. All these tiings, and everything else necessary, Christ, as the anointed of God, effects, alike in his estate of hurniliation and of exaltation, even as he is Mediator in both natures, and under all dispensations.

3. The Confession adds a few things which can be best set down at this point. It says that the Lord Jesus, in his human nature as united with the divine, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Ghost. As the result of this, he was filled with all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; for in him it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell. And, further, by reason of this anointing of the Spirit, he was holy, harmless, and undefiled, full of grace and truth; and in this way he was thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator and surety. The Confession adds, that Jesus Christ did not take this office of Mediator to himself, but was called to it by the Father. And when the Father thus called him to this office, he gave into his hand all power and judgment; and he further gave him command to execute his mediatorial commission.

The exposition of this important chapter is now completed. The closing paragraphs form a suitable preparation for the next chapter, which will deal with the work of the Mediator in his several offices. That the person of our adorable Redeemer, as the Catechisms call him, or of our Mediator and Surety, as the Confession terms him, is amply adequate for his work, is abundantly evident from the careful summary of the splendid statements of the Standards given in this chapter.

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