Wednesdays with Watson is a weekly reading taken from my favorite Puritan writer, Thomas Watson. This week’s selection is taken from A Body of Divinity, and is a meditation on the hypostatic union of Christ – answering a number of questions about His incarnation.
Q. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A: In his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross.
Christ’s humiliation consisted in his incarnation, his taking flesh, and being born. It was real flesh that Christ took; not the image of a body (as the Manichees erroneously held), but a true body; therefore he is said to be ‘made of a woman.’ Gal 4:4. As bread is made of wheat, and wine is made of the grape; so Christ is made of a woman: his body was part of the flesh and substance of the virgin. This is a glorious mystery, ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ In the creation, man was made in God’s image; in the incarnation God was made in man’s image.
How came Christ to be made flesh?
It was by his Father’s special designation. ‘God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.’ Gal 4:4. God the Father in a special manner appointed Christ to be incarnate; which shows how needful a call is to any business of weight and importance: to act without a call, is to act without a blessing. Christ would not be incarnate, and take upon him the work of a mediator till he had a call. ‘God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.’
But was there no other way for the restoring of fallen man but that God should take flesh?
We must not ask a reason of God’s will; it is dangerous to pry into God’s ark; we are not to dispute but adore. The wise God saw it to be the best way for our redemption, that Christ should be incarnate. It was not fit for any to satisfy God’s justice but man; none could do it but God; therefore, Christ being both God and man, is the fittest to undertake this work of redemption.
Why was Christ born of a woman?
(1.) That God might fulfill that promise in Gen 3:15, ‘The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head.’ (2.) Christ was born of a woman, that he might roll away that reproach from the woman, which she had contracted by being seduced by the serpent. Christ, in taking his flesh from the woman, has honoured her sex; that as, at the first, the woman had made man a sinner; so now, to make him amends, she should bring him a saviour.
Why was Christ born of a virgin?
(1.) For decency. It became not God to have any mother but a maid, and it became not a maid to have any other son but a God.
(2.) For necessity. Christ was to be a high priest, most pure and holy. Had he been born after the ordinary course of nature he had been defiled, since all that spring out of Adam’s loins have a tincture of sin, but, that ‘Christ’s substance might remain pure and immaculate,’ he was born of a virgin.
(3.) To answer the type. Melchisedec was a type of Christ, who is said to be ‘without father and without mother.’ Christ being born of a virgin, answered the type; he was without father and without mother; without mother as he was God, without father as he was man.
How could Christ be made of the flesh and blood of a virgin, and yet be without sin? The purest virgin is stained with original sin.
This knot the Scripture unties. ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and overshadow thee: therefore that holy thing, which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God.’ Luke 1:15. ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,’ that is, the Holy Ghost did consecrate and purify that part of the virgin’s flesh whereof Christ was made. As the alchemist extracts and draws away the dross from the gold, so the Holy Ghost refines and clarifies that part of the virgin’s flesh, separating it from sin. Though the Virgin Mary herself had sin, yet that part of her flesh, whereof Christ was made, was without sin; otherwise it must have been an impure conception.
What is meant by the power of the Holy Ghost overshadowing the virgin?
Basil says, ‘It was the Holy Ghost’s blessing that flesh of the virgin whereof Christ was formed.’ But there is a further mystery in it; the Holy Ghost having framed Christ in the virgin’s womb, did, in a wonderful manner, unite Christ’s human nature to his divine, and so of both made one person. This is a mystery, which the angels pry into with adoration.
When was Christ incarnate?
In the fulness of time. ‘When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.’ Gal 4:4. By the fulness of time we must understand, tempus a patre praefinitum; so Ambrose, Luther, Cornelius a Lapide — the determinate time that God had set. More particularly, this fulness of time was when all the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah were accomplished; and all legal shadows and figures, whereby he was typified, were abrogated. This may comfort us, in regard to the church of God, that though at present we do not see that peace and purity in the church which we could desire, yet in the fulness of time, when God’s time is come and mercy is ripe, then shall deliverance spring up, and God will come riding upon the chariots of salvation.
Why was Jesus Christ made flesh?
(1.) The causa prima, and impulsive cause, was free grace. It was love in God the Father to send Christ, and love in Christ that he came to be incarnate. Love was the intrinsic motive. Christ is God-man, because he is a lover of man. Christ came out of pity and indulgence to us: non merita nostra, sed misera nostra. Augustine. ‘Not our deserts, but our misery, made Christ take flesh. Christ’s taking flesh was a plot of free grace, and a pure design of love. God himself, though Almighty, was overcome with love. Christ incarnate is nothing but love covered with flesh. As Christ’s assuming our human nature was a master-piece of wisdom, so it was a monument of free grace.
(2.) Christ took our flesh upon him, that he might take our sins upon him. He was, says Luther, maximus peccator, the greatest sinner, having the weight of the sins of the whole world lying upon him. He took our flesh that he might take our sins, and so appease God’s wrath.
(3.) Christ took our flesh that he might make the human nature appear lovely to God, and the divine nature appear lovely to man.
(1:) That he might make the human nature lovely to God. Upon our fall from God, our nature became odious to him; no vermin is so odious to us as the human nature was to God. When once our virgin nature was become sinful, it was like flesh imposthumated, or running into sores, loathsome to behold. It was so odious to God that he could not endure to look upon us. Christ taking our flesh, makes this human nature appear lovely to God. As when the sun shines on the glass it casts a bright lustre, so Christ being clad with our flesh makes the human nature shine, and appear amiable in God’s eyes.
(2:) As Christ being clothed with our flesh makes the human nature appear lovely to God, so he makes the divine nature appear lovely to man. The pure Godhead is terrible to behold, we could not see it and live; but Christ clothing himself with our flesh, makes the divine nature more amiable and delightful to us. We need not be afraid to look upon God through Christ’s human nature. It was a custom of old among shepherds to clothe themselves with sheepskins, to be more pleasing to the sheep; so Christ clothed himself with our flesh, that the divine nature may be more pleasing to us. The human nature is a glass, through which we may see the love and wisdom and glory of God clearly represented to us. Through the lantern of Christ’s humanity we may behold the light of the Deity. Christ being incarnate makes the sight of the Deity not formidable, but delightful to us.