Two Natures – Distinct Yet United

Last week I reported on “Christ’s Human Nature.” There, the fourth point of John Flavel’s sermon: “Of Christ’s wonderful Person,” on John 1:14, in his book: Fountain of Life Opened Up, caught my attention:

Fourthly, [Christ’s] human nature is so united with the divine, as that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct… The divine and human are not confounded; but a line of distinction runs betwixt them still in this wonderful person…

If you have the time and patience, I urge you to read his entire sermon. He offers sound doctrine on Christ’s human nature.

Flavel’s point got me wondering. Was the distinction and union obvious in scripture, would it prove Flavel’s points, and did John Calvin have insight that might help us to understand Christ better? What jumped to mind was the Lord’s struggle-in-prayer in the garden before He was betrayed as recounted in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36 (ESV)

And

Saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Even though the wording is different in the three accounts, in each, He defers to His Father’s will rather than His own. Was this the quintessential example of the distinct natures united?

Calvin addresses many possible questions we (and others) might have when reading Christ’s entreaty of His Father. However, to achieve some semblance of brevity, we’ve assembled those answers that are most relevant to our questions:

My Father, if it be possible. …We must remember…that Christ [did not have] confused emotions, like those to which we are accustomed, to withdraw his mind from pure moderation; but, so far as the pure and innocent nature of man could admit, he was struck with fear and seized with anguish, so that, amidst the violent shocks of temptation, he vacillated—as it were—from one wish to another. This is the reason why, after having prayed to be freed from death, he immediately restrains himself, and, submitting to the authority of the Father, corrects and recalls that wish which had suddenly escaped him…

But yet not as I will, but as thou wilt. …What led him to pray to be delivered from [His own physical] death was the dread of a greater evil. When he saw the wrath of God exhibited to him, as he stood at the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he unavoidably shrunk with horror from the deep abyss of death…When Christ was struck with horror at the divine curse, the feeling of the flesh affected him in such a manner, that faith still remained firm and unshaken. For such was the purity of his nature, that he felt, without being wounded by them, those temptations which pierce us with their stings.

…in Christ there was a remarkable example of adaptation between the two wills, the will of God and the will of man, so that they differed from each other without any conflict or opposition…for Christ, as he was God, willed nothing different from the Father; and therefore it follows, that his human soul had affections distinct from the secret purpose of God…Christ was under the necessity of holding his will captive, in order to subject it to the government of God, though it was properly regulated.

The lesson Calvin draws for us based on the various questions we’ve included and omitted is:

…In the present corruption of our nature it is impossible to find ardor of affections accompanied by moderation, such as existed in Christ; but we ought to give such honor to the Son of God, as not to judge of him by what we find in ourselves.

In this light, his application is:

…How carefully ought we to repress the violence of our feelings, which are always inconsiderate, and rash, and full of rebellion? …We owe to God such obedience as to endure patiently that our wishes should not be granted; For the modesty of faith consists in permitting God to appoint differently from what we desire. Above all, when we have no certain and special promise, we ought to abide by this rule, not to ask anything but on the condition that God shall fulfill what he has decreed; which cannot be done, unless we give up our wishes to his disposal.

In his sermon, Flavel gives an excellent explanation of the differences between Christ and ourselves. Calvin drives home the point with how, given His example, we should endure our inevitable trials of faith. May the Lord Jesus Christ grant us obedience in these trials.

Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, 16 November 2012, by Tango7174, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, and 1.0 Generic licenses

Christ’s Human Nature

Sadly, if the scriptures can be twisted, they will be twisted. Folks, one thousand five hundred sixty-five years ago, met to work out a concise statement of the Lord Jesus Christ’s humanity based on the scriptures because several heresies were then circulating that led people astray. Phillip Schaff presents the text in its entirety:

Following the holy Fathers we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood; made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of his Father before the worlds according to his Godhead; but in these last days for us men and for our salvation born [into the world] of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to his manhood.

This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old time have spoken concerning him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath delivered to us.

In passing, note that John MacArthur offers some insight to this creedal statement.

Four hundred eighty years ago, John Calvin reflected on such attacks on Christ’s humanity in his Institutes. His proof text was:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 English Standard Version (ESV)

And a brief excerpt from Calvin’s comments states:

And the [Word] was made flesh. …The plain meaning…is, that the [Word] begotten by God before all ages, and who always dwelt with the Father, was made man [at the incarnation]. On this [point] there are chiefly two things to be observed. [First], that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. [Second], that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it.

And, therefore, as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons.

Sadly, too, Christ’s human nature is being attacked in our time. The Presbyterian clergyman, John Flavel, gave a sermon three hundred forty-five years ago that has bearing on the current attack:

To explicate this mystery more particularly, let it be considered;

First, the human nature was united to the second person [of the Godhead] miraculously and extraordinarily, being supernaturally framed in the womb of the Virgin, by the overshadowing power of the Highest… Luke 1: 34, 35

Secondly, Christ took a complete and perfect human soul and body, with all and every faculty and member pertaining to it. And this was necessary…that thereby he might heal the whole nature of that leprosy of sin, which has seized and infected every member and faculty…

Thirdly, He assumed our nature, as with all its integral parts, so with all its sinless infirmities… [Christ did] not assume our innocent nature, as it was in Adam before the fall…but after sin had…defaced, ruined, and spoiled it… Heb. 2:17, 4:15; Rom. 8:3

Fourthly, [Christ’s] human nature is so united with the divine, as that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct… The divine and human are not confounded; but a line of distinction runs betwixt them still in this wonderful person…

Fifthly, the union of the two natures in Christ, as an inseparable union; so that from the first moment thereof, there never was, nor to eternity shall be, any separation of them…This hypostatical union remained even [through His death] as entire and firm as ever: for, though his soul and body were divided from each other, yet neither of them from the divine nature…

…And thus you are to form and regulate your conceptions of this great mystery.

Christ’s incarnation is a wonderful truth from the scriptures, repeatedly attacked over the centuries to the present day, that must be defended, upheld, and celebrated.

Stephen Nichols and R.C. Sproul: The Ligonier Statement on Christology, Mar 2, 2016, Ligonier Ministries