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First Published 1659

[see original PDF file text at Project Canterbury for extensive footnotes]


Which was conceived.

1.—THESE words, as they now stand, clearly distinguish the conception of Jesus from his nativity, attributing the first to the Holy Ghost, the second to the blessed Virgin: whereas the ancient Creeds make no such distinction, but, without any particular express mention of the conception, had it only in this manner, who was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary; or of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary; understanding by the word born not only the nativity, but also the conception and generation.  This is very necessary to be observed, because otherwise the addition of a word will prove the diminution of the sense of the article.  For they which speak only of the operation of the Holy Ghost in Christ's conception, and of the manner of his birth, leave out most part of that which was anciently understood under that one term of being born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary.


 2.—That therefore nothing may be omitted which is pertinent to express the full intent and to comprehend the utmost signification of this article, we shall consider three persons mentioned, so far as they are concerned in it.  The first is he who was conceived and born; the second, he by whose energy or operation he was conceived; the third, she who did conceive and bear him.


3.—For the first, the relative in the front of this carries us clearly back unto the former article, and tells us that he which was thus conceived and born was Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.  And being we have already demonstrated that this only Son is therefore called so, because he was begotten by the Father from all eternity, and so of the same substance with him, it followeth that this article at the first beginning, or by virtue of its connexion, can import no less than this most certain but miraculous truth, that he which was begotten by the Father before all worlds was now in the fulness of time conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary.  Again, being by the conception and birth is to be understood whatsoever was done toward the production of the human nature of our Saviour, therefore the same relative considered with the words which follow it can speak no less than the incarnation of that person.  And thus even in the entry of the article we meet with the incarnation of the Son of God,—that great mystery wrapt up in that short sentence of St. John, The word was made flesh. [John i. 14.]


4.—Indeed the pronoun hath relation not only unto this but to the following articles, which have their necessary connexion with and foundation in this third: for he who was conceived and born, and so made man, did in that human nature suffer, die, and rise again.  Now when we say this was the Word, and that Word was God, being whosoever is God cannot cease to be so, it must necessarily follow that he was made man by joining the human nature with the divine.  But then we must take heed lest we conceive, because the divine nature belongeth to the Father, to which the human is conjoined, that therefore the Father should be incarnate, or conceived and born.  For as certainly as the Son was crucified, and the Son alone, so certainly the same Son was incarnate, and that Son alone.  Although the human nature was conjoined with the divinity, which is the nature common to the Father and the Son; yet was that union made only in the person of the Son.  Which doctrine is to be observed against the heresy of the Patripassians, which was both very ancient and far diffused, making the Father to be incarnate, and becoming man to be crucified.  But this very Creed was always thought to be a sufficient confutation of that fond opinion, in that the incarnation is not subjoined to the first but to the second article: we do not say I believe in God the Father Almighty, which was conceived, but in his only Son our Lord, which was conceived by the Holy Ghost.


5.—First, then, we believe that he which was made flesh was the Word, that he which took upon him the nature of man was not the Father, nor the Holy Ghost, nor any other person but the only-begotten Son.  And when we say that person was conceived and born, we declare he was made really and truly man, of the same human nature which is in all other men who by the ordinary way of generation are conceived and born.  For the Mediator between God and man is the man Christ Jesus: [1 Tim. Ii. 5] That since by man came death, by man also should come the resurrection of the dead. [1 Cor. xv. 21]  As sure then as the first Adam, and we who are redeemed are men, so certainly is the second Adam and our Mediator man.  He is therefore frequently called the Son of man, and in that nature he was always promised.  First to Eve, as her seed, and consequently her son. [Gen. iii. 15]  Then to Abraham, In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; [Gen. xxii. 18] and that seed is Christ, [Gal. iii. 16] and so the son of Abraham.  Next to David, as his son to sit upon his throne; [2 Sam. vii. 12, 16] and so he is made of the seed of David according to the flesh, Rom. i. 3] the son of David, the son of Abraham, [Matt. i. 1] and consequently of the same nature with David and with Abraham.  And as he was their son, so are we his brethren, as descending from the same Father Adam; and therefore it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren.  For he laid not hold on the angels, but on the seed of Abraham, [Heb. ii. 16, 17] and so became not an angel, but a man.


6.—As then man consisteth of two different parts, body and soul, so doth Christ: he assumed a body, at his conception, of the blessed Virgin.  Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same. [Heb. ii. 14]  The verity of his body stands upon the truth of his nativity, [Tertullianus] and the actions and passions of his life show the nature of his flesh.


 7.—He was first born with a body which was prepared for him, [Heb. x. 5] of the same appearance with those of other infants; he grew up by degrees, and was so far from being sustained without the accustomed nutrition of our bodies, that he was observed even by his enemies to come eating and drinking, [Matt. xi. 19] and when he did not so he suffered hunger and thirst, Those ploughers never doubted of the true nature of his flesh, who ploughed upon his back and made long furrows. [Psalm cxxix. 3]  The thorns which pricked his sacred temples, the nails which penetrated through his hands and feet, the spear which pierced his sacred side, give sufficient testimony of the natural tenderness and frailty of his flesh.  And lest his fasting forty days together; lest his walking on the waters and traversing the seas; lest his sudden standing in the midst of his disciples when the doors were shut, should raise an opinion that his body was not true and proper flesh, he confirmed first his own disciples, Feel and see, that a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me to have. [Luke xxiv. 39]  As therefore, we believe the coming of Christ, so must we confess him to have come in the verity of our human nature, even in true and proper flesh.  With this determinate expression was it always necessary to acknowledge him: For every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in the flesh, is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in the flesh, is not of God. [1 John iv. 2, 3]  This spirit  appeared early in opposition to the apostolical doctrine; and Christ, who is both God and man, was as soon denied to be man as God.  Simon Magnus, the arch-heretic, first began, and many after followed him.


8.—And certainly, if the Son of God would vouchsafe to take the frailty of our flesh, he would not omit the nobler part, our soul, without which he could not be man.  For Jesus increased in wisdom and stature; [Luke ii. 52] one in respect of his body, the other of his soul.  Wisdom belongeth not to the flesh, nor can the knowledge of God, which is infinite, increase: he then whose knowledge did improve together with his years must have a subject proper for it, which was no other than a human soul.  This was the seat of his finite understanding and directed will, distinct from the will of his Father, and consequently of his divine nature, as appeareth by that known submission, Not my will, but thine, be done. [Luke xxii. 42]  This was the subject of those affections and passions which so manifestly appeared in him; nor spake he any other than a proper language when, before his suffering, he said, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. [Matt. xxvi. 83]  This was it which on the cross, before the departure from the body, he recommended to the Father, teaching us in whose hands the souls of the departed are: For when Jesus cried with a loud voice, he said, Father into thy hands I commend my spirit; and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. [Luke xxiii. 46]  And as his death was nothing else but the separation of the soul from his body, so the life of Christ as man did consist in the conjunction and vital union of that soul with the body: so that he which was perfect God, was also perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.  Which is to be observed and asserted against the ancient heretics, [esp. Arians and Apollinarians] who taught that Christ assumed human flesh, but that the Word or his divinity was unto that body in the place of an informing soul.


9.-Thus the whole perfect and complete nature of man was assumed by the Word, by him who was conceived and born of a woman, and was made a man.  And being the divine nature which he had before could never cease to be what before it was, nor ever become what before it was not; therefore he who was God before by the divine nature which he had, was in this incarnation made man by that human nature which he then assumed, and so really and truly was both God and man.  And thus this third article, from the conjunction with the second, teacheth us no less than the two natures really distinct in Christ incarnate.


10.—For if both natures were not preserved complete and distinct in Christ, it must be either by the conversion and transubstantiation of one into the other, or by commixtion and confusion of both into one.  But neither of these ways can consist with the person of our Saviour, or the office of our Mediator.  For if we should conceive such a mixtion and confusion of substances all to make an union of natures, we should be so far from acknowledging him to be both God and man, that thereby we should profess him to be neither God nor man, but a person of a nature as different from both, as all mixed bodies are distinct from each element which concurs unto their composition.  Besides, we know there were in Christ the affections proper to the nature of man, and all those infirmities which belong to us, and cannot be conceived to belong to that nature of which the divine was but a part.  Nor could our humanity be so commixed or confounded with the divinity of our Saviour, but that the Father had been made man as much as the Son, because the divine nature is the same both of the Father and the Son.  Nor ought we to have so low an esteem of that infinite and independent being as to think it so commixed with, or immersed in, the creature. [Leporius]


11.—Again, as the confusion so the conversion of natures is impossible.  For, first, we cannot with the least show of probability conceive the divine nature of Christ to be transubstantiated into the human nature, all those whom they call Flandrian Anabaptists in the Low-Countries at this day maintain.  There is a plain repugnancy even in the supposition; for the nature of man must be made, the nature of God cannot be made, and consequently cannot become the nature of man.  The immaterial, indivisible, and immortal Godhead cannot be divided into a spiritual and incorruptible soul, and a carnal and corruptible body, of which two humanity consisteth.  There is no other deity of the Father than of the Son, and therefore if this was converted into that humanity, then was the Father also that man, and grew in knowledge, suffered, and died.  We must not, therefore, so far stand upon the propriety of speech, when it is, written, The Word was made flesh, as to destroy the propriety both of the Word and of the flesh.


Secondly, we must not, on the contrary, invent a conversion of the human nature into the divine, as the Eutychians of old did fancy.  For sure the incarnation could not at first consist in such conversion, it being unimaginable how that which had no being should be made by being turned into something else.  Therefore the humanity of Christ could not at the first be made by being the divinity of the Word, Nor is the incarnation so preposterously expressed, as if the flesh were made the Word, but that the Word was made flesh.  And if the manhood were not in the first act of incarnation converted into the divine nature, as we see it could not be, then is there no pretence of any time or manner in or by which it was afterward so transubstantiated. Vain, therefore, was that old conceit of Eutyches, who thought the union to be made so in the natures, that the humanity was absorbed and wholly turned into the divinity, so that by that transubstantiation the human nature had no longer being.  And well did the ancient Fathers, who opposed this heresy, make use of the sacramental union between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ, and thereby showed that the human nature of Christ is no more really converted into the divinity, and so ceaseth to be the human nature, than the substance of the bread and wine is really converted into the substance of the body and blood, and thereby ceaseth to be both bread and wine.  From whence it is by the way observable that the church in those days understood no such doctrine as that of transubstantiation.


12.—Being then he which is conceived was the only Son of God, and that only Son begotten of the substance of the Father, and so always subsisted in the divine nature; being by the same conception he was made truly man, and consequently assumed an human nature; being these two natures cannot be made one either by commixtion or conversion, and yet there can be but one Christ subsisting in them both, because that; only Son was he which is conceived and born; it followeth that the union which was not made in the nature was made in the person of the Word; that is, it was not so made, that out of both natures one only should result, but only so that to one person no other should be added.


13.—Nor is this union only a scholastic speculation, but a certain and necessary truth, without which we cannot have one Christ, but two Christs, one Mediator, but two Mediators; without which we cannot join the second article of our Creed with the third, making them equally belong to the same person; without which we cannot interpret the sacred scriptures, or understand the history of our Saviour.  For certainly he which was before Abraham, was in the days of Herod born of a woman; he which preached in the days of Noah began to preach in the reign of Tiberius, being at that time about thirty years of age; he was demonstrated the Son of God with power who was the seed of David according to the flesh; he who died on the cross raised him from the dead who died so, being put to death through the flesh, and quickened by the Spirit; [I Peter iii. 18] he was of the fathers according to the flesh who was God over all blessed for ever. [Rom. ix. 5]  Being these and the like actions and affections cannot come from the same nature, and yet must be attributed to the same person; as we must acknowledge a diversity of natures united, so must we confess the identity of the person in whom they are conjoined, against the ancient heresy of the Nestorians, condemned in the council of Ephesus.


for the next chapter in Pearson: By the Holy Ghost