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First Published 1659

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



By the Holy Ghost.

1.—Having thus dispatched the consideration of the first person concerned in this article, and the actions contained in it so far as distinctly from the rest they belong to him.  : we descend unto the other two concerned in the same; and first i to him whose operation did precede in the conception, the Holy: Ghost.  Which second part some may think to require a threefold consideration: first, of the conception; secondly, of the person: thirdly, of the operation.  But for the person or existence of the Holy Ghost, that is here only mentioned obliquely, and therefore to be reserved for another article, where it is propounded directly. And for the conception itself, that belongeth not so properly to the Holy Ghost, of whom the act cannot be predicated.  For though Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, yet the Holy Ghost did not conceive him, but said unto the Virgin, Thou shalt conceive. [Luke i. 31]  There remaineth, therefore, nothing proper and peculiar to this second part but that operation of the Holy Ghost in Christ's conception, whereby the Virgin was enabled to conceive, and by virtue whereof Christ is said to be conceived by him.


2.-Now when we say the conception of our Saviour was wrought by the operation of the Spirit, it will be necessary to observe, first, what is excluded by that attribution to the Spirit; secondly, what is included in that operation of the Spirit.


3.-For the first of these, we may take notice in the salutation of the angel, when he told the blessed Virgin she should conceive and bring forth a son, she said, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? [Luke i. 34]  By which words she excludeth first all men, and then herself: all men, by that assertion, I know not a man; herself, by the question, How shall this be, seeing it is so?  First, our Melchizedek had no father on earth, in general; not any man in particular, not Joseph.  It is true his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph; but it is as true before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. [Matt. i. 18]  We read in St. Luke that the parents brought up the child Jesus into the Temple: [Luke ii. 27] but these parents were not the father and the mother, but, as it followeth, Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. [Luke ii. 33]  It is true Philip calleth him Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph; [John i. 45] and, which is more, his mother said unto him, Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing: [Luke ii. 48] but this must be only the reputed father of Christ, he being only, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, which was the son of Eli. [Luke iii. 23]  Whence they must needs appear without all excuse who therefore affirm our Saviour to have been the proper son of Joseph, because the genealogy belongs to him; whereas in that very place where the genealogy begins Joseph is called the supposed father.  How can it then, therefore, be necessary Christ should be the true son of Joseph, that he may be known to be the son of David, when in the same place where it is proved that Joseph came from David it is denied that Christ came from Joseph?  And that not only in St. Luke, where Joseph begins, but also in St. Matthew, where he ends the genealogy.  Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.  [Matt. i. 19]  Howsoever then the genealogies are described, whether one belong to Joseph, the other to Mary or both to Joseph, it is from other parts of the scriptures infallibly certain not only that Christ descended lineally from David according to the flesh, but also that the same Christ was begotten of the Virgin Mary, and not by Joseph


4.—Secondly, as the blessed Virgin excluded all mankind, and particularly Joseph, to whom she was then espoused, by her assertion, so did she exclude herself by the manner of the question, showing that of herself she could not cause any such conception.  Although she may be thought the root of Jesse, yet could she not germinate of herself; though Eve were the mother of all living, yet generation was founded on the divine benediction which was given to both together: For God blessed them, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. [Gen. i. 28]  Though Christ was promised as the seed of the woman, yet we must not imagine that it was in the power of woman to conceive him.  When the Virgin thinks it impossible she should conceive because she knew not a man, at the same time she confesseth it otherwise as impossible; and the angel acknowledgeth as much in the satisfaction of his answer, For with God nothing shall be impossible. [Luke i. 37] God then it was who immediately and miraculously enabled the blessed Virgin to conceive our Saviour; and while Mary, Joseph, and all men are denied, no person which is that God can be excluded from that operation. 


5.—But what is included in the conception by the Holy Ghost, or how his operation is to be distinguished from the conception of the Virgin, is not so easily determined.  The words by which it is expressed in scripture are very general: First, as they are delivered by way of promise, prediction, or satisfaction to Mary; The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall over-shadow thee: [Luke i. 35] secondly, as they suppose the conception already past, When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost; [Matt. i. 18] and give satisfaction unto Joseph, Fear not to take to thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. [vs. 20]  Now being the expressions in the scriptures are so general, that from thence the operation of the Spirit cannot precisely be distinguished from the concurrence of the Virgin; much less shall we be able exactly to conclude it by that late distinction made in this article, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin; because it is certain that the same Virgin also conceived him according to the prophecy, [Isa. vii. 14]  Thou shalt conceive and bear a son: [Luke i. 31] and therefore, notwithstanding that distinction, the difficulty still remains, how he was conceived by the Spirit, how by the Virgin.  Neither will any difference of prepositions be sufficient rightly to distinguish these operations.  Wherefore there is no other way to bound or determine the action of the Holy Ghost but by that concurrence of the Virgin which must be acknowledged with it.  For if she were truly the mother of Christ (as certainly she was, and we shall hereafter prove), then is there no reason to deny to her in respect of him whatsoever is given to other mothers in relation to the fruit of their womb, and consequently no more is left to be attributed to the Spirit than what is necessary to cause the Virgin to perform the actions of a mother.  When the scripture speaketh of regeneration, or the second birth, it denieth all which belongeth to natural procreation, describing the sons of God as begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God: [John i. 13]  And in the incarnation of our Saviour we remove all will or lust of the flesh, we deny all will of man concurring, but as the bloods in the language of the Hebrews did signify that substance of which the flesh was formed in the womb, so we acknowledge in the generation of Jesus Christ that he was made of the substance of his mother.


6.—But as he was so made of the substance of the Virgin, so was he not made of the substance of the Holy Ghost, whose essence cannot at all be made.  And because the Holy Ghost did not beget him by any communication of his essence, therefore he is not the father of him, though he were conceived by him.  And if at any time I have said Christ was begotten by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, if the ancients speak as if he generated the Son, it is not so to be understood, as if the Spirit did perform any proper act of generation, such as is the foundation of paternity.


7.—Again, as the Holy Ghost did not frame the human nature of Christ out of his own substance, so must we not believe that he formed any part of his flesh of any other substance than of the Virgin.  For certainly he was of the fathers according to the flesh, and was as to that truly and totally the son of David and of Abraham.  The Socinians, who will acknowledge no other way before Christ's conception by which he could be the only-begotten Son of God, have been forced to invent a strange conjunction in the nature of Christ: one part received from the Virgin, and so consequently from David and from Abraham, from whom that Virgin did descend: another framed by the Spirit, and conjoined with it; by the one part of which humanity he was the son of man, as by the other part he was the Son of God.


8.—The belief of this is necessary to prevent all fear or suspicion of spot in this Lamb, of sin in this Jesus.  Whatsoever our original corruption is, howsoever displeasing unto God, we may be from hence assured there was none in him, in whom alone God hath declared himself to be well pleased.  Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? saith Job; a clean and undefiled Redeemer out of an unclean and defiled nature?  He whose name is Holiness, whose operation is to sanctify, the Holy Ghost.  Our Jesus was like unto us in all things, as born of a woman; sin only excepted, as conceived by the Holy Ghost.  This original and total sanctification of the human nature was first necessary to fit it for the personal union with the Word, who, out of his infinite love, humbled himself to become flesh, and at the same time, out of his infinite purity, could not defile himself by becoming sinful flesh.  Secondly, the same sanctification was as necessary in respect of the end for which he was made man, the redemption of mankind; that as the first Adam was the fountain of our impurity, [St. Augustine] so the second Adam should also be the pure fountain of our righteousness.  God sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, condemned sin in the flesh; [Rom. viii. 3] which he could not have condemned had he been sent in sinful flesh.  The Father made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him; [2 Cor. v. 21] which we could not have been made in him, but that he did no sin, and knew no sin. [1 Peter ii. 22]  For whosoever is sinful wanteth a Redeemer; and he could have redeemed none who stood in need of his own redemption.  We are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ; therefore precious, because of a Lamb without blemish and without spot. [1 Peter i. 19]  Our atonement can be made by no other high-priest than by him who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. [Heb. vii. 26]  We cannot know that he was manifested to take away our sins, [St. Augustine] except we also know that in him is no sin. [1 John iii. 5] Wherefore, being it is so necessary to believe the original holiness of our human nature in the person of our Saviour, it is as necessary to acknowledge that way by which we may be fully assured of that sanctity, his conception by the Holy Ghost.


9.—Again, it hath been observed; [by St. Augustine] that by this manner of Christ's conception is declared the freedom of the grace of God.  For as the Holy Ghost is God, so is he also called the gift of God; and therefore the human nature in its first original, without any precedent merit, was formed by the Spirit, and in its formation  sanctified, and in its sanctification united to the Word, so that the grace was coexistent and in a manner connatural with it.  The mystery of the incarnation is frequently attributed in the Scriptures to the love, mercy, and goodness of God.  Through the tender mercy of our God the day-spring from on high hath visited us: [Luke i. 78] In this the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared. [Titus iii. 4]  And though these and such other scriptures speak properly of the love and mercy of God to man alone, offered unto him in the incarnation of our Saviour, and so directly exclude the merits of other men only; yet because they speak so generally with reference to God's mercy, they may: well be thought to exclude all universally.  Especially considering the impossibility of merit in Christ's humanity, in respect of his conception; because all desert necessarily precedeth its reward, and Christ was not man before he was conceived, nor can that merit which is not.


10.—Thirdly, whereas we are commanded to be holy, and that even as he is holy; by this we learn from what foundation this holiness must flow.  We bring no such purity into the world, nor are we sanctified in the womb; but as he was sanctified at his conception, so are we at our regeneration.  He was conceived not by man, but by the Holy Ghost; and we are not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [John i. 13]  The same overshadowing power which formed his human nature, reformeth ours; and the same Spirit assureth us a remission of our sins, which caused in him an exemption from all sin. [St. Augustine]  He which was born for us upon his incarnation, is born within us upon our regeneration. [St. Jerome]


11.—All which considered, we may now render a clear explication of this part of the article, whereby every person may understand what he is to profess, and express what is the object of his faith, when he saith, I believe in Jesus Christ, which was conceived by the Holy Ghost.  For hereby he ought to intend thus much; I assent unto this as a most necessary and infallible truth, that the only-begotten Son of God, begotten by the Father before all worlds, very God of very God, was conceived and born, and so made man, taking to himself the human nature, consisting of a soul and body, and conjoining it with the Divine in the unity of his person.  I am fully assured that the Word was in this manner made flesh, that he was really and truly conceived in the womb of a woman, but not after the manner of men; not by carnal copulation, not by the common way of human propagation, but by the singular, powerful, invisible, immediate operation of the Holy Ghost, whereby a Virgin was beyond the law of nature enabled to conceive, and that which was conceived in her was originally and completely sanctified.  And in this latitude I profess to believe in Jesus Christ, which was conceived by the Holy Ghost.




for the next chapter in Pearson: Born of the Virgin Mary