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First Published 1659

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


Born of the Virgin Mary.

1.—THE third person considerable in this third article is represented under a threefold description of her name, condition, and action. The first telleth us who it was, it was Mary; the second informeth us what she was, a Virgin; the third teacheth us what she did, she conceived and bare our Saviour, and brought forth the Son of God: which was born of the Virgin Mary.


2.—The Evangelist, relating the annunciation, taketh particular notice of this name; for, showing how an angel was sent unto a Virgin espoused to a man, he first observeth that his name war Joseph, [Luke i. 27] and then that the Virgin's name was Mary. Not for any peculiar excellency in the name, itself, or any particular application to the Virgin arising from the origination of it, as some have conceived, but only to denote that singular person, which was then so well known to all men, being espoused unto Joseph, as appeareth by the question of his admiring countrymen, Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? [Matt. xiii. 55]  Otherwise the name was common even at that time to many; to the sister of Lazarus, [John xi. 1] to the mother of James and Joses, [Matt. xxvii. 56] to the wife of Cleophas, [John xix 25] to the mother of John whose surname was Mark, [Acts xii. 12] to her which was of Magdal in Galilee, [Lukeviii. 2] to her who bestowed much labour on St. Paul. [Rom xvi. 6]  Nor is there any original distinction between the name of these and of the mother of our Lord.  For as the name of Jesus was the same with Josuah, so this of Mary was the same with Miriam.  The first of which name recorded was the daughter of Amram, the sister of Moses and Aaron, a prophetess; to whom the bringing of Israel out of Egypt is attributed as well as to her brethren, For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, saith the Lord, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. [Micah vi. 4]   As she was exalted to be one of them who brought the people of God out of the Egyptian bondage; so was this Mary exalted to become the mother of that Saviour, who through the Red Sea of his blood hath wrought a plenteous redemption for us, of which that was but a type; and even with the confession of the lowliness of an handmaid she seems to bear that exaltation in her name.


3.—Beside this name of the blessed Virgin, little hath been discovered to us. Christ, who commended the faith of the Centurion, the love of Mary Magdalene, the excellencies of John the Baptist, hath left not the least encomium of his mother.  The Evangelists who have so punctually described the city, family, and genealogy of Joseph, make no express mention of her relations only of her cousin Elizabeth, who was of the tribe of Levi, of the daughters of Aaron. [Luke i. 5]  Although it be of absolute necessity to believe that he which was born of her descended from the tribe of Judah and the family of David, yet hath not the scripture clearly expressed so much of her, nor have we any more than an obscure tradition of her parents Joacim and Anna.


4.—Wherefore the title added to that name maketh the distinction; for as divers characters are given to several persons by which they are distinguished from all others of the same common nomination, as Jacob is called Israel, and Abraham the friend of God, or father of the faithful; so is this Mary sufficiently characterised by that inseparable companion of her name, the Virgin.


5.—For the full explication whereof more cannot be required than that we show first that the Messias was to be born of a Virgin, according to the prediction of the prophets; secondly, that this Mary, of whom Christ was born, was really a virgin when she bare him, according to the relations of the Evangelists; thirdly, that being at once the mother of the Son of God and yet a virgin, she continued for ever in the same virginity, according to the tradition of the fathers and the constant doctrine of the church.


6.—The obdurate Jew, that he might more easily avoid the truth of the second, hath most irrationally denied the first; resolved rather not to understand Moses and the prophets, than to acknowledge the interpretation of the apostles.  It will therefore be necessary, from those oracles which were committed unto them, to show the promised Messias was born after a miraculous manner, to be the son of a woman, not of a man.  The first promise of him seems to speak no less, The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head; [Gen. iii. 15] for as the name of seed is not generally or collectively to be taken for the generation of mankind, but determinately and individually for that one seed, which is Christ, so the woman is not to be understood with relation unto man, but particularly and determinately to that sex from which alone immediately that seed should come.


7.—According to this first evangelical promise followed that prediction of the prophet, The Lord hath created a new thing on the earth, a woman shall compass a man. [Jer. Xxxi. 22]  That new creation of a man is therefore new, and therefore a creation, because wrought in a woman only, without a man, compassing a man. Which interpretation of the prophet is ancient, literal, and clear; and whatsoever the Jews have invented to elude it, is frivolous and forced.  For while they force the phrase of compassing a man in the latter part of the prediction to anything else than a conception, they do not only wrest the scripture, but contradict the former part of the promise, making the new creation neither new, as being often done, nor a creation, as being easy to perform.


8.—But if this prophecy of Jeremy seem obscure, it will be sufficiently cleared by that of Isaiah, Behold, a Virgin shall conceive; and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. [Isa. vii. 14]  The ancient Jews, immediately upon the promulgation of the gospel, understanding well how near this place did press them, gave three several answers to this text: First, denying that it spake of virgin at all: secondly, asserting that it could not belong to Jesus; thirdly, affirming that it was fully completed in the person of Hezekiah.  Whereas the original word was translated a virgin by such interpreters as were Jews themselves, some hundred years before our Saviour's birth. [The LXX.]  And did not the notation of the word and frequent use thereof in the scriptures persuade it, the wonder of the sign given by the Lord himself would evince as much.  But as for that conceit, that all should be fulfilled in Hezekiah, it is so manifestly and undoubtedly false, that nothing can make more for the confirmation of our faith.  For this sign was given and this promise made (a virgin shall conceive and bear a son) at some time in the reign of Ahaz.  This Ahaz reigned but sixteen years in Jerusalem; [2 Kings xvi. 2] and Hezekiah his son, who succeeded him, was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, [2 Kings xviii. 2] and therefore born several years before Ahaz was king, and consequently not now to be conceived when this sign was given.  Thus while the ancient Jews name him only to fulfil the prophecy in whom it is impossible it should be fulfilled, they plainly show that, for any knowledge which they had, it was not fulfilled till our Saviour came; and therefore they cannot with any reason deny but that it belonged unto the Messias, as divers of the ancient Rabbins thought and confessed, and is yet more evident by their monstrous error, who therefore expected no Messias in Israel, because they thought whatsoever was spoken of him to have been completed in Hezekiah.  Which is abundantly enough for our present purpose, being only to prove that the Messias promised by God, and expected by the people of God before and under the law, was to be conceived and born of a virgin.


9.—Secondly, as we are taught by the predictions of the prophets that a virgin was to be mother of the promised Messias, so are we assured by the infallible relations of the evangelists that this Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom we believe to be Christ, was a virgin when she bare him, when she brought forth her first-born son.  That she was a virgin when and after she was espoused unto Joseph, appeareth by the narration of St. Luke: For, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph. [Luke i. 27]  After the salutation of that angel, that she still was so appeareth by her question, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?  That she continued so after she conceived by the Holy Ghost is evident from the relation of St. Matthew: for when he was espoused unto Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. [Matt. i. 18]


10.—That she was a virgin not only while she was with child; but even when she had brought forth, is also evident out of this application of the prophecy: Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son. [Matt. i. 23]  For by the same prediction it is as manifest that a virgin should bring forth, as conceive a son.  Neither was her act of parturition more contradictory to virginity than that former of conception.


11.—Thirdly, we believe the mother of our Lord to have been not only before and after his nativity, but also for ever, the most immaculate and blessed Virgin.  For although it may be thought sufficient as to the mystery of the incarnation, that when our Saviour was conceived and born his mother was a virgin; though whatsoever should have followed after could have no reflective operation upon the first fruit of her womb; though there be no farther mention in the CREED than that he was born of the Virgin Mary: yet the peculiar eminency and unparalleled privilege of that mother, the special honour and reverence due unto that Son, and ever paid by her, the regard of that Holy Ghost who came upon her, and the power of the Highest which overshadowed her, the singular goodness and piety of Joseph, to whom she was espoused, have persuaded the church of God in all ages to believe that she still continued in the same virginity, and therefore is to be acknowledged the ever-Virgin Mary.  As if the gate of the sanctuary in the prophet Ezekiel were to be understood of her: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. [Ezek. Xliv. 2]


12.-Many, indeed, have taken the boldness to deny this truth because not recorded in the sacred writ; and not only so, but to assert the contrary as delivered in the scriptures; but with no success.  For though, as they object, St. Matthew testified that Joseph knew not Mary until she had brought forth her first-born son, [Matt. i. 25] from whence they would infer that afterwards he knew her; yet the manner of the scripture-language produceth no such inference.  When God said to Jacob, I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of, [Gen. xxviii. 15] it followeth not that when that was done the God of Jacob left him. When the conclusion of Deuteronomy was written, it was said of Moses, no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day: [Deut. Xxxiv. 6] but it were a weak argument to infer from thence that the sepulchre of Moses hath been known ever since.  When Samuel had delivered a severe prediction unto Saul, he came no more to see him until the day of his death; [1 Sam. xv. 35] but it were a strange collection to infer that he therefore gave him a visit after he was dead.  Michal the daughter of Saul had no child until the day of her death; [2 Sam. vi. 23] and yet it were a ridiculous stupidity to dream of any midwifery in the grave.  Christ promised his presence to the apostles until the end of the world: [Matt. xxviii. 20] who ever made so unhappy a construction as to infer from thence that for ever after he would be absent from them?


Again, it is true that Christ is termed the first-born son of Mary, from whence they infer she must needs have a second; but might as well conclude that wheresoever there is one there must be two.  For in this particular the scripture notion of priority excludeth an antecedent, but inferreth not a consequent; it supposeth none to have gone before, but concludeth not any to follow after. Sanctify unto me, saith God, all the first-born; [Exod. xiii. 2] which was a firm and fixed law, immediately obliging upon the birth: whereas if the first-born had included a relation to a second, there could have been no present certainty, but a suspension of obedience; nor had the first-born been sanctified of itself, but the second birth had sanctified the first, And well might any sacrilegious Jew have kept back the price of redemption due unto the priest, nor could it have been required of him, till a second offspring had appeared; and so no redemption at all had been required for an only son.  Whereas all such pretences were unheard of in the law, because the original Hebrew word is not capable of any such construction, and in the law itself it carrieth with it a clear interpretation, Sanctify unto me all the first-born; whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast, it is mine. [Exod. xiii. 2]  The apertion of the womb determineth the first-born, and the law of redemption excludeth all such tergiversation: Those that are redeemed, from a month old thou shalt redeem; [Num. xviii. 16] no staying to make up the relation, no expecting another birth to perfect the redemption.  Being then they brought our Saviour to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: [Luke ii. 22, 23] it is evident he was called the first-born of Mary according to the notion of the law of Moses, and consequently that title inferreth no succession, nor proveth the mother to have any other offspring.


13.—Indeed, they thirdly object it cannot be denied but that we read expressly in the scriptures of the brethren of our Lord: He went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren; and, While he talked unto the people, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. [John ii. 12; Matt. xii. 46]  But although his mother and his brethren be named together, yet they are never called the sons of his mother; and the question is not whether Christ had any brethren, but whether his mother brought forth any other children.  It is possible Joseph might have children before Mary was espoused to him; and then, as he was reputed and called our Saviour's father, so might they well be accounted and called his brethren, as the ancient fathers, especially of the Greek church, have taught.  Nor need we thus assert that Joseph had any offspring, because the language of the Jews includeth in the name of brethren not only the strict relation of fraternity, but also the larger of consanguinity; and therefore it is sufficient satisfaction for that expression that there were such persons allied unto the blessed Virgin. We be brethren, said Abraham unto Lot; [Gen. xiii. 8] when Abraham, was the son of Terah, Lot of Haran, and consequently not his brother, but his nephew, and, as elsewhere properly styled, the son of his brother. [Gen. xii. 5] Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary; [Lev. x. 4] whereas those brethren were Nadab and Abihu, the sons, not of Uzziel, but of Aaron.  Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother, and that he was Rebekah's son; [Gen. xxix. 12] whereas Rebekah was the sister of Rachel's father. It is sufficient, therefore, that the evangelists, according to the constant language of the Jews, call the kindred of the blessed Virgil the brethren and sisters of her only son; which, indeed, is some thing the later, but the most generally-approved, answer.


And yet this difficulty, though usually no farther' considered, is not fully cleared; for they which impugned the perpetual virginity of the mother of our Lord urged it farther, pretending that as the scriptures called them the brethren of Christ, [Matt. xiii. 55] so they also showed them to be the sons of Mary the mother of Christ. For first, the Jews express them particularly by their names, Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?  Therefore James and Joses were undoubtedly the brethren of Christ, and the same were also as unquestionably the sons of Mary: for among the women at the cross we find Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses. [Matt. xxvii. 56]  Again, this Mary they think can be no other than the mother of our Lord, because they find her early in the morning at the sepulchre, with Mary Magdalene and Salome; [Mark xvi. 1] and it is not probable that any should have more care of the body of the son than the mother.  She then who was certainly present at the cross was not probably absent from the sepulchre.  Wherefore they conclude she was the mother of Christ, who was the mother of James and Joses, the brethren of Christ.  


And now the urging of this argument will produce a greater clearness in the solution of the question. For if it appear that Mary the mother of James and Joses was different and distinguished from Mary the Virgin, then will it also be apparent that the brethren of our Lord were the sons of another mother, for James and Joses were so called.  But we read in St. John that there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. [John xix. 25]  In the rest of the evangelists we find at the same place Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses; [Matt. xxvii 56; Mark xv. 40] and again at the sepulchre Mary Magdalene and the other Mary: [Matt. xxviii. 1] wherefore that other Mary by the conjunction of these testimonies appeareth to be Mary the wife of Cleophas, and the mother of James and Joses; and consequently James and Joses, the brethren of our Lord, were not the sons of Mary his mother, but of the other Mary,  and therefore called his brethren, according to the language of the Jews, because that the other Mary was the sister of his mother.  


Notwithstanding, therefore, all these pretensions, there can be nothing found to raise the least suspicion of any interruption of the ever-blessed Mary's perpetual virginity. For as she was a virgin when she conceived, and after she brought forth our Saviour, so did she continue in the same state and condition, and was commended by our Saviour to his beloved disciple as a mother only now of an adopted son.


14.—The third consideration belonging to this part of the article is, how this virgin was a mother, what the foundation was of her maternal relation to the Son of God, what is to be attributed unto her in this sacred nativity beside the immediate work of the power of the Highest, and the influence of the Holy Ghost.  For we are here to remember again the most ancient form of this article, briefly thus delivered, Born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary: as also that the word born was not taken precisely for the nativity of our Saviour, but as comprehending in it whatsoever belonged to his human generation: and when afterward the conception was attributed to the Spirit, the nativity to the Virgin, it was not so to be understood, as if the Spirit had conceived him, but the blessed Virgin by the power and operation of the Spirit.


15.—First, therefore, we must acknowledge a true, real, and proper conception, by which the Virgin did conceive of her own substance the true and real substance of our Saviour, according to the prediction of the prophet, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, [Isa. vii. 14] and the annunciation of the angel, Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb.  From whence our Saviour is expressly termed by Elisabeth, the fruit of her womb.  


Secondly, as she did at first really and properly conceive, so did she also nourish and increase the same body of our Saviour, once conceived, by the true substance of her own; by which she was found with child of the Holy Ghost, [Matt. i. 18] and is described going with Joseph to be taxed, being great with child, [Luke ii. 5] and pronounced happy by that loud cry of the woman in the gospel, Blessed is the womb that bare thee. [Luke xi. 27]  


Thirdly, when Christ was thus conceived and grew in the womb of the blessed Virgin, she truly and really did bring forth her Son by a true and proper parturition; and Christ thereby was properly born by a true nativity.  For as we read, Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered, and she brought forth a son; [Luke i. 57]  so in the like simplicity of expression and propriety of speech the same evangelist speaks of Mary, The days were accomplished that she should be delivered, and she brought forth her first-born son. [Luke ii. 6,7]


Wherefore from these three, a true conception, nutrition, and parturition, we must acknowledge that the blessed Virgin was truly and properly the mother of our Saviour.  And so is she frequently styled the mother of Jesus in the language of the evangelists, and by Elisabeth particularly the mother of her Lord, as also by the general consent of the church (because he which was so born of her was God), the Deipara; 4 which being a compound title begun in the Greek church, was resolved into its parts by the Latins, and so the Virgin was plainly named the mother of God.


16.-The necessity of believing our Saviour thus to be born of the Virgin Mary will appear both in respect of her who was the mother, and of him who was the son.


In respect of her it was therefore necessary, that we might perpetually preserve an esteem of her person proportionable to so high a dignity.  It was her own prediction, From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; [Luke i. 48] but the obligation is ours to call her, to esteem her so.  If Elisabeth cried out with so loud a voice Blessed art thou among women, [v. 42] when Christ was but newly conceived in her womb, what expressions of honour and admiration can we think sufficient now that Christ is in heaven, and that mother with him?  Far be it from any Christian to derogate from that special privilege granted her, which is incommunicable to any other.  We cannot bear too reverend a regard unto the mother of our Lord, so long as we give her not that worship which is due unto the Lord himself.  Let us keep the language of the primitive church: Let her be honoured and esteemed, let him be worshipped and adored.


17 a.—In respect of him it was necessary, first, that we might be assured he was made, or begotten, of a woman, and consequently that he had from her the true nature of man.  For he took not on him the nature of angels, [Heb. ii. 16] and therefore saved none of them who, for want of a Redeemer, are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. [Juke 6]  And man once fallen had been, as deservedly, so irrevocably, condemned to the same condition, but that he took upon him the seed of Abraham.  For being we are partakers of flesh and blood, we could expect no redemption but by him who likewise took part of the same. [Heb. ii. 14]  We could look for no Redeemer but such a one who by consanguinity was our brother.  And being there is but one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, we cannot be assured that he was the Christ, or is our Jesus, except we be first assured that he was a man. Thus our Redeemer, the man Christ Jesus, was born of a woman, that he might redeem both men and women, that both sexes might rely upon him, who was of the one and from the other.


b.—Secondly, it was necessary we should believe our Saviour conceived and born of such a woman as was a most pure and immaculate virgin.  For as it behoved him in all things to be made like unto us, so in that great similitude a dissimilitude was as necessary, that he should be without sin. [Heb. iv. 15] Our passover is slain, [1 Cor. v. 7] and behold the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world; [John i. 29] but the Lamb of the passover must be without blemish. [Heb. vii. 26]  Whereas then we draw something of corruption and contamination by our seminal traduction from the first Adam; our Saviour hath received the same nature without any culpable inclination, because born of the Virgin without any seminal traduction.  Our High-Priest is separate from sinners [Heb. vii. 26] not only in the actions of his life, but in the production of his nature.  For as Levi was in the loins of Abraham, and paid tithes in him, and yet Christ, though the son of Abraham, did not pay tithes in him, but receive them in Melchizedek; so though we being in the loins of Adam may be all said to sin in him, yet Christ, who descended from the same Adam according to the flesh, was not partaker of that sin, but an expiation for it.  For he which is contained in the seminal virtue of his parent is some way under his natural power, and therefore may be in some manner concerned in his actions; but he who is only from him by his natural substance, according to a passive or obediential power, and so receiveth not his propagation from him, cannot be so included in him as to be obliged by his actions, or obnoxious to his demerits.


c.—Thirdly, it was necessary that we should believe Christ born of that person, that Virgin Mary which was espoused unto Joseph, that thereby we might be assured that he was of the family of David. For whatsoever promises were made of the Messias were appropriated unto him.  As the seed of the woman was first contracted to the seed of Abraham, so the seed of Abraham was next appropriated to the son of David. He was to be called the son of the Highest, and the Lord God was to give unto him the throne of his father David. [Luke i. 32]  When Jesus asked the Pharisees, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? they said unto him, The son of David. [Matt. xxii. 42]  When Herod demanded of the chief priests and scribes where Christ should be born, they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea, [Matt. ii. 4, 5] because that was the city of David, whither Joseph went up with Mary his espoused wife, because he was of the house and lineage of David. [Luke ii. 4]  After John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was born, Zacharias blessed the Lord God of Israel, who had raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. [Luke i. 67-69]  The woman of Canaan, the blind men sitting by the way, and those other blind that followed him, cried out, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. [Matt. xv. 22; xx. 30; ix. 27]  The very children out of whose mouths God perfected praise were crying in the Temple, and saying, Hosannah to the son of David. [Matt. xxi. 15, 16]  And when the blind and dumb both spake and saw, all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? [Matt. xii. 23]  Thus by the public and concurrent testimonies of all the Jews, the promised Messias was to come of the house and lineage of David; for God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins according to the flesh he would raise up Christ to sit upon his throne. [Acts ii. 30]  It was, therefore, necessary we should believe that our Saviour was made of the seed of David according to the flesh: [Rom. i. 3] of which we are assured, because he was born of that Virgin Mary who descended from him, and was espoused unto Joseph, who descended from the same, that thereby his genealogy might be known.


15.—The consideration of all which will at last lead us to a clear explication of this latter branch of the article, whereby every Christian may inform himself what he is bound to profess, and being informed fully express what is the object of his faith in this particular, when he saith, I believe in Jesus Christ which was born of the Virgin Mary.  For hereby he is conceived to intend thus much: I assent unto this as a most certain and infallible truth, that there was a certain woman, known by the name of Mary, espoused unto Joseph of Nazareth, which before and after her espousals was a pure and unspotted virgin, and being and continuing in the same virginity, did by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost conceive within her womb the only-begotten Son of God, and after the natural time of other women brought him forth as her first-born Son, continuing still a most pure and immaculate virgin, whereby the Saviour of the world was born of a woman under the law, without the least pretence of any original corruption, that he might deliver us from the guilt of sin; born of that Virgin which was of the house and lineage of David, that he might sit upon his throne and rule for evermore.  And in this latitude I profess to believe in Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.