In Christ two natures met to be thy cure.
George Herbert’s elegant line captures two essential features of Christian teaching about Jesus Christ. The first feature concerns the consequence of the incarnation: ‘In Christ two natures met.’ At the Father’s sovereign behest, by the Spirit’s power, the Son of God became one of us, assuming human nature in Mary’s womb, with the result that two natures, divine and human, ‘met’ in one person. The second feature concerns the ends of the incarnation: ‘to be thy cure.’ The Word became flesh, not to benefit himself but to benefit us, to be our ‘cure.’ The Father sent the Son into the world because we needed a brother, a redeemer, and a Lord. If we are to appreciate the biblical significance of the person of Jesus Christ, then we must consider both of these features.
‘In Christ Two Natures Met’: The Nature and Consequence of the Incarnation
In order to understand the implications of the incarnation for Jesus’ person, we must first consider the nature of the incarnation itself. John 1:14 well expresses the grammar of this concept: ‘The Word became flesh.’
- The subject of the incarnation is ‘the Word’: the one who existed ‘in the beginning,’ who was ‘with God’ and who ‘was God’ (John 1:1). While all three persons of the Trinity are operative in the incarnation (the Father sending, the Spirit empowering), it is the Son who personally became incarnate.
- The object of the incarnation is ‘flesh’: not simply a human body, but human nature in its entirety, body and soul, in its miserable condition east of Eden (Isa. 40:6’7).
- The verb of the incarnation, ‘became,’ indicates that incarnation is not a matter of the Son coming to indwell a human person, as God indwells the tabernacle or temple or as the Spirit indwells the saints. No, the Second Person of the Trinity became human, assuming human nature into union with his own person. As Thomas F. Torrance so ably puts it, in the incarnation the Son of God came to dwell among us as one of us.
As a consequence of the incarnation, two natures exist in one person. In Christ two natures meet. This personal, or hypostatic, union of divine and human natures in the Son of God is a great mystery (1 Tim. 3:16) that outstrips the powers of human comprehension and transcends our highest capacities for praise. The hypostatic union is, nevertheless, a luminous mystery, characterized by its own intrinsic intelligibility, that we may grasp through the Spirit-inspired testimony of prophets and apostles and by faith. Bathed in this great light, we may come to adore the person of Jesus in truth and to avoid christological error.
The union of two natures in Christ surpasses all other unions that occur between God and his creatures. In providence, God and his creatures cooperate in fulfilling divinely appointed ends. In the covenant of grace, God binds himself to elect sinners for the sake of union and communion. In the incarnation, the Son of God unites divine and human natures in his person with the result that everything he is and everything he does is simultaneously fully divine and fully human. The God-man never is and never acts in separation from his divine and human natures. Thus when Jesus pronounces the forgiveness of sins, he does so by means of his own divine authority and by means of his own human vocal cords (Mark 2:1’12). When Jesus dies on the cross, the Second Person of the Trinity simultaneously suffers an all-too-human fate and enacts a work of divine wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:23’25). When Jesus ascends into heaven, he returns to his own native state of divine glory (John 17:5) and raises the now glorified DNA of Abraham, David, and Mary to the Father’s right hand (Ps. 110:1).
The intimacy of two natures in Jesus Christ transcends all other divine-human unions. Nevertheless, the hypostatic union does not bring about any modification to Jesus’ two natures. Jesus is wholly and truly God and wholly and truly man. In him the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form (Col. 1:19; 2:9). In him the fullness of human nature exists in its integrity: he has been made like us ‘in every respect’ (Heb. 2:17), ‘yet without sin’ (Heb. 4:15). Furthermore, the hypostatic union does not bring about any confusion of Jesus’ two natures. In Christ two natures meet, but they do not mix, becoming some ‘third thing’ (tertium quid) that is neither divine nor human. When horses and humans meet, we have a centaur, no longer horse or human. When deity and humanity meet in Jesus Christ, we have a perfect Mediator, fully God and fully man.
‘To Be Thy Cure’: Ends of the Incarnation
Mention of Jesus’ mediatorial office brings us to the reason for his incarnation. Here we must address the question, ‘Why did the Son of God become human?’ As we noted above, the Son of God did not assume human nature for his own benefit but for our ‘cure.’ The Son of God assumed human nature into union with his person in order that he might become the perfect Mediator between God and human beings, that he might reconcile two estranged parties for our good and God’s glory. The God-man’s mediatorial role may be summarized in terms of the threefold relationship he holds with his elect people: the Word became flesh in order to be our brother, our redeemer, and our Lord.
The Word became flesh in order to be our brother. The incarnation creates a kinship relation between God’s eternal Son and God’s elect children. As it is the kinsman-redeemer’s responsibility in Scripture to deliver his family members from ruin (Ruth 3’4), so Jesus is a brother born for adversity (Prov. 17:17). The Son of God ‘had to be made like his brothers in every respect’ if he was to be a fit Mediator (Heb. 2:17; 1 Tim. 2:5). But Jesus’ kinship relation to us is not merely a function of the human nature he assumed. Through the incarnation and in the work that follows, the Son of God extends to us a creaturely fellowship in his unique relationship to the Father: his Father becomes our Father, his God becomes our God (John 20:17; Gal. 4:4’7). ‘See what kind of love the Father has given us’’in and with the God-man”that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1; with 1 John 1:1’3)!
The Word became flesh in order to be our redeemer. Jesus’ identity as the God-man informs his redemptive work in both its passive and active dimensions. The Mediator’s humanity is requisite to his suffering and death on the cross, since his divine nature is immortal and impassible. The Mediator’s humanity is also requisite to his obedience as the second Adam, since it is the human race, not the divine Son, who owes a debt of obedience to God’s law. That said, the Mediator’s divine Sonship is no less significant for his redemptive work. The value of Jesus’ sacrificial death lies in his identity as God’s beloved Son (John 3:16; Rom. 8:32). This is what makes his blood more precious than silver or gold (1 Pet. 1:18’19) and thus more than sufficient as a ransom for our souls (Ps. 49:7’9, 15). Moreover, the human obedience Jesus offers to the Father in Gethsemane and Golgotha (Matt. 26:36’46; Phil. 2:8) is the creaturely form of the divine filial obedience he offers to the Father in coming into the world (John 6:38; 10:36). The former draws its infallibility and strength from the latter.
The Word became flesh in order to be our Lord. Strictly speaking, the Son of God is our Lord before and apart from the incarnation by virtue of his deity. However, by means of his mediatorial office and work, he assumes a lordship relation toward us that goes beyond the relation he holds toward us as our creator and providential ruler. Through his obedient death, our kinsman-redeemer has purchased us for himself (Titus 2:14). Therefore we belong to him (1 Cor. 6:19’20) and acclaim him as our Lord (John 20:20; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11). Certainly, we worship him because of his deity and because of the divine favor he has exhibited toward us in reclaiming us as his own. But we also worship him in his humanity. It is in his person as the Lamb who sits upon the throne’in his person as the God-man’that he receives ‘blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever’ (Rev. 5:13). We praise the incarnate Lord, for in him God’s supreme glory is revealed (Heb. 1:3) and in him our nature’s supreme happiness is realized at the Father’s right hand (Ps. 16:11).
Indeed, I believe the Bible pushes us to say that the ultimate reason for the Son’s incarnation was not so that he could save us, but so that we could be saved for him. God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Gal. 4:4’7; Rom. 8:29), that in all things he, the incarnate Son of God, might be preeminent (Col. 1:18; Heb. 1:2, 4). For this reason, the incarnate lordship of the Son will endure forever (Ps. 45:6; Heb. 1:8).
‘In Christ two natures met to be thy cure.’ This is true, wonderfully so’ for now, our cure lies in belonging to the God-man, our brother, our redeemer, our Lord (1 John 3:1). Ultimately, our cure will be perfected in beholding the glory he had with the Father before the world was, the glory he now and forever radiates in and through his incarnate person as the firstborn among an innumerable host of redeemed siblings (1 John 3:2; John 17:24’26; Rev. 7:9’10).