Heidelbasics: Brief Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. David Fagrey, Pastor of Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD
35. What is the meaning of [article 3 of the Apostles’ Creed] conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary?
That the eternal Son of God, who is and continues true and eternal God, took upon Himself the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Spirit; so that He might also be the true seed of David, like unto His brethren in all things, except for sin.
The eternal Son of God took upon Himself the very nature of man (soul and body)–He “became flesh” (John 1:14)–without ceasing to be the eternal Son of God. The Son of God cannot change. “I am the LORD, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6).
To understand this better, we need to know the difference between person and nature. God is three divine persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one divine nature. A human being is one person in one nature. The person of the Son of God united Himself to a human nature (soul and body), not a human person. “Hence it is correct to say: the person took the nature, …but we cannot correctly say, the person took a person” (Ursinus, 210). As we confess in the Belgic Confession, “the Person of the Son of God is inseparably united and connected with the human nature; so that there are not two Sons of God, nor two Persons, but two natures [divine and human] united in one single Person… wherefore we confess that He is very God and very man” (article 19). Thus, “the two natures subsist in the single person of Christ, without confusion, without change, indivisible, and inseparable, as it is expressed in the Chalcedonian creed” (Ursinus, 211). In His eternal divine nature, the Son of God could say, “Before Abraham was I AM” (John 8:58); and in His finite human nature, the Son of God could say, “I thirst” (John 19:28). One Person spoke according to His two natures.
The Son of God became a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, just as the angel said: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). Mary was a pregnant virgin, just as the prophet had foretold (Matt. 1:23). Jesus’ human nature was taken from the very substance of Mary–of her flesh and blood–in much the same way that our flesh and blood is received from our mother (Heb. 2:14). Just as Joseph and Mary descended from David, so did Christ (Rom. 1:3). But in Christ’s case the Holy Spirit miraculously caused His human nature to be conceived without the seed and substance of a man, so His human nature was formed from His mother alone. Thus, “in all things He had to be made like His brethren” (Heb. 2:17). Thus, He had a real human nature, with all its weaknesses, “except for sin” (Heb. 4:15).
36. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
That He is our Mediator, and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, wherein I was conceived.
The eternal Son of God became a sinless Man to be a true Mediator (God-Man) to reconcile God and sinful man. It will be explained later in Question 60, how our sin in which we were conceived can be covered, that is forgiven, on the basis of Christ’s perfect holiness. For now, we declare what David declared in Psalm 32:1: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”