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The Little First Word

13 September 2011 by Neil

Q. 37. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A. Christ the Son of God became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance, and born of her, yet without sin.

Q. 38. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?
A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession; and to satisfy God's justice, procure his favor, purchase a peculiar people, give his Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation.

Q. 39. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be man?
A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be man, that he might advance our nature, perform obedience to the law, suffer and make intercession for us in our nature, have a fellow feeling of our infirmities; that we might receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace.

Q. 40. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person?
A. It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.

Thirty-Seven is one of the hinge questions of salvation and redemption. It may actually be the hinge question of the entire Bible. But to illuminate this, we have to take another look at the little first word "how".

You know we be gittin' too erudite when we wanna poke the entrails of the first word of the question. But it is beneficial in this case. The sense of some of these anglo-saxon utility words has morphed since the Long Parliament of treasonous squires commissioned the Larger Catechism. Even today, "HOW" could mean a lot of things, at least according to dictionary.com:

how
1.in what way or manner; by what means?: How did the accident happen?
2.to what extent, degree, etc.?: How damaged is the car?
3.in what state or condition?: How are you?
4.for what reason; why?: How can you talk such nonsense?
5.to what effect; with what meaning?: How is one to interpret his action?
6.what?: How do you mean? If they don't have vanilla, how about chocolate?
7.(used as an intensifier): How seldom I go there!
8.by what title or name?: How does one address the president?
9.at what price: How are the new cars going, cheaper than last year's models?
10.by what amount or in what measure or quantity?: How do you sell these tomatoes?
11.in what form or shape?: How does the demon appear in the first act of the opera? How does the medication come?

And that's just the contemporary adverb form of the word. Let's plug a few of these definitions into question #37 and see what we might be asking.
  • In what way or manner and by what means did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
  • To what extent or degree did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
  • In what state or condition did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
  • Why? For what reason did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
  • To what effect and with what meaning did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
  • At what price did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
  • By what amount or in what measure or quantity did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
  • In what form or shape did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
The catechism writers certainly didn't have every one of these variants in mind, but they're good questions all, don't you think?  We could do a lot worse in the 2 Timothy 2:15 part of our walk than to pursue their answers, even though the questions are mighty and difficult.  Spirit-directed study of the Word should be our engine to tackle them. Yet, wise church councils were wrestling with the weightier ones seventeen hundred years ago and you may want to think about standing on their shoulders.  But this side of the glass, the complete answers to some of these questions are simply beyond us... the full nature and implications of the incarnation are too marvelous.

But don't let that stop you.  God became human flesh (John 1:14).  God grieved, sorrowed and faced death as a human (Matthew 26:38).  God put aspects of his exalted overeverythingness in his pocket, and instead set to serving his creation as the lowest of all of them (Philippians 2:7).  God was an impossible zygote implanting in a virgin's uterus (Luke 1:27, 31, 35), and then he was a toothless newborn in a barn (Luke 2:7).  God inhabited sinews and synapses, bones and glands, and a body full of arteries coursing with blood, for the sole purpose of spilling that same blood in order to free slaves (Hebrews 2:14-17).  God did this. The Son of God became human, and he still is.