And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).
Jesus 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 and born of her, yet without sin…I come now to show what we are to understand by Christ’s being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is a great mystery, beyond the reach and comprehension of a finite mind. The conception of our blessed Savior was miraculous and supernatural, above the methods of nature…
First, let us consider the framing of the human nature of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In the text, the act is expressed to be the effect of the infinite power of God. It sets forth the supernatural manner of forming the humanity of our blessed Savior—“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (Luk 1:35)—and by an act of creative power frame the humanity of Christ and unite it to the divinity. In the framing of Christ’s manhood, we are to consider the matter and the manner of it.
The matter of His body was of the very flesh and blood of the virgin, otherwise He could not have been the Son of David, of Abraham, and Adam, according to the flesh. Indeed, God might have created His body out of nothing or have formed it of the dust of the ground, as He did the body of Adam, our original progenitor.1 But had He been thus extraordinarily formed and not [descended] from Adam, though He had been a man like one of us, yet He would not have been of kin to us because it would not have been a nature derived from Adam, the common parent of us all. It was therefore requisite to an affinity2 with us, not only that He should have the same human nature, but that it should flow from the same principle and be propagated to Him. Thus, He is of the same nature that sinned, [so that] what He did and suffered may be imputed to us. Whereas, if He had been created as Adam was, it could not have been claimed in a legal and judicial way. Now, the Holy Ghost prepared the matter of Christ’s body of the substance of the virgin. And He formed it of the matter thus prepared. Hence, says Christ, “A body hast thou prepared me” (Heb 10:5). And says the apostle, “God sent forth his Son made of a woman” (Gal 4:4). The Holy Ghost sanctified that part of the virgin’s substance whereof the body of Christ was to be formed, purging it from all sin and taint of impurity. For though a man cannot, yet God can bring a clean thing out of an unclean (Job 14:4) and endue it with a capacity for the generation of a human body, which otherwise it would not have had alone.
Though Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin, yet we are not to think that He was made of the substance of the Holy Ghost, Whose essence cannot be at all made. The Holy Ghost did not beget Him by any communication of His essence; therefore, He is not the Father of Christ, though He was conceived by His power. The Holy Ghost did not minister any matter unto Christ from His own substance…And as for His soul, it was not derived from the soul of the virgin as a part thereof; for spiritual substances are indivisible and undividable—nothing can be cut off from them. But it was created and made of nothing by the divine power, as all other souls are. Hence, God is called “the Father of spirits” (Heb 12:9) and is said to “form the spirit of man within him” (Zec 12:1)…
Secondly, let us consider the sanctifying of Christ’s human nature. I have already said that [the] part of the flesh of the virgin, whereof the human nature of Christ was made, was purified and refined from all corruption by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, as a skillful workman separates the dross from the gold. Our Savior was therefore called “that holy thing” (Luk 1:35). Now, this sanctification of the human nature of Christ was necessary: (1) To fit it for 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. (2) With respect to the [goal] of His incarnation—the redemption and salvation of lost sinners—as the first Adam was the fountain of our impurity, so the second Adam should also be the pure fountain of our righteousness. “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3), 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” (2Co 5:21), which we could never have been made, if He had been tainted with any sin. He that needed redemption Himself could never have purchased redemption for us.
Thirdly, we are to consider the personal union of the manhood with the Godhead. To clear this a little, you would know…[that this taking on human nature] of which I speak is that whereby the Second Person in the glorious Godhead did take the human nature into a personal union with Himself by virtue whereof the manhood subsists in the Second Person, yet without confusion…both making but one person “Emmanuel…God with us” (Mat 1:23). Though there be a twofold nature in Christ, yet [there is] not a double person. For the human nature of Christ never subsisted separately and distinctly by any personal subsistence of its own, as it doth in all other men; but from the first moment of conception subsisted in union with the Second Person of the adorable Trinity in a miraculous and extraordinary manner, being supernaturally framed within the womb of the virgin by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost…Christ took a complete and perfect soul and body with all and every faculty and member pertaining to it. And this was necessary that thereby He might heal the whole nature of the disease and leprosy of sin that had seized upon and woefully infected every member and faculty of man. Christ assumed all to sanctify all. He designed a perfect recovery by sanctifying us wholly in soul, body, and spirit; therefore, He assumed the whole in order to it…
The human nature is so united with the divine that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct. And this distinction is not, nor can be lost by that union. The humanity was indeed changed by a communication of excellent gifts from the divine nature, but not by being brought into an equality with it; for it was impossible that a creature should become equal to the Creator. He took upon Him the form of a servant, but He lost not the form of God. He [stripped] not Himself of the perfections of the deity by taking upon Him the humanity. The glory of His divinity was not extinguished or diminished, though it was eclipsed and obscured under the veil of our humanity; but there was no more change in the hiding of it, than there is in the body of the sun, when he is shadowed by the interposition of a cloud. And this union of the two natures in Christ is an inseparable union; so that from the first moment thereof, there never was, nor to all eternity shall there ever be any separation of them…
I now proceed to show why Christ was born of a virgin. That Christ was to be born of a virgin was prophesied and foretold many ages before His incarnation, as Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Now, that the mother of Jesus was that virgin spoken of by the prophet Isaiah is evident from the testimony of the evangelists, particularly Matthew 1:18, etc. It was not convenient that He should be born in the common order of father and mother; for if He had been so born, He would have been a natural son of Adam, and so represented by him in the covenant of works, and an heir of Adam’s sin, as others are that are born by virtue of the blessing of marriage. By such a birth, He would have been polluted and defiled with sin: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4). The Redeemer of the world [found it needful] to be so born, as not to derive the stain of man’s nature by His generation. For if He had been tainted with the least spot of our corruption, He would have been incapable of being a Redeemer: He Who stood in need of redemption Himself could never have redeemed others. And although God by His almighty power had perfectly sanctified an earthly father and mother and cleansed them from all original sin so that the human nature might have been transmitted immaculate3 to Him, as well as the Holy Ghost did purge that part of the flesh of the virgin of which the body of Christ was made. Yet it was not convenient for that person, Who was “God blessed for ever” (Rom 9:5) as well as man, in partaking of our nature, should have a conception in the same manner with ours, but different from it, and in some measure conformable to the infinite dignity of His person. This could not have been had not a supernatural and a divine person been concerned as an active principle in it. Besides, such a birth had not been agreeable to the first promise, which calls Him “the seed of the woman,” not of the man…The seed of the woman only is set in opposition to the seed of the serpent.
By His being born of a virgin, the holiness of His nature is effectually secured. This exempted Him from the stain and pollution of Adam’s sin, which His nature wholly escaped, in that He received it not as all others do, in the way of ordinary generation, by which original sin is propagated; but this being extraordinarily produced was a most pure and holy thing. Christ was an extraordinary person and another Adam; therefore, it was necessary that He should be produced a new way. At first, Adam was produced neither of man nor woman, Eve of a man without a woman, all others of a man and a woman. The fourth way remained, viz., of a woman without a man; and so Christ was born. And the wisdom of God appeared in that He was born of a virgin espoused; for thereby the reproach of illegitimacy was warded off. He had Joseph to take care of Him in His infancy. His mother’s good name and life were preserved from the malicious Jews, and our faith was the more confirmed by Joseph’s testimony concerning Mary. Thus, we may be thoroughly satisfied,
That Christ had a true human body. Though He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, He had not merely the likeness of flesh, but true flesh (Luk 24:39; Heb 2:14).
That He had a reasonable soul, which was a created spirit, and the divine nature was not instead of a soul to Him. When He died, He commended His spirit to God (Luk 23:46)…And the human nature being united to the divine, there were great gifts of holiness, wisdom, etc., in the human nature of Christ by virtue of this union, which yet were not infinite (Luk 2:52).
That Christ’s body was not made of any substance sent down from heaven, but of the substance of the virgin (Gal 4:4). He was “the seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) and the fruit of Mary’s womb (Luk 1:42); otherwise, He had not been our brother.
That the Holy Ghost cannot be called the Father of Christ. [Christ’s] human nature was formed, not of [the Spirit’s] substance, but of that of the virgin by [the Spirit’s] power.
That the nativity of Christ was not [in its manner] extraordinary. [Jesus] was brought forth at the ordinary time as others (Luk 2:22-23)…yet He was born without sin, being “that holy thing.” He could not have been our Redeemer had He not been so (Heb 7:26). Neither could He have sinned, seeing the human nature was put beyond that capacity by its union with the divine; and whatsoever Christ did or could do was the action of that person Who was God, and therefore free from sin.
I shall conclude all with some inferences:
Jesus Christ is the true Messiah. [He was] promised to Adam as the seed of the woman, to Abraham as his seed, the Shiloh mentioned by Jacob on his death bed, the Prophet spoken of by Moses to be raised from among the children of Israel, the Son of David, and the Son to be born of a virgin.
Behold the wonderful love of God the Father. [He] was content to degrade and abase His dear Son in order to bring about the salvation of sinners. How astonishing is it that He should send His only begotten Son to assume our nature and bear that dreadful wrath and punishment that we deserved?
See here the wonderful love and astonishing condescension of the Son. [He] born of a woman in order that He might die in the room of sinners. O how low did He stoop and humble Himself in assuming human nature with all its sinless infirmities, in being subject to His own Law, exposed to all manner of injurious usage from wicked men, to the temptations of Satan, and at last suffering a shameful and ignominious 4 death! What great love to sinners, and what unparalleled condescension was here!
See here the cure of our being conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity. Christ was born of a woman for us, and He was born without sin for us that the holiness of His nature might be imputed to us as a part of that righteousness that constitutes the condition of our justification before God. In Him is a complete righteousness for our guilt, and a fountain for washing away our spiritual pollution.
Christ is sensibly touched with all the infirmities that attend our frail nature. [For this cause, He] has pity and compassion upon His people under all their pressures and burdens. Hence, the apostle says, “In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb 2:17-18). How comfortable it is to believers to consider that He Who is their great High Priest in heaven is clothed with their nature, to capacitate and qualify Him to have compassion on them in all their troubles and distress.
Let this encourage sinners to come unto Him that they may be united unto Him by faith, and so partake of the blessings of His purchase. Come and enter into a marriage relation with Him. Sin shall not stop the match, if ye be willing. He that could sanctify the virgin’s substance to make it a sinless piece of flesh can easily sanctify you. And He that united the human nature to His divine person can also unite you to Himself, so as ye shall never be separated from Him.
From The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, in the public domain.
Thomas Boston (1676-1732): Scottish Presbyterian minister and theologian; born in Duns, Berwickshire, UK
1. progenitor – ancestor in the direct line.
2. requisite…affinity – required by the nature of things to have a connection.
3. immaculate – spotless; undefiled; in the case of Christ, free from original sin.
4. ignominious – marked by shame and disgrace.
Courtesy of Chapel Library