June 07, 2024

One Person, Two Natures

Sinclair Ferguson
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One Person, Two Natures

We must not think of Christ’s incarnation as a mixture: partially of God and partially of man. Nor should we imagine that He is two persons. Today, Sinclair Ferguson reminds us why getting our Christology right is so important.

Transcript

We’ve been thinking this week about a great creedal statement that was produced by a church council held in 451 AD at Chalcedon in Bithynia, now part of modern Turkey. Chalcedon helps us to think clearly about the person and natures of the Lord Jesus. I quoted it the other day, and I know it’s a massive study on its own, but we’ve picked out one or two things that help us to clarify our thinking.

We thought about Jesus in relationship to His true deity and His true humanity, and I want to close the week by thinking about this statement Chalcedon makes. It says that Jesus Christ, the God-man, is “acknowledged in two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably; the difference of the natures being in no way removed because of the union, but rather the properties of each nature being preserved, and both concurring into one person, one hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into two persons, but one and the self-same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Now, again, I know that’s a mouthful, but these ancient theologians had a couple of errors in mind here. One is called Eutychianism, named after Eutyches, who taught in Constantinople in the first half of the fifth century. Eutyches held that Christ was of two natures, but not in two natures. That view is sometimes called the Monophysite heresy. It held that in the incarnation, the divine nature and the human nature were combined in the Lord Jesus. In other words, He had a kind of new nature, a third kind of nature, a God man nature, without a hyphen.

But the Chalcedonian theologians were also reacting against another deviant view associated with the name of Nestorius, who was briefly the patriarch of Constantinople. Actually, there have been questions about exactly what Nestorius taught, but the view named after him held that in Jesus, we’ve not only two natures, human and divine, but also a human and a divine person. So, he objected to calling Mary theotokos, the God-bearer. Instead, he wanted to call her Christotokos, the Christ-bearer, as though there were two persons. This is why Chalcedon says that Christ possessed His human and divine nature “indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the natures being in no way removed because of the union, but rather the properties of each nature being preserved, and both concurring into one person and one hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into two persons, but one and the self-same Son and only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Now, I know if this is the first time you’ve heard these words, it’s a tremendous amount to take in, but be patient. It’s actually no more complicated than explaining the importance of American baseball to an Englishman, or for that matter, English cricket to an American. So, why is this important?

Well, it’s important because we want to describe our Lord Jesus properly and accurately because we love Him. The touchstone is always: if this is true of the Lord Jesus Christ, is He really qualified to be the Savior of human sinners? You see, if He’s two persons and not one person, then as Nestorius’ critics saw, it’s impossible to see how there was a real incarnation at all. I don’t think Nestorius intended that implication, but the law of unintended consequences operates in theology as well as in daily life.

Now, this week on Things Unseen, I know, may have seemed for some of us a bit like “spot the heresy” quiz—a bit dense, perhaps even academic. But remember, what we are really concerned about here is thinking and speaking properly about our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ. I say again, if someone wrongly describes someone you love, you don’t just shrug your shoulders, do you? You try graciously and clearly and maybe even at length to correct their false views. That’s what these early theologians were doing when they wrote the definition of Chalcedon.

At the end of this week, when we’ve been talking about this deep theology, I’m reminded of a weekend that Ligonier’s beloved founder, Dr. R.C. Sproul, spent in the church that Derek Thomas and I served in Columbia. One Sunday morning, he preached a fine message on the person of Christ, which was full of this great Christology. Afterwards, at the door, a man shook hands with Derek and said to him vigorously, “It’s about time somebody was teaching some theology to us in this church.” I used to love telling R.C. that story. After all, Derek and I were both professors of theology. Weren’t we doing that? I still smile at this, but the man made an important point: without theology, without great Christology, without patiently thinking things through, we don’t really have a very good foundation on which to build our Christian lives. So, it’s worth the hard thinking. Until next week, I hope you can think as deeply as you can about the Lord Jesus.