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So far we have been engaged on the study of the doctrine of God, mainly from the point of view of natural theology. We pass now to the specifically Christian doctrine of God, that which is the centre and sum of Christianity, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. To any one who asks what is the meaning of Christianity, the shortest and simplest answer is that in Jesus Christ God is revealed to mankind, as we are told in the Gospel of St. John, 'No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him'.
The traditional belief in our Lord is formulated for us in four documents, the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds, the Quicunque vult or Athanasian Creed, and the second of the Articles. These statements will form the subject of our investigation, and the best introduction will be the quotation of the exact language of these formularies.
The Apostles' Creed teaches us as follows:
'[I believe] in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried,
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead,
He ascended into Heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.'
In the Nicene Creed we have the same faith, but while the Apostles' Creed contents itself for the most part with a record of historical facts, the Nicene Creed presents its faith in a more philosophical form:
'[I believe] in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of very God,
Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made:
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
And was made man,
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried,
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose kingdom shall have no end.'
Then thirdly there is the full statement of the doctrine of the Incarnation in the Quicunque vult, commonly called the Athanasian Creed:
'Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
'For the right faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
'God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;
'Perfect God, and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting:
'Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood.
'Who although he be God, and man: yet he is not two, but one Christ;
'One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the manhood into God;
'One altogether; not by confusion of substance: but by unity of person.
'For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and man is one Christ.
'Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
'He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.'
And then fourthly we have the full definition of the second Article:
'The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.'
These statements contain in technical phraseology the traditional belief concerning the person of Christ, and the following chapters will be mainly an explanation and a commentary on them. What they assert is that Jesus of Nazareth, an historical person, was the Christ or Messiah, and therefore fulfilled all the expectations of the people of Israel, that he was the Son of God, and therefore true and eternal God, of the same substance or essence as the Father, but though truly God, he was also truly man, as his human birth and death declared, but though truly God, and truly man, he was one only person and that divine. He died on the cross for our salvation, and revealed his Godhead by his resurrection and ascension. This is the doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
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