The Incarnation of Christ, by William S. Plumer

The Incarnation of Christ, by William S. Plumer

Written by Barry Waugh, William S. Plumer |
Wednesday, January 3, 2024

From the day that Christ was born to this hour, all the desirable changes which have taken place in the world, either in persons or communities, have been in consequence of his incarnation and of his glorious progress in setting up his kingdom. So, shall it ever be. His kingdom is constantly enlarging. His diadem is more and more glorious. Every soul saved is a new jewel in his crown.

The following text is a transcription of the chapter, “The Incarnation of Christ,” from The Rock of Our Salvation: A Treatise Respecting the Natures, Person, Offices, Work, Sufferings, and Glory of Jesus Christ, written by William Swan Plumer and published by the American Tract Society in 1867. Dr. Plumer was a profuse writer and many of his works have gone unused, which is particularly a shame because his writing tends to clarity and simplicity due to his keen pastoral sense honed in congregations in Richmond, Baltimore, and other locations. In the transcription some information in brackets [ ] including thoughts on clarification; one paragraph in particular needed some enumeration of points. Brackets also are used for inserted source citations and Bible references.

The last paragraph of Plumer’s chapter comments regarding the practice of remembering Jesus’ birth annually; the post for December 21, 2019, “Incarnation, Archibald Alexander,” presented Dr. Alexander’s sermon, circa 1850, that concludes with thoughts on the same subject. You may want to read on this site the brief biographical post about William S. Plumer. Plumer quotes Jonathan Edwards, John Dick, Basil the Great, William Nevins, and Robert Hall. The chapter ends with Plumer saying, “It is, however, a significant fact, that God has concealed from us any positive knowledge of the day, the month, and even the year of our Savior’s birth.” The review by B. B. Warfield of a book about the history of Christmas also discusses the unknown date of Christ’s birth.

The header is from, The New Testament of our Lord Iesus Christ: translated out of Greeke by Theod. Beza ; with brief summaries and expositions upon the hard places by the said authour, Ioac. Camer., and P. Lofeler Villerius ; Englished by L. Tomson ; with annotations of Fr. Iunius upon Revelation, 1599, as on Internet Archive. I do not think I have ever seen “translated by” rendered as “Englished.” The portrait of Plumer is a copy given to me several years ago by Dr. C. N. Willborn, pastor of Covenant PCA in Oakridge and professor in Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, South Carolina.

Barry Waugh

The Incarnation of Christ

by William S. Plumer

When we say, the Son of God became incarnate, we mean to say that he became the Son of man, taking to himself human nature entire. In the Apostles’ Creed this doctrine is expressed: “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.” The Athanasian Creed says: “He is not only perfect God, but perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.” The Westminster Assembly teaches:

The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. [Westminster Confession, 8:2]

Respecting Christ’s human nature, many wild and dangerous opinions have been held; but these need not now be formally refuted. The proof of the true doctrine will be sufficient.

The union of Christ’s natures was formed, not by his humanity seeking to be affianced to divinity. This would have been presumptuous aspiring. But his Godhead sought union with manhood. This was infinite love and condescension. Christ’s human nature never existed separately, or otherwise than in union with his divinity. From his conception this union was complete. The pre-existent divine nature took to itself human nature. Christ’s human nature never had a personal subsistence by itself. So that Christ did not assume a human person, but human nature, “His person is not a compound person; the personality belongs to his Godhead, and the human nature subsists in it by a peculiar dispensation. The assumption of our nature made no change in his person; it added nothing to it; and the only difference is, that the same person who was possessed of divinity has now taken humanity” [John Dick, Lectures, v. 2, p. 20]. So that things done or suffered in either nature are ascribed to the one person, Christ Jesus. The properties of each nature are, and will ever continue to be, entire and distinct. Divinity cannot be subject to any change. Humanity cannot cease to be humanity, it cannot become divinity. The Creator cannot cease to be Creator. The creature cannot cease to be a creature.

This union of the two natures in Christ is not without some similitude in ourselves. In his constitution man has two substances, one a soul, the other a body; one spiritual and immortal, the other material and perishable. By their union, one of these substances is not changed into the other. They remain distinct even when united. Yet a man is one person, and not two persons. When we say, someone is sad, all know we refer to his soul. When we say, someone is muscular, all know we speak of his body. Yet in both cases we speak of the same person. So, Christ’s person is one, and not two. When he spake of himself he said, I, mine, me. When his apostles spake of him, they said, he, his, him. When we address him, we say, thou, thine, thee, Acts 1:24. The  Scriptures also use singular nouns respecting him, and call him a Prophet, a Priest, a King, a Shepherd, a Redeemer. The union of his natures could not be more perfect. It is personal, perpetual, indissoluble.

The Scriptures say, Christ was made of a woman. Human beings have come into the world in four ways. [1] The first man, Adam, the very fountain of human nature, had neither father nor mother. Neither man nor woman was the instrument of his existence. [2] The first woman, Eve, had neither father nor mother, yet she derived her nature from Adam, but in no sense from a woman. [3] Since the first pair, every mere man has had both father and mother. Yet none have denied that all these had human nature entire. [4] Jesus Christ had a mother, but no father according to the flesh, even as in his divine nature he had a Father only. He was made of a woman.

To be our Savior, it behooved Christ to have a human nature. His incarnation was fitting and necessary.

It was meet that the nature which had brought our ruin should bring our deliverance.

It was fit that the nature which had sinned should make reparation for our wrongs, and so should die.

This earth, which is the abode of men, not of God nor of angels, was the proper theater for the display of the grace, and mercy, and justice, and power, manifested in the life and death of Jesus Christ. He that was rich thus became poor that we, through his poverty, might be rich, 2 Cor. 8:9. In some respects, this was the most amazing step in our Lord’s humiliation. It is more surprising that a prince should marry a shepherdess than that, having made her queen, he should nobly protect and richly endow her, or even die in her defense.

Christ was made under the law. As to his divine nature, he could in no sense be under the law. He was the Lawgiver. He was God; God cannot live and act under rules fit for the government of creatures. If the Savior was to live under the law as a rule of life, and set us an example in all things, he must do it in a finite nature, and as his mission was to us, most fitly in our nature.

Besides, Divinity cannot suffer, cannot die. But by his incarnation, Jesus was made “lower than the angels, for the suffering of death,” [Heb. 2:9].

Thus, he was made under the law in the two senses of being voluntarily subject to its precept, being thus bound to fulfil all righteousness; and being voluntarily made under the penalty of the law, that he might taste of death for every man. He even obeyed the law of religious rites under which he lived. In his infancy he was circumcised. In his manhood he was baptized. He perfectly, personally, perpetually kept the whole moral law. He never sinned once, even by omission. And he freely placed himself, and lived and died, under the curse of the very law which he perfectly obeyed during his whole life. Edwards says: “The meritoriousness of Christ’s obedience depends on the perfection of it. If it had failed in any instance, it could not have been meritorious; for imperfect obedience is not accepted as any obedience at all in the sight of the law of works, to which Christ was subject. That is not accepted as obedience to a law that does not fully answer it.” [Works of President Edwards, v. 1, reprint of Worcester ed., 1844, 406]. The efficacy of Christ’s death depended on his dying in the room and stead of sinners, who were under the curse of the law. If he did not bear the curse for us, we shall surely be obliged to bear it ourselves.

Let us consider a few distinct propositions.

  1. Prophecy required that Christ should assume human nature. It said he should be of “the seed of Abraham” and of “the seed of David,” Gen. 12:3,7; 17:7,8; Gal. 3:16; 2 Sam. 7:12; John 7:42; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8. Other predictions required that he should “at the latter day stand upon the earth,” Job 19:25; that he should have a body, Psa. 40:6 and Heb. 10:5; that he should hang upon his mother’s breasts, Psa. 22:9; and that his body should be dead, Isa. 26:19.

Yet still more clearly, the very first gospel ever preached, even in Eden, foretold that he should have a human nature, and that derived from his mother: “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head,” Gen. 3 :15; and later: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” Isa. 7:14. So that the Scriptures would not have been fulfilled, if Christ had not had a human nature—a human nature derived from his mother alone. In prophetic vision, Daniel called him the Son of man, Dan. 7:13, 14.

  1. These predictions have been fulfilled. The whole history of our Lord upon earth proves it. God has “sent forth his Son, made of a woman,” [Gal. 4:4]. In the New Testament he is often called a man. In the gospels alone he is more than seventy times called the Son of man. More than sixty times he gives this appellation to himself. The year of his ascension, Stephen saw him glorified and called him the Son of man. Sixty years later John did the same. The gospel of Matthew is styled “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” John says: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” John 1:14. Paul says: “He took upon him the seed of Abraham,” Heb. 2:16. In his first epistle, 1:1-3, John expressly says that by three senses, hearing, sight, and touch, he and the other apostles had satisfied themselves of his incarnation.

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