The assertion was recently hurled at me that Christians worship an illegitimate child. Answered by reference to Matthew 1:20, the question was then asked, "Why was it right for the Holy Spirit to do what it was not right for man to do?" How can I best answer this challenge?
The very claim made by Christians regarding the birth of Christ, namely, that He was born in a manner different from other men, calls for a belief in miracles. If a person altogether refuses to recognize miracles, then of course we cannot enter into any discussion. However, in this particular question, the inquirer evidently conceded that a miraculous act—that is, an act out of the range of ordinary events—took place; for he bases his charge on the ground that the action of the Holy Spirit really was invoked in the conception of Christ. This simplifies the matter, and enables us to dispose of the question is short compass.
When your inquirer raises the question, "Why was it right for the Holy Spirit to do what it was not right for man to do?" he does not state the question correctly. He reveals a forgetfulness of the truth so repeatedly stated in the Bible, that the life which all created beings have comes first of all through the action of God's Spirit. In the creation account we read that "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," as a prelude to the whole series of creative acts that brought every form of creature into existence. Gen. 1:2. And specifically, when man was created, we read that God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Gen. 2:7. The marginal reading in Genesis 7:22 says: "The breath of the spirit of life."
Since the series of miraculous events at creation which placed the parents of all forms of life upon the earth, God has not followed the plan of arbitrarily bringing further beings into existence simply by the action of His divine Spirit, but has ordained that man should be a factor in determining whether further lives should be brought forth. God graciously permitted man to be a worker with Him in populating the earth, revealing thereby a wisdom beyond man; for by this co-operation on man's part there is made possible that most beautiful of institutions, the family. But the fact that in the ordinary course of events God 'thus allows man to be a factor, does not thereby eliminate God or His divine Spirit from the mystery of birth. The divine Spirit must be ever present to quicken, else there is no life possible. When Paul spoke to the Athenians, he told them that God "giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." Acts 17:25.
Therefore, as we have already stated, your inquirer wrongly puts the question. It is not whether the Holy Spirit should be a factor in the birth of a being in contrast to man, or whether it is "right" for one and not for the other. The divine Spirit must always be a factor in the birth of any being. In this particular case, God saw fit to have life brought forth without allowing a man to be a factor. In other words, Christ, who is described in the Bible as the "last Adam"—for He came to restore what the "first man, Adam" had lost by sin—was placed here in this world, even as was our great father Adam, by virtue of the operation of God's Spirit without the factor of a human father. Was the literal father of our human race therefore illegitimate? How absurd! Then equally absurd is it to speak of Him who is the spiritual head of the redeemed family in this earth as an illegitimate child.
F. D. Nichol.