The immaculate Christ

How are we to understand the conception of Christ and the role of Mary?

MRS. ERNEST W. COX, South England Conference

There are some good souls who seem­ingly believe that when Jesus was born of the virgin Mary He inherited from her those carnal tendencies that have marred our race since Adam fell. But, does not this attitude tend unduly to exalt the physical, and lesser, role of Mary in the incarnation at the expense of the ineffable operation and power of the Holy Spirit?

Roman Catholics concede that Jesus was completely immaculate. They cannot, how­ever, conceive of His being born of an err­ing woman. Consequently, they proclaim the doctrine that Mary also was immacu­late. It was in December of 1854 that Pius IX decreed that by a singular act of God, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was "preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."

But do not some Protestants stumble over the same difficulty when they assume that Mary must inevitably have transmitted her carnal tendencies to her child, in spite of the active and powerful intervention of God's pure Spirit? To say that Christ took a sinless nature from Mary (as the Catholics do) or to say that Christ took a carnal na­ture from Mary, is surely in either case markedly to exalt Mary's role and to em­phasize it beyond what seems warranted by Scripture. In either case, the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit in the virgin birth is not adequately considered.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the same divine power resides in each of the three persons of the Godhead. Frequently, when our Saviour was here, He demon­strated that He had power to cleanse and renew men's minds by the forgiveness of their sins. Also He showed that He pos­sessed ample power over their physical frames—a power that was only limited, at times, by the degree of their faith in Him. (Matt. 9:5, 6.)

Obviously, God's power was most gra­ciously and wondrously manifested when Mary was willing to surrender herself un­questioningly to the Spirit's operation "With God nothing shall be impossible. . .. Be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:37, 38). Surely no dogmatic re­striction of mortal man can set a limit to the Spirit's power in her and through her.

Gabriel's precise words to Mary are worthy of careful note. His utmost com­mendation of her was: "Thou that art highly favored... : blessed art thou" (Luke 1:28). Mary was, without any doubt, a most exemplary young woman, a pattern to all her sex. But she was still of our frail and fallen nature. She was not, of course, in the ultimate sense, holy, as God is holy.

Mary's Child the Holy Son of God

The significant words with which the an­gel Gabriel speaks of her Child declare, "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." Mary was one of God's saints, but she was not immaculately pre­served from the stain of original sin; she was good, but not immaculately holy. Her child, however, was to be holy, the holy Son of the holy God, born to her through the direct and miraculous action of the Holy Spirit. Well might Gabriel declare in this connection, "With God nothing shall be impossible."

Moreover, we may realize, with the ut­most reverence, that the very developing frame of the divine babe, even before birth, was the object of the heavenly Fa­ther's creative solicitude, for "when he [Jesus] cometh into the world, he saith, . . . A body bast thou [the Father] prepared me" (Heb. 10:5). Surely that sacred body, initiated by the Holy Spirit and nurtured by the heavenly Father, would also be holy, without any defiling taint of sin.

Speaking of the Saviour's subsequent life, the apostle John, perhaps His closest earthly associate, emphatically declares, "Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin" (1 John 3:5). Surely that statement is un­equivocal enough. It uncompromisingly denies that He had anything of sin within Him. And Peter, recalling his own experi­ence with his Master, adds his testimony. He says of Christ, He "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22). Paul speaks of our Saviour's com­pletely immaculate mind when he declares that He "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21).

Before Adam fell, he was pure and clean, without any taint of sin. He possessed hu­man nature, undefiled, as God created it. When Jesus, "the second man," "the last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45-47), came, in addi­tion to His divine nature, He also possessed human nature, undefiled, as God had orig­inally created it. Naturally, Christ was without Adam's stature and pristine physi­cal splendor, thus fulfilling the Messianic forecast of Isaiah 53:2: "He hath no form nor comeliness: and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." There is great spiritual significance in the fact that Christ assumed the infirmi­ties of a degenerate race without partaking of their sinfulness. On this point Ellen G. White declares, "For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the in­firmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation."—The Desire of Ages, p. 117.

Mrs. White here refers to Christ's accept­ance of a degenerated physical human frame, such as is commit to men. Even a superficial reading of the Gospels is suffi­cient to show that He was far from defi­cient in mental power. His keen perception was the terror of His foes. Equally, He is shown far to transcend the sons of men in moral worth. Had Christ appeared with the stature of the unfallen Adam, He would at once have become an object of curiosity, rather than an object of faith. Therefore, He came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Being in the likeness of sinful flesh cannot mean that Christ became sin­ful flesh, any more than our being made after the likeness of God (Gen. 1:26) can, of itself, confer on us divinity.

Christ, Undefiled, Separate from Sinners

In this connection it is interesting to note that the latter part of Hebrews 4:15, in which our High Priest's being "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" is spoken of, may also be, and perhaps more accurately should be, translated "apart from sin," as indeed Farrar does render it in John 15:5 (Early Days of Christianity, p. 203). In other words, Christ endured all the tests that come to us, apart from those arising directly from an inherited carnal nature. With this inter­pretation the further mention of our High Priest in Hebrews 7:26 significantly agrees: "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." And from the very vantage ground of this impeccability, as one standing on a rock would only thus be able to draw some sinking soul from a morass, He is able "to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him" (Heb. 7:25; see Ps. 40:2).

Through Isaiah the Lord issues a clear challenge to all mankind, "To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and com­pare me, that we may be like?" (Isa. 46: 5). Roman Catholicism makes our Lord "like" their "immaculate" Mary. Should we not hesitate long before we appear to make the Saviour "like" unto Mary as she was, undoubtedly noble in character, but admit­tedly frail in her fallen nature, especially since the Scriptures are so reticent regard­ing her; and such distinctions as are drawn, serve mainly to show that there was an infinite distance, in the realm of higher perceptions, between Jesus and Mary?

When He was but twelve years old His thoughts and ways were already passing beyond her comprehension. Again, at the Cana wedding, she showed herself still fur­ther removed from the sphere of His thought and intention. Later, she palpably misunderstood Him (Mark 3:21, 31). Be­yond His early care and childhood lessons, including His instruction in the Scriptures, the Bible does not reveal that Jesus either derived anything of superior moral worth immaculately from Mary, or that He in­herited moral frailty from her.

Should we not beware lest we seem to change "the glory of the uncorruptible God" into that which belongs to "corrupti­ble man" (Rom. 1:23), and thus appear to serve "the creature more than the Crea­tor" (verse 25)—a woman's frailty rather than the Spirit's power?

Every true Christian, of whatever per­suasion, who is zealous for the honor of Christ's name would do well to follow more prayerfully the godly example of John the Baptist, who, one day "looking upon Jesus," declared, "Behold the Lamb of God!" John knew that God would "provide himself a lamb," "without blemish and without spot."

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MRS. ERNEST W. COX, South England Conference

December 1957

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