The Alleged Necessity of Christ’s Divine Nature, continued
At this point that we need to delve into Christology—the doctrine of the two natures of Christ—in relation to the merit of Christ. I believe the authors of MM are operating with some questionable Christological assumptions. Consider what they say:
The traditional paradigm affirms that Adam’s merit was considered to be covenant merit in distinction from strict merit. In other words, Adam’s perfect obedience, as a creature, is being contrasted with Christ’s obedience as the God-man. On the one hand, Adam’s obedience was counted as meritorious on the basis of the covenant that had been established as an expression of God’s voluntary condescension .... Adam’s finite works of obedience could never be considered as valuable as the infinite gift of eternal life. On the other hand, Christ’s obedience could be counted as strictly meritorious since it was inherently worthy of receiving such a reward (MM 66).
The value of his merit is rooted in his divine nature. In other words, Christ’s merit is determined ontologically .... Christ’s merit is “strict” and “proper” merit because it does not require such condescension, as it is intrinsically infinite in worth and value because of Christ’s divine nature .... Because of his divine nature, only Christ’s obedience was inherently worthy of the reward of eternal life (MM 56-57).
According to the authors of MM, Adam’s merit was only “counted as meritorious on the basis of the covenant that had been established as an expression of God’s voluntary condescension.” It is therefore only covenant merit, not strict merit. But Christ’s merit, in contrast with Adam’s, is strictly meritorious. What is the difference between Adam and Christ? The difference is ontology: Adam’s “finite works of obedience” are performed by one who is a mere creature. Christ’s merit, however, is “intrinsically infinite in worth and value” because his works of obedience are performed by one who is divine. “Because of his divine nature, only Christ’s obedience was inherently worthy of the reward of eternal life.” Notice how they speak of Christ’s obedience as being “inherently worthy.” Adam, by contrast, being a mere creature, could only have his obedience “counted as meritorious” on the basis of the covenant, which was an expression of God’s gracious, voluntary condescension.
Notice the underlying Christological assumption behind this argument. They seem to assume one of two things: either the obedience of Christ was performed in and by the divine nature of Christ, or the human nature of Christ was given the divine property of ontological infinitude. They write: “No mere creature can perform a work by which he can inherently obligate God” (MM 58). But Christ, being very God of very God, is no mere creature; therefore, he can “obligate God” by his “inherently worthy” obedience. In order for this reasoning to work, they must assume either that the divine nature of Christ is the locus of his obedience, or that he obeyed in a deified human nature.
But such assumptions are counter-intuitive at best and unorthodox at worst. Surely, the obedience of Christ (both in its active and passive aspects) is an obedience that was performed by the Son in his human nature. Everyone believes that about his passive obedience, unless they hold to the heresy of Patripassianism. The divine nature of Christ is impassible, i.e., incapable of suffering and death. Accordingly, the church confesses that he suffered and died in his human nature. If that’s what we believe about the passive obedience, shouldn’t we say the active obedience was also performed in his human nature? After all, part of his active obedience involved resisting temptation (Matt 4:1-11; Heb 2:18; 4:15; 5:7-8). But just as God cannot die, so “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13). Therefore, the active obedience of Christ was performed in his human nature, the only nature in which he could experience temptation.
This is just good old-fashioned Chalcedonian Christology. The Council of Chalcedon, following Scripture, taught us that some activities are proper to his human nature—like being born, eating, sleeping, weeping, suffering, being tempted, and dying. Other activities are proper to his divine nature—like turning water into wine, stilling the storm, healing the sick, forgiving sins, executing judgment, and receiving worship. The famous Tome of Leo, which was read and approved at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), made this crystal clear. Reiterating Leo and Chalcedon, the Westminster Confession affirms that “Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself” (WCF VIII.7).