The Alleged Necessity of Christ’s Divine Nature, continued
So Christ’s obedience to the law is proper to his human nature, not his divine nature. Furthermore, Christ’s obedience to the law was not an obedience that he owed to God prior to his assumption of a human nature. The Son assumed a human nature into personal union with himself precisely in order to obey the law, not for himself, but for the elect. Let’s look at some Scriptural passages that back this up.
The author of the Hebrews reads Psalm 40 as implying that Christ’s obedience to the law was voluntary and a consequence of his incarnation.
When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me .... Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” (Heb 10:5-7 ESV).
“A body have you prepared for me,” looks ahead to, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.” In other words, Christ became incarnate with a view to doing God’s will as written in the scroll of the book (the law).
Something similar is taught in Phil 2:5-11, whether it was composed by Paul or was a pre-Pauline creed or hymn. He says that the pre-incarnate Son existed in the form of God from eternity, but he voluntarily emptied himself by becoming a man, and it was as a man that he became obedient.
[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8 ESV).
In a related passage dealing with the incarnation, Paul implies that Christ’s obedience was an obedience that occurred “under the law”:
When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal 4:4-5 KJV)
It was by being “sent forth” and “born of a woman” (ESV) that he was “made under the law.” He was not “under the law” from eternity. He was “made” under the law. And he was made under the law, not to obey for himself, but “to redeem them that were under the law.” John Owen made much of this passage to argue that Christ’s active obedience was imputed precisely because it was voluntary. He acknowledged that Christ’s obedience was
the obedience of the person of the Son of God, however the human nature was subject to the law .... It was not for himself, not could be for himself; because his whole person was not obliged thereunto .... It was for us, and not for himself, that he assumed our nature .... He needed no obedience for himself .... Wherefore, the Lord Christ being made under the law for us, he yielded perfect obedience unto it for us; which is therefore imputed unto us.
Owen’s point is that the pre-incarnate Son was not under a prior obligation to yield obedience to the positive precepts of the moral law, since he was divine and “needed no obedience for himself.” However, he voluntarily assumed a human nature, and became subject to the law and its requirement of obedience. But if he was voluntarily “made under the law,” then he must have done so in order to obey in our place, so that his active obedience might be imputed to the elect. Christ’s active obedience was only required of him by virtue of his voluntarily assuming a human nature that was subject to the law.
Thus the authors of MM are incorrect when they say “the value of his merit is rooted in his divine nature.” On the contrary, it is rooted in his human nature as the second Adam. The hypostatic union brings the two natures together in an intimate union, but it does so without confusing the two natures. Each nature retains its essential properties. The union does not cause the human nature to lose its finite, creaturely status, or transform it into a divine nature. As a result, the obedience and merit of the Son in the human nature remains what it is—a fully human obedience and merit. It is not divine obedience or divine merit. Just as Jesus did not die as God but as man, so Jesus did not obey the law as God but as man. Obedience is not “proper to” the divine nature, since God is not subject to the law as if he must obey his own law in order to merit a reward from himself. The obedience of Christ is the obedience of the fully human Son of God. And it is the Son’s obedience only because the Son has assumed a full human nature into union with himself which enables him, in that human nature and as the second Adam, to obey and merit the reward.
The authors of MM seem to be operating with questionable Christological assumptions. When they claim that Christ’s merit is “intrinsically infinite in worth and value because of Christ’s divine nature” (MM 56), they seem to assume either that the obedience of Christ was performed in his divine nature, or that his human nature was deified by virtue of union with his divine nature. Either interpretation is at odds with Chalcedonian and biblical teaching.
(John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, vol. 5 in The Works of John Owen [ed. William H. Goold; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990], pp. 256-58, 272-73).