The Alleged Necessity* of Christ’s Divine Nature, continued
(*for his merit)
Christ’s satisfaction of divine justice in the law as a covenant of works involves two distinct but inseparable aspects: bearing the curse of the law in our place (his passive obedience), and fulfilling the positive requirement of the law in our stead, thus earning for the elect a right and title to eternal life (his active obedience). Christ’s divine nature is necessary for him to satisfy the curse of the law for us but not to satisfy the positive requirement of the law in order to merit eternal life for us.
Christ’s divine nature is necessary for the first aspect, because the human nature could not have borne the wrath of God by itself. “It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God” (Westminster Larger Catechism # 38). Were it not for the divine nature undergirding the human nature via the hypostatic union, the penal sufferings of Christ would have caused the human nature to sink under the infinite wrath of God. Since wrath-bearing was not part of the original mandate given to Adam under the covenant of works, it is not surprising that this would be something unique about Christ’s work. He must redeem sinners from the curse of the law, something not in view for Adam.
However, I do not see how Christ’s divine nature was necessary for the second part, the fulfilling of the positive requirement of the law. The reason, as I have argued previously, is that “Christ, the second Adam, assumes the covenant [of works] in behalf of his elect just as Adam left it” (A. A. Hodge). If the obedience demanded of Adam under the original covenant of works was human obedience, and if that human obedience, had it been rendered, would have been sufficient to earn the reward of eternal life, then the obedience Christ renders as the second Adam need not exceed Adam’s.
It is true that the person of the mediator adds to the glory, worth, and dignity of his obedience. The reason it does so, is because his obedience is the obedience, not of a mere human like Adam, but of a divine person, the Son of God. This gives his obedience greater glory, worth, and dignity. The dignity of the obedience is as great as the dignity of the person performing the obedience. Since the person is a divine person who has infinite glory, worth, and dignity, his obedience also has infinite glory, worth, and dignity, far exceeding the worth and dignity of Adam’s obedience.
But this added worth and dignity exceeds what was required of Adam. “The satisfaction of Christ was that of a divine Person, and hence was ... of infinite value ... of superabundant value” (A. A. Hodge). This superabundant worth, value and dignity, grounded in the uniqueness of Christ as a divine person, is not necessary for the satisfaction of the law’s positive requirement as the condition of eternal life. The divine person of the mediator enhances the dignity of his obedience but does not increase the merit of his obedience.
Merit does not permit of degrees. Merit simply means that the condition of the covenant of works has been fulfilled and the reward has been earned. Either one has earned the reward or one has not. Either one has merit or one does not. But one cannot have degrees of merit. Thus, while it is true that Christ’s obedience has superabounding worth and dignity far exceeding Adam’s as a mere creature, this added glory is not what enables him to fulfill the positive requirement of the covenant of works so as to earn the reward of eternal life.
Having said that, I do think it was necessary for the active obedience of Christ to be that of a divine person—just not for his merit. As we have seen, the divine person of Christ, the eternal Son of God and second person of the Trinity, had no prior obligation to perform obedience to the positive requirement of the law. When he took a human nature into personal union with himself and was “made under the law” (Gal 4:4), he did so voluntarily and therefore vicariously.
The satisfaction of Christ was that of a divine Person, and hence was superogatory [sic; should be supererogatory], not due from himself, and free to be credited to others .... Christ, although a man, was a divine person, and therefore never personally subject to the Adamic covenant of works .... He was made under the law only as our representative, and his obedience under the voluntarily assumed conditions of his earthly life was purely vicarious (A. A. Hodge).
Therefore, although the divine person of the mediator was not necessary to make his obedience meritorious, yet it was necessary to make his obedience (in its inseparable active and passive aspects) supererogatory and “for us.”
(A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983; originally 1879], 405, 413, 415.)