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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 22. — How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?

A. — Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.

Scripture References: John 1:14; Luke 1:31,35,41,42; Heb. 2:14; Matt. 26:38; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 4:15; Heb. 7:26.

Questions:

1. Was Christ’s birth a voluntary act of Christ?

Yes, it was a voluntary act. He took upon himself the human nature so that he might be fitted to be our Redeemer.

2. Did he assume the nature of a real man?

Yes, he assumed the nature of a real man. He had the two essential parts of a man, possessing a real body of flesh and blood and bones and that of possessing a soul.

3. How can we prove that he had a real body?

The Bible tells us that he is called “Man”. He was subject to hunger, weariness and thirst like other men. He was also crucified, dead and buried and rose again in his body. Luke 24:39 teaches that his was a body, not just mere spirit.

4. How can we prove that he had a soul, a reasonable soul?

The Bible tells that he had such and that his divine nature did not take the place of, or supply the place of, a soul. Matt. 26:38 teaches that his “soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”

5. Was the birth of Christ like the birth of other men?

No, his birth came about by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

6. Why was Christ born of a virgin?

Christ was born of a virgin in order that he might be conceived and born without sin, that he might be free of the original sin which was passed on to all Adam’s posterity by natural generation.

7. Is it really important that we believe Christ was born of a virgin?

Yes, this is very important. (This is treated in the article below):

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF CHRIST

In many church courts today the question is asked, “Is it really necessary for a person to believe in the virgin birth of Christ?” The statement, or sentiment, behind the question is the thought that it is not necessary to believe in this doctrine to become a Christian, or, it is not necessary to believe in this doctrine to be ordained to the Gospel ministry. Actually, the answer to the question is very simple if the one answering regarding his belief in the virgin birth is a member of a church subscribing to the Westminster Standards. Our Bible-founded Standards teach the virgin birth and if a minister does not believe in it he is not qualified to be in the Presbyterian church.

Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield answers these important questions regarding the virgin birth when he says, “It is only in its relation to the New Testament doctrine of redemption that the necessity of the virgin birth of Jesus comes to its full manifestation. For in this Christianity the redemption that is provided is distinctly redemption from sin; and that He might redeem men from sin it certainly was imperative that the Redeemer Himself should not be involved in sin.” Could it be stated in a clearer fashion that the redemptive work of Christ depends upon His virgin birth?

It is very difficult for a person to end up with much at all when he starts to doubt essential doctrines of the Christian system. There are strong connecting links between the different doctrines of Christianity and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is an integral link. Certainly it is true that a person need not have a perfect understanding or conviction regarding the virgin birth to be saved but anyone that ignores it or denies it is a person that is denying the divinity of Christ and is therefore a person without hope in this world. Such a person has no business in the pulpit, pretending to preach the whole, redeeming Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting to note that the fourth General Council, convened in Chalcedon in 451 A.D. stated: ” … our Lord Jesus Christ … begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten … ” Our Confession of Faith affirms the same in Section II. This we believe! And for it we praise God!

Published By:
THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 2 No. 22 (October 1962)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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We look today at a sermon delivered by the Rev. Lardner Wilson Moore, who was born on May 20, 1898, in Osaka, Japan. His father was the Rev. John Wallace Moore and his mother, Kate (Boude) Moore. His parents were among the very first Protestant missionaries to serve in Japan.

Like his parents, his heart too was set on foreign service and in 1924 he began his career as a foreign missionary to Japan, remaining there until 1968.  A term of service in the US Army, from 1943 – 1947 had interrupted his work in Japan. In that military service, he was commissioned to oversee the translation work of a core group of Japanese Americans. At the conclusion of the War, he also served as a language arbiter during the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

In the years following the War, he became president of Shikoku Christian College in Zentsuji, Japan, serving in that post from 1950 – 1957.

In 1968, Rev. Moore was honorably retired, and returning the United States, went on to serve as Stated Supply at a Presbyterian church in Antlers, Oklahoma, from 1969 to 1972. It was in 1973 that he was received by the PCA’s Texas Presbytery. Later, on October 31, 1981 he transferred his credentials into the OPC.

Rev. Moore died peacefully in his sleep on December 28, 1987, within a few months of his 90th birthday.

Added note: The Reverend Lardner Moore was a brother of the Reverend James Erskine Moore and an uncle of the Reverend James Balleigh Moore, who were both members of the Presbyterian Church in America. James Erskine Moore was the father of David Moore, a former missionary to Japan with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; and of three daughters: Gwladys, Katie, and Margie. Gwladys is the wife of a PCA ruling elder in Texas and Katie is the wife of a missionary/minister in Japan.

Cunningly Devised Fables

By Rev. Lardner W. Moore
[THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL 8.24 (15 April 1950): 8-9.]

(Sermon preached by Rev. L. W. Moore, retiring chairman, at the opening of the Annual Meeting of the Japan Mission in January.)

II Peter 1:1619:
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables (myths) when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well to take heed.”

Attention is called to the words “cunningly devised fables.” The King James and the American Standard Versions translate the word “fables.” The Revised Standard Version translates it “myth”, which is no doubt closer to the original. Fables have to do with stories of animals which speak and talk like men, such as in Aesop’s Fables. But according to Webster a myth is “a story the origin of which is forgotten, ostensibly historical but usually such as to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural phenomenon.” “A person or thing existing only in the imagination.” “Myths are especially associated with religious rites and beliefs.” A myth is a story “ostensibly historical” which explains a belief or institution associated with religion.

It is very interesting that both Peter and Paul, at the close of their ministries warn the believers against myths. Paul says in 1 Tim. 1:3 “Neither give heed to fables (myths) and endless genealogies” and again in 4:7 “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables (myths) and exercise thyself rather to godliness.” In 2 Tim. 4:4“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables (myths).” And in Titus 1:1314 “Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables (myths) and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.”

The contrast is brought out clearly in the two verses of our text. Peter and the apostles knew that the religions of their day not only were based on myths but that the great majority of the people knew nothing of any other form of religion. So he says, “Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my departure to call these things to remembrance.” “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables—but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” The religions of his day were recognized as being cunningly devised but Peter claimed the authority of one who with his own eyes had beheld the glory of Jesus or as we find it in John, “we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” It will not be necessary to remind you that Paul bases his authority as an apostle on the fact that he had seen the Lord Jesus.

And yet Peter goes on to say in the 19th verse “and we have a more sure word of prophecy.” We need not go into the discussion as to whether Peter meant to speak of the written word of the Old Testament as on a par with or above the testimony of the apostles; it is sufficient that Peter says we have a surer word since they had seen the Christ and his works, they had been given the Holy Spirit and even the Old Testament prophesies bore the sign and seal of the word of God spoken through holy men who so recorded it. The contrast between the myths that formed the basis of the other religions of his day and the “surer word” which was the possession of the Christians of that day.

How the church has been cursed with myths in spite of the warning and assurance of these apostles! We can only refer to some of the myths which grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, many of them still cherished. The myths of the childhood of Jesus; how he and his friends made clay pigeons and when he commanded, they actually came to life and flew away. Or the myth of the Immaculate Conception; that is, that the Virgin Mary was born sinless. Or the myth that the Virgin Mary has special access to Jesus in Heaven and our prayers will be answered more readily if made through her. Or the assumption of pontifical authority by the Apostle Peter. All of these things are held as historical and much of the life of that church is built on the assumptions associated with them.

As for us here in Japan, we blushed with shame as we read of the ceremonies throughout the land and the world as the arm of Xavier was carried from city to city. We grieved to hear the Japanese Buddhists referring to those performances as being very similar to Buddhist practice. It would seem to insult the reason of man, to say nothing of the power of our Lord, and yet the whole mythical ritual was carried out by a world church.

But has Protestantism, or the Protestant Church, a better record? Since the name of Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Seminary, New York, has been in the religious news, Japanese ministers have asked me of his theological views. Being ashamed to say I had not read any of his books, I was compelled to buy his “The Nature and Destiny of Man.” In that book, he speaks not infrequently of “the myth of the fall” (of Adam). In other words here was a so-called leader of Protestantism who believes that some of the theories of Genesis are based on myth.

It has not been more than ten years ago that I sat in a church in New York and heard Dr. George Buttrick, also of Union Seminary, preach a sermon based on “that beautiful myth” of the raising to life of the man thrown on Elisha’s bones, found in 2 Kings 13. Now when I was in the Seminary in Richmond some thirty years ago, it was generally understood that Union New York had departed from the faith as to the authenticity of the Bible. This year I find Dr. Buttrick speaking at the Centennial of Austin College, and Dr. Coffin, of the same Seminary, invited to speak in Richmond. In other words, we find our own beloved church making common cause with men who believe that much of our Scripture and hence our religion originated in myth and legend.

Now if we are to follow the counsel of the apostles appointed by our Lord we must not “be given to Jewish myths” and Peter denies that the things he preached had anything to do with “cunningly devised myths.” If there are Jewish myths in the Old Testament they should be avoided and yet the leaders of Protestantism for the last half century have been more and more accepting, approving and proclaiming the mythological origin of much of our Bible or, what is worse, they tell us, as long as we follow Jesus, it makes no difference.

What of the effect of this teaching among the Japanese? Now it is readily admitted that the Shinto religion of the Japanese is based on myth. And there are among them stories which could not be published in the language of the people because of the actual filthiness of some of the deeds of the so-called gods. But they were “ostensibly historical” stories which were revered by hosts of people, old and young. What has modern Protestantism offered the Japanese in place of their own myths? We have witnessed the Christian Church trying to lead people to substitute “Jewish myths” for their own revered legends. It is easy to see how the mind of the modern Japanese refused to admit that “Jewish myths” were superior to Japanese myths. And yet we find modern Protestantism trying to do just that It is no wonder that there were and still are, many Japanese who felt that they could fit the moral precepts of the New Testament onto the mythological origins of Shinto. At this point, Protestantism has done, not only the cause of Christ, but the intellectual feelings of the Japanese people a deep injury; an injury which is more devastating than the atom bomb since the atom bomb had to do with physical death while belief in myths is equivalent to “turning away from the truth.”

But there is another myth which Protestantism is propagating to the injury of the cause of truth in Japan. It is that the defeat in war has wrought a miracle in the hearts of the Japanese people. Shinto is dead! The Japanese are turning to the church in crowds! If defeat in war can bring true repentance to the heart of the people, where is the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion? It is true that doors have been opened to the free course of the gospel but we also know that as far as the hearts of the people are concerned there is more knavery of every kind going on freely in Japan than was allowed under the regime of the Militarists. The doors have been opened both ways and it does no good to us nor to the work to preserve “cunningly devised myths.”

What can we as a Mission offer the Japanese? It is our glorious opportunity and duty to present the truth of God in contrast to myths, Jewish or otherwise. Luther and Calvin found the world of their day so burdened with myth and legend that it was impossible to tell what was Christian and what was not What did they do? They turned to “the surer word of prophecy” namely, the Old and New Testaments. They proclaimed the evil of myths on every hand as man-made and as the work of the Devil. In contrast, they proclaimed God’s word from Genesis to Revelation as of God and true and for the edification of all, both Jew and Greek. If the Old Testament is myth, let us shun it as we would poison. If the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are myth, let us face the facts and tear these legends out of our Bibles and be fair with our fellow workers, be they American or Japanese. But the testimony in our hearts bears witness with the testimony in the Scriptures that they are the word of God. We are a Mission which has taken its stand on the word of God as defined in our Confession of Faith. If we hold fast we will be able to repair a part of the breach in the wall in defense of our faith and with the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, we can go forth to breach the gates of Hell. No, not with “cunningly devised myths” but by “a more sure word of prophecy.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Christ, the Son of God, became Man

Finding nothing of national importance in historic Presbyterianism [you should always feel free to remind us of important people or events], we turn to Shorter Catechism 22 for our devotional today.  It asks the question of the manner of the incarnation of Christ.  In answer, our Westminster divines state, “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of  her, yet without sin.”

While not a historical event in American Presbyterianism, still the contents of this answer sum up the battle in Presbyterianism in the early nineteen twenties and thirties between the theological conservatives and liberals.  Was Christ the Son of God?  Was He conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost?  Was the Virgin Birth true?  All these were issues fought in the proverbial trenches of seminary class rooms and pulpits across the land.

This answer sums up biblical Christianity regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  He, being the Son of God, became man “by taking to himself a true body.”  An ancient heresy was behind the inclusion of these words in this phrase.  Docetism in the early church taught that Jesus took to Himself only the appearance of a body.  Believing that all matter was essentially impure, they taught that our Lord’s body was not and could not be real flesh and blood.  John the apostle fought against this heresy when he wrote in 1 John 4:2, 3 “By this you may know (perceive and recognize) the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges and confesses [the fact] that Jesus Christ (the Messiah) [actually] has become man and has come in the flesh is of God [has God for its source.]  And every spirit which does not acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [but would annul, destroy, sever, disunite Him] is not of God [does not proceed from Him] is not of God [does not proceed from Him].  This [nonconfession is the [spirit] of the antichrist, [of] which you heard that it was coming, and now it is already in the world.” (Amplified)  The inspired apostle John says clearly that Docetism is heresy.  Our Confessional fathers state that the incarnation or the taking upon Himself a true body is biblical.

He has also taken upon Himself “a reasonable soul.”  Again, unless we have the  struggles of the early church in our mind and hearts, we will not understand the importance of this phrase.  This clause in the catechism was added due to the false teaching of Apollinaris.  He and his followers falsely suggested that Jesus had a body, but not a soul. They could not accept that Christ had human affections and a human will.  Yet every page of Scripture testifies of the reality of our Lord’s humanity.  He could rejoice and He could sorrow.  He could show compassion on the sheep without a shepherd. He had a human will distinct from a divine will, so that He could say with respect to the Father’s will regarding His atonement, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” (KJV – Matthew 26:39)

Then, we have the phrases in catechism number 22 which states, “being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her.”  These two phrases spoke loud and clear regarding the disbelief which was present in the Auburn Affirmation of 1924.  It is why J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic book, “The Virgin Birth of Christ.” Both Matthew 1 and Luke 1 both speak of the supernatural birth of our Lord and Savior.

We cannot miss the last phrase which states, “and yet without sin.”  He escaped being defiled with original sin by being born of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.  He who knew no sin, became sin for us, as our sins were imputed to Him.

Words to Live By: A memorization of this catechism answer will keep you in the faith and keep you from departing the faith.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Samuel 1 – 4

Through the Standards: The degrees of sin

WLC 150  “Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
A. All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sigh of God than others.”

WSC 83 “Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”

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