Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian

Hercules Collins on the Hypostatic Union

Hercules Collins (1647-1702) made clear his own personal commitment to this union of two natures in Christ in his own writings. Among his 36 recommendations to preachers on how to rightly handle the Word of God in The Temple Repair’d, Collins included an explanation of how scriptural language often reflects this understanding of the union of the two natures.

In holy Scripture you will sometimes find that which properly belongs to one Nature in Christ is attributed to another by virtue of the personal Union; hence it is that the Church is said to be purchased with the blood of God; not that God simply consider’d hath Blood, for he is a Spirit; but it is attributed to God, because of the Union of the Human and Divine Nature. Moreover, it is said that the Son of Man was in Heaven, when he was discoursing upon Earth: Here that which was proper to the Godhead and the Divine Nature, is attributed to the Human Nature, because of the Union of the Natures.

Here Collins’ commitment to the hypostatic union becomes an important hermeneutical principle. He indicated the importance of explaining this in one’s preaching “with all the clearness imaginable,” because this doctrine “is so necessary to Man’s Salvation.” For Collins and his fellow Particular Baptists, doctrine mattered. Indeed, the salvation of individuals depended upon the proper explication of the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Collins considered the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures to be at the very core of orthodox Christianity.

In his Marrow of Gospel-History, Collins extols the theological truth of the hypostatic union in poetic terms. While attempting to describe the unique identity of the virgin born God-man, Collins expressed wonder at the mystery of the incarnation.

But yet that King, and holy Thing,
Which was in Mary’s Womb,
Was God indeed, of Abr’am’s Seed,
True God, and yet true Man.
Who understands, how God and Man,
Should in one Person dwell?
One Person true, yet Natures two,
But one Immanuel.

Collins does not seem to know how to explain the mystery of the incarnation, but he is committed to affirming and rejoicing in this divinely-revealed truth. Later in the same work, Collins expressed a similar amazement at how God was able to preserve Jesus as a man from the effects of original sin.

And tho this Man from David sprang,
He’s pure without, within:
And tho is made of Abraham’s Seed,
Hath no Orig’nal Sin.
Pow’r Infinite can separate
Between the Virgin’s Sin,
And Virgin’s Seed, for there is need
Christ be a holy Thing.

The sinlessness of Christ was important to Collins because the God-man had to be fully human, yet sinless in order to atone for the sins of other humans. Collins knew that it was the mystery of the divine-human union which preserved Jesus from the effects of original sin. He expressed the connection between the union of the two natures and the sinless of Christ and mankind’s salvation in the following verse.

A King of Peace, and Priest most high,
Who offer’d once for all;
Not for his own, but others Sins,
Himself, not Beasts did fall.
The Peoples Covenant thou art,
In Substance, Person, Name;
And hence art called Immanuel,
Two Natures, Person one.

Once again the important issue for Collins was how this doctrine relates to the doctrine of salvation. Humans need a savior who is simultaneously divine, human, and sinless. This is precisely the kind of savior which Collins saw set forth in Scripture. Therefore, this doctrine was of central importance. In the end, the never-ending union of the divine and human natures of Christ serve as an illustration of the eternal union between God and his elect because of the work of Christ.

That tho by Sin Man’s separate
From God, the chiefest Good,
Yet now in Christ united are;
Man shall live still with God.
And if the Union cannot cease,
Call’d Hypostatical;
No more can that ’tween God and his,
Because ’tis Eternal.