Previous article in this series: January 1, 2022, p. 156.
Christ Is True God.
We further believe and teach that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was predestinated or foreordained from eternity by the Father to be the Savior of the world. And we believe that He was born, not only when He assumed flesh of the Virgin Mary, and not only before the foundation of the world was laid, but by the Father before all eternity in an inexpressible manner. For Isaiah said: “Who can tell his generation?” (Isaiah 53:8). And Micah says: “His origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). And John said in the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Therefore, with respect to His divinity the Son is coequal and consubstantial with the Father; true God (Phil. 2:11), not only in name or by adoption or by any merit, but in substance and nature, as the apostle John has often said: “This is the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20). Paul also says: “He appointed the Son the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding all things by his word of power” (Heb. 1:2-3). For in the Gospel the Lord Himself said: “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5). And in another place in the Gospel it is written: “The Jews sought all the more to kill him because he…called God his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Christology—the doctrine concerning Christ. This is the subject treated in the eleventh chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession. It is one of the lengthier chapters in the creed. Bullinger extends his treatment of the truth concerning Christ to eighteen paragraphs. Several of the paragraphs are quite extensive. Of the eighteen paragraphs, five are entitled “The Sects.” Once again, the SHC shows itself to be distinctively Reformed. Not only does it set forth the truth of Christ positively but also negatively. Bullinger is not satisfied to explain what the teaching of Scripture is; he also identifies the errors that attack biblical teaching. He is polemical, as the Reformed faith always is.
There are three pillars of Reformed Christology. The first pillar is that Jesus Christ is true God. The second that Jesus Christ is also really and fully a man. And the third is that Jesus Christ is the only Savior. Each of these truths is explained and defended in this chapter of the SHC. In fact, they are all incorporated into the title of the chapter: “Of Jesus Christ, True God and Man, the Only Savior of the World.”
The first pillar of Reformed Christology is the truth treated in the first paragraph: Jesus Christ is true God. As Bullinger demonstrates, this is the teaching of Scripture by way of prophecy in the Old Testament, as for example, in the well-known prophecies of Isaiah 53:8 and Micah 5:2. The Messianic hope of the Old Testament people of God was the hope of the coming of the great Son of David who was also David’s Lord.
The teaching of the Old Testament is corroborated by the gospel accounts, which relate the birth, life, and death of our Lord. Bullinger quotes John 1:1, where the Bible teaches that the Word (capitalized because it refers to Jesus Christ) is in the beginning, with God—always and eternally with God—and is God. This is one of the clearest passages in the gospel accounts teaching the deity of Christ. Bullinger also refers to Jesus’ self-testimony, His identification of Himself as essentially one with God. He quotes John 5:18, where the wicked Jews sought to kill Jesus because He made Himself equal with God. And he also quotes Jesus’ word in His High Priestly Prayer as found in John 17:5, which in the King James Version is: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”
The teaching of the Old Testament and the gospel accounts is confirmed by the New Testament epistles, which teach that “with respect of His divinity the Son is coequal and consubstantial with the Father.” Jesus is not only the Son of God “in name or by adoption or by any merit,” but He is God’s Son “in substance and nature.” Bullinger cites Philippians 2:11, where the apostle teaches that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in the sense of “the Lord God,” Lord in the fullest and most absolute sense of the word. He also appeals to I John 5:20, where the apostle says about God’s Son Jesus Christ, “This is the true God, and eternal life.” And he points to Hebrews 1:2-3. In this passage, the apostle teaches that God has appointed Jesus Christ the heir of all things; that God created all things by Jesus Christ, which implies that He Himself is not created; that Christ is “the brightness of his [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person” so that Christ, says Bullinger, “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature;” and that God upholds all things by the word of Christ’s power.
Any honest reading of Scripture can lead to only one conclusion: the Bible teaches that Jesus is true God. He is one with God and shares in the very being of God. Unquestionably, Scripture teaches the deity of Jesus Christ. You may disagree with that teaching. You may contradict and oppose that teaching. You may consider that teaching impossible and ludicrous. You may despise that teaching and those who confess it. But you cannot in all honesty deny that this is clearly the teaching of Scripture.
Two truths that are closely connected to the truth of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ are included in the first paragraph of chapter 11 of the SHC. First, the confession introduces its defense of Christ’s deity by teaching that Christ “was predestinated or foreordained from eternity by the Father to be the Savior of the world.” Jesus Christ is God’s elect. God’s people are elect, but God’s people are elected in Jesus Christ and are given by God to Jesus Christ and Christ as their head to them. The biblical truth of election must begin with the election of Christ. This is how the prophet Isaiah refers to Christ prophetically in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” In Matthew 12:17-21, Matthew under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit applies Isaiah’s prophecy to the Lord Jesus.
Frequently, the New Testament Scriptures teach that God’s people are chosen by God in Jesus Christ. One such passage is Ephesians 1:3-6. In verse 3, the apostle blesses God because He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings “in Christ.” In verse 4, he teaches that God has chosen us “in him,” that is, in Christ before the foundation of the world. In verse 5, he teaches that God has predestinated us unto the adoption of children “by Jesus Christ.” And in verse 6, he concludes the section by proclaiming that God in His grace “hath made us accepted in the beloved.” “The beloved” is the beloved Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The second truth that is closely related to the Bible’s teaching of the deity of Christ is His eternal generation. This is the teaching of the SHC when it says, “And we believe that He was born, not only when He assumed flesh of the Virgin Mary, and not only before the foundation of the world was laid, but by the Father before all eternity in an inexpressible manner.” Christ is the only begotten Son of God. As the second person of the Trinity, within the being of God, He is eternally begotten. The SHC, along with the other great Reformation creeds, embraces the Christology of the ancient ecumenical creeds. The Nicene Creed: “I believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds…begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father.” The Athanasian Creed: “For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. God, of the essence of the Father, begotten before the worlds.”
We therefore abhor the impious doctrine of Arius and the Arians against the Son of God, and especially the blasphemies of the Spaniard, Michael Servetus, and all his followers, which Satan through them has, as it were, dragged up out of hell and has most audaciously and impiously spread abroad in the world.
In this brief paragraph, the SHC identifies two heretics and their heresies that deny the fundamental truth of the gospel that Jesus Christ is truly God. It mentions these two false teachers by name: Arius and Michael Servetus. Although these men are heretics, whose denial of Christ’s deity was condemned by the church of their day, the title given to this paragraph (which is used prior to this and which will be used several times throughout this and future chapters of the SHC) gives a unique viewpoint of heretics and their heresies: they are sectarian. They are not “sects” in the same way in which we speak of the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses as “sects.” But they are “sects” because they cause division in the church. They disrupt the unity of the church by introducing a party spirit within the church, setting member against member and group against group. This is invariably the evil result of heresy—strife and division. This is often part of the evil spirit that grips heretics: their lust for power, for the adoration of devoted followers, men and women who follow them unquestioningly.
The first heretic condemned in this paragraph of the SHC is Arius (256-336): “We therefore abhor the impious doctrine of Arius and the Arians.” Take note of the strong language; the true church abhors the doctrine of Arius and the Arians. Bullinger’s approach is not like so many theologians today who express mild disagreement with heretics, while at the same time finding much that they have in common in the interests of promoting ecumenical dialogue. The faithful Reformed church abhors the heretics and their heresies. Further, Bullinger describes Arius’ false teaching as an “impious doctrine.” Heresy is always “impious” because doctrine affects life. What we believe invariably works itself out in how we live. The denial that Jesus is truly God has the effect that it denies that Jesus’ teaching, His doctrine and commandments, are the very word of the Son of God. That denial leads to impiety of every sort.
Arius was a presbyter of the church in Constantinople. He emphasized God the Father’s uniqueness and Christ’s subordination to the Father. Christ was not the same (Greek term, homoousios) as the Father, but rather was like or similar to (Greek term, homoiousios) the Father. Arius argued that if the Son is begotten, there was a time before He was begotten; He had a beginning of His existence.
Arius was opposed by the champion of orthodoxy, Athanasius (ca. 293-373). He condemned Arius’ teaching and over against Arius taught that Jesus Christ is consubstantial and coeternal with God the Father. While it is true that in human begetting there is a time before a child is begotten when he does not exist, Christ’s begetting is an eternal begetting. Eternally He is begotten and eternally God is His Father. The Arian controversy was settled at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. At the Council, Athanasius’ condemnation of Arius was upheld and the creed drafted by the Council maintained the biblical truth that Christ is truly God.
Michael Servetus (ca. 1509-1553) is the other heretic who is mentioned in this paragraph. While Arius was a heretic in the early history of the Christian church, Servetus is from a much later time, the Reformation era. Bullinger says that by the blasphemies of Servetus and his followers, Satan “dragged up out of hell and has most audaciously and impiously spread abroad” heresy in the world. Satan’s use of the heretic and heresy in his warfare against the church is identified. The heretic is the servant of Satan. Scripture makes the same connection between Satan and the heretic. In I Timothy 1:20, the apostle refers to the heretics Hymenaeus and Alexander “whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” In Revelation 3:9, the inspired apostle speaks of the wicked Jews as belonging to “the synagogue of Satan.”
Servetus was a Spanish physician who dabbled in theology. The study of theology was a kind of hobby for Servetus, who thought more of his theological abilities than he ought to have. He published a book entitled The Restoration of Christianity, in which he condemned the Nicene Creed’s defense of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. He also denied predestination, a doctrine which he found especially revolting, and infant baptism.
In 1553 Servetus was discovered hiding out in Geneva and was promptly arrested. It is surprising that he had taken refuge in Geneva, the home of his bitterest en- emy, John Calvin. Either he was extremely naïve or unimaginably bold. Whatever the case, he was identified, arrested, and imprisoned. It should not be overlooked that Servetus was at this time a wanted man throughout Europe. Not only in Protestant cities, but also in Roman Catholic cities, Servetus had a price on his head. And, as in Geneva, Servetus would have been executed by whomever captured him. That is what happened. While in prison, Calvin visited with Servetus, showing love to his enemy. He pleaded with him to recant his errors. But Servetus refused. The result was that after a public trial, Servetus was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to death. On October 27, 1553, that sentence was carried out and he was burned at the stake.