Christ’s Deity as Expressed by our Confession(continued)
Thus, for example, Arius maintained that title Son of God is a title that is given to Christ and that is applicable to Him especially after His resurrection, but that denotes Him as a very highly exalted human being, so high that God bestowed upon Him a unique honor of being called His only begotten Son. And so also the Socinians and the Unitarians and the Moderns of the present day did not and do not object to the doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God. They will even go so far as to call Him the only begotten Son of God. But following the devious paths of their heresies, they deny that He is really God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; and they explain His divinity in terms of His true and real humanity. But it is not difficult at all to I set forth the fundamentals of the truth that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, and to do so in simple an unequivocal language. Either He is really God, or He is not.
Negatively, our Confession calls attention to two factors. In the first place, it states that He was “not made nor created (for then he should be a creature).” Hence, He is not the Son of God through an act of Gods omnipotent will, whereby He calls the things that are not as if they were. In His divine nature He does not have His origin in the divine plan, in the eternal counsel of God. He is not the product of the creative work of God; but with the Father and the Holy Ghost He is the Creator. He is not one of the divine thoughts, but with the Father and the Holy Ghost He is the Author of the eternal counsel of God. But it was just exactly this error, namely, that Christ was a creature, a mere creature, which really constituted the error of the heretics from the time of Arius on. They made Him very high, elevating Him above the rest of God’s creatures. They would even try to present it as though this created Son of God pre-existed, that He was the Mediator of creation too, and as though He had a part in the creation of the world. But that He was from eternity they denied; and they lowered Him to the level of the creature, putting him on a line with men and angels. The only difference was one of degree. In the second place, from this negative point of view, our Confession emphasizes that Christ as the only begotten Son of God, according to His divine nature, did not begin to exist at the time of His incarnation. It is true, of course, that Jesus Christ was also born. In the fullness of time He was born of a woman. And He is the firstborn among many brethren, the firstborn of every creature, the firstborn of the dead. But all this is true only of the Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh and in the human nature. In fact, it is possible only because He is at the same time the eternal and only begotten Son of God. According to His divine nature, He is the Son of God, not from the time that He assumed our nature, but from all eternity. He has no beginning and no end.
Positively, our Confession states the following: 1) Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God. 2) He is begotten from eternity. 3) He is co-essential and co-eternal with the Father. 4) He is the express image of His person (“substance” would be better here than “person”). 5) He is the brightness of His glory. 6) He is equal unto Him in all things. 7) And in the last sentence of the article this is all summed up: “He therefore is that true, eternal, and almighty God, whom we invoke, worship, and serve.” We may note here, by the way, that the term “co-essential” is not quite accurate, either according to the translation or according to the idea, even though it is a term frequently used. The idea is, of course, that Christ is of one essence, of the same essence, with the Father. And this is literally expressed in the original French and in the Dutch. The French has: d’une essence avec le Pere. And the Dutch agrees with this: maar eenswezens met den Vader. We may notice at once that the various elements of this statement of our Confession employ several Scriptural terms. Christ is “the only begotten Son,” John 1:18. And it is likely, as we have pointed out in connection with Article VIII, that this passage employs the expression “only begotten God.” He is of one essence with the Father. John 10:30. He is “the express image of his person,” and “the brightness of his glory,” Hebrews 1:3. He is equal unto Him in all things, John 5:18. Here, then, our Confession gives expression to the truth of the eternal generation of the Son, and that too, of Jesus Christ, our Savior, as the only begotten Son of God, according to His divine nature. What is implied in this truth? It means, in the first place, that in distinction from all other sonship, there is one Son that is begotten, generated, by a unique act of the Father within the divine being, and that too, from eternity. To beget is to bring forth a being like unto one’s self. Adam is called the son of God in Scripture. And why? Because God begot him, creating him after His own image. Through that act there was a creaturely likeness and reflection of God in man. In this same sense we speak of the act of begetting among men. Of Adam we read that he begat a son in his own likeness, after his image.Genesis 5:3. Hence, the idea of generation is such, that it is an act of love whereby one reproduces himself in another, begets an individual like himself, in his own image. Only we must remember that there is an infinite difference between divine and human generation. Among men, fatherhood cannot function alone: it requires motherhood. The Fatherhood of God is perfect in itself: the Father generates the Son of Himself. Among men the act of generation is momentary and strictly temporal in nature; but God is Father eternally. Among men, the sons that are begotten do not receive their continued subsistence through a continued act of generation; God the Father generates His only begotten Son by an act of infinite love from eternity to eternity. Moreover, while the likeness of being to which a man gives subsistence through the act of generation is only partial and imperfect, the likeness produced through God’s act of eternal generation is infinitely perfect and exact. In the second place, we must remember that this act of eternal generation takes place within the divine Being. The act of generation and the process of reproduction among men results in both another person and another being. The Son, however, while personally distinct from the Father, is one in essence with the Father, never separated from Him. He is of the same essence. All the divine attributes which the Father possesses belong eternally to the Son also. The same divine nature, the same mind, the same will, that the Father possesses belongs to the Son also. The Son is wholly God, in the whole divine nature, with all its infinite attributes and virtues, as Son, begotten eternally of the Father. He is the same God confessed in Article I of our Confession, or, as this article puts it, that true, eternal, and almighty God, whom we invoke, worship, and serve.” And remember, once more, Article X of our Confession posits all this concerning Jesus Christ, according to His divine nature.
We may briefly call attention to the two significant expressions from Hebrews 1:3 which our Confession employs. The term “brightness of his glory” expresses with respect to the Son the following: 1) The idea of distinct personal subsistence. The Son is the reflection of the Father’s glory. 2) The idea of infinitely perfect likeness. All the divine perfections, glory, are reflected in the Son. 3) The idea of eternal generation, constant derivation: the reflection or radiance of God’s glory is caused by the constant emitting of the light that it reflects. In the text in Hebrews this expression is paired with and complements another, “the express image of his being.” The original word translated “express image” refers to an impress made in wax. And it emphasizes especially the thought that the Son is the full and exact image of the Father, and that He eternally derives His personal subsistence as the image of God within the divine Being from the Father, Who makes the impress. These two expressions taken as they occur together, therefore, set forth very beautifully the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
Proof for this Doctrine
Our Confession does not offer very elaborate proof from Scripture in this article. Nevertheless there is a very careful chain of proof given, the teaching of which is very simple and undeniable. And we may note, too, that our Confession follows a very good method here, that of comparing Scripture with Scripture.
The article begins by calling attention to what “Moses saith,” namely, in Genesis 1:1, that God created the world. In the second place, it makes a comparison of Genesis 1 with John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Here, therefore, as our Confession points out, we are taught “that all things were made by that Word, which he calleth God.” Now at this point our Confession might well have continued with its proof from John 1, and pointed out that this Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us—is, therefore, Jesus Christ. But it refers instead to Hebrews 1:1-3, where we are taught that God made the worlds by His Son: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Here again, the Confession might well have pointed out that according to Hebrews 1 this Son by whom God made the worlds is our Lord Jesus Christ. But the Confession prefers literal proof. Hence, it forges one more link in this strong chain of proof by stating that the apostle also teaches that God created all things by Jesus Christ. The reference here is directly toEphesians 3:9: “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” And this reference, we may add, is supported by a passage like Colossians 1:15, ff. Hence, the plain teaching of Scripture is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word, is God, the Creator.
The second element of proof employed by our Confession concerns the eternity of the Son. First of all, the Confession argues from the preceding proofs: “Therefore it must needs follow, that he, who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ, did exist at that time when all things were created by him.” And secondly, the Confession offers literal proof, by referring to the well-known words of Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” And to this the article adds proof from Hebrews 7:3: “. . . having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God . . .” Here the reference is obviously to the priesthood after the order of Melchisedec. Nevertheless, the deepest background of this everlasting priesthood must be found in the truth that the Priest after the order of Melchisedec is the eternal Son of God Himself. (to be continued)