Importance of this Doctrine (continued)
Also our Heidelberg Catechism lays stress upon the truth confessed in Article X. The doctrine of Christ’s divinity as such is confessed in Lord’s Day XIII, Question and Answer 33: “Why is Christ the only begotten Son of God, since we are also the children of God? Because Christ alone “is the eternal and natural Son of God; but we are children adopted of God, by grace, for his sake.” And the importance of this divinity of the mediator is very clearly and detailedly taught in our Heidelberg Catechism also. We find this, first of all, in Lord’s Day V, Questions and Answers 14 and 15: “Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us? None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sins which man hath committed; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.
“What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for? For one who is very man, and perfectly, righteous; that is, one who is also very God.”
Our Catechism further asks the question in Lord’s Day VI, Question and Answer 17: “Why must he in one person be also very God? That he might, by the power of his Godhead sustain in his human nature, the burden of God’s wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life.” And further, in Question and Answer 18: “Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man? Our Lord Jesus. Christ: who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.'”
Also the Canons of Dordrecht in the Second Head of Doctrine, which speaks of the death of Christ, emphasize this same truth in Articles 2, 3 and 4. Article 2 reads: “Since therefore we are unable to make that satisfaction in our own persons, or to deliver ourselves from the wrath of God, he hath been pleased in his infinite mercy to give his only begotten Son, for our surety, who was made sin, and became a curse for us and in our stead, that he might, make satisfaction to divine justice on our behalf.” Article 3 reads: “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” And Article 4 especially stresses the deity of the Mediator and its significance: “This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations, because the person who submitted to it was not only really man, and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute him a Savior for us; and because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.
From all this it is evident that the truth of the divinity of Christ, the truth that He is true and eternal God occupies a fundamental place in the history of the church and its confessions, and always has occupied such a place. Anyone who denies that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, is true and eternal God has no right to the name of Christian. He is of the Anti-Christ.
However the denial of this truth does not only belong to ancient times. In the earlier times the Arians and others denied this doctrine, it is true. Christ was said to be a being of very high rank. It was, even conceded that He pre-existed before His incarnation. But they denied that He is co-essential and co-eternal with the Father. In the Middle Ages the nominalistic philosophers, who denied the truth of the Trinity, also per se denied the truth of the real divinity of Christ. Later the Socinians and the Unitarians arose, who also deny outright the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But we must not forget that this article of our Confession is by no means outdated. It remains today essential to the Christian faith. This is true, first of all, from a negative point of view. Still today, of course, there are such sects as the Unitarians, who in their denial of the Trinity necessarily deny the deity of Christ. Besides, there are all kinds of moderns, who, though not Unitarian in name, nevertheless deny both the Trinity and the deity of Christ. They preach a pseudo-gospel. They teach that Christ is divine because He is so truly human. They proclaim that Christ shows the way for man to realize and express and attain the divine m him. They preach that Christ is merely a great teacher, a reformer, a wonderful example to be emulated by men. But they deny that He is the real Son of God. This, however, is for us, perhaps, not the most dangerous denial of the truth of Christ’s divinity. There are those who rather pride themselves, over against all Modernism, that they are “fundamentalists,” that they maintain the fundamentals of the Christian faith. And among these fundamentals of the Christian faith they count the divinity of Christ. That they do this is not wrong in itself, of course, but entirely correct. For you cannot possibly deny the true Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ and maintain the Christian faith. The trouble is that only too often these present day fundamentalists deny in a practical sense and by implication this very doctrine which they themselves maintain is a fundamental of the Christian faith. Whether they do so purposely or unintentionally, knowingly or ignorantly, is not now the question. Perhaps we may say that there are some of both kinds to be found among them: But that they do so is simply a fact. They do so by their Arminianizing and Pelagianizing tendency, and that too, in more than one way. The redemption and atonement which they preach, which is general and inclusive of all men, but which is ineffectual, is at bottom a denial of the value of Christ’s sacrifice, and therefore, an evil reflection upon, His deity and upon the truth that the infinite value and worth of His sacrifice rests exactly upon that deity. The salvation and the Savior which they proclaim—a Savior who on His part is willing to save all and every man, and to apply equally to all the benefits of salvation, but whose will is frustrated and obstructed by the will of the sinner, so that He is impotent actually to accomplish the salvation of all men—I say: such a Savior and such a salvation is by implication very plainly a denial of the deity of Christ. For if Christ is truly God, He is certainly able to save those whom He wills and whom the Father gave Him; and He is not only able, but He actually does save them. The evangelism which they conduct so enthusiastically, and which really presents the gathering of the church as being the world of man, dependent upon the will of those who do or do not become members of the church, is by implication a denial of the divine power of Him Who as the “Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith.” Read Catechism, Q. and A. 54. And so, it is in more than one way possible by implication to deny this truth of the real divinity of Christ which one may formally, and according to claim, profess to maintain. And the sad fact is that some of these very implications today have found their way into the Reformed family.
Let us never forget, therefore, that if only we understand this fundamental doctrine vitally and its implications for the whole of the truth, it is as pertinent today as it was in the times of the Reformation or in the times of the Council of Nicea.
From a positive point of view, therefore, we call attention to the fact that this doctrine of the deity of Christ is essential to the Christian faith, in the first place, because the whole doctrine of vicarious atonement depends on this truth. If Jesus Christ is not the true and eternal Son of God, then He Who died on the cross is a mere creature. And if a mere man died on the cross, the blood of Christ cannot possibly have the power and the value to atone for the sins of the elect, or, for that manner, for any sin at all. And, in the second place, this doctrine is essential to the Christian faith because on this truth rests also the whole possibility of our actual deliverance from the dominion of sin and death, and of our salvation. The application of the benefits of Christ’s atoning death is also, from the beginning to the end, a divine work. A mere man could not accomplish our actual deliverance from sin and death. For as our Canons have it, III, IV, Article 12, when they speak of our regeneration: “And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely .by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares . . .” Either, therefore, Christ is the Son of God Who efficaciously accomplishes this wonder of salvation; or He is a mere man, and then there is no wonder of salvation.
Christ’s Deity as Expressed by our Confession
The truth of Christ’s deity, or Godhead, is very briefly set forth in this article, and that too, both negatively and positively.
This article, in distinction from Article IX, speaks specifically of the divinity of Jesus (Christ. In Article IX, it is true, this was already mentioned in connection with the Trinity: for the Second Person of the Trinity is very God. And as we have mentioned before, the truth of the Trinity and the truth of the Godhead of Jesus Christ are inseparably connected. Here, however, the specific subject is that Jesus Christ, the Mediator, our Savior, Who was born in Bethlehem, Who suffered and died on the cross, and was raised again on the third clay, . . . that this Jesus Christ is, according to His divine nature, the only begotten Son of God. We may further mention that the relation of the human nature and the divine nature is not the subject of this article; that will be treated in a later article of our confession, and we need net pay attention to that here, lest this lead to confusion. The very simple teaching of this tenth article is that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God.
We may note that the virtue of this article is its brevity and succinctness. After all, the truth is always very simple and easy to discern in its simplicity. In a few brief words our Confession draws the line between the truth and the lie. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, “begotten from eternity, not made nor created (for then he should be a creature).” And again, “He is the Son of God, not only from the time that he assumed our nature but from all eternity.” It is not the truth that is involved and difficult to apprehend, but it is the lie of the heretics that is always ambiguous and deceiving in its ambiguity. After all, the heretics cannot very well deny that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is the only begotten Son of God; for this is the language of Scripture. And therefore, they must be ambiguous; and they must continue to use the language and the terminology of the Scriptures, but pour a different content and meaning into that terminology from that which Scripture plainly intends that it shall have. (To be continued)