Q. 33. Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God, since we are also the children of God?

A. Because Christ alone is the eternal and natural Son of God; but we are children adopted of God, by grace, for his sake.

Q. 34. Wherefore callest thou him our Lord?

A. Because he hath redeemed us, both soul and body, from all our sins, not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood, and hath delivered us from all the power of the devil; and thus hath made us his own property.

The thirty-fourth answer is a somewhat free translation of the original German, which reads as follows: (DUTCH REMOVED). And this may be translated: “Because he redeemed and purchased us, with body and soul, not with gold or silver, but with his own precious blood, from sin and out of all the power of the devil, to be his own property.” The sense remains essentially the same, except that in the original our salvation, both from sin and from the power of the devil, is presented as having been accomplished through both, the redemption and purchasing by Christ through His precious blood.

We must clearly understand just what truth is the subject of the thirty-third question and answer, lest we repeat what was already explained in connection with the eighth and ninth Lord’s Day of our instructor. There we discussed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and paid more particular attention to the eternal Fatherhood of God in relation to the Son, and to the sonship of the second Person of the Godhead. In question thirty-three the subject is also “the only begotten Son” and it is explained that Christ is “the eternal and natural Son of God.” We might, therefore, easily be tempted to treat once more of the Son of God as He appears in the trinity, and of the doctrine of eternal generation.* Yet, that would be a mistake. The subject in question and answer thirty-three is not the second Person of the Godhead as such, but Jesus Christ. The catechism, following the Apostolicum, is explaining the words: “And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.” The main point of our discussion in this connection, therefore, is expressed in the proposition: Jesus Christ is very God. That the Son of man, the historical Jesus, Who was born in Bethlehem in the fullness of time, Who grew up in the home of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth as an ordinary child, Who sojourned among us, taught the people and performed His mighty works during the three years of His public ministry, and Who finally was crucified and slain by His enemies, nailed to the accursed tree, but Who, according to the Scriptures, was raised on the third day and exalted on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens,—that this Jesus is very God, not born but eternally begotten, God of God, and Light of Light, is the subject of discussion in the thirty-third question and answer of our Heidelberger.

The truth of the Godhead of Jesus Christ is clearly defined and strongly maintained in the confessions of the Church from earliest times, and to the present day, and that, too, in opposition to every form of heresy that arose to undermine it. The Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed, 381, states this truth in the following words: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all the worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.” The Symbol of Chalcedon, 451, declares: “We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood ; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Lord, only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures by no means being taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.” And the so-called Athanasian Creed has the following: “Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 substance of the Father; begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the substance of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God: and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of the Substance: but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.”

The same teaching is found in the later Creeds.

The Augsburg Confession declares in Article III: “Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, took unto him man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably joined together in unity of person; one Christ, true God and man.” The Formula of Concord, Article VIII teaches: “That the divine and the human nature in Christ are personally united, and so completely that there are not two Christs—one the Son of God, the other the Son of Man—but that one and the same is Son of God and Son of man.” And the attributes of the divine nature of Christ are said to be omnipotence, eternity, omnipresence, etc.

The Second Helvetic Confession, Article XI has this to say: “Moreover, we believe and teach that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was from all eternity predestined and foreordained of the Father to be the Savior of the world. And we believe that he was begotten, not only then, when he took flesh of the Virgin Mary, nor yet a little before the foundations of the world were laid; but before all eternity, and that of the Father after an unspeakable manner. . . . Therefore the Son is coequal and consubstantial with the Father, as touching his divinity: true God, not by name only, or by adoption, or by special favor, but in substance and nature. . . . We acknowledge, therefore, that there be in one and the same Jesus Christ our Lord two natures, the divine and the human nature.”

The French Confession of Faith states in Article XV: “We believe that in one person, that is Jesus Christ, the two natures are actually and inseparably joined and united, and yet each remains in its proper character: so that in this union the divine nature, retaining its attributes, remained uncreated, infinite, and all-pervading.”

Likewise our own Netherland or Belgic Confession

declares: ‘ We confess, therefore, that God did fulfill the promise which he made to the fathers by the mouth of his holy prophets when he sent into the world, at the time appointed by him, his only-begotten and eternal Son, who took upon him the form of a servant, and became like unto men …. so that he is in truth our Immanuel, that is to say, God with us.” Article XVIII. And again: “We believe that by this conception the person of the Son is inseparably united and connected with the human nature; so that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in one single person; yet each nature retains its own distinct properties. As then the divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth, so also hath the human nature not lost its properties, but remained a creature. . . . But these two natures are so closely united in one person, that they were not separated even by his death. Therefore, that which he, when dying, commended into the hands of the Father, was a real human spirit, departing from his body. But in the meantime the divine nature always remained united with the human nature, even when he lay in the grave; and the Godhead did not cease to be in him, and more than it did when he was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while.” Art. XIX.

Article II of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England expresses this truth as follows: “The Son. which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that the whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man.”

Likewise the Westminster Confession, VIII, 2: “The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.”

The Church throughout the centuries, therefore, confesses that the man Jesus Christ is the eternal, essential, only begotten Son of God.

And this is the clear teaching of Scripture.

Before the Church made this confession, even during Christ’s sojourn in the flesh of His humiliation, the apostles confessed that He is the Son of God. Thus Nathanael, the Israelite in whom there was no guile, exclaimed at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” John 1:49. When Jesus was with His disciples in the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, after having inquired of them as to men’s opinions about Him, He placed them before the personal question: “But whom do ye say that I am?” And Peter replied with the well-known confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And the Savior sealed this confession, both as to its truth and with respect to its fundamental importance, when He said: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matt. 16:15-18. And Thomas, who would not believe, unless he put his finger in the print of the nails, overcome by the glory of the risen Lord cried out in adoration: “My Lord, and my God!”

And this is the teaching of Holy Writ throughout.

For “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 anything made that was made. . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. … No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” John 1:1-3, 14, 18. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” And “who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” I John 5:5. And again, “we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” I John 5:20. The apostle Paul writes: “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” Rom. 9:5. Moreover, attributes that are only divine, such as eternity, omniscience, omnipotence, are ascribed to this Jesus, Micah 5:1, John 21:17, Rev. 1:8; 22:13. And he performs divine works. He creates, sustains all things, forgives men’s sins, raises the dead, etc. John 1:3; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; Luke 5:20, 24; John 5:21. And he and the Father are one, i.e. one in essence. John 10:30.

And so, the Heidelberg Catechism stands on the basis of Holy Writ, and its teaching is in harmony with that of the Church of all ages, when it maintains in the thirty-third question and answer the true, essential, and distinct divinity of Jesus Christ.

We say: the distinct divinity of our Lord.

For this it is, indeed, that the Catechism emphasizes. Both in Scripture, and in the Apostolic Confession, Christ is called “the only begotten Son of God.” And the Catechism calls special attention to this exclusive and distinctive term only begotten. Why should Christ be called thus? What is the meaning of the term? What does it teach us? Scripture calls angels also the sons of God. Moreover, believers are called by that name. And even Adam is so called. If there are more sons of God, then, if Christ is not the only Son of God, how can He be called the only begotten? What does this exclusive term express? And in the answer the Heidelberger distinguishes between the sonship of Christ, and that of believers. It is true, that believers are also called the children of God, yet Christ is the Son in an altogether special and unique sense of the word. Christ’s sonship belongs not to time, but in eternity, ours has a beginning, belongs to time: we are adopted. And the sonship of Christ is natural, He is by nature, essentially, the Son of God, we become children of God only through grace.

And it is well, that this distinction is made, and that thus the unique sonship of Christ, and His true divinity is maintained.

For, first of all, this is necessary in opposition to all kinds of heresies that have arisen, and always do arise against this doctrine of the true and essential Godhead of Christ.

And the Church must instruct her children clearly and definitely in this doctrine, in order that they may not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but stand in the faith once delivered unto the saints.

The matter would not be so serious, if those that deny this fundamental truth would only speak in plain language, and unambiguously declare that Jesus is not the Son of God. But this they do not. Those who desire to instill the poison of their false doctrine into the minds and hearts of believers, and thus to destroy the Church of Christ, never proclaim their heresies boldly and openly. On the contrary, they try to hide the real meaning of their views by preserving and speaking in the same terms as the Church. And so, they try to deceive the people of God, and make them believe that their heresies are harmless, that they are, in fact, fundamentally in harmony with the faith of the Church, and with the teaching of Holy Writ.

This is also true with regard to heresies concerning the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. Old Arius did not deny that Jesus is the Son of God, but he pointed out that the name Son of God is a title that is given to Christ, that is applicable to Him especially after the resurrection, and that denotes Him as a very exalted human being. He is not essentially and eternally God, but God bestowed upon Him the unique honor of being called His only begotten Son. The Nominal Trinitarians did not teach that Jesus is not the Son of God, but they insisted that the name Son of God denotes an affluence or power of the Father, not a distinct person in the trinity, and that this power or affluence of the Father was especially strong in Christ. Hence, it is in virtue of this strong presence and power of God in Him, and not because He is essentially God, that He is called the only begotten of the Father. The Socinians and the Moderns of today have no objection to the doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God; He may even be called the only begotten; but to them this does not mean that He is very God, the second person in the trinity. Rather does it mean that He was so truly divine because He was so truly and really human. We are all children of God, for we all are made in God’s image. The distinction of Christ is that He was so deeply and clearly conscious of His sonship, and that He lived so perfectly as a child of God. The God-consciousness was strong in Him!

It is, then, quite necessary that believers are instructed in the truth of Christ’s unique, distinctive, essential sonship.

For, secondly, with this fundamental truth stands or falls the whole truth concerning our salvation. If Christ is not very God, there is no Immanuel, no Incarnation, no union of God and man, no tabernacle of God with men, no covenant of friendship, no revelation of the Father. If He, who died on Calvary, was a mere man, was not the Son of God in the flesh, there was no perfect sacrifice for sin on that accursed tree, there is no atonement, God did not reconcile us unto Himself in the blood of His Son. If Christ is not very God His own resurrection is but a beautiful legend, and He cannot be the resurrection and the life for us. In one word, if Christ is not essentially and eternally God, our faith is vain, we are still in our sins, and we are still without God in the world.

And no beautiful philosophy of the man of Galilee can take the place of the Christ of the Scriptures.

But, thanks be to God, God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that He might represent His own, lay down His life for His sheep, bring to light life and immortality, reconciledus unto Himself, and unite us with Him forever in the blessed fellowship of His eternal tabernacle!

For this Jesus is very God!

* Cf. Vol. II, God’s Way Out, pp, 127-164.