Q. 26. What believest thou when thou sayest, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”
A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who like wise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but he will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body: and further, that he will make whatever evils he sends upon me in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.
Only one Lord’s Day, strictly speaking, the Heidelberg Catechism devotes to the discussion of the first article of the Apostolic Confession: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” It is true that also Lord’s Day 10 is arranged under this head, but it occurs as an appendix to the present Lord’s Day, and as an elaboration of the statement already found concerning the providence of God in this ninth chapter. And let us note that this entire answer consists of one sentence. Yet, this one answer is both beautiful and very significant. It is beautiful, for it is not a mere dogmatic explanation of the article of the Confession: it is the expression of a living faith. The Catechism would have us bear in mind that, it is discussing the truth from the viewpoint of the faith of the Church, and that, too, as the expression of a living, saving faith, which is both a true spiritual knowledge and a hearty confidence. Ursinus, in his Schatboek, reminds us that the first article of the Apostolic Confession speaks of faith in God. And: “I believe in God signifies: I believe that He is my God, that whatever He is and has, He is and has unto my salvation. To believe God, is, strictly speaking, to believe that there is a God in accord with all His perfections. To believe in God is: to accept that God causes all that is ascribed to Him, for His Son’s sake, to work together unto my salvation.” I, p. 186. And this is clearly and beautifully expressed and emphasized in this ninth Lord’s Day: the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . is my God and Father for Christ’s sake, and I rely completely on Him, in prosperity and adversity, knowing that He is both able and willing to turn all things unto my advantage and salvation.
But not only is this ninth Lord’s Day, brief though it be, beautiful and rich as the expression of a living faith, it is also highly significant from a doctrinal viewpoint. One cannot but wonder, when considering this twenty sixth answer of our Heidelberger, at the ability of its authors to crowd so much important doctrine into a single sentence. Let us note that this Lord’s Day speaks of: 1. The eternal Fatherhood of God with relation to our Lord Jesus Christ. 2. Of the work of creation out of nothing. 3. Of God’s providence. 4. Of his eternal counsel. 5. Of his Fatherhood in relation to the believer for Christ’s sake. 6. Of his omnipotence. 7. Of his power and willingness to cause all things to work together for our good. And let us notice, too, that all these truths are set forth in their proper order and relation to one another: It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who as such, i.e. precisely as God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, created all things, and upholds and governs all things; and Who, being for Christ’s sake also my God and Father, from the very beginning adapted all things, and still adapts all things, according to His eternal counsel, to my salvation: so that I may, indeed, completely confide in His almighty power, and eternal love!
The main theme of this Lord’s Day is plainly the Fatherhood of God. A mistake do they make who, instead of emphasizing this Fatherhood of God in their explanation of the Catechism in speech or print, present an elaborate discussion of creation. It is not creation but the Creator that is the chief subject of the first article of the Apostolic Confession. Faith in God is expressed there. And it speaks of this God as Father Almighty, who is revealed as such in His divine work of creating heaven and earth. The Catechism has discerned this quite clearly, and while speaking of the work of creation and of providence only in passing as it were, places all the emphasis on the Fatherhood of (God. And we may distinguish here at once a threefold divine fatherhood, viz. the fatherhood of God with relation to our Lord Jesus Christ, His fatherhood as the (Creator, with relation to all things, and His fatherhood with relation to His people in Jesus Christ and for His sake. It is this first fatherhood of God, His father-relation to our Lord Jesus Christ, that is the subject of our discussion in the present chapter.
But here we must at once make an important distinction, that, namely, between the eternal fatherhood of the First Person in relation to the Son in the divine nature, and the fatherhood of the triune God in relation to Christ as the Mediator, in His human nature. This distinction is frequently overlooked, and in some instances even expressly and consciously denied, but it is very important that it be clearly discerned and maintained. In Sermons on the Apostles Creed, edited by H. J. Kuiper, we read on p. 27: “After this general description we must now direct our attention to the fact that, in harmony with what Holy Scripture reveals about God, the ninth Lord’s Day for our Catechism speaks of God’s fatherhood in more than one sense. To be father is to be the root, the cause of things or persons to whom that fatherhood pertains. To be the Alpha, the origin, of all that is and lives can be said only of the Creator in an absolute sense, and not of any creature. But to God that fatherhood is attributed in different ways, for God is rot the first cause of all beings in exactly the same sense, or by the same activities. Scripture clearly distinguishes between three kinds of fatherhood which are ascribed to God. Of course, when speaking here of three different kinds of divine fatherhood, we have reference to the first person of the Trinity. (Italics are mine.) He is the Father of the second person, the eternal Son, by his act of eternal generation. But in his Word He is also revealed as the Father of the entire universe. And, lastly, we honor Him as the Father of believers, whom He has adopted as his beloved children. He is the father of Christ, of all the creatures in general, and of his spiritual children in Christ, Thus we should think and speak of Him as we meditate on the first Article of the Apostles’ Creed; ‘I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.’”
I do not know, of course, whether and in how far the author of this sermon was fully conscious of the implication of these sentences; but it seems to me that, on second thought, he will discern that they present a serious error. For they imply that in the first article of the Apostolic Confession the believer speaks of the first person of the Holy Trinity only, that only the first petition is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and that only the first person is the Father of believers, so that, when they address God in the Lord’s Prayer as “Our Father, who art in heaven,” they are praying to the first person only, to the exclusion of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It is evident that this cannot be the meaning of the Apostles’ Creed, and that this is not the correct presentation of the sense of the ninth Lord’s Day.
That it was not the conception of Ursinus is plain from his Schatboek. In explanation of the words “I believe in God,” he writes: “In God.” The name God is here to be taken as denoting the being in the place of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; because the verb to believe connected with the preposition in has reference in the same manner to all the three persons of the Godhead. For we do no less believe in the Son and in the Holy Ghost than in the Father.” p.186. And on the term Father in the first article of the Apostolic Confession he writes as follows: “The Father. The word Father here stands over against Son to denote the person and signifies the first person of the Godhead; when He is compared with the creatures, one tender stands by this word the being of Gad, and thus the word Father refers to the whole divine essence, (Italics are mine.) as in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’” idem, p. 186.
And the same distinction is presented by Dr. A. Kuyper in his E Voto, p. 186: “Speaking on this point, we must mean, while remark that the name Father may be used by the creature, either in the narrower sense of the First Person of the Trinity, or likewise of the divine Being without distinction of persons. Over against the creature, Father, Son and Holy Ghost is the Creator and the Fountain of all good; and we call upon the Triune Being as our Father in heaven. But if we inquire further, in whom of these three Persons this Fatherhood in the eternal divine essence is found more particularly (that is, economically) this Fatherhood in the narrower sense must be ascribed to the First Person.”
We must, then, make a distinction between the unique fatherhood of the first person of the Holy Trinity with relation to the essential and eternal Son of God, and the fatherhood of God with relation to all creatures. The former is a relation within the economy of the Trinity, the latter a relation of the Triune God to the creature outside of Him. The former is a relation between two persons of the Trinity, the latter is a relation between the Being of God, as subsisting in three persons, and the creature formed by His will and power. The former is an eternal relation, the latter is called into being in time. The former may be called a natural, necessary relation in God, the latter is rooted in God’s sovereign counsel and will.
And for the same reason we must make a distinction between the relation between the Father and the Son within the Holy Trinity, and the relation between the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and the Mediator in His human nature. The author of the sermon from which we quoted above ostensibly denies this expressly. He writes: “God is our Father for Christ’s sake. By that very expression we also state that God’s Fatherhood over us is essentially different from his relation to the eternal Son. In the present humanistic tendencies of our American churches we must not, suffer ourselves to be led into modernistic vagueness and confusion. Remember how carefully our Savior expressed himself when he instructed the disciples about the Father and his Fatherhood. He never confused the relations but spoke distinctly about ‘my Father’ and ‘your Father.’ Never did he draw human beings, even if they were his beloved friends, into that unique relationship between the Father and Himself. He never spoke about our God and our Father, but always clearly distinguished between ‘my’ and ‘your’ Father. Only once did He use the expression: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ But we know that was to be the disciples’ prayer, not his own.’” pp. 31, 32.
The truth in the above quotation is, that there is an eternal distinction between Christ’s Sonship as the “only begotten God,” and our sonship of adoption and regeneration. As condemnation of modernism to draw the essential Sonship of Christ as the second person of the Trinity down to the level of man’s sonship, or, pantheistically, to raise our sonship to that of the second person of the Holy Trinity, the distinction made is quite true. But when the author insists that in no sense Christ could say our God and our Father together with His brethren, i.e. according to, and in and through His human nature, he is in error. And even to successfully defend the distinct essential Sonship of Christ in His divine nature, it is necessary to point out that He was also the Son in His human nature, the “holy Child Jesus,” and that, although the two are related so that the latter is rooted in the former, even as the two natures are united in the one divine Person, yet they must be distinguished. This is evident even from the very words of the Lord to which the above quotation seems to refer, the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene: “But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and to your God”. For how could the Son in His divine nature call the Father His God? As the essential Son He is very God Himself, and in the divine nature He could no more call the Father His God than (the Father could call Him His God. Or how could the second person of the holy trinity ascend to the first person? It is plain, then, that the Savior in these words speaks as the Mediator, the Brother among many brethren, in His human nature; and that as such He speaks of “my Father and your Father” in one sense, in the same sense in which God is also “my God and your God.” It is not the second person in (the divine nature that here speaks of His relation to the first person, ‘but the divine Son in and through His human nature, that here calls, not the first person, but God His Father. This is corroborated by the well-known expression “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” ; ; ; ; . It is true that some Interpreters claim that the genitive “of our Lord Jesus Christ” (tou Kuriou heemoon Jesou Christou) must be understood as modifying only the name Father, and not also God. But not only have they no exegetical reason for this construction, and not only is it much more natural to connect the genitive with both, God and Father; but besides, we find the expression “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” ; and the Savior calls Him his God, ; ; . All this, and many other evidences in Scripture of the same truth, plainly shows that we must make a distinction between the essential and eternal Sonship of Christ in relation to the Father as the First person in the Holy Trinity, and the assumed sonship of the Savior in His human nature in relation to God as His Father.
We must bear this in mind, even when we would quote proof texts for the doctrine of eternal generation. There is no doubt that Scripture teaches this truth. But we must be careful when we quote texts in support of this doctrine, less we do violence to Scripture. Thus, to mention just one example,is often offered as direct proof of the eternal generation of the Son of God: “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee.” But if we are not careful we will, by quoting this text as referring directly to the generation of (the Son of God, fall into the error of modernism, or, at least, into that of the theory that the Son is subordinate to the Father. Let, us notice, in the first place, that there is mention here of the decree. It is, therefore, according to the decree of God that the one that is here speaking is God’s Son. But surely, the second person is not Son by virtue of a decree of the Triune God, but by virtue of the act of eternal generation by the first person. We must, therefore, at once conclude in the first place, to the eternal generation of the Son of God. And the context of the second psalm bears this out. For it is evident that the psalm has its historical background in David as the theocratic king of Israel, and that the words of vs. 7 must be applied to him in the first place. It is against him that the “heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing.” He is the anointed of the Lord against whom “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together.” It is of him, first of all, that the Lord declares: “I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” And it is he, too, as far as the historical background of the psalm is concerned, to whom the words refer: “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” In this historical background of the psalm, therefore, we must take our starting point, would we do justice to the meaning of Holy Scripture.
Yet, we must immediately add that it is only in a comparatively small way that the words of Psalm 2 can be applied to David. They are spoken of him only as a type, as a faint prefiguration of another. This is evident from the words of the Psalm itself. It would be the height of presumption to apply all the words of this inspired prophecy to a mere man. This is evident if we only consider the last verse: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” But this is very plain if we consult the passages in the Now Testament that quote the second psalm. From these it is raised beyond all doubt that David spoke prophetically of the Christ, the Son of God in human nature, the Anointed par excellence, who is made heir of all things, and to whom indeed the ends of the earth are given for his possession. But even so, the words ofmay not even in the second place be directly applied to the eternal generation of the Son: they refer directly to the fact that according to the decree God begot Christ, His Servant, the Anointed, the King over Zion, against whom all the kings of the earth set themselves, and the nations rage and imagine a vain thing, but who is victorious and made heir of all things. This is evident from that beautiful prayer the Church uttered upon the return to them of Peter and John: “Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is. Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” . It is evident that here the words of Psalm 2 are applied to His human nature. And more specifically, the words of Psalm 2:7 are applied to the resurrection of Christ in : “And we declare unto you glad tidings, ho-w that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” It was, therefore, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that the decree was fulfilled: “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” It was then that God begat Him to be forever King over Zion. It was in the insurrection that we find the beginning of that exaltation that was completed when He was placed at the right hand of God in glory. “This day” of Psalm 2:7, therefore, refers, first of all, to the moment of David’s anointing as king of Israel; and, secondly, to the moment of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. From all this it is evident that, when we speak of Fatherhood of God with relation to Christ, We must make a distinction between the Fatherhood of the first person of the Holy Trinity with relation to the second person, and the Fatherhood of the Triune God with relation to Christ in the flesh. The first is by eternal generation, as we hope to explain in the next chapter, the second is according to the decree by which the Son was anointed Mediator, and heir of all things. And according to the last relation the “holy child, Jesus” is subordinate to the Father, His servant, and the Father is also the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.