Herman Veldman is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Our Heidelberg Catechism begins its discussion of the Confession of the Apostles’ Creed in regard to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in Lord’s Day 11. And we begin by calling attention to the distinctive character of this Lord’s Day. In Answer 29 we read that “we ought not to seek, neither can find salvation in any other.” It is well to lay all emphasis upon this truth. We will have opportunity to call attention to this later in connection with Answer 30. As far as the thirtieth answer is concerned, Question 30 reads: “Do such then believe in Jesus the only Savior who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?” And the answer begins with the statement: They do not. This is very decisive. We have no compromise here. In the answer we read the following: “for one of these two things must be true, that either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or that they who by a true faith receive this Savior, must find all things in Him necessary to their salvation.” And although it is true that the fathers composed this Lord’s Day principally to refute Roman Catholicism, it is still very pertinent today. Today we hear sentiments to the effect that the bible is time-bound, that its truths apply only to the day and age when it was written, that the truths which were true when the apostles wrote them do not necessarily apply today. This is not true. The circumstances may and do change, but the truth (and this also applies to heresy) remains the same. The error of Roman Catholicism is, after all, the error of the human heart. And our evil heart will always give expression to the same heresy. Throughout the ages the truth of God is and remains absolute.
Question 29 is unique and must not escape our attention. This question reads: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is a Savior?” This question is very pertinent. We do well to note what is not asked in this twenty ninth question. The fathers here do not ask, “Why is Jesus called the Son of God?” It is true that this is asked in Question 33: “Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God, since we are also the children of God?” However, this is asked in Question 33 only after the Heidelberg Catechism asks in Question 29: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is a Savior?” Besides, notice that in Question 33 we read: “Why is Christ called, not merely the Son of God, but the only begotten Son of God?” Here, however, in Question 29 we read: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is a Savior?”
Imagine if the question were asked: “Why is Jesus called the Son of God?” In the first place, the question then simply assumes that He is Jesus. It is either overlooked or ignored that, according to Scripture, He was called Jesus, and that He was called Jesus by God. Man did not call Him Jesus. The Savior received His name from God. And when they speak of Jesus they simply refer to that historical person who is known in history as Jesus of Nazareth. This, then, is simply the name by which He is known in history, the historical Jesus of Nazareth. It does not occur to them that this Babe of Bethlehem received His name from God. In the second place, that this Jesus is called the Son of God can be interpreted in many ways. That He is called the Son of God does not necessarily mean that He is the Son of God. It may merely mean that He iscalled that, called that, of course, by men. The name Son of God may be merely a title, an honorary name. Also the Arians called Him the Son of God. They did not consider Him really to be the Son of God, coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But He was given this title because of His high nobility. They considered Him to be tremendously gifted, a very noble creature, higher than Adam, created ages before Adam but nevertheless created, and therefore a creature. And then, as that particularly gifted creature, he assisted in the creation of the world. Does not the Bible say that the world was made or framed by the Word of the Son of God? And so, because of his high nobility and tremendous gifts, the honorary title of the “Son of God” was conferred upon him. Of course, the “Son of God” of the Arians, who denied the eternal Sonship of the Son of God, was not really such an honorable creature after all. It is surely not honorable for a mere creature to assume the name Son of God. It is surely not honorable for a mere man to assume this title and then be called a very noble creature. For a creature to permit himself to be called Son of God is the horrible sin of blasphemy. This, however, is not the question asked here in Lord’s Day 11.
Jesus is also called the Son of God by the modernist. Modernism speaks very highly of this Jesus of Nazareth. Modernism, however, is Manism, Humanism. Modernism denies the living God. Modernism exalts man. Modernism denies the living God in Christ. It denies that Jesus is God, coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Modernism also denies God in the work of salvation. The modernist proclaims that man is able to save .himself. This teaching is earthy, wants nothing to do with God, with His Christ, with the kingdom of God, of Christ and of heaven. Modernism seeks this world, would establish an earthly kingdom, without God, without Christ, and without the results of sin but, of course, maintaining sin itself. Indeed, they give to Jesus of Nazareth the honorable title of the Son of God, but they are anti- God, anti- His Christ, anti-, against His kingdom.
Question 29 reads: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is a Savior?” The meaning of the name Son of God is beyond the shadow of any doubt. Confessionally, in connection with the question, “what sort of a mediator, deliverer, then, must we seek for,” we read in Answer 15 of our Heidelberg Catechism: “For one who is very man, and perfectly righteous, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is one who is also very God.” In Question 17 we read: “Why must he in one person be also very God?” In Question 13 we read: “Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?” And then we also have Question and Answer 33. Question 33 reads: “Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God, since we are also the children of God?” And the answer reads: “Because Christ alone is the eternal and natural Son of God; but we are children adopted of God, by grace, for his sake.” From Scripture we quote only three passages, although many more could be quoted. Isaiah 7:14 reads: “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Is he not born of a virgin, without the will of man? Is His name not called Immanuel, God with us? Besides, is not His name called Jesus, which means: Jehovah saves? Then there is Matthew 16:16: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And to this the Lord adds in verse 17: “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Indeed, more can be quoted, such as John 1:1, 14 and also I John 5:20. But this may suffice to establish that the name Son of God, according to our Confessions and Scripture, means that He alone is the Son of God, that He is God Himself, the second person of the divine Trinity.
This establishes the unique character of this twenty-ninth question. The Heidelberg Catechism here does not prove or establish that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Catechism simply assumes it; our fathers here proceed from the fact that He is none other then the eternal Son of God. And now I add at this time that only the Son of God could be called Jesus. This has already been established in preceding Lord’s Days. Only the eternal Son of God, as God with us, can save us out of all our sin and misery and death and lead us into the eternal life of heavenly immortality. If this Savior be a mere creature, and you confer upon him the honorary title Son of God he, as a mere creature, can never lead us out of death into life. The question reads: “Why is the Son of God called Jesus?” We therefore assume that He is the Son of God. This is not merely a title. The name denotes Him in His essential significance.
Even as Question 29 is unique, so also the calling here of this Son of God, called Jesus, is unique. He is called Jesus. Now it is certainly true that He is or was not called Jesus by man. How unique, also in this respect, the Word of God is here! We do well to notice what we read here. The Son of God is called Jesus. Everything depends upon that name. He is called Jesus already at His birth. In fact, he is called Jesus already before His birth. This name was revealed to Mary at Nazareth by Gabriel and also to Joseph in a dream. He is called Jesus, therefore, before His birth and long before His active ministry. How different it is among men. We cannot determine the importance or significance of a man until he acts and works. We must study him before we can discover his importance in history, what he has done in the service of mankind. But that the Babe of Bethlehem receives His name long before His birth is, of course, because the Savior has been ordained by God Triune from before the foundation of the world. Besides, He certainly did not receive the name Jesus from men, from us. To be sure, the Scriptures speak of His incarnation, His wonderful birth of a virgin, His mighty works and miracles, His suffering and death and resurrection, His ascension and return to judgment. And what do we call Him, we as and of ourselves? People called Him a blasphemer, a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a rebel and an insurrectionist, a friend of Beelzebub, a friend of publicans and sinners, a dangerous man. And what is the Reformed church world saying about this man? They deny His incarnation, deny that He is born of a virgin, deny His miracles, His resurrection, His ascension, and also His bodily return upon the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead. This Jesus did not and could never receive the name Jesus from the children of men, from you and me as we are in and of ourselves. The truth of Scripture is that we are by nature carnal, sold under sin, lovers of evil and of the things that are below. We are haters of God, lovers of sin and have no desire to be delivered from it; we hate the Christ of Calvary, and we cannot, will not, cannot will to recognize Him as Redeemer and Savior. We will always despise Him, trample Him under foot, nail Him to the cross, but we will never flee to Him, acknowledge and embrace Him as the one and only Mediator of God and man. If we are to receive and embrace Him, we must receive this from the Father Who is in heaven. Indeed, no man can come unto the Christ except the Father Who hath sent Him draw him.
The Lord willing, we will continue with this confession of the Son of God in our following article.