The Apostles’ Creed (9)

Herman Veldman is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

We now continue with our exposition of the first article of our Apostles’ Creed as interpreted by our Heidelberg Catechism in Question and Answer 26 of Lord’s Day 9. In our preceding article we called attention to the Fatherhood of God in relation to our Lord Jesus Christ. In this article we call attention to this Fatherhood of God in connection with the eternal Son of God. This, too, is fundamental. If our Lord Jesus Christ be not the eternal Son of God He cannot possibly be our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore our Savior.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Son. What is the meaning of this? That Jesus is God’s eternal Son is Scriptural. We quote, first of all, 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 anything made that was made.”

This passage, especially the term “Word,” is very significant. As far as we are concerned (our speech, our words) our speech is the expression of what we conceive in our minds. However, as far as our speech is concerned, our speech consists of many words. Then, we speak of many things. Thirdly, our speech is but for a moment. And, finally, our speech is never causative. It never brings forth. It concerns only matters that are, never cause to be what is not. How wonderful is the Word whereof we read here in John l! On the one hand, it is obvious in this passage that the Word here is Jesus, and that Jesus here is identified with God. We read in John 1:14, “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.” So this Word is our Lord Jesus Christ. And as is evident from John 1:1-3, this Jesus is God. On the other hand, however, notice that Jesus here is called the Word. He is the Word, the oneWord, the one expression of the infinite fullness of all that is in God. God knows His own glorious, infinite fullness, and that divine fullness is expressed in theone Word. This Word is God’s speech concerning Himself—indeed, of Whom shall the eternal, absolute, all-sufficient God ever speak but of Himself? Even creation is God’s manifold speech concerning Himself. But the Son of God is His eternal, infinite Word which God speaks of Himself and unto Himself. This we read in John 1:1. We read: “And the, Word was with God.” We read literally: “And the Word was toward God.” Thirdly, this Word is the eternal speech of God. This Word is eternal. Our words are spoken, leave us, and are gone. But this one Word is eternal, spoken constantly. Here we have an act within the divine being, an eternal act. And this is what is meant by the eternal Fatherhood of the first Person of the holy Trinity, eternally generating the Son.

Moreover, Scripture speaks of Christ as God’s only begotten Son. This expression occurs, for example, in the well-known passages of John 1:14 and John 3:16. We need not quote these passages. We will quote John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” We understand that a better translation is probably: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” And in John 3:18 we read: “He that believeth on Him, is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” This expression, “only begotten Son,” is extremely significant: The devil does not speak of a general and creaturely sonship when he tempts Christ in the wilderness, that Christ is a son of God as all men are sons of God, but he speaks of a sonship that is divine, when he says to Him: “If Thou be the Son of God,” inasmuch as he assumes that because Christ is the Son of God he expects Him to make bread of these stones. When Jesus declares of Himself to be the Son of God, the wicked leaders of the Jews accuse Him of blasphemy because they understand very well that when He speaks of Himself as the Son of God He uses this term in that distinctive and absolute sense of the word. And this is exactly what the expression means. Jesus is indeed the only begotten Son of God; there is none other. He is this Son of God alone. Other passages can be quoted such as Heb. 1:3,Phil. 2:6-8 (Jesus being in the form of God, not was in the form of God, and that He is in the form of God, essentially), John 5:26 (where we read of Christ that the Son was given to have life in Himself—no creature, we understand, has life in himself).

Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. To beget is to bring forth a being like unto oneself. Later in the Heidelberg Catechism attention will be directed again to this truth, in Lord’s Day 13, in connection with the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, where the question is asked: Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God? Animals, trees, etc., do not beget because to beget is a conscious act of the will, and this does not apply to these creatures. But Jesus being begotten is a unique act of the Father within the trinity. That this is the idea of “begetting” is plain from Gen. 5:3: “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.” Among men fatherhood cannot function alone. Men are fathers only through the mother; fatherhood requires motherhood. With us the act of generation is but for a moment, but in the trinity the Father generates the Son eternally. With us our children bear our image, likeness, very imperfectly; God’s act of generation is complete and absolutely perfect. With us generation means that we produce another person, but that person is also a separate being; with God the act of generation takes place without the divine being, and the Person of the Son is essentially one with the Father.

And what is now the implication and significance of this? This has tremendous significance, first of all, as far as the Son is concerned. If Jesus be not the Son of God in a wholly unique sense, He cannot be our Savior. If He be not the eternal Son of God He cannot bear our guilt and Himself be guiltless. Fact is, guilt is imputed to a person. We are all guilty because we are all personally in Adam. So if Christ be merely a human person, then He Himself would be guilty. Then He must atone for His own guilt. It is only because He is the eternal Son of God that our guilt is not imputed unto Him. The guilt for which He suffered and died was not imputed unto Him because He was personally in Adam, but because He took this guilt upon Himself. Hence, if He be a human person, He himself is guilty with the whole human race. If He be not the Son of God He cannot be born holy and therefore bear God’s infinite wrath in perfect love and conscious obedience. We may not be born holy because we ourselves are guilty and therefore deserve a corrupt human nature. And, if He be not the Son of God He cannot bear God’s infinite wrath and lead us into everlasting life and heavenly immortality.

However, this does not receive the emphasis here and now. The emphasis here does not fall upon the eternal Son of God. But it falls upon the Fatherhood of God. It is in that light that we must see and grasp the implication and significance of this Fatherhood of God in regard to the eternal Son. However, this truth also has tremendous significance as far as the Fatherhood of God is concerned. First of all, the Fatherhood of God with respect to the “holy child Jesus” has its root and basis in the eternal Fatherhood of the First Person in relation to the Second. God does not become in His relation to the creature what He is not eternally within Himself. It is well that we always bear this fundamental principle in mind. That, we understand, would make God dependent upon the creature. God is the absolutely Self-sufficient One; He has no need of any creature in any sense of the word. Whatever He is in relation to the creature He is first and eternally within Himself. God never becomes what He is not within Himself. Secondly, this also applies to His Fatherhood. He did not become Father through His relation to Christ as the Mediator nor through His relation to creation in general nor through His relation to His people in Christ Jesus. He is Father, eternally and perfectly within His own being, and all other Fatherhood of God, as in relation to Christ or His people or creation is only a reflection of His own divine and eternal Fatherhood. This truth must be maintained. Besides, if Jesus’ Sonship and our sonship are essentially the same, then one of two things must follow: either God is essentially as we are, creaturely, or we are as God is, Divine. In either case, God is denied and only the creature remains.


Our Almighty Father and Creation

Let us notice, first of all, Who is the Creator of heaven and earth. We read: “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth.” And in Answer 26 of our Heidelberg Catechism we read: “That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence) is for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father.

We must not fail to grasp the wonderful meaning of this. The Creator of heaven and earth is not simply God, the living God, but He is the Creator Who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father. This means that He created the heavens and the earth as my Father in Christ Jesus. And this means that He made this world as adapted to that which is to come; this means that He made all things earthy as a symbol of the heavenly, and this means that when He created the world, He made it with a view to the heavenly, that He made Adam so that he could fall in order to prepare the way for the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the second place, we should also notice what we read here of God’s providence. Now it is true that the truth of God’s providence is treated in the following tenth Lord’s Day. Yet, we would call attention to the following. The Lord upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence. And then we read of evils which He sends us at the conclusion of Answer 26. So God sends me all these evils. Our afflictions, therefore, are no accident. God willed them. We believe that this must be explained in the supralapsarian sense. The fall of man and whatever is the result of it was willed by God and fulfilled by Him to serve His purpose: the glory and manifestation of His Name, antithetically, in the way of sin and grace, realized, positively in the salvation of His own, in heavenly immortality, unto the glory of God Who alone does wondrous things, and, negatively, in the damnation of those whom the Lord has sovereignly reprobated.

This we believe. We cannot see it and understand it now. But we will understand it one day. Now we know in part, but one day we shall know as we are known, completely and perfectly. And whereas God’s counsel controls all things, also man’s fall and its subsequent misery and death (also for this reason the child of God can and will never believe in evolution) the church of God is always safe in the midst of the world, and it is so true what we read in Rom. 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”