In Harmony with the Orthodox Fathers (continued)
In general, as the article suggests, these attacks have been from two quarters: from without the church and from within. First of all, mention is made of the Jews and of the Mohammedans. By the Jews, of course, is meant the unbelieving Jews. And it is their denial of the Christ that also leads them to deny the Trinity. This is necessarily the case. You cannot deny Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and still maintain the doctrine of the Trinity. The Mohammedans, who also today constitute some of the most formidable opposition in foreign mission fields, believe in Allah, a god who is only one, that is, one in being and one in person. Theirs is a dead god, rather than a living, fellowshipping God in Himself.
In the second place, the article mentions several “false Christians and heretics,” that is, anti-Trinitarians who arose within the church. Mention is made, first of all, of Marcion, one of the most dangerous representatives of the Cnostics, who made his appearance upon the scene of the church about the middle of the second century, A.D. Briefly, Marcion was one of those who denied that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh, and who therefore also denied that He was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. Manes can himself hardly be classed as a “Christian” heretic. He and his peculiar doctrines had their origin really outside the pale of Christendom. But his doctrine and his followers, the Manicheans (whom the great church father, Augustine (also followed for a while), found their way into the Christian church. The Manicheans had an involved and fantastic system of doctrine. But with respect to our present subject, they too denied the Trinity because they denied the incarnation. Praxeas was really a Unitarian, who taught the error that is called Patripassianism, the doctrine that the Father Himself became man and suffered and died in Christ. By his doctrine he lost the independent personality of the Son. Sabellius was also a Unitarian of the Ante- Nicene period. Briefly, he denied the Trinity by making the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost only temporary phenomena and successive revelations of the same God. Samosatenus, or Paul of Samosata, who was bishop of Antioch in 260, A.D., was a very shrewd Unitarian or monarchian, who denied the personality of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and considered them merely powers of God. But the most notorious of these heretics was Arius, whose heresy denies the deity of Christ and also the deity of the Holy Ghost. Arius and his heresy were condemned in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 325-381 A.D.
We believe that Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only begotten Son of God begotten. from eternity, not made or created (for then he should be a creature), but co-essential and co-eternal with the Father, the express image of his glory, equal unto him in all things. He is the Son of God, not only from the time that he assumed our nature, but from all eternity, as these testimonies, when compared together, teach us. Moses saith, that God created the world; and John saith, that all things were made by that Word, which he calleth God. And the apostle saith, that God made the worlds by his Son; likewise, that God created all things by Jesus Christ. Therefore it must needs follow, that he, who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ, did exist at that time, when all things were created by him. Therefore the prophet Micah saith, His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. And the apostle: He hath neither beginning of days, nor end of life. He therefore is that true, eternal, and almighty God, whom we invoke, worship and serve.
Importance of This Doctrine
That “Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only begotten Son of God . . . co-essential and co-eternal with the Father” is an indispensable tenet of the Christian faith. That this is true is evident both from Scripture, and from history. And all who in any real sense call themselves Christians must and do confess the true deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One need not search long in order to discover that the Scriptures lay great stress upon this truth. Passages which mention it come readily to mind. At Caesarea Philippi, in response to Jesus’ question, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter says: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus’ own answer to Peter’s confession reveals the fundamental character of the confession made: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matt. 16:13-18 The apostle John devotes the Fourth Gospel to the theme that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, as is evident from the very first chapter: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God , . . 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 . . . For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. 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, 14, 17, 18. In John 6 he records the well-known response of the disciples, through Peter as spokesman, to Jesus’ question, “Will ye also go away?” And in that response the same fundamental element is on the foreground: “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:67-69. And at the conclusion ofJohn 20 we find the well-known words: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presents of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” John 20:30, 31. The same note is found in the epistles. In Romans 1:3, 4 we read: “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” And again, in Romans 9:5: “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” In Galatians 2:20 we find the same truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The epistle to the Hebrews stresses the excellence of the new dispensation over the old from the very point of view of the fact that “God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Heb. 1:1-3. And undoubtedly because of the peculiar error which he combats in his first epistle, the apostle John strongly emphasizes this aspect of the truth of the gospel. Let us note just a few instances. In I John 2:22, 23 we read: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same bath not the Father.” In I John 4:14,15, we read: “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” In I John 55: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” And in vs. 10 of the same chapter we read: “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God bath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” And in vs. 13 we read: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” And finally, in I John 5:20 we read: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and bath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”
These are but a few of the passages of Scripture which make mention of this cardinal truth. And from these it is evident that this doctrine of the true Godhead of Jesus Christ is indispensable unto salvation.
And the very fact that in the history of the church of the new dispensation this was one of the first elements of the truth to come under attack is also proof that the very devil himself discerns in this doctrine a most fundamental element of the Christian faith and, at the same time, a truth that is most emphatically the object of faith. If only the church could be persuaded to deny this truth, then the devil would succeed in moving the church from the foundation of the gospel in such a fundamental respect that the whole structure of the truth and of the church would topple and fall. He that denieth the Son is none other than antichrist!
As we remarked already in connection with Article IX it was not the doctrine of the Trinity directly that came under the attack of heretics in the early centuries of our era; but it was especially the doctrine of the deity of the Christ which was attacked, and through this attack the Trinity was at the same time denied.
These attacks took various forms, and all sorts of heresies were developed in the course of the early centuries of church history. There were the earlier sects of the Alogians and Ebionites, who attacked the true deity of Christ and who conceived of the Christ as a common man, equipped with extraordinary powers by His baptism. There were the Docetes, who denied that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh. They denied the true humanity of Christ. There were the Gnostics, who attempted to synthesize various elements of heathen dualism and Hellenistic philosophy with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and who frequently arrived at formulations that were nothing less than fantastic. There was the notorious Arms, who denied that Jesus Christ is truly God and taught that He was the most important creature of the Father, It was in connection with the Arian controversy that the battle arose which is sometimes said to have revolved about a single letter: homoousios (Christ was of the same substance as the Father) or homoiousios (Christ was of similar substance). And after the Arian controversy was supposedly settled at the, Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the conflict continued to rage, now concentrating on the question of the two natures of Christ and the relation between the natures and the Person and the relation between the natures mutually. And while it is true that we may distinguish various aspects of this controversy, we must nevertheless remember that this question of the true deity of Christ is the fundamental one, and that ultimately it is this truth of the deity of Christ that is at stake even in the controversies which involved His incarnation and His humanity and the relation between the two natures of Christ. If in these latter respects one departs from the truth, the final result is that he loses Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God.
It is for this reason that the church has from the very beginning given such careful attention to this doctrine in its confessions, so that there are no less than three articles also in our Belgic Confession which deal with this matter: the present article on the true deity of Christ, Article XVIII on the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and Article XIX on the union and distinction of the two natures in the Person of Christ.