Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
1.The importance of this doctrine.
The confession that our Savior is both God and man is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is fundamental to every doctrine of the Scriptures and to our confession of those same doctrines. Very obviously, everything that we believe about Christ Himself as Savior hangs upon the truth of His incarnation. Unbelief staggers at the doctrines of the virgin birth, blood atonement, and the resurrection, and will not acknowledge His miracles, because it does not know Who and what He is. For us, therefore, these truths and all that we believe concerning Christ as our Savior, hold or fall at this point.
But it is not only the doctrine of Christ which is at issue in our confession concerning Him. It is the touchstone of faith in God Himself as the only true God. As John says in II John 1:9, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” The very fact that most heresies, which deny the doctrine of the Trinity, attack at this point is evidence of the importance of the doctrine of the Person and Natures of Christ for the whole of Theology.
We shall see too in these studies that this same doctrine of Christ is critical for a full understanding of the covenant of God. The blessedness of that covenant of grace, both in its divine reality and in its revelation, are inseparably tied to the revelation of Christ as God come in the flesh.
As far as the hope of the church is concerned, this confession concerning Christ is for her the only way of salvation. Her preaching is without power to save, her love cold, and her work in vain when she loses this truth. Even in those churches which do preach and teach the sound doctrine of Christ it is impossible to be saved apart from a living confession of this doctrine. The Athanasian Creed is very much to the point here when it says; “Furthermore it is necessary to eternal salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.” It is possible that there are doctrines which we may understand imperfectly, or about which we may even be in error, and still be saved, but this is not one of them. A clear confession at this point is the difference between life and death.
So important is this doctrine of Christ, that it is basic even to our Christian life. In answer to the question how we must behave as Christians, especially as members of the church, Paul speaks of this doctrine first of all. The confession that God is come in the flesh, he says, is the “great mystery of godliness” (I Tim. 3:16). Whatever else that may mean, it means this first, that this doctrine, believed and confessed, is the power of obedience and consecration to God. How can anyone, for example, be a disciple of Jesus when he underestimates or does not clearly understand the truth that Jesus is God, and that as a disciple of Jesus, he is a follower of God (Eph. 5:1, 2).
So important is this doctrine of Christ and so closely connected to our worship of God, to confidence in Christ as Savior, and to our calling to live godly in Christ Jesus, that we are not even to have fellowship with those who do not receive it, nor bid them Godspeed, lest we be partakers of their evil ways (II John 1:10, 11).
2.Reasons for studying this doctrine.
Because this doctrine is so important we do well to study it carefully, especially because there are several points at which this doctrine is not well understood among Christians. These points are especially two: first, a lack of appreciation for the truth that Jesus is God in all His work as Redeemer; and secondly, a failure to see clearly the connection between His work and His humanity, especially as far as His exaltation is concerned.
With regard to the first, it is characteristic of modern Christianity that it loses the truth of Christ’s divinity, not so much by denying it openly as by neglecting it. The result is, as we shall see, that believers do not come to God through Christ, to the detriment of all holiness, piety, and assurance. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to find that believers have such vague notions concerning the humanity of Christ in union with His divine nature, that they do not even realize that Christ is now in heaven not only as God but also as man. This too is harmful to their spiritual life, for so they lose very much of the comfort of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and exaltation.
It is necessary, therefore, not only to understand that Christ is God and man, but to understand what the Belgic Confession calls “the union and distinction of the two natures in the Person of Christ” (Article XIX). To these matters we shall give our attention.
3.Scripture’s presentation of this doctrine.
Searching the Scriptures we immediately notice that Scripture does not give a detailed, logical presentation of this doctrine. It does not even use such words as “nature” and “person,” but simply presents clearly the three fundamental truths that Jesus Christ is true and eternal God, that He is also a real, righteous man, and that there is but one Christ. From this we can learn several things.
We are reminded first of all, therefore, by Scripture, that the truth of the incarnation is indeed a “great mystery” (I Tim. 3:16), beyond all comprehension, and to be received by faith. For this reason, too, it is always easier to say what the incarnation does not mean, than to say what it does mean theologically and doctrinally. Any reading of the creeds of the church will quickly show this. The Athanasian Creed, for example, really says all that can be said in these few words:
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 (reasoning) 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 substance, but by unity of person. For ashe reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.
Such a confession is complete and sufficient for salvation and joy in Christ, but it leaves many questions unanswered. Such a confession is also Scriptural, since it avoids idle speculation and turns our attention to the miracle of the incarnation. And that is where our attention must be focused, for it must be our purpose not to explain, but to confess; not to speculate, but to wonder and worship.
4. The name Christ.
All that Scripture says about the two natures of Christ is encapsulated, as far as Scripture is concerned, in the confession that He is Christ. There are various other names which point to one or another of His two natures or to their union, notably the name “Immanuel” which is beautiful for its warm, personal emphasis on the saving importance of the incarnation. But the name or title “Christ” is the most comprehensive as far as this truth is concerned.
The name “Christ” is not really a name but an official title. With its Old Testament counterpart “Messiah” it means “Anointed one” and describes Him in His official position as our Mediator. It directs our attention primarily to the fact that as God and man in one Person He is fully qualified to be our Savior. In so far as this name points to His work, therefore, it does so, not by speaking of any specific task (as the names “Lamb of God’ and “Advocate” do), but by reminding us of the peculiar and unique qualifications He has for all His work, that is, that He comes from God, and as God, with all the power and authority of God, to us, to abide with us and be among us forever.
To confess that Jesus is the Christ, then, is to confess in brief the whole truth concerning His Person. It is the confession that He is the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16) and therefore the confession on which the church is built (Matt. 16:18) and the confession through which we also know that we are sons of God (I John 5:5, 13). It is also a full confession of His humanity, for “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (I John 4:3). Certainly we confess all His Names and do so with holy delight, but the critical question is always the same, “What think ye of the Christ?” (Matt. 22:24). That is the question according to which Christ Himself was judged before the unbelieving Jews and they before Him (Matt. 26:63, 64). This is also the question which we must answer in giving account before God and the world, inasmuch as we claim to be Christians.
The Deity of Christ
1.The testimony of Scripture.
It is both unnecessary and somewhat presumptuous to attempt to prove the divinity of Christ from Scripture. It is unnecessary because the believer does not need it, and the unbeliever neither wants it nor can receive it. It is somewhat presumptuous, not only because the testimony of Scripture is so clear, but also because it is the central doctrine of Scripture from beginning to end. Charles Hodge says it very well:
From the beginning to the end, therefore, of the sacred volume, from Genesis to Revelation, a Godman Redeemer is held up as the object of supreme reverence, love, and confidence to the perishing children of men, It is absolutely impossible to present a tithe of the evidence which the Scriptures contain of the truth of this doctrine. It is to the Bible what the soul is to the body—its living and all pervading principle, without which the Scriptures are a cold, lifeless system of history and moral precepts. It seems, therefore, to be a work of supererogation to prove to Christians the divinity of their Redeemer. It is life proving the sun to be the source of the light and heat to the system of which it is the center. Still as there are men, professing to be Christians, who deny this doctrine, as there have been, and still are men, who make the sun a mere satellite of the earth, it is necessary that a part at least of the evidence by which this great truth is proved should be presented, and should be at command to resist the gainsayers, Systematic Theology, part I, chapter VII section 1.
We present that same evidence not only to stop the mouths of blasphemers, but also that we ourselves may better know Him in whom we have believed and be always better equipped to make a good confession of His glory.