Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
4. The divine Person of Christ.
In speaking of the two natures of Christ, it is necessary not only to speak of these natures, but also of the Person of Christ. These terms, “person” and “nature,” are not so much biblical as theological terms, and are also used in connection with the doctrine of the trinity. The use of them arose out of the need to express and define the truth of Scripture concerning God Triune and concerning Jesus Christ as clearly as possible over against various heresies that have arisen in the church.
Now it is not my intention to define these terms at this point. That I hope to do when we come to the matter of the union of the divine and human natures in Christ. A definition of these terms will have more value at that point. What must be seen at this point is that in speaking of the divinity of Christ, we speak not only of the fact that He has the divine nature, that is, that He is really God, and that all the fullness of the Godhead is in Him (Col. 2:10), but we say also thatpersonally He is the Second Person of the divine trinity, the Son. Even through the incarnation He is not and does not become two persons, one human and one divine, but is and remains, personally and individually the Only Begotten Son, the Second Person of the Godhead. This is simply to say, of course, that even in the incarnation He is one Person, one Christ, and one Savior, the only Savior. It ought to be obvious, therefore, that this warrants further discussion in connection with the union of the two natures of Christ, but here we must see its importance as far as the deity of Christ is concerned.
Though this matter of Christ’s Person may seem at first to be of very little significance, it is nevertheless of the greatest possible importance.
It is important first of all in maintaining the Biblical doctrine of the trinity. To say that Christ’s Person is the second Person of the trinity, or that He is personally the Son, is to maintain what Scripture says about God as being three distinct Persons in one divine Being. It is to say that it was not the Father or the Spirit Who came in the flesh, but the Son. There were some in the early history of the church who so blurred the distinction between the three Persons of the trinity, that they would say that the Father was crucified and suffered on the cross. For this they were called “Patripassionists.” This, obviously, is not what Scripture teaches. What is worse, it strikes at the very heart of our faith, the atoning work of Christ, for it really denies that there is in God not only One to make atonement, but also One to Whom atonement can and must be made.
Even more significant for our study, the truth that Christ is personally the Only Begotten Son of God, the second Person of the trinity, means that the incarnation is a matter of God becoming flesh, not flesh becoming God. Modern liberal theology, for example, has no problem with a Christ Who as man becomes God. That is, in fact, the heart of liberal theology, that humanity can become or take on what is divine. Thus liberal theologians have no problem with a Christ Who is divine in some vague, ill-defined sense, but with a Christ Who is personally divine, Who does not become but is God. Liberal theology, of course, always begins with man. That is the reason Arminianism always ends in modernism and liberalism. But when we say that Christ, personally and individually is the Son of God, the second Person of the trinity incarnate, then we are beginning with God, not man, and teaching the fundamentals of sovereign grace.
That Christ is personally God also means that we can never deal with Him, speak of Him, or come to Him except as God. Even after the incarnation He can never be to us only a man. The Person Who speaks and acts through the human nature of Christ is always God Himself. This makes our contact with Christ so critical. This makes the question, “What think ye of the Christ?” a question whose answer has eternal consequences. To express this another way is to say that in dealing with Christ, confronting His claims, hearing His Word, obeying and following Him, we are not just indirectly dealing with God, but dealing with Him personally, as it were, face to face, as the great Judge and Rewarder.
Scripture teaches this very clearly. Because He is personally God, Scripture does not just call His blood the blood of His humanity, but “the blood of God” (Acts 20:28). Likewise, we do not read of the incarnation merely as the joining of the human and divine natures, but of “God manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16). It was in this connection also that the early church insisted that it was not wrong to speak of Mary as the mother of God.
It is this same truth that Scripture is proving in Hebrews 1when it speaks of Christ as the One Who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person (Heb. 1:3), and continues by citing the evidence of various Scripture passages. It is proving not just that Christ is divine or that He has a divine nature, but that He is God, the great God Who speaks to His people. And it is in this same connection that Hebrews also reminds us that it is God Himself with Whom we have to do in the gospel: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Heb. 2:1). That He is really and personally God means that we cannot escape should we so much as neglect the salvation of which He speaks.
5. The necessity of Christ’s divinity.
That Christ be God is necessary in connection with all the works of God. The creation itself as something made through Christ shows the very handiwork of God Himself. Christ in creation is not merely a tool, even a divine tool, but He is God, working God’s own handiwork in all things that are made.
Even more importantly, it is necessary that Christ be God in connection with the damnation of the ungodly. In Christ they were given and are given today the opportunity to show what they really think of God, not abstractly and impersonally, but face to face, and are shown to be haters of God who will not bow before His glory and greatness. As Jesus Himself says, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), and it could be added, “He that hath heard Me and rejected Me, hath heard and rejected the Father.”
The same is true of salvation. Christ must be God in the work of salvation, because the things He does and gives are things that only God can do, and things that belong to God, and which He alone can give. The Heidelberg Catechism confesses this when it says that He must be “very God” in order that He might “sustain in His human nature, the burden of Gods wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life” (VI, 17). Only because He is God can He endure to the end the heavy burden of Gods fury against sin without being everlastingly destroyed. Only because He is God could He in a few short hours endure an eternity of the punishment of sin. Likewise, the gifts of righteousness and life that He must give us are not earthly life or righteousness by works, a righteousness that might be again defiled or lost, but the life of God Himself, life eternal, and the righteousness of God, which is forever incorruptible. Who but God Himself could give such blessings?
Nor is this true only of righteousness and eternal life, but of all the blessings of salvation. They are all such as only He can give as God. I Corinthians 15 speaks of heaven and of our heavenly life as something we have only through Him, Who is the Lord from heaven (I Cor. 15:47-49). It was not something that we could ever have had through Adam, though he had continued obedient to God, because Adam was of the earth, earthy. We have sonship with God only through the Only Begotten Son, as we are reminded in Lord’s Day XIII of the Heidelberg Catechism; and the same is true of our recreation in the image of God. Athanasius says of this restoration of the image of God in man:
Whence the Word of God came in His own person, that, as He was the image of the Father, He might be able to create afresh the man after the image . . . For as, when the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced by stains from without, he whose likeness it is must needs come once more to enable the portrait to be renewed on the same wood: for, for the sake of his picture, even the mere wood ,on which it is painted is not thrown away, but the outline is renewed upon it; in the same way also the most holy Son of the Father, being the Image of the Father, came to our region to renew man once made in His likeness. (The Incarnation of the Word, 13, 7 and 14, 1 & 2).
And, as Athanasius himself knew so well, all this is simply to say that if Christ is not God, we have no Savior.
In all of this we see that the truth of Christ’s deity is one of the cornerstones of our Christian faith. It cannot and may not be tampered with in any way. But we must remember that it is not merely a doctrine, but the object of our faith. Simply to grasp intellectually the meaning of this doctrine is not enough. We must love it, and confess it, and make it the foundation of all our hope in Christ. This we do when we worship Christ, trust in Him, while abandoning all trust in men, come to Him in faith, and hear and obey His Word. He may not be just Lord and God but must be “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).