1689 Baptist Confession Chap. 2: Para. 3: The Trinity: Part Four
The name of the Son
The Begotten-ness of the Son
The descriptions of the Son
As we are coming to grips with the confessions teaching on the Trinity, we have had to go back in time to the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. We have had to learn about Arius and Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers and the Pneumatomachians. We have had to learn some big words like homoousios meaning same substance. The 1689 which is the longest statement on the Trinity in the 17th century has packed all the good stuff from these early creeds into one paragraph. Last week was an overload of words and concepts as we tried to take in a large period of time and the various twists and turns in conversation as the Church articulated its biblical understanding of the Trinity against its attackers. I promised you only one more technical message so that I do not burden you so today I am going to take a look at the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
There is a wonderful statement in the middle of paragraph 3 which remains unchanged through the WCF, the Savoy, and the 1689, ‘the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son.’ These relations of the persons of the Trinity we have learnt are called modes of subsistence, or eternal relations of origin. The key thing to note is that coeternality of the Son and Spirit, the coequality of the Son and Spirit, rest on the relations of begottenness or procession/spiration. Because the Son is consubstantial by virtue of eternal generation; because the Spirit is consubstantial by virtue of eternal procession, they are therefore fully God as three persons in one God. Last week we spoke about how different this way of thinking is to our usual modern approach to the doctrine of the Trinity, well today we continue to look at things that seem strange to us because we are no longer familiar with them.
Today I would like to preach to you the sermon that I wish I had heard as a young Christian. I remember early on as a Christian learning about Jesus as the eternally begotten Son. I would sing about it in hymns like O Come All Ye Faithful, verse 2,
‘God from true God, and
Light from Light eternal,
born of a virgin, to earth he comes!
Only-begotten Son of God the Father.’
Now I recognise these words as part of the Nicene Creed, then I just found them confusing. Added to this I was soon primed to defend my faith against the various cults especially the JWs. I learnt about Arianism and the denial of the Son. So with no church history, and a prooftexting approach alone to establishing the truth; just me, my bible, and Jesus I developed my thinking and responses to the JWs while building up my own faith. And I soon began to reject the language of Jesus as the eternally begotten Son and the Spirit as having to proceed from the Father and Son. I remember hearing about how the Orthodox church split off from the Roman Catholic Church because the Orthodox church believed that the Spirit was from the Father alone as the fontal source of the Spirit’s deity, but the Roman Catholic believed that the Spirit proceeded from both the Father ‘and the Son’, in the Latin, ‘filioque.’ And because I was unaware of my spiritual family tree, and because I did not know the incredible faithfulness of the men who fought biblically for the truth of who God is, because I was not catechised I simply picked up modern day attitudes to the past. Everyone in the past is more sinful, stupid, racist, sexist, uneducated, and I don’t have to have any sense of loyalty to them. Imagine someone in NZ not being taught about the history of NZ, who does not stand or even sing the national anthem, who has no respect for the flag and is critical of every other New Zealander, this is pretty similar to how every Christian is towards the church. That was stage one.
As I grew in my faith I began to realise that there were some difficult verses that had to be accounted for that spoke about Christ’s Sonship. I was on a theological journey into Calvinism and I came across the teaching of Wayne Grudem. He challenged me to have a deeper view of the Trinity than I had ever had before. However, he embraced at the time what is now called Eternal Functional Subordinationism. This view teaches that there are three persons who are in relationships of submission and authority, not only in time when the Son is incarnate and serving the Father as the God-man but that even in eternity the Son is eternally submitted to the Father. This seemed to me at the time a good teaching because it helped with some of the difficult verses like John 14:28, ‘…for the Father is greater than I’. It also helped me with my complementarianism, the belief that men are head in the home and the church. For if Christ can submit to the Father for all eternity and be no less God; then a wife can submit to her husband and be no less equal. The problem with this view is that there are 3 wills and not 1 and so leans in the direction of Tritheism. And remember the only distinctions between the persons are eternal relations of origin not eternal relations of submission and authority. At the time this seemed a better teaching that talking about Jesus getting His divinity from the Father by being begotten. I must confess that if you listen back to certain sermons you will find evidence of this teaching in my sermons. I felt that it ticked a lot of boxes.
I looked at the language of eternally begotten and thought to myself, what a contradiction, what a confusing jumble of terms. How can something have a beginning and not have a beginning? I accepted that Jesus is eternally Son and the Father is eternally Father, but could not accept this language of eternally begotten. But now I do, and for biblical reasons, so today I am hoping to spare you from the long road of error and help you embrace what I wish I had known earlier in my Christian walk. We will be exploring this biblical doctrine by looking at the name, Son; the bible’s teaching on the begottenness of the Son; and the other images of Christ that align with what the Bible teaches about Jesus being begotten.