Wilhelmus à Brakel
The Christian’s Reasonable Service
Vol. 1, pp. 147-165
The Eternal Generation of the Son as the Second Person of the Trinity
It is a personal property of the first Person of the Godhead to generate the second Person, and of the second Person to be generated in a manner fully congruent with God’s perfect character. Scripture uses the word “begotten” as it best expresses the manner of divine operation. This eternal and incomprehensible generation should not be compared to human generation, but human generation should be viewed as a reflection of divine generation. We must therefore remove any notion of human generation from our minds as we ascend to divine generation, and understand it to refer to such a generation of the second Person by the first Person, by virtue of which the first Person is Father and the second Person is Son. This is a truth which at all times has been acknowledged, believed, and defended by the church.
We shall demonstrate and confirm this eternal generation by presenting evidence in a twofold manner. The first proof will be derived from the terminology itself; the second, from the foundational concept that undergirds this terminology.
Proof #1: The only wise God, who in His Word reveals both Himself and the way of salvation with the clearest, most emphatic, and most suitable words, not only declares that He exists in a Trinity of Persons, but also calls the first Person Father, and the second Person Son “… in the name of the Father, and of the Son” (Matt 28:19); “the Father loveth the Son” (John 5:20); “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father” (2 John 3).
“Father” and “son” are words which by definition are related to each other. In hearing these words we comprehend the nature of this relationship, apart from which these words are devoid of meaning. In encountering the word “Father” we immediately think of a person who has begotten another person in his likeness, and the word “Son” immediately causes us to think of someone who has been begotten with the likeness and character of someone else. We can at once comprehend the relationship which exists between these two persons. God has particularly and actually revealed Himself as the object of our faith by means of the names Father and Son. Whereas these words immediately convey a specific relationship, being so understood by everyone, it is therefore a certainty that the Father has generated the Son and that the Son has been generated by the Father, in consequence of which there is this relationship between them. Angels, Adam, and believers are also called the sons of God, expressing at once their relationship to Him, having been begotten in the image of God—the first two by creation and the latter by regeneration. Christ’s Sonship, however, is of a different nature and thus not comparable to this other sonship. In reference to this the apostle states, “For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten thee?” (Heb 1:5). Christ is the Son by generation, who, transcending all creatures, is called ’ (kat’ exochén), the Son of God par excellence (Heb 1:1,8). He is furthermore called God’s own Son which excludes the notion that His Sonship is merely figurative in nature. “He that spared not His own Son” (Rom 8:32). “Own Son” is indicative of His Sonship by generation and thus of being equal with God, a truth which even the Jews understood. “But said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). More particularly, He is called the only-begotten Son. “The glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14); “He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). He is also called the first-begotten Son. “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col 1:15). To remove all objection, it is stated that He is the first-begotten Son who was born from eternity. “I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water” (Prov 8:24). Thus, we conclude that He is the Son of the Father, His Sonship being infinitely different from angels and believers. He is the proper, only-begotten, first-begotten, and eternally begotten Son of God par excellence, who in His nature stands in a relationship to the Father by virtue of eternal generation. The second Person, however, is such that there is between the first and second Persons of the Godhead a relationship which has the eternal, incomprehensible generation of the Son as its basis.
Although this proof is fully convincing, Socinians and others, guided by corrupt intellects, attempt to conjure something whereby they may cast a shadow upon this truth. We shall seek to briefly expose their delusive tactics, defending the truth against all efforts to dilute it.
Evasive Argument #1: Relative to God, the words “Father” and “son” are used figuratively. Consequently, one should neither focus on this figurative expression regarding God, nor conclude thereby the existence of a Trinity of Persons, existing in an interpersonal relationship to each other.
Answer: It is an untruth to suggest that these words “Father,” “son,” etc., are used in a figurative sense in reference to God. These words are most emphatically used as properly referring to God Himself. In the most proper sense of the word the first Person is unequivocally the Father of the second Person, whereas the second Person most emphatically and in a most essential sense is the Son of the first Person. The eternal generation of the Son, being the basis for this relationship, is most emphatically and with utmost propriety consistent with the character of God. This expression, generation, is derived from human circumstances, as is done consistently in the entire Word of God, conveying spiritual matters by using vocabulary relating to aspects of human existence. This is done to facilitate the comprehension of insignificant human beings, knowing that whatever is stated from a human perspective must be understood from a divine perspective. No one would be so foolish to maintain that everything recorded in the Bible ought to be understood figuratively. God is said to have bodily parts such as eyes, ears, mouth, hands, etc., as well as to be subject to human emotions and engage in human activity. We know, however, that the mention of limbs and emotions are expressive of such attributes and activities in God as are manifested and performed by them. Who would maintain that these matters concerning God are only figurative? It is true with respect to God that they do not function in a human sense, even though these matters are expressed in a human manner. Nevertheless, they are most emphatically, and with utmost propriety, ascribed to God. Such is also the case here. “Father,” “son,” and “generation” are words derived from human circumstances. These words, however, in a manner consistent with the incomprehensible character of God, express most emphatically and with utmost propriety both this relationship and their basis for it in God.
Evasive Argument #2: The second Person is called the Son by virtue of being coessential with the Father.
Answer: (1) This is stated nowhere in the Bible, and therefore we reject this as readily as it is stated.
(2) Even though a son may have the same nature as his father (for otherwise he would be no son), such similarity of natures is not the basis upon which someone is called a son, for then a father could be the son and the son could be the father. Then father and son would be brothers; people who are not even related to each other in the hundredth degree would be father and son, since they share the same human nature. This is convincing to all, and it is therefore evident that this argument has no plausibility. A father is someone who has begotten a person after his likeness; a son is someone who has been begotten after the likeness of his father—all of which is applicable to this mystery. Being of the same nature does not constitute a father-son relationship; rather this relationship is the result of generation and being generated.
Evasive Argument #3: The second Person is called the Son because He agreed to assume the human nature in the Counsel of Peace, and for the accomplishing of the work of redemption was manifested in the flesh as the visible image of the invisible God.
Answer: (1) By referring to a first and a second Person, one of necessity is referring to a relationship, and therefore cannot maintain the coexistence of three non-relational entities. In seeking to establish a reason for calling the second Person “son,” and the first Person “Father,” we confess thereby that the words “Father” and “Son” are indicative of a relationship. Thus our proof derived from the relational terminology, “Father” and “son,” cannot be contradicted. We must admit that the three Persons of the Trinity exist relationally, that is, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The only controversy remaining relates to the basis and reason for this relationship in consequence of which the first Person is called Father and the second Person Son. Scripture states that this is due to generation and birth. Not wishing to admit this, however, those advancing the argument relate this to the manifestation in the flesh, the assumption of the human nature—all of which is without foundation in the Word of God.
(2) Christ’s manifestation in the flesh cannot be the basis for His Sonship, for His incarnation renders the second Person neither divine nor the only-begotten, proper, and first-begotten Son of God—He was already Son, the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He has been eternally begotten, thus prior to His manifestation in the flesh. Of necessity He had to be the Son of God; otherwise He could neither have assumed the human nature as the Son of God nor have manifested Himself in the flesh. “I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding” (Prov 8:24). Since He was then already the begotten Son of God, His Sonship did not commence at the moment of His incarnation. Agur, the son of Jakeh, in amazement over the incomprehensibility of God’s existence, asks among other things, “What is His Name, and what is His Son’s Name, if thou canst tell?” (Prov 30:4). Again, since He was already the Son of God at that time, He did not become the Son by His incarnation. “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal 4:4). Since the Son was sent to assume the human nature, He of necessity had to be the Son of God prior to being sent and thus not as a result of the assumption of the human nature. When it is said of Christ that “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16), this expresses beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was God prior to that moment and that He did not become God by virtue of this manifestation. Since it is also stated that the Son has been manifested in the flesh, and that the Son has been sent and was made of a woman, this undoubtedly expresses that He was the Son of God prior to His incarnation—not as a result of His incarnation.
(3) The Holy Spirit has also manifested Himself in the world when He descended as a dove (Matt 3:16) at the baptism of Christ, when He was poured out in an extraordinary manner on the day of Pentecost, and later by way of His extraordinary gifts. Even now He manifests Himself daily in His gracious operations. No one will maintain, however, that the Holy Spirit is the Son of God in consequence of this. Thus, Christ’s manifestation in the world is not the basis for His Sonship. If one insists that the Holy Spirit was not incarnated, I reply that manifestation must be relinquished as a basis for Sonship. The remaining implication would be that one of the three Persons, it being a matter of indifference to them as to whether They would be Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, would have become the Son of God by virtue of His assumption of the human nature. Who would not detest such a conclusion? Does the human nature determine sonship? Or could we say that Christ’s human nature is the image of the invisible God? Is not He the Son of God from eternity, being in the form of God? Is not He in His divine nature the express image of His Father’s Person?
Additional Argument #1: To be born or to be revealed [or manifested] are equivalent in Scripture. Since someone becomes a son by birth, also being manifested renders someone to be a son. To be born and to be manifested are equivalent concepts, as may be seen in the following: “A brother is born for adversity” (Prov 17:17); “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Prov 27:1); “There thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee” (Song 8:5).
Answer: (1) “To be born” and “to be revealed” are not synonymous in meaning, so that they can be used interchangeably. One cannot state that whatever is manifested is born, nor can it be said that whatever is born is manifested, as this would have the most absurd consequences. If the same meaning is to be deduced from two words, then such words must be able to be used in the identical context, as well as interchangeably. Since this is not the case with these two words, the argument cannot support the proposed conclusion.
(2) If a word is used figuratively or comparatively in a given text, this does not mean that it should be understood figuratively in all other texts. In the subject under consideration, to be born is never viewed as being synonymous with manifestation, which consequently renders this argument futile.
(3) When manifestation is expressed by way of the verb “to be born,” then the person who initiates this manifestation is never referred to as father, and that which is manifested is never referred to as son. Consequently this argument, by which one seeks to prove from the verb “to manifest” that Christ is called the Son in consequence of His manifestation, is not plausible. One should therefore not simply say that “to be born” is equivalent in meaning to “manifestation,” for it must then be proven that someone is called a father due to initiating a manifestation, or that someone is called a son due to having been made manifest. Only if that were possible, would one be able to maintain that Christ is the Son due to being manifested in the flesh.
(4) Let us consider Prov 17:17. Adversity is not the father of him who behaves himself as a brother, and a faithful friend is not the son of adversity, which would have to be true in order for this argument to have a semblance of validity. The meaning of the text is that a faithful friend loves not only in prosperity, but especially in adversity. While behaving himself as a friend in days of prosperity, he will behave himself as a brother in days of adversity. Let us next consider the meaning of Prov 27:1 which relates to the fact that one cannot know what one will encounter during a given day. That which one encounters is not a son of the day, and the day is not the father of that which one encounters. The word day relates to the time rather than the cause.
Finally, let us consider Song 8:5. This text is not applicable, as the verb “to bear” means to bring forth rather than to reveal. The church as a mother, in conjunction with the ministers, labors painstakingly in order that Christ may be formed in the hearts of the people, this being achieved by the preaching of the gospel. This is the reason why the church bears the name of mother (Gal 4:26). Faithful ministers are called the fathers of those who have been converted as a result of their ministry (1 Cor 4:15). Believers are called the children of the church and of the ministers under whose ministry they were converted (cf. Zech 9:9; Luke 13:34. Since by virtue of spiritual nurture and birth the church is called a mother and believers are called children of the church, this text opposes those who have presented it. For it states “to bear” to be equivalent to generation and bringing forth, this being the basis for the relationship between a mother and her children, as well as between a father and his sons.
Additional Argument #2: The third Person in the Trinity does not owe His name to a personal procession from the Father and the Son, but due to His execution of the divine economy relative to the work of redemption, at which time He revealed and proved His divinity. Without assigning a name, the Holy Spirit, one would not be able to distinguish between first and second Person, as they are a Spirit and a Holy Spirit in reference to the divine Being (cf. John 4:24; Isa 6:3,8; John 12:39-41; Acts 28:25; Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 15:45; Heb 9:14). However, if the third Person is called Holy Spirit only because He has revealed Himself as God in the ministry of grace, then the second Person is called the Son due to His manifestation in the flesh.
Answer: (1) We deny this conclusion, there being no logical connection. Truths are stated concerning each Person which cannot be said of the others. It can never be stated concerning the Father that He was born or that He was sent. Neither can it be said of the Holy Spirit that He was born or that He sent the Son.
(2) We also deny that either the first or second Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. Nowhere, not even in the aforementioned texts is the Father or the Son called the Holy Spirit. It is true that God is a Spirit and that each of the Persons is holy, but the combination of “Holy” and “spirit” is never used in reference to the other Persons.
(3) When God is called a Spirit and the third Person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, then the word “spirit” is not used in the same sense. The word “spirit” has numerous meanings. It is also used to refer to wind, the soul of man, and angels. When God is called a Spirit, it is to be understood negatively. It refers to such a Being who, in His simplicity, non-corporeality, and invisibility, is infinitely distinguished from all creatures. This cannot be expressed to us human beings any better than by means of the word “spirit.” The third Person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit, however, due to His manner of procession from the Father and from the Son, which cannot be expressed any better than by means of a word which is derived from “to breathe.” He is therefore called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, and the breath of His mouth—and these have no reference to the work of redemption. This is confirmed in the following texts. “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2); “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4); “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Ps 33:6). From these texts it is evident that the third Person is distinguished from the first and the second Person of the Trinity; that He is the Spirit; and that although the first and second Persons are holy, He is the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 28:19; 1 John 5:7). Whenever His activity manifests itself externally, He is operative in a manner congruent with His nature, which is by way of breathing (cf. John 3:8; John 20:22). This breathing therefore relates to His manner of operation rather than His relationship to the Father and the Son, or the basis for this relationship, which is His procession from both.
Evasive Argument #4: The words “son” and “Word,” as well as “son” and “King of Israel,” are used interchangeably, and identify one and the same. It is known that “Word” and “King of Israel” have reference to the execution of His mediatorial office and not to Christ’s manner of existence. Consequently, the word “Son” also has reference to His mediatorial office and not the manner of His existence.
Answer: We deny emphatically that the words “son” and “King of Israel,” as well as “Word” and “son” are one and the same. Both have reference to the same Person, but this does not mean that they have the same meaning. Therefore, the one is not a necessary consequence of the other. Many things are attributed to Christ, in consequence of which He has numerous names, such as Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father, Immanuel, the Lord our Righteousness. Who would maintain that all these names are synonymous in meaning because they refer to the identical Person? Even though the title “King of Israel” relates to His mediatorial office, it cannot be concluded that the title “Son” also relates to this, much less that He is denominated the Son by virtue of His mediatorial office. It is not the Greek word (rhema) which is used to denominate Christ as the Word, but instead the word (logos), the meaning of which relates to reason, intellect, and wisdom. This is congruent with the fact that Christ is the eternal and supreme manifestation of Wisdom, who has eternally been begotten, whom the Lord has possessed in the beginning of His way, before His works of old (Prov 8:22), etc. Even though Christ is called the Word relative to the revelation of the gospel, it is neither the reason that He is the Son nor why He is called the Son. Rather, it refers to His work as the Son, consistent with His manner of existence.
Evasive Argument #5: The name “Son” encompasses the entire Person of the Mediator as consisting of both the divine and human natures. Since His mediatorial office is executed in reference to both natures, His Sonship therefore does not relate to His divine nature only. Also His title “the Son of Man” refers to the Person of the Mediator in its entirety, and not to His human nature only. Thus, His being called the Son is not due to His eternal generation. Rather, He is the essential Son of God, the firstborn and the only-begotten Son of God, the Branch, the Dayspring from on high, and the image of the Invisible, by virtue of His wondrous incarnation, words, miracles, ascension, as well as in reference to the outpouring of His Holy Spirit and His all-encompassing government.
Answer: (1) This is the old teaching of the Socinians, and it is peculiar that those who do not wish to be numbered with the Socinians must resort to Socinian proofs to prove their point. To such a degree one can be led astray by his prejudices. If you do not agree with the Socinians, why resort to argumentation which cannot but generate the suspicion that you are or ultimately must be in agreement with them?
(2) The Godhead is bound up in the entire Person. The human nature is neither the Person nor part of the Person of Christ, but has only been assumed by the Person of the Son of God. Already prior to the assumption of the human nature the second Person was the eternal Son of the eternal Father, as has previously been proven. Thus He is not the Son of God by virtue of His wondrous conception, etc. All of this proves that He was the Son of God, but it is neither the basis for, nor the reason why He is and is called the Son of God. This is expressed by the apostle, “And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4).
(3) Christ has two natures, the one being divine and the other human. The names, attributes, and manner of operation of both natures are attributed to the same Person, all of which are an essential dimension of His Personhood, some relating to His divine and some to His human nature. Thus, in Luke 1:32 Christ is called the Son of the Highest and the Son of David, the first referring to His divine and the second to His human nature. The eternal Son of the eternal Father has assumed the human nature. Since it was the Son of God who assumed the human nature, He consequently was already the Son of God prior to this event; He did not become the Son in consequence of His assumption of the human nature. It does not necessarily follow from the fact that He is the Son of man that He is therefore the Son of God. Neither is He not called the Son of man due to the fact that He is the Son of God. The use of these titles is not arbitrary. The Son of God and the Son of man are not one and the same, even though this is said of one and the same Person. As we have proven, He is the Son of God only in reference to His divine nature by virtue of His eternal generation, and He is the Son of man only by virtue of His human nature, having been born of the seed of the woman.
Evasive Argument #6: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17), to which is added in Matt 17:5, “Hear ye Him.” Reference is made here to the entire Person of the Mediator, being God and man. In Him and in His sacrifice God the Father is well-pleased; He must be heard and obeyed as Prophet and King. It is when viewed from this perspective that He is called and is the Son of God.
Answer: We readily agree with all this, but it has no reference to the point of contention. The point of contention here is whether or not the second Person of the Godhead is called the Son of God because God delights in Him as God and man—as Mediator—is pleased with His sacrifice, and that we should obey Him as Prophet and King. This we deny. This text furnishes no proof whatsoever, nor does it advance a basis or reason why Christ is called the Son, but it merely indicates that the Father calls Him Son, because He was the eternal Son of the eternal Father by virtue of eternal generation. The statement, “Hear ye Him,” does not suggest that Christ is therefore the Son of God. This is erroneous. In addition it should be noted that neither His human nature nor His office as Mediator is the basis for obedience to Him, but His Godhead only. His divine Sonship is a consequence of His Godhead, although He is united as such with the human nature.
Evasive Argument #7: The most significant reason why Scripture frequently ascribes the name Son of God to Christ is to teach us that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). To conclude that He has truly been generated because He so often is called the Son of God is a futile exercise.
Answer: How conclusive this text is! The objective of Scripture in calling Christ the Son of God is indeed to teach that Jesus is the Christ. If it were stated that Jesus is the Son of God due to His assumption of the human nature, this argument would be credible, but it merely states that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, whose Sonship is in consequence of His eternal generation rather than His incarnation, as has been proven. It is therefore not futile, but certain and irrefutable that the titles “son,” “Only-begotten Son,” “Own Son,” “First-begotten Son of God” lead us to conclude that He was not begotten in the corporal sense of the word, but in a unique manner, agreeable with the nature of God. He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, which is the reason why Scripture so frequently calls Him the Son. Even if it occurred only once in the Bible, it would be sufficient for us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have eternal life through His Name. The frequent repetition of this title should convince and unnerve those who contest this truth, and discourage them from doing so.
Proof #2: Thus far we have proven from the titles “son,” “My Son,” “Own Son,” “Begotten, Only-begotten, and First-begotten Son,” that the second Person of the Trinity has eternally existed in a Father-Son relationship to the first Person and that He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. We will now proceed with the second proof, which relates to the basis or reason for this relationship: how and why the second Person is the eternal Son, which according to Scripture is by virtue of eternal generation. We shall verify this from various passages of Holy Writ, examining them individually as well as effectively eliminating all arguments against it.
First, we shall consider Ps 2:7, “Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.” The first Person here addresses the second Person, calling Him His Son, which necessarily implies that the first Person is the Father of the second Person. The foundational phrase for maintaining that the first Person is the Father and the second Person the Son is expressed in these words, “This day have I begotten Thee.” It must then be evident that the second Person is not called the Son simply because He is of the same essence, without any interpersonal relationship. We already have responded to this above in our rebuttal of argument #2. It is also equally and unquestionably certain from this that the second Person’s being the Son and the first Person’s being the Father are due to the second Person’s assumption of the human nature, as the first Person did not generate the second Person in this. He was the second Person prior to His incarnation and thus the second Person was the Son from eternity. (This was dealt with above in our rebuttal to argument #3). In addition, Christ’s human nature was created at the moment of His incarnation, which, however, is not true for His divine nature. The human nature would then be the Son of God rather than the divine nature; generation would not refer to the generation of a person according to the express image of His Father. It would refer to the generation or propagation of a nature which would infinitely differ from the nature of the Father. Such an argument is absurdity itself.
This text makes it exceptionally clear that these two propositions—the second Person is the Son because He is of the same essence as the first Person, or He is the Son due to His assumption of the human nature—cannot be harmonized as they are contradictory to each other. Two untruths cannot produce one truth. This text, in expressing itself concerning the first and second Person, states that there exists a relationship of Father and Son between them, of which generation is the foundational concept. This generation establishes the Father as the first Person and the Son as the second Person, while it also establishes the second Person to be the Son and the first Person to be the Father.
Secondly, there is frequent reference to the words of Paul, “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16). From the argument of silence they wish to maintain that the reference is to the Son of God. They lack the courage to explain these words and apply them to the heart, the result of which would be most unclear. For the words, “God was manifest in the flesh,” are not equivalent in meaning to “son of God.” Rather, it conveys that He who is God from eternity assumed the human nature in hypostatic union with His Person, without there being the least reference to the relationship between the Father and the Son, nor the basis for this relationship, which the text clearly states to be generation. Why is no use made of the words of Paul, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman?” (Gal 4:4). Here expression is given to this relationship and to the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as to His incarnation. They will have to acknowledge that this text moves beyond the point which they wish to discuss, as it indicates that Christ already was the Son prior to His being sent and before He was made of a woman, and that He did not become the Son as a result of His assumption of the human nature.
Thus the second Person is the Son in consequence of being generated by the first Person. Here we must ascend from the human to the divine. We must reflect upon it in a manner which is becoming of God, even though it is an incomprehensible mystery to us. We must believe that the first Person has brought forth the second Person in a manner which can best be described by the word “generation.” Any thought of human generation must be far removed from our minds. A chronological distinction between first and last is nonexistent here; neither is there any transition from nonexistence to existence; nor is this relationship one of dependency. This relationship is eternal in nature, characterized by coequality of being as well as essential existence, for the existence of the Son of the Father is a constituent element of God’s character, as it belongs to the perfection of both the divine Being and the divine Persons.
Evasive Argument: This generation mentioned in Ps 2:7 should not be understood to be eternal in nature, but rather to refer to His incarnation. This generation was to occur at a specified time: “this day.” These are words which never denote eternity.
Answer: (1) The incarnation is never denominated as generation, and generation cannot signify incarnation, for then the Fatherhood of the first Person would relate to the human nature of Christ, of which He would consequently be called the Father. Then the human nature would be the son of the first Person, and thus be the image of God, the express image of the Father’s Person. Such a conclusion is absurd and should be rejected with utter contempt.
(2) The generation referred to here is from eternity whereby the first Person is the Father of the second, and the second the Son of the first. The second Person is the Son from eternity, having been brought forth before the creation of the world (Prov 8:24), prior to which there was nothing but eternity. His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic 5:2). If the second Person who is here denominated as Son is the Son from eternity, His generation is consequently also from eternity. Furthermore, since His generation is eternal, the words “this day” of necessity refer to eternity.
(3) It may be objected that this word never refers to eternity, to which I reply that generation never has reference to the assumption of the human nature, even though some would like to understand it in this fashion. Let it be shown that the words “this day” cannot have reference to eternity, just as I have shown that generation cannot refer to the assumption of the human nature. Allow the fact that on no other occasion the words “this day” were to denote eternity, yet if they denote eternity in this text, then it suffices for our argument. I admit that when the words “this day” are used in reference to people, they are used to describe a specified period of time. Man is a creature who functions within the parameters of time. However, when the words “this day” are used, relative to God (who is without chronological dimensions)—as is the case here, “This day have I begotten Thee”—then it must be interpreted in a manner congruent with the nature of God for whom everything is simultaneously in the present and for whom a thousand years are but as yesterday (Ps 90:4). God continually exists in the present. This Son, having been generated eternally, is ordained and sent forth to be the King of Zion. To Him the heathen have been given as a heritage. This Son would rule the people of God and punish His enemies. This Son we must honor, fear, and kiss with humility and love. All of this has been entrusted to Him as a consequence of His Sonship. He did not become the Son because He had all the aforementioned entrusted to Him.
Secondly, we shall consider Prov 8:22-25, “The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth.” Since it is an incontrovertible fact that the title “Lord” refers to the first Person, and that the pronouns “I” and “My” refer to the second Person who is called Wisdom in this chapter, there is no need to prove this. The second Person states concerning the first Person that He possessed Him, and He [the second Person] states concerning Himself that He was set up and brought forth. It is therefore incontrovertible that there is an interpersonal relationship between them. The basis for this relationship, being brought forth, is essential to both the Father and the Son. “The Lord possessed Me;” “I was brought forth.” The Hebrew word (kanani), does not refer to ordination here or elsewhere, but always refers to possession, ownership, attainment, purchase, or acquisition. Thus, from this the word “possess” is derived. The first Person is here said to possess the second Person, to be His Proprietor. This proprietorship was eternal: in the beginning of the way, before His works of old. The question is in what manner the first Person is the Proprietor of the second Person. The text itself answers the question by stating, “I was brought forth.” This proprietorship was in consequence of being brought forth, for which reason the second Person is called God’s own Son, the first-begotten Son, and the only-begotten Son, as the word (kana) means a receiving “by birth.” When Eve brought forth Cain, she declared, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” (Gen 4:1). The first Person is Proprietor of the second Person in consequence of being brought forth. The second Person states, “I was brought forth,” however, not in this time state, for the text states expressly, “before His works of old; when there were no depths.” The latter is convincing and incontrovertible. One cannot claim that being brought forth is the equivalent of being manifested in the flesh, for His being brought forth was from eternity, whereas this manifestation in the flesh did not occur until approximately four thousand years after creation. Neither can it be asserted that to possess and to be brought forth signify being ordained. This is not the meaning of these words—neither as far as root meaning is concerned nor by way of usage. Furthermore, ordination does not imply ownership, but it presupposes ownership. In order to ordain someone, one must have legal authority over this person.
The second Person, being eternally possessed by the Father in consequence of being brought forth, is said to be “set up from everlasting”; that is, to be ordained in His mediatorial office in the Counsel of Peace, in which every Person consistent with His nature, manner of existence, and manner of operation is involved in the ordination of the Son and the work of redemption by Him. Each Person neither exists in an interpersonal relationship nor receives the relational name of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit in consequence of their relation to the work of redemption. Rather, it is the interpersonal relationship in which these Persons exist with one another in the Godhead, the basis for this relationship being either generation or procession. Since this is the very character of God Himself, each Person has involvement in the work of redemption. The scriptural discussion of various subjects is often intertwined with references to the work of redemption. Therefore, it must be recognized that everything in a given chapter is not to be related to the work of redemption. Rather, if such matters are discussed outside of that context, they are also to be interpreted as being outside of that context. Such is also the case here. The focus of this discussion is the interpersonal relationship between the first and second Persons, generation being the basis for it. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit conveys how, on the basis of this relationship, these Persons of the Trinity interact with one another in this relationship and in the work of redemption. This interaction consists of the first Person—who possesses the second Person by bringing Him forth—setting up (cf. Prov 8:23) the second Person; that is, ordaining Him to be Surety and Mediator.
Thirdly, we shall consider Mic 5:2: “Out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Matt 2:6 establishes beyond doubt that the reference is here to the Lord Jesus. This text speaks of two different “goings or comings forth.” The one would have its origin in Bethlehem by virtue of His birth from Mary according to His human nature, whereas the other would be “from of old, from everlasting,” that is, according to His divine nature. Both are defined by the same word in Hebrew, (yatsa’). This word means “to come forth by birth.” “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which (yots’ é) came out of his loins” (Gen 46:26; cf. Gen 15:4; Gen 17:6; Gen 35:11, and numerous other texts). In a special sense this word is used in reference to the Messiah (cf. 2 Sam 7:12; Isa 11:1; and others). As the Messiah came forth according to His human nature in this time state by birth from Mary in Bethlehem, so was His going forth by birth from everlasting. This identical word occurring in the identical simile has the same meaning. There is, however, one exception. The eternal going forth is expressed in the plural, which according to Hebraic style conveys a going forth par excellence, superseding all other goings forth—as is true of the eternal, incomparable, and incomprehensible generation of the Son. In considering this text one cannot resort to coexistence, incarnation, or ordination, for the reference is to a going forth, a coming forth by birth, an eternal going forth, and an actual going forth. Thus the truth that the Son has eternally been generated by the Father remains incontrovertible.
Fourthly, we shall consider John 5:26, “For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” Both the first and the second Person of the divine Being are spoken of here. The one is called the Father and the other the Son; and it is in this regard that a relationship exists between them. It is stated that the Father has life in Himself, life being His all-sufficient activity and His singular energizing power. This life the Father has in Himself, He being the Fountain of that life and thus having received it from no one. As He is self-existent, likewise does His life originate from Himself. He is the living God, as He is frequently denominated in Scripture. It is also written that the Son has life in Himself. This life is neither a similar life nor another life, but the same life, manifesting the same all-sufficient activity and the same singular, energizing power. As the Father has this life in Himself, the Son likewise has this life in Himself. Thus, the Father and Son are equal; identical life is in each of them and in this respect they are the same. The difference, however, consists in the manner in which they possess this life; the Father having life in Himself, has given to the Son likewise to have life in Himself. This He has done in a manner which is consistent with God’s eternal nature, which excludes both the concepts of time and a transformation from nothing to something. From this it is evident that the Son’s existence originates in the Father, this being the basis for both Fatherhood and Sonship.
Evasive Argument: As far as God is concerned, the reference to life here is not subjective in nature, but causal; that is, it refers to God as the origin of the spiritual life of the elect. The Lord can save whom He wills and He has also empowered the Son as Mediator, being God and man, to save and to impart spiritual life to whomever He wills. That it must thus be understood is evident from the circumstances of the text.
Answer: (1) It is first of all a certainty that the life which the Son has in Himself is not different from the life which the Father has in Himself. In this respect they are equal, being in possession of the same life which both have in themselves.
(2) It is a certain truth that the Son, being Mediator and having assumed the human nature, has life in Himself. We deny emphatically, however, that the Father has given Christ to have life in Himself in consequence of either the mediatorship itself or the manner in which He executes this mediatorship.
(3) If the first and second Person of the Godhead are coexistent in their divinity, without being dependent upon each other, then we must conclude that the one Person has life in Himself as much as the other Person, and thus when the second Person assumed the human nature, He already possessed life in Himself. Consequently, as Mediator He could not have received life in Himself from someone else for He already possessed it. The second Person already had life in Himself and this qualified Him to be the Mediator. The Father in having life in Himself does not have this as Mediator, in order to communicate life to the elect in the way of suffering and death. This must therefore be true for the Son as well, as both have the same life and have it in themselves. Both the Father and the Son have life in an identical fashion and whatever is not true for the Father is also not true of the Son.
(4) In order to be the cause of life in someone else, a person must first possess this life subjectively in himself.
The results [that is, the manifestation of life] identify the energizing cause. Since the Father as well as the Son is the Author of life, it logically follows that they have life in themselves, which is the thrust of Christ’s argument in this chapter. Christ demonstrates that the Father has life in Himself by virtue of the fact that He gives corporal and spiritual life to others. Since Christ also imparts both corporal and spiritual life to others, He demonstrates thereby that He also has life in Himself. He adds to this that as God He has life within Himself by virtue of the Father giving it to Him. He adds to this that the Father—by virtue of the fact that the Son has life in Himself, thus qualifying Him to be Mediator—had sent Him to execute the office of Mediator, enabling the Father, Christ Himself, and the Holy Spirit to impart life to dead and death-worthy sinners.
Fifthly, we shall consider Heb 1:3: “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person.” It is the apostle’s objective in this chapter to prove both the divinity of Christ and the fact that He is the Son of God in an incomprehensibly more glorious manner than the most glorious creatures, the angels. “Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son” (Heb 1:5)? God did call them the sons of God, as He also did the regenerate. None of these were sons by generation, however; only Christ is Son by generation. “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee” (Heb 1:5). This is also conveyed by these two expressions, “the brightness of His glory,” and “the express image of His person.” This can be said of none other than He who is the natural Son of God. It cannot refer to the human nature of Christ, for, as we have previously shown, this nature and the first Person of the Godhead have nothing in common. There are also those who do not wish to associate this sonship with His divine nature and consider Him to be a separate, self-existent, non-relational, and non-generated Person. Then it would follow that the second Person in union with the human nature could also not be the Son, for whatever is absent in each nature individually cannot be present by virtue of their union. From this it would have to be concluded that the second Person, in manifesting Himself in the flesh, would reveal Himself in this world as the brightness of His own glory and the express image of His own Person. The Son, however, is the manifestation of His Father’s glory and Person, which consequently must be true relative to His divine nature.
The Son is here described as existing in a relationship with the Father, which first of all is expressed by the phrase, “the brightness of His Father’s glory.” Brightness is a reflection generated by light. The Father is a light which no man can approach unto, and thus the Son, as far as His Personhood is concerned, eternally proceeds from that light. The Council of Nicea, held in AD 325, has expressed it very well when it calls Him “Light of Light.”
The text further refers to this interpersonal relationship as “the express image of His Father’s Person.” In Greek the word (hypostasis) is used, which literally refers to an independent entity, but when used to refer to an intelligent being, expresses personhood. Thus, it is not the divine essence which is under discussion here, but rather the first Person of the Godhead, as the Son is here said to be the express image of His Father’s Person. Men generate sons after their image, and thus a son is the express image of his father. Fully removing the human element, it may therefore be stated that the second Person has been generated by the first Person. Both the relationship as well as the relational titles “Father” and “Son,” have their origin in this generation, in consequence of which the Son is called the express image of His Father. To be the express image of the Father necessarily implies natural Sonship by way of eternal generation. It is for this reason that the Lord Jesus is called “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
Thus we have described this great mystery which God has revealed in His Word, a truth which always has been and will be known, acknowledged, believed, confessed, and staunchly defended by the church, in spite of all who regret to see this truth upheld.