Christ is the only begotten Son of God. It is shewn that although some attempt to prove because he is a son, his Father is anterior to him; nevertheless his sonship proves his eternal Deity.
That Christ is the only begotten Son of God is evident from sundry passages of the scripture; neither is this position denied by Unitarians, nor by any other christian denomination with whom I am acquainted. Nevertheless, because he is the Son of God, Unitarians conclude that he is not God. Mr. James Miller says, “The term Father, implies that the Lord Jesus Christ is a son; but if the relative terms, Father and Son, do not denote two real intelligent persons or beings, by what words or language can such a distinction be denoted? Do not the terms father and son necessarily denote anteriority of existence in the person of the Father and posteriority of existence in the person of the Son, and that the Son derived his existence and nature from the Father? Must not these terms then, in relation to the supreme God and his only begotten Son, be strangely perverted if we so construe them as to make them signify one and the same being—that the Son is really the Father, and that the Father is really the Son; or that the Father and Son are one numerical being, or God? Does not such a construction of these relative terms seem, in the highest degree unnatural?” p. 87.
Mr. Worcester says, “So far as the natural import of language is to be regarded, the terms, a self-existent son, imply a real and palpable contradiction. The term self-existent is perfectly opposed to the term son, and the term son is perfectly opposed to self-existence. If there be any term in our language which naturally implies derived existence, the term son is of this import. To affirm that a person is a derived self-existent Being implies no greater contradiction than to affirm that a person is a self-existent son. And to affirm that Jesus Christ is personally the self-existent God, and at the same time truly the Son of God, is precisely the same contradiction that it would be to affirm that the Prince of Wales is truly King George the Third, and also truly the Son of King George the Third.” Bible News page 55,56.
Positions like these to disprove the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father are not only urged by Unitarians, but also by some who profess Christ as God; seeing they deny that he is God’s Son according to his divine nature. They predicate his sonship merely upon his miraculous conception, and his birth of the virgin Mary.
Mr. Isaac Lewis in a treatise against Mr. J. Miller, attempts to prove that Christ is the Son of God according to his humanity only, and denies the sonship of his divinity. He says, p. 7, “I say he is the Son of God in reference to his miraculous conception.” In this he has followed Mr. Adam Clarke.
That the existence of a father is prior to that of a son, is true with respect to men, for they are created beings. The begetting of a son also takes place in time, and who after his birth has a separate and distinct existence of his father. Such as deny the sonship of Christ’s divinity upon the supposition, that the father must exist prior to the son, compare God and his son, to a man and his son, and confound human with divine generation. To compare the generation of God’s Son with that of a man’s son, is absurd. For if there be the least propriety in it, the existence of God might also be compared with that of a man. But who would suppose that God’s existence is like that of a man? I presume, no one. Now if God is not like a man, with what propriety can the generation of his Son be compared with human generation? Every human father descended from a father himself, and even the first man having been created had a beginning. A being begets its like—a human father having descended from a father cannot beget a son, who has not also a beginning. God the Father, neither had a beginning, nor a father prior to himself. How then can any one conclude that his Son is like the sons of men, or that he like they must be posterior to his Father? Such a conclusion is absurd, seeing God bears no analogy to human fathers.
That the relative terms father and son denote two distinct beings, and anteriority and posteriority of existence is indeed true with respect to men, but how do Unitarians or others prove that it implies the same when applied to God and his Son. If God were like a man, they might establish this hypothesis. But since he is not like a man, it is vain to compare the generation of God’s Son with that of the son of a man, or to suppose that the relative terms father and son when applied to God and his Son denote two distinct beings, or anteriority and posteriority of existence.
How do Unitarians prove that the term, a self-existent son implies a real and palpable contradiction, and that the term self-existent is perfectly opposed to the term son, and the term son to self-existent? They cannot, unless it were correct to compare God and his Son, to a man and his son. Such a supposition is repugnant to the rules of logic. Nevertheless, if it were possible to suppose such to be correct, it would also prove that God the Father is not self-existent: for a human father is as little self-existent as a son.
In reasoning correctly it will appear that every being begets its like. Man begets man. A man’s son is as really and substantially a man as his father, possessing his nature! As a human father is a dependent creature, existing in time; even so his son is dependent, having a beginning. Now if God beget a son, why should he not also be like God, possessing his very nature? Is it possible for God to have an only begotten son, without having his nature and attributes? To suppose Christ to be God’s only begotten Son without admitting him to possess Jehovah’s nature and perfections, is indeed a palpable contradiction. Viewed in this light Christ would be a son without his father’s nature. How strange to suppose a son without possessing his father’s nature. Is not self-existence peculiar to God? Are not the perfections of eternity, infinity, immutability, &c. essential to his character? Now how is it possible for God to have a son, who is destitute of his nature and perfections? If God was like a man, his son would also be like the son of a man. But since God is self-existent, eternal, immutable, &c. it must follow that his only begotten Son is like himself: viz. the impression of his substance.
Mr. Worcester says, “That God is a self-existent Being, is acknowledged by all christians; and I shall freely admit, that it is impossible with God to beget or produce a self-existent son.” p.72, 73. How does Mr. Worcester know that this is impossible with God? By what passage of scripture does he prove this impossibility? By none. Are not all things possible with God? If so, upon what authority can any man affirm that it is impossible with God to beget a self-existent son? He says, page 58, “We also find, that God has endued the various tribes of creatures with a power of procreation, by which they produce offsprings in their own likeness. Why is it not as possible that God should possess the power of producing a Son in his own likeness, or with his own nature, as that he should be able to endue his creatures with such a power?” This is by all means an accurate observation. Nevertheless, M. W. himself argues very repugnant to this his own position, when he most confidently asserts that it is impossible with God to beget, or produce a self-existent son. If every tribe of creatures be endued with the power of procreation, by which they produce offsprings in their own likeness, upon what ground can Mr. W. deny that it is impossible with God to beget a self-existent son? when self-existence is a peculiar characteristic of his being. To evade the force of this argument Mr. W. observes, “It may not be necessary that every attribute of Deity should be communicable or derivable in order that he may have an Own Son among the children of men, it is not necessary to the existence or the idea of a son, that he should possess all the attributes, properties, or qualities of his father. Nor is it necessary that he should possess no other attributes but such as were possessed by his father. Among the seventy sons of Gideon, perhaps, there were no two that perfectly resembled each other in their attributes, properties or qualities; and probably no one who was the perfect likeness of his father. So Jesus Christ may have truly derived his existence and nature from God, and yet not possess every attribute of the Father.” p. 74.
This argument is not correct in every respect. Truly not all the children of men are exactly like their fathers in every respect. They also derive certain qualities from their mothers and some they acquire by habit and education. Although, no man’s son may in all respects be like his father; yet he certainly possesses the same human nature, and the qualities peculiar to men. Where is the son of any man, who does not possess man’s nature? But what does it signify, though not one human son should be like his father? Would it prove that the Son of God is not like his Father? By no means. For Christ is “the brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of his person.” Heb. 1, 3. Because Christ is the express image of God’s person, he consequently is like his Father. Thus all arguments which can be possibly advanced upon the ground of human generation, can never prove that the Son of God is not like his Father. For since Christ is the express image of God’s person, he must necessarily possess all divine perfections; otherwise he could not be the express image of his person: for there would be something in God’s person not expressed in the Son, or in this express image. If any man’s son were the express image of his person, he certainly would possess all his father’s qualities.
Indeed some men, because they have an improper view of the Son’s generation, conclude that it is impossible for the Son to be begotten according to his divine personality. They figure to themselves a certain period of time, in which he was begotten like the sons of men. If this supposition were correct, then indeed Christ would have as distinct an existence as any human son had of his father. But it is to be observed that God exists out of time, for he inhabits uncircumscribed eternity; hence if he have an only begotten Son, the express image of his person, his generation has nothing to do with time, but is eternal, immutable, it is the perpetual resplendence of Jehovah’s uncreated glory.
Those who deny the eternal generation of the Son upon the supposition of anteriority and posteriority, perhaps do not consider the procession of the Holy Ghost. All Trinitarians as far as I know, acknowledge that the Holy Ghost is a divine person from eternity, without supposing the anteriority of the Father. But does not the Holy Ghost proceed from the Father? This is beyond contradiction, and is I believe admitted by all. Now if the Holy Ghost can proceed from the Father, how is it, that the Father is not anterior? Is it not equally rational, (if it be rational at all) to believe that a spirit proceeding from God should be posterior to his existence, as to believe a son begotten should be posterior? If there can be an eternal, immutable procession of the Holy Ghost, there also can be an eternal, immutable generation of the Son. If human generation is to be compared to divine generation, and if because a man’s son is posterior to his father, that therefore Christ must be the same in relation to his Father, and if this position be considered conclusive, then may I also with equal force apply the same to the procession of the Holy Ghost. Man was formed out of the dust of the earth before he possessed either breath, or spirit; hence existed prior to his spirit. But will anyone assert that the Father existed prior to his Spirit? No. This proves the absurdity of such comparisons. For if the holy Spirit may proceed eternally from the Father, why may not the Son be eternally begotten?
Although, Unitarians deny that the holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Father; yet their own positions prove that he is from eternity. Some have said, that he bears the same relation to God as the spirit of a man to man. Mr. Worcester says, “My ideas of the Spirit may be better understood by a little attention to some scripture metaphors.—God is represented by the metaphor of the natural sun. “The Lord God is a SUN.” Then the rays of light and heat, which emanate or proceed from the sun, are an emblem of the “holy Spirit which proceedeth from the Father.” Like the rays of the sun, these Divine emanations of the fulness of God, illuminate, quicken, invigorate, and fructify.”” p. 191, 192. Again, “By the holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God, is not in my view, intended any one attribute merely, but all those attributes which are implied in the FULNESS or ALL-SUFFICIENCY OF GOD,” p. 192.
Again, “We believe the Holy Ghost, or holy Spirit was the Spirit of God, and not a person, or being, or substance distinct from God. When communicated to men, it was a supernatural gift, the energy and power of God operating on their minds, giving new light to their understanding, and increasing their natural intelligence and wisdom.” Unitarian Miscellany, No. 1, vol. 1, p. 17. According to these statements the Holy Ghost is not any one particular divine attribute, but all the attributes implied in the divine fulness proceeding from the Father. Thus if the Holy Ghost be the fulness of God, must he not be from eternity? Since Unitarians deny that the Holy Ghost is any substance, or person distinct from God, they must acknowledge him as well as the Father to be from eternity. Again, if according to Mr. W. the Holy Ghost like the rays of the sun emanating, proceeds from the Father, then he proceeds eternally; seeing the rays of the sun have emanated from the same ever since its existence. Now if the Holy Ghost eternally proceed from the Father, without supposing him anterior, why should the eternal generation of the Son suppose the Father’s anteriority? Whether the Holy Ghost be called the divine fulness, or a person, it does not essentially affect this argument. Although, it should be admitted that the Holy Ghost is the divine fulness proceeding from God, without being a distinct person; nevertheless he must be something distinct from the Father: for if this holy Spirit were personally the Father himself, then indeed the Father would proceed from himself. This would be absurd. It is evident that the Holy Ghost is something distinct from the Father: whether this something be a person, or not. This something, proceeds eternally from the Father. Now if something distinct from the Father can eternally proceed from him, how can the belief of Christ’s eternal generation be absurd?
Some who pass for Trinitarians suppose that Christ is not the Son of God according to his divine nature, but only according to his humanity. Doct. Adam Clarke in his comment on Luke 1,35, says, — “Here I trust I may be permitted to say, with all due respect for those who differ from me, that the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is, in my opinion, antiscriptural, and highly dangerous; this doctrine I reject for the following reasons :
1st. I have not been able to find any express declaration in the scriptures concerning it.
2dly. If Christ be the Son of God as to his divine nature, then he cannot be eternal; for son implies a father ; and father implies in reference to son, precedency in time, if not in nature too. Father and son imply the idea of generation; and generation implies a time in which it was effected, and time also antecedent to such generation.
3dly. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his divine nature, then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently superior to him.
4thly. Again, if this divine nature were begotten of the Father, then it must be in time ; i.e. there was a period in which it did not exist, and a period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at once of his Godhead.
5thly. To say that he was begotten from all eternity, is in my opinion absurd; and the phrase, eternal son, is a positive self-contradiction. Eternity is that which has had no beginning, nor stands in any reference to time. Son supposes time, generation and father; and time also antecedent to such generation. Therefore the conjunction of these two terms son and eternity is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas.
The enemies of Christ’s divinity have in all ages availed themselves of this incautious method of treating this subject, and on this ground, have ever had the advantage of the defenders of the godhead of Christ. This doctrine of the eternal sonship destroys the deity of Christ; now if his deity be taken away, the whole gospel scheme of redemption is ruined. On this ground, the atonement of Christ cannot have been of infinite merit, and consequently could not purchase pardon for the offences of mankind, nor give any right to, or possession of, an eternal glory. The very use of this phrase is both absurd and dangerous; therefore let all those who value Jesus and their salvation abide by the scriptures.” —
According to these positions, Christ is not the Son of God as to his divine nature. Notwithstanding Mr. Clarke supposes that Christ is true eternal God, a distinct person from the Father. But Christ is called the only begotten of the Father. John 1,14, v. 18. ch. 3, 16. Now it may be asked, whether to be created and to be begotten are synonymous? If they be synonymous, how then is Christ the only begotten son of God? Is he the only created son? By no means. For there are myriads of intelligent beings, who have been created: such as men, and angels called the sons of God. No being in the universe, except Christ can with propriety be called God’s only begotten Son. It is evident, that there is a considerable difference between being begotten and created. Christ therefore, in so far as he is the only begotten is by no means a created being. But is not his humanity created? It is derived from the virgin Mary, by the energy of the Holy Ghost. If his humanity as such were God’s only begotten Son, then the humanity could not be created. But since his humanity is a created intelligence, how can it as such be the only begotten Son of God? Again, if Christ be the Son of God according to his humanity only, the question may be put: did the Father beget him? Is it not evident that the Holy Ghost came upon the virgin, who conceived by his energy? If only the humanity of Christ were God’s only Son, then surely it would have been begotten by the Father: for it would be absurd to suppose a son without also supposing that he was begotten. Since the virgin conceived by the Holy Ghost, the humanity, merely as such, is not the Father’s Son; nor do we find that the humanity is ever called the Son of the Holy Ghost. It must be admitted that the humanity in so far as it is personally united to the Word, and is one thing with the same, is God’s Son. But to suppose that the humanity separately from the divine nature is the Son of God is out of the question, for the reasons already assigned.
The text in Luke 1,35, does not say that Christ is God’s Son, only according to his humanity:—”The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing, Which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God.” That the holy thing born of the virgin, should be called the Son of God, does not prove that that holy thing should be a mere man. Unless it can be proven that that holy thing was a mere man, it is in vain to urge this text as a proof that the humanity alone is God’s Son.
That if Christ be the Son of God as to his divine nature, that the Father must be prior, that generation implies a time in which it was effected, and time also antecedent to such generation, are assertions which prove nothing against Christ’s eternal generation. With respect to men there is a time,in which a son is begotten. But how does this apply to God and his Son? How does Mr. Clarke know that if Christ be God’s Son, that he must be posterior to his Father? or that there was a time in which he was begotten? By what has he proven it? Is his mere assertion sufficient evidence? Human generation ought not to be compared to divine generation.
That the supposition of Christ’s son-ship as to his divine nature is repugnant to his deity, is an unfounded conclusion. For the very position that Christ is God’s only begotten Son, is a conclusive evidence of his Deity. It would be absurd to suppose that God’s only Son should be destitute of his nature and perfections.
There are two texts, from which if only superficially viewed, it might be concluded that Christ was begotten in time. The one is, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Ps. 2, 7. The other is, “who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature.” Col. 1, 15. Now it is supposed by some that there was a certain day, i.e. period of time, in which Christ was begotten; and that if he be the first-born of every creature, that himself must be a creature. But it is to be observed, that these texts refer to Christ’s resurrection. “But God raised him from the dead: and he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” Acts 13, 30-33. Since an inspired apostle declares that God fulfilled the words, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,” in having raised up Jesus from the dead, it is readily understood that his resurrection is also called a begetting, and the day when he arose was the day referred to by the psalm. One thing is, Christ being the only begotten of God from eternity, or in so far as he is God reflected, or the resplendence of his glory; but another is when after his incarnation he is begotten from the dead, when raised up into on endless life. With respect to the text in Col. 1, 15, it must be observed that its context shews that Christ is the first-born of every creature in regard to his resurrection. See v. 17,18 :—”And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” Thus it is plain that his resurrection is called a birth. Christ is truly also a creature as well as the creator; so that it may be said that he is the first-born of every creature; seeing that he is the first fruits of those that slept. 1 Cor. 15,20.