Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THOU ART MY SON”  Part 1

Psalm 2.7

 

Turn in your Bible to the second Psalm. When you find that portion of God’s Word, stand, and read along silently while I read aloud:

 

1      Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

2      The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,

3      Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

4      He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

5      Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

6      Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

7      I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

8      Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

9      Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

10     Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.

11     Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12     Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

 

It had been my intention, and it has been my desire, to preach several uplifting and encouraging sermons from this first of the Messianic Psalms as we approach Christmas. Sadly, I find that the tragic specter of heresy has once again reared its ugly head. Therefore, to be faithful to my calling and to discharge my obligation as a shepherd over the flock, I must turn my attentions to that heresy.

The timing has proved providential, since the heresy that has once again come to my attention has directly to do with the text I had planned to preach this morning, Psalm 2.7: “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.”

In past sermons, I have routinely made reference to, and pointed out the importance of, the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ. I have also identified, from time to time, the leading proponent of the error that denies Christ’s eternal sonship, Dr. John MacArthur. A well-known writer of commentaries, as well as a much listened to radio Bible teacher, John MacArthur has a richly deserved reputation as a diligent student of the Bible. For that reason, it is simply mystifying to many that the only two egregious errors he seems to have made in his career are both doctrines that bear directly on the nature and saving work of Jesus Christ.

You know my position concerning the blood of Jesus Christ, as well as my strong opposition to John MacArthur’s deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy on that subject, but you may not be as sensitive to an issue that I had long hoped was settled with him, but apparently is not.

In his commentary on the epistle to the Hebrews, MacArthur makes these comments in connection to Hebrews 1.5, which reads, “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” MacArthur writes, “As was noted, Son is an incarnational title of Christ. Though His sonship was anticipated in the Old Testament (Prov. 30:4), He did not become a Son until He was begotten into time. Prior to time and His incarnation He was eternal God with God. The term Son has only to do with Jesus Christ in His incarnation. . . . The Bible nowhere speaks of the eternal sonship of Christ.” (emphasis his)[1]

MacArthur’s erroneous comments are troublesome for two reasons: First, because he aggressively extends his reach and influence into the lives of many Christians who read his commentaries and who listen to him on the radio, not to mention the effect his errors have on the lost who are thereby affected. Second, because his errors have been included in his otherwise very excellent study Bible, where his comments on such passages as Psalm 2.7, and Hebrews 1.5 and 5.5, seriously misread the relationship Jesus Christ has with God the Father.[2]

My friends, Jesus Christ did not become God’s Son at any time. He is God’s Son from eternity.

We might not need to trouble ourselves about this matter, but for the troubling fact that although John MacArthur seemed to have abandoned his long held error of denying the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ, I am informed that he has recently published a revised edition of The MacArthur Study Bible with no apparent corrections of the original erroneous notes. An additional factor that cannot be overlooked is the anticipated influence of The MacArthur Study Bible with groups who are looking for support for their anti-Trinitarian stance in opposition to historic Christianity, such groups as “Oneness Pentecostals” like Bishop Jakes, and even Muslims.

Therefore, to fulfill my duties as a watchman, I set a course over the next several weeks to focus your attention on what the Word of God says about the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ, keeping Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.27-32 in mind as a guide:

 

27     For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

28     Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

29     For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30     Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

31     Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

32     And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

 

I am charged, “to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” I seek to discharge that responsibility to “feed the church of God” and to “warn every one,” so you will not be susceptible to the “grievous wolves” who speak and write “perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

If I have disturbed you by naming a name along the way, remember that the Apostle Paul named Hymenaeus and Alexander in First Timothy chapter 1, Hymenaeus and Philetus in Second Timothy chapter 2, Demas and Alexander the coppersmith in Second Timothy chapter 4, and that the Apostle John identified Diotrephes in Third John. Sometimes a pastor must identify those who pose a threat to his flock, rather than always speaking in the abstract.

Let us now roll up our sleeves and tackle this very important issue of the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ. This morning I will review to you the history of the doctrine of Christ’s eternal sonship.

 

First, Consider this doctrine of the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ in early church history

 

Keep in mind that throughout Christian history the typical response of orthodox Christianity has been to formulate doctrinal positions in reaction to the rise of unscriptural heresies. The example I want to turn your attention to in support of this is the Council of Nicaea.

At the beginning of the 4th century, the factions within Christendom became so troublesome that the emperor, Constantine, called a council in the city of Nicaea to discuss the issues and to arrive at a consensus among scholars.[3] Though most people who have any familiarity at all with the Nicene Council think it exclusively dealt with the Arian heresy, the situation was much more complex. Arianism, of course, which is the basic position held these days by Jehovah’s Witnesses, allows that Jesus was preexistent, but denies His divinity.[4] In addition to the heresy of Arianism, there were the heresies of Socinianism, which maintained Jesus was merely a man, and Sabellianism, which denied the separate personalities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[5]

To paint the whole portrait in broad strokes, there were the orthodox Trinitarians stating their case and the anti-Trinitarians of one type or another asserting their cases, with the Arian heresy being the most memorable to us because of its appearance of honoring Christ and because of the skill with which the heresy was advanced by Arius, its main proponent. The result, of course, was not the invention of the doctrine of the Trinity, but a clarification of the doctrine because of the focused study of God’s Word in response to the threat of the various unscriptural heresies that had arisen. As well, a sharp focus on the nature of the relationship that existed between God the Father and God the Son resulted, with the Nicene Creed clearly stating that Jesus possesses the same nature, essence, or substance that the Father has, as distinguished from any created nature or essence as those who denied the Trinity claimed to be true.[6]

If it is held that God is a Trinity, then it must also be true that God the Father and God the Son are equal in nature and substance. However, if God the Father and God the Son are equal in nature and substance then God the Father must always have been God the Father and God the Son must always have been God the Son. This would be the doctrine of the eternal sonship of Christ, and this is the position of those who wrote the Nicene Creed in 325 AD.

Keep in mind that the Council in Nicaea was not convened to decide what was scriptural, but to discover what was scriptural. The issues before those men were of the greatest importance, since they were seeking to clarify their understanding of what the Bible taught concerning the very nature of God and His Son, and their relationship to each other. As well, mixed in with good men who believed and preached the Bible were wicked men who sought to tarnish the reputation of the savior.

Thankfully, the Nicaean Counsel was a success. The great historical theologian of the 19th century William Cunningham writes, “We are persuaded, then, that the Nicene fathers were supported by the word of God, as well as by the testimony of the early church, in declaring that the Son was not only of one and the same substance with the Father, but also that He was eternally begotten by the Father of His own substance.”[7]

Do you realize that orthodox Christians have almost universally held the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ from that day to this? As well, note that those who deny the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ deny that the relationship of Jesus Christ to the First Person, that of Father to Son, has to do with their natures. In other words, and this is my own opinion publicly expressed, a denial of the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ is a step toward Arianism, Sabellianism, and Socinianism. Denial of the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ is a subtle first step away from the high and lofty scriptural doctrine of the God of the Bible as a triune Being.

 

Next, consider the doctrine of Christ’s eternal sonship in modern church history

 

I am greatly indebted to the book written by George W. Zeller and Renald E. Showers, The Eternal Sonship Of Christ, published by Loizeaux Brothers in 1993 for the testimonies of notable commentators who recognized what the Bible taught about the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ.[8] Let me read them to you:

 

John N. Darby, one of the early Plymouth Brethren, devoted Bible student, and prolific author:

The eternal Sonship is a vital truth, or else we lose the Father sending the Son, and the Son creating, and we have no Father if we have no Son, so that it [the doctrine of eternal Sonship] lies at the basis of all truth. . . . I hold it vital to hold the Sonship before the worlds. It is the truth.

 

C. H. Mackintosh, highly esteemed Plymouth Brethren author and preacher:

I would, at this point, solemnly admonish my reader that he cannot be too jealous in reference to the vital truth of the Person and the relations of the Lord Jesus Christ. If there be error as to this, there is no security as to any thing. God cannot give the sanction of His presence to aught that has not this truth for its foundation. The Person of Christ is the living, divine centre round which the Holy Ghost carries on all His operations. Let slip the truth as to Him, and you are like a vessel broken from its moorings, and carried, without rudder or compass, over the wild watery waste, and in imminent danger of being dashed to fragments upon the rocks of Arianism, infidelity, or atheism. Question the eternal Sonship of Christ, question His deity, question His unspotted humanity, and you have opened the floodgate for a desolating tide of deadly error to rush in. Let no one imagine, for a moment, that this is a mere matter to be discussed by learned theologians —a curious question—a recondite mystery—a point about which we may lawfully differ. No; it is a vital, fundamental truth, to be held in the power of the Holy Ghost, and maintained at the expense of all beside—yea, to be confessed under all circumstances, whatever may be the consequences.

   We rejoice in every opportunity for the setting forth of Christ’s Eternal Sonship. We hold it to be an integral and essentially necessary part of the Christian faith.

 

Charles Spurgeon, author, English Baptist preacher, pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London:

But Jesus, the eternal Son of God, “very God of very God,” who had been hymned through eternal ages by joyous angels, who had been the favourite of his Father’s court, exalted high above principalities and powers, and every name that is named, he himself condescended to become man; was born of the Virgin Mary; was cradled in a manger; lived a life of suffering, and at last died a death of agony.

Question 20: Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?

Answer: The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was and continues to be God and man, in two distinct natures and one person for ever.

 

H. A. Ironside, author, beloved Bible teacher, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago:

More recently the so-called Raven meetings have been divided over the teaching of an American leader who denied the truth of the Eternal Sonship of Christ. This most serious error caused many to take a definite stand against it and led to another separation. But sadly enough by far the greater majority saw nothing wrong in such views and have gone on with the promulgator of them. This puts these meetings entirely off the ground of the early Brethren who considered a true confession of Christ the very first consideration.

 

T. Ernest Wilson, author and missionary to Angola for nearly half a century:

The eternal Sonship of Christ is one of the most vital, basic doctrines of the Word of God. It is denied by many heretical cults, but held and valued by all those who know and love our Lord Jesus Christ. . . we must be on guard against those who say that He only became the Son of God at His incarnation and who deny His eternal Sonship.

 

Charles Hodge, American Presbyterian theologian:

The [Nicene] Council declared that our Lord is the Eternal Son of God, i.e., that He is from eternity the Son of God. This of course involves the denial that He became the Son of God in time; and consequently, that the primary and essential reason for his being called Son is not his miraculous birth, nor his incarnation, nor his resurrection, nor his exaltation to the right hand of God. The Council decided that the word Son as applied to Christ, is not a term of office but of nature; that it expresses the relation which the Second Person in the Trinity from eternity bears to the First Person, and that the relation thus indicated is sameness of nature, so that Sonship, in the case of Christ, includes equality with God.

   The word Son [in Romans 1:3-4] designates the divine nature of Christ. In all cases, however, it is a designation implying participation of the divine nature. Christ is called the Son of God because he is consubstantial with the Father, and therefore equal to him in power and glory. The term expresses the relation of the second to the first person in the Trinity, as it exists from eternity. It is therefore, as applied to Christ, not a term of office, nor expressive of any relation assumed in time. He was and is the Eternal Son.

 

Augustus H. Strong, Baptist minister and theologian:

The Sonship of Christ is eternal . . . neither the incarnation, the baptism, the transfiguration, nor the resurrection marks the beginning of Christ’s Sonship, or constitutes him the Son of God. These are but recognitions or manifestations of a pre- existing Sonship, inseparable from his Godhood. . . . Not a commencement of existence, but an eternal relation to the Father—there never having been a time when the Son began to be, or when the Son did not exist as God with the Father.

 

Benjamin B. Warfield, eminent Presbyterian theologian and educator and seminary president:

The designation “Son of God” is a metaphysical designation and tells us what He is in His being of being. And what it tells us that Christ is in His being of being is that He is just what God is. It is undeniable—and Bousset, for example, does not deny it,— that, from the earliest days of Christianity on, (in Bousset’s words) “Son of God was equivalent simply to equal with God” (Mark xiv.61-63; John x.31-39).

   We read that “When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law.” The whole transaction is referred to the Father in fulfillment of His eternal plan of redemption, and it is described specifically as an incarnation: the Son of God is born of a woman—He who is in His own nature the Son of God, abiding with God, is sent forth from God in such a manner as to be born a human being, subject to law. The primary implications are that this was not the beginning of His being; but that before this He was neither a man nor subject to law. But there is no suggestion that on becoming man and subject to law, He ceased to be the Son of God or lost anything intimated by that high designation. The uniqueness of His relation to God as His Son is emphasized in a kindred passage (Rom. viii.3) by the heightening of the designation to that of God’s “own Son.”

 

John Murray, professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary for thirty-six years:

There are people, while not being in anyway disposed to the denial of Jesus’ deity, who maintain the title “Son of God” is solely a Messianic title, a title that belongs to Him in virtue of His incarnation. It is that position that I am trying to contradict to a very large extent. . . .the title “Son of God” is applied to Him in virtue of His pretemporal, ontological, intertrinitarian relationship identity.

   Now, since He came from above—from heaven, from the Father—it was in the identity that was His in heaven and with the Father prior to His coming that He came and was sent. This identity is distinctly specified as that of Son, and “only begotten.” Hence, His filial identity, I submit, is preexistent, pretemporal and transcendent.

   There are good reasons for thinking that in this instance [Romans 1:3-4] the title [”Son”] refers to a relation which the Son sustains to the Father antecedently to and independently of his manifestation in the flesh. Paul entertained the highest conception of Christ in his divine identity and eternal preexistence. The title “Son” he regarded as applicable to Christ in his eternal preexistence and as defining his eternal relation to the Father. . . . the subject matter of the gospel is defined as that which pertains to the eternal Son of God.

 

J. Oliver Buswell, college and seminary professor of theology for many years:

The virgin birth of Christ was a miracle wrought by the Third Person of the Trinity whereby the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, took to Himself a human nature, so that He “became man”. . . . what then shall we say of eternal Sonship?. . There can be no doubt that “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” are words intended by the writers of the Scriptures to indicate eternal relationships within the Triune Godhead.

 

Loraine Boettner, respected theologian:

In theological language the terms “Father” and “Son” carry with them not our occidental ideas of, on the one hand, source of being and superiority, and on the other, subordination and dependence, but rather the Semitic and oriental ideas of likeness or sameness of nature and equality of being. It is, of course, the Semitic consciousness that underlies the phraseology of Scripture, and wherever the Scriptures call Christ the ‘Son of God’ they assert His true and proper deity. . . . As any merely human son is like his father in his essential nature, that is, possessed of humanity, so Christ, the Son of God, was like His Father in His essential nature, that is, possessed of deity. The Father and the Son, together with the Holy Spirit, are coeternal and coequal in power and glory, and partake of the same nature or substance.

 

C. I. Scofield, dispensational author and Bible teacher, founder of the Central American Mission:

God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This relation, in some sense not clearly explained, is fundamental in the divine Being and always existed. Although in His incarnation our Lord became a true human being, at the same time He continued to be “the Son of God.”

 

Lewis Sperry Chafer, dispensational theologian and founder of Dallas Theological Seminary:

He was the Son of God from all eternity, but He became Son of man by incarnation . . . various theories which contend that Christ was: (a) Son of God by virtue of incarnation; (b) that He was Son of God by virtue of His resurrection; or (c) that He was Son of God by mere title or official position, break down before the volume of Biblical testimony which asserts that He was Son of God from all eternity.

 

E. Schuyler English, author, editor of Our Hope magazine, chairman of the editorial committee of the New Scofield Reference Bible.

The Father has always been the Father; the Son has always been the Son; the Holy Spirit has always been the Holy Spirit... . And of the Son it is written, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). He always was God the Son; He continued to be God the Son in His earthly garb as Man; He remains God the Son, as He shall always be, in His heavenly exaltation.

 

Lehman Strauss, author, widely traveled dispensational Bible teacher:

Every claim of Jesus Christ, including the confessions of other men, that He was the Son of God is a remarkable expression that shows the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. His title of Son of God is not based upon His Virgin Birth. He did not become the Son of God by virtue of His birth in the manger of Bethlehem, but He was Son of God by inherent right in eternity past. . . . There is no support in favor of the doctrine that the divine relationship between the Father and the Son had its beginning at the Incarnation. . . . There was never a time when this relationship between the Father and the Son had a beginning. The title of this chapter might well be “The Eternal Sonship of Christ.”

 

Robert P. Lightner, author, professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary:

The term “Son of God” describes the Savior’s relationship to God the Father. His relationship to God is eternal and was not affected by the incarnation. “Son of God” is not less, but far more than a name or title. It is another way of setting Christ forth as the only begotten. The second member of the Godhead did become the Son of man, the son of David, and the son of Mary when He became incarnate but He was the Son of God from all eternity.

 

John F. Walvoord, author, theologian, and for many years president of Dallas Theological Seminary:

The consensus of the great theologians of the church and the great church councils is to the effect that Christ has been a Son from eternity; and the theory that He became a Son by incarnation is inadequate to account for the usage of the term. . . . The Scriptures represent Christ as eternally the Son of God by eternal generation. While it must be admitted that the nature of the generation is unique, being eternal, sonship has been used in the Bible to represent the relationship between the first Person and the second Person. . . . The scriptural view of the sonship of Christ, as recognized in many of the great creeds of the church, is that Christ was always the Son of God.

 

Thus, you see that the doctrine of Christ’s eternal sonship is seen by many reputable men to be a mainstream, orthodox truth that is fully supported in God’s Word and which has been believed by Christians throughout history.

Opponents of Christ’s eternal sonship have been few and far between over the last several centuries. Such men as Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, Alexander Campbell the founder of the Church of Christ denomination, Walter Martin (author of Kingdom of the Cults), and the Dake’s Bible, keep company with John MacArthur in this error.

 

Third, The importance of the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ is greater than most people realize

 

When you evangelize the lost your goal is to introduce sinners to the Jesus of the Bible, the Savior of God’s Word. But how much error can be introduced into your evangelism before you are no longer lifting up the Son of God for men to turn to for deliverance? At what point are you pointing the lost to a false Christ who does not save?

My friends, I am not qualified to answer that question, and neither are you. Because we are not qualified to answer that question, there is only one course of action left for us to take. We must diligently work to preserve our orthodoxy, to clarify our understanding of who the Jesus of the Bible is, and to search the scriptures so that our picture of Him will always be clear.

Many doctrines that we hold dear are clearly of secondary importance. For example: I am a Baptist by conviction and by delight, but my Christology is far more important to me than my ecclesiology, and my understanding of the nature of God and the relationships each person of the godhead hold to each other is far more important to me than issues of baptism.

I assert to you that the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ is an important doctrine because Jesus Christ is an important person. He is the Savior, the One in whom we find forgiveness and cleansing. He is our peace and our advocate, the One in whom all the privileges of our salvation are acquired and enjoyed.

 

In three weeks we will celebrate Christmas, that annual recognition in Christendom of the birth in Bethlehem of the virgin born Son of God. If you are a theological liberal or a non-Christian then it is unlikely that the identity and nature of the one who was born King of the Jews is very important to you. But to those of us who are staking the welfare of our immortal souls on Him it is very important.

Turn to Luke 1.35, where we read what the angel said to the Virgin Mary: “And the angel answered and said unto her, 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.” Look carefully. Did the angel inform Mary that that holy thing which shall be born of her would become the Son of God or would be called the Son of God? I think the distinction is important, don’t you?

Now turn to John 3.16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In that most familiar of all verses in the Bible, are we told that God gave His Son, or that God gave someone who became His Son? Again, I think the distinction is important.

Over the next few weeks we will study this matter and you will see how very clear the issue is. The result will be that you will then see that there is something wrong with those who deny the eternal sonship of Christ, because the truth of it is simply too obvious to deny. Come Christmastime you will be more glad. More glad why? More glad because you will see how very precious was that Gift God gave. He gave the One who is His eternal Son, Who had always been in the bosom of the Father. Meaning, of course, the salvation Jesus Christ provides is so much more precious than some think it to be because He is so much more than some think Him to be.



[1] John MacArthur, Hebrews: An Expository Commentary, (Chicago: Moody, 1987), page 27.

[2] See footnotes for Psalm 2.7, Hebrews 1.5, and Hebrews 5.5 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), pages 744, 1897, and 1903-04.

[3] See Nicene Creed in Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pages 83-84.

[4] William Cunningham, Historical Theology, Vol 1, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), page 274.

[5] Ibid., pages 272 and 274.

[6] Ibid., pages 279-293.

[7] Ibid., page 304.

[8] George W. Zeller and Renald E. Showers, The Eternal Sonship Of Christ, (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1993), pages 110-118.

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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org