Of Confessions and Questions

Heretic W.G.T. Shedd makes the following comments (from the single volume edition edited by Alan W. Gomes):

“The deity of the Son of God is abundantly proved in Scripture. The general impression made by the New Testament favors the deity of Christ. If the evangelists and apostles intended to teach to the world the doctrine that Christ is only a man, or an exalted angel, they have certainly employed phraseology that is ill-suited to convey such a truth. Says John Quincy Adams (Diary 7.229):

‘No argument that I have ever heard can satisfy my judgment, that the doctrine of the divinity of Christ is not countenanced by the New Testament. As little can I say, that it is clearly revealed. It is often obscurely intimated; sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly asserted; but left on the whole in a debatable state, never to be either demonstrated or refuted until another revelation shall clear it up.’

This is the testimony of a Unitarian of learning and judgment. The criticism, however, occurs to a reader, that if a doctrine is ‘sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly asserted’ in the New Testament, it should be accepted by a believer in revelation, however great the difficulties connected with it.

By ‘deity’ more is meant than ‘divinity,’ as this latter term is employed by different classes of Anti-Trinitarians. The Arians and Semi-Arians taught the ‘divinity’ of the Son, in the sense of a similarity of nature between him and the Father. This resemblance is greater and closer than that of any other being, man or angel, but is not identity of essence. Socinus and the Polish Unitarians also taught the ‘divinity’ of Christ, in the sense of similarity of essence, but in a lower degree than the Arians and Semi-Arians held the tenet. Socinus says: ‘We say that we grant that Christ is the natural son of God.’ 143 Smalcius affirms: ‘We do not deny that the son is a person, and a divine one at that.’ (Turretin 3.28.1).144 By the phrase ‘natural Son of God,’ Socinus meant a miraculous generation of Jesus Christ in time by the Holy Spirit, but not an eternal and necessary generation out of the Divine essence.

The crucial term is ‘coessential,’ or ‘consubstantial’ (homoousios). Neither the Semi-Arian nor the Arian nor the Socinian would concede that the essence of the Son is the very identical essence of the Father. It is like it, but it is not it. The Son has ‘divinity’ but not ‘deity;’ the term divinity being used in the loose sense, as when writers speak of the ‘divinity in man,’ meaning his resemblance to God. No one would speak of the ‘deity in man,’ unless he were a pantheist” (W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, pp. 257-258).

143. Dicimus concedere nos Christum esse naturalem Dei Filium.

144. Filium personam esse non diffitemur, eamque divinam.

These historical and theological observations emphasize and confirm the necessity of having a confession of faith and asking many questions in order to understand what people mean by what they say. Regarding confessions and questions, the inclusion of affirmations (e.g., “The consummate act of obedience that Jesus Christ paid to the law was in suffering the ultimate penalty for the disobedience of His people that the law demanded. Thus, while upon the cross, Jesus Christ, as a perfect representative, substitute, and sacrifice for His people, became a curse for His people and suffered the unmitigated fury of God the Father, which was equivalent to suffering the very pains of hell. This was not for any guilt He had contracted Himself but for the sins of His people. Their guilt was imputed to Him, and He suffered the penalty their sins deserved. His finished work on the cross appeased God’s wrath in full toward all for whom He died and paid the ransom price in full for all for whom He died, guaranteeing the salvation of all for whom He died.”) as well as denials (e.g., “Jesus Christ did not die for the reprobate in any sense, and they do not benefit in any sense from His death.”) are important. Questions — a lot of them — and confessions serve to clarify meanings of various words and phrases.