The Lord from Heaven - APPENDIX - NOTE TO CHAPTER 4

"If the Father begat the Son, He who was begotten had a beginning of existence. So there was a time when the Son did not exist." Thus Arius argued; and when inexorable logic deduces error from premises that are deemed true, it behoves us to test our premises again by an appeal to Scripture. And it is not a matter of opinion, but of fact, that neither in respect of His "eternal Sonship," nor even of His human birth, does Holy Scripture ever speak of the Son as "begotten of the Father." And this is the more significant because the word is used so emphatically with reference to His resurrection from the dead. But, it will be asked, is He not called "the only begotten Son of God"? This question has been already answered (see p. 30 ante), and it only remains to notice a most deplorable and distressing inference that is based upon the misreading of the term. (This Appendix was not ready when the proofs were submitted to the Bishop of Durham. I have written on this subject with hesitation, but under a pressing sense of the need of dealing with it.) The time is near when "the Christian miracles" will be accepted as facts, but explained on natural principles; for the crassly stupid infidelity of the past is dying out. (Dr. Harnack's reference to miracles in "What is Christianity?" points to this.) I heard of a private meeting of medical men in London last winter at which it was gravely urged that a virgin birth was possible as a natural phenomenon! The Rationalist could thus admit that the Lord was born of a virgin, without admitting that He was "conceived of the Holy Ghost." Matt. i. 20 does not conflict with this statement.
The language of theology on this subject is popularly misconstrued to mean that at the Incarnation the Deity took the place of a husband to the Virgin Mary. In regard to such a mystery as the Incarnation our part is to keep to the very words of Holy Scripture; and the language of Scripture is unequivocal and plain. As to His human birth, the Lord was “the Seed of the Woman.” But it will be asked, how is that possible? The answer is supplied by Matthew i. 20 and Luke i. 35. The virgin birth was altogether miraculous; but if the popular belief were well founded, His birth would have been miraculous only in the sense of being unnatural.
Those who have learned to look for absolute accuracy in the language of Scripture will not fail to mark the angel’s words: “Therefore that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” That birth did not constitute Him Son of God, yet had it not been a virgin birth, Mary’s son could have had no possible claim to such a title.
The Rationalist trades upon the fact that the virgin birth has no place in the teaching of the Epistles. And Christians often fail to understand the omission. But the reason of it is plain. While the rejection of the virgin birth would undermine the faith, the acceptance of it (as Unitarianism abundantly proves) is compatible with denying the Deity of Christ, and His Deity is the foundation truth of Christianity. The truth of His Sonship as implied in the virgin birth is merged in the truth that He was the Son of God in a vastly higher sense; and, as we have seen, that great truth is in the warp and woof of every part of the New Testament.
But this is not all. Unless the Gospel narratives be altogether unreliable and worthless, it is certain that Mary’s firstborn was not the son of Joseph. The alternative to the virgin birth, therefore, would be that the Lord of Glory belonged to that unfortunate class which the divine law excluded from “the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. xxiii. 2); and this being so, it is amazing that any one could expect to find an assertion of it in the doctrinal teaching of the Epistles. The whole question of the virgin birth is settled and silenced by the truth of the Lord’s Deity. The word “firstborn” claims notice here. In its ordinary use prototokos means a woman’s first child, being a male. But Heb. xii. 23 gives proof that it acquired a figurative or spiritual significance, suggested by, but wholly apart from, its common meaning. For every individual in the particular company of the redeemed there designated is a “firstborn”; and it is clearly used as a title of special dignity and privilege. This being so, it would be ignorant and wrong to narrow its application to our Divine Lord by reference to the virgin birth, or to construe it as implying in any way a limitation of His Deity. The coincidence is striking that this word, like monogenes, occurs just nine times in Scripture. In Matt. i. 25 and Luke ii. 7, it is used in its ordinary acceptation, the inference being that Mary had other children. In Heb. xi. 28 it is used by way of historic reference; and Heb. xii. 23 I have already noticed. The other passages where it occurs are Rom. viii. 29, Col. i. 15, 18, Heb. i. 6, Rev. i. 5. In the sphere of creation the term “firstborn” can be applied to the Lord only as a title of dignity and glory. And this is presumably its significance in those passages also which relate to the resurrection. If there be any reference to the ordinary meaning of the word, it is noteworthy that the “order” indicated in 1 Cor. xv. 28 is priority of rank.