An inquiry into the doctrine of the eternal sonship of our lord Jesus Christ. By Richard Treffry, Jun. (1837) pp. 41-45.
"The term 'son' includes a relative idea, which implies priority of existence in the father, and subsequency of existence in the son. He who is a father must, as a father, necessarily be older than his son. Nor will it obviate the difficulty to assert there may be a pre-existence in the order of nature, while there is a co-existence in point of duration. It therefore does not appear that any being who is a son can, as a son, be eternal. The term 'Son,' as applied to Jesus Christ, comprehends his incarnation; but, according to our present conceptions, it cannot comprehend his divinity. Nor do I recollect a single expression throughout any part of the Bible in which the term ' Son' is applied to Jesus Christ, unless it has reference to his incarnate state. He who is God must be eternal; and he who is eternal can have nothing antecedent to him. The term ' Son,' according to the relative ideas which we attach to it, seems therefore totally inapplicable to Christ when we speak of his divinity."—S. Drew, on the Divinity of Christ. Remains, p. 162.
" After all, I am unable to conceive of any definite meaning in the phrase, eternal generation. Generation or production, like creation, necessarily implies beginning; and, of course, contradicts the idea of absolute eternity. In so far as Christ is divine, consubstantial with the Father, he must, for aught that I can see, be necessarily regarded as self-existent, independent, and eternal. A being to whom these attributes do not belong can never be regarded as God, except he be called so by a figurative use of the term. The generation or production of the Son of God, as divine, as really and truly God, seems to be out of the question, therefore, unless it be an express doctrine of revelation; which is so far from being the case, that I conceive the contrary is plainly taught. If the phrase eternal generation then is to be vindicated, it is only on the ground that it is figuratively used to describe an indefinable connexion and discrimination between the Father and the Son, which is from everlasting. It is not well chosen, however, for this purpose; because it necessarily, even in its figurative use, carries along with it an idea which is at variance with the self-existence and independence of Christ as divine; and of course, in so far as it does this, it seems to detract from his real divinity."—Stuart's Letters to Charming, p. 32.
In the second and last of these citations, there is a want of discrimination between creation and generation,—subjects, in several respects, and especially in connexion with our present argument, essentially dissimilar. The objectionable position is thus stated by Mr. Stuart:—" Generation or production, like creation, necessarily implies beginning." If this opinion be correct, the conclusion against the doctrine before us is undoubtedly legitimate ; and it is therefore important that we should ascertain its real value.
That creation necessarily implies beginning, is most certain, since it is from non-existence, absolutely I£ Ovk Ovtwv, a nert esse ad esse. But this latter is not the fact with respect to generation; for that, invariably, is of the substance of him who begets. When generation has a beginning, it is either because the generator is not eternal, or because he must exist previously to generation. But if he has himself no beginning, and if there is no evidence that a generative emanation may not be essential to his nature, it is clear that generation does not necessarily imply beginning. God is eternal; and divine generation, for aught that can be alleged to the contrary, may be essential to the Deity. It follows that there is no impossibility in a generation without beginning.
It should also be noted, that generation is a term of analogy, which is not true of creation. The latter, in all cases, is the same, and is predicable of God alone. But the former is best known as a human relation; and if it exist in the Deity, must be materially different from that of an animal nature. The reasoning which applies to the one is therefore inappropriate to the other, and no conclusion deduced from their supposed parity can be otherwise than questionable. Indeed to say that generation necessarily implies beginning, is obviously a petitio principii, since it assumes that there can be no generation but that of finite beings, which is the point at issue.
In the same passages there is a second example of the want of discrimination. It is expressed by Mr. Stuart in the following sentence:—" The phrase eternal generation, necessarily, even in its figurative use, carries along with it an idea which is at variance with the self-existence and independence of Christ as divine ; and of course, so far as it does this, it seems to detract from his real divinity." This argument is elaborated with much care, by the same writer, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. (Excurs. I., p. 560, &c.) A few words on the subject, therefore, will not be inappropriate to the present note.
The want of discrimination of which we have to complain is between the self-existence predicable of each Person of the Godhead, and that which can be attributed only to the divine essence and unity. In the one case, the term is equivalent to necessary existence, and is true, in application to the divine subsistences severally considered. In the other, it signifies existence in absolute and separate independency, and is not correct except as spoken of the entire Deity. For the Father is not without the Son, nor the Son without the Spirit. Whatever may be its nature, some mysterious and eternal relation in the Godhead must be admitted. So far as God is One, there is, between the divine subsistences, a mutual connexion and dependence; though, in a subject so profound and recondite, it is perhaps impossible for us to say where the relation terminates, and the personal distinction begins.
But the attribution to each person of absolute independence and self-existence, is, in effect, the denial of all necessary and eternal relation in the Deity. And if the Father is thus without the Son, the Son without the Father, and the Spirit without either; if, in this hypothetical state of separation, each is absolutely and independently the self-existent God; it is clear that a divine unity is altogether out of the question. We have no longer three subsistences in the one God, but three Deities, wholly without essential connexion. This tritheistic conclusion cannot be avoided, except by the admission of a distinction between the self-existence which belongs to the Deity, considered in his essence, and that which is predicable of the several persons of the Trinity. The former, we deny, not to the Son alone, but equally to the Father and the Spirit. The latter, we attribute to the Son as to the Father; and the idea of an eternal and necessary derivation therefore by no means detracts from the completeness of the admission of our Lord's Deity.
To those who approve of Mr. Stuart's reasoning in this case, it may also be a subject worthy of investigation,—If the Son and the Spirit are absolutely independent of the Father, how does it occur that both the one and the other are sent and given by the Father ? Has one self-existent and independent being authority over other beings equally self-existent and independent? or rather, Is there not an essential contradiction in the very terms of such a query? This subject, however, will be resumed hereafter.
In conclusion, the reader is reminded that, throughout the present section, the inquiry has not been into the fact of the eternal filiation of our Lord, since of that we can judge by testimony alone, but into its possibility. This subject, I apprehend, may be reduced to a very simple form:—Can God be an eternal fountain of existence, or Can he not? A categorical reply to this query would probably set the matter at rest; since it is not easily conceivable, that any thoughtful person would answer in the negative. And if there is no evidence but that God from eternity might be a source of being, the possibility of an eternal generative production can no longer be called in question." [emphasis supplied] Further study about God the Father as the FOUNTAIN OF DEITY.