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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 21. Who is the Redeemer of God's elect? A. 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 continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.

The metaphor of purchase, ransom, redemption, runs through the whole of Scripture, and supplies to Scripture much of its most instructive and impressive language. So deeply, indeed, is this idea of redemption seated in the whole conception of our need of salvation, and in the divine way of accomplishing it, that it is a question whether it is not more than a metaphor, and whether it is not of the very essence of the whole transaction. The student will be interested and instructed and impressed by tracing the growth and contents of the name Redeemer from its first Hebrew appropriation by Jehovah down to its fullest Christian application to Jesus Christ. He will take note also of the wealth of argument and illustration and adoration this conception supplies to the New Testament writers.

The only Redeemer — Cf. the Confession, chap. 8, “Of Christ the Mediator;” and Larger Catechism, Question 36.

the Lord — Owner, ruler, master. Our Redeemer is called our Lord for two reasons. First, He has a lordship founded on His Divine Nature. He owns us and commands us because He created us. He made us, and not we ourselves. But He holds another lordship over us that touches us, if possible, still closer than that—a lordship grounded not so much on His divinity as on His humanity. This is something added to His original power over us. He holds a lordship over us as the recompense and result of all He did and does for us as our Redeemer. This lordship is pointed at in such passages as John 3:35, 13:3, 17:2; Acts 2:36 ; Philippians 2:9, 11. This lordship of Jesus Christ is one of the principal themes of apostolic preaching.

Jesus — Heb. Jeshua (Nehemiah 8:17), another form of Joshua, which again is contracted from Jehoshua (Numbers 13:16), signifying Help of Jehovah, a Saviour. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.” There was no dispute about our Lord’s right to bear the name Jesus. Mary called her first-born Jesus, just as Elizabeth called her child John. The “carpenter’s son” was known among the children of Nazareth as Jesus the son of Joseph. He bore a well-known name, but He bore it as no other son of man had ever borne it before Him. Gabriel took Joseph back to the original meaning of the name when he came to command him so to designate the child about to be put under his charge. The angel explained the name, and attached it, in its fresh and original sense, to the child that was to be born in Joseph’s house. It had lost all its meaning, as generations of children so named had heard it called and had answered to it; but all its original force was fulfilled, and far more than fulfilled in Him who was henceforth to bear it, and acknowledge it, and glorify it.

Christ — The Greek word Christos transliterated into English. The Anointed One, from chrio, to anoint. Christ is the Greek and English equivalent for the Hebrew Messiah. The office of the Messiah was so named and described in Old Testament prophecy long before the Person appeared who was to fill the office and bear the name in history. Of the two names, Jesus Christ our Lord bears, the one is His personal name, and the other is His official name. His official name, the Messiah, the Christ, was as familiar to the Old Testament Church as it is to us; only, they could not in their time attach it to any given person. Their progress accordingly, as Bengel says, was from the Christ to Jesus, from the office to the official person ; while, on the other hand, the progress of the apostolic believers was made just the other way. The Jews in our Lord’s day saw and heard Jesus of Nazareth; but the question and invitation continually put to them was this: Did they accept and acknowledge Jesus as “the Christ”? That the Christ is coming was the faith and hope of Moses and Isaiah; that Jesus is the Christ was the preaching of Peter and Paul.

On John 17:3, Stier says: “The apostolical custom of using Jesus Christ as one double appellative, making Christ also a proper name, had its origin in this word of our Lord. Speak of Him as He spoke of Himself before God—this was the Spirit’s suggestion to their minds.” (But see Westcott.) “Christ is no single term, but in that name which is one is the signification both of Godhead and manhood. Wherefore Christ is called man, and Christ is called God; and Christ is both God and man, and Christ is One” (Athanasius).

who, being the eternal Son of God — See Answer 6. “Theology, led by Origen, introduced the paraphrase of the ‘Eternal Son,’ and with strict propriety, since all the intericir relations of the Godhead are of necessity eternal” (Pope). “His Son Jesus Christ is a compressed creed” (Westcott).

Originally and eternally the Redeemer was with God, and was God; but He was God under the character and relation of a Son. There are three Persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And it is He who is always designated the Son that we have here to do with. “Thou art my Son,” says the eternal Father, “this day have I begotten Thee.” Again, we read that the Son is eternally in the bosom of the Father, and that as such He is the Father’s only begotten. Now all this is plainly designed to teach us that there is a mysterious communication of the Divine Nature from the Father, the First Person, to the Son, the Second; an inscrutable and ineffable communication continually going on, that can onlybe conveyed to our minds under the figure of human generation.. The Holy Ghost points us to earthly fatherhood and earthly sonship as being the entirely inadequate but only available illustration of that eternal relation within the Godhead by which the First Person conveys the Divine Nature to the Second. As the Father bath life in Himself, so bath He given to the Son to have life in Himself. The Son has His Being of the Father, just as, on the other hand, the Father has His Being of Himself alone. The Son therefore is God, because He is begotten of God the Father; and being so begotten, He is revealed to us under the denomination, description, and character of the Son. “And first they had him into the study, where they showed him records of the greatest antiquity; in which, as I remember my dream, they showed him first the Pedigree of the Lord of the Hill, that he was the son of the Antient of Days, and came by an eternal generation” (Bunyan). (Consult Dr. Davidson’s note on The Son in his Hebrews in the present series.)

became man — ”And the Word was made flesh.” “The loftiest sentence ever penned by human hand” (Godet). God sent forth His Son, made of a woman. In theological phrase, the Incarnation. “Christology has its own distinct range of theological coinage. Its highest achievement here is the term Theanthropos, Deus-homo, God-man; and with this it boldly utters the secret of the whole Bible. It long faltered and hesitated in the choice of a word that should express the holy bond between the Divinity and the manhood; after many experiments it rested on the word Incarnation, which is the slightest possible deviation from the very word of the Holy Ghost, through St. John, ‘He was made flesh’ ”(Pope).

We are men, and the children of men, and to say that any one “became man” just means that he became like us, became one of us. This then is the “mystery of godliness;” this is the Incarnation of the eternal Son; this is the foundation of all our Christian hope, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” “Still, we must ever remember, that though He was in nature perfect man, He was not man in exactly the same sense in which any one of us is a man. Though man, He was not, strictly speaking, in the English sense of the word, a man; He was not such as one of us, and one not of a number. His Person was not human like ours, hot divine. He who was from eternity, continued one and the same, but with an addition. His Incarnation was a ‘taking of the manhood into God’ . . . He was not a man made God, but God made man” (Newman). “Our nature in Him, as it is human, is not circumscribed or enclosed with a proper subsistence of its own, but lies like a field unenclosed, not hedged in with personality as all our natures are” (Goodwin).

two distinct natures — “Two natures met together in our Redeemer, and, while the proprieties of each remained, so great a unity was made of either substance, that from the time that the Word was made flesh in the blessed Virgin’s womb, we may neither think of Him as God without that which is man, nor as man without that which is God. Each nature certifies its own reality under distinct actions, but neither disjoins itself from connection with the other. Nothing is wanting from either towards other. There is entire littleness in majesty, entire majesty in littleness; unity does not introduce confusion, nor does propriety divide unity. There is one thing passible, another inviolable, yet his is the contumely whose is the glory. He is in infirmity who is in power; the same is both capable and conqueror of death. God then did take on Him whole man, and did so unite Himself onto him, and him unto Himself, in pity and in power, that either nature was in other, and neither in the other lost its propriety” (Leo). “In Christ therefore God and man, ‘there is,’ saith Paschasius, ‘a twofold substance, not a twofold Person, because one person extinguisheth another, whereas one nature in another cannot become extinct.’ For the personal being which the Son of God already had, suffered not the substance to be personal which He took, although together with the nature which He had the nature also which He took continueth” (Hooker). “He of whom I am now to speak is One that has not His fellow. He has two Natures in one Person, plain to be distinguished impossible to be divided” (Greatheart in Bunyan).

one person — On Personality, see Answer 6. “The term Person as applied to our Lord has a conventional meaning, which is not amenable to science, but is not inconsistent with it. In the true philosophy personality is not nature; it is that in which the nature, with its various developments and forms of exhibition, inheres. The person of a man is the substratum of all that belongs to his nature, as consciously his own, and distinguished from any other. The Person of Christ is Himself, the substratum of all that belongs to the twofold manner of existence” (Pope).

for ever. — “Inseparably joined” (Westminster Confession). “Never to be divided” (Thirty-Nine Articles). “These Natures, from the moment of their first combination, have been and are for ever inseparable” (Hooker).

“I would not give the truth expressed in these words of the Catechism, ‘Two distinct natures and one person for ever,’ for all the truths that by human language have ever been expressed. I would rather have been the humblest defender of this troth in the four Ecumenical Councils than have been the greatest reformer in the Church, the father of the covenant,or the procurer of the English Constitution” (Edward Irving).

1. It has been acutely said, that one obvious use of the full and symmetrical statement of the doctrine of the Sonship, is to facilitate to the imagination the descent of a Divine Person into human nature and human history.

2. “If any one is tempted to consider such a subject abstruse, speculative, and unprofitable, I would observe in answer, that I have taken it on the very ground of its being, as I believe, especially practical. . . . What do we gain from words, however correct and abundant, if they end with themselves, instead of lighting up the image of the Incarnate Son in our hearts? In truth, His Divine Sonship is that portion of the sacred doctrine on which the mind is providentially intended to rest throughout, and so to preserve for itself the identity unbroken” (Newman).


1. Explain and paraphrase the theological dictum: Our Lord’s Sonship is not only the guarantee of His Godhead, but also the antecedent of His Incarnation.

2. What is the meaning of Milton’s phrases, Paternal Deity, vi. 750; The Filial Godhead, vii 175?

3. Shew that it is sound Christology to say that our Lard’s manhood is impersonal.

4. Explain Bengel’s statements: From the Old Testament point of view, progress is made from the knowledge of Christ to the knowledge of Jesus; from the New Testament point of view, the progress is from the knowledge of Jesus to the knowledge of Christ: Also: The Church is never called the body of Jesus, or the body of the Lord, but the body of Christ.

5. Explain Peter’s doctrine (Acts 2:36), that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ.

6. Westcott says: The full title, His Son Jesus Christ, is a compressed creed. Explain and shortly expand.

7. Is it scriptural to say, God has a man in Him?

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