NINETEENTH LORD S DAY.
Question 50. Why is it added, “and sitteth at the right hand of God?”
Answer. Because Christ is ascended into heaven for this end, that he might there appear as head of his church, by whom the Father governs all things .
To ascend into heaven, and to sit at the right hand of God, are not the same; because the one may be without the other. This Article, which refers to Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God, differs from his ascension into heaven in the three following particulars: 1. The end of the former article is expressed in this ; because it was for this reason that Christ ascended into heaven, that he might sit at the right hand of God. 2. Christ sits forever at the right hand of the Father; but he ascended only once into heaven. 3. The angels ascend, and we shall also ascend into heaven; but neither they nor we shall sit at the right hand of the Father. “To which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy foot-stool.” (Heb. 1:13.) Much less has God said this of any man, Christ only excepted.
Concerning this sitting at the right hand of God, we must consider more particularly:
The right hand, and other members of our body, are attributed to God in an improper sense. As used in the Scriptures, the phrase, right hand of God signifies two things. First, the supreme power and virtue, or omnipotence of God. “Him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour.” “The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.” “Thy right hand, Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.” (Acts 5:31. Ps. 118: 16. Ex. 15: 6.) And secondly, supreme dignity and glory, or majesty. It is in this second sense that we are to understand it as here used.
To sit at the right hand of God is to be a person equal with God in power and glory, by whom the Father works immediately, and governs all things. According to the definition which is commonly given to this phrase, it means to reign in equal power and glory with the Father. This is true of Christ; for he does all things in the same manner as the Father does, and is endowed with equal power with the Father, which he also exercises. But the Son has always reigned in this manner. The same may also be said of the Holy Ghost, who is nevertheless not said in the Scriptures to sit at the right hand of God, and does not sit there : because the Father does not govern all things, and especially the church, by the Holy Ghost ; but by the Son. Hence this commonly received definition is not sufficient and complete. Others confound his sitting with his ascension, and say that they express the same thing. But we have already specified certain particulars in which they differ; and it is absurd to suppose that there would be such a repetition of the same thing in a creed so brief and condensed.
The phrase, sitteth at the right hand of God, is borrowed from the custom of kings and monarchs, who place those whom they wish to honor at their right hand, and have their own assessors, to whom they entrust certain departments of the government. It is in this way that Christ is said to sit at the right hand of the Father, because the Father will govern and rule immediately all things, both in heaven and earth, by him. This sitting, therefore, is the supreme dignity and glory which the Father gave to Christ- after his ascension, or it is the highest exaltation of the mediator, in his kingdom and priesthood. It is peculiar to Christ; because he alone is that almighty person and mediator through whom the Father immediately governs all things, and especially his church, which he defends against all her enemies. This glory and sitting of Christ at the right hand of the Father consists in these four things:
1. In the perfection of his divine nature, or in the equality of the Word with the Father, which he did not then receive, but always had. This his Divinity, although it was hid, as it were, and unobserved during the whole of the time of his humiliation, afterwards revealed itself with power and majesty.
2. In the perfection and exaltation of the human nature of Christ, which excellency consists, first, in the personal union of the human nature with the Word. “In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9.) And, secondly, in the excellency of gifts, such as wisdom, power, glory, majesty, and others which are far greater and more in number than those which either the angels or men have received; and by which he also greatly excels all creatures in heaven or on earth. “Of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.” “For God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” (John 1:16; 3:34.)
3. In the perfection and excellence of the office of mediator, which is prophetical, priestly and regal, which Christ now, as the glorified head of his church, gloriously executes in heaven in his human nature. For now he intercedes in glory, grants the Holy Spirit, and gloriously preserves and defends his church. This excellency of Christ s office is his exaltation itself in his kingdom and priesthood, which is the same as to say, that it is the laying aside the infirmity of his human nature, and the consummation of that glory which was due him, as well by reason of his office as prophet, priest and king, as by that of his person, as God. “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” (Matt. 28:18.)
4. In the perfection of honor, reverence and worship, which angels and men ascribe and give unto Christ equally with the Father; because he is acknowledged, adored and magnified by all as the Lord and Head of all. “Let all the angels of God worship him.” “To which of the angels said he, Sit on my right hand?” “God hath given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” &c. (Ps. 9:7. Heb. 1:6, 13. Phil. 2:9.) This name, of which the Apostle here speaks, consists in the excellency of the person and office of Christ, and is a declaration of both by his visible majesty, that all may acknowledge and be constrained to confess that he is that king by whom God governs all things. It was thus that Stephen saw him standing on the right hand of God, crowned with visible majesty and glory, and adored him. Christ had, indeed, even before this his exaltation at the right hand of the Father, certain parts of the excellency of his person and office, but now he attained the consummation of his glory.
From what has now been said, we may give a more complete definition of Christ s sitting at the right hand of the Father. It is to have the same .and equal power with the Father: to excel all the angels and men in his human nature, both in the number and excellency of the gifts which were conferred upon him, and also in visible glory and majesty : to declare him self Lord of angels and men, and so of all things which are created : to rule immediately, in the name of the Father, his kingdom in heaven, and the whole world, and especially to govern the church in the same manner by his power : and, finally, to be acknowledged and praised by every on& as Lord and Head of all. But how and in what respects Christ is said to be our Head, has already been explained in the exposition of the thirty- second Question of the Catechism.
The honor, therefore, which attaches itself to this sitting at the right, hand of God does not belong to the Father, nor the Holy Ghost, but is peculiar to Christ alone, and is, indeed, the highest degree or consummation of the honor which the Son obtained, and that in respect to both natures,, but in a manner peculiar to each. In respect to his human nature it is a real communication of heavenly gifts, or perfect glory, which the humanity of Christ had not before his ascension. But, in relation to his divine nature, this sitting at the right hand of God does not include any change of his Divinity; but is merely the laying aside his humiliation, and the manifestation of that glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world, but which he had concealed during the time of his humiliation; and the right and title to the free and full possession of that which, his Godhead had laid aside, as it were, in assuming our nature. For as the Godhead humbled itself, so it was again placed at the right hand of the Father, that is to say, it was gloriously manifested in the flesh. “And now, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.)
This exposition which we have now given of this Article of the Creed, overthrows many objections which have been brought forward in relation to this subject, of which we may mention the following:
Obj. 1. The Holy Ghost is also equal with the Father. Therefore, we may correctly say that he also sits at the right hand of the Father. Ans. We deny the conclusion which is here drawn, because the argument is based upon an incorrect definition; for although the Holy Ghost, as well as the Father, be God, Lord and Ruler of the church, yet it does not belong to him to sit at the right hand of the Father, but to Christ alone, because he assumed human nature, humbled himself, died, rose again, ascended into heaven and is mediator. Again, the Father works immediately through Christ alone, but mediately through the Holy Ghost; for the same order which exists in relation to the persons of the Godhead, must be pre served in their operation. The Father does not work by, but of himself, because he is of none. The Son works by, and not of himself, because he was begotten of the Father. The Holy Ghost works by himself, but from the Father and the Son, from whom lie proceeded. Therefore, the Father r works immediately by the Son, because he is before the Holy Ghost, not however in time, but only in the order of existence, or of working; whilst he works mediately by the Holy Ghost. It is for this reason that the Son, who is mediator, is correctly said to sit at the right hand of the Father.
Obj. 2. Christ was always, even before his ascension, the glorious Head and King of the church. Therefore his sitting at the right hand of the Father was before his ascension into heaven. Ans. We have here, as in the former objection, an incomplete definition, from which the argument is deduced. Christ was, indeed, always glorious, but was not always exalted in the office of mediator, which is to say, in his kingdom and priest hood. The consummation of his glory, which consists in the administration of his kingdom, and priesthood in heaven, commenced with his exaltation at the right hand of the Father.
Obj. 3. But Christ says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne,” &c. Therefore we shall also sit at the right hand of God. Ans. We shall sit with Christ by a participation in his glory.
We admit also that the throne of the Father and the Son is the same. Upon this throne many sit; some in higher, others in lower places; but not in the same dignity. Many counsellors may sit near the king; but the chancellor alone sits at his right hand. Christ will riot give to another the supreme dignity and glory given him of the Father.
The curiosity of man, which is disposed to pry into every thing, makes it necessary for us to say something in relation to this question. In speaking upon it, however, we must distinguish as to the natures of Christ, and then as to time.
First, Christ has always sat at the right hand of the Father as it respects his Godhead, if we understand this phrase to mean that he reigns in equal power with the Father, and that he is endowed with equal honor and glory; for his divine nature was from everlasting equal to the Father in honor and power. The same thing is true if we understand the phrase, to sit at the right hand of God to signify that Christ is the Head of the church; for the Son was always that person by whom the Father governed all things from the beginning, as he also created all things by him. In this sense Christ was placed at the right hand of the Father by his eternal generation. Secondly, Christ was always at the right hand of God according to his Divinity, by virtue of his appointment to the office of mediator which was made from everlasting. This appointment had respect even to his divine nature from the beginning. Thirdly, the same may be said of the Godhead of Christ, from the fact that he commenced to execute, and has executed the office of mediator from the very beginning of the world.
But Christ, according to his Divinity, was placed at the right hand of the Father after his ascension into heaven, in as far as his Godhead then began to manifest itself gloriously in his human nature in which it had concealed itself, so to speak, during the time of his humiliation. For when Christ lived on earth his Godhead had also humbled itself, not, indeed, by becoming weaker, but only by veiling and not openly manifesting itself.
Christ was, therefore, also as to his divine nature, placed at the right hand of the Father in this sense, that he then laid down that humility which he had taken upon himself for bur sakes, and made an open declaration of that glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world, but which he had concealed during the time of his humiliation; he was exalted we say, by manifesting, and not by adding any thing to his Godhead which it did not before possess, nor by making it more powerful or glorious, nor by declaring it before God, but before men, and by fully and freely claiming his own right, which his Divinity had, as it were, given up in assuming our nature. Hence he says, “And now, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.) This glory of which Christ here speaks, he had not with men. He therefore prays, that as he always had this with the Father, so he might also manifest it unto men. This, however, is not to be understood in such a sense as though the Word underwent any change as to his Divinity, but only in the sense in which we have already explained it.
In reference, however, to his humanity, Christ was then according to this, first placed at the right hand of the Father, when he ascended into heaven. It was at this time that he obtained his glorification, when he received that which he had not before. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory.” (Luke 24:26.)
Obj. 1. He who sits at the right hand of God is everywhere. Christ sits at the right hand of God. Therefore he is everywhere. Ans. This may be granted in respect to the person of Christ, by the communication of properties. But if any one infers the same thing also in regard to his humanity, there will be more in the conclusion than in the premises.
Obj. 2. The right hand of God is everywhere. The human nature of Christ is at the right hand of God. Therefore it is everywhere. Ans. We deny the conclusion which is here drawn; because there are four terms in this syllogism. The right hand of God. and to sit at his right hand are not the same. The minor proposition should be thus expressed:
The human nature of Christ is the right hand of God. But if thus ex pressed it is not true. Again, the major proposition is not absolutely true; for a part of Christ s sitting at the right hand of God, is that visible glory and majesty with which his human nature is adorned, and with which Stephen saw him crowned in heaven. This is not everywhere, but only in that place where his body is.
Obj. 3. Christ ascended above all heavens that he might fill all things, that is, with the presence of his humanity. Ans. This is a false interpretation of the words of the Apostle, Eph. 4: 10. He ascended that he might fill all things with his gifts and graces, but not with his flesh, skin and bones, which would, indeed, be monstrous and unreasonable, and give the devil occasion to bring the glory of God in derision.
Obj. 4. That nature which is endowed with omnipotence is everywhere. The humanity of Christ is endowed with omnipotence. Therefore it is everywhere. Ans. That nature is, indeed, everywhere which is endowed with omnipotence, by a real transfusion or communication of properties, but not that which is endowed with it by a personal union. There are, how ever, many things conferred upon the humanity of Christ by real transfusion, viz, other qualities than those which he had in his humiliation and upon the cross. For there were far more and greater gifts conferred upon his human nature after his ascension, than were conferred either upon angels or men. In respect to this bestowment of these gifts Christ, according to his humanity, was placed at the right hand of God: but according to his Divinity, he is said to be placed at the right hand of the Father, in as far as this was glorified, and in as far as he, being taken up into heaven, manifested the same in his flesh, and has obtained the perfection of glory, and the highest degree of glorification in the manner already explained.
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