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Words: Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (b. _____, 348; d. circa _____, 413); English translation, John Mason Neale (b. Jan. 24, 1818; d. Aug. 6, 1886), and Henry Williams Baker (b. May 27, 1821; d. Feb. 12, 1877)
Music: Divinum Mysterium, a plainsong melody from the twelfth century; called a “Santus trope,” a musical interjection in the medieval liturgy.
Note: Prudentius, a Spaniard from a prominent family, studied law and eventually became a judge. But at the age of 57 he turned from worldly pursuits, spending the rest of his life in meditation and prayer. In Latin, the first line of the hymn is “Corde natus ex parentis ante mundi exordium.” Baker’s work produced nine stanzas, Neale’s six, but most hymnals seem to use only CH-1, 6, and 9.
CH-1) Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!
Here is a hymn, some sixteen centuries old, that calls on us to praise the Lord Jesus Christ, and, indeed, the triune Godhead. Its great age reminds us that the body of Christ is something really, really big, stretching, as it does, through two thousand years of time, and to many countries around the globe.
The opening line of the hymn deserves comment. We use words such as begetting and begotten to refer to human birth. They indicate a point in time at which a new, independent life on earth began. But that does not fit what the Bible says about the Son of God, “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). The relationship between God the Father and God the Son did not have a point of beginning as human progeny does. Christ had no beginning and He has no ending.
There are certainly things about the Godhead that are beyond our ability to understand, such as the Trinity (cf. Matt. 11:27). We worship one God eternally existing in three Persons. Christ is distinct in His Person from the Father and the Holy Spirit, yet fully equal in His attributes to the other two. For that reason, it is more accurate to speak of Christ’s eternal generation, as the only Son, eternally brought forth from the Father.
When the Bible speaks of the Lord Jesus as “the only begotten of the Father,” or “His only begotten Son” (Jn. 1:14; 3:16), the expressions do not describe His beginning, but rather His uniqueness. They identify Him as the one and only Son of God in a special sense. Christians are called sons of God too (Gal. 3:26), as are angels in the book of Job. All are brought into being by an act of God. But as the term is used of Christ in relation to His heavenly Father, there is no other like Him.
We can see this uniqueness applied at the human level too. Isaac is described in Hebrews as Abraham’s “only begotten son” (Heb. 11:17). But we know from Genesis that Abraham’s son Ishmael was born before that (Gen. 16:1-4, 11). Isaac was not the “only begotten” the way we might use that term. However, he was the only son of the covenant, the only one through whom “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:3-4). He was the unique son of Abraham, a son like no other.
As noted above, the term “sons of God” is used of angels in the book of Job (Job 38:4-7). Angels are powerful spirit beings, yet they reject worship, reminding John that only deity is worthy of worship (Rev. 22:8-9). The summons is given for all in the spirit realm to praise the Lord. In a number of places in the Word of God the angels are called to worship Him (Ps. 103:20-21; Ps. 148:2; Heb. 1:5-6; Rev. 5:11-13). Once again it points to the uniqueness of the Son of God.
CH-6) O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!
Appropriate, then that the hymn concludes with a call to people everywhere, men, women and children, to worship the Lord, in fact the triune Godhead.
8) Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!
9) Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
1) What do you think the holy angels felt as they learned about the incarnation of the Son of God?
2) What, in your understanding of God’s Word, did the Lord Jesus set aside or temporarily surrender, when He came to earth the first time?