The Eternal Sonship Of The Lord Jesus Christ – Chapter 3
WHETHER we set forth truth or whether we expose error, and we can scarcely do the one without at the same time performing the other, the Word of God must ever be the grand armory whence we take the weapons of our spiritual warfare. This is both apostolic precept and apostolic practice. “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). In this spirit, as obeying this precept, and walking after this example, have we thus far attempted to overthrow that grievous error of denying the eternal Sonship of Christ, and to set forth that vital, fundamental truth of His being the Son of the Father in truth and love, which has formed the subject of our two last chapters. But we frankly confess that we have little hope of convincing those who have drunk deeply into the spirit of error. The poison is already in their veins, vitiating in them all that once seemed like truth and simplicity. As infidelity, when once it has got full possession of the mind, rejects the clearest evidences from positive inability to credit them, so error, when once it has poisoned the heart, renders it forever afterwards, in the great majority of instances, utterly incapable of receiving the truth. Against every text that may be brought forward in support of truth an objection is started, a false interpretation offered, a counter statement made, an opposing passage quoted—the object evidently being not to bow down to truth, but to make truth bow down to error; not to submit in faith to the Word of God, but to make the Word of God itself bend and yield to the determined obstinacy of a mind prejudiced to its lowest depths. O what a state of mind to be in! How careful, then, should we be, how watchful, how prayerful, lest we also, “being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from our own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). A tender conscience, a believing heart, a prayerful spirit, a watchful eye, a wary ear, a guarded tongue, and a cautious foot, will, with God’s blessing, be great preservatives against error of every kind. But to see light in God’s light, to feel life in His life, to have sweet fellowship and sacred communion with the Father and the Son, to walk before God in the beams of His favor, to find His Word our meat and drink, and to be ever approaching Him through the Son of His love, pleading with Him for His promised teaching—this is the true and only way to learn His truth, to believe it, to love it, and to live it. No heretic, no erroneous man, no unbeliever ever stood on this holy ground. That childlike spirit, without which there is no entering into the kingdom of heaven; that godly jealousy for the Lord’s honor which makes error abhorred and truth beloved; that tender fear of His great and glorious Name which leads the soul to desire His approbation and to dread His displeasure; that holy liberty which an experimental knowledge of the truth communicates to a citizen of Zion; that enlargement of heart which draws up the affections to those things which are above, where Jesus sits at God’s right hand—these, and all such similar fruits of divine teaching as specially distinguish the living saint of God, are not to be found in that bosom where error has erected its throne of darkness and death. On the contrary, a vain-confident, self-righteous, contentious, quarrelsome spirit, breathing enmity and hatred against all who oppose their favorite dogmas, and thrust down their darling idols, are usually marks stamped upon all who are deeply imbued with heresy and error. They may be very confident in the soundness of their views, or in the firmness of their own standing but God rejects their “confidences, and they shall not prosper in them” (Jeremiah 2:37)
In resuming, then, our subject, we cannot but express our conviction that as we are enabled to read the scriptures of the New Testament with a more enlightened understanding, and to receive them more feelingly into a believing heart, we become more and more forcibly struck with these two leading features in them:
1. The clear revelation made therein that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and
2. The amazing weight and importance attached by the Holy Spirit to a faith in Him as such, and to a profession corresponding to that faith. It is not one or two passages, however plain and clear, but the whole current of revelation that carries such a conviction to a believing heart. The eternal Sonship of Christ is, as it were, the central sun of the New Testament, to remove which is to blot out all light from the sky, and to cast the church into darkness and the shadow of death. The manifestation of the Son of God is the sum and substance of the whole wondrous scheme of love which has brought heaven down to earth in the incarnation of Christ, and taken earth up to heaven in His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, agreeably to that testimony of holy John, which may be called an epitome of the gospel—”In this was manifested the love of God toward us; because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9,10). To believe in Him as the Son of God, and to confess Him as such before men—this, in the New Testament, is the distinguishing mark of the disciples of Jesus. That in believing Him to be the Son of God, they believed Him to be equal with God, which He could only be by being His true and eternal Son, is plain from the very language of the unbelieving Jews—”Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
We have already quoted two memorable instances of Peter’s faith and confession as witnessing to Jesus being “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16; John 6:69). We will now, with God’s help and blessing, examine some others of a similar kind; and among them we will first take Paul’s belief in, and testimony unto, the same vital truth—”Immediately he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Carefully examine, spiritual reader, and prayerfully consider the words that we have just quoted. What a marvel is here! We see the once persecuting Saul called by sovereign grace, made a believer in that Jesus whose name he had so abhorred, and whose people he would gladly have swept off the face of the earth, and preaching Him boldly as the Son of God in the very synagogues where he intended, in his blind rage and headlong fury, to compel the saints at Damascus to blaspheme (Acts 26:11). What did his heart so firmly believe, what did his mouth so boldly preach, but this vital truth, that Jesus is the true and real Son of God? His simple, child-like, new-born faith knew nothing of those crafty perversions, those subtle distinctions whereby truth is now denied under the pretense of being explained. Rising up by power divine into a spiritual apprehension of, and a living faith in, the Son of God, whose voice he had heard and whose glory he had seen, he knew no such dishonoring views of God’s only-begotten Son as that He was not His Son by nature and eternal subsistence, but by office, by virtue of the covenant, by a pre-existing human soul, by His complex Person, or by any such other fallacious interpretation as erroneous men have since invented to darken counsel by words without knowledge, and sully the pure revelation of God. When God revealed His Son in Paul’s heart (Galatians 1:16), it was to show him His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth; and this glory was the glory in which He eternally subsisted as the true and real Son of God. Paul, therefore, from the revelation that he had of Him in his own soul, believed that He was the Son of God in His divine nature and eternal subsistence, that true and real Son of the Father in whom the Old Testament church believed as the promised Messiah, and for whose advent it had been so long waiting in faith and hope.
A few words upon the faith of the Old Testament saints may not be here, perhaps, out of place; for it may explain why Nathanael, Paul, the Eunuch, and others so implicitly and instantaneously received Jesus as the Son of God when once they believed in Him as the promised Messiah. There was no doubt in the mind of the believing Israelite that the true, real and proper Son of God was to come. The clear language of the second Psalm (Psalm 2) and the express declaration of prophecy (Isaiah 9:6) had already firmly laid that as the foundation of the faith of the Old Testament church. The question with the elect remnant when, Christ came in the flesh was, whether Jesus of Nazareth were He. Immediately, therefore, that Jesus was revealed to a God-fearing Jew as the promised Messiah, faith flowed out toward Him as the Son of God, for whose coming he was looking. Such believing Israelites were Simeon, Anna, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Nathanael, and other godly men and women “who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). In a similar way, the high priest “adjured Jesus by the living God to tell them whether He was the Christ, the Son of God.” The very chief priests and elders, and all the council, did not doubt that the true and real Son of God was to come, for that was the faith of the Old Testament church; but they disbelieved that Jesus who stood before them was He; and they crucified Him as a blasphemer, not as doubting that when the Messiah did come He would be the eternal Son of God, but as rejecting the claim of Jesus of Nazareth to be such. Thus not only believers, but unbelievers concur in exposing the ignorance and refuting the errors of those who in our day deny the eternal Sonship of Jesus. But now look with the same spiritual eye at the faith and confession of the Eunuch (Acts 8:37). Philip, who had preached unto him Jesus, and no doubt in so doing had declared to him His true and proper Sonship, refused to baptize him until he was assured of his faith. In answer to that appeal, what was his confession? “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:35-37). Now, can we for a moment think that this new-born believer in the Son of God viewed Him as such by office, or by covenant, or by any such crafty invention of subsequent days as erroneous men have sought out whereby to obscure truth too bright, too dazzling for their dim eyes? Or do we not rather believe that his faith rose up at once to embrace the sublime mystery that Jesus of Nazareth whom Philip preached was the true and real Son of God? It is a sound and safe rule of interpretation that the simple, literal meaning of a passage is that which the Holy Spirit intends. Apply that rule to those passages where Jesus is spoken of as the Son of God, and it at once follows that His true and literal Sonship is meant by the expression. The Scriptures are written for the plain, simple-hearted, believing family of God, who receive the truth from His lips in the same unreasoning faith as a child listens to the teaching of its mother (Psalm 129:2 Isaiah 28:9). Now, where would be the childlike faith of all these simple-hearted believers if the blessed Jesus was not really and truly the Son of God, but only so by some mysterious explanation which denies the plain letter of truth? Spiritual reader, avoid mystical, forced, fanciful, strained explanations, and receive in the simplicity of faith the plain language of the Holy Spirit. It will preserve your feet from the traps and snares spread for them by crafty men, who by fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. Seek rather to know and feel the power of truth in your own soul, and to experience that inward blessedness and sacred liberty which the Son of God gives to those who believe in His Name, according to His own words—words of solemn import against the servants of sin and error, but full of blessedness to those who kiss the Son in faith and affection (Psalm 2:12). “And the servant abides not in the house forever; but the Son abides ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:35,36).
Having viewed the testimony borne to the Sonship of Christ by individuals, we will now, though not in strict chronological order, look at the united voice of the disciples. We read that after witnessing the miracle of Peter’s walking on the sea, and the ceasing of the wind when Jesus came into the ship, “then those who were in the ship came and worshiped Him, saying, Of a truth You are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). It was not that they did not so believe before, but they were so overwhelmed with the greatness of the miracle, and so awed by the power and presence of the Lord then in their midst, that their hearts bowed down before Him in holy adoration and believing love, as the very Son of the eternal Father, and as such possessed of all the power and glory of the Godhead. Can we suppose that their minds were taken up with speculations such as daring men have since invented to deny and dishonor both Father and Son; or did not rather their simple, childlike, and divinely-inspired faith at once embrace the blessedness of the mystery that the Jesus whom they saw, and at whose feet they fell, was the Son of the Father in truth and love?
But it is needless to multiply testimonies of this nature. It must be evident to all who read the New Testament with an enlightened eye that faith in the Son of God is put forward again and again as the grand distinctive feature of those who are born and taught of God.
We shall therefore now pass on to show the way in which this blessed truth is intimately and inseparably connected with the experience of every living soul, for that is the grand mark and test of a doctrine being of God; and in so doing we shall, as before, keep as closely as possible to the Scriptures of truth. The eternal Sonship of Christ is no dry doctrine; but a fountain of life to the church of God; and as its vital streams flow into the soul they become springs of happiness and holiness, purging the conscience from dead works and purifying the heart from idols, and giving and maintaining communion with God.
1. A life of faith is the grand distinguishing mark of a saint of God here below. But this faith must have a living Object, and such a one as can maintain it in daily exercise. “Because I live, you shall live also,” was the Lord’s own most gracious promise (John 14:19). Now let us see what was Paul’s experience on this point—”I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live—yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The life which Paul lived in the flesh was “by the faith of the Son of God.” This was his life of faith, looking unto, believing in, hanging upon the Son of God, and receiving out of His fullness supplies for all his need (John 1:16; Philippians 4:13,19). Now, how is it possible for any then to live a similar life of faith unless he believe in the same way in the Son of God? And how can he believe that He is the Son of God if he deny His true and real Sonship? His grace and glory, His Person and work, His blood and righteousness, His suitability and all sufficiency, His beauty and blessedness, His love and sympathy, His headship and dominion, His advocacy and intercession as the great Priest over the house of God—in the knowledge, faith and experience of which the very life of a believer is bound up, are all so intimately connected with, all so directly and immediately flow from; His true Sonship, that they cannot be separated from it. Thus, if there be no faith in the Sonship of Christ, there can he no true faith in the Son of God; and if there be no true faith in the Son of God, what is a man, with all his profession, but one who has a name to live and is dead?
2. Communion with God, that rich, that unspeakable blessing, whereby a worm of earth is admitted into holy converse with the Three-in-One Jehovah, is intimately, indeed necessarily, connected with the life of faith of which we have just been treating. But there can be no communion with the Father and the Son where there is no “acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” (Colossians 2:2). In other words, there must be a living faith in, and a sincere confession of the Son as the Son, before there can be any sacred fellowship with the Father and the Son. This is John’s testimony—”That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). How, then, can any have fellowship that is, communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ if they deny both Father and Son, which they most certainly do if they reject the real Sonship of Jesus? Well may God say to such, “If I be a Father, where is Mine honor?” (Malachi 1:6) You may call Me your Father. I reject your claim; for you deny My dear Son, and “whoever denies the Son, the same has not the Father” (1 John 2:23). There may be a notional Christ presented to the imagination, a letter Christ conceived by the natural understanding, a Christ upon the cross, as in pictures and on the Romish crucifix, painted upon the eye of sense; and by a strong effort of the mind there may be, with all these representations, a something like faith and feeling which may be thought by poor, deceived, deluded creatures a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But if there be no spiritual faith in His Sonship, there can be no spiritual communion with Him. It is only as the soul is blessed and favored with discoveries of Him as the Son of God that faith goes out upon Him; hope anchors in Him, and love flows forth toward Him; and where these three graces of the Spirit are, there and there only is there a saving knowledge of His Person, a blessed experience of His grace, and a sacred fellowship of His presence.
3. Nor can there be; as it appears to us from John’s testimony, any walking in the light of God’s countenance, any fellowship with the family of God here below, or any saving knowledge of the cleansing blood of the Lamb where Christ’s real Sonship is denied. And what is religion worth when these three blessings are severed from it? Consider, in the light of the Spirit, the following testimony—”But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Look at the three blessings spoken of in this verse:
1. Walking in the light as God is in the light;
2. Having fellowship one with another;
3. An experience of the blood of Jesus Christ His Son as cleansing from all sin. And observe how the whole stress of the verse lies upon the words, “Jesus Christ His Son.” Take away His true and real Sonship—for light there is darkness, for fellowship with the saints there is separation from them, and for the cleansing blood there is a guilty conscience and a sin-avenging God.
4. As there is no communion with Father and Son without a living faith in the true Sonship of Jesus, and no knowledge of atoning blood, so there is no indwelling of God without such a faith and confession. “Whoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God” (1 John 4:15). To be a saving confession there must first be a believing heart (Romans 10:10), and wherever the one precedes, the other certainly follows (2 Corinthians 4:13). If, then, there be no true faith, there can be no true confession; but a heart which believes aright will ever manifest itself by a confessing tongue. It is for this reason that John pronounces such a blessing on “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.” But do those confess Him who deny His true and proper Sonship? No; he only confesses Him whose eyes have been anointed to see His beauty and glory as the only-begotten of the Father, and whose faith embraces Him as having been eternally such. In his happy soul “God dwells” by His Spirit and grace, for in receiving the Son of God as such into his heart, he has received the Father also (1 John 2:23); and “he dwells in God,” for by dwelling by faith in the Son of His love he dwells also in the Father. Then how can he who denies the true and real Sonship of Jesus have any part or lot in a blessing like this?
5. Another rich blessing connected with faith in the true and proper Sonship of Christ is victory over the world. “Who is he that overcomes the world but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5) A man must either overcome the world, or be overcome by it. To overcome the world is to be saved; to be overcome by it is to be lost. He, then, who does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God does not, and cannot, overcome the world, for he has not the faith of God’s elect; he is not born of God; there is no divine life in his soul; and he has therefore no power to resist the allurements, endure the scorn, or rise superior to the frowns and smiles of the world, but is entangled, carried captive, and destroyed by it. Where the world is loved the heart is necessarily overcome by it, for in the love of the world, as in the love of sin, is all the strength of the world. Now unless the love of Christ in the soul be stronger than the love of the world, the weaker must give way to the stronger. Unbelief, heresy and error cannot overcome the world, for such are utter strangers to the faith which purifies the heart from the lust of it, to the hope which rises above it, and to the love which lifts up the soul beyond it.
6. Again, it cannot be doubted that of all the blessings which God can bestow in living experience few surpass a knowledge of the possession of eternal life. But this rich blessing is intimately connected with faith in the Sonship of Jesus. This is John’s testimony—”These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). To whom does John write? To those that “believe on the Name of the Son of God.” They alone can receive and believe his testimony, for they alone possess the inward teaching and witness of the blessed Spirit to the truth of his word. He does not write to heretics, to erroneous men, to disbelievers in, to deniers of the true Sonship of Jesus. As these have not the Son of God, they have not life (1 John 5:12), and John writes not to the dead, but the living. For their sakes, and to confirm their faith and hope, he writes that, from the witness of the Spirit, they may know in their own hearts and consciences that they have eternal life; and this they have because they have the Son. If this be true, none can know that they have eternal life but those who believe in the Name of the Son of God. And how can we think that those believe in that Name who deny His true and real Sonship, to set up in its place an idol, a figment of their own vain mind? and because they cannot understand the mystery of an eternal Son, or make it square with their natural ideas of generation, renounce it altogether, or explain it utterly away?
Nor, as it appears to us, can the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity be maintained except by holding the eternal Sonship of Christ. There are two errors of an opposite nature as regards the doctrine of the Trinity:
1. One is Tritheism, or setting up three distinct Gods; the other,
2. Sabellianism, which holds that there is but one God under three different names. Each of these errors destroys the Trinity in Unity, the first by denying the Unity of the Essence, the second by denying the Trinity of the Persons. The true and scriptural doctrine of the Trinity steers between these two erroneous extremes, and holds a Trinity of Persons in a Unity of Essence. Now, the Lord Jesus, as the eternal Son of the Father, is distinct from Him as His Son, and yet necessarily one with Him as partaking of the same Essence; and the Holy Spirit, as proceeding from the Father and the Son, is distinct also from those Persons of the Trinity, and yet, as eternally proceeding from both, partakes of their Essence likewise. Thus we have a Trinity of Persons, but a Unity of Essence—One God, but eternally subsisting as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Eternal Sonship gives to the Son a Unity of Essence with the Father, and yet a distinctness of Person; thus, as the Son He is one with the Father (John 10:30), and yet as the Son He is distinct from the Father. So eternal procession from the Father and the Son gives to the Holy Spirit Unity of Essence with the Father and the Son, and yet a distinct Personality. Upon this firm basis the Trinity stands. But if you remove the eternal Sonship of Christ, you also must take away the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit; and by so doing you destroy the Unity of Essence and inter-communion of Nature of Israel’s Triune God. If the denial of the eternal Sonship of Jesus involve such consequences, well may we tremble at such an error as removes the very foundations of revealed truth. All other views of the Sonship of Christ lower His essential and eternal dignity and, however craftily disguised, tend to, and usually end in, Arianism. If His Sonship be not His eternal mode of subsistence, it must, in some way or other, be created Sonship, and what is this but Arian doctrine in its very root and essence? How the Son can be eternally begotten, and how the Holy Spirit can eternally proceed, is a mystery which we cannot understand, much less explain; but we receive it by faith, in the same way as we receive the “great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.” If once we begin to reason on these matters, we are lost at the very threshold of our inquiry. To believe, not to speculate; to receive the testimony that God has given of His Son; not to doubt, argue and cavil, is the only sure path, as well as the peculiar blessedness of a child of God.