The Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ The Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ
CHAPTER I - Part 2
There are four leading ways in which erroneous men have, at different periods of the church s history, sought to nullify the vital doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Jesus: - ;
1. Some place the Sonship of Christ in His incarnation, as if He was not the Son of God before He assumed our nature in the womb of the Virgin. The main prop of this erroneous view is the language of the angel to the Virgin Mary: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" Lu 1:35 As this text is much insisted upon by those who deny that the Lord Jesus Christ was the Son of God prior to His incarnation, it demands an attentive consideration. All Trinitarians-and with them we have chiefly to do upon this point-allow the three following truths in common with us: 1. The union of two natures, the human and divine, in the Person of the Lord Jesus. 2. That the human nature of the Lord Jesus was formed of the flesh of the Virgin by the supernatural operation of the Holy Ghost. 3. That he who was born at Bethlehem was called the Son of God. Thus far there is no difference between the opponents of Christ s eternal Sonship and ourselves. But now we come to a most important difference, in which lies the whole gist of the question, viz., whether He was the Son of God before His incarnation, or became such by it. Those who hold the latter view rest mainly on the text which we have just quoted. Let us, then, carefully and prayerfully examine the passage. The text asserts that "that Holy Thing which should be born" of the Virgin "should be called the Son of God." It does not say it should be or become the Son of God, but should be called so. Now, was the human nature of the blessed Lord ever called the Son of God as distinct from the divine? As far as our reading of the Scripture extends, we think we can safely assert that His human nature never was called the Son of God, nor can a single passage of Holy Writ, we believe, be produced where the pure humanity of Jesus, as distinct from His divine nature, is spoken of under that name. We most fully admit that in His complex Person He is called again and again the Son of God; for the union of the two natures is so intimate that after His conception or birth the actings of the two natures, though separable, are not usually separated in the Word of truth. But the angel evidently meant that the Child to be born should be called the Son of God as His usual preveiling title. This, however, was not true of the human nature of our blessed Lord, which never was called the Son of God, as distinct from His divine, but was true of Him as uniting two natures in one divine Person. The angel, therefore, did not mean that His holy human nature, but that He who wore that nature should be called the Son of God. This pure humanity was called "that Holy Thing" for two reasons:
1. To show that it was intrinsically and essentially holy-not involved in the Fall of Adam, nor corrupted by the taint of original sin, but, though of the flesh of the Virgin, sanctified by the Holy Ghost at the moment of its conception, under His overshadowing operation and influence. These two natures are distinctly named and kept separate in that memorable passage of the great Apostle-that mighty bulwark against the floods of error and heresy: "Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead". Ro 1:3,4 There Jesus Christ is declared to be "God s Son," and yet "made of the seed of David according to the flesh;" therefore the Son of God before so made, and not becoming so by being made, and "declared" (margin), "determined" (The literal meaning of the Greek word is, "distinctly marked out," or "clearly defined.") "to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead."
Besides which, were Jesus the Son of God by virtue of His miraculous conception, He might rather be called the Son of the Holy Ghost, which is a thought shocking to every spiritual mind. It may, with God s help and blessing, tend to throw some light on the subject if we compare the passage in Luke Lu 1:35 with the parallel place in Matthew, Mt 1:23 where the evangelist quotes "what was spoken of the Lord by the prophet." The prophecy of Isaiah, Isa 7:14 as quoted by the evangelist, was, "Behold, a virgin shall be with Child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us". Mt 1:23 The declaration to the Virgin, Lu 1:35 that "the Holy Ghost should come upon her, and the power of the Highest overshadow her," was to explain to her the mystery of her conception, and is therefore a passage strictly parallel to that just quoted from Matthew. The Son born of the virgin was according to Matthew Mt 1:23 to be called "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us," or God in our nature. "The Holy Thing," born of the Virgin, was, according to Luke, "to be called the Son of God." Now, in the same way as Christ was God before He was called Emmanuel, so was He the Son of God before, as being born of the Virgin, He was called the Son of God; and His being so born no more made Him the Son of God than His being so born made Him God. The Son of God could not be seen or known by the sons of men except as born of the Virgin; but His being so born did not constitute Him the Son of God. In the same way the resurrection of Christ is sometimes spoken of as "a begetting." Him to be the Son of God, as we find Paul speaking at Antioch. "We declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee". Ac 13:32,33 As this passage stands, taken in its literal, apparent signification, it would certainly seem to mean that Christ became the Son of God by His resurrection, for the Apostle applies the words of the second Psalm, "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee," to the raising of Christ from the dead. But, as our opponents themselves will admit, the resurrection of Christ did not make Him the Son of God, for He was that before, as is evident from the confession of Peter, but it manifested Him to be such. The incarnation and the resurrection stand on the same footing as manifestations of the Son of God. By the incarnation He was manifested, by the resurrection He was declared to be the Son of God; but neither that by which He was manifested, nor that by which He was declared, made Him the Son of God, for He was so before either manifestation or declaration.
As far as we can understand the views of those that we are at present combating, they hold that the Lord Jesus Christ, before His incarnation in the womb of the Virgin, was the eternal Word, but not the eternal Son; but when He assumed flesh of the Virgin, then, for the first time, He became the Son of God. They therefore hold that He is the Son of God by virtue of His complex Person-in other words, that He is not the Son of God by virtue of His human nature, nor the Son of God by virtue of His divine nature, but the Son of God as uniting two natures in one glorious Person. But the mere fact of the Word taking flesh would not make Him the Son of God if He was not so before, for there is no connection between incarnation and Sonship. That by His incarnation He became the Son of man is scriptural and intelligible, but that by the same incarnation He became the Son of God is as unintelligible as it is unscriptural. Indeed, He is the Word because He is the Son, not the Son because He is the Word. The Son is the prior title and the foundation of the second. Why is Christ called the Word? Because by Him God the Father speaks. But why does the Father speak by Him? Because He is His only-begotten Son. Who so fit to speak for the Father as the Son? Who so knows His mind? Who is so "the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person"? We see, then, that He did not become the Son by being first the Word, but is the Word because He is first the Son.
But the clearest, plainest, and most decisive way of overthrowing this wild theory, this utterly unscriptural view, is to show from the Word of truth that Jesus was the Son of God before His incarnation. If this point can be proved from the Word of God, their error is at once cut from under them, and falls before the inspired testimony, as Dagon fell before the ark. To our mind nothing can be more plainly revealed in the Word of truth than that the Lord Jesus existed as the Son of God before His assuming flesh. But as this is the controverted point, let us examine some of these testimonies, they being so numerous and so plain that the difficulty is which to name and which to omit. But take the following from the Lord s own lips, and examine carefully and weigh prayerfully the Lord s own declaration concerning Himself: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son," etc. Joh 3:16 God is here declared so to have loved the world that "He gave His only-begotten Son." Now must He not have existed as His Son before He gave Him? If I give a person a thing, my giving it does not change the nature of the object given, does not make it different from what it was before I gave it. So, if God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son, He must surely have been His only begotten Son before He gave Him. In fact, the truth proclaimed by the blessed Lord is this, the amazing love of God to the world, that it was so stupendously great that having an only-begotten Son He gave Him for the salvation of those in the world who should believe in His Name, that they might not otherwise perish. But His giving. Him could not make Him His only-begotten Son, because the wondrous love consisted in this, that though He was God s only-begotten Son, still He gave Him. Any other interpretation quite destroys the meaning and force of the passage.
Now look at another passage of almost similar character: "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Ro 8:32 The expression "spared not" is explained by the words which follow, "delivered Him up for us all," which are again fully explained by the Lord s own testimony before quoted, that God "gave His only-begotten Son." When, then, did God not spare His own Son? When, He delivered Him up. When did He deliver Him up? When He gave Him. When did He give Him; but when He gave Him out of His own bosom to become incarnate? Thus by this connected chain it is most evidently shown that He was His Son before He delivered Him up; in other words, before He came into the world; which is the very point that we are seeking to establish. But observe, also, the words, "His only-begotten Son," literally, His peculiar, His proper Son; and observe, too, that He was His own, His peculiar, and proper Son before He spared Him not, but freely delivered Him. His delivering Him out of His bosom to become incarnate could not, and did not, make Him His Son any more than it made Him God. If words have meaning, He was His own true, real and proper Son before He was delivered up. And if so, was He not His own Son from all eternity, in other words, His eternal Son? the point of truth for which we are contending.
But see how all the force and beauty of the passage are destroyed if the Lord Jesus were not the true and real Son of God before He was delivered up! The apostle wishes to show the certainty that God will freely give us all things. But why should we have this certainty that we may rest upon it as a most blessed and consoling truth? It rests on this foundation, that God spared not His own in the original "idiou," that is, His proper and peculiar Son, but delivered Him up for us all. Here we have brought before our eyes the personal and peculiar love of a Father towards a Son. But though this love to Him as His own peculiar Son was so great, yet pitying our case, He did not spare to give Him up to sufferings for our sake. But if He were not the true and real Son of God, but became so by being incarnate, the whole argument falls to the ground in a moment. If Father, Son and Holy Ghost are mere names and titles, distinct from and independent of their very mode of subsistence, the Holy Ghost might have been the Father and sent the Son, or the Son might have been the Father and sent the Holy Ghost; for if the three Persons of the Trinity are three distinct subsistences, independent of each other, and have no such mutual and eternal relationship as these very names imply, there seems to be no reason why these titles might not have been interchanged.
But take another passage of similar strength and purport: "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent, His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him". 1Jo 4:9 God is here declared to have "sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him." If men were but willing to abide by the plain, positive declarations of the Holy Ghost, and not evade them by subtleties of their own reasoning mind, this passage would of itself fully decide the whole controversy. Several things in it will demand and abundantly repay our closest attention: 1. The love of God towards us. Was not this from all eternity? Are not His own words, "I have loved thee with an ever-lasting love"? Jer 31:3 2. The manifestation, or proof, of that love, which was sending His only-begotten Son into the world; 3. The Person sent, which was no other than His only-begotten Son. Now was this love of God before or only just at the time when "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us"? All must admit that it was before, for it was the moving cause which induced God to send His only-begotten Son. Then He could not become for the first time His Son in the womb of the Virgin, but must have been His only-begotten Son before He was sent. The mere act of sending could not make Him to be His Son, if He was not so before. One would think that no elabourate train of reasoning was needful to prove this, and that simple faith in God s own testimony was amply sufficient. And so it would be were not men s minds so perverted by prejudice, and drugged and intoxicated by a spirit of error, that they obstinately refuse every argument, or even every scripture testimony that contradicts their pre-conceived views. But what unprejudiced mind does not see that sending a person to execute a certain task does not make him to be what he was not before? A master sends a servant to do a certain work; or a father bids a son to perform a certain errand; or a husband desires his wife to execute a certain commission which he has not time or opportunity to do himself; the servant does not cease to be a servant, the son to be a son, nor the wife to be a, wife by being so sent. You might as well argue that if I send my maid-servant upon an errand, my sending her makes her to be my daughter; or if I send my daughter it makes her my maid-servant. My daughter for the time becomes my servant, as the Lord Jesus became His Father s servant; but the relationship of father and daughter, as of Father and Son, existed prior to, and independent of, any act of service.
But to put this in a still clearer light, if indeed so plain and simple a point needs further elucidation, consider the parable of the vineyard let out to husbandmen Mt 21:33-46 Mr 12:1-12 Lu 20:9-19 We need not go all through the parable, but may confine ourselves to the last and simple point of the householder sending his son to receive of the fruits of the vineyard. "Having yet therefore one Son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence My Son" Mr 12:6 What can be more plain all through the parable than that the husbandmen represent the Jews, the servants the prophets, and the son of the householder the blessed Lord? But the point which we wish chiefly to dwell upon is the sending of the Son. We read of the Lord of the vineyard, which is God, "Having yet therefore one Son, His well-beloved Son, He sent Him also last." Now surely He was the "one Son, the well-beloved Son," before He sent Him, or the whole drift and beauty of the parable fall to the ground. The idea conveyed by the parable is evidently this: The Lord of the vineyard, which is God the Father, lived in a far country, at a long distance from the vineyard, viz., heaven, His dwelling place. With Him there was His one Son, and therefore His only-begotten Son, His well-beloved Son Lu 20:13 dwelling in the same abode with Himself, and therefore His Son before He sent Him, and quite independent of His being so sent. The husbandmen having refused to send the fruits of the vineyard by the servants, and having most cruelly treated them, the Lord of the vineyard makes, as it were, a last experiment. Then said the Lord of the vineyard, "What shall I do?" as if He took counsel with Himself how He should act. He then comes to a decision in His own mind, "I will send My beloved Son; it may be they will reverence Him." Now surely when the Father thus consulted and thus determined His Son must have already existed as His Son, been already at home with Him before the counsel could be taken or the resolution executed; If then the parallel has any force, or indeed any meaning-and it would be sacrilege to say it has not-God the Father must have had a Son in heaven with Him before He sent Him. If so, and we cannot see how the force of the argument can be evaded, the Lord Jesus Christ existed as the Son of God before He was sent by the Father; and if so, as we cannot conceive a time when He was not a Son, He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father.
But we have other testimonies in the inspired record to the same import. Thus we read of God "sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh" Ro 8:3 and of His "sending forth His Son made of a woman" Ga 4:4 There must surely be some meaning attached to the expression, "His own Son," analogous to a similar earthly relationship. If I were to write a letter to a friend, and say in it, "I send my own son with this," he surely would not understand me to mean that he was not my own son until I sent him, or that the bare circumstance of my sending him made him my son. And if I were to write to him afterwards an explanatory letter to say that I did not mean in, my former note that the bearer was really and truly my own son, but only that he became my son by bringing the note, would he not at once reply, "What could be plainer than the declaration in your first letter that he was your own son; what other meaning could I attach to your words? And if I have misunderstood them, I shall not be able for the future to understand your plainest, simplest language." Apply this argument to the passages before us, wherein God is said "to have sent His own Son." We may well say, If the meaning of these passages be that the Lord Jesus Christ was not God s Son before He sent Him, but became His Son by being sent, we must for the future give up all hope of understanding the Scriptures in their plain, simple meaning. And surely those who assert that the Lord Jesus Christ was not the Son of God before He was sent, but became God s own Son by being sent, are bound to explain the connection between being sent and becoming a Son, and to give some reason more valid than a pre-conceived prejudice against the eternal Sonship of Jesus.
But take another testimony of almost similar purport. "The life which I live in the flesh," says the apostle, "I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" Ga 2:20 Now, when did the Son of God love Paul? Before He gave Himself for him or after? It was because He loved him that He gave Himself for him, and therefore He must evidently have been the Son of God before He gave Himself for him. And when did He give Himself? When He came forth from His Father s bosom, and assumed flesh in the womb of the Virgin. If, then, the Son of God loved Paul before He came into the world, He must have been the Son of God before He came into the world. As the eternal Son of God He loved Paul, and as the eternal Son of God Paul believed in and loved Him.
One more testimony may for the present suffice. "Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" Ro 1:3,4 First look at the words: "Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." The Son of God is here declared to have been "made of the seed of David according to the flesh;" therefore He existed as the Son of God before made of the seed of David; for all will admit that it is His humanity here spoken of as made." We grant," say the opponents of Christ s eternal Sonship, "that He existed before His incarnation, but not as the eternal Son of God." How, then, did He exist, and what was His title? "The Word," they answer, according to the declaration, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." According, then, to your own showing, the Lord Jesus Christ existed as the Word before He was made flesh. "Undoubtedly," you reply. Now, what is the difference between the two expressions, "His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh," and The Word was made flesh"? for by parity of reasoning, if" the Word existed as "the Word" before He was "made flesh," the Son of God existed as the Son of God before "He was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." The two texts stand on precisely the same grounds. Both speak of the Deity and of the humanity of the blessed Lord and as no change can take place in His glorious Deity, we justly infer that as He was the Word in His divine nature before He was made flesh, so He was the Son of God in His divine nature before He was made of the seed of David. Do not all these scripture testimonies prove as with one unanimous voice that the Lord Jesus Christ was the only-begotten Son of God before God sent Him into the world? Sending Him into the world no more made Him God s Son than, to speak with all reverence, my sending my son to school makes him my son.
2. Another error on this important point is that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. The main prop of this view is what we read in Ac 13:32,33 "And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee." But the meaning of the apostle is abundantly clear from the passage already quoted Ro 1:4 His resurrection did not make Him, but manifest Him to be the Son of God. Did not the Father, before the resurrection, twice with a voice from heaven proclaim, "This is My beloved Son" Mt 3:17 Mt 17:5 Will any man then lift up his voice against the Majesty of heaven, and say that Christ was not the Son of God before His resurrection, which He clearly was not, if the resurrection made Him such? Why, the Roman centurion, who stood at the cross, had a better faith than this when he said, "Truly this was the Son of God" Mt 27:54 Nay, the very devils themselves were forced to cry out before His sufferings and death, "Thou art Christ, the Son of God" Lu 4:41 We may be sure, therefore, that none but a heretic of the deepest dye could assert that the blessed Lord was not the Son of God till made so by the resurrection.
3. Another erroneous view of the Sonship of Christ is that He is so by virtue of His exaltation to the right hand of God. This view is founded upon a mistaken interpretation of Heb 1:4 "Being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance btained a more excellent name than they." Christ was made so much better than the angels, not as the Son of God, because as that He was better than they already, being indeed their Maker and Creator Joh 1:3 Col 1:16 Nor did He become God s Son by being "appointed heir of all things," and "obtaining by inheritance a more excellent name" than all the angelic host. If I have an only son, and he inherits my property, his being my heir does not make him my son; but his being my son makes him my heir. So the blessed Jesus is God s heir. But the beauty and blessedness, the grace and glory, the joy and consolation of His being "the heir of all things," lie in this, that He is such in our nature -that the same blessed Immanuel who groaned and wept, suffered and bled here below, is now at the right hand of the Father as our High Priest, Mediator, Advocate, Representative, and Intercessor; that all power is given unto Him in heaven and earth as the God-man Mt 28:18 and that the Father hath "set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" Eph 1:20 21 But He has all this pre-eminence and glory not to make Him the Son of God, but because He who, as the Son of God, "thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" Php 2:7-11 The joy of heaven above, the delight of the saints here below, their only hope and help, strength and wisdom, spring from this, that the Son of God is exalted to the right hand of the Father in the very nature which He assumed in the womb of the virgin. But if He were made the Son of God by this exaltation, it sinks His Deity by merging it into His humanity, and constitutes Him a made God-which is not God at all, but an idol.
In fact, these three views which we have endeavoured to strip bare out of their party-coloured dress are all of them either open or disguised Socinianism, and their whole object and aim are to overthrow the Deity of the Lord Jesus by overthrowing His divine Sonship. The enemies of the Lord Jesus know well that the Scriptures declare beyond all doubt and controversy that He is the Son of God. This mountain of brass they may kick at, but can never kick down. But they know also that if they can by any means nullify and explain away His Sonship, they have taken a great stride to nullify and explain away His Deity. Beware, then; simple-hearted child of God, lest any of these men entangle your feet in their net. Hold by this as your sheet-anchor, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God in His divine nature, as His eternal and only-begotten Son. Faith in Him as such will enable you to ride through many a storm, and bear you up amidst the terrible indignation which will fall upon His enemies, when He shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter s vessel.