By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
THE SONSHIP OF CHRIST
The Sonship of Christ is one of the glorious mysteries of our religion. Angels are, indeed, sometimes called the sons of God. Thus, in the only reliable history of the origin of our world, we are told that at the creation "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Job 38:7. Because Adam came into existence without any created instrumentality, but directly from the hand of God, he is called the son of God. Luke 3:38. And because all believers are, by the Holy Spirit, renewed into the image of the Most High, and are adopted into the heavenly family, they are called the sons of God. Romans 8:14; 1 John 3:1. But the whole tenor of the argument in the early part of the epistle to the Hebrews goes to show that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father in a sense far higher than can be claimed for any mere creature. He is preeminently God's own Son, Romans 8:32; and God's dear Son, Col. 1:13; and God is preeminently his Father, John 5:18.
Some have maintained that Christ was the Son of God only in the sense that he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In proof, they cite Luke 1:35: "The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you; therefore also, that holy One who shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God." Should we admit that this passage teaches that Christ's human nature was so derived from the Holy Spirit as to make it proper to call him the Son of God, this would not show that he was in no higher sense begotten of the Father. Nor would this express his relation to the Father. But the passage fairly admits of another construction, namely, that he who is thus miraculously brought into the world is thereby infallibly proven to be the Son of God in the highest sense ever claimed.
It has also been maintained by some that Christ's designation to office constituted his Sonship. In proof, they cite John 10:36: "What about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son?'" But, like the preceding, this passage may fairly refer to the proof, and not to the cause or nature of his Sonship with God. One text says, "The Son of God has come." Another says, "God sent forth his Son," Gal. 4:4. He did not become the Son of God by coming or by being sent, but being the Son of God, he was sent and has come. Many other texts afford similar proof.
Others have said that Christ is called the Son of God only because he rose from the dead. For proof they cite Acts 13:33: "God has fulfilled the promise unto us, in that he has raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, You are my Son; this day have I begotten you." But this passage receives its clear exposition from Romans 1:4, where the apostle says that Jesus Christ our Lord was "declared [defined, marked out as by a boundary, determined, that is, beyond doubt proven] to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." In other words, Christ's resurrection forever settled in all fair minds the question of his Sonship with God.
Others have said that Christ was called the Son of God simply because he is heir of all things. In proof, they cite Heb. 1:3-5: "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son?" But heirship comes from Sonship; not Son-ship from heirship: "If children, then heirs." Romans 8:17. The fact that Christ is heir of all things is irrefragable proof that he is the Son of God. But Christ's Sonship is more than all these.
I. He is the Son of the Father in a higher and more glorious sense.In the preceding chapter, it has been shown that he existed long ages before he became incarnate; that he was possessed of all divine attributes; that he was uncreated, and justly claimed supreme divinity. This Sonship of our Lord clearly implies that he has the same nature with the Father; and so, as the Scriptures say, He was begotten of the Father. When we say that Christ is by nature the Son of God, we mean that the Father communicates to him his being and perfections. He himself says, "All things that the Father has are mine." John 16:15. "As the Father has life in himself, so has he given to the Son to have life in himself." John 5:26. Indeed, "the communication of the Divine essence by the Father is the generation of the Son." In nature, the Father and the Son are perfectly the same. Nor did the Father ever communicate by generation his divine essence to any other; so that Jesus Christ is properly called God's only Son, and his only begotten Son. This generation of the Son is entirely peculiar to himself, and is the foundation of all the holy worship offered to the Redeemer in heaven and earth, of all saving confidence reposed in the efficacy of his blood-shedding and intercession, and of the all-controlling gratitude felt towards him for his amazing condescension in coming into the world and dying for our salvation.
II. The Sonship of Christ is real, not imaginary; and proper, not figurative.It is the foundation of the everlasting relation between the Father and the Son, and not merely the mode of our conceiving of the Divine subsistence. Christ is as truly and properly the Son of God as Abel was the son of Adam; that is, his nature is as truly the nature of his Father as the nature of any man is that of his parent. Adam begat a son in his own likeness, after his image. Gen. 5:3. So, by his generation, Jesus Christ is "the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person." Every other name and title of our Lord has a delightful fitness and significance. Why should that of Son of God be an exception? He is called Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. Who deserves the name of Savior as he does? He is called Christ, because the Spirit was wonderfully poured upon him. If Aaron's anointing filled his presence with sweet perfume, the anointing of Christ fills heaven and earth with an odor of a sweet smell. He is called Lord and Master, because he has perfect sovereignty over us. None ever so worthily wore a crown or swayed a scepter. He is called Wonderful, for his person, his birth, his life, his works, his doctrines, his death, his resurrection, his glory, all entitle him to that appellation. He is called Counselor, for none deals so prudently. Isaiah 52:13. His wisdom and plans will yet destroy every dark plot of iniquity. He himself says, "Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding; I have strength." Proverbs 8:14. The Spirit of counsel and might rests upon him. Isaiah 11:2. Speaking of the man whose name is The BRANCH, the prophet says: "He shall build the temple of the Lord, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both," that is, between Jehovah and the Branch, between the Father and the Son. Zech. 6:12, 13. So that he is the Counselor of God. He is also the Counselor of all who believe in him. He is the true light, the infallible teacher of all the saints.
He is called Redeemer. None half so fitly bears that title. Others bought back captives with such corruptible things as silver and gold; he redeems through his most precious blood. They redeem from temporal, he from eternal woe. He is the Christ, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and Jesus Christ the Son of God is the Savior of lost men; but all this only shows that our Lord has many and excellent names and titles, as he has also many crowns on his head. He is called Jehovah, because he is self-existent, independent, eternal, and unchangeable. He is called God, because the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily. He is called the Son of God, because he is the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. His "names and titles, which are more than two hundred in number, include every thing which is great or glorious, amiable or excellent, in the estimation of mankind." [Payson.] He has no empty titles, no insignificant names. There is none like him. "He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6
III. The Sonship of Christ is eternal.This is clearly taught: "He is before all things." Col. 1:17. "He made the worlds." Heb. 1:2. Of course he existed before them. There never was a point in duration when the Son was not. Some have argued against the eternity of the filiation of our Redeemer from the phrase, "This day have I begotten you." But Owen well says, "'Today' being spoken of God, of him who is eternal, to whom all time is so present as that nothing is properly yesterday nor today, does not denote necessarily such a proportion of time as is intimated but it is expressive of an act eternally present, nor past, nor future." Addison Alexander says, "This profound sense of the passage is no more excluded by the phrase 'this day,' implying something recent, than the universality of Christ's dominion is excluded by the local reference to Zion. The point of time, like the point of space, is the center of an infinite circle."
IV. The Sonship of Christ implies much more than Mediatorship.It is eminently fitting that the Mediator between God and man should be the Son of God and the Son of Man; but Sonship is not Mediatorship, any more than Messiahship is Sonship. The Word did not become God's Son, but being God's Son, he became God's Anointed by receiving the Spirit without measure.
V. The filiation of Christ is, and ought to be freely admitted to be, ineffable.When, as "the angel of the Lord," the Son of God appeared to Manoah, that holy man said unto him, "What is your name?" "And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Why do you ask my name, seeing it is secret?" Judges 13:17, 18. Payson says: "It was doubtless the eternal Word, who is frequently called the Angel of the Covenant, that appeared on that occasion. The name which is here given him, signifies secret, mysterious, wonderful; and in each of these senses it may properly be ascribed to Christ." Christ himself says: "No man knows who the Son is, but the Father." Luke 10:22. The Sonship is ineffable, because the Divine nature is incomprehensible. Divinity is essentially inscrutable. So the Scriptures everywhere declare: "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea." Job 11:7-9.
Another Scripture declares theincomprehensibility of the nature both of the Father and of the Son: "Who has ascended up into heaven, or descended? who has gathered the wind in his fists? who has bound the waters in a garment? who has established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if you can tell?" Proverbs 30:4. God, indeed, has revealed himself to us in a trinity of persons. He has said that the relation between the first and second of these persons is best expressed in our language by the terms Father and Son. But we must not strain such terms to make them imply all that we understand by them when used to denote human relationships. Among men, a father exists before his son; but God the Father is eternal, and God the Son is eternal. The great idea conveyed by the word Father is, that he is the fountain of the divinity. So, when we use the words begat and begotten in this connection, the meaning is, that we cannot better express the manner in which the Father communicates the divine nature to the Son than by the use of these terms.
At this point it is convenient to give a statement of the doctrine of Christ's Sonship in several orthodox Confessions. This may prevent mistake, and show how steadfast has been the faith of God's people on this point.
The Apostles' Creed says, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord."
The Creed as given by Irenaeus has it, "I believe in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was incarnate for our salvation."
The Nicene Creed says, "We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father."
The Athanasian Creed says, "That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. . . . The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten."
The Confession of Wirtemberg says, "We believe and confess that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, begotten of his eternal Father, is true and eternal God."
The Confession of Belgia says, "We believe that Jesus Christ, in respect of his divine nature, is the only Son of God, begotten from everlasting, not made or created, (for then he would be a creature,) but of the same essence with the Father and coeternal with him."
The Confession of Saxony says, "The Son of God our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the image of the eternal Father, is appointed our Mediator, Reconciler, Redeemer, Justifier, and Savior."
The Augsburg Confession teaches, "that the Word, that is, the Son of God, took unto him man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary."
In further support of this doctrine, consider the following:
1. It is clear that the Jews expected their Messiah to be the Son of God. Nathanael was an Israelite indeed, and he said to Christ, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel." Martha too said to him: "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who would come into the world." The high-priest said to Jesus, "I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you be the Christ, the Son of God." John 1:49; 11:27; Matt. 26:63. Where did they all get the impression that Messiah should be the Son of God, if their prophets did not so teach them?
2. From many Scriptures it appears reasonable to infer that the Spirit of God designed to teach us Christ's Sonship with God. You remember that famous confession of Peter: "We believe and are sure that you are that Christ, the Son of the living God." John 6:69. John expressly informs us that he wrote his gospel "that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." John 20:31. Again he says: "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, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God." 1 John 5:13.
3. On two occasions Christ received from God the Father glorious testimony to his Sonship. "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Matt. 3:16, 17. The other occasion was that of his transfiguration, when a voice out of the cloud, called by Peter the "excellent glory," said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you him." Matt. 17:5.
4. The Scriptures lay great stress on this doctrine. In fact they assert, in plain terms, that the belief of it is essential to the formation and establishment of Christian character. "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" 1 John 5:5. The Ethiopian treasurer made the confession of his faith in these simple words: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Upon this profession he was baptized. And John says expressly: "Whoever denies the Son, the same has not the Father." 1 John 2:23.
5. It is admitted that the term "Word" is applied to Christ in reference to his existence before his incarnation, and without reference to his office as Mediator. Yet John uses the term "Word" and the term "Only-begotten of the Father" as interchangeable terms: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." John 1:14. The glory of the Word and the glory of the only-begotten of the Father is the same.
6. The ordinance of Baptism is administered "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." All who believe the doctrine of the Trinity admit that Father and Holy Spirit designate divine persons. Surely the term Son does the same.
7. The Scriptures expressly state that the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him; that is, the only-begotten Son who has an eternal and infinite intimacy with the divine nature has revealed him.
8. The glory of the priesthood of Christ arises chiefly from his filiation with God. So the apostle sets it forth: He makes the Son a High Priest; "We have a great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God." Heb. 4:14; 7:28. The greatness of our High Priest clearly results from his being the Son of God.
9. If Christ was the Word before he was made flesh, he was the Son before he was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. John 1:1, 14; 1 John 3:8. Surely this is fair reasoning.
10. Fuller says: "It is the proper deity of Christ which gives efficacy to his sufferings: 'by himself he purges our sins.' (Heb. 1:3.) But this efficacy is ascribed to his being 'the Son of God.' 'The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.' His being the Son of God therefore amounts to the same thing as his being a divine person." Yes, more; it shows how he is divine, namely, by an eternal generation.
The inferences from this discussion are many and important. The doctrine is full of rich consolation. Our Redeemer not only has glorious power and exaltation, but he has them because, being the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. Heb. 5:8. Our Advocate has by nature a right to equality with God; and, being full of love and kindness—he is sure to manage the cause of all his people so as to secure their final salvation!