Chapter 1

 •  29 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18)
I am sure that I dread reasonings where affections should animate us, and the withdrawing from the place of living power into anything like a region of notions or theories. But the mysteries of God are all of the highest practical value, in either strengthening for service, comforting under trial, or enlarging the soul’s communion.
The apostle speaks of himself and others as “ministers of Christ,” and also as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” And so we, in our measure, are to be ministers (that is, servants), in all practical, personal readiness and devotedness; patient, diligent, and serviceable in labors; in all of which some of us may know how little we are in comparison with others.
But we are also to be “stewards,” and that, too, of “mysteries,” keeping uncorrupt and inviolate the peculiarities of divine revelation. Reasoning men may not receive them. The cross was foolishness to such; and “the princes of this world,” the men of philosophy who professed themselves to be wise, knew not “the wisdom of God in a mystery.” But that mystery is not to be surrendered to them in anywise. Our stewardship is of such; and it is required of stewards, that a man be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
The guardianship and witness of the personal glory of the Son of God form a chief part of this high and holy stewardship. I observe John guarding that glory with a jealousy quite of its own kind. There are, for instance, measures and methods recommended, when Judaizing corruptions or the like are to be dealt with. In the Epistle to the Galatians, where the simplicity of the gospel is vindicated, there is a pleading and a yearning in the midst of earnest and urgent reasoning. But in John’s epistles, all is peremptory. There is a summary forcing out, or keeping out, all that is not of that unction of the Holy One, which teaches the Son as well as the Father, which will admit of no lie to be of the truth, and which distinctly says, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2:23).
This diversity of style in the wisdom of the Spirit has its value; and we should mark it. The observing of days or the not eating of meat are things which really depreciate the full glory and liberty of the gospel. But they are to be borne with (Rom. 14). But depreciation of the person of the Son of God would not be thus borne with, or have a decree passed in its favor after this manner.
A mere journeying from Egypt to Canaan would not have constituted true pilgrimage. Many a one had traveled that road without being a stranger and pilgrim with God. Nay, though the journey were attended with all the trials and inconveniences of such an arid and trackless wild, it would not have been divine or heavenly pilgrimage. A merely toilsome, self-denying life, even though endured with that moral courage which becomes God’s strangers on earth, will not do. In order to make that journey the journey of God’s Israel, the ARK must be in their company, borne by a people ransomed by blood out of Egypt, and tending, in their faith of a promise, to Canaan.
This was the business of Israel in the desert. They had to conduct the ark, to accompany it, and to hallow it. They might betray their weakness, and incur chastening and discipline in many a way, and on many an occasion; but if their direct business were given up, all was gone. And this did come to pass. The tabernacle of Moloch was taken up, and the star of Remphan; and this was despite of the ark of Jehovah; and the camp had, therefore, their road turned away from Canaan to Babylon or Damascus (Amos 5; Acts 7).
And what ark is in the midst of the saints now for safe and holy and honorable conduct through this desert-world, if not the name of the Son of God? What mystery is committed to our stewardship and testimony, if not that? “He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any one unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 9-10). The wall of partition is to be raised by the saints between them and Christ’s dishonor.
It is upon the heart a little to consider the Lord Jesus as Son of God; and, if He give help from Himself, the subject will be a blessing to us.
We are baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). This carries with it the formal declaration of the mystery of the Godhead; the Son being a divine Person (in the recognition or declaration of this sentence), as is the Father, and as is the Holy Spirit.
It appertains to other scriptures to give us the same mystery (that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three Persons in the one divine glory or Godhead), in other and more moral ways; showing it in its grace and power, and in its application to our need, our life, and our edification. John’s Gospel specially does this, drawing it out from its orderly form, as in the words of baptism, and giving it to our understanding as saints, our affections, and our consciences, making it our possession in faith and communion.
In connection with this, I might observe, that in John. 1:14, the saints are heard, as it were, interrupting the story of the glories of Jesus, and sealing, by their testimony, the great truth of “the Word” being “made flesh.” And, in the fervor which became them at such a moment, they break or interrupt the current of their own utterances in that verse. For they begin to speak of the Word made flesh, but, before they end that record, they (in a parenthesis) publish His personal glory, which they say they had seen, even “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” And this only begotten of the Father is spoken of, very soon afterward, as “in the bosom of the Father”—words to be deeply cherished by our souls* (ver. 18).
(* He is πρωτοτοκος or first-begotten in several sense: and we have companionship with Him, πρωτοτοκος or First-born among many brethren. But He is also the μονογενης or Only Begotten, and there He is alone.)
I doubt not the Lord is called “the Son of God” in different respects. He is so called as being born of the Virgin (Luke 1:55). He is such by divine decree, as in resurrection (Psa. 2:7; Acts 13:33). This is true, and remains true, though further revelation be made to us of His divine Sonship. He is the Son, and yet has obtained the name of Son (Heb. 1:1-3). Matthew and Mark first notice His Sonship of God at His baptism. But John goes back farther still, even to the immeasurable, unspeakable distance of eternity, and declares His Sonship “in the bosom of the Father.”
And there were, I doubt not, different apprehensions of Him, different measures of faith touching His person, in those who called on Him. He Himself owns, for instance, the faith of the centurion in apprehending His personal glory to be beyond what He had found in Israel (Matt. 8; Luke 7). But all this in no wise affects what we hear of Him, that He was the Son “in the bosom of the Father,” or “that eternal life, which was with the Father,” and was manifested to us (1 John 1).
We must not, beloved, touch this precious mystery. We should fear to dim the light of that love in which our souls are invited to walk on their way to heaven. And —what is a deeper and more tender thought, if I may be bold to utter it—we should fear to admit of any confession of faith (rather, indeed, of unbelief) that would defraud the divine bosom of its eternal, ineffable delights, and which would tell our God that He knew not a Father’s joy in that bosom, as He opened it; and which would tell our Lord that He knew not a Son’s joy in that bosom as He lay there from all eternity.
I cannot join in this. If there are Persons in the Godhead, as we know there are, are we not to know also that there are relationships between them? Can we dispense with such a thought? Is there not revealed to faith, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; the Son begotten, and the Spirit proceeding? Indeed there is. The Persons in that glory are not independent, but related. Nor is it beyond our measure to say that the great archetype of love, the blessed model or original of all relative affection, is found in that relationship.
Can I be satisfied with the unbelieving thought, that there are not Persons in the Godhead, and that Father, Son, and Spirit are only different lights in which the One Person is presented? The substance of the gospel would be destroyed by such a thought, and can I be satisfied with the unbelieving thought that these Persons are not related? The love of the gospel would be dimmed by such a thought.
It was once asked me, “Had the Father no bosom till the Babe was born in Bethlehem?” Indeed, fully sure I am, as that inquiry suggests, He had from all eternity. The bosom of the Father was an eternal habitation, enjoyed by the Son, in the ineffable delight of the Father “the hiding-place of love,” as one has called it, “of inexpressible love which is beyond glory; for glory may be revealed, this cannot.”
The soul may have remained unexercised about such thoughts as these, but the saints cannot admit their denial.
“Lamb of God, Thy Father’s bosom
Ever was Thy dwelling-place!”
The soul dare not surrender such a mystery to the thoughts of men. Faith will dispute such ground with “philosophy and vain deceit.” Even the Jews may rebuke the difficulty which some feel regarding it. They felt that the Lord’s asserting His Sonship amounted to a making of Himself equal with God. So that, instead of Sonship implying a secondary or inferior Person, in their thought it asserted equality. And, in like manner, on another occasion they treated Jesus as a blasphemer, because He was making Himself God, in a discourse, which was declaring the relationship of a son to a father (John 5; 10). The Jews may thus, again and again, rebuke this wretched, unbelieving difficulty, which the “vain deceit” of man suggests. They were wiser than to pretend to test, by the prism of human reasonings, the light where God dwells.
“No man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father” (Luke 10:22), is a sentence which may well check our reasonings. And the word, that the eternal life was manifested to us, to give us fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:2), distinctly utters the inestimable mystery of the Son being of the Godhead, having “eternal life” with the Father. And again, as we well know, it is written, “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” I ask, can any but God declare God? In some sense God may be described. But the soul of the church will not rest in descriptions of God; though the wisdom of the world knows nothing else. It asks for declaration or revelation of Him, which must be by Himself. Is not then, I ask, the Son in the bosom a divine Person?
Nothing can satisfy all which the Scriptures tell us of this great mystery, but the faith of this: that the Father and the Son are in the glory of the Godhead; and in that relationship, too, though equal in that glory. “He who was with God in the beginning, as eternal as God, being God Himself, was also the Son of God”—as another has expressed it; and then adds, “God allows many things to remain mysteries, partly, I believe, that He may in this way test the obedience of our minds; for He requires obedience of mind from us, as much as He does obedience in action. This is a part of holiness, this subjection of the mind to God; and it is something which the Spirit alone can give. He alone is able to calm and humble those inward powers of mind which rise and venture to judge the things of God, refusing to receive what cannot be understood; a disobedience and pride which has no parallel, except in the disobedience and pride of Satan.”
Holy, seasonable caution for our souls! “Who is a liar,” asks the apostle, “but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” And he immediately adds, “He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” And again, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (John 2:22-23). These are very serious sentences under the judgment of the Holy Spirit. And how can there be knowledge of the Father, but through and in the Son? How can the Father be known otherwise? And therefore is it written, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.” I may say, “Abba, Father,” in the spirit of adoption; a poet may say, “We are also His offspring”; but God is not known as the Father, if the Son in the glory of the Godhead be not owned (Rom. 8; Acts 17). Sure we may be, nay, rather, assured we are, on divine authority, that if the unction which we have received abide in us, we shall abide in “the Son,” and in “the Father.”
Can the Son be honored even as the Father, if He be not owned in the Godhead? (John 5:23). The faith of Him is not the faith that He is a Son of God, or Son of God as born of the Virgin, or as raised from the dead; though those are truths concerning Him, assuredly such. But the faith of Him is the faith of His proper person. I know not that I can call Jesus “Son of God,” save in the faith of divine Sonship. The understanding which has been given us, has been given us to know “Him that is true,” as being “in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ”; and to this it is added, “This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5).
Is not “the truth,” in the sense of John’s Second Epistle, “the doctrine of Christ,” or the teaching which we have in Scripture respecting the person of Christ? And in that teaching, is not the truth of Sonship in the Godhead contained? For what is said there? “He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. And the door is required to be shut against those who bring not that doctrine; the very same epistle speaking of Him as “the Son of the Father”; language which would not attach to Him as born of the virgin by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
But still further, I ask, can the love of God be understood according to Scripture if this Sonship be not owned? Does not that love get its character from that very doctrine? Are not our hearts challenged on the ground of it? “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Again, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1John 4:10). And again, “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” (1 John 4:9). Yet again, “We have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (John 3; 1 John 4).
Does not this love at once lose its unparalleled glory, if this truth be questioned? How would our souls answer the man who would tell us that it was not His own Son whom God spared not, but gave Him up for us all? How would it wither the heart to hear that such a One was only His Son as born of the virgin, and that those words, “He that spared not His own Son,” are to be read as human, and not as divine? (Rom. 8:32).
Good care are we to take not to qualify the precious Word, to meet man’s prejudices. Was it with his servant, or with a stranger, or with one born in his house merely, that Abraham walked to Moriah? Was it with an adopted son, or with his own son, his very son, his only son, whom he loved? We know how to answer these inquiries. And I will say, I know not how I could speak of the Son loving me, and giving Himself for me (Gal. 2:20), did I not receive Him by faith as Son in the bosom of the Father, Son in the glory of the Godhead.
The Son is the Christ. God, in the person of the Son, has undertaken all office work for us, all work for which anointing or Christhood was needed. And this He has done in the person of Jesus. We therefore say, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The Only Begotten, the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, are one. But it is in personal essential glory, in office, and in assumed manhood, that we see Him under these different names.
We track His wondrous path from the glory to the heirship of all things. What discoveries are made of Him, beloved! Read of Him in Prov. 8:22-31; John 1:1-3; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:13-22; Heb. 1:1-3; 1 John 1:2; Rev. 3:14. Meditate on Him as presented to you in those glorious scriptures. Let them yield to you their several lights, in which to view the One in whom you trust, the One who gave up all for you, the One who has trod, and is treading, such a path; and then tell me, Can you part with either Him or it?
In the bosom of the Father He was. There lay the eternal life with the Father; God, and yet with God. In counsel He was then set up ere the highest part of the dust of the earth was made. Then, He was the Creator of all things in their first order and beauty; afterward, in their state of mischief and ruin, the Reconciler of all things; and by-and-by, in their regathering, He will be the Heir of all things. By faith we see Him thus, and thus speak of Him. We say, He was in the everlasting counsels, in the virgin’s womb, in the sorrows of the world, in the resurrection from the dead, in the honor and glory of a crown in heaven, and with all authority and praise in the heirship and lordship of all things.
Deprive Him of the bosom of the Father from all eternity, and ask your soul if it has lost nothing in its apprehension and joy of this precious mystery, thus unfolded from everlasting to everlasting? I cannot understand a saint pleading for such a thing. Nor can I consent to join in any confession that tells my heavenly Father it was not His own Son He gave up for me.
If we could but follow the thought with affection, how blessed would it be to see the Lord all along this pathway to the throne of the glory!
And still further. In each stage of this journey, we see Him awakening— the equal and full delight of God; all and as much His joy at the end as at the beginning; though with this privilege and glory, that He has awakened it in a blissful and wondrous variety. This blessed thought Scripture also enables us to follow. As He lay in the bosom through eternity, we need not —for we cannot— speak of this joy. That bosom was “the hiding-place of love”; and the joy that attended that love is as unutterable as itself.
But when His Beloved was set up as the center of all the divine operations, or the foundation of all God’s counsels, He was still God’s delight. In such a place and character, we see Him in Prov. 8:22-31. In that wondrous scripture, wisdom or the Son is seen as the great original and framer and sustainer of all the divine works and purposes, set up in counsel before the world was; as several scriptures in the New Testament also present Him to us. See John 1:3; Eph. 1:9-10; Col. 1:15-17. And in all this He can say of Himself, “Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.”
So, when the fullness of time was come, the Son of God lay in the virgin’s womb. Who can speak the mystery? But so it is. But it is only another moment and a fresh occasion of joy; and angels came to utter it and tell of it to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem.
Then again, in a new form the Son of His love was to run another course. Through sorrows and services as Son of Man, He is seen on earth; but all, and as unmixedly, awakening ineffable delight as in the hidden ages of eternity. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17); “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth” (Isaiah 42:1), are voices of the Father, telling of this unchanging joy, while tracking the path of Jesus across this polluted earth.
And that same voice, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” is heard a second time; heard on the holy hill, as on the bank of Jordan; in the day of transfiguration as at the baptism (Matt. 17:5). And the transfiguration was the pledge and type of the Kingdom, as the baptism was entrance on His ministry and witness. But the same delight is thus stirred in the Father’s bosom where the Son lay, whether the eye of God track Him along the lonely path of Jesus the servant in a polluted world, or on the heights of the King of glory in the millennial world.
It is delight in Him, equal and full delight, all along the way from everlasting to everlasting: no interruption, no pause in the joy of God in Him, though various and changeful joy; the same in its fullness and depth, let the occasions proceed and unfold themselves as they may. The One who awakens the joy is the same throughout, and so the joy itself. It can know no different measures, though it may know different springs.
And that One was alike unsullied through the whole path from everlasting to everlasting; as holy in the virgin’s womb as in the Father’s bosom; as spotless when ending His journey as when beginning it; as perfect as a servant as a King; infinite perfection marking all, and equal complacency resting on all.
If the soul were but impregnated with the thought, that this blessed One (seen where He may be or as He may be) was the very One who from all eternity lay in the divine bosom; if such a thought were kept vivid in the soul by the Holy Spirit, it would arrest many a tendency in the mind which now defiles it. He that was in the virgin’s womb was the same that was in the Father’s bosom! What a thought! Isaiah’s enthroned Jehovah, whom the winged seraphim worshipped, was Jesus of Galilee! What a thought! As spotless as Man as He was as God; as unstained in the midst of the human vessel as in the eternal bosom; as unsullied in the midst of the world’s pollutions as when daily the Father’s delight ere the world was!
Let the soul be imbued with this mystery, and many a rising thought of the mind will get its answer at once. Who would talk, as some have talked, in the presence of such mystery as this? Let this glory be but discovered by the soul, and the wing will be covering the face again, and the shoe will be taken off the foot again.
I believe the divine reasonings in John’s first Epistle suggest that the communion of the soul is affected by the view we take of the Son of God. For in that epistle, love is manifested in the gift of the Son, and love is our dwelling-place. If, then, I judge that, when the Father gave the Son, it was only the gift of the virgin’s seed, the atmosphere in which I dwell is lowered. But if I apprehend this gift to be the gift of the Son who lay in the Father’s bosom from all eternity, my sense of the love rises, and hence, also the character of my dwelling place. The communion of the soul is thus affected.
I know, indeed, from conversing with saints, that many a soul, through simplicity of faith, has a richer enjoyment of a lower measure of truth than some have of higher measures. But this does not affect the thoughts and reasonings of the Spirit in that epistle. It is still true that love is our dwelling place, and that our communion will therefore take its character from the love which we apprehend. And why, I ask, should we seek to reduce the power of communion and thus hazard our enjoyment in God? The sorrow lies in this (if one may speak for others), we but scantily care for the good things we have of Him.
The Son, the only begotten Son, the Son of the Father, emptied Himself that He might do the divine pleasure in the service of wretched sinners. But will the Father suffer it, that sinners for whom all this humiliation was endured, shall take occasion from it to depreciate the Son? This cannot be, as John 5:23 tells us. Jesus had declared that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. It is a question, Will God vindicate Him in that saying? And yet, He is scarcely justified in it by the thought of those who deny Sonship in the Godhead. But the Father will not receive honor if it be not rendered to the Son, as we read, “He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him” (John 5:23).
The Spirit was given, breathed out, by Jesus risen (John 20). The Holy Spirit then proceeded from Him, and in that way became the Spirit. But will it be thought that He was not “the Spirit” in the Godhead before? Never, by a saint. And so the Son. He was born of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and so became Son of God; but, in like manner, shall that affect the thought that He was “the Son” in the Godhead before?
Look again at John’s first Epistle. There he addresses “fathers,” “young men,” and “little children” (1 John 2). And he distinguishes between them:
The “fathers” are they who “have known Him that is from the beginning.” They abide in “the doctrine of Christ,” having “both the Father and the Son.” The unction is powerful in them, if I may so express it. They have listened, as it were, with deep attention of soul, to the declaration of the Father by the Son (John 1:18). Having seen the Son, they had seen the Father (John 14:7-11). They keep the words of the Son and of the Father (John 14:21-23). They know that the Son is in the Father, they in the Son, and the Son in them; they are not orphans (John 14:18-20).
The “young men” are they who “have overcome the wicked one,” that wicked one who animates the world with the denial of the mystery of the Christ (1 John 4:1-6). But they are not in the full settled power of that mystery as the “fathers” are, and they need exhortation; so that the apostle goes on to warn them against all that belongs to the world, as they had already stood in victory over that spirit in it which was gainsaying Christ.
The “little children” are they who “have known the Father.” But they are only “little children” and need warning, teaching, and exhorting. Their knowledge of the Father was somewhat immature; not so connected with the knowledge of the Son, of “Him that is from the beginning,” as was that of the “fathers.” He, therefore, warns them of antichrists, describing them as set against “the truth” or “the doctrine of Christ.” He teaches them that “whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2:23); that if the anointing they have received abide in them, they will surely abide in the Son and in the Father; and that the house of God was of such a character as that none who savored not of such anointing could remain there. He reminds them that the promise which the Son has promised is eternal life. And, finally, he exhorts them to abide in what the “unction” teaches, that they may not be ashamed in the day of the Son’s appearing.
It is, therefore, all about the person of the Son or “the doctrine of Christ,” that this distinguishing scripture deals. It is their attainment in that truth, their relationship to it, and not their general Christian character, which distinguishes them as fathers, young men, and little children. These addresses, therefore, hold in jealous view the great object of the whole epistle; and that is, the Son of God. For the mention of the Son of God pervades it all from beginning to end. Thus, it is the blood of the Son that cleanses. It is with the Father we have an Advocate; which intimates the Advocate to be the Son. It is in the Son the “unction” causes us to abide. It is the Son who has been manifested to destroy the works of the devil. It is in the name of the Son we are commanded to believe. It is the Son who has been sent to manifest what love is. It is the Son, faith in whom gives victory over the world. It is the Son about whom God’s record or testimony is. It is the Son in whom we have life. It is the Son who is come to give us an understanding. It is the Son in whom we are. It is the Son who is the true God and eternal life.
All this is declared to us in this epistle about the Son of God; and thus it is the Son who is the great object through the whole of it; and the fathers, the young men, and the little children are distinguished by the apostle because of their relation to that object, I believe, because of the measure of their souls’ apprehension of it. All is, in this way, divinely and preciously consistent.
And in this same epistle John speaks much of love and of righteousness as necessary parts or witnesses of our birth of God. But, in the midst of such teaching, He speaks of right or wrong confession of Christ. Does he, I ask, treat the former as living and practical matter and the latter as speculative? He gives no warrant to anyone thus to distinguish them. Not at all. All are treated as being equally of one character, and he lets us know that the exercise of love and the practice of righteousness would not complete the witness of a soul being born of God, without the knowledge and confession of the Son.
Had the opened eye of Isaiah tracked the path of Jesus through the cities and villages of his native land, how must he have been kept in continual adoration? He had been taken into a vision of His glory. He had seen the thrones high and lifted up, His train filling the temple, and the winged seraphim veiling their faces as they owned in Jesus the Godhead glory. Isaiah “saw His glory, and spake of Him” (Isa. 6; John 12). And it is the like sight, by faith, which we need—the faith of the Son, the faith of Jesus, the faith of His Name, the apprehension of His person, the sense of the glory, which lay behind a thicker veil than a seraph’s wing, the covering of the lowly and earth-rejected Galileean.
And let me, in closing, remember what the Lord says about giving the household their meat in due season (Matt. 24; Luke 12). We must be careful not to corrupt that meat. “Feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood,” (Acts 20:28) says one apostle. “Feed the flock of God which is among you,” (1 Pet 5:2) says another. And the church of God, or the flock of God, is to increase with “the increase of God” (Col. 2:19). Wondrous language!
Let us watch, beloved, against the attempt of the enemy to corrupt the meat of the household. The unfoldings of John about the Son of God and of Paul about the Church of God, are meat in due season now; and we are not to temper the food, stored up of God for His saints, to man’s taste or reasonings. The manna is to be gathered as it comes from heaven and brought home to feed the traveling camp with angels’ food.
“I commend you to God,” says one in the Holy Spirit, “and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).