Concluding Remarks: Sonship and Service: Chapter 16

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IN the course of our meditations upon the "Son of His love" we have surely learned that in that Blessed One, the Mediator of God and men, we possess a perfect representative of God Who is love, since He, the Son, is God, the fullness of Godhead dwelling in Him abidingly. Moreover, He is the Son Who reveals the Father to whomsoever He will (Matt. 11:2727All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)).
This manifestation by the Son was made “in flesh." “The Word became flesh." The Incarnate Son appeared among men to accomplish atonement and to set forth the revelation of His Father “in the days of His flesh." “In Him is no sin," but” God, having sent His own Son in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh " (Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3)). The Son at the close of His earthly ministry said to the Father, " I have completed the work which Thou gavest Me that I should do it " (John 17:44I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:4)). We honor the Son, therefore, even as we honor the Father, honoring Both as being equal in the Deity.
Now, the transcendent glory of the obedience of Christ which He carried as far as death, even the death of the cross, lies in the fact that being the Eternal Son He deigned to enter into that relationship of submission for the glory of God. Being Son in the Godhead and exempt from all obligations and conditions of servitude, He became the Servant of God, of Jehovah. To this end, He “emptied Himself, taking a bondman's form, taking His place in [the] likeness of men “(Phil. 2:77But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (Philippians 2:7)).
But while the Holy Spirit in Philippians describes graphically how One "in the form of God," a Divine Person, took the "form of a servant," or bondslave, we nowhere in scripture read that He took "the form of a Son," though scripture witnesses that in His incarnation He was still the Son, but not Child.
To the place of subjection, the Blessed One “descended," for He chose to become the Righteous Servant of Jehovah, but all scripture is silent as to His becoming the Son. Being the Son, He both willed and submitted to be sent, and being sent, He did the will of Him that sent Him. “Though He were Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:88Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (Hebrews 5:8)). His obedience was more than the obedience of a Servant; it was the obedience of the Son-an obedience, moreover, which He learned in the school of suffering.
The New and Strange Doctrine
This unique excellence of the obedience of Christ appears to be obscured, if not entirely obliterated, by doctrines much in vogue now in some quarters. It seems to be held that “Son” is applied to our Lord in the sense of “Servant," subjection being, it is said, denoted by sonship, and for this reason Sonship could not be true of our Lord before His incarnation.
The following quotation from J.T. is a definite doctrinal statement to this effect, denying the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ: "Scripture teaches, as has been variously pointed out in recent years, that while His Person remains unchanged, the sonship of our Lord denotes subjection, and thus does not rightly apply to Him in pre-incarnate Deity, when He was eternally in the form of God, which cannot imply subjection." (The italics are in the original statement.)
This statement contains the substance of one of the main arguments of the Unitarians who deny the Deity of the Lord Jesus, maintaining that since the Lord asserted His own Sonship, He by this, His own confession, took a subordinate place, and therefore could not be the Supreme God. The teaching quoted above also maintains that “sonship," since it denotes subjection, does not and cannot apply to the Lord in His pre-incarnate Deity. Thus, while they differ widely in other matters, they both agree with the enemies of the Lord in denying His eternal Sonship, and for the same insufficient reason.
The reason adduced (that sonship "denotes subjection") is without support from scripture, where in general usage, as we shall seek to show, sonship frequently denotes dignity, character, nature, and privilege, rather than subjection. And, therefore, since sonship does not invariably in scripture denote subjection, their argument falls to the ground.
For example, we read in Psa. 72:1717His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. (Psalm 72:17) (margin). “His name shall be as a son to continue his father's name forever." The son, here, is he who transmits fully and faithfully to a future generation the dignity and excellency of the father. Again, Moses refused to be “called the son of Pharaoh's daughter” (Heb. 11:2424By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; (Hebrews 11:24)); he surrendered the dignities of the royal court of Egypt, where he was recognized as a “son," not as a “servant."
Sons are those who reproduce the typical or distinctive traits of their fathers, and this sense of parental representation is often used in moral matters. Thus, the “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:22Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: (Ephesians 2:2)) are those whose conduct displays disobedience as definitely as a son resembles a father. Barnabas exhibited the features of consolation so clearly that he was called “the son of consolation “(Acts 4:3636And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, (Acts 4:36)). The Lord said that the Jews were of their “father, the devil," because they did his lusts and his deeds showing thereby their moral origin (John 8:41-4541Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. 42Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. 43Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. 44Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. (John 8:41‑45)).
There are many similar phrases, such as, sons “of light," "of this age," "of the resurrection," "of perdition," "of the prophets," "of the covenant," and the like, where character and nature are denoted, but not subjection and service.
The truth is that the new theory which claims that “sonship” denotes subjection confuses the scriptural distinction between “son” and “servant." Subjection is a feature which is essential to the character of a servant, but exceptional and voluntary in the case of a son. A son may consent to become a servant, but a servant cannot elevate himself to become a son. When the son obeys, his obedience is that of a son, and not of a servant.
The Son Learned Obedience
The teaching of scripture concerning our Lord is that He, the Son, at His incarnation came into the place of subjection or obedience. It was in that place of assumed relationship that He “learned” to submit to the will of Him Who had sent Him. "Though He were Son, yet learned He obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:88Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (Hebrews 5:8)). The personal dignities and glories of Him Who is the Son and Who assumed the conditions of subjection and suffering are previously unfolded in the same Epistle (Heb. 1). He Who is there shown to be God and Jehovah as well as Son learned obedience from the things which He suffered. Does not the essential glory of His Person magnify His obedience beyond all comparison and elevate His submission to an unexampled excellence?
Subjection was foreign to the nature of the Eternal Son, yet He learned obedience when incarnate. The absurdity of the assertion that subjection is denoted by the word, Son, is seen at once when applied to this passage, substituting those words for the word “Son." The statement of the Messianic glory is converted into a mere platitude by this change: “Though He were in subjection, yet learned He obedience from the things which He suffered." How commonplace! The one who is subject must obey. The emphatic force of “though," which means “notwithstanding the fact that," is lost. The glory of the obedient Son has departed from the passage when the eternity of the Sonship is denied!
This gratuitous suggestion is a real dishonor done to the Lord in the circumstances of His humiliation. If sonship “denotes subjection," as they say, then obedience is the normal duty of the Son, and if He does the things commanded Him, He is not worthy even to be thanked (Luke 17:43). If His obedience cost Him suffering, does not every good soldier endure hardness (2 Tim. 2:33Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3))? By this faulty interpretation of Sonship as applied to our Lord, the true significance of Heb. 5:88Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (Hebrews 5:8) is perverted, and the glory of the obedience of the Son is reduced to the level of the faithfulness of a servant.
The subjection described in this text was exceptional and unequaled because it was found in One Who obeyed, “though He were Son." His personal status exempted Him from all obligation to be subject, yet He obeyed. Of His own voluntary will, He undertook the position and responsibilities of a bond-servant. The Son becoming subject was a glorified excellence unparalleled in the history of creation; and this excellence the Holy Spirit delineates and magnifies, especially in the Gospel of Mark and in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Sonship Denotes Liberty Not Bondage
Here again, we find that the dictum that sonship "denotes subjection" does not hold good; for, in this passage, sonship is placed in contrast with subjection or bondage. Under the law, the Israelite was in bondage, held in subjection to its rites and ceremonies by its threatened curse; he was a bond-servant. Under grace, however, the believer is delivered from the bondage of the law, and his obedience is not constrained, but spontaneous and delightful, the obedience not of a slave, but of a son, crying Abba, Father from the heart; in its character it is the obedience of Christ, unto which he is sanctified (1 Peter 1:22Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)). "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master " (Mal. 1:66A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? (Malachi 1:6)); and the subjection of the Son was perfect, as He said Himself, "I honor My Father," and "I have kept My Father's commandments" (John 8:49; 15:1049Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honor my Father, and ye do dishonor me. (John 8:49)
10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10)
). He Who was the Eternal Son became the Servant-Son.
Sonship Denotes Community of Nature
“Son” only “denotes subjection” in childhood and in the adolescent stage, before maturity is reached. When full-grown or fully developed, the son is competent to represent the father, because he corresponds in nature and qualities with the father. The son, therefore, in normal conditions, is considered not inferior but equal to the father, and able to maintain the prestige of the family. This sense agrees with scriptural usage of the word, son.
In this representative sense, Isaac is called the son of Abraham. Three times God described Isaac as Abraham's “only son” (Gen. 22:2, 12, 162And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Genesis 22:2)
12And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (Genesis 22:12)
16And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: (Genesis 22:16)
). Ishmael and the children of Keturah are disregarded, not being in any degree representatives of the father in the line of divine promise. Isaac alone was the true seed, and the witness of Eliezer concerning him was, “Unto him hath he (Abraham) given all that he hath” (Gen. 24:3636And Sarah my master's wife bare a son to my master when she was old: and unto him hath he given all that he hath. (Genesis 24:36)). Abraham's faith and pious character were reproduced in Isaac, so that he was Abraham's son in the ideal sense of possessing community of nature and character with his father in a manner that “the son of the bondwoman” did not.
In the Mount Moriah incident, this communion of interest and voluntary obedience are beautifully seen in Abraham and Isaac; twice we read, “They went both of them together” (Gen. 22:6, 86And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:6)
8And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:8)
). Though there were two servants and the ass, Isaac bore the wood for the burnt-offering. Though some twenty-five years of age, he consented to be bound by Abraham and laid upon the altar. The ready obedience of the son is most marked in the history, but under what exceptional circumstances! Whenever was there such absolute submission demanded of a son? But Abraham's faith and obedience to God had their facsimile or counterpart in the behavior of Isaac. And the outstanding marvel of Isaac's obedience is that he was a son, not a servant. There was an identity of nature and character between him and Abraham, which was the cause of his filial submission, and in which he exhibited a like piety to his father.
Christ Jesus the Servant-Son
It was Christ's eternal Sonship that imparted the incomparable character to His service on earth. In the Godhead there is uniformity of will, and therefore no subjection of One to Another. In Deity, the Son knew no subjection, but on earth, “though He were Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." In the lowly place of subjection which He assumed, the Son chose to receive commandments from the Father and to be obedient to them with infinite dispatch and infinite delight. What obedience could match this in kind or in degree?
Taking upon Him the subject-state by His incarnation, the Son was perfected in all the relations that were proper to His subjection, and He became the Author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him (Heb. 5:8,98Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 9And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; (Hebrews 5:8‑9)). As in Deity the will of the Son constantly coincided absolutely with the will of the Father, so a like unanimity was preserved when He became a bond-servant. And this display of unvarying obedience to the Father's glory was made not in a sinless heaven but in a sinful earth, not by an archangel, the most exalted of servants, but by the Son of the Father's love, in Whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
However distinguished the service of an angel, it could never be more than the obedience of a servant. But the obedience of Christ was the obedience of One Who had the more excellent name of Son, and Who was under no obligation to obey. His due place in God's house was that of “Son over His house," His Person giving Him absolute supremacy. Moses, famous lawgiver and leader though he was, rose no higher than a ministering servant in that house (Heb. 3:5, 65And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; 6But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:5‑6)).
The Son Is the Creator of All Things
It is not true that the “sonship of our Lord denotes subjection," except that the Son at the appointed time assumed the place of a Servant. Subsisting ever in the form of God, He took the bondman's form, becoming obedient even as far as death, the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-85Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5‑8)). Col. 1:15-1715Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:15‑17) definitely attributes the whole work of creation to the Son of the Father's love, which, of necessity, was accomplished in pre-incarnate Deity. The work of reconciliation (Col. 1:18-2218And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: (Colossians 1:18‑22)) is the work of the Son in incarnate Deity. The same Person, the Son of the Father's love, acts throughout, and yet we are told that Sonship “does not rightly apply to Him in pre-incarnate Deity." Surely, those who make such an assertion do not “continue in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:2424Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)). They claim “new light," but it is only the light of their own fire and of the sparks they themselves have kindled.
“Whosoever goes forward and abides not in the doctrine of the Christ has not God. He that abides in the doctrine, he has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 99Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 9)).