The Eternal Son
That Christ is Son of God no one who believes in Scripture can for a moment deny or question. But the moment we come to consider how and in what sense He is the Son of God, we begin not merely to encounter the strife of tongues with which unbelief has ever assailed His glorious Person, but to experience also the mystery of it, which faith itself most thoroughly confesses. Nor only this, but we find from Scripture this title of His as Son of God to be twofold—His title in Deity and His title in humanity; and we have got to ask ourselves its import in both ways, and to consider in what sense each scripture is speaking, if we would rightly understand what is revealed concerning Him.
This responsibility, it is plain, God puts upon us, and from it we must not seek escape,—that of understanding the word of God. People seek refuge from it in what they think simplicity, but which often is mere vacancy of thought. They believe the statements: they think it wise not to look too closely into them. They are so afraid of error that they dare not inquire as to the truth; but the truth itself is the only bulwark against error. “Thy words were found,” says the prophet, “and I did eat them; and Thy words were unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” (Jer. 15:16.) The strong expression intimates the kind of reception that the word of God requires,—to be laid hold of, broken up, analyzed, not the outside of it but all that is in it assimilated and made our own. Thus is it that it nourishes us, and we grow by it, and it becomes indeed the “joy and rejoicing of the heart.”
We cannot but remember that the Lord uses the same striking figure in reference to Himself. He is the bread of life: His flesh is meat indeed; and His blood is drink indeed. What a deceit of Satan has it not been to persuade the people of God that this is just the literal taking of the Lord’s Supper, or what is involved in it,—turning into partaking of an ordinance (even though they may qualify this by insisting on the necessity of faith) that which is the entering into and appropriating of Christ in His fulness for us. Here there is no death for us, but only life, and the strengthening and perfecting of the life which divine love has communicated to us.
For this we must seek to know, and ever better, the truth as to Christ. We could not know Him at all but by revelation: it is by revelation we must still go on to know Him. Texts are the thoughts of God in which He is enshrined for us,—the ministry of the Spirit of God (though not independent of His direct personal energy) to make Christ practically our own. Let us then search Scripture fervently and perseveringly, better to know the knowledge in which eternal life is; and may there be given to us with deepening knowledge a deepening joy in Him which shall be fuller communion with the Father, and power to reflect the brightness that we gaze upon.
Adam was by creation a son of God; and, though the fall has marred the likeness, yet the apostle could quote approvingly to the Athenians a “prophet of their own” that “we are His offspring.” (Acts 17:28, 29.) We are this, not merely because created by Him,—for He is not the Father of the beast,—but as possessors of a spiritual nature which fits us for companionship with Him who is Spirit. If “He maketh His angels spirits,” they too are spoken of as “sons of God.” (Heb. 1:7; Job 38:7.)
But “that holy Thing” born of Mary, the new Adam of a new creation, is affirmed to be “the Son of God” as not conceived in the ordinary way of nature, but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:35). And as Adam, while the father of his race, was yet from the divine side but the “First-born among many brethren,” so too is Christ among those “born of the Spirit” and thus “sons of God” upon a higher plane than that of nature. The “last Adam,” while, as this means, the Head of a race also, is yet the “First-born among many brethren.” (Rom. 8:29.)
This is not our theme at present, and I do not further dwell upon it here, except to observe that this is all the title “Son of God” implies when given to Christ, for some who earnestly protest against its being applied to Him as a divine Person. They urge that “Sonship” implies derivation and thus inferiority to the Father; and confounding the passages which speak of Him as begotten in time (Ps. 2:7) with those which we must presently consider, maintain that He is only “Son” in His official character.
But one direct text of Scripture outweighs all possible arguments; here surely if anywhere, where we know nothing but by revelation. And it is given as proof of the greatness of divine love, in one of the most familiar texts to all of us, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This by the Lord Himself; while the apostle who records it, preaches upon it in his epistle: “Herein was manifested the love of God towards us, because God sent His Only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9, 10).
The depth of this love is shown then in this, that the Father sent His Son into the world for us: it is perfectly plain then that Christ was the Son before He came into the world. The appeal to our hearts is simple, who know in ourselves, though fallen, something of what a father’s love is. And if we look back to the time when God was pleased to show forth in Abraham’s case something of the reality of sacrifice, we feel it as a trial beyond nature when we hear the measured words, every word an agony, “Take now thy son,—thine only son,—Isaac,—whom thou lovest; and go into the land of Moriah, and offer him up there a burnt offering upon one of the mountains I will tell thee of” (Gen. 22:2).
We can realize a little what this meant for Abraham. Should the glory of Deity hide from us somewhat or emphasize the appeal of that love in which “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all”? Could it make no difference to be told that “Son” is here no title of relationship; that it does not mean all and much more than it meant for Abraham?
Does not “His own Son” look as if it were meant to negative this, and to assure us that nothing less than real relationship could be intended?
But the apostle adds that it was “His only-begotten Son” whom He sent forth; and if the title “Firstborn” shows that He has “brethren,” that of Only-begotten as decisively excludes them. He was this before He came forth,—eternally the Son, and thus divinely: of course, without fellows. The “Only-begotten” shows that He was Son by nature; and we must not leave out any part of that by which the Spirit of God has chosen to set Him forth. Here the stranger the term looks as relating to the blessed Lord, the more closely must we adhere to what is certainly scripture. Here our thoughts can only follow, and not lead: we are safe under the guidance of the Spirit of God,—safe nowhere else.
Moreover the apostle John is the only inspired writer applying this term to the Lord, and he is known by all as the one whose special theme is His divinity. He introduces it also in the very place in which he speaks of the glory of God which has been now unveiled for us in Christ: “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). This is the common version; but the expressions are really stronger than these words convey. The word “dwelt” is really “tabernacled,” thus carrying us back to that tabernacle or tent in which of old God had gone with His people. The tabernacle now is that “flesh” or humanity of Christ, in which the Word, who is God, was pleased to dwell among us. Thus the glory is divine glory; but with Israel of old it was veiled,—it is now unveiled: “we beheld His glory.” What was it like? It was “glory as of an Only-begotten with a Father”—“from with,” literally: it was just that character of glory, as of an Only-begotten come from the place which yet He never left, of perfect nearness in relationship and love to God as Father.
This in its effect for us the eighteenth verse expresses: “the Only-begotten Son who is”—literally, “the One being” or “abiding”—“in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (told Him out). The unchanging intimacy of the eternal relationship is here that which qualifies Him as the perfect Revealer of God; according to what He was before made known to us to be—“the Word made flesh.”
Thus we have the sweetest and most competent Witness of God that can be,—ourselves put in the place of children to the Father, that we may be fit to receive such a communication. There is thus made for us a little heaven within, as for the earth the firmament of the second day, through which the glorious Heaven beyond may shine in upon us. Not from afar off, nor in cold luster, but with the warmth with which our Sun, the Ruler of the day, blesses and gladdens us. Love which is Light: such is the revelation. How could we do without those precious words “Son” and “Father,” back of all dispensations, all economic display, to show what is the nature of God in itself eternally,—the absolute verity of that which has now been revealed?
He is not “love” for an occasion, however great may be the occasion. Nor is the Son become Son for display, however glorious. The Father had no beginning as the Father; nor the Son therefore as the Son. If otherwise, then after all we have not a revelation of eternity, nor of God as He is, but only as He is pleased to become—a very different thing. Thank God, it is not so. We know how God dwelt in love eternally: we have the Object of that love made known to us; we are made to know, not eternal silence in the House which now has such glorious music for returned prodigals, but a communion into which we are now admitted, and are privileged in our measure to become partakers.
Nay, the very relationship taken up on earth, as First-born of the heavenly family, is but, as now we can see, the representation of the eternal relationship upon an earthly plane, where the “many brethren” may realize and rejoice in it. The eternal reality embodies itself in time, and is made, as far as possible, visible to us. The reaching forth of divine love to us—its eagerness to have us enter into it, how it is seen in all this.
We shall not here dwell longer upon it; but when we fully receive the blessed truth of “the Word made flesh,” we shall find from this humanity of His itself divine light break forth for us,—“that Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us,” and “the Life the Light of men.”
 For example, Adam Clarke and Albert Barnes, the commentators.
 It has been said that μονογενhς, “only-begotten” is the word used by the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew jachid or “only one,” (in Psa. 22:20; 35:17, ) “darling” in the common version. But this cannot rule as to the inspired Greek of the New Testament, which is precise and accurate, as the Septuagint is often far from being; and least of all can it do so in what relates to the Person of the Son of God. [Note by bibelcentre: for more detail on the term 'only-begotten' please refer to these articles: The Sonship of Christ by Robert F Wall, and The Only-Begotten Son by Arend Remmers.]
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