By H. Forbes Witherby.
Distinction between child and son — the sonship given after the accomplishment of redemption — the spirit of sonship and that of bondage incompatible — because of sonship believers are in a peculiar way associated with the Son of God — how the favor of sonship is realised.
The term child may convey to the mind either an infant or a full-grown child, male or female. The term son is distinctive, and implies position and privilege. In the East, where the son is regarded with especial favor, the peculiar place in the family which he occupies helps us to enter into the spiritual signification of our sonship.
A wealthy man might go to an orphanage, and from the fatherless there adopt a lad for his son. The orphan so adopted would not be in the relationship of child to his benefactor, but would, by the favor shown him, become possessed of the privileges of the home. The adopted son would be treated as a child, and be made heir of the estate; he would also call his benefactor father, who would stand in the stead of a father to the orphan; but the favor of the adoption would be quite distinct from the natural relationship of a child.
Child conveys the thought of relationship, son that of title. We are born of God, of His word and His Spirit, and so have become His children, and by virtue of the new birth are of His family; we receive the gift of sonship in addition, and thereby enter into the special privileges of our christian position. Christians are both children and sons, the relationship and the privileges are both theirs.
After redemption was effected the people of God received the gift of sonship. The Gentiles without law were not in relationship to God at all. The Jews under the law were not sons, they were minors. But when the Lord rose from among the dead, tutors and governors, legal restraint and infancy, were over, and God's people were free. From everlasting, in the purposes of God, His people were predestined to the adoption through the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5), and now the adoption is a present privilege. The fulness of the time has come, the purposes of God in the law are accomplished, the Son has been sent forth; He has redeemed them who were under the law, and the favor of the adoption is bestowed upon the children of God — upon all who have received the Son.
Risen from among the dead, the early words of the Lord were, "Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God." (John 20:17.) This message communicated to a willing heart, almost at the mouth of the empty sepulchre, is for us today as much as it was for the disciples eighteen hundred years ago. However, if any christian should have thoughts akin to those of the believers of Galatia to whom the apostle wrote, the record is, "Thou art no more a servant, but a son." (Gal. 4:7.) The privilege is that of the believer, whether he realises it or not.
The time of bondage is past, its long night is gone by. When the Lord rose from the dead the day of the liberty of sonship was the joy of the people of God. Sonship is not attained by God's people, it is theirs by free favor, it is theirs by gift; just as it would be by favor that the orphan entered the rich man's home and became his adopted son. That son of adoption would ill requite his benefactor's goodness, who instead of running to his bosom and calling him father, spent his days in questioning whether after all he was adopted. With boldness let us believe what God says, and delight in His privileges and favors, for it is written, Ye are all the sons (lit.) of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26.) Let us note, we do not obtain the new birth by faith; it is not said we are all the children of God by faith, for we are His children by being born anew; but when we believe, every privilege is ours; we are not in position or in privilege infants, but sons. It is not faith in the truth as to our privilege where by we receive the position of sons, but faith in Christ; all believers now are in this favored position, because of the purposes of God respecting the Son in whom they believe.
The spirit of sonship is incompatible with that of bondage. Indeed, speaking experimentally, the believer who has not the conscious knowledge of liberty does not in his heart realise what sonship is. The son knows what are his father's purposes; the father rejoices to communicate to him his mind. Now that the Lord has died and risen, the time fixed by God for the training and restraint of the minors is fulfilled. When the Lord died, man in his condition was demonstrated to be dead — "If one died for all, then were all dead" (2 Cor. 5:14); and there for ever, to faith, is the end of doing in order to please God. Christ risen is our life, and ours is intelligent liberty in the life, which He has given us.
The old legal spirit of terror at the contemplation of God, is no more, and in its stead is the holy drawing near to Him as Father. Every thought which would jar against this liberty must be regarded as contrary to the gospel, and as dishonor to the grace wherein we stand. To indulge in such a spirit is the way to place our necks again under the yoke of bondage, and to deny our sonship. There is a holy dignity in sonship; to the son the highest privileges of the family belong, and the son should comport himself according to his position.
By reason of sonship we are associated with the Son of God in a peculiar manner. Great favors are ours, and the favors bestowed upon us enhance the glories of the Son. It is not only that we are privileged, blessed as that is, but our privileges add lustre to His glory. Let us not lose sight of this fact. We have to measure our privileges by the standard of the exceeding glory of the Lord's work of death, and His resurrection from among the dead. Lean thoughts of Christ bring leanness into our souls. So far as we miss the sense of the privileges, we miss glorifying the Son. Christian liberty is no selfish thing. It is not simply, I am blessed," but the liberty of the blessing leading the freed heart to glorify the Son. and His God and Father. No favor of God bestowed upon His people is incomprehensible when viewed in the light of the glory of the risen Jesus.
A believer under the law brought the lamb of his sacrifices to the altar, and by so doing, not only found by his obedience rest from the burden of his transgression, but by his faith glorified God and the coming sacrifice of the cross. Such a believer could not glorify God and a finished sacrifice, and a risen Christ. His faith went up to what was revealed, and what would take place. Now, a believer under grace brings no sacrifice to the altar, but rejoices in Christ, who has been crucified, and not only so, but in Christ who is risen from among the dead, and is glorified. He rejoices in the liberty of the truth of complete redemption. His faith goes up to what is revealed of what is accomplished.
A doubtful mind as to the sacrifice, or as to its efficacy for ourselves personally, is the spirit of bondage. An unbelieving spirit, which tries to do in order to gain God's favor, is bondage, and every shade of such a spirit, from its palest tints to its deepest dyes, is dishonor to the Son, and the redemption He has wrought, and to His own resurrection.
We realise the favor which is ours by the indwelling Spirit, but the things are ours because Christ has wrought them. The things themselves exist, and are secured to us by virtue of His work; our joy in them, experimentally, results from the Spirit being within us. And because of the privileges, which are ours through our Lord's work, we are sons; and hence it is that God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Gal. 4:6.)
God has connected us in privilege with His own Son. These privileges are not earthly, though we enjoy them here, but heavenly; we are associated with Christ risen. If we fail to enter into the fulness of the Lord's work for us, we also fail to enter into the measure of our privileges. By His work we are delivered from the system and principles of the world, which hold souls in bondage, for He "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God our Father." (Gal. 1:4.) And the Spirit of the Son, who is with the Father, is sent forth into our hearts. This is more than the pardon of sins, it is liberty from the things which God's people are toiling as men in the flesh to obey, before knowing what the resurrection of Christ signifies, and before believing that the Spirit of God is their power.
Because we are sons, the same Spirit, who is in the Son of God's love, abides in us, and gives us to know consciously the blessing which is ours; for as the Son is, in the favor of God, so are we in this world. A boy who is taken up from the streets, and adopted into a noble home, would be a long time before he could with ease and in freedom partake of the good things of his surroundings: but the christian is taken up, out of the ruin of this world, and brought into the favor of God; and the Spirit of God is sent forth, so that his spirit may be in unison with his privileges. The Holy Ghost produces the feelings within him, which are according to God; and these feelings so produced are those of the sons in whom He dwells.
When the Spirit of God is unhindered in His gracious work in the believer, the adopted son enters into the thoughts of God his Father, and bears upon him in his life and ways the stamp of christian privilege. This expresses itself in the son by having first become his in the innermost recesses of his soul. The reality has entered into him, and, passing through his soul, tells its own tale wherever he may go. The consciousness of the reality of the favor to us is ours, in proportion as it has become ours individually by the work of God the Holy Ghost within us; and that work is or is not progressive according as we do or do not yield ourselves to Him.
Let us remember that the favor of the adoption precedes the gift of the Holy Ghost: "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts." The privilege is ours by virtue of what Christ has done in redemption, and by His resurrection; and the experience of the privilege results from the indwelling of the Spirit of God in us. Privileges and experiences of them must not be confounded.