W. H. Westcott.
Extracted from Scripture Truth magazine, Volume 8, 1916, page 281.
"No one knows the Son but the Father" (Matt. 11:27).
We are met on the threshold of any study as to the Person of the Son of God by this intimation of its vastness. Statements are made in the Holy Scriptures to enlighten our hearts regarding the One who has reconciled us to God, and has revealed the Father to us; but they are like an open heaven to us, sunlit and starry, ever full of new discoveries, and surrounding the saints with their benefits and lustre.
As, however, there are certain cardinal points in the mariner's compass, so there are certain great revelations in the Scriptures toward which the thoughts of the believer's heart may turn, reverent and adoring; where we may learn the Majesty of the Being who before He became Man subsisted in separate personality, eternal and Divine in the Godhead.
To touch upon such in their order in the New Testament we have:
JOHN 1. The Eternal Word.
PHILIPPIANS 2. The Form of God, and equality of glory.
COLOSSIANS 1. Creator Fulness for creation's sustenance and recovery.
HEBREWS 1. Glory incapable of diminution or change.
Humbly we touch on such themes.
In the Gospel by John the Spirit of God opens out to us the glories of the Word. As the Word, He is the universal Representative of all the mind and thoughts and ways of God, both in His own Person and by means of what He says and does. If at any time any revelation required, or requires, to be given of God's thoughts and plans and will, the revealing thereof took place, or will take place, through Him. We are to think of Him as the One adequate, and He alone, to fully disclose all that is in the mind of God, and to bring into being all that the mind of God has planned.
In the first verse, the Spirit goes back to all that is called "beginning," however nebulous this may be to the mind of man, and He shows us there that the Word "was." "In the beginning was the Word." This teaches us the eternity of His being. For whatever had a beginning, He had none; He only was. All else began; He subsisted when it did begin.
Secondly, the Scripture shows that, commensurate with the eternity of His being is the fact of His possessing separate personality. "In the beginning . . . the Word was with God." If the evangelist had written "the Word was in God," our foolish minds might have thought that just as Levi was (Heb. 7) in the loins of his father Abraham when Melchisedec met him and only received actual being later, so perhaps our Lord, the Son, the Word, had only received separate being at a special date in eternity. But the Holy Ghost is too jealous of His glory and too accurate in His words to admit this erroneous idea. "In the beginning . . . the Word was with God." As certain as the Eternity of His being is the separateness of His personality. There never was a time, however remote, when the Word was not with God, ever distinguishable from the Father as the Father, and from the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit. Yet there is no suggestion of a second Godhead, for though distinct in personality, He was with God.
Finally, as though to forbid for ever any comparison of Personalities or of glories in the Godhead, or in our conceptions of the Deity, He says "the Word was God." Whatever language the Lord used of Himself after He took a servant's form, or whatever terms might apply when He had become a Man, we should be utterly wrong in supposing that He held an inferior place in Deity before He came. This last clause in our verse is absolutely destructive of any idea of an inferior place in Godhead. "The Word was God"; and God cannot be inferior to God.
In one verse, Divine wisdom sums up His Eternity, His separate Personality, His absolute and equal position in the full glory of Godhead.
Another thing is added. Without bringing in any other title, He says, "The same (i.e. the Word) was in the beginning with God." That is, whatever other glories He possessed, there never was a period in the eternity past when He was not the Word. It is in this connection that the inspired evangelist adds, "All things were made by Him." The One who is the Expositor of the mind and thoughts of God, and who was capable of putting the imprint of God's thoughts into form, created the material universe, the "all things," that they might be the transcript of God's glory, so far as that could be in creation. All that we have around us, the immensities and wonders of space, the beauties and uses of light, and heat, of form, and colour, and sound, originally bore the impress of the glories of God through Him who was adequate in wisdom and glory and power to declare Him. Every element in earth, and sea, and sky, was designed to express some ray of the Creator's glory, — a well-stocked library in which the man who feared God might study His eternal power and Godhead.
The chapter goes on to speak of man's condition after he had fallen, and to show how the Word, ever true to His character as the living Exponent of God's mind, became flesh; to deal with sin in due time as the Lamb of God, to baptize men who had repented with the Holy Ghost, and to make Himself known to their hearts as the Son of God, the new and living Centre of all God's ways.
But let us pass on to Colossians, leaving Philippians 2 for later consideration
In the Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 1) it seems clear that the first fourteen verses are to prepare us for the contemplation of the glory of the Son of the Father's love from a fresh point of view. Much of this glory is true of Him as having become Man; but in the sixteenth and seventeenth verses we are faced with Godhead glory pure and simple. It is evident that the creation of thrones, etc., was prior to the date of the incarnation of our Lord; and His necessary condition of pre-eminence when He did become Man takes its rise in what He was ere He became such. He is the Firstborn (the most eminent) of all creation; "for by Him were all things created."
It is of the utmost importance to reverently study what is said of Him. By knowing Him as He is set before us in the Scriptures of truth we are fed and encouraged, and we are fortified against the too evident effort of many to depreciate His glories. It is said of Him that "He is before all things." This is a necessary truth, because of what was said just before, viz. that "by Him all things were created." We say that Jesus was born at Bethlehem. Yes; but who was He? The chief priests and scribes at Jerusalem, who ought to have known the truth, told part of it only. "Out of thee," they quoted, "shall come a Governor that shall rule My people Israel." But the quotation should have gone on, "whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5. 2). He comes into the creation, and the place of pre-eminence was His by right; but He who came is the One to whom creation owed its being, whose own glory is from everlasting.
Moreover, it is the Son to whom this operation is here attributed. He was the Son when He wrought the work. This relationship of Son with Father in Godhead glory is antecedent to the creation of everything. It is not a relationship originating in His immaculate birth, though as born into the world He is also styled "Son of God." But being Son in the inscrutable glory of Godhead, the Fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell in Him; He was capable of being the Image of the invisible God. While we may say in general terms that God created the heavens and the earth, we learn that the Godhead was pleased to act by Him who was Son. He was adequate and competent for this. There was no defect or inferiority in Him which would have rendered His work inefficient, or that would require it to be supplemented by some other agency. How great the Son must be! The Father is content to be revealed in the Son, and all His fulness is detailed in Him. The Father can be known, because He is revealed in the Son of His love. The Holy Spirit too, holy in character and infinite in power, is content to be set forth in the Son, and to bear witness to Him.
But the language in which His creative work is described is very wonderful, too wonderful for us to do more than love it and pray that we may understand it. There are three words (really) used in the sixteenth verse, "In Him were all things created . . . all things were created by Him, and for Him." We can humbly thank God for as much as we grasp of the "by Him," and of the "for Him." He is the Alpha and He is the Omega, the First and the Last. He is the Originator of the universe, and it is designed and built and governed so that in the end all will be found to have conduced to the furtherance, the working out, of His glory. But what is meant by the "in Him" at the beginning of the verse? The word used implies that He has set the stamp of His character upon what He has created. It is intended to exist and to operate in constant dependence upon Him, acting only as He wills it to act, and drawing for its subsistence and its sustenance upon the Fulness ever resident in Him.
For the purpose of the present paper we do not enter upon the question of whether the responsible creation failed in its responsibility. All that is considered in the chapter, and the difficulty met from the same inexhaustible Fulness. But in our verse we find that the whole creation, and all the authorities that were constituted in it in heaven and in earth, were created and ordered by Him with the impress of His Personality upon them. Himself the Image, the Representative, of God. These subordinate thrones and dominions and principalities and powers were created by Him, each to act in its own sphere and within its appointed scope, but all in dependence upon, and taking their character from, Him. "There is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God." They are not supreme in themselves, nor is any one of them self-sufficient so as to be independent of Him. We may feel how small we are in comparison of them; even earthly potentates seem inaccessible by reason of their greatness; but there is One higher than the highest; and they are all dependent upon and responsible to Him. Nor are we to think only of earthly powers; there are potentates in heaven of whom we know little or nothing. We read of them, "principalities and powers in heavenly places"; but though we know next to nothing of them, we learn that they are created to bear the impress of Christ's character, and are equally responsible to Him with their earthly compeers. But consider the greatness of the One on whom such a vast system of glories can hang, and upon whose fullness all may draw without turning to another! All resource is in Him, wisdom, power, love, and boundless good. All that is represented by thrones, and dominions, and principalities, and powers, — the rulers and the ruled, — may come and come again to this inexhaustible Person, and receive all nourishment, all support, all direction, without troubling to seek it from another or elsewhere. Such is the One who is available too for the church; but this is digression so immense that it must be left.
In Him then all the Fullness was pleased to dwell, in Him, the Son; and the creation of all subordinate authorities in the universe is only the working out into a peculiar form of the boundless fullness eternally pleased to dwell in Him. How foolish, how erring, the heart that looks to other quarters, or has hopes in other directions than Christ.
In Hebrews 1 the same glorious Person is the theme, seen in far-reaching glory from before the earliest creations down to the end of time, when all material creation will have served its purpose and will be changed. But He remains unchanged. He has assumed Manhood, and will never put that aside again; but what He ever was in the essential glory of His Person, He is, and ever will be. His becoming Man, and His fulfilling the many offices designed for Him by the will of God, does not in the least degree diminish His essential glory as the Son, or extinguish one ray of His bright blessedness.
By His Son, God made the worlds. But He by whom He made them is the brightness of His glory, the express Image of His Person, and He upholds all things by the word of His power. Nothing of this is lost by incarnation. These things are as true to-day as when He created the universe; they will be as true in eternity to come as they are true now. "Thou remainest . . . Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail." He is the One in whom every attribute of God's glory is realized, and is made effulgent; He is the exact impress of God's nature. It is not only that He has wrought marvellous works of wisdom and power, and upholds them all throughout the vast universe without weariness or intermission; but He is perpetually capable of representing to us the attributes and nature of God Himself. Not one distinguishing feature in the character of Deity but it finds its revelation and expression in the Son. God has spoken in Him. In knowing Christ we are set in the light of what God is. Nothing is withheld of the glory of God, for the Son is the shining forth of that glory, the bringing forth into visible expression of all that God is. It will be noted that this is not something which the Son became, or was made, in the course of time. Other glories connected with His work and His offices might have a beginning; but this of which we are now speaking is what is proper to Him as Son, the essential glory of His Person, true of Him before time began, and true of Him when time shall be no more.
The brief statement in Philippians 2. can only be understood in the light of other Scriptures. It speaks of Christ Jesus, who being in the Form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. We cannot issue an explanation of what is meant by the Form of God. It is beyond us even as God is beyond the creature. But with other scriptures in our hearts and hands we can say with certainty what it was not. The true rendering of the second half of the verse helps us: "He thought it not robbery (He did not esteem it rapine, or an object of rapine) to be equal with God." He was not in an inferior or subordinate position, like Lucifer or like Adam, to look up and crave after Godhead honours through lust of possession. No; being already in the Form of God, and possessed of the Godhead glories we have been considering, He could not crave after being what He was already. The Heir-apparent to the Throne of England does not lust after being the Prince of Wales, nor seek by ambition and robbery to attain that status. He is Prince of Wales by virtue of his family position. To Christ it was no robbery nor object of robbery to be equal with God. To humble Himself was possible; to exalt Himself to a higher level was not. And this mind was in Him; He humbled Himself, He emptied Himself, He did not appear with any of the insignia of His Royalty, He veiled His Godhead splendours, He came incognito among men and took the servant's form, that He might complete the path of obedience in Manhood even to the death of the cross.
How easy it becomes to reject error when possessed of the truth. We have lately seen a perversion of this passage foisted on Christian readers as follows: "Who being in the form of God, did not meditate a usurpation to be on an equality with God, but (contrariwise) made Himself of no reputation, etc. "To which is attached the wretched explanation . —
"Hence the Divine proposal to the Logos — that if He would become a man, taking the sinner's nature, but not participating in the sinner's weakness or sin, He might thus be the Redeemer of men and accomplish the Divine Will. Attached to this proposal was the promise that so great a manifestation of love, loyalty, and obedience to the Father would receive a great reward — an exaltation to the Divine nature, glory, honour, and immortality. Thus Jesus declared that for His faithfulness He had been rewarded by His Father with a place in His throne" (Rev. 3:21).
How base is the thought of man when brought to the test of the Word of God! The underlined words are underlined by ourselves. Does Scripture then not teach that the Word was first God, and then became flesh? Does Scripture not teach that in Him all the Fullness was pleased to dwell? Does Scripture not teach that after laying the foundations of the earth and making the heavens by the work of His hands He remains the same in essential glory throughout eternal years? Does Scripture not teach that the Son of Man ascended up where He was before? The Bible speaks of the humiliation of the Lord Jesus, and it speaks of His exaltation; but not in the terms of the theological explanation quoted above.
May we see the greatness of the glory from which the Son came, that so we may better understand the greatness of the humiliation of the Lord; and may be enabled the more to love the mind He showed and the pathway He took.