1. — Introductory Remarks: coming forth from the Father

[Note. — Most of the quotations of Scripture in the Papers are taken from J. N. Darby's New Translation]

The series of papers which follow were written in the humble attempt to consider afresh what scripture teaches concerning the Eternal Sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ. This doctrine has been recently denied, and the denial of a cherished belief regarding One Whom we love and revere and adore touches our deepest sensibilities, and stirs our whole being to defence.

The first impulse of our renewed nature is to resent such a denial as a deadly affront to the glory of the Essential Being of our Blessed Lord, and to reject the implication as one of the many phases of anti-Christian doctrine against which we are warned. And, indeed, an unhesitating refusal to entertain for even a moment anything derogatory to the Son of God is an effective safeguard for the simple saints; by turning at once from what appears to be evil, they are preserved from error and its defilement.

But, in the second place, while there is safety in being simple as to evil, the apostle exhorts us to be wise also concerning that which is good (Rom. 16:19). And we remember that to this end the scriptures alone are able to make us "wise to salvation" from the erroneous teachings of men. For this reason, special reference has been made to this authority in these papers, particularly to those words of our Lord and to that witness of the Spirit, which bear upon the pre-incarnate Sonship.

It has been sought to avoid mere carnal contention, and to weigh every written word of God in a spirit of meekness and godly fear, and to receive these profound unfoldings as in the presence of Him to Whose Person they refer. It is always a salutary experience for our souls when the bold challenges of the enemy drive us to the feet of our Lord for instruction. When Hezekiah received the letter of the king of Assyria reproaching the living God, he sought the presence of Jehovah of hosts, and the Lord heard and answered his prayer for guidance and deliverance (Isa. 37).

The modern challenge of reproach is that the names of God revealed in the New Testament — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — do not apply to Him in the Godhead or Deity. It is said, for example, with reference to these names of the Trinity: "To insist that this order, and the relation of the Persons to One Another, including the names attaching to Them thus seen, are the same as existed in the pre-incarnate absolute (this word is used as the converse of relative) conditions of Deity, is to force or disregard scripture, and is intruding into things we have not seen."

The gist of this long sentence is that in the pre-incarnate "conditions" of Deity there was, according to their view of scripture, no relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is implied that these relations, expressed in the threefold Name (Matt. 28:19), are associated with the incarnation of our Lord, and that it was then that He became the Son. This latter part of the threefold denial we now wish to examine in the light of scripture.

Coming Forth from the Father

What did our Lord Himself say with regard to His own appearance in this world? Not many of His utterances relate to His pre-incarnate state; but to those that do, we must pay the utmost heed, yet seeking in them to find food for the heart rather than material for the intellect. One word of His, which declared that He was the Son before His entrance into the world, would be sufficient to establish the truth for us, regardless of all human reasoning to the contrary.

In the closing sentences of His farewell instructions to His disciples on the night of His betrayal, the Lord made reference to His coming into the world, and also to His departure out of it. He had come from a Person to a place, and was leaving that place to return to that Person. He named the Person — the Father; and the place — the world. His words were: "I came out from the Father and have come into the world; again I leave the world and go to the Father" (John 16:28).

Here we have the fact of the incarnation, viewed from its divine side and described as coming into the world. The Son is speaking of what He Himself is inwardly cognizant, or Self-conscious, as it is sometimes expressed. So, on another occasion, the Lord said to the Pharisees, "I know whence I came and whither I go" (John 8:14). Now, to "His own," He declares more explicitly whence He came, but not from a place: "I came forth from beside the Father." Then He adds that He was going away to the same Person from Whom He came out — the Father.

It is evidently implied in these words that the relationship of Father subsisted before He (the Son) came out from Him. And the same pre-incarnate relationship stands revealed in the Lord's frequent saying that the Father sent Him (the Son); see John 5:30, 37; John 6:29; John 8:16, 18; John 10:36; John 12:49; John 14:24. The sense of these passages, without forcing their meaning, is plain and unmistakable that the Lord came forth from the One Who was the Father, and came into the world; and that He was sent into the world by the One of Whom He speaks both as "the Father" and as "My Father" (John 10:29; John 14:28; John 20:17, 21).

The relationship, then, of Father and Son existed before the great errand of the Son was undertaken in incarnation. So, illustratively, Jesse was father and David was son before the latter appeared in the camp of Israel with his present of food (1 Sam. xvii). How the gift was enhanced in value because the bearer from Bethlehem was, not the servant but, the son of the giver!

But in describing His incarnation by the words, "I came out (exerkomai) from the Father" more is taught than the separate existence of the Two Persons and that the Father was known to Him as Father before that coming. The name, Father, is not a mere abstract term, but a name pregnant with the deepest and most precious spiritual meaning. Coming forth from the side of the Father, the Son came into the world enjoying the full communion of the Father's deep affection, the Father's secret will, the Father's eternal counsel. As He said, "I and the Father are One" (John 10:30).

Coming Forth from God

Again, Sonship is a relation to God as well as to the Father, and the Lord referred to both names on this occasion. He spoke first as the Son abiding in intimate communion with His Father during His lowly service in the world; and He made known to His disciples the special love the Father had for them because they had believed on Him, the Son, while the world at large disowned and hated Him. He said encouragingly to them, "The Father Himself has affection for you, because ye have had affection for Me, and have believed that I came out (exerkomai) from God" (16:27).

What gracious words of appreciation are these, addressed, as they were, to those who that same night "all forsook Him and fled!" The Lord recorded with appreciation their affection for Himself, the "despised and rejected of men," which had drawn out the Father's affections to them. He also noted their faith that He had come forth from beside God; He did not say, from the Father. Their faith had not reached this point. The measure of their attainment in knowledge was small, for the Holy Spirit had not yet come. But they had received by faith the Lord's own teaching, "I came forth from God and am come [from Him]" (John 8:42).

This last sentence is remarkable in its twofold bearing. "I proceeded forth from God" expresses the Son's august movement in the Godhead. "I am come" expresses His historical appearance in the world. In the Godhead, He had His Own place, being "over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:5). Yet from God, He came, as He said; but not as One apart from God, for "God was in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:19). Though come in flesh, He still comprehended in Himself all that God is in light and love; for God is light and God is love (1 John 1:5; 1 John 4:16).

Oh, the marvels of grace! Such a divine Plenipotentiary as this coming forth from God could be none other than His Son, God manifest in flesh. This Sonship of the living God, Simon Bar-jonas, taught by the Father's revelation, confessed, and was blessed in doing so (Matt. 16:16). And other lips may own Him too, for "whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15).

It will have been observed that in the New Testament the "Son of the Blessed" is sometimes named "the Son of God," and sometimes "the Son" simply. Each form is appropriate to its context, where its special significance must be sought. As a general distinction with varying shades of meaning, "Son of God" appears to be the name expressive of His coming forth from God, while "Son" is the name expressive of His coming forth from the Father; He is the Son of the Father, the Son of His love (2 John 3; Col. 1:13).

Coming Forth and Being Sent

In pursuing the teaching of the Holy Spirit on this theme, we must not overlook the distinction made in scripture between the Son's coming from God and the Father, and His being sent by God and the Father. Both truths bear upon the Son's pre-incarnate existence, but their distinctness is emphatic, especially when they occur in the same sentence.

Thus, in speaking to His Father, the Son said of His disciples, "The words which Thou hast given Me I have given them, and they have received [them], and have known truly that I came out from Thee, and have believed that Thou sentest Me" (John 17:8). And, to the Jews, the Lord said, "I came forth from God, and am come from Him; for neither am I come of Myself, but He has sent Me" (John 8:42). In both passages, the coming and the sending are named separately and in the same sequence.

It is of the first importance to observe that one statement is supplementary to the other, and not a mere repetition in different words. In His coming forth, the Son acted in His own Personal rights and of His own will; in His being sent, the Son came into the world as the accredited Delegate of God.

"Coming forth" (exerkomai) is rarely applied to departure from a person; it more often means leaving a place, as, for instance, when the Lord came out of Pilate's judgment hall: "Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe" (John 19:5). In the Old Testament (LXX), however, we have an instance of this verb being used for departure from a person. We read that "Moses went out (came forth, exerkomai) from Pharaoh" (Ex. 8:30; Ex. 10:18).

This record of the incident may serve to illustrate (though illustration is scarcely needed) the saying of our Lord. But attention is drawn to two persons in each case. In Egypt, Moses, the servant of God, came away from Pharaoh, the obstinate king. In the Lord's words, "I came forth from the Father," there are two Persons antecedent to the coming, the incarnation — "I" and the Father. The "I" is the Son, and He was along with the Father before He came forth from Him. The Father was there, and if the Father, the Son was there also in blessed filial relationship to Him.

The Son came out from God and the Father into the world, where creature measurements of time and space apply. But in the Godhead such terms have no application, and in that timeless and boundless state where the Deity is all, the Father and Son abide in continuous union and communion. Then, in the fullness of time, from God, from the Father, the Son came forth, and came into the sphere of creation.

In like manner, two Persons are involved in the act of sending — the Sender and the Sent: and "the Father sent the Son to be Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14). "The Son" was what He was before sending; the "Saviour of the world" was what He was to become when sent. In this verse, the pre-incarnate Sonship of our Lord lies upon the surface as it does in other passages also.

From God and From the Father

The knowledge of the Father and the Son was not made known to Jehovah's earthly people. And by this revelation of His own Personal relations to God and the Father, the Lord laid the foundation of the heavenly character of Christianity. It was His closing word to His disciples, for whom He had kept the "good wine" until the end.

Having been rejected by Israel and the world as the Messiah and the Son of God, He declared Himself as come from the Father. In Him, the Son, were hidden reserves of blessing superior to the promises made to Abraham, and to all God's dispensational dealings with the earth. And the Lord linked these revealing words with the affection the Father had for them, because they had affection for the Son, and had also believed that He came out from God.

It was to this faith of theirs that He had come out from God that the Lord added the knowledge that He had come forth from the Father, and, again, that He was departing out of the world to the Father (John 16:27-28). They were thus put into possession of these secret divine relations, though they little dreamed what wealth of blessing for them was embodied therein and would be derived therefrom. For the knowledge of t he Father and the Son was the basis of the truth which the Holy Spirit at His coming would confirm and develop for them and within them during the Lord's absence.

Moreover, the Lord Himself had reserved something further which He would say to them concerning God and the Father before He ascended to the Father. After His death and resurrection, His first message to His own related to God and the Father. It not only reminded them of His farewell words on this theme, but added that henceforth they should share in that relationship. To Mary of Magdala the Lord said, "Go to My brethren, and say to them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God" (John 20:17).

Later, we note a further stage. When the Holy Spirit, through Paul, revealed to the church the unique character of our heavenly calling in Christ, He begins with the declaration that every spiritual blessing that we possess is associated with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1). As God, He has chosen us in Christ before the world's foundation (ver. 4); as Father, He marked us out beforehand for adoption (sonship) to Himself (ver. 5).

If we go on to trace the exposition of the heavenly mystery in this Epistle, which unfolds the dignities of the assembly, we shall not fail to mark repeatedly how closely these truths are connected with God and the Father. Indeed, it is God, so named, Who alone enables the saints to apprehend these exalted truths (see the prayers, Eph. 1:17; Eph. 3:14). These blessings in the heavenlies, so widely differentiated from those of the earthly kingdom, flow out of the Lord's message sent to His own through Mary of Magdala — "My Father and your Father … My God and your God." We are blessed through and in and with Him, Who is the Son of the Father's love.

The company of His own in the world but not of it are the Father's gift to Him, the Son. And in His resurrection, believers became related to the Father and the Son in the most intimate way — "My Father and your Father." The promised Abrahamic and Davidic blessings through Him being postponed because He was refused by His own nation, the Son introduced a scheme of celestial blessing founded upon His own Person, apart from His terrestrial offices as King, Priest, and Prophet. And the Lord's saying in private to His own circle, "I came forth from beside the Father," prepared the way for the Holy Spirit's teaching that believers upon Him in the time of His rejection are specially and peculiarly blessed with the Son according to the good pleasure of the Father's will.

From the foregoing considerations, therefore, we believe (1) that the Lord's eternal Sonship is involved in His own words, "I came forth from the Father"; (2) that His revelation of the Father and our association for blessing with the Son is the essence of Christianity, distinguishing it by this heavenly character from all other divine dealings, both past and future; and (3) that the denial of the Eternal Sonship of Christ Jesus is anti-Christian in its effect, since it impairs the doctrine of the Father and the Son, and, also, by consequence, the central truth and privileges of the assembly.

Confessing the Son or Denying Him

The apostle John in his Epistles emphasizes the seriousness of tampering with the doctrine of the Son, which is declared to be inseparable from the doctrine of the Father: "Whoever denies the Son has not the Father either; he who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23). Christianity is the confession of the Son. To speak disparagingly of the Son is to dishonour both the Son and the Father Whom He revealed.

There are in Christendom many forms of denying the Son, some gross, some subtle. Unitarianism comprehends many varieties of disbelief in the Deity of Christ. Christadelphianism and similarly perverted creeds deny the eternal Sonship of Christ, teaching that the "title," Son of God, should only be predicated of the human nature, born in time. The adherents of Christian Science, and those of some other modern cults, hold in a restricted sense that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but all of them deny that He was such from all eternity, that is, in virtue of His Own Essential Being.

These varied forms of antichristian denial are all repulsive and abhorrent to the spiritual mind, since they all agree in denying that Christ is God. Another form is perhaps more specious than the classes mentioned, but hardly seems less deadly in its nature.

In this case, a writer, referring to the "sonship of Christ," asserts that "There is no ground for the assumption that it (the sonship) was a relationship of Deity carried into manhood," And, to this assertion that His sonship began with His manhood, the writer adds, "Luke clearly bases our Lord's sonship on the great divine transaction of the incarnation," quoting Luke 1:35 in its support.

This passage in Luke has often been misunderstood and shamefully mis-handled in connection with this subject. Christadelphians, Swedenborgians, and others have mis-applied it for the like purpose — namely, that of denying that Christ was the Son of God before His conception by the Virgin Mary under the power of the Holy Spirit and the overshadowing of the Highest. They all unite in ignoring the true significance of the angel's words to Mary, "The Holy Thing also which shall be born shall be called Son of God," and in enfeebling their meaning by declaring that He was to be called so merely because of His miraculous birth.

But the truth is that, while He was the Son of God at His birth, He was so before His birth. This name was His Personal right at His incarnation, because He was the Son of the Father from eternity. Other scriptures, such as John's Gospel, the Colossian and the Hebrew Epistles, fully establish the truth of the Eternal Sonship, and Luke 1:35 does not contradict them. The Third Gospel deals specially with the humanity of Christ, and at the outset we learn from it that the "Holy Thing" to be born of Mary should be called the Son of God. This name is not a new one conferred, but the original one confirmed.

This passage is profound, its subject sacred, and all comment upon it is attended with risk. But, surely, the action of the Holy Spirit was to exclude the poisonous taint otherwise derivable from Mary, and to ensure immaculate holiness for the One to be born by virtue of the miraculous conception. Moreover, the energy of the Deity was engaged in taking this holy humanity into indissoluble union with the Son. "Wherefore," said the angel, "the Holy Thing … shall be called Son of God."

By reason of His pre-incarnate Sonship, the Lord Jesus differed in toto from Adam and the angels, who are also called in scripture sons of God. They are so designated because of the manner of their creation and the status given them. But our Lord carried His name, Son, into His incarnate state. In Deity, He was the Son; in flesh, He was the Son of God. The angel's words guard His Holy Person against any evil thought that His eternal Sonship was in any degree weakened or dishonoured when He became flesh. When He appeared in manhood, not in maturity as Adam in Eden, but as the Babe in Bethlehem, He should be called the Son of God, and the Son of the Highest.

The Knowledge of the Father and the Son

The Only-begotten Son has declared God and revealed the Father (John 1:18; Matt. 11:27); while the Father reveals the Son (Matt. 16:17; Gal. 1:16); and the knowledge of the Son of God is the theme of the Spirit's ministry in the assembly (Eph. 4:13), and moreover, the ambition of every Spirit-taught saint (Phil. 3:8-10).

In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was taught the unity of Jehovah, their God (Deut. 6:4); in the Christianity of the New Testament, we have revealed to us the Trinity of the Godhead, the "name" of the three Persons to be confessed in baptism (Matt. 28:19). Not only did the Son come forth from the Father Who sent Him, but the Spirit proceeded from the Father, and was sent by the Father and the Son (John 15:26; John 14:26).

We are now told, however, that there is still an unrent veil of "infinite inscrutability" between us and the true God. Though "we walk in the light as He is in the light," the Deity still dwells in thick darkness, and "God in absoluteness" is unknown and unknowable. The names, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, do not apply to the Persons in the Godhead, because these terms involve "graded relations" and "relative inferiority" between the Persons!

Now is not this speaking "in words taught by human wisdom," and not "in those taught by the Spirit"? We do not find such thought justified by the record God has given of His Son. Instead of gradation and inferiority, scripture teaches unity and equality among the Divine Persons revealed.

We are, for example, taught in Matt. 28:19 that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are comprehended under a single "name." Though there are three Persons, there are not three names, but one; there are not three "grades," but one Tri-personal Unity.* The Lord also said, "I and the Father are One" (John 10:30); and "The Son can do nothing of Himself save whatever He sees the Father doing"; and "The Father knows Me, and I know the Father" (John 5:19; 10:15). These and other passages teach unity and community of nature between the Father and the Son.

{*Appendix A — The Three Persons of the Godhead

(placed here for convenience)

That there is unity in the Godhead no Christian denies; while he fully believes three Persons in the Godhead, even the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).

Nor is this truth to be enfeebled in the least degree. He who allows no more in the Godhead than three aspects of one Person is not a Christian, but a deceiver and an antichrist. He does not confess the fully revealed and true God, not the Godhead merely in three characters but in Three Persons; and so distinct that the Father could send the Son (1 John 4:14), and the Holy Ghost descend on that Son in the presence of the Father and in the consciousness of the Son (Mark 1:10-11), as it was even outwardly before man also (John 1:33-34).

The Trinity

Such is the early and immense fact recorded in the Gospels, a clear witness to "the Trinity." What sympathy can one have with those who, overlooking such a fact, stumble over the term? Why be so servile to the letter, and so anxious to get rid of a word because it is in the Bible? The thing is distinctly there; the truth, not only open in the New Testament, but pervading the Bible (in a more veiled form, characteristic of the Old Testament in general) from the first chapter to the last.

One cannot now read the first chapter of Genesis intelligently without seeing that there are more Persons than One in the Godhead. Even the first verse of the first chapter yields a positive though gradual preparation for divulging it, at least after it was revealed.

The Plural Noun and the Singular Verb

Do you ask how this can be? "In the beginning God created" (Gen. 1:1). Perhaps all may not have heard, but it is nevertheless true, that in the original Hebrew "God" is in the plural, naturally pointing to more than one Person; yet "created" is in the singular, a form not used where it speaks of heathen gods, but where it speaks of the living God. With the gods of the nations, the verb is plural. With the true God, although the subject be in the plural, the verb is often in the singular. Cases like Gen. 20:13 ("God caused"), where the verb is plural (like the noun), prove that God (Elohim) was known to be a true plural.

One God, Three Persons

Could anything prepare better for revealing unity of the nature and plurality of the Persons? Granted that none in the Old Testament could certainly see the Three Persons as revealed later; even the believer had to wait until the New Testament for full light and truth. But when it came in Christ and by the Spirit, the peculiar (grammatical) concord where God's name occurs of old could not but strike those who heed every word of Holy Writ.

Every Word Inspired

Men who hold lax views of inspiration may no doubt dispute the force of any word, because their views are unbelieving and pernicious; for these necessarily enfeeble and undermine inspiration as God has revealed it, and as His Spirit reasons on it. No error has consequences more widely spread than limiting inspiration to God's thoughts in general, and denying it to His written words. W.K.}

While the Incarnate Son continuously displayed absolute subjection to the will of the Father, this sacred servitude was equally the exercise of His own will, uniform, as this will was, both in Deity and in manhood. But the unique glory of the obedience of the Son is at once dimmed by the bold assumption that He was inferior to the Father, whether in essential nature or in relationship. Even in human relationships, filial inferiority is not true in all cases. Could it be said that Abraham was inferior to Terah? or Moses to Amram? or David to Jesse? What right then is there to assume inferiority between Divine Persons, the Son and the Father?

It is also alleged that the order in which the Names are presented in scripture indicates that They are not co-equal. But while the order, Father and Son, preponderates in accordance with the scheme of revelation, this order is not invariable, but is reversed in John 8:16, 18; John 10:30; John 14:10-11; 1 John 2:24. In these instances, there are didactic reasons for the reversal, but the exceptions are sufficient to disprove the unsavoury theory that the Son is inferior to the Father because He is mentioned in the second place.

Again, we are informed that the cherished meditations of the saints on John 1:18 have been unwarrantably exaggerated. The passage, it is said, is true of the Son in manhood, but not eternally in the Deity. "In the bosom of the Father" was the position "reached" by the Only-begotten Son in declaring God, but has no prior application!

Such statements are surely self-condemned. And on this account, there is no need to dwell here upon the awkward and jejune attempt made to prove this interpretation by the Greek preposition. It will immediately shock every honest and pious soul to be told that the words, "the Only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father," must be understood to mean that the Only-begotten Son came into the bosom of the Father. Such an exposition honours neither the Father nor the Son, and is opposed to the whole tenor of Scripture, especially of John's Gospel and Epistles.

Though the Son spoke to His Father of being loved by Him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24), it is now contended that only in manhood did He come into the Father's affections, into the Father's bosom. And Luke 16:22 is cited in an effort to prove by analogy of phrase that this is the meaning of John 1:18. Are we, however, content to believe that as Lazarus was not in Abraham's bosom until the angels carried him there, so He Who is the Only-begotten Son was not in the Father's bosom until He "came" there in the days of His flesh?

What is gained by these denials of the eternity of Sonship? If it is denied that He Who appeared among men as the Son was not in the bosom of the Father, where was He then? If He revealed as Son was not always the Object of supreme affection to Him revealed as the Father, in what fashion was He regarded by Him? They give no reply, for, they say, nothing is known. They take away the eternal glory of the Only-begotten Son, Who is the worshipping joy of the believing soul, and what do they offer in exchange? Only a locked door, and an impassable barrier — the inscrutableness of abstract form and relations — an Unknown Deity!