16. — Concluding Remarks: Sonship and Service

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. 11:27).

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. 8:3). 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 17:4). We honour the Son, therefore, even as we honour the Father, honouring 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. 2:7).

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.*

{*Compare Appendix D (see footnote to chapter 11).}

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. 5:8). 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 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 italicized words 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 Ps. 72:17 (margin) , "His name shall be as a son to continue his father's name for ever." 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. 11:24); 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. 2:2) 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 4:36). The Lord said that the Jews were of their "father, the devil," because they did his lusts and his deeds, showing their moral origin (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 or 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 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. 5:8). 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 is departed from the passage!

This gratuitous suggestion is a real dishonour 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 17:9). If His obedience cost Him suffering, does not every good soldier endure hardness (2 Tim. 2:3)? By this faulty interpretation of Sonship as applied to our Lord, the true significance of Heb. 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 unequalled 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

When in his minority or nonage, a son is regarded as a child or infant, and as such is subject to the family authority. But in due time, having passed the stage of "infancy," or immaturity, he is recognized as the "son," and is freed from his former bondage to guardians and stewards. The apostle uses this distinction between sonship and childhood in teaching the difference between law and grace (Gal. 4:1-7; Rom. 8:15).

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 bondservant. 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, to which he is sanctified (1 Peter 1:2). "A son honours his father, and a servant his master" (Mal. 1:6); and the subjection of the Son was perfect, as He said Himself, "I honour My Father," and "I have kept My Father's commandments" (John 8:49; 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, 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 has he (Abraham) given all that he has" (Gen. 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, 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 behaviour of Isaac. And the 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.

Jesus Christ 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. 5:8-9). 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 bondservant. 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. 3:5-6).

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. 2:5-8). 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 (vers. 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 2:24). 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 9).