When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son. Gal. 4:1
We know that the Son of God is come. 1 John 5:20.
The subject of Eternal Sonship having been raised, and its truth denied, by certain brethren, on the ground that the phrase "Eternal Son" is not found in Scripture, has brought to many much exercise and sorrow. The anxiety has not been lessened by the remembrance that those same brethren, until a year or two ago, together held, taught and defended the truth in question, holding it as part of the heavenly deposit received from the faithful of earlier generations.
Perhaps it would be well to recall, at the outset, that individuals amongst them have ventured, at intervals, to deny Eternal Sonship as distinguished from Eternal Personality. But the denials, by whomsoever made, were given no countenance. On the contrary, they were vigorously resisted, rejected even with abhorrence, by all the well-known labourers and general body of brethren. This proper attitude continued until the Barnet Conference, when the denial was reintroduced in a rather beguiling and deliberate way. It was now hailed as new and welcome light that simplified many matters, and cast illuminating rays on various portions of Scripture. Its influence was immediate and revolutionary. The hymnbook revisers adopted its teaching and terminology, making them a reed by which to measure, or a balance in which to weigh, the older hymns. Many of those hymns were fundamentally altered; not a few were omitted altogether; while a considerable number of fresh compositions, distinguished by their harmony with the new and now popular doctrine, were given a place in the revised collection. The altered hymnbook was speedily enforced on the meetings generally, with the inevitable sequel that many who could not, merely at the dictation of men, sacrifice the honour of the Lord by embracing, and using, a hymnal which symbolized the denial of His eternal, and reciprocal, place with the Father, found it a part of the obedience of faith to withdraw. In doing so they became exposed to much abuse, bestowed on them by those among whom they had walked, and served, for the lengthy periods of thirty, forty, and even sixty years.
It may now be of advantage to summarize their teaching, and see what it is they deny, and what they affirm. A feature of the new method, which we must not omit to observe, is this: they tamper with, and alter, the distribution of emphasis, needful to the balance of truth, which the Holy Spirit has appointed in the Scriptures. From this wrongful practice many disorders and evils may arise. As an illustrative example, they press our Lord's Eternal Personality in a fashion, and to a degree, which renders less noticeable, and thus less startling, their denial of His Eternal Sonship. While teaching that He existed in eternity, in inscrutable Deity, they qualify their words by adding that, when in His pre-incarnate glory, in the form of God, He possessed no name, no relationship, no office; no function, but simply dwelt as Deity with Deity; three Deities! I have endeavoured, in the foregoing, to present their views in just perspective, having met with ample evidence, in their publications and from their lips, that the views are definitely held.
What are the implications, admitted implications of this doctrine? Its exponents say that our Lord, before His incarnation, was
NOT the ETERNAL SON,
NOT the SON, (compare with John 3:35-36).
NOT the SON OF GOD, (cp. John 1:34; John 3:8).
NOT the ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD, (cp. John 1:14, 18).
NOT ... HIS SON, (cp. John 3:17; John 4:10),
NOT the SON OF THE FATHER'S LOVE, (cp. Col. 1:13).
NOT the SON OF THE FATHER, (cp. 2 John 3).
The verses quoted, they say, are descriptive of Him only as born, of the virgin, into this life and world, or as the One on Whom the Spirit abode.
Has the doctrine a further bearing on the truth of the Blessed Trinity? It has. Before the Word became flesh, they state, the Godhead, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, although existing, did not exist under those names; nor did the Persons of the Godhead subsist together in the necessary, and essential, co-relationships which the names denote. It is also out of place, and unintelligent, they say, to speak of Father, Son and Spirit as existing in eternity, those names having only been assumed when the Son was made in the likeness of men. The Father sending the Son, or the Son coming from the Father, is not to be thought of as reaching back to eternity, but only to the time of His lowly advent here. The names were simply assumed for revelation, declaration, or manifestation. A number of the names, titles, offices and functions will continue to perpetuity, but it must not be supposed they existed in, or proceeded from, eternity in the past.
It is, happily, so widely known, as to call for no allusion here, that the perverse things, unfolded in this doctrine, are indiscoverable in the recorded ministry of the able and trusty servants, who, apt to teach and mighty in the Scriptures, laboured amongst them in bygone years. Nor are they to be found, in any proportion or shape, within any of the other sections of brethren. As already observed, whenever or wherever, in former days, the doctrine was suggested, it was promptly denounced and extinguished as antagonistic to christian truth. Not long ago it was advanced at Melbourne. The brother who did so was speedily put away, or withdrawn from, the act of discipline receiving the lively approval of some now advocating the teaching then condemned. It was then asserted, and is being reechoed now, that the doctrine, so far as the immediate offenders, then and now, are concerned, is derived from some remark of Mr. Raven's. The remark imputed has not been found, although an extended and scrupulous search has been conducted, in any of Mr. Raven's books or other memorials. Yet it roams around, and lingers on in the region of insubstantial hearsay. It would, on the other hand, be easy to produce, from Mr. Raven's well known volumes, evidence that he taught, in deliberate and lucid terms, over and over again, the exact opposite of the doctrine now laid at his door, and that, too, after having been challenged on the subject. I am not thinking of defending F. E. R., as I greatly regret that, on a much remembered occasion, distinct from the Weston meetings, when commenting on the Word (Logos), he employed an expression which has been undiscerningly adopted, construed as a principle, and applied as a guiding rule to other names and titles. Some have rashly claimed they possess, in Mr. Raven, suitable authority for the doctrine, and that his words supply conclusive confirmation. However, even in this matter of the Logos, incidentally introduced, it may be commented that whosoever desires to abide by the words of Scripture, and is persuaded of the sufficient wisdom of the Spirit in His choice, use and disposal of those words, will not readily be deflected by any remark, whether proceeding from Mr. Raven or other teachers; as to the personal and eternal character of the Word.
The truth of Eternal Sonship lies so noticeably, on the page of Scripture, that the simplest christian, left to himself, and to the Unction received from the Holy One, spontaneously sees that his Saviour and Lord, to Whose redemptional mercy he owes his all, is the Son of God in a sense so unique that He is also God: that God the Father gave Him, as His only-begotten Son, and sent Him, that whosoever will, in this perishing world, might believe. The little children, of the christian family, whose sins are forgiven for His name's sake, readily perceive, and unquestioningly believe, that the Father sent the Son, Who, from the beginning, had been with Him, Whose goings forth had been from of old, from everlasting, to become, through grace, and by a costly and eternal redemption, for all who should trust in Him, an exalted and all-sufficient Saviour.
The Godhead which does not include within Itself, all that is necessary to Itself, as Father, Son and Spirit, is not the Godhead of Holy Scripture. That it was not thus revealed, in Old Testament times, presents no difficulty to the simple-hearted. No revelation was possible until the advent of the Son, Who, coming from the Father, brought, with the blessedness of His Own filial Person, all that the Father is as the Father. In the Person of the Son, here in this world, the Father was objectively presented, (John 15:21-24). It would have been as impossible for the Son to reveal, or make manifest, the Father, had He not been the Son, embracing, within the compass of His Person, all that the Father is, (John 10:30-38, 8:42), as it would have been for Him to manifest God had He not been God, (John 1:1; 20:38). His claim to be the Son, or the affirmation that God was His Father, (John 5:18), exhibits and attests His equality with the Father. Anyone can see from our excellent Authorized Version, apart from examining the Original; that our Lord claimed to be the Son, (John 5:20-23), and the only-begotten Son of God, (John 3:18, 1 John 4:9), with a meaning at once singular and involving a distinctive glory. His disciples and His enemies, although from conflicting viewpoints, beheld, in the wonderful words He spoke, the implicit avowal of His equality with God in the co-possession of His nature, character and attributes, (John 6:68-69, 9:35-38, 11:27, 5:20-24), He confirmed His disciples in the immutable truth of His claim, guiding them to a confession of Himself as the Son of The living God, (Matt. 16:16-17), disclosing, as He did so, that this significant, and crowning, knowledge had not originated with flesh and blood, but had come in revealing light from the Father above.
He permitted His enemies, on the ground of this claim, to condemn, and, by wicked hands to crucify and slay Him, (Matt. 27:40-43), when, had they misunderstood His meaning, He could have dispelled the misapprehension with one illuminating word. But,— they were not mistaken in their inference, and He died to verify His claim.
If His Sonship have no essential connection with His Eternal Personality, and divine nature, as those brethren allege, how is it that it clearly involves, implies and demonstrates His Deity, as our Lord's Own words, in the numerous scriptures quoted, have shown? And The Scripture cannot be broken.
If His Sonship be a relationship that pertains to His Person and nature as divine, and His peculiar characteristic in the Godhead, distinguishing Him, in an intimate relative glory, from the Father and the Spirit, it manifestly follows that the relationship is eternal, and was introduced of Him, into His holy manhood, when He, as Son, became Man. He did not, when making Himself of no reputation, become the Word, (John 1:1), nor did He then become the Son, (John 15:21-24). He was both Word and Son before time and creation began, (John 1:1-3, Col. 1:16-17, Heb. 1:2, 11:3). As Word, and as Son, He is above, and outside of, time and everything temporary, the mighty and ever-glorious Creator of all, apart from Whose wisdom and originating power, no created thing has ever received state or form or being.
The faithful men of the christian centuries, and the "others also" (2 Tim. 2:2) of a time spanned by our present recollection, were not pathetically stumbling in the dark, or repeating some cunningly devised fable, when they presented the Son, as they were wont to do, in the three particular and adorable aspects in which, as the Son, the Scriptures portray Him:
(1) prior to His incarnation,
(2) here, in the days of His flesh,
(3) in His glorified position above.
On the contrary, they, in doing so, were but keeping the good thing confided to them, and observing the form of sound words. In their united and assured apprehension His assertion of His Sonship, when here below, was the intrinsic and transparent equivalent of the claim to be God. Yea—the new teaching proclaims it to be out of place, and a sign of defective understanding, or of lack of skilfulness in the word, to speak of the Son, come from the Father's bosom and glory, and one with Him ever, as God the Son. It is not simply, with the authors and propagators of the teaching, a question of what the Scripture says, but rather of their peculiar, and superior, rendering of its meaning, Their interpretation is to be accepted as the oracles of God, and received, with meekness, as if it were the engrafted and saving word. It is superimposed on Scripture, and given, for the immediate purpose, an authority above it,—becoming, in the result, within the area of their influence, the authoritative and final settlement of the question at issue.
A function and value they attribute to this new light, which may be appropriately mentioned here, is that it will prevent some, whom they consider to be in danger of doing so, from supposing that, because they have received, through grace, the adoption of sons, they have consequently, and simultaneously, become partakers in Deity. It seems incredible that anyone, in those once enlightened associations, should be in danger of falling into such insane and impious folly. To keep others, then, from the enormous and appalling profanity of drawing near, and entering, the Light Unapproachable, they have erected a barrier or cordon to keep them within the creature's pale. Incidentally, they now speak of Deity as if in its sacred, infinite depths there might be something strange, or something significantly disturbingly different from what Divine Persons are as revealed. It is spoken of as inscrutable, and as lying beyond us, in a manner so shadowy, and so suggestive, as almost to rob us of the intimate blessedness in which, in this, the Spirit's day, we know, and have communion with, the Father and the Son, in the truth of their nature, and in the purposes of love. The only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, having declared Him, we now know the Father, intimately and consciously, through the medium of the divine nature, and by the intuitive perception and grasp, formed by the Spirit, of the spiritual understanding. Christian knowledge is altogether by the Spirit conveyed through the agency of this new nature, and reposing within its living constitution, to the end, and having the effect, that we know and enjoy divine truths and realities, here and now, which the human mind could never, of its own efforts, acquire or attain. We are exposed to various dangers, while in this temporal condition, from the knowledge, fragmentary and incomplete at best, which we now have obtained. But we shall shortly possess a knowledge, pure, entire, and abundantly rich and blessed, with the power, by the Spirit, of holding it in exquisite balance, and using it in perfect wisdom, in the bright and endless glory above.
The enforcement, on the meetings, of this new light, has created a difficulty, and a crisis, for many, who, as faithful to the Lord and bowing to His word, cannot approve or condone it. As a consequence, they have now either to withdraw, or submit themselves to the discipline, or some corresponding series of events, which will issue in their being excluded. They have exercised themselves, from the outset, to retain, in the matter, a conscience void of offence. What are they to do?
The answer is simple:—Accept the outside place to which faithfulness to the Lord has brought them, abiding in it, with, and by, His presence and His grace. As they have found it impossible to continue in the old associations, with either a good conscience, or peace of heart or spirit, so will they find it impossible to return to places, or to parties, they had previously left because of evil or disorder. They shall return unto thee, it was said of old, but return not thou unto them. The issues of conflicts that occurred in the past, recent or remote, are fixed. The principal actors in those troubles, having filled their earthly day, are fallen on sleep, and the ruin which has followed the struggles, in which battle was waged for some principle of order or eternal truth, is beyond all human repair or redress. God does not restore the outward, tangible fabric, which, under His testing, has broken down. He does not make straight the instrument of witness made crooked by human failure or sin. But there is one thing which He makes haste to do. He rejuvenates, protects, empowers the overcomer, enabling him to walk triumphantly on the dark, tumultuous sea. Peter, we would not be negligent to remember, walked on the water, for he believed on the name of the Son of God. Thou art the Christ, he confessed, the Son of the Living God. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God. Unspotted, he pursues his victorious way, aloof from the glittering and usurping systems of men; and from scenes, once hallowed and beloved in the power of heavenly truth, now sullied by insidious evils. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. No one can overcome, who is wanting in the faith of the Son of God. The person, or persons, who exclude from their belief the truth of Jesus as the Eternal Son, let them say what they may, or pretend what they will, have NOT the faith of the Son of God, It now becomes us, with understanding and chastened hearts, and in true humility of spirit, to review the realities of the present and previous situations, and see how far we have gathered, and preserved in fitting form and freshness, the spiritual fruits of the successive sorrows and siftings of our collective history: all,— in order that the Lord, and the truth, may become deeply, absorbingly more to us than meetings, or the tender bonds of spiritual friendships we long may have cherished. Then, as acting with Him, and for Him, we shall receive, freely, and in bountiful degree, His enabling support in the practice of the truth, according to its pure and holy constitution as existing in Himself and the Spirit, and as recorded in the sacred letters, —all to have its culminating and ample vindication, and verification, at His coming with His saints, when He shall be admired in all them that believe. It would be an ungracious part, for any, to speak of the unhappy failure, or entangling error, rife in the old associations, which we have had to judge, and forsake, in any manner that seemed, by reflection, to make something meritorious of ourselves: or as if events were now demonstrating we had been in the right, in bygone days, over some difference or disputation which arose, or that in the stand we then maintained there was some singular virtue or worth: or yet to suggest, however faintly, that in the collective companionship we participate in and enjoy, there is something of concrete excellence, now illuminated by comparison, even if of diminutive degree, All of that would be wrong,—an attitude to be eschewed and reproved,—from the very suggestion and shadow of which our spirits should flee. The brethren amongst whom the fallacious doctrine, considered in the foregoing pages, is spread abroad, are ardent and loud in the claim that they alone are the divinely sanctioned company,—and the only one, too, on which the Lord bestows His presence, His support, and His peculiar and privileged ministries. They also claim that the devout and honourable men, who laboured in the Lord amidst earlier generations, would mingle and unite with them, embracing their position, willingly and unreservedly, were it possible for such to awake from their sleep and resume a mortal condition. And they further claim, in unlovely confidence, that those departed leaders, in the resuscitated state, would seal by a frank endorsement, and crown with their open approval, the disputed and other things they have said, and done, in the crises of the troubled past,—adding to all their witness that within those circles, of favoured light, lay the right as opposed to the wrong, in every controverted matter, as well as the spiritual increase, and manifold compensations, which have followed those conflicts in the wars of the Lord.
Surely, in what is now transpiring, the Lord is casting a due reproach on all that is of man, that He Himself might occupy the vision and vista of our souls, as the One Who; despite what Satan and man have done, or yet may do, will triumphantly bring, in and through the church, His every interest to a bright and successful issue, when at last He comes, bringing us out together with Himself in the glory and rest of His kingdom.
May our hearts be sustained and kept in increasing and abounding affection for our Lord Jesus Christ, and in deepening devotion to His Person, as the One by Whom, through Whom, and in Whom, we possess the incomparable things of our heavenly part and lot,— unto His Own glory and the glory of His Father.
James Chalmers. Langside, Knox Street, Airdrie. December, 1932.