Stacks Image 385


CHAPTER X.


THE SONS OF GOD.


"To as many as received him gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." — John i. 12

MEN are not distinct individual creations like the angels, but a race descended from one human pair. There is a gulf between the human family and the most intelligent brutes which science cannot bridge or cross. Man has qualities which they have not — personality, reason, self-consciousness, moral perception and accountability, implying the Godlike attribute of freedom to create his own character, and determine his own eternal destiny. The crown of man's being, the most distinctive dissimilarity to the highest order of beasts, is his spiritual nature, that splendid dome of his being with skylights opening heavenward, wherein he may commune with God and become a temple for the habitation of the Father and the Son through the Spirit. When I open my Bible I find another distinction: "The spirit of the beast goeth downward, but the spirit of man goeth upward." Hugh Miller, the celebrated Scotch geologist, was accustomed to assert that men are the highest order which will ever tread the earth, because the Son of God, who shared the Father's glory before the world was, has permanently united himself with humanity. The Logos, who was with God and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth, — "God only-begotten" (John i. 18,
R. V. margin). This stamps man as the climax of all material creations. For we cannot for a moment entertain the thought that God the Father will ever create a race on earth or elsewhere in his universe which will outrank his incarnate Son. This splendid inference of this Christian geologist crowns men with true nobility. Nevertheless there is a class of men who tower up in dignity above their race. Lofty as are the sons of Adam in the scale of being, the sons of the second Adam so far excel them as to be called by God priests and kings. They are as much above the children of fallen Adam as these are above the beasts of the field. They transcend them in moral and spiritual excellence. This in the estimation of God and the holy angels outweighs all other human perfections. The origin and peculiar attributes of these kings and priests unto God, which separate them from the sinning sons of fallen Adam by a gulf impassable to all the forces of nature, will constitute the theme of the present discourse. Let us now read our text again: "He came unto his own." Who were his own? Some say "the Jews." This is part of the truth. It was sad that one small nation should fail to receive its Messiah king; but this is not the extent of the disloyalty. Isaiah, looking down the ages through the telescope of prophecy seven hundred years before the event, sees a universal defection. "He is despised and rejected of men," Jews and Gentiles. Howsoever unlike in other respects all nations are agreed in saying "We will not have this man to rule over us." Had Jesus appeared in conquering Rome, in sensual Corinth, or in refined Athens, and preached the same doctrines from the same text, — "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," — he would have met with the same repulse. Were he to appear in the centers of our boasted modern civilization, so called Christian in the census report, Berlin, Paris, London, or New York, — and the question of enthroning him over their municipal, commercial, social, and personal life were determined by the Australian ballot, do you think he would stand the ghost of a chance to be elected lord mayor? It was humanity fallen and depraved which received not Jesus, the great Christmas gift of God to the world. Some of you may dispute this, and assert that Jesus opening his commission on Boston Common, or Central Park in New York, teaching his gospel accredited by the same miracles, would be warmly welcomed by all classes, the rich and the poor, the high and the low. Said an English lady to Carlyle, speaking of the wicked rejection of Christ by his countrymen: "I regret that he did not appear in our own times. How delighted would we all be to throw open our parlors to him, and listen to his divine precepts. Don't you think so, Mr. Carlyle?" He bluntly replied, "No, madame I don't. I think, that had he come very fashionably dressed, with plenty of money, and preached soft doctrines palatable to the higher orders, I might have had the honor of receiving from you a card of invitation, on the back of, which would have been written 'To meet our Savior.' But if he had come uttering his precepts, 'cut off right hands and pluck out right eyes, or be cast into hell fire,' denouncing the Pharisees and associating with publicans and the lower classes, as he did, you would have treated him as the Jews did, and have cried out, 'Take him to Newgate and hang him.'" Carlyle was right. If Jesus the invisible Savior is to-day dishonored by the unbelief of a majority in every land, Jesus in bodily form, preaching in our streets his requirement of love to himself above that to our fathers and mothers, and love toward abusive enemies, even perfect love like that of his Father in heaven, and, amid a selfish world, demanding self-denial and self-crucifixion, would he not be excluded from polite society as a disturber of the peace? His own, the most religious and moral people on the earth, members of the only true church, received him not, with here and there an exception. Then said he, "Since the race descended from Adam has discarded me, I as a new Adam will raise up a nobler seed. I will not destroy the unworthy race forthwith, as Jehovah proposed to Moses to destroy the unbelieving Israelites, and from him raise up another nation. No; I will not destroy, I will transform. I will show the superiority of my grace and wisdom by taking the very souls tainted with the deadly leprosy of sin, and restoring them to perfect health. The old race shall be the material out of which the new order shall be created. Beneath the ribs of death I will create life. Out of the blackness of sin I will bring the whiteness of holiness, in the case of as many as receive me." Hence by his mediation he procured for every sinner on earth the Holy Spirit, who would impart the gracious ability to repent and believe, to be regenerated and sanctified, and thus to become sons of God; that is, to regain their lost likeness to God. To render the universal provisions universally saving was impossible without an exercise of sovereignty destructive of freedom and repugnant to the nature of holiness which must always be freely chosen by "as many as received him." A few were waiting to receive him. A few who saw and heard him had received from the Spirit anointed eyesight that they might recognize the Son of God walking the earth in the form of man. To them gave he the power, the right or privilege of becoming the sons of God — the New Testament prerogative, anew patent of nobility. Jesus was the Son of God by nature; angels and Adam had been called sons of God by creation. But now for the first time appear in the universe sons of God by transformation through redemption. We do not wonder that the Jews attempted to stone Jesus when he claimed the title, Son of God, which no individual in the Old Testament had dared to do except the King of Israel speaking for the nation which Jehovah had called his firstborn. "Jacob have I called my son." Individually sin had plucked the crown from their heads. Neither Enoch, who walked with God, nor Abraham, the father of believers, nor any one of the heroic prophets dared to call himself a Son of God. This dignity, this endearing relation, is the special gift of Christ to those who by faith crown him Lord of all. Till he came in the flesh good men were servants not sons (Gal. iii., 23 to iv., 7).

When a new race is to be created there is one from whom it is to be unfolded. The race of new creatures is mystically summed up in Jesus Christ as the entire human family were seminally comprised in Adam. Any radical change or break down in his nature is a downfall of his posterity. This damage from the sin of the progenitor did not entail guilt on his offspring. Out of this damaged material the second Adam will raise up the order of the sons of God. He is the first term and model of the series. All the forces and appliances of his Gospel have one grand aim, that men "may be conformed to the image of God's Son, that he may be the firstborn among many brethren." In all evolution there must first be involution. You must put into the first term all that you expect to take out. This is what God has done in the gift of his Son. "It has pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell," all qualities divine and human requisite for the development of the new order. There is one word which exactly describes this office. It is the Greek word
ρχηγός (archaegos), unfortunately translated by three words in the passages where it occurs, — prince, captain, author. It signifies the originator, founder, leader, and first participator. If you desire spiritual life you will find it only in "the author of life" (Acts iii. 15); if you would have faith seek it in the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. xii. 2); if you would lay hold of "eternal salvation" you will find it only in its originator (Heb. ii. 10, and v. 9). You have in these four texts the conception of Jesus Christ as the Head of this new order of beings. There is a chasm which no human power can bridge between the humblest Son of God and the most eminent son of Adam as a natural man, because it is the gulf between spiritual life and spiritual death. Just as no man can change a particle of non-living matter into life, so no man can impart life to a soul dead in trespasses and sins. He needs the great originator of life. No fancied perfection in morals can quicken such a soul. The natural man, however cultured and free from vice, is still like fallen Adam. The child of God is like God. The difference is world-wide. A marked characteristic of the true Christian, for which there can be no successful counterfeit nor compensation, is that he is "a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped the Corruption of the world through lust." He has a nature like God's. He has love divine shed abroad in his heart, by the Holy Spirit given unto him. This is the principle of the new life. The first heart-throb of the new born soul is love to God and to all mankind. This is the decisive test, "he who loveth not his brother is not of God. For this is the message that we had from the beginning that we should love one another. We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." Love wilt manifest itself in service and sacrifice.

Holiness is another of the moral attributes of God. There is no tendency in his nature to sin. The sons of God reflect more or less perfectly his holiness as a burnished mirror reflects the sunbeams. In this respect the Christian is at his climax when he has been sanctified wholly and filled with the Spirit. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, even as he chose us . . . that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love."

But as if to end all controversy St. John sets up the infallible criterion. "He that is born of God is not committing sin. He that committeth sin is of the devil." Here is what Fletcher styles "The fence between the Lord's garden and the devil's common." No man can enter on a course of sin and retain his sonship. He may on the stress of, sudden temptation commit a single sin, and through resort to the advocate with the Father (1 John ii. 1) find forgiveness. He may enter on a returnless career of sin and be finally lost (Heb. vi. 4-8). But he cannot bind up these two contradictions, sin and sonship to God, in the same personality. Willful and persistent sin and the filial feeling Godward, or sonship to the holy Father, cannot be thus combined.

Do you say that this test makes the number of the children of God on earth very small and sadly shortens the communion roils of all our churches? Be it so. It is best to find it out before the day of Judgment when "many will say" in vain, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?" Of the sons of God, who will be like him when Christ shall be manifested, St. John says, "Every one that hath this hope
set on him purifieth himself, even as he (Christ) is pure." The same inspired writer declares that they in whom "love is made perfect, will have boldness in the day of Judgment, because as he (Christ) is (to-day in heaven) so are we in this world." Supply the omitted major premise, "all who are in moral purity like the Son of God in this world, will have boldness in the Judgment Day, and we let the sunlight into St. John's logic. Then follow these propositions: "We are in this world pure as he is pure; therefore we will have boldness knowing that the Judge will not condemn facsimiles of himself." How the monstrous idea became so widely spread, that the children of God are constantly sinning, having the root of sin in their hearts, and its fruit in their daily conduct, as long as they live, I can explain only on the theory that Satan himself has become a Bible expositor and theological professor, going about pointing out all the perverted proof-texts which extenuate sin, and teaching that there is no power in the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from all sin this side of the grave.

Another moral attribute of God reflected in his sons is truth. They are lovers of truth. They dig for it as for hidden treasures. Says Jesus, "Every one that is of the truth" — eager to follow wherever she leads — "heareth me." This is because he is the incarnation of truth. " I am the truth." The devil is a liar from the beginning of his career as an apostate angel. No falsity in the long run ever wrought anything but ruin and wretchedness here and hereafter, world without end.

The great American showman used to say "People like to be humbugged." It is true that the multitude delight in fascinating delusions. This is Satan's great advantage in his contest with Christ for the eternal ruin of their souls. He is perpetually disguising sin and misrepresenting God's truth. Happy indeed are they who unmask moral evil in all its seductive forms, "who by reason of use (or habit) have their senses (mental perceptions) exercised to discern both good and evil." This the Bible calls "full age" or perfection to which it urges us to "press on" (
R. V.). Hence the great business of the children of God who have been made free from Satan's destructive deceptions is, by instruction, warning, entreaty and testimony, to rescue from his snares those that are taken captive by him at his will. Most of them are so morally benumbed and insensible as to love their captivity, and even to hug their chains with insane pleasure. How great the contrast between their enslavement through Satan's devices and "the glorious liberty of the sons of God." The philosophy of faith in its relation to this "glorious liberty" can now be clearly seen. God's intangible and invisible truth is the instrument with which the Lion of Judah breaks every chain. This truth cannot be grasped by our senses. It is above reason. It is made known only by Revelation, which is grasped and applied only by faith. Hence persevering faith is salivation. Persistent unbelief is damnation. Such is the nature of virtue that God himself cannot arbitrarily prevent these, issues.

The sons of God in all essentials resemble their Leader, "the Lord from heaven." Note the points of likeness. Jesus was begotten of the Holy Ghost, the sons of God are born of the Spirit. He was circumcised in the flesh, they in the heart by the Holy Ghost producing entire sanctification, "the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh" (
R. V.). This removal of carnal-mindedness, which is enmity against God, takes away the barrier against perfect love, the requirement of the that great command: "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart.., to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live," i.e. have well-being. When he became a mature man he was baptized with water, and received the abiding Spirit and the testimony of his Father to his divine sonship. Thus do all adult believers at some time after the new birth receive the fulness of the Spirit permanently dwelling within, and constantly "crying, Abba, Father." They obey the mysterious command, "Tarry ye in the city until ye ye endued with power from on high." As the second Adam was tempted, so do all who are in probation, being conformed to his image, dwell in the sphere of temptation within arrow-shot of Satan. Jesus was crucified till his human life was extinct. St. Paul speaks for all advanced believers when he says "I have been crucified with Christ, alive no longer am I, but alive is Christ in me " (Meyer). Do you stigmatize this as the language of a mystic? St. Paul was a mystic in the good sense of that word as exemplified in every age of the church by all those Pauline believers and Johannean disciples, who consciously commune with God through his Spirit dwelling in the temple of their hearts. As Jesus rose from the dead, so do all true Christians rise into newness of life, seeking the things which are above. As he ascended by a bodily translation, so shall all who love him feel the attraction of his person when he shall descend on his great white throne, as particles of iron move towards the magnet when it is brought near. "Then we which are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air." As Jesus ascended to the throne of his Father, so will all who overcome sit with him on his throne as he overcame and sat down on his Father's throne.

These are some of the characteristics of the sons of God. How broad the chasm between them and the most cultured and refined natural man, a stranger to the life-giving touch of the Holy Spirit! There are no words in human languages adequate to express this amazing difference. The nadir is not more remote from the zenith than death is from life. Only God can cross this chasm and carry a dead soul to the shores of life. Do you say that you see no such difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate, the children of the first Adam and the sons of the second Adam? This is because you look at externals only. Both have the same bodily needs of food and raiment, rest and exercise. Both are subject to sickness and calamities, and are alike under the sentence, "Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return after a life of enforced labor, eating their bread in the sweat of their faces." The difference is not outward but inward. The one is loyal to God and obedient to his law, loving his adorable Son with whom he communes by faith through the Holy Spirit dwelling within as the Sanctifier. The other revolves around self as the center ill the darkness of unbelief, refusing the great command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," and ungrateful to him who died on the cross to redeem him. The one seeks in all his acts to glorify his heavenly Father, the other glorifies himself only. The one has his eye fixed on the world above, the other sees only this world. The one aspires after spiritual excellence, climbing the ladder whose top reaches the open door of heaven; the other, muck-rake in hand, is eagerly amassing perishable treasures, not a penny of which will he carry with him to his eternal existence. The one throbs through all the mystery of his being with the pulses of a deathless spiritual life; the other has no heart-throb of love to God, for he is spiritually dead, being utterly unconscious of those spiritual realities which fill the other with rapture.

The sons of God on earth are princes traveling incognito through a foreign land. Their kingly features are recognized by the angels above, but not by the vulgar and unbelieving children of men beneath, who have eyes only for pomp and show and the trappings of wealth. Even the Son of God himself, the Founder of this new and glorious order, dwelt thirty-three years on the earth wrapped in the veil of humanity, and only a little handful out of the teeming millions of people had keenness of insight sufficient to pierce that veil and discover the God behind it. Him before whom seraphs cover their faces and archangels bow in adoring worship, unbelieving men spit upon and nailed to the cross. This shows how unbelief incapacitates for the appreciation of spiritual excellence, seeing no difference between those who love God and those who love him not. "Therefore the world knoweth us not because it knew him not."

Again, the spiritual life, the grand distinction of the sons of God is inscrutable. It is a hidden life. "Your life is hid with Christ in God." It is true that it puts forth external signs in works pure and good. Yet these may be counterfeited, misjudged, or ascribed to unworthy motives, to gain social standing, improve the worldly condition, or to fortify credit. Thousands in Christian communities may from worldly motives exhibit the same outward morality, and the same benevolence toward the needy as do Christians.

There is another consideration which makes it difficult in this life to discern clearly between him who serves God and him who does not serve him. There are many counterfeit Christians, children of the devil masquerading as children of God. It will always be possible this side of the Judgment Day "to steal the livery of heaven to serve the devil in."

All these considerations, together with the fact that many real Christians have some moral imperfections, and the very best of them have involuntary infirmities and defects, tend to conceal the real character of the sons of God in this life, marching up to the open gate of heaven a race of kings, utterly unrecognized by men blinded by the glare of sinful pleasure.

But there is a glorious reverse of all this. As the despised Jesus will one day appear in glory and majesty, attended by all the holy angels, so will all the sons of God stand forth in their kingliness, a circle of glorified brothers with Jesus in the center. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father;" shine out as the sun from a cloud, their light here having been enfeebled and obscured by the causes spoken of above. "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever." There will then be a disclosure and coronation of the sons of God which will astonish a universe of spectators. "I reckon that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." This glory is now veiled by the mortal body enshrouding it, the spiritual resplendence will then stream through the enswathement of the glorified body. Towards this great event the eyes of cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels, principalities and powers are now looking with intense desire. "For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth (with outstretched neck — see the Greek) for the revealing of the sons of God," vindicated, acknowledged, and crowned. The whole world will then "discern between the righteous and the wicked; and they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, when I make up my jewels." Who are these thus ennobled? Their names are not found in Burke's
Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage of the British Empire, but in the Lamb's Book of Life, "a book of remembrance written before him for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon his name." They who have suffered with him will be glorified with him. "O Father, the glory which thou gavest me I have given them." "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not appear what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him." How will our glorified Leader look? St. John took his photograph on Patmos, which he has developed imperfectly but as perfectly as possible with the poor chemicals of words: "I saw in the midst of the golden candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow, and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace." How different is this from the dusty traveler who sat wearied by Jacob's well asking for a drink of water, or fainting beneath his cross on the road to Calvary. Just as great will be the contrast between the sons of God glorified in heaven and the sons of God toiling-in obscurity on the earth, sometimes hunted as outlaws, often wearied, often discouraged, and always unappreciated and misunderstood by the world. What a glorious human brotherhood is this! Other brotherhoods may sympathize with me in trouble, watch with me in sickness, befriend me in a strange land, attend my funeral, and drop a sprig of evergreen into my grave. But here is a brotherhood which will love me in this world and go with me beyond the grave, and cheer and bless me with their society through eternal ages. You can readily infer that I prefer this brotherhood to all others. It is not a secret society, though it has an incommunicable secret, — the white stone and a new name known to the receiver only. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.

The discussion of the character of the sons of God pours a flood of light upon the Fatherhood of God, a misunderstood subject on which the false liberalism of modern times is built. In the New-Testament sense, of that term, God is the Father of those, and only those, who receive his Son and believe in his name, who are born not of the flesh but of the Holy Spirit. The name Father, as applied to God, primarily denotes his relation to the only begotten Son through our union with him to-day as the first term and head of a glorious series. He is the Father of all regenerated men. God is not our Father because he is our Creator and Preserver, for he is the Creator of the beasts, the birds, the fishes, and the reptiles, of which he is nowhere called their Father. To say that he is the Father of all men is to make God and the devil father of the same persons. For Christ addresses some thus: "Ye are of your father, the devil, because you do his works." St. John makes the same distinction: "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God;"
i.e. he is not his son. God disowns him. He has cut himself off from God's family, and has adopted Satan as his father. The essential principle of sonship is love, first in the Only Begotten towards his Father, then in believers who by adoption are "joint heirs of God through Christ." Had we any adequate appreciation of this unspeakable dignity, and the wonderful loving kindness which this name of Father imparts, the joy of heaven would fill the hearts of the children of God while passing through all the distresses and disappointments of this earthly vale of team.