PART I — DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
THE SONS OF GOD
IN the interest of clearness of thought and in vindication of Christian truth, let us see first what we mean by the phrases "Sons of God," "Children of God," and "Fatherhood of God." Strictly speaking, there is but one Person so linked to God by the genetic tie as to be "the Son of God." Hence He is "the only begotten son." His being is grounded on the Divine Nature and is without time limits. He is the eternal Son. All other beings are grounded not on the nature of God, but upon His will, within time limits. They are creatures. The Divine Logos is never spoken of in the Holy Scriptures as a creature. God is never called the creator, but the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ. His sonship is unique and unshared by any other being in the universe. Sonship to God, when applied to others, is figurative, as is also the Fatherhood of God. What then is signified when an archangel, or a man, is called a son of God? There are several things in the relation of a human son to a father which might be the foundation of this metaphor, such as actual descent and possession of the identical nature — which we have disclaimed for all creatures — or resemblance, imitation, obedience, love; qualities which may be summed up in the word likeness. This likeness is both natural and moral. The natural likeness of the human creature to the Creator consists in personality, intelligence, a moral sense, implying freedom and spirituality, i.e., Spirit is the essential principle. The moral likeness exists when man possesses qualities like God's moral attributes, love, holiness, justice, wisdom and truth. But since the moral attributes eclipse the natural in excellence, likeness to God is predicated only of the possession of the moral qualities. Satan, though still like God in his natural attributes, is in no scriptural sense a son of God, because of his lack of the moral likeness. This is true of all unregenerate men. They are not sons of God. Christ plainly told certain Jews that they were of their father, the devil, because they had taken on his moral characteristics. The very taproot of modern liberalism, universal salvation on the ground of the universal Fatherhood of God, lies in a neglect of these scriptural distinctions, and in making the divine Fatherhood natural and genetic, like human fatherhood, and in reasoning from the latter to the former on this wise, "as no human father would be so cruel as to banish his child from his presence forever, much less will the divine Father." The fallacy lies in the assumption, that a wicked man is a child of God, when he is really a child of Satan, because he has taken on his moral likeness. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews declares that certain men "are bastards, and not sons." It will not do to literalize or carnalize the terms "son" and "Father," in speaking of man's relation to God. For the outcome will be universal salvation on the ground of a fondling sentimentalism, an unholy love on the part of God, instead of moral likeness to Him in holy character. Another error is expressed in the maxim, "Once in grace, always in grace," based upon the idea, Once a child, always a child. Substitute, "Once like God, always like God," and the fallacy immediately stands out to view, for Satan once bore the moral image of his Maker. If sonship to God is pressed as a proof of the impossibility of becoming a son of perdition, why may not sonship to the devil be alleged to be an insuperable barrier to becoming a son of God? Are our positions sustained by the Bible? We reply that in the New Testament sonship is the peculiar and distinguishing privilege of those who by faith receive Jesus Christ (John i. 12), and it consists in conformity to the image of the Son of God (Rom. viii. 29), and in no case do the words, "Sons of God," "Children," and "Father," indicate anything but a spiritual likeness. Once, and once only, St. Paul, while preaching on Mars Hill, taking natural religion as his starting point, so as to stand on common ground with his pagan audience, speaks of the human race in the words of a Greek poet, as the offspring of God. Even here he is careful to limit the metaphor to likeness in those natural characteristics in which men consciously differ from "gold or silver or stone." For they are conscious of freedom and moral accountability. In all the New Testament the terms "son," "child," "sonship," "adoption," and "Father," when applied to the relation of men to God, signify a spiritual likeness enstamped in outline by the Holy Spirit at that religious crisis figuratively called the new birth, and in completeness at the subsequent crisis of entire sanctification. Utterly foreign to the Gospels and the Epistles, and to apostolic preaching, as reported in the Acts of the Apostles, is salvation on the ground of the natural fatherhood of God. Such a doctrine would "make the cross of Christ of none effect," because it would be needless in the scheme of salvation.
If we turn to the Old Testament we shall find, in the words of Oehler, that "The meaning of the divine fatherhood is not physical, as if God were called the Father of men because He gives them natural life and preserves them in it, but it is ethical. It denotes the relation of love and moral communion in which Jehovah has placed Israel to Himself. This relation is quite unique; Jehovah is only the Father of the chosen people, not the Father of other nations," He says, "Israel is my son, even my first-born." The sonship of individuals, Oehler insists, was not the privilege of Old Testament saints, inasmuch, in my opinion, as the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, was not yet given. "The notion of divine sonship, as conferred upon the Hebrew nation in general, and then upon the theocratic king, nay, as affirmed in a special sense of the godly, was still but a notion, to be fully realized only in the future. The highest relation of intercourse between God and man, instituted by prophecy, does not attain to the eminence of that filial state inaugurated by the New Testament; for which reason Christ declares the greatest of the prophets to be less than the least in His kingdom." That individual sonship to God was a strange doctrine to the Jews, who were diligent students of their Scriptures, is seen in their indignant surprise that Jesus should dare call God His Father.
Germane to this discussion is the exposition of 2 Pet. i. 4, "That ye may become partakers of the divine nature," "That is," says Dean Alford, "of that holiness and truth, and love, and, in a word, perfection, which dwells in God, and in you by dwelling in God." St. Peter calls that the divine nature which the divine Spirit effects in us, the image of God re-imprinted on us by the Third Person of the adorable Trinity, The only man who is literally a partaker of the divine nature is the God-man. All who truly believe in Him, partake, according to their finite capacity, of the moral attributes of the Father, and in this sense are sons. It is a remarkable fact that the Greek verb for "become" in this text is in the aorist tense. This is a puzzle to the scholarly dean who cannot accept the doctrine of entire sanctification instantaneously wrought by the Holy Spirit through faith. But in his explanation he makes an admission which implies all that the advocates of holiness, as a distinct blessing, ever taught on this line. He says, "The account of this usage of the aorist has not been anywhere, that I have seen, sufficiently given. It is untranslatable in most cases, but seems to serve in the Greek to express that the aim was not the procedure, but the completion, of that indicated." If it is completed in the present life, there must be a definite instant in which the work is finished. This is all that we contend for.
Alford very properly quotes John xii, 36, "Believe on the light, that ye may become sons of light," as another instance of a definite completion aimed at, and not a process. In this case it is the new birth, the beginning of holiness, since the command is to the unregenerate Jews; but in 2 Peter i. 4, the definite completion is entire sanctification because Peter is addressing "them that have obtained like precious faith with us," and is showing to them the full extent of salvation in "the exceeding great and precious promises," which "are given unto us." Why Peter should change the first person to the second, the "us" to "ye," we know not, except it be a delicate intimation that he had become a partaker of the divine nature in a sense not applicable to those whom he addressed, that he had obtained complete conformity to the image of the Son of God, and was a full-grown Son, while they were more or less carnal and were even still babes (1 Cor. iii. 1). St. John also makes two grades of sonship (1 John ii . 13), "little children" who know the Father and cry, "Abba, Father"; and young men who are strong and have permanently conquered the evil one through the Word of God abiding in them by the grip of faith which never relaxes its hold. Reader, to which of these classes do you belong? If to neither, aspire to be born from above; if to the first class, be not content with Christian infancy, but aspire to the strength and victory of Christian manhood.