The Personal and Mediatorial Glory of the Son of God - C.A. Coates
Scripture makes clear that the Son of God is a divine Person, and that His Person is eternal and changeless, whether as subsisting in the form of God, or as come in flesh, or as the subject Son when He gives up the kingdom that God may be all in all. He is for ever " The Same "—a divine title conveying the thought of eternal immutability. In the beginning He was with God, and was God; He is " I AM." His " goings forth are from of old, from the days of eternity " (Micah 5. 2). There is no question as to this in the mind of any instructed believer on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The glory of the Lord's eternal Person appears in a wonderful way in John's gospel, perhaps more fully than anywhere else. Our spirits are impressed, as we read that gospel, by many statements which bring out the personal greatness and glory of the Sent One. " He who comes from above is above all. . . . He who comes out of heaven is above all" (3. 31)- "My Father worketh hitherto and I work" (5. 17). "Before Abraham was, I AM" (8. 58). "I and the Father are one" (10. 30). "All things that the Father has are mine" (16. 15). Had He not been truly God as to His Person, He would not have been great enough to take up the work which He came to do as the Sent One, the obedient One. The essential truth of His Person is interwoven with His mediatorship throughout John's gospel. His Person is unchanged, whatever place, service, or relationship He might be pleased to take up for the effectuation of the purposes of divine love.
But over forty times in John's gospel does the Son of God speak of Himself as the Sent One, and this conveys the thought of being entrusted with a mission. Moreover, the word " sent " implies a relative position which is not one of absolute equality. It implies authority on the part of the sender, subjection on the part of the one sent. To think of our Lord as in Deity being in a place of subjection is derogatory to Him. It is assigning to Him an inferior or subordinate place in Deity, and this is not only contrary to Scripture, but it is inconceivable to any one who believes in His true and full Deity. But as the Sent One He was under authority; He was in a subordinate relation to the One who sent Him.
The words of the Son of God in this very gospel confirm this. " Verily, verily, I say to you, The bondman is not greater than his lord, nor the sent greater than he who has sent him " (John 13. 16). There is correspondence between the relations in which the bondman stands to his lord and those in which the sent one stands to the sender. If we do not clearly distinguish between the mediatorial glory of the Lord as the Sent One and the glory proper to His Person as in Deity from eternity, we shall lose something of the true character of both. His mediatorial glory derives its lustre from His personal glory, but to make His mediatorial glory the full measure of His personal glory is really derogatory to Him. He was here as the Sent One to do the will of the One who sent Him. He disclaimed coming of Himself; He was the obedient One, carrying out His God-appointed mission here. The very word " sent " indicates His mediatorial place as in manhood. How we delight to look upon Him and recognize Him as the Father's Sent One, the God-given Object of faith for " whosoever "!
" Wherefore coming into the world he says, Sacrifice and offering thou willedst not; but thou hast prepared me a body. . . . Then I said, Lo, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of me) to do, O God, thy will" (Heb. 10. 5-7). All was written " in the roll of the book "; it had place in eternal purpose; but it is as " coming into the world " that He actually says, " Lo, I come ... to do, O God, thy will." Obedience or subjection cannot be rightly connected with Him as in " the form of God "; they belong to the condition which the eternal One took up as coming into the world in a prepared body. And it is as taking this place that He is the Sent One of the Father. One has only to consider the many passages where the word occurs to see that this is its force. Not to see it is to fail in the apprehension of the mediatorial glory of the Son of God.
It will be obvious to any careful reader that Scripture does not speak of the Lord as " sent" until He was actually here. Even such prophetic scriptures as Isaiah 42. 19; 61. 1 manifestly refer to Him as here. Let any reader look at the scriptures which speak of the Lord as being " sent," and ask himself if they do not derive their force and meaning from the fact that He was actually here? Scripture particularly connects the thought of His being " sent" with His anointing. " The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach glad tidings to the poor; he has sent me to preach" (Luke 4. 18). This is the order, "anointed" and " sent"; and it corresponds with the " sanctified and sent into the world" of John 10. 36.
The more we contemplate the Son of God in His mediatorial position the more shall we perceive the infinitude and blessedness of the love of God expressed in the gift of such a Person. He has come within the range of men's apprehension as given by God in love to the world (John 3. 16). Inasmuch as men were sinners and under death He did not stop short of laying down His life for us. Love would have been ineffective if He had not done so, and this could not be when the love was God's love. " Herein as to us has been manifested the love of God, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son a propitiation for our sins " (1 John 4. 9, 10). Our hearts engage themselves believingly and adoringly with the glorious Person of the Son of God; we view Him in holy manhood, and going into death, and we perceive the love of God, for it was God who sent and gave Him. John says, " And we have seen, and testify, that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world " (1 John 4. 14). He was eternally God, but it is as the Son of God in manhood that He is said to be sent and given. Scripture uniformly presents the truth in this way.
Does this in any way obscure the thought of God sending and giving His Son? On the contrary, it brings out fully the wondrous and blessed fact that the love of God is made known to men in the only way in which it could be made known; that is, mediatorially in His beloved Son as Man on earth. The whole point of the statements of Scripture is to show that the love of God has come into tangible expression. It has been manifested. It could not be known by something taking place in the inscrutable depths of Deity, but it was known by the mission and death of the Son of God. He was in the presence of Nicodemus when He spoke of Himself as given by God in love; He was before men's eyes all through John's gospel as the Sent One. And when the hour came for supreme expression to be given to the love of God, that love to men was so great that He did not spare the One who was so holy, so delightful to His heart, so beloved by Him, but delivered Him up for us all. These words, " spared not " and " delivered up," did not even apply to Him as in manhood until the wondrous and solemn hour arrived for redemption to be accomplished. I would beg every reader to weigh carefully the statements of Scripture. This is no question of one or two isolated texts; it concerns the whole scope and bearing of the truth. If we have been accustomed to think otherwise, we shall gain spiritually by discarding our own thoughts, and the thoughts of even pious persons, and learning to think and speak as Scripture speaks.
The gospel of John is known to all believers as peculiarly the gospel of the Father and the Son, and the more we consider it the more clearly do we perceive that the relationship of Son, even when entered into by a divine Person, corresponds with every thought of that relationship which the Old Testament had made familiar to men. Can any one question that when God created the human relationship of father and son He had in mind the way in which Pie purposed to make Himself known to men? He provided in that relationship what was suitable to convey to the mind and heart of the creature conceptions of love in authority and of love in obedience which He could use, when the fulness of time came for Him to do so, as a divinely formed setting for the revelation of Himself. The thoughts and affections which by nature, and divine ordinance, stood connected with the natural relationship of father and son were not misleading. They were perfectly suited to convey just the thoughts which God intended to fill out in an infinite way when He should be made known as the Father by the presence here on earth of a divine Person standing towards Him in the relationship of Son. How perfectly does Scripture harmonise, and how worthy of God is all seen to be, when we allow Scripture to form our thoughts!
One of the most precious statements of Scripture is that " the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1. 18). The whole point of this statement is to bring out in the most blessed way the intimate nearness to the Father, the unique place in the Father's affections, of Him who as Man in this world declared the unseen God. What a declaration must that be which is made by One in that relationship, and in such peculiar nearness! The affectionate nature of the declaration could not be more touchingly expressed. It is intended to move our hearts profoundly, and to quicken the affections Godward of all who contemplate it. But it is unquestionable that the declaration was made in time, and to men in this world.
We are afforded full and clear light in Scripture as to the eternal Deity of Christ, and we are also afforded an immense amount of instruction in regard of the place and relationship into which He came as the Son of God. It will be found that the teaching of Scripture as to this is everywhere perfectly consistent and uniform. No one who honours Scripture as the word of God can doubt that the Old Testament presentation of what is comely and proper in a son had Christ in view. And the more we read Scripture humbly and reverently, and in prayerful dependence upon God, the more shall we be confirmed in the assurance that it is so. Let us trace this out a little in detail.
We will look first at the scriptures which refer directly in a prophetic way to Christ as Son. Psalm 2. 7 is the most explicit of these, and therefore we do not wonder to find it quoted three times in the New Testament. (Acts 13. 33; Heb. 1. 5; 5. 5.) Sonship in relation to men naturally is invariably connected in Scripture with the thought of being begotten, and it is definitely connected with this thought in relation to the Son of God. " Jehovah hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; I this day have begotten thee." He is also called " a son " in Isaiah 7. 14 and 9. 6, and the Spirit of God applies Hosea 11. 1 to Him (Matt. 2. 15). Each of these scriptures gives Him the title of Son as begotten through the power of the Highest overshadowing the virgin (Luke 1. 35), in which miraculous way a divine Person became incarnate, and was found in man's condition here in holy flesh apart from sin. To apply the words " begotten " or " only begotten" to Him as in eternal Deity in the past is simply a traditional error, for which Scripture does not furnish the slightest ground. John's use of the words (John 1. 18; 3. 16, 18; 1 John 4. 9) is manifestly in reference to Him as the Object of faith in manhood, and the One sent into the world that we might live through Him.
" Only begotten " as applied to the Lord is not only a term of strong endearment, as some would maintain, but it is so because it expresses a unique relationship, of which Isaac's relationship to Abraham was a type. Isaac was Abraham's " only begotten son" (Heb. 11. 17) because he had no other son who was begotten in the same wonderful way, the child of promise and of resurrection power. One has only to recall the history to be assured of the reason why he should be called " only begotten." The Spirit of God would not take account of any other son of Abraham, for Isaac alone was " born according to Spirit " (Gal. 4. 29). But Isaac was truly " begotten " by Abraham. The word " begotten" is definitely used of the Son of God as born in time, and in no other sense is the word ever used of Him.
I may add, at this point, that the two great types of Christ as Son in the Old Testament are Isaac and Solomon. Isaac is, typically, Christ as the Son of His Father's love, begotten and conceived in a power altogether above nature; afterwards, in figure, offered up as a burnt-offering, and raised from the dead, to have a wife of His own kindred. This is Christ viewed particularly, but not exclusively, as saints of the assembly know Him. Solomon is, typically, the anointed King of glory, beloved by Jehovah (2 Sam. 12. 24, 25), and having His kingdom established for ever (1 Chron. 17. 12-14; 22. 10). This is particularly how Israel and the nations will know " the Son " when He takes the kingdom, and the kings and judges of the earth are called upon to kiss Him (Ps. 2). Rich and full as is the spiritual teaching connected with these types—a teaching deeply valued by all lovers of Christ—it is manifest that they both clearly apply to Christ as Man, and not as in the form of God. They do not furnish any suggestion that He bore the title of Son when He was in Deity in the past eternity.
Theologians, feeling that the word " begotten " implied the posteriority of the One begotten to the One who begot Him, but not seeing that it referred to Him as born of the virgin in time, tried to escape the difficulty by inventing the unscriptural phrase, " eternal generation," which involves the serious error that in some way the Deity of the Son is derived or communicated from the Father, and is therefore of subordinate character. One would hardly expect any intelligent Christian to maintain this now, but it is remarkable how the influence of tradition lingers in the mind.
As we pursue our inquiry into the place which sonship has in Scripture relative to men we find that a son is at the disposal of his father (Gen. 22. 2; Ex. 22. 29, etc.). He is to hearken to his father who begat him (Prov. 23. 22), and to hear his father's instruction (Prov. 1. 8 and many well-known scriptures). A man's son is borne by him as a subject of care (Deut. 1. 31). A father is to command his son and to require obedience; a son is to honour, reverence, and serve his father (see Ex. 20. 12; Lev. 19. 3; Mal. 1. 6; 3. 17, and compare Ex. 4. 22, 23). A father is to chasten his son when necessary (Deut. 8. 5, and other passages). Now all these scriptures clearly prove that while the relationships of father and son are correlative they are never regarded as being co-equal. To suppose that they are so is to throw into confusion the whole structure of scriptural thought. If a son refused to hearken to the voice of his father it was so great an evil in God's sight that the penalty was death (Deut. 21. 18-21).
Now it is certain that the Son of God was in every way holy, sinless and perfect; and therefore He never knew chastening as corrective of wrong, as the sons of men so constantly need. But every other feature of son-ship which the Old Testament brings out was found in perfection in Him. He was begotten of God; He was the subject of God the Father's love and care; He was ever in subjection, carrying out in obedience His Father's will; He was ever instructed (Is. 50. 4), and He ever honoured and served His Father. In no part of Scripture does this come out so clearly and fully as in John's gospel, where His full glory as in Deity is set forth so blessedly. He was ever in the place of obedience, receiving instruction from the Father as to what He should say and what He should do. He even used the words—marvellous if we think of the personal greatness of the One who uttered them—" I can of mine own self do nothing." He received all from the Father; He was ever under the Father's commandment, the Object of the Father's love, and abiding in that love as keeping the Father's commandments. All that God could delight in in a Son was there in the fullest degree, for He received in gladness of heart all the Father's instruction, and did all that His Father commanded Him to do, fulfilling all His pleasure in service as only such a Son could.
The One who did this was ever personally God. Although ever remaining, as to His Person, in the inscrutableness of Deity, without surrendering Its prerogatives, He had taken a subordinate place as Son, for the effectuation of the divine thoughts, and He maintained it throughout. John 5. brings out in a wonderful way His place of subjection as doing nothing of Himself save whatever He sees he Father doing, and at the same time what He is personally, for whatever things the "Father does " these things also the Son does in "like manner." " That all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father." What a wonderful inter-weaving of His personal dignity and His subjection to, and dependence on, the Father!
It is the very perfection and glory of the blessed knowledge of God which is given to men through infinite grace that it comes to us through One who is God, but who came, by a descent of infinite love, into the place and relationship of the Son of God in obedience here.
"I will be to him for father, and he shall be to me for son " (Heb. 1. 5) speaks of relationships that differ in kind and character. Many things are true of the one that cannot be said of the other! In a father love is conjoined with care and authority; in a son love is conjoined with obedience and service. The relationship of son implies an entirely different attitude from that which is appropriate in a father. How any one can read Scripture without perceiving this, especially after attention has been called to it, is difficult to understand.
We may trace through John's gospel with deep spiritual instruction and blessing how perfectly the Lord is presented in the character suited to a Son. His glory was " as of an only-begotten with a father "; He is seen as " in the bosom of the Father," and, as being there, having declared God, whom no one had seen at any time. He is loved as Son by the Father; He is instructed by the Father what to say; He is under the Father's commandment in everything that He does; He serves until all is completed that had been entrusted to Him. He is all to the Father that a Son should be, according to what we learn of sonship in Scripture.
The Jews understood that One who could say that God was His own Father made Himself equal with God (John 5. 18). When He said, " I and the Father are one " (John 10. 30), they took up stones to stone Him because He made Himself God. They rightly felt that none but One who was Himself a co-equal divine Person could claim oneness with the Father, or say that God was His own Father. His sonship is of such a character that none but One who was personally co-equal with the Father could have been found in it. It is this which makes the incarnation and son-ship of our Lord so surpassingly wonderful. To miss it is to miss the true vision of His glory. One who was eternally God has come into the place and relationship of Son, involving obedience and the keeping of His Father's commandments. But we have no scriptural warrant to carry that relationship into eternal Deity.
The consideration of all this makes it clear that viewed in the relationship of Son our Lord is seen in a subordinate position. As in that position He said, " My Father is greater than I" (John 14. 28). It is His glory that He should take such a place in self-emptying devotion. In the perfection of the place which He took He even said to Jehovah, " Thou art the Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee " (Psalm 16. 2). No man ever gave God the place that He should have with man as He did. A divine Person as Man must be perfect in the place and condition into which He has come in love and obedience, and He could say, " My God " as no other man ever could. God had the place with Him that it was right for God to have with man. In becoming Man He did come into a place of inferiority relatively to God and the Father. No Christian with Scripture before him can doubt this. (Heb. 2. 7, Phil. 2. 7).
But it is of the utmost importance that this word inferiority, when applied to the Lord of glory, should be spiritually understood. For a common use of the word to describe what is poor or defective in quality may lead to its use in relation to Him being misunderstood or misrepresented. Inferior properly refers to relative position, and not to the quality of the person who is in it, or to the perfection or otherwise of the way in which he fills it. A lieutenant is in an inferior position to his captain, though he may be personally and in ability much his superior. The position of a bondman, as such, is inferior to that of his master. The position of man, as such, is inferior to that of God, and is ever so presented in Scripture. The great grace and mystery of the incarnation is that, in self-humiliation and by a descent of infinite love, our Lord has taken a position as Man which is lower than the position which ever belongs to Him as God. He was as perfect in the inferior position of " bondman's form " as He was " in the form of God." It could not be otherwise if we think of WHO became Man. But features characterized Him as in the inferior position—such as obedience, dependence, the constant waiting upon the will of another— which could not be attributed to Him as " in the form of God." As to His Person He is eternally divine, but in becoming Man He has come into a place and condition which, in itself, is inferior to the place and condition of Deity. But in Person He is all that He ever was, and thus He is, even as Man, God's Fellow. (Zech. 13. 7). The word inferior, as used in connection with the Lord, applies to the position taken, and not to the Person who took it. If we do not admit His coming into a lower or inferior position as becoming Man we have lost the grace of the incarnation.
And all this has its bearing, according to the whole tenor of Scripture, on the Lord's relationship as Son. We have already seen that the relationships of father and son in Scripture, though correlative are never regarded as co-equal. A definite subordination is always attached to the relationship of son, and we see this in its highest and holiest perfection in the gospel of John.
The peculiar blessedness of the present time does not consist only in knowing that there are three Persons in the Godhead, but in seeing the wonderful place which two of those Persons have taken so that God might be declared and known. One of those Persons became Man, so that as the Son of God, He might declare God mediatorially. Another of those Persons condescended to be sent by the Father and the Son, and to indwell those who believe. But the activities of the Son and the Spirit are both subordinated to the purpose of divine love that God should be known as the Father. No one can read the gospels or the epistles without seeing that the thought of God is presented to us in the Father. The Son has made Him known mediatorially, and the Spirit is sent and given so that His love may be shed abroad in the hearts of believers, and that they may, as having the Spirit of sonship, cry, " Abba, Father."
It is not that the Son or the Holy Spirit are subordinate in Deity. Such a thought would be grossly wrong. But they have been pleased to take a subordinate place in the economy of revelation. And that is why we do not get in Scripture such expressions as ' God the Son,' or ' God the Holy Spirit,' but we do get habitually " God the Father." " To us there is one God, the Father " (1 Cor. 8. 6). The Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and this in the most absolute sense. But the Son and the Spirit have been pleased to take a relative place which is not commensurate with Their full personal glory, but which is essential to the accomplishment of the purposes of divine love. The Son has been seen in manhood in a subordinate and subject place, not acting by His own will, or speaking His own words, or doing His own works. The Holy Spirit is also known as in a subordinate place, not speaking from Himself, but speaking " whatsoever he shall hear." And both the Son and the Holy Spirit rendering Their wonderful service in order to bring about the knowledge of God as the Father.
God was declared, and the Father's name made known, by the Son as Man on earth, who was at that very time " the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father" (John 1. 18). It was the relation in which God stood to Him, and God had never been Father in the same sense to any man before. Of course there is no change in God; what He is now He ever was and ever will be. But He was not known to any man as Father until the Man was here who was " called the Son of God." He was not known as such, nor could be. This is a question, not of what God is essentially in His inscrutable Being, but of how He is pleased to be known by men. When the Son was here as Man, God was declared in the full height and glory of all that was possible for the creature to know; His name as Father was made known. There is no further revelation to be made; all is out that can be made known of God. It has been well said, Who can speak after the Son? The names Father and Son are ever presented in Scripture in relation to the divine mediatorial system. They belong to the sphere of revelation, and not to that of God's essential Being which no creature mind can ever know. We know God as the Father now, which no saints ever did before He stood in that relation to a blessed Man in this world, His own beloved Son.
The whole of the Lord's ministry amongst His own was to the end that they should recognise that the Father was the source of all that came out in, or was accomplished by, His mission here. The Father was the starting point from which He moved, the One by whom He was sent, and to whom He went when His mission was fulfilled. He would have His own to connect everything with the Father; it was His joy to say of them, " Now they have known that all things that thou hast given me are of thee; for 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. 7, 8). All this clearly views our Lord as in a mediatorial position.
Our knowledge of God as declared by the Son, and as known by the holy name of Father, is dependent on the incarnation. This has introduced a stupendous change; it has brought about an entirely new beginning in the knowledge of God, and is so presented in Scripture (1 John 1. 1; 2. 13, 14). And in connection with it the Father is known as the blessed Source of everything that came out mediatorially in the Son. It is the pleasure of divine Persons that it should be so. And now that God is made known as the Father we can speak of Him by that blessed name, and Scripture speaks of Him thus, even when referring to the past eternity. Divine names and titles, when known, are used in Scripture to identify the Persons without necessarily meaning that they were so known in the conditions referred to. For instance, " Christ " and " Christ Jesus " are used in speaking of Him in the past eternity, but we all know that He was not actually the anointed Man then. He was not actually " the Son of man " before His incarnation, but the Person who is now known as the Son of man was from eternity, and is now ascended up where He was before (John 6. 62). God told Moses (Ex. 6. 3) that He was not made known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the name Jehovah, and yet that name is used throughout the book of Genesis, and even by Jehovah Himself. It is evident that the one true God— Israel's Jehovah—was identified by the name.
So in the New Testament God is spoken of as " the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1. 3), who chose us in Christ " before the world's foundation." Every thoughtful believer must realise that He could not be the God of another divine Person when both are in absolute Deity. But as having come in flesh the Lord Jesus could not only say " My Father," but also " My God." He was in the place of man relative to God, as He was also the Son in relationship to God and to the Father. " The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ " is God as known in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ at the present time, but He is also so named when the reference is to Him at a period when such a title could not apply. The Persons of the Godhead are eternally the same, though in divine wisdom they may be known now by names which did not apply even in Old Testament times. And if they did not apply in Old Testament times, how can we say that they applied eternally when there was no revelation at all ? The fact is that we only know divine Persons as and when they are made known to us, and we speak of Them as we know Them. But names of revelation were certainly not needed within the sphere of Deity. That is a region utterly beyond creature apprehension; and it is our wisdom to recognize that the greatness of God is unsearchable (Ps. 145. 3), and to be content with the blessed light which has come to us in infinite love. We shall find enough in it to engage and fill our hearts adoringly for time and throughout eternity.
Scripture is almost entirely occupied in bringing before us how God has been pleased to be known by men at different periods, and how He is pleased to be known by men at the present time. At certain times God was pleased to be known by certain names. Those names gave character to the knowledge and faith of His people, nor could they go beyond what was made known of God in those names. The Patriarchs did not know Him by the name Jehovah, and no Old Testament saints knew Him by the name of Father. His NAME is how He is pleased to be known by men, and it has always been in keeping with what faith needed for its support at any particular time. We know Him now as the Father, but it would be misleading for us to say that He was always the Father. He was not so known by His saints of old; their whole knowledge of Him was formed by other names. We cannot carry the names Father and Son even back into the Old Testament we find God is known there as Elohim, the Most High, the Almighty, and Jehovah. We have a prophetic " decree " declared in Psalm 2. that the Messiah, Jehovah's Anointed, would be His Son, begotten by Him on a certain day. But the Father as a name of revelation was held in reserve until there was a divine Person here on earth as Man known as the Son of God.
The Son, as a divine Person in manhood, speaking to the Father in the wondrous prayer of John 17, refers to a glory which He shared, and a love of which He was the object, prior to His incarnation, and, indeed, before the world was (verses 5, 24). The glory and the love were His as in eternal Deity. There is an unrevealed depth about this, and about the glory which He has now along with the Father according to John 17. 5, which we cannot fathom. Scripture does not say that this glory of His in the past eternity was the glory of sonship, though it was undoubtedly a glory proper to His eternal Person.
He descended from the glory which He had along with the Father before the world was when He came down into a condition and path of humiliation in order to complete the work given Him that He should do it, but in John 17. 5 He asks to be glorified with it as Man. A divine Person could not remain in humiliation, but having come into that place He would not leave it by His own act, but as being glorified by the Father whom He had glorified in humiliation. He is now glorified as Man along with the Father, and the glory which He has with the Father is the same as He had before the world was. This is more intimate and personal than the exaltation of Philippians 2. 9-11. There it is the public answer on the part of God the Father to the self-humbling and obedience unto death of Jesus Christ. Every knee of heavenly and earthly and infernal beings shall bow to Him; every tongue will confess that He is Lord to God the Father's glory. It is not a return to a glory possessed before, but the granting of a name that shall be supreme in the whole sphere of good and evil. But John 17. 5 refers to a glory previously possessed, from which He had come to take up His mediatorial service in humiliation, but with which He is now glorified along with the Father. What joy to the Father thus to glorify Him! To answer the completeness of His work by receiving Him, wholly apart from humiliation, in the fulness of a glory which was His before He became Man! For a brief space He had descended from it to be in humiliation here, but now He is with the Father as Man invested with the glory which was His previous to His incarnation. This is more than the glory of sonship, for He was glorified as the Son of God while He was here, both by the Father's voice and by the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11. 4).
The Father has glorified Him (John 17. 5) so that it is, and will be, manifest to the intelligent universe that He is no less in personal glory now than He was before the foundation of the world. His self-emptying, in coming into a place of obedience, and in taking a bondman's form, was publicly a descent from His proper and essential glory. But He is now glorified along with the Father in a condition which was not His before. As Man He is invested with the glory that was His before the world was. I repeat, there is an unrevealed depth about this which bows the soul in worship. Indeed we worship Him as " over all, God blessed for ever." And that blending of what is personal with what is mediatorial which we have seen to characterize the gospel of John will be carried on through eternity. The personal place and glory of the Son will give a peculiar lustre to His eternal subjection (1 Cor. 15. 28).
Our Lord's precious designation, " The Word," brings out how the mind of God has been fully and intelligibly communicated in Him. " God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in the person of the Son " (Heb. 1. 1, 2). All was truly there in the divine mind from eternity, but the wonder and glory of the present time is that it has come into expression. The Greek " Logos " (Word) signifies this. A competent scholar has defined its meaning thus: " Whatever is the expression of a thought formed in the mind, and otherwise unknown; hence used for the thing expressed, or the expression of it. . . . It is the matter and form of thought and expression, as well as the utterance of it. . . . Whatever expresses the mind is logos. Nous is the intelligent faculty: whatever expresses the thought formed in it is logos " (J.N.D. in note to 1 Cor. 1. 5 in New Translation: see the whole note). What should arrest attention is that God, and all that is in His mind relative to men, has come into expression so as to be intelligently apprehended. Nothing could be more wondrous.
The title "THE WORD" conveys to us what Christ the Son is as the glorious Person in whom is expressed the mind and heart of God. It is thus a very distinctive and comprehensive appellation, as perhaps covering a wider and more profound apprehension of Him than any other title that attaches to Him.
It is not a name of relationship like Son; not an official title like the Christ; but it is a designation which indicates the greatness of what is expressed in Him. The blessedness of God was in perfect expression in Him, and this is greater than anything else. It involves His full Deity in perhaps a more absolute way than any other of His titles. Who could be the full expression of God, and of God's mind, save One who was Himself an eternal divine Person ? Hence John, writing by inspiration of the Spirit, selects this appellation to designate Him as being " in the beginning." Some title must be used, and we may be sure that " THE WORD " was more suitable to be used in that connection than any other. But John writes, as Luke does also, from the standpoint that the Word had been known as having become flesh, and dwelling among men. Men had been privileged to be " eye-witnesses of and attendants on the Word" (Luke 1. 2).
If Luke and John had not thus known the Word neither of them would ever have written gospels. Christ had become known as " THE WORD " to these two blessed men of God. Doubtless to thousands of others, but these two witnesses will suffice to prove that He was known to men, and spoken of by men, as " the Word." Now John has told us, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the Person thus known, and thus spoken of, was with God and was God. But it was One known to John, and many others, as THE WORD, who was in the beginning, and who was with God and was God. This is the whole point of what is stated. It is the assertion in unmistakable terms of the pre-existence and Deity of Him who is now known to us as the Word. To say that He was the Word in eternity only raises questions as to what was expressed in Him in eternity, and to whom it was expressed; questions impossible to answer, for Scripture is silent on the matter. But the certainty that the One now known as the Word was eternally God is of the greatest and most vital importance. It bows the soul before Him in most profound reverence, and intensifies the desire that the vast import of His title THE WORD shall be known now in spiritual reality and power in our hearts. There is immense gain in this, and I am sure that the enemy would, if possible, divert us from it by any and every means.
Creation made known God's eternal power and divinity; these are invisible things, but they are apprehended by the mind through the things that are made. But the mind of God, what He is morally and in His nature, was not spoken in creation. It was spoken in Christ incarnate, and it was known to the saints as having been spoken in Him. But in face of the enemy's efforts to obscure the truth they needed to know the Personality and Deity of the Word. This was declared in simple but unmistakable language. His eternal Being, His Deity, His distinct Personality, His action as universal Creator, are established unquestionably. All this was true of Him whom we know as the Word. Is He not seen to be invested with ineffable divine majesty and glory? Is anything taken from Him by saying that the intelligible expression in Him of every divine thought was in manhood, and that it awaited His incarnation to be expressed? And that the expression of it is involved in the very word Logos? I have enlarged somewhat on this because of its importance in view of an intelligent apprehension of the truth.
Hebrews 1 is quite in line with this. God having spoken to us in the Person of the Son is clearly in manhood, but God is pleased to tell us that by the same Person He made the worlds. It is of the very substance of the faith that the Son—the very One who has been known and heard in manhood—was the Creator. Scripture establishes this beyond question. But creation was brought into being by Him when He was in the form of God; it was long before God spoke in Him as Son in manhood. But by the same Person He made the worlds.
Hebrews 1 was written to assert the Deity of the Son, the Messiah, and, amongst other scriptures, Psalm 45 is cited to show that the King, the Beloved, God's anointed One, is addressed prophetically as " O God." The Psalm is wholly prophetic of Messiah's glory, when as God's Anointed He will subdue His enemies and wield the sceptre of His kingdom in righteousness. It has been said to Him prophetically, but the things said to exist (such as the subjugation of enemies, the establishment of the throne, and the place of the king's daughter and the queen) are all obviously future. But the King of that glorious day is the blessed Person spoken of in Hebrews 1 as THE SON. It is in manhood that God spoke by Him, and it is as Man He set Himself down on the right hand of the greatness on high. It is as Man that He is addressed by God as His Son; as Man He will be brought into the habitable world as Firstborn, and worshipped by all God's angels; as Man He will have the millennial throne and sceptre. But that Man is God, and is addressed as God. His eternal Deity is unquestionable, but the subject of Hebrews 1. 5-13 is the greatness and Deity of the Messiah—God's anointed Man—as set forth in Old Testament scriptures.
I will now, in conclusion, remark briefly on several scriptures which seem to be regarded by some as proofs that the sonship of Christ was eternal. Hebrew 7. 3 is one of them. Melchisedec was clearly a type of Christ as King and Priest, a type which will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom. It is after his order, too, that Christ is now a Priest for ever as sitting at God's right hand until His enemies are put as footstool of His feet (Psalm no). But let it be carefully noted that it is to the earth-rejected, throne-seated Messiah that Jehovah swears " and will not repent, Thou art priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." It is the Son born in time according to Hebrews 5. 5, perfected through suffering (5. 9), and now "a Son perfected for ever " (7. 28), who is constituted Priest. He has not glorified Himself to be made a high priest (5. 5); if He were on earth He would not even be a priest at all (8. 4). But now as the glorified Man at God's right hand He is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec; He has been "addressed by (or saluted of) God " as invested with this office evermore.
The priesthood of Christ is the subject of Hebrews 5 to 8. The Deity of the Son having been fully established in chapter 1, the Spirit of God proceeds to bring before us His priestly office, an office which is conferred upon Him as Man exalted at God's right hand by the swearing of an oath by God. He did not derive His priesthood from any ancestor, nor will He transmit it to any successor. It thus differs essentially from the priesthood as held by Aaron and his sons. It is the priesthood of the Son of God, an abiding priesthood " according to power of indissoluble life," exercised by One who " because of his continuing for ever, has the priesthood unchangeable " (Heb. 7. 24). The " indissoluble life " of verse 16 is clearly life in resurrection.
It pleased God that Melchisedec should be a remarkable type of this order of priesthood long before the law constituted men high priests. " Now consider how great this personage was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth out of the spoils." It thus appeared that Melchisedec's priesthood was superior to any priesthood exercised by the sons of Levi, for in Abraham Levi was made to pay tithes to a greater priest. The priests of Aaron's line were dying men (verse 8), but Melchisedec was one " of whom the witness is that he lives." The record of Scripture says nothing of how he came on the scene, or of how he departed; Scripture brings him before us as a living priest, as one who " abides a priest continually." He was thus a fitting type of Christ. The whole point of the teaching of this part of Hebrews is that the Son of God is now " a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec," who was typically assimilated to Him.
Hebrews 7. 3 is very interesting as showing how what Scripture does not say of a typical person may have an important bearing on what is typified in him. The omission of any mention of parentage or genealogy in the case of Melchisedec, and his being said to have " neither beginning of days nor end of life," may serve to suggest in a striking, if somewhat mysterious, way that the One typified in him would be a divine Person. This would be in keeping with what is certainly one chief object of the Spirit of God in this wonderful epistle. That is, to make unmistakably clear to the Hebrew believers that Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God is a divine Person. The divine speaking in Him, His heirship of all things, His creatorial power, His session on the right hand of the greatness on high, His throne in the kingdom, His ability to set aside the whole created system, His place as Son over the house of God, all proclaim Him a divine Person. And if we think of His priesthood who but a divine Person could pass through the heavens, or become " higher than the heavens " ? Who but a divine Person could sit down " on the right hand of the throne of the greatness in the heavens," or could find an eternal redemption, or be the Testator of all that is in the heart of God? Who but a divine Person could be equal to the effectuation of all that is in the will of God, or could be " the Same yesterday, and to-day, and to the ages to come" ? But this eternal divine Person is known to us as having become Man, and as bearing the title of Son in manhood.
It has also been asserted that as Scripture speaks of " the eternal Spirit" (Heb. 9. 14) it justifies our speaking of Christ as 'the eternal Son.' The fact of such an argument being advanced shows how difficult it is to find any scriptural warrant for the latter statement. And if attention is given to the connection and bearing of the passage it will be obvious that no such deduction from it is admissible. That we should be told that Christ " by the eternal Spirit offered himself spotless to God " (Heb. 9. 14) is a precious witness to our hearts of how everything in His public service, even to the offering of Himself to God, was done by the Holy Spirit. But how this can be supposed to prove that the title " Son " attached to Him in the past eternity will, I think, be difficult for most readers to understand.
No scripture could bring out more distinctly than Hebrews 9. 14 the place that Christ was in here as not acting by His own will, or by His own power as a divine Person. His offering of Himself to God was the supreme act of His self-sacrificing devotion, but it was performed through the eternal Spirit, and was thus connected with the eternal thoughts of God. It stood in relation to what was in God's mind long before the types of the Old Testament set it forth in a figurative way. Compare 1 Peter 1. 20. " The eternal Spirit" was long prior to the offering of goats and bulls. The latter only sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, but what was done by Christ through the eternal Spirit effected what was in accord with the mind of God, and therefore was of an eternal character. It has long been recognized that the use of the word eternal " in the epistle to the Hebrews contrasts what God has brought in now, through Christ and by His death, with what was known in Judaism.
The Spirit is not a name of relationship like Father or Son. The Holy Spirit has not been manifested like the Son, or revealed like the Father; He remains in His eternal character as an unseen Spirit, and can therefore be spoken of as " the eternal Spirit." But Scripture does not speak of ' the eternal Father,' or ' the eternal Son,' because the Father and the Son are names which give character to our present knowledge of God. They are names which could only be known through the incarnation. They give a character to the present time which no other period ever had. The peculiar blessedness and supreme favour of the present time is that we know the Father as revealed in the Son. Let the saints of God watch diligently that they be not diverted from the apprehension of how divine Persons are known now through the incarnation of the blessed Son of God.
Proverbs 30. 4 is another of the passages which are supposed by some to support the idea that the sonship of our Lord goes back into eternity. But this verse forms part of an utterance which is distinctly spoken of as a " prophecy " (verse 1). It may be, like other Old Testament scriptures we have referred to, a prophetic intimation of the sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 2 had probably already found its place in inspired Scripture before Agur's prophecy was uttered; at any rate it was another utterance by the same prophetic Spirit. And Proverbs 30. 4 no more proves that the title " Son " applied to Christ then than Psalm 2. 7 proves that He was the Son begotten, and anointed as King upon Zion, at the time when the Psalm was written. It would make nonsense of Scripture to assume that prophetic statements as to what Christ would be could be taken as setting forth facts subsisting as actualities at the time when they were written.
The inquiry, " What is his son's name, if thou knowest," was, indeed, designed to awaken in the heart of every reader deep interest in the fact that One who could be spoken of as God's Son was in the view of the prophetic Spirit. And I think we should be justified in saying that the same divine Spirit who inspired the question has answered it in Isaiah 9. 6. " For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace." But it is obvious that nothing whatever is said in Proverbs 30. 4 about His being Son in the past eternity.
As much has been made of Proverbs 8 as being alleged to prove the eternal sonship of Christ, it is important to consider the scripture carefully. It is clear that Wisdom is personified here, and so also is Prudence. But the thought of Wisdom being the Son is in no way suggested in the chapter, for Wisdom is personified as a woman. This is striking as being in a book which does give prominence to the thought of sonship in the saints. But Wisdom is always in the feminine; it is " her" and " she " all through. The son—" my son " —is to get wisdom; he is to say to Wisdom " Thou art my sister "; Intelligence is to be his kinswoman (chapter 7. 4). An attempt has been made to evade the force of this by pointing out that wisdom is a feminine word in Hebrew. But no one could believe that the Spirit of God would use a feminine word, and a feminine figure throughout, if His object had been to give in Proverbs 8 an unquestionable proof that the Lord Jesus Christ bore the title of SON in the past eternity. There are feminine types of Christ in Scripture such as the red heifer and other female offerings, and the import of these must be sought in the general idea which is conveyed typically by the female. That idea is certainly not the thought of sonship. The Holy Spirit has emphasised the sonship of Christ in one remarkable passage by speaking of Him as " a male son " (Rev. 12. 5), and if Proverbs 8 had been intended to be one of the strongest proofs that Scripture contains of the eternal sonship of Christ we may be sure that the chapter would not have carried throughout the feminine impress.
The fact is that Wisdom is viewed in the chapter in a very abstract way; she dwells with prudence, and she is intelligence; by her kings rule, rulers make just decrees, and princes and nobles rule. She dispenses honour to those who love her, and fills their treasuries. Jehovah possessed her in the beginning of His way; she was set up from eternity, brought forth before the hills, and was present when Jehovah did the work of creation. The language used—" set up," " brought forth "— is clearly inapplicable to a divine Person in eternal Deity, but it is beautifully in keeping with the thought of Wisdom as a personified quality brought into being, and existing beside Jehovah, His hand-maid, as it were, in all His workings. She is not said to be created; that would make her a concrete entity; but she is " set up " and " brought forth " so as to be contemplated as possessed by Jehovah. It is obviously an abstract conception of Wisdom, but personified, so that it is represented as crying, instructing, loving, being loved, conferring benefits, and as rejoicing before Jehovah and in the habitable parts of His earth, and as having delights with the sons of men. In all this I have no doubt there was in the mind of the Spirit a certain reference to Christ, for it was He who would be God's wisdom as well as His power, even as the crucified One, and who would be " made to us wisdom from God" (i Cor. i. 24, 30). But to make Wisdom in Proverbs 8, to be definitely Christ personally is going beyond what is written. Indeed, as we know, Christ the Son was really Jehovah the Creator in Proverbs 8, and Wisdom was with Him in all His works of old. To see this is manifestly to exalt Him infinitely; it is impossible for any one to say that it is a derogation from His glory.
I do not think that Proverbs 8 can be understood, consistently with the whole truth, except by seeing that it is the voice of Wisdom abstractedly viewed, but personified as a female who can speak, love, bestow favours, and have delights. It has pleased God to so present it, and it is for us to seek understanding as to it. It must be admitted by all that the thought of Son is simply not to be found there. Proverbs 8 does not call Wisdom a divine Person, and some of the language used precludes this thought of her.
Finally, we may briefly consider the bearing of Matthew 28. 19 on this subject. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
This great utterance of our risen Lord brings the three Persons of the ever blessed Trinity into view as They are known now through the incarnation. Such a formula could not have been used in Old Testament times. It required that God should be known as the Father, and this was through another divine Person having come here as Man. And He who was here as Man had also spoken of another divine Person who would be sent from the Father and from Himself as a glorified Man, to abide with and be in those who should believe on His name. That is, the whole scope of the truth as to God, as it has come to light through infinite grace and love by the incarnation of the Son, and as a result of His death and exaltation, is brought to all disciples now, and they are brought to it, in the sacred formula of Matthew 28. 19. Nothing could be more profound, and yet nothing more simple. The Father has been made known by the Son as a divine Person in manhood. The Holy Spirit is known as One sent by the Father and the Son. But if Christ had not been here as the Son in manhood there could be no baptising to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is how divine Persons are known now to us men through the incarnation; the death, resurrection, and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, being bound up with it. The whole point and force of the baptismal formula is that men are to be baptised to a name which is now made known. Certainly there was no baptising in the past eternity, nor do we gain anything whatever by carrying back into eternity a formula which derives all its significance from the supremely blessed and all-important fact that one Person in the Godhead has become, and remains eternally, Man.
I do not think that any scripture can be adduced that applies the title " Son," or " Son of God," to our Lord Jesus Christ as in Deity in the past eternity. Scripture teaches unquestionably that His Person is eternal, but it invariably attaches these titles to Him, whether prophetically or actually, as in manhood. This is, I believe, indisputable.
I have found the review of this great and holy subject, and the re-consideration of the precious scriptures bearing on it, to be very profitable. I trust that all who read this little paper may derive a like blessing. Everything that concerns the personal and mediatorial glory of the Son of God is of deep interest to those who love Him. I have sought to bring out what Scripture really says; this will, I trust, edify and enlarge, and make the Person of the Son of God greater and more precious in the heart of every reader.
C. A. Coates