The Risen Lord and the Things Which Cannot be Shaken

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 9 - The Meaning and Value of Sonship

Reading: Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22.

We shall refer to some other passages besides these, but I would just stay to draw your attention again to the fact that so many of the things about which we are speaking in connection with the meaning of the Lord's life come within the category of things which are definitely stated to be secrets. You will probably have noticed that feature as we have gone on, and that is why I am speaking of those things as the secret sources. They are so often declared to be things which are not open to all: they are hidden; they lie beneath, and cannot be apprehended on natural grounds. Now here is another matter which is definitely in that realm. It tells of something of which no ordinary man has understanding.

"No one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him".

With that reminder let us turn to John's Gospel: Chapter 1:18,34; 3:18,34-36; 5:20,22; 9:35-36; 11:4; 17:1; Colossians 2:2.

Many more passages of like character could be added, but perhaps these are sufficient to provide a basis upon which to proceed.

As in the case of each of the other matters which we have mentioned, we at once turn to observe what this relationship meant to the Lord Jesus, how it was to Him as the background of everything. It gave meaning and value to all utterances, all acts, all experiences, to everything for the present and for the future. How frequently He spoke of Himself in the terms of Sonship, and of the Father in personal relationship with Himself. This forms a very strong and very full basis for His life, and He drew upon it continually. We might say that it meant everything to Him throughout His life.

Before we go further in meditating upon that we must say a word about the two titles which He bore in Sonship. We are familiar with them - The Son of Man! The Son of God! The point at which these two titles or designations deviate has not to do with the Person but the work. It is very important to recognise that. We may not, and we cannot, divide the Person. That is what Paul means by "the mystery of God, even Christ", and we may dwell for a lifetime upon that mystery without being able to solve it. The Person of the Lord Jesus has been the battleground from the beginning, and probably always will be while time shall last. More heresies and errors have sprung from man's attempt at solving that mystery and setting it out clearly for human apprehension than from any other source. It is always extremely delicate, if not dangerous, ground to try to handle the Person of Christ.

So the titles do not in any way make two Persons, divide the Person, but they represent two realms and aspects of work, and therefore of truth, relative to the Person. We know what those realms are, and what those respective works are. As Son of Man He is Representative of man by vital union with man. As Son of God He is expressive of God by oneness with the very Person of God. That is technical and largely theological. It represents the two sides of the Person in practical expression, for practical purposes, that is, as to His office and His work.

The Son of Man

We must safeguard the title "Son of Man", lest we mentally, and perhaps unconsciously, bring it to a lower level and into a lesser realm than it should occupy; for even the title, "Son of Man", goes far beyond the thought of the human birth. Along with the revelation that He was born of a virgin, we have this clear statement: "The Son of man which is in heaven" (John 3:13). That carries the designation higher than earth, and gives to it a Divine meaning and a Divine value. Unless we recognise that we get into a terrible morass of confusion over the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus. Men have said, for example, that the theory of the virgin birth breaks down because it would relate all sin to man, and rule the whole question of sin out of woman. You see how utterly futile such talking is, and how it misses the mark. We must recognise that Christ was not born of a virgin on any natural basis; under any such foolish conceit as that woman is sinless and man sinful, and thereby a virgin birth would secure His sinlessness. By the Holy Ghost there was a cutting in between all that Mary inherited and what Christ was.

Many such theological, doctrinal, and technical questions arise over the Person of Christ. My point is that even the title Son of Man, makes Him different from the rest of men in a Divine sense, and that while Son of Man, and vitally related to man, He is other than the rest of men.

The Son of God

Then a word about the other title. There is a phrase which occurs in John's Gospel, namely, "only begotten Son". Unless you know and remember one thing that title is likely to get you into confusion. If you read on through the New Testament you will find that others are begotten of God. John himself in his letters speaks much about that, about the sons begotten of God. How then is Christ the only begotten Son? You must remember that these words were penned long after most of the New Testament had been written and circulated. By the time these words were written there were multitudes of sons begotten of God, and yet the Apostle wrote deliberately, and with precision, of "the only begotten Son". It cannot, therefore, be just a question of time that is here in point, that Christ was the first, and being the first for a time was the only begotten of God. That would bring Him on to the level of all the others, and rule out a certain distinctiveness. The explanation lies elsewhere, for this word does not mean that Christ was the only one who was begotten of God. It does not especially relate to the begetting at all, but to the kind begotten. It could be quite accurately translated into our language, the uniquely, or singularly begotten. It really means that there was never another like this One. He is the only such One, this begotten of God. The emphasis is not upon the begetting, but upon the "only" - the only begotten, the uniquely begotten. It is a very interesting word. We shall not stop to study it, but you would find, if you were to follow that word through, that very often it is seen to occupy a place of endearment, as of one standing in a special relationship in endearment, because of the nature of that one. In the Hebrew the same word is sometimes translated "darling" and is on occasion applied to Christ: "I will not leave my darling in Sheol". The Lord Jesus, Whom the Father sent into the world, is named under a term of endearment in John 3:16. The whole force of John 3:16 centres in the fact that the love of God is there seen in uttermost sacrifice as He takes the final step of sending Christ.

It is not that God was not in a position to beget multitudes of sons, or that God had simply confined Himself to begetting one; the term is used because of what that Son was. God has never begotten another like Him, and has never intended so doing. Christ is unique in His relationship with God. He stands alone. God summed up all things in Him, that is, God never intended to put anything of Himself in another as belonging to that other, as inherently in that other. If ever we receive of God's fulness it will only be in Christ, not in ourselves. He has bound up everything with Christ, and in that way Christ is unique. He stands alone; the fulness and the finality of God. All things are sealed up in Him.

This touches upon the crucial nature of the fall. In Adam we have one whom God created, and the first Adam was called the son of God (Luke 3:38); not in the same sense, but as being God's offspring, one into whom God had breathed the breath of lives. But Adam's sin was this, that while he was conditioned by a dependent relationship, and was to have all things as in God by filial fear, obedience, and love, he yielded to the temptation to take things out of that relationship, and to have them in himself. The temptation was presented thus: You shall be as God! What you now have only by dependence and obedience you can have as your own personal right and prerogative and possession! That led to the fall. From that time God never places in another that which is of Himself to belong to that other as a part of his own being; but He has placed all that belongs to Him in Christ and locked it up, and no one can have anything except in Christ. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life". It is in this sense, which could be enlarged upon so much more if it were our purpose to do so, that Christ is the only begotten, the uniquely begotten, the singularly begotten Son.

It is just there that things have gone astray, and the false teaching has come in to the effect that we are all sons as Christ was a Son, and that the result of the process of things in us will be our deification. That has been the Devil's lie from the beginning. There will be no sonship in ourselves in exactly the same way as that in which Christ is the only begotten. He stands alone. We will mention our side presently.

Having said that general word about the two titles of Christ relative to His Sonship, and repeating that the two titles are Divine, we seek, with reference to the Lord Jesus, to summarize the whole subject in a few definite points.

We note then in the first place -

The Strength and Dignity Derived from Sonship

There was a strength and dignity derived by the Lord Jesus from this union, this relationship. You cannot fail to see this as you read the account of His life here on earth. From His relationship to the Father, of which He was quite aware, the relationship of Son to Father, and Father to Son, He derived a wonderful strength and dignity. This relationship was a secret which others neither knew nor recognised. The claim to it they would not tolerate, and they even sought to slay Him when He Himself made reference to it. But to Him, that He was the Son and that God was His Father meant everything at all times. To break that down, to bring the Lord Jesus into the realm of questioning, to coerce or persuade Him into putting that relationship to the test, was the Devil's aim. To have given heed would have been, on the part of the Son, to have entertained doubt of all that was most sure, to have acted presumptuously, to have gone back upon an absolute surrender. The Devil's object was to get Him on to the ground of demonstrating something which to His own heart was beyond demonstration and needed not to be demonstrated, to lure Him out to put this thing to the proof in times of stress. "Tempted at all points like as we..." said the Apostle.

You know what such temptation is. As one who rejoices in the knowledge that God is your Father, you know what this means to you in the best moments of your life. But suppose you are hungry, weak, worn out, and in direct, naked conflict with the Devil and powers of darkness, while around you there is a sinister atmosphere of evil, and for the time being it is as though you were, in a spiritual sense, in the wilderness with the wild beasts; you know the suggestions which the enemy makes at such a time, the insinuations as to the Father, and as to your sonship, your relationship. "Tempted in all points like as we..." But the Lord Jesus did not yield to the suggestion, the insinuation. He did not yield to the pressure to subject that relationship to any kind of test. He stood on it, and won on the ground of His secret knowledge of it. He put back His own soul, and refused to allow it to govern Him. He stood in His spirit upon God's fact and won through. It was to Him the strength by which He won. He knew God's fact to be true, and stood to it.

That gave Him a wonderful strength, a wonderful dignity. Some of His language, if it were the language of an ordinary man, would be accounted terrible as He speaks to the leaders of religious life and thought; men occupying high places in religious things, and says to them: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). And again, "If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). They immediately rose up and said: "We were never in bondage to any man", "we are Abraham's seed". The Lord Jesus at once proceeded to point out how great their bondage was. The dignity of the position! "If the Son shall make you free..." It puts Him in a higher place than all the rest, and invests Him with a dignity, an ascendency, a moral supremacy. We simply state the fact, which is patent and clear to all who read. He rested so much upon the fact that He was the Son of God and drew His strength from it.

Standing on that ground means strength. We may gain confirmation of the fact if we glance again at the Old Testament for a moment. What tremendous strength and dignity and executive ability came to Nehemiah through his recognition of the fact that God had given him a mandate, and that he was a man appointed of God to his work. How much this meant to him when his enemies set their traps for him, and by every means sought to bring him out of his position and to frustrate the work. When at last, amidst all their threatenings, one counselled him to take refuge in the House of God, his reply was, "Should such a one as I flee?" Those were no words of personal conceit, personal importance; they betokened a man whom God had commissioned and who was assured of His support. In the infinitely fuller way the Lord Jesus was able to stand His ground because of the Divine relationship which meant the Divine backing.

Oh, for some of this assurance. It is a great thing to know that God has sent you, and that God is with you, that you are under a Divine mandate, related to God. A tremendous strength should be drawn from such a fact. It should always prove a secret source of strength and dignity.

The Position and Vocation Connected with Sonship

This is the second thing. Notice some of the statements that are made: "The Father judgeth no man, but he hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22). "The Father loveth the Son and showeth him all things that himself doeth" (verse 20). What a position! "The servant abideth not in the house for ever: the son abideth ever" (John 8:35). "If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (verse 36). What a position! The writer of the letter to the Hebrews uses this phrase: "Christ as a Son over God's house". Sonship carries with it position, and sonship carries with it Divine vocation "Because He is the Son of Man"! That was the Lord's own way of expressing it, and of explaining the prerogatives which were put into His hands. A tremendously influential position!

As Son He was related to, or connected with, a great Divine purpose. This conferred upon Him the dignity of being related in Sonship to what God had determined from everlasting. He was in that. There is a great deal of strength to be derived from the relationship, from the fact that you are bound up with some great thing which is of universal and eternal value and significance, and that this is what marks you out in your relationship to God. If only the Lord's people realised that they are not merely saved for saving's sake, but in order that by that initial step they should come into a place of tremendous value and importance in connection with an eternal purpose of God, how much it would mean. Relatively the place may seem small because it is only a part of a whole, but no part of such a whole as that is unimportant. The smallest place is of tremendous significance if it is a part of a whole, and the whole can never be a whole without its parts. In the case of the Lord Jesus, of course, the entire purpose was resting upon Him, and He knew it. There was a secret strength derived from what He was here, from that with which He was related, the position into which He was brought by the Father.

The third thing is -

Assurance as to the Ultimate Issues Inherent in Sonship

Do you notice how this carries you into the far future. The Lord Jesus never at any time said anything which would imply that after a certain period He would finish His work and that for Him that would mark the end; He would go the way of all flesh, His work would be done, His life over. You find Him, though knowing quite well the Cross lay at a certain point in His progress, always speaking of that which lay in the far future. Crucifixion, death, burial, all this might be, yet with tremendous meaning and connection His gaze is seen to be ever fixed on things that were far beyond. The Cross with all its meaning and significance was, after all, an incident. That will pass and the work will go on. A work has been started, and the Cross will not interrupt it. It is an essential incident on the way, an indispensible factor, but, after all, something that will be passed through, and the work will be consummated and the end realised! It was Sonship which gave Him that assurance of the ultimate issue of everything. Will He suffer? Yes, He knows He will suffer. He will be delivered into the hands of wicked men and be crucified. Yes, He knows it, and states it. Will He die and be buried? Yes, He knows it right well. But with it all the issues are certain; they are secured, they are tremendous. Nothing, neither men nor devils, independently or combined, can frustrate the ends, can curtail the work, can prevent the issues. This Sonship is not merely a thing of this earth. It is not something which is but for a time in its relationship and values. This Sonship is eternal. It is abiding in all its meaning, in all its intention. And the issues are secured by the nature of Sonship. Sonship is a thing indestructible. Other relationships might cease, but not this one. The relationship is not something in itself, but something with a mighty, universal purpose. He has a marvellous assurance springing secretly out of this Sonship with regard to the issue of everything.

The Lord foretells that He will be delivered into the hands of wicked men, who will crucify Him. But He does not stop there; He goes on to say that the third day He will rise again. That is Sonship. You cannot keep Sonship in the grave. Though Sonship were to go down a thousand times into the grave it will not stay there. If the sons of God are crucified ten thousand times they will rise again. Sonship is certain of survival, whatever men and demons do. It gives the assurance that in the end we shall stand triumphant. It carries with it the issues. It is an uplifting thing to see Christ as He is presented at the opening of the book of the Revelation. "I am the Living One". That is triumph. "I became dead"; not, They killed me! "I became dead". That is a prerogative of Sonship. "No man taketh it from me, I lay it down of myself". "I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again" (John 10:18). "This commandment received I from my Father". There is no triumph of men or devils about that. "I am the Living One". "I became dead". "Behold I am alive unto the ages of the ages and have the keys of death". But He knew it would be so. Sonship secured that. The assurance of the ultimate issue inherent in Sonship carried Him, with a certainty, on through everything into the undying eternity.

The Father's Fulness Included in Sonship

That has been said already. "The Father put all things into his hands". Paul gives us a wonderful unveiling of the "all things". Take that phrase in Paul's letters only, and see to what it leads. All is in Christ. In Him all the Divine fulness dwells. "The Father hath committed all things unto the Son". The Father's fulness is included in Sonship.

The Believer's Election to Sonship

Now let us briefly consider the matter of our connection with all that we have said. These things which were true in the case of Christ are made available to us in resurrection-union, resurrection-life. We know quite well that to be begotten of God is the very first step in a true relationship with Him. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). Though not in the same way as that in which Christ is the Son, yet in resurrection God has given us the Spirit of His Son, which is the Spirit of Sonship. By sharing His risen life we are brought in a related way into all that is true of Christ; the relationship is brought about. "Born of the Spirit", "Born from above", "Which were born of God", such are the designations of the Scriptures. We are related on resurrection-ground.

Where that is true, "the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God..." In what should that result? As in the case of the Lord Jesus it should result in strength and dignity arising out of the witness of the Spirit within that we are the children of God. I do not know that we dwell enough upon what this means, upon the fact, the reality of the relationship. I think if we were sometimes to tell ourselves that we are not just Christians, not just believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, not just adherents to the Christian faith, but children of God, possessing His own life by resurrection-union with His Son, we should derive strength and dignity from that. It ought to bring a sense of pride, not personal but moral; a spiritual elevation.

Our union with Christ means also that the position and vocation of Christ is to be shared by us, that the purpose with which He is related, and which is bound up with Him as the Son, is the purpose into which we are called. I want you to remember that wherever you read of predestination it is always in connection with Sonship, not with salvation. Sonship occasioned predestination. God never predestinated some to be saved and others not to be saved. God predestinated unto Sonship. That is something more than salvation. Salvation brings us into the purpose of God, into relation with His foreknowledge, foreordaining, predestinating. This, let me repeat, is related to an eternal purpose. It is vocation, and position that are bound up with Sonship. A child is one born. A son is one adopted on the ground of majority, maturity. We are not elected to childhood, to salvation. We are elected to Sonship, maturity. It is with reference to that we have to give diligence to make our election sure, to go on to full growth. It is possible to miss the full purpose of God, even though you remain saved. You can be a child, and yet never come to the position and maturity of a son. Position and vocation are bound up with Sonship, that is, proceeding to full growth. But we are called according to His purpose. We are in union with Christ, related to this tremendous vocation of the Son of God through all the ages to be. We are chosen in union with Him to occupy a tremendously high position.

Is it necessary to apply what was said about assurance as to the ultimate issues? We ought to derive secret strength from this. If I were a servant, a bondslave, the position would be so different, but being a son how certain are the issues. We may be pressed down; we may be crushed for a time; we may appear to be overwhelmed; it may seem that men ride over our heads and the enemy gains the advantage for the time being, but the fact bound up with our Sonship is that the issues are secured in absolute triumph, and that we shall stand at last in complete victory, because of Sonship. It is an unquenchable and indestructible thing. If all "the sons of God" sang together and shouted for joy in the heavenly realm before this world was (Job 38:7), we may be quite sure that all who now are the sons of God will shout and sing for joy when this world is no more. The sons will! God will have His sons, despite what the Devil may do.

I want you to remember that all this hangs upon resurrection-union. There was a special attestation of Sonship in resurrection. It was typically set forth at the baptism of the Lord Jesus, when on His coming up out of the waters heaven was opened, and a voice said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". Paul tells us, at the beginning of the Roman letter, that He was set forth as the Son of God by the resurrection from among the dead; a special attestation on the ground of resurrection. That is where we come in, on the ground of resurrection. The nature of our relationship is that of resurrection-union. The resurrection life of the Lord Himself is the basis of Sonship, and that is why Sonship is indestructible. It is not an official relationship. It is oneness in an incorruptible life, in a life that is abiding. It is a grand thing to think that Sonship is based upon something which neither earth, nor hell, nor all the antagonisms of this universe can ever destroy though they released their full strength upon it.

What do we come into? Not into something which is still open to speculation, to chance. No! We come into Sonship just at the point where that which is the ground of Sonship, even resurrection-life, has triumphed over all the ultimate antagonistic forces of the universe. That becomes the basis of Sonship. What an assurance, what a hope, what a possibility is in resurrection life, what a position!

I wonder if you have got hold of that. That is the tremendous thing about our relationship with God in Christ, that it comes about at the point of His resurrection. How did God bring about the supreme attestation of His Sonship? Why, Satan, with all his myriads, with all the power at his command, spiritual and human, was allowed to converge upon Christ. Every evil, deadly, iniquitous force in this universe came upon Him. All the power of death - to know even a little of that power is terrible enough - all the power of death lighted upon Him, with all the power of sin, and all the malice of evil men, to cast Him out of His own world. It looked as though they had done it. Darkness covered the face of the deep. He is dead and buried, and they have triumphed! All the powers of darkness are there in their unholy convocation, they are all in it. Then God intervened "God raised him". What does that mean? That there is not a force in this universe which has power to bring God's Son to an end, to destroy that life. "God raised him from the dead". That means that all these forces have been exhausted, and then utterly worsted, God raised Him! That is Sonship. That is the nature of Divine life. It is more than all the combined forces of this universe. "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead". Then He gives us that life; that tested, tried life; that life which had been subjected to every evil force in this universe, and had proved more than them all, and that is the basis of Sonship.

You see the possibilities that are ours in having that life as members of Christ. What it means as to position! What it means as to power! What it means as to the eventualities, the issues! What it means as to vocation! That is not a thing of time. That is not a thing of the earth. That life is eternal, universal, infinite. It is that life which is the basis of all, which makes all this possible. We are not speaking of life apart from the Person. "God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father". The Spirit of Sonship! We see, then, the values of resurrection-union, and all is the outworking of the value of His own relationship with the Father.

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