SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
THE LORD FROM HEAVEN
THE SON OF GOD
WE have seen, then, that "the Son of Man" is a Messianic
title only in the sense that it belongs to Him who is Israel's Messiah;
further, that the Lord assumed this higher glory when His Messianic claims were
rejected; and lastly, that so far from its implying sonship by a human father,
the title is altogether independent of His human birth. He was not only the man
who was born in Bethlehem, but the Son of Man who "descended out of heaven "-
Man by a higher title than human birth could give.
In speaking of Him as the man of Bethlehem and Nazareth we are treading, as it were, the sacred enclosure reserved for the feet of the covenant people. And when we dwell upon His glory as the Son of Man, we seem to have passed the outer veil, where none but anointed priests might enter. But He is not merely the Son of Man, but the Son of God; and here we stand before the second veil which shrouds the mysteries of the holiest of all. And if we may dare to draw aside that veil, let us take heed that we do so with befitting reverence, and in the spirit of the words of Agur's "prophecy." We do well to recall them here: "Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? . . . What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if thou canst tell? . . . Add thou not unto His words." Here, then, are some of the words of the Son of God: "All things have been delivered unto Me of My Father; and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father.
The Lord goes on to say, "Neither doth any know the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him; but there is no such added clause respecting the knowledge of the Son. No ONE KNOWETH THE SON, SAVE THE FATHER; or, as the Lord expressed it upon another occasion more definitely still, "No one knoweth who the Son is, save the Father." This is absolute, and in the light of it we read the Apostle's words, "the mystery of God, even Christ."
Would that this had always been remembered in the past! For the truth of Christ has suffered more from the mistaken zeal of its learned and devout defenders, than from the ignorance and malice of its assailants, heretical or profane. There are truths which we can make our own, and these we can distribute, so to speak, in our own coinage. 'But in presence of truth so solemn, so mysterious, so transcendental, it is our part simply to accept what is written, and to keep to the very words in which it is revealed. A recent incident in the French Chamber might teach us a lesson here, for "the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." Trouble was caused in a certain district through the general in command having communicated a War Office order in his own words. And when the Minister of War was challenged in Parliament for punishing him, his answer was, "He committed an offence, and I removed him; he paraphrased an order which it was his duty only to read."
And men have offended grievously by paraphrasing the words in which "the mystery of God" has been revealed. The Sonship of Christ has thus been defined and explained in the terms used to express the generation of human beings, thus affording the Jew a further excuse for his unbelief, and the Moslem an occasion for his blasphemies. As the Lord's title of Son of Man does not mean that He was begotten by a man, but that He is the very impersonation of humanity, ought we not to interpret His title of Son of God on this same principle? But is He not called the "only begotten Son of God"? Such is indeed the inaccurate rendering of our English versions.' Etymologically "only begotten," as one word, would be the precise equivalent in English of the Greek word here used; but what concerns us is not the etymology of the word, but the meaning of it. The language of the New Testament is largely based upon that of the Greek version of the Old; and this word is used by the LXX. to represent a Hebrew term of endearment - a term in which there is no suggestion whatever of "begetting." It properly denotes "only"; and by a natural transition it comes to mean unique, and then greatly beloved.
In six of its twelve occurrences the Septuagint Version has "beloved" the very word by which the Lord Jesus was hailed from heaven at His baptism, and again on the Holy Mount. And in every one of these six passages our English translators render it "only." In one passage (Ps. lxviii. 6), it is taken, both in the Greek Bible and also in the English, to mean "solitary"; and in Proverbs iv. 8 it is rendered by a term of affection. In the four remaining passages (Judges xi. 84; Ps. xxii. 20, xxv. 16, and xxxv. 17), the Septuagint rendering is monogenës. The first of these passages tells us that Jephthah's daughter was his only child. In the 25th Psalm the word in our translations is "desolate." And in the 22nd and 85th Psalms, where our divine Lord is referred to, "darling" is the word used in the English versions.
Then as to the use of this word monogenës in the New Testament; in three of the nine passages where it occurs, it means an only child (Luke vii. 12, viii. 42, ix. 88). And their rendering of it by "only begotten" in Hebrews xi. 17 suggests that our translators regarded this English phrase as a term of endearment; for Isaac, though his father's darling, was not his only son. In the other passages where it occurs, it designates the Son of God (John i. 14, 18, ffl. 16, 18; and 1 John iv. 9).
The view we take of the first of these passages will influence our reading of the rest. "And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father." Thus the revisers have given a literal translation of the text. And apart from controversy, every one would naturally understand it to mean that the glory of Christ was glory such as the Father would bestow upon the only Son. But yet most commentators read it differently, although the phrase "only begotten from the Father" is as unusual in Greek as it is in English, and the meaning of the word rendered "only begotten" is acknowledged to be "only" and "beloved."
Such, indeed, is clearly the governing thought in every passage where the word is applied to the Lord; and it may be averred with confidence that, but for the controversies of other days, no other element would have been imported into it. "Words are the counters of wise men, the money of fools," and in this sphere, above all others, it behoves us to keep clear of folly. (Footnote - Grimm's Lexicon gives it "single of its kind, only"; and adds, "He is so spoken of by John, not because of generation by God, but because He is of nature, or essentially, Son of God."
Dean Alford says: "In New Testament usage it signifies the only Son." (" Gr. Test. Corn.") Bloomfield says, with reference to "the Beloved" in Eph. 1. 6: "It may be compared with monogenea of John 1. 14, 18, iii. 18; 1 John iv. 9, where the full sense is 'only and most dearly beloved.")
The meaning of a word is settled by its use, and having regard to the Scriptural use of the word here in question, it is certain that the dogma with which it is associated must be based on some other foundation. And to base it on His title of "Son" is, as we have seen, to ignore the meaning of that word in Scriptural usage.
But it may be demanded, How then is His Sonship to be explained? The mysteries of the Christian revelation have this in common with the superstitious dogmas that have been based upon it, that they claim acceptance on transcendental grounds. But here the analogy ends; for although these truths of revelation may be above our reason, yet, unlike the errors of superstition, they never outrage reason. But while with the "Christian religionist" "the voice of the Church" is an end of controversy, and be refuses to discuss the dogmas of his creed, the Christian seems to have so little confidence in the Word of God that he is always eager to "explain" the mysteries of his faith.
A signal example of the evil of this tendency is afforded by the usual perversion of the Apostle Paul's defence of the resurrection. In reply to the demand, "How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?" he does not attempt to explain the mystery. His answer is, "Thou fool!" The words which follow are the germ and "pattern" of Bishop Butler's great "apology." If, the Apostle argues, we cannot explain the most familiar processes of Nature - as, for instance, the growth of corn from "bare grain," dead and buried in the ground - how can we expect to explain the resurrection of the dead?
But if there be a living God - an Almighty God-there is no improbability in the thought of the resurrection. And so, when arraigned before his heathen judges at Caesarea, the Apostle exclaimed, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?" And in the same spirit we may well demand, Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should manifest Himself to men? For if we recognise, as all thoughtful persons must recognise, the reasonableness of such a revelation, the only question open relates to the manner of it.
And judging by our Bible "Dictionaries" and "Encyclopaedias," it would seem that our decision of that question should depend on whether the divine method commends itself to the "wise and prudent." That God thundered forth His law at Sinai, and engraved it upon stone, the "wise and prudent" scout as a superstitious legend. And that "His only begotten Son declared Him," they reject as mysticism. If, indeed, instead of living in a remote province, and among a superstitious people - they happened to be the land and people of the Covenant!- the Christ had submitted His claims to committees of scientific experts in Rome and Athens, and the "blue-book" containing their report upon His test miracles were before them, the "wise and prudent" would believe in Him. But Christians are so dull-witted that even if such a blue-book were available they would prefer the New Testament! And in the New Testament they find that when, in the days of His ministry, the "wise and prudent" rejected Him, He "answered and said, I thank Thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes."
"Babes "-that is, children.' It is not that children are unintelligent - they are often more quick-witted than their seniors - but that they are guileless, and believe what they are told, And if in this spirit we enter on the study of the Bible, we shall be content to accept the divine revelation about Christ, without attempting to explain its mysteries. But we are not content to take the place of children.
And the result is deplorable. For just as the mysteries of the Atonement are "explained" in the language of the market and the criminal court, so the mysteries of the Incarnation are "explained" in the language of - !
But here I check myself.' I am not unmindful that it is only the unlearned who base His title of Son of God upon the Virgin birth. But the majority of Christians are "unlearned." The first occurrence in the New Testament of the full title, the "Son of God," is the Apostle Peter's confession : "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," Was this confession due to a sudden appreciation of the fact that the Lord's mother was a virgin? The suggestion is both painful and grotesque. That could be attested by "flesh and blood" on the recognised principles of evidence ; but of this truth of His Sonship the Lord declared, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." And so was it with all the Eleven at the last; throughout His ministry He had been subjected to a constant ordeal of interrogation. But His words at the Supper drew from them the confession, "Now we are sure that Thou knowest all things, and needest not that any one should question Thee; by this we believe that Thou comest forth from God." It was not what He had become in virtue of His human birth, but what He was by inherent right. For His "coming forth from God" does not point to the manger of Bethlehem, and the date of the Nativity, but to a past Eternity and the Father's throne.
And this is the truth on which the faith of the Christian rests - the faith that "overcometh the world." "For whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." It is not an inference from the Virgin birth, but a revelation from the Father in heaven.
If, then, His title of Son of God does not depend on the Virgin birth - and it is a fact of vital moment that the word "begotten" is used of Him only in relation to His resurrection from the dead '- what can be its significance? The only meaning that can be given to it is that which it conveyed to those who heard His teaching, those among whom He lived and died. Just as by "Son of Man" He claimed to be man in the highest and most absolute sense, so by "Son of God" He laid claim to Deity. His disciples understood it thus, and they worshipped Him as divine; and those who refused to believe in Him understood it thus, and they crucified Him as a blasphemer.
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