THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD, AS REVEALED AND KNOWN BEFORE THE INCARNATION.
"When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth
his Son" - GAL. iv. 4.
I propose here to raise the question ; - To what extent was the fatherhood of God matter of human knowledge, or matter of divine revelation, before the coming of his Son Jesus Christ in the flesh? It is a question which necessarily emerges out of the view that has been given of the fatherhood of God, as manifested in the person of the incarnate Son. And it is moreover a question which, in that view, is preliminary to another inquiry, and one that goes deep into the heart of the whole subject, namely this : - Is the relation which God sustaHis to his son Jesus Christ come in the flesh, his only true and proper fatherhood? And is it by their being made personally partakers, in some sense and to some extent, yet really and truly, of that relation, that angels and men become sons of God? To prepare the way for that ulterior inquiry, for the conducting of which the New Testament, of course, must furnish the principal materials, I intend now to ask - at least that is my main object - what the Old Testament - with the New as throwing light on the Old - says of the fatherhood of God ; or in other words, how far, and in what way, before the incarnation of the Son of God, and apart from that event, God was revealed and known as a Father in the ancient church.
Before the Son of God appeared in human nature, the only conception which men could form of a relation of fatherhood and sonship between God and them must have been then based on the analogy of the paternal and filial relation among themselves. And there can be little doubt that the analogy is a natural, and so far, a valid one. The relation of son and father on earth is fitted, - and probably, in its original constitution, intended, - to suggest the idea of a similar relation between earth and heaven. The creation or origination of intelligent beings, on the part of the great intelligent Creator, may thus be viewed as analogous to the act by which a human father produces a son like Himself. And the Creator's providence over his creatures may be likened to the human father's care and tenderness towards his children. Such representations of God, accordingly, are not uncommon even among heathen writers, especially the poets; as might easily be shown by familiar quotations.
In considering such representations, however, and especially in reasoning upon them, it is necessary to keep in view an ambiguity of which the analogy admits. God may be called father, simply as having caused his creatures to exist, and not as thereafter sustaining a real personal relation to them. That, I apprehend, is actually all that is meant in not a few of the passages usually cited. But that, it will he at once perceived, is not to the purpose of my present inquiry. It is a mere figure of speech employed to denote the creative agency or act of God. In this sense, paternity, as we have seen, may be attributed to God with reference to mere material things ; as when God asks Job (xxxviii. 28), -" hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?" - os if he meant to assert for himself a fatherhood having the rain and the dew for sons. Obviously, in such a case, it is a merely creative fatherhood that is with such boldness of vivid Poetic personification claimed and challenged for the Supreme.
With more of prosaic propriety, fatherhood in this sense is attributed to God with reference to His intelligent creatures.
Even then, however, as thus restricted, it conveys no idea of any permanent personal relationship. It suggests nothing more than the idea of primeval causation or origination.
It is in this sense, I am persuaded, and only in this sense, that we are to understand the verse of old poetry which Paul so aptly introduced into his speech before the Areopagus at Athens, -"As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring"
This pregnant saying, which, though originally a merely human and heathen utterance, Paul, by quoting it, of course adopts and engrosses as his own, has been supposed to indicate a relation of sonship belonging by a common right to all men, and actually subsisting in the case of all men. But if we look at it in the light of the occasion on which Paul quoted it, and the purpose to which he turned it, we may see some reason to question that interpretation or application of it. For what is the use which Paul makes of it in his argument? It is simply to expose the absurdity of rational beings ascribing their origin to what is irrational; or, which comes to the same thing, worshipping in an irrational manner him to whom they ascribe their origin, so as virtually to make him out to be irrational. That is all. That is the apostle's only object ; the sole and single point of his reasoning. Obviously there is no question of present personal relationship raised here at all; no question as to the footing on which men as individuals are with their Maker, - what he is to them and they are to him. There is simply an assertion of a common source or origin, Are we not all his children? If this makes God a father at all, it is in the sense in which an ancestor is held to be the father of all his posterity; it is in the sense in which Abraham is called "the father of many nations." Our being all God's offspring, in that sense, sustains the apostle's argument, and is indeed all that is necessary, or even relevant, to sustain it. Anything else, anything more, would be out of place. We dislike to have our lineage - our parentage in the line of direct and natural ascent - traced up to a gorilla, or a tadpole, or a monade. We think that our being possessed of intelligence affords a presumption in favour of our original progenitor, the primary author of our race, whoever he may be, being himself intelligent as we are. So thought the wisest and best men in heathendom. Paul appeals to their being of that mind. He adopts their logic, and makes it available for his immediate object, which is simply to expose the inconsistency of idolatrous worship. That is really all. The principle asserted, the ground and medium of the argument, is simply this - that tire head, or origin, or father, whether of a long line of descendants, or of a numerous race coming simultaneously into existence, cannot be wholly dissimilar to them in nature; that if they are intelligent he must be recognised as being so, much more; and that he cannot therefore be expected to be pleased with unintelligent worship.
There is no assertion here of any personal relation of fatherhood and sonship. It is merely an argument for community of nature as regards intelligence. it is, in fact, nothing more than an application of the maxim, or axiom, that "like produces like." It appeals to the same sort of principle which Paul so powerfully brings to bear in another direction on the spiritual identity, in respect of faith, between believing Abraham and all his spiritual children (Gal. iii.; Rom. iv.) As he is, so are they; he and they alike being believers. Therefore he is their father, "the father of the faithful" And they, in respect of their joint possession with him of the common quality or attribute of faith, are his seed. The argument of Paul in his appeal to the Athenians is precisely of the same kind. As you, the offspring, are intelligent, so, it is to be presumed, must he whose offspring you are be intelligent. And he must, therefore, be intelligently worshipped. But all this has nothing whatever to do with the question of the personal relation in which the offspring, - that is, the individual persons composing the offspring, - are personally to stand to him whose offspring they all are.
In a way very similar to this, I think another text, often cited or referred to with some confidence, is to be disposed of. Adam, it is said, is declared in Scripture to be, as he came forth from the hand of his Creator, "the son of God," or "a son of God," or simply "son of God." Now, the only authority alleged for that statement is the closing climax of Luke's genealogy of our Lord; in which, after a long enumeration of an ascending series of fatherhoods, he comes at last to Adam, and says of him, using the very same formula as in all the other cases, "which was the son of God ;" - or rather, for the phrase is all throughout elliptical, "which was of God" (Luke iii. 38). This mere rounding off of the genealogy of our Lord, as traced by Luke upwards, and not, as in Matthew's gospel, downwards, - this simple intimation that in Adam the ascending line of human parentage is lost, and that his origin must be ascribed immediately to God, - is often brought forward as if it were not only an express, but even an emphatic assertion of Adam's proper personal sonship. Nay, it is made, as would seem, the ground of an argument for "attributing Adam's creation to the Deity of Christ." In reality, there is no idea suggested in this whole pedigree or family-tree but that of descent; son descending from father, until Adam is reached, whose descent is from no human father, but must be said to be of God. There is nothing like real fatherhood and sonship, as a permanent and personal relation, asserted here.
Setting aside, then, those passages in the Bible, as well as those passages in heathen writings, which seem to ascribe fatherhood to God, in the sense simply of origination, or causation, or ancestry, - the question remains, What traces or indications are there, before and apart from the incarnation of the Son of God, of fatherhood of God, properly so called ; - of his actually sustaining the paternal relation to his intelligent creatures and subjects, personally and individually.
In dealing with this question, I leave out of view the secular literature of antiquity ; - for, in truth, it throws little or no light on the subject of my present inquiry. That inquiry is almost altogether a scriptural one ; - Was God revealed as a Father to the Old Testament Church? If so, in what manner and to what extent? And of what nature is his fatherhood represented as being?
I. I begin with what I hold to be a material and fundamental fact. So far as I can see, there is no trace of anything like natural or original sonship, either in angels or in men, having ever been accepted in the church as an article of belief. That either angels or men were sons of God from the beginning of their being, is nowhere taught in holy Scripture.
1. I speak first of the angels.
Those of them that fell are never spoken of or referred to as having been before their fall sons of God. Their offence is stigmatised as "pride." "The condemnation of the devil" is his being "lifted up with pride" (1 Tim. iii. 6). It is the offence of a disloyal subject, rather than of a disaffected and undutiful son. They refuse to occupy a subordinate position; to own government by authority of law and judgment. They aspire to the liberty of independence. It is as proud, rebellious subjects, not as ill-conditioned sons, that they disobey, and come under the condemnation of disobedience. And if that be so, then it follows that it is a trial of their obedience as subjects that their faithful brethren stand. They too are tested, not as sons, but as subjects. The trial is, whether they will proudly insist on being their own masters, or meekly consent to be ruled? At any rate, it is oniy after their trial and its good issue, that the angels who kept their first estate are introduced in Scripture as sons of God.
It is in the book of Job, and there only, that the holy unfallen angels are spoken of or referred to as sons of God. For I suppose it is they who are meant when it is said, twice over, that "the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord" (Job i. 6; ii. 1). I doubt, however, if according to Hebrew idiom, this title, as here given to them, can be fairly held to imply more than a mere antagonism or antithesis to the adversary of God, "Satan," who "came among them."
But be that as it may, there is certainly, it must be admitted, another paage in the book of Job where this explanation will not apply. It occurs at the opening of that sublime address in which - after the sophistries of the three bigoted friends and the noble appeal of the generous Elihu - the Lord himself takes the matter in hand and reduces Job to silence (Job xxxviii. 1-7). There that much-afflicted but as yet too self-righteous patriarch is thus abruptly challenged:
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Wast thou with me then, as a party to my counsels and my working "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy ?" There can scarcely be a doubt that it is the elect angels who are here meant. And they are called the sons of God absolutely; not merely in the way of contrast to any other parties, or contra-distinction from them; - but simply in respect of their own gracious character and standing.
This I take to be the only unequivocal intimation of the sonship of the angels which the Old Testament Church ever got. I admit it, or rather I hold it, to be emphatic. But it is so chiefly, as it appears to me, in a prospective point of view, and in its bearing on subsequent scriptural hints and discoveries. For, as I think, it fits in remarkably to Balaam's prophecy (Nurn. xxiv. 17), "There shall come a star out of Jacob ;" - and also to that announcement in the very close of the Revelation (xxii. 16), "I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." Thus followed out, it suggests large and high thoughts as to the connection of the sonship of the holy angels with that of Christ And if we take in another text, in which Christ says to "him that overcometh" at Thyatira (Rev. ii. 28) "I will give him the morning star," - it may seem probable that some sort of joint-fellowship of angels and men in Christ's sonship is what, by thus connecting together, in so close a verbal relation, the widelyseparated books of Job and the Revelation, the Spirit intends to teach. For thus we find the title, "morning star," which is associated with that of "son of God" in the case of the angels, applied to the Son of God himself, and in him also to the overcoming Christian.
But anything like such community of sonship could be only very imperfectly taught, if taught at all, to the Old Testament Church, by such a brief notice as that which the book of Job contains. To the men who had simply that, and nothing more than that, the juxtaposition of the titles "morning stars" and" sons of God" could convey little or no clear information. It might rather indeed occasion perplexity. Certainly, however well they might understand the words put into the mouth of God as a most conclusive rebuke to Job, they could scarcely gather from them any distinct idea of the sonship of angels. At all events they would not be likely to gather from them any idea of the sonship of angels being, as a real personal relation, natural and original. The title must rather, I thjnk, have appeared to them, like the other title "morning star," to be merely figurative and analogical. And in any view, it belongs to them as having stood the trial which proved fatal to their fellows.
2. As the angels are not represented in the word of God in the character of sons of God by nature and from the beginning of their being, so neither is man. There is not a hint of sonship in all that is said of Paradise, or of man's sin and fall there. Nay, I hold that what is revealed of God's treatment of Adam, in the garden, is palpably irreconcilable with the idea of anything like the paternal and filial relation subsisting between them.
Adam is tried simply as a creature, intelligent and free ; as a subject under authority and law. Not a hint is given of his having violated, when he transgressed, any filial obligation. Nor, in the sentence pronounced upon him, is there any trace whatever of his being subjected to fatherly discipline and correction. All about it is strictly, I should say exclusively, forensic and judicial. It is the legal condemnation of a subject or servant ; - not the fatherly chastisement of a son. No doubt, hope of recovery is held out. But it is held out in a way strictly and exclusively indicative of legal judgment and legal deliverance. The deliverer is to prevail over the tempter by becoming himself a victim ; a victim to outraged authority; a substitute for those whom the devil has tried to ruin; bearing in his own person the doom impending by a righteous award over them; accepting the curse which the great deceiver has brought upon them; and doing so to the effect of destroying him and emancipating them. Accordingly, the remedial work of Christ is always represented in Scripture, - in exact consistency with its representation of the evil to be remedied, - as purely and wholly legal, forensic, and judicial. That is its character, so far as it consists in his becoming his people's surety and ransom. He redeems them from the curse of the law. It is nowhere said that he atones for any filial offence; any offence committed by them as sons against God as their father. If they sinned in that character and relation, their sin, so far as appears from Scripture, is up to this hour unexpiated. Surely that is a conclusion somewhat startling. And yet it seems to me to follow inevitably, and by the inexorable force of logic, from the notion of man's original relation to God being filial.
II. The manner in which the expression "sons of God" is used in the Hebrew Scriptures is very vague and indefinite. It is not very often used. And many of the instances in which it is used are such as to indicate that it is little more than an idiomatic way of identifying the godly as distinguished from the ungodly; or Israel as distinguished from the Gentiles. Personal relationship is not really in such instances a relevant thought.
Thus, in the narrative of the breaking down of the wall of division and demarcation between the church and the world which brought on the sweeping judgment of the flood, "the sons of God" are contrasted with "the daughters of men" (Gen. vi.) But it would be unwarrantable to found upon the phrase, as there used, anything more than that those so called were professedly of the number who, when the wickedness of Cain's race became rampant, separated themselves, and" began to call upon the name of the Lord," or " to call themselves by the name of the Lord" (iv. 26).
In other cases also the phrase " sons of God" is evidently used in the vague analogical sense in which the Jews were wont to apply it, - and in which we too do not object to apply it - as appropriate to any relation implying benefit on the one side and dependence on the other, with corresponding feelings of endearment on both sides. Thus a master calls his loved scholar his son. So also the pupils of the prophets are called their sons. "And such an one as Paul" appeals to Timothy as "his own son in the faith."
In like manner, when the Lord promises in Hosea (i. 10), "In the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God," it seems plain that no new or peculiar relation is meant by the latter phrase, as if it were in contrast with the former. And in the same way, as I apprehend, we must interpret those appeals in Jeremiah and Malachi - the most emphatically paternal in their terms to be found in the Old Testament (Jer. xxxi. 20), "Is Ephraim my son? Is he a pleasant child" (Mal. i. 6), "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master. If then, I be a father, where is mine honour? And if I be a master, where is my fear?" It is the language of intense affection, putting his people upon honour in terms of their own profession.
III. The passages in the Old Testament are thus seen to be very few, which even appear to assert anything like a distinct personal relation of fatherhood and sonship between God and his people individually.
No doubt, in the church or nation viewed collectively, the Lord sometimes claims a father's right of property. Thus he sends an urgent message to Pharaoh (Exod. iv. 22, 23), "Israel is my son, even my first-born; let my son go that he may serve me." And he gives this as his reason for bringing the people back from captivity (Jer. xxxi. 9), "For I am a father unto Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn." The collective church, or nation, also occasionally appeals to the Lord on that ground: as in Isaiah (lxiii. 16), "Thou, 0 Lord, art our father, our redeemer;" and again (lxiv. 8), "But now, 0 Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are all the work of thy hand." In these instances, however, though a certain paternity is ascribed to God, as choosing, constituting, redeeming, creating, his people Israel, it is a figurative paternity, having for its object simply "Israel as a spiritual or ideal person ;" - not that real fatherhood of which individuals are the objects. Nor is even that most pathetic passage in Jeremiah to the point, - the passage, I mean, in which the Lord puts into the mouth of the repenting people the affecting language of filial tenderness (iii. 4), "Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me,'My father, thou art the guide of my youth?" For the context plainly shows that it is not the relation of parent and child at all that is referred to, but that of husband and wife; the conjugal relation, not the paternal. The idea suggested - and it could be better understood and felt according to old Eastern manners than according to our modern notions - is that of the faithless young wife casting herself at the feet of her injured husband, pleading her tender years, - and making her plaintive appeal, - as to a sire rather than a spouse, - "My father, thou art the guide of my youth!" Clearly there is here no claim of sonship, properly so called.
IV. In marked contrast with these vague and indefinite modes of speech, - in which ideas of paternal authority and filial tenderness are for the most part, as it would seem, merely borrowed to illustrate other relationships, - I notice the clear, exact, and unequivocal precision with which real and proper personal sonship is ascribed to one individual, and to one only.
There is a Son of God revealed in the Old Testament. He is revealed as standing alone and apart. There is not much said of him in that character, it is true ; indeed, there is very little. And nothing at all is said of the bearing of his sonship on others besides himself. For this, before I close, I may suggest a probable reason. But a Son of God there is in the ancient Scriptures. And however rare may be the passages in which he appears, and however few the words in which he is described, his sonship is beyond all question not figurative, but true sonship. In the oracle which the second Psalm records, "Thou art my son ;" - in the prediction of the eighty-ninth Psalm, "He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, . . . I will make him my firstborn ;" - and perhaps also in the song of triumph in the eighth chapter of Isaiah, "Unto us a son is given ;" - chiefly, however, in the great original oracle ; - the sonship of a person is declared.
How far the ancient church understood the oracle ; - whether or not they held this personal and individual Son of God to be divine, or identified him with the Jehovah of their worship, or with the promised Messiah ; - I am not now concerned to inquire. There has been much ingenious speculation on all these questions; and it has been argued with great power that, at least among the later Jews about our Lord's time, an opinion prevailed admitting the Son to be a divine person, but separating him from the Christ. Be that as it may, my present object is simply to direct attention to the precision of the language which the Holy Spirit takes care shall be used, when the idea of true and proper personal fatherhood and sonship is to be expressed, as affording a presumption that no such relation is really meant to be asserted when the phraseology is of a looser and more indefinite kind.
V. I would only advert in a sentence to one other consideration which seems to me all but decisive in support of my idea of the teaching of the Old Testament on this subject. I mean the very remarkable absence, in the recorded religious experiences and devotional utterances of the Old Testament saints, of the filial element. I may have occasion to touch on this topic again. I notice it now as a fact which cannot well be disputed, and which surely must be allowed to be a fact of great significancy, in relation to our present inquiry.
On the whole I am disposed to conclude that, so far as we can gather information or evidence from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the fatherhood of God was not revealed to the ancient Church, either as a relation common to all his intelligent creatures generally, or as a relation belonging to the obedient angels and believing men specially; that any use made of the analogy of this relation as it exists among men, in the way of applying it to the dispositions and dealings of God, was little more than rhetorical; and that, in fact, there was great reserve maintained on the part of the great revealer with reference to this whole subject.
But it may be asked, does the New Testament afford no materials for helping us in the determination of the question? I am persuaded that it does, in several places. I solicit attention to two passages in particular.
The first is in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is a passage, as I believe, fitted to have great weight with those who, in the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith, are prepared to receive as the teaching of the Spirit, not only what is "expressly set down in Scripture," but also what, "by good and necessary consequence, may be deduced from Scripture." My argument will undoubtedly be based on a process of inferential reasoning; a mode of proof against which some very respectable men, especially in our country, seem to have a strange and unaccountable antipathy. It may be convenient sometimes, when one sees an unwelcome conclusion looming in the distance, to refuse all inferences, and to demand explicit and articulate chapter and verse for everything. But we are commanded to "search the Scriptures ;" and we are commanded also "in understanding to be men." To those obeying these commands, in the spirit of them, I do not think my argument will appear very far-fetched, although it ranges over several chapters, and connects somewhat distant verses.
At the close of the tenth chapter, Paul quotes the Old Testament saying, "The just shall live by faith ;" and he proceeds immediately, in his glorious muster-roll of the worthies of the olden time, to give instances of "the just living by faith." He ends his enumeration thus : "These all" - the just living by faith -" received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (xi. 39, 40.) What is that "better thing" which they, while they "lived by faith," and when, as the apostle had previously said, they "died in faith," had not - which God has provided for us ? - which they must share with us if they are to be made perfect? For, it would seem, they cannot be made perfect without it, and they cannot have it apart from us. Is it merely the general blessing of clearer light and fuller joy consequent upon the complete revelation of the gospel plan, through the actual coming of the long-promised Saviour, and the actual accomplishment of the great salvation? Or is it some particular benefit, precise and well defined, which really effects a change in their standing or position?
Let us carry our view forward.
After pondering devoutly the practical appeal in the beginning of the twelfth chapter, founded upon our being "compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses," let us approach the august scene presenting itself to our adoring gaze before the chapter ends. What have we here? A scene at Zion analogous and corresponding to the scene at Sinai of old, with which it is contrasted. It is ideal, spiritual, heavenly - but not the less on that account revealing real truth. The redeemed of all ages are represented as brought together to meet their redeeming God. Setting aside the locality and the witnesses of which the first of the three verses (ver. 22) speaks ; and the mediator and the mediation brought forward in the third ; we have the real meeting in the verse which intervenes. It consists of "the general assembly or church of the first-born which are written in heaven, God the judge or all, and the spirits of just men made perfect."
Sitting on a central throne is God the judge of all; his people's saviour, but still their judge ; the judge of all. On either side there stands a vast company. Who are these on the one side? "The firstborn written" or registered "in heaven." They are there in their character of sons and heirs. They are there in full "assembly," yet in the capacity of a select body, "a church." The expression "firstborn, registered in heaven," properly denoting the possession of the filial birthright, describes the position of those referred to elsewhere, when Christ is spoken of as destined to be "the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. viii. 29). He alone is, strictly speaking, the firstborn. To him belongs the birthright, the right of primogeniture. He is the Son; and, as the Son, the heir of all things. - But he shares his birthright, or right of primogeniture, with many brethren. They all accordingly in him become in a sense firstborn ; - sons and heirs. And they are registered as such in heaven. The position of believers under the dispensation of the gospel is thus characteristically marked. I can scarcely doubt that it is the entire body of New Testament believers who are mystically, as it were, and by a sublime figure, set before us, as convened, in a universal but select church-convocation, on one side of "God the judge of all"
Who then are they who are seen by the eye of faith standing on the other side? "The spirits of just men made perfect." I cannot admit that this means merely the pious dead generally. I cannot forget that a particular class of "just men" have been brought prominently out in the very passage of which this magnificent pictorial representation of the gathering together of all the saved is the close. "Just men" have been spoken of, who in the days of old lived by faith and died in faith, who yet were not "made perfect." There was a certain incompleteness, a certain defect, in or about their spiritual state, while they lived, and when they died. And the defect could not be altogether remedied, - their state could not be thoroughly put right, - apart from Christian believers. It is they, I am satisfied, who are to be regarded as standing alongside of the firstborn registered in heaven, before Jehovah's awful throne. They are made perfect now. Perfect! in what respect? Surely one can scarcely help drawing the conclusion, in respect of their sharing with the firstborn their privilege of sonship and right of primogeniture, becoming out and out sons, as they are.
The other passage which I mean to adduce is in the Epistle to the Galatians. The consideration of it need not detain us long. I am persuaded, however, that it strongly confirms the view which I have been suggesting of the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
In the beginning of the fourth chapter, Paul draws a contrast between believers under the law and believers under the gospel. Of the former, he thus writes: - "Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all, but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of this world." Of the latter, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." It is admitted, or rather strongly asserted by the apostle, that the Old Testament believer is an heir. Being a child of Abraham, in virtue of his having and exercising the same faith that Abraham had and exercised, he really has all the rights of a son and heir in the family of God. But these rights are in abeyance during the period of pupillage or nonage. He cannot avail himself of them. He is not fully acquainted with them. His place in the family is rather that of a servant than that of a son. Such, says Paul, was the position even of the true members of the church before gospel times. But, he adds, their position is now changed. And what effects the change? God sending forth his Son, and the Spirit of his Son. It is very plainly intimated that it is through God's sending forth his Son, as his Son, that they receive the adoption of sons; and that it is through God's sending forth into their hearts the Spirit, as the Spirit of his Son, crying, Abba, Father, that they realise their receiving the adoption of sons. If sons before, they were so prospectively and as it were potentially - in posse, rather than in esse. They are sons now really and truly, in a sense and to an effect impossible before. They saw, indeed, the day of Christ afar off, and were glad. They saw his holy person in the spotless lamb; his atoning death in the paschal sacrifice. But they saw him not as the Son of God. And till he is so seen, even believing men cannot receive, so as to realise it, the adoption of sons; they cannot conceive what true sonship really is. It is the manifested sonship of Christ that alone opens up the way for his believing people becoming sons indeed, and having in them the spirit of sonship, the Spirit of God's very Son, crying, Abba, Father.
Now, if such a change was thus effected in the spiritual position of living believers, and in their consciousness of it, is there any difficulty in apprehending the thought of a similar change taking place in the case of the dead? Is there anything incredible in the idea of these grand old worthies -" the just who lived by faith and died in faith" - coming to know their Redeemer as God's Son and their brother, in a way in which they never could know him, till they saw him "sent forth made of a woman, made under the law ?" And what a large accession of holy joy might their new knowledge of him impart! They have never been separated from him since they left the world, for they are one with him. They have known and loved him well. But now they behold a new thing - his sonship in their nature. And beholding that cry of God, they are changed into the same image. The single drawback, the solitary element of inferiority attached to their saved state, is gone. Not in an ideal sense only, but in real heavenly fellowship, they are now on the same footing with Stephen, and James, and the noble army of martyrs, and all the faithful who, falling asleep in Jesus, depart to be with him. The just are made perfect as sons.
Thus, as it seems to me, the opinion which is suggested by a calm survey of the teaching of the Old Testament on the question, - How far the fatherhood of God was revealed to the Old Testament Church, - is corroborated by what we find in the intimations of the New Testament.
There are two observations which I wish before closing to make on the view which I have ventured to submit.
1. In the first place, I think I can see a reason for reserve, as regards the full discovery of God's fatherhood, before the coming of Christ. I can see some risk likely to arise from its being prematurely disclosed, and some benefit in its being in a gteat degree shaded and concealed. I remarked at the outset that, apart from the incarnation, - and what is seen in the earthly and human life of the Son of the footing on which, as the Son, he is with the Father, and the manner of their mutual intercourse as Father and Son with one another, - all our conceptions of fatherhood in God, as a relation which he sustains towards any of his creatures, must have been simply analogical; based on the analogy of the relation of father and son as it subsists among men. But that analogy is originally inadequate; and, since the fall, it is positively unsafe.
I believe, indeed, that the existence of the paternal and filial relation among men, from the beginning, has reference to the eternal relation of fatherhood and sonship in the Godhead, and to the ultimate development of that relation, in the standing of all saved intelligences. I entirely agree with those who maintain that this forms part, and a chief part, of the image and likeness of God in which man was originally made. The divine relation is not a mere analogical inference from the human. The human is formed upon the model of the divine, and expressly in order to be its analogical representative. Adam's being a father is not the type of God's paternity. Rather, in the sense of being the mould into which it is cast, God's paternity is the type of his.
In that view I can conceive of the angels welcoming the introduction on the stage of being of a race meant to exhibit this relation. They could form no idea of it from the manner of their own existence. They had been, so far as appears, simultaneously created; all of them alike in full possession of mature intelligence. They had been all of them simultaneously tried and tested; and the faithful among them had made good their position simultaneously, as the subjects and servants of the Most High. If the reward of their obedience was to be sonship; - especially if it was to be sonship somehow after the model of the relation of the second person to the first in the ever adorable Trinity; they might well be at a loss to conceive any adequate notion of a relation so utterly beyond the reach of their own experience. But now they see a race of new intelligences called into existence; in whose constitution and history a relation is to be exhibited that may at least be a faint shadow of the divine relation, to some participation in which they are taught to aspire. They rejoice in the help thus given towards their understanding the relation of fatherhood in which God is to stand to them. But alas! the dawn is soon overcast. Sin comes in; and its blight taints and blasts the earthly relation which should have been the image of the heavenly. It is better for the angels now that the full discovery of this relation should be deferred till the Son of God himself appears as a creature ; - to show what, for the creatures, it really is.
The postponement was equally expedient, or rather even more expedient, as regards men. What materials were there in these old times, what materials are there now, for the construction of a notion of fatherhood in God upon the analogy of fatherhood in man? One of the best perhaps of human fathers, since the fall, is Abraham. But was he faultless in that relation? Or shall we take Jacob? or Eli? or David? If the Old Testament Church - if Old Testament believers - had been asked to worship God as their Father, was there no danger of their conceiving of him whom they worshipped, after such unsafe analogies as these? There is the same danger still. It is urgent. It is the unbelief of the day. I have little hesitation in saying that the merely analogical view of the fatherhood of God lies at the root of much, if not all, of our modern current infidelity. How indeed, can it fail, unless very carefully guarded, to breed infidelity? It must do so doubly, in two ways. Human parents, on the one hand, are weak, fallible, selfish, capricious; - holding with unsteady hand the balance of equity; unreasonably passionate, yet fondly placable. And, on the other hand, they who conceive of God's fatherhood as like the fatherhood of human parents, are but too ready to reconcile themselves to precisely such a view of God as that which the analogy suggests.
I believe it to be God's purpose to set aside, to a large extent, if not altogether, all analogical apprehensions of his fatherhood. I believe he means us to look exclusively, or all but exclusively, to the manner of life of his Son Jesus Christ, and to draw our notions of his fatherhood directly from thence. Here there is no analogy; or, if there is, it is all the other way. It is not analogical reasoning from the human to the divine, but from the divine to the human. There is presented before our eyes the actual working out, in human nature and human experience, of the only relation of fatherhood and sonship which God would have us to realise as possible between himself and us. He would be our father, not as we are the fathers of our children, but as he is the father of his Son Jesus Christ.
I do not urge any question as to the original purpose of God in instituting a relation of fatherhood in man ; - or as to how his original purpose might have been served, if the relation had not been practically vitiated by the fall. It might, in that case, have been, within certain limits and under certain cautions and reservations, the source and ground of a pure and sound analogy. And so far as it partakes of the redeeming and renewing grace of the gospel, it may be so still;
- and may be so more and more. But God has not trusted to that. He has revealed his fatherhood, not analogically but expressly, in his incarnate Son. And there is divine wisdom in his keeping silence, for the most part, upon the whole subject, until the fulness of the time for that revelation comes.
2. The other observation which I wish to make arises naturally out of this last thought. The divine wisdom in this arrangement is signally manifested in the character and spirit of Old Testament piety, as that was necessarily moulded by the sort of religious life which it occasioned.
I have already noticed the fact that there is little, or I think I may almost say nothing, of the filial element, in the recorded spiritual experiences and spiritual exercises of Old Testament believers. The Psalms entirely want it. The nearest approach to it, perhaps, is that most tenderly expressed analogy (Ps. ciii. 13): " Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." The same sort of analogy is suggested elsewhere. Thus in Malachi God says (iii. 17) : " I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him ;" - in Deuteronomy (viii. 5): "Thou shalt consider in thine heart that as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee;" - an in Proverbs (iii. 12) : "Whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."
In these instances, the very nearness of the approach to the assertion of God's fatherhood makes the stopping short of it all the more noticeable. The last instance in particular is, in that view, not a little significant. The verse from Proverbs is quoted in Hebrews (xii. 6). And the inspired writer, in quoting it, does not scruple to throw it into New Testament form, for the purpose of his inspired New Testament appeal:
- " Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Fatherhood is in the text, as Paul was Hispired to give it. But it is not in the text as it stands in the Old Testament. All that is there is a similitude ; - a " like as," or " so as," or " even as".
But apart from minute criticism, I suppose it will not be denied, that in Old Testament piety there is not anything like a full recognition - scarcely, indeed, any recognition at all - of that personal relation of fatherhood and sonship which enters so largely and so deeply into the prevailing spirit of Christian devotion. The consideration of this fact might suggest a line of thought and investigation intensely interesting; on which, however, I cannot now enter at any length. I can only throw out a hint or two.
It must, I tlunk, greatly enhance our admiration of the godly men of old, and of their godliness, when we listen to their utterances of praise and prayer, or search the records of their manifold spiritual experiences and deep exercises of soul, to bear in mind how little they were permitted to know of God as a Father. Their close walk with him, their strong trust in him, their fervent desire after him, the warmth of their affection, the poignancy of their sense of sin, the liveliness of their heavenly joy - these and other features of their personal religion must appear, in the view of this condition attaching to it, more and more wonderful the more we examine and reflect upon them. It might be not unprofitable also to inquire, how far that condition may explain some of the peculiarities of their holy aspirations and contendings ; the restlessness, the impatience, the dark questionings and misgivings, the passionate outbursts even, which their writings occasionally indicate; the sort of wailing cry for something better which breaks from them ; and the eager, intense expectancy of their air and attitude, like that of children in a strange place, longing to be taken to some unknown home. Again, it might be well to mark, in searching these old books, and specially the psalms and prophetic songs, how marvellously the Holy Spirit has so inspired them, that this absence of what has since been so fully revealed, - which might be supposed to be a drawback, - is in truth the very quality which best fits them for universal use, in all ages of the Church till the end comes. For it is that which makes them most expressive of the groans and sighs.of lost humanity; its tossings, strivings, fightings, until it finds its God; its strange vicissitudes of joy, fear, hope, even after it has found him.
And then, flually, one might usefully inquire how, in virtue of its very imperfection, the divinity of the Old Testament prepares the way for that of the New; how the knowledge and worship of God, as Creator, Governor, Lord, lays the best and only safe foundation for the knowledge and worship of him as Father; how in this, as in other respects, "the law is our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ."
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