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Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The phrase Son of God, is used in different acceptations in the Holy Scriptures, and referred to different orders of beings. It is applied to both angels and men. But it is used in relation to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in a high and peculiar sense, in a sense in which it appears never to have been applied to any other being whatever. Jesus is styled in the New Testament, The Son of the God, and no other person is so styled in the whole Scriptures except Jesus Christ himself. This pointed distinction shows that the use of both articles, ho and tow, are intended to carry peculiar emphasis with them, and to convey a higher and more dignified meaning by this name, when applied to Jesus, than when referred to any other being. This idea is also confirmed by the sublime attributes which are annexed to this title, in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and from the superior rank which the Son of God is there represented as sustaining above the angels. He is, furthermore, described as being the proper Son of God, and God is declared to be his proper Father. He is, moreover, said to be God's own Son, God's only Son, and the only begotten of the Father. All these phrases and expressions are applied to Jesus Christ, and represent him to be the Son of God in a high and exalted sense, in a sense peculiar to
The doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, is a doctrine of the first importance, for a belief in this doctrine was made a leading article in the primitive profession of faith. “And we believe, and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not, is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God.” These passages speak a language clear and decisive, and imply that whatever disputes may have arisen among Christians on this subject in modern times, there seems to have been none in the times of the apostles. Both Jews and Christians
, appear then to have agreed on this subject; the only question that divided them was, whether Christ was or was not the Son of God. If there had been any ambiguity in the term, if it was not well defined and understood, it would have been very unfit to express a leading article of the Christian faith. The title Son of God, is a relative term, and is designed to point
out the relation in which he stands to the Father, and not any relation in which he stands to men. This obvious import of the phrase Son of God, has been generally overlooked. It is used to express what he is in himself, and not what he is by any appointment of the Father. It designates his personal character, and not any official station which he filled by the appointment of God. The term Son of God is not, as some have supposed, synonymous with Messiah. The title Messiah, is wholly official, and especially designed to exhibit that relation in which Jesus stands to us. These terms are not, as some have supposed, convertable, since they convey distinct and essentially different ideas; the one relating to the personal, and the other to the official character of our Lord—the one referring to the relation in which he stands to God, and the other to the relation in which he stands to men.
It has been supposed by some, that Jesus Christ has been denominated the Son of God, in relation to his miraculous conception, and by others with reference to his resurrection from the dead. But both of these reasons cannot be true. If he is called the Son of God, with reference to his miraculous conception, he cannot be so called in relation to his resurrection from the dead : and if he is called the Son of God with reference to his resurrection, he cannot be so called as it relates to his miraculous conception. So far from our Lord being called the Son of God in relation to his resurrection from the dead, his resurrection is urged as the proof by which the doctrine of his Sonship is established: hence the apostle says, he was declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead. It is true that our Lord was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that such a conception was peculiar to him ; but it does not follow that on this account he was called the only begotten of the Father. In the numerous instances in which Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God, he made no allusion whatever to his miraculous conception. On this subject he observed a total and uniform silence; and so also did his apostles. In the numberless instances in which they declare him to be the Son of God, they make no allusion whatever to this fact as laying the foundation of his Sonship.
In seeking for the true grounds upon which Jesus Christ is called the Son of God, we must look higher than his miraculous conception, or of his Messiahship, or of his resurrection from the dead, or of the power given to him of God ; none of these circumstances, singly considered, or all of them put together, will be sufficient to account for the title. He is truly and properly the Son of God, having derived his existence from him before all worlds; and, therefore, he is in himself truly and properly what the Scriptures declare him to be, the only begotten of the Father. This doctrine is inculcated and enforced by the Apostle Paul in his Epistles to the Colossians and to the Hebrews. “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature. He is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” It is here
affirmed, that God is invisible—that Jesus Christ derived his existence from God-that he bears the express image of the Father, and that he is the first being God produced.
As to the invisibility of God, this is frequently affirmed by the sacred writers. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared hin. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. No man hath seen God at any time. If a man say, I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen ?”
God is here said to be invisible by the way of contrast to the visibility of Christ. Jesus Christ is never represented as invisible in any part of the Scriptures; and it might seem strange had he been so represented, since he actually took upon him flesh, and appeared and was seen in the world ; which things the nature of the Father cannot possibly admit. His being here called the image or the invisible God, implies his own visibility, for the perfections of God eminently shine forth in him. This view of the subject is confirmed by the apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians : " In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, least the light of the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”* Besides, Jesus Christ, as the angel of God's presence, frequently appeared to the Patriarchs, and they saw him and conversed with him. He also appeared to the Apostle Paul, after his ascension to heaven. Jesus Christ is, therefore, the visible image of the invisible God, in whom the glorious perfections of the Father have been revealed to mankind. It is on this account Jesus is called the brightness of his glory. And for the same reason St. John says, “ The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory, the glory as or the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
It is here also affirmed, that the existence which Jesus Christ possesses, he derived from the Father. In the Epistle to the Colossians, the apostle says he was born ; and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, he represents him as a ray, proceeding immediately from the God of light. This idea is fully expressed in both of these declarations, that Jesus Christ possessed a derived existence, and that his existence was derived from the self-existent God. All the passages in which Christ is called a Son, in which he is declared to be born, and to be begotten, affirm him to have had an origin, and fully and plainly contradict the idea of his self-existence. In the
Epistle to the Hebrews, he is said to be The brightness of the Fa. ther's glory. Here the Father is represented under the similitude of light, which is a common figure of the Bible to illustrate the nature of the divine perfections. But to raise our thoughts still higher, the apostle sets forth this light by which he describes the Father, under the title of glory; the design of which is to express the purity, perfection, and lustre of his attributes. Agreeable to this figurative representation of God, he considers the Son as a ray derived and proceeding from the Father. God, by reason of his own immensity, is in his own nature invisible; it was, therefore, necessary, in order that his glorious perfections might be revealed, that he should bring forth a visible Son in his own likeness, and in him his perfections shine forth in the clearest manner.
Christ is here described by the apostle, not only as proceeding directly from God, but as possessing an exact image of his substance. Now, it seems evident from this language, that the being of the Son must be distinct from that of the Father, since the one is the express image of the other. The original word here employed, and rendered image, signifies the impression a seal makes upon wax, by which an exact likeness is transmitted from the seal itself to the way. The true sense of the passage, then, seems to be this : that Christ is the impressed image of God's being. The Father and the Son then, are two distinct beings, but the Son, possesses an exact likeness of the Father. This resemblance, however, refers not to the natural, but to the moral perfections of God. The moral perfections of Christ, are an exact counterpart to the moral perfections of God. The holiness, purity, and goodness of both, are the same.
In calling Christ the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person or substance, the apostle has distinguished him from all other beings, and represented him as far transcending them in the excellency of his nature and perfections. He is here described, as proceeding immediately from God, the Father, without the intervention of any ministering agent, or means of that derivation. And this is not true with reference to any other being whatever, for all other beings derived their existence from God, by the Son, as a ministering agent. The glory of the divine perfections shine forth in other beings, and particularly in the noblest of them, the holy angels, but not as they do in the Son, since they are not immediately created by the Father, but mediately, the Son having been employed by the Father, as the ministering agent in their creation. Now this must of necessity make a vast difference between him and them, and bespeak his superiority to them both in the excellency of his nature and perfections. The idea we desire to convey, may be illustrated by the following easy allusion: the light we have from the moon is derived originally from the sun, and the rays of light we have thence, are really and truly the rays of the sun ; but yet, as we do not receive this light immediately and directly from the sun, the rays of the sun being reflected
to us by the moon, we perceive a vast difference between this light and the other light which is derived directly and immediately from the sun himself. Thus, as God is light, the more near and immediate light is derived from him, the more glorious and brilliant will be its splendor. And as the Son derived his existence from the Father, without the intervention of any ministering agent, and as he is the only being who ever possessed such an existence, he must, therefore, transcend all other beings in the excellency of his nature and perfections.
So with reference to the other expression: man was made in the image of God, and the higher order of intelligence, as the holy angels, more nearly resembles him than we do; but this image was impressed neither upon them, nor upon us immediately from the substance or being of the Father, as was his image in his Son. And as an image may be taken either from the original seal itself, or from that which was taken from it, so it is easy to perceive the former must be the most perfect and exact.
The reasoning of the apostle, in the commencement of his Epistle to the Hebrews, is highly nervous, and his discourse carries with it great strength and perspicuity. The scope of his reasoning, if we have been able to gather his meaning from the connexion, seems to be this : " I intend to prove the superiority of Christ to the angels from what I have mentioned, the constitution of God, who has appointed him to be heir of all things. Upon this I will presently insist. But I may briefly hint some other arguments, as particularly that God made the worlds, and all things in them by him ; and it is very natural to suppose, that the creation which God employed him to make, must be in their nature inferior to him, who was their immediate author, that is the Son, in whose production or generation no intermediate agent was employed, he being immediately derived from God himself, a ray emitted directly and only from his glory, and an image formed from his own substance, and nothing else.” Such appears to me to be the scope of the apostle's reasoning, in the commencement of this epistle, and is substantially the same as his reasoning on this subject, in his Epistle to the Colossians.
But there is one more idea, with reference to this subject, which remains to be noticed ; it is this: the Son of God is not only the highest, but the first intelligence the Father produced. Hence, the apostle declares that he is the first born of every creature, and that he is before all things. Agreeable to this view of the subject, St. John says, he is the beginning of the creation of God; that is, he is the first being derived from him. These expressions convey the idea fully and distinctly that he was begotten before all creatures, and was the first being the Father produced. The reasoning of the apostle absolutely requires this construction ; for if all things were made by him, and by him all things consist, then surely he must be before all things, and the first born of the whole creation.