Recently in conversation with someone the question of Christ’s eternal Sonship came up: the conversation immediately severing the ‘friendship’ between him and me. Nevertheless it has served to cause me to look again into this fundamental aspect of the doctrine of Christ; and what a blessing it is proving to be as I’ve been searching the scriptures to see whether it be so, that Christ was the Son of God in his divine nature before he came into the world: that is, from all eternity.
In our conversation the man stated his opinion that this was a minor issue. As he said he believed that Jesus was God and that he existed as God from all eternity, as the Word – which declarations of belief would no doubt gain him entrance into any ‘conservative’ Bible-believing Christian church – then, unless pressed on the eternal Sonship issue specifically, he would definitely ‘slip through the net’ and nestle unnoticed in the congregation, around the Lord’s table, and perhaps eventually in the pulpit.
This of course has made me wonder again just how many actual unbelievers and deceivers there might be in those churches which specifically profess to be upholders of ‘the faith once delivered unto the saints’. In the last denomination of which I was a member – a denomination which came into being because of this very issue, and in which this man can be found today – I wonder what the present level of scrutiny or even awareness is among the people in pew, pulpit and hierarchy regarding those in their midst. Is this a lively issue among them now? Are there some, or many even, who either do not believe this part of the doctrine or, like my ex-friend, count it merely a little matter? When I joined the denomination I was asked to ‘sign up’ to their Articles; but I don’t remember being grilled in my beliefs or understanding of what was written in them; there was no determined effort on the part of Pastor or existing church membership to seek to discover if I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing ‘creeping in unawares’ with ‘damnable heresies’; no, it was just, did my ‘call by grace’ sound like theirs and was I prepared to sign the church book.
I must admit that, at the time, it didn’t occur to me, after being called upon to give an account of the work of God in my soul, to then turn and ask them of their testimony and their understanding of the truth of the gospel; I, like them, just presumed that we were all genuine brethren believing the same things which, of course, we would presume to be the truth of the doctrine of the gospel of Christ as revealed in the scriptures. As it was that I finally left over other issues I never really did have a conversation with any of them regarding this question of Christ’s eternal Sonship; surely you would think that they all believed it and knew it to be true, as one of their ‘founding fathers’ had written a book on it. But again, it just makes me wonder what they really do know by searching and revelation themselves, or do they just accept it because it is one of their defining doctrines which have been upheld from the very beginning. I don’t know, only they can answer that. But be sure of this, reader, you can accept, sign up to, and uphold doctrines you’ve been taught from your mother’s knee without ever having received understanding of them by revelation of the Father, and indeed without being regenerate. But then, who today cares? I know of one man sitting happily today under the sound of the ministry of that denomination who holds the belief that Christ was not the Son before he came into the world and, as yet it seems, he has not been found out by either the ministry from the pulpit or by the ministers themselves; let that thought cause them sober reflection.
Since this issue has arisen I have looked briefly again at the book previously mentioned and to the writings of one or two others just to be reminded of what they actually said and how they argued for this fundamental truth; but mostly I have been searching the scriptures to see if they actually do testify to Christ’s eternal Sonship: something which this now departed friend denies. And of course the testimony is overwhelming, especially in John 17, which is one passage I particularly want to focus on. But before I do I will just quote the verses which I used to argue against this man’s unbelief; verses which immediately sprang to mind; and I will also look at one or two verses often used to prove eternal Sonship which, he argued, do not.
The verses I quoted to him were, immediately, Galatians 4:4, ‘But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.’ If words mean anything, and if we are to hope ever to understand the simplest language, then this verse can only read that the Son was Son before he was sent; only an unbelieving darkened imagination can read there that the Son became the Son only at the point of being sent. One can only send someone who exists as such already. This verse more than just infers, it positively reveals to all reasonable minds, and to all with the most basic understanding of the English language, that God had a Son with him, and that God sent that Son into the world.
Our understand that Jesus was the Son of God sent into time from eternity is manifest in that we can look at the virgin’s firstborn and ask, Who is he? What does scripture testify to his Person? He is the Son of God sent from the Father. He is God manifest in the flesh, and revealed as, called, ‘the Son of God’: ‘…that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’, Luke 1:35. Notice, he shall be ‘called’ the Son of God, not, he shall become the Son of God by his being born. What did Isaiah say? ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given’, Isa. 9:6. The child, Mary’s child Jesus, was born, he was a real man, the Son of man; but he was also manifest as the Son of God given. Given by whom? Given by the Father; his Son who had been with him in eternity was now being sent into time. ‘God sent forth his Son.’ ‘A child born, a Son given.’
The second verse I used to argue for this wonderful truth was Hebrews 1:2: God ‘hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.’ The obvious point made was that it was by the Son that God is said to have ‘made the worlds’, and as that is a clear reference to creation, i.e. Genesis 1, then the Son must have existed as Son before time was created in order that he could be the creator of time – ‘for by him were all things created’, Colossians 1 – so he must have existed as Son before the Incarnation and therefore in eternity. Again, an indisputable reading of simple language, if words mean anything… etc. And that is basically as far as I was permitted to go; he didn’t see them as proof enough, especially in the light of his already settled belief, or rather, unbelief, regarding Christ’s eternal Sonship; and in context of other verses which he said did not prove it, the conversation and therefore the acquaintance ended shortly thereafter.
So to those verses which he said did not prove the eternal Sonship, and which if taken independently of other scriptures do not in and of themselves declare Christ to be the eternal Son. He argued first that John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…’, could be applying merely to God giving his Son as a sacrifice upon the cross – Behold the Lamb of God – and therefore doesn’t actually say that the Son was Son before the Incarnation. And of course the phrase ‘only begotten’, to him, simply meant begotten of God in Mary’s womb. And yet if it was the Father who sent the Son, as 1 John 4:14 specifically states, and if he was Father before he sent his Son, which he obviously was, then he too was Father in eternity before the Incarnation; therefore he already had a Son before sending him into time: so a Son eternally begotten. Do you want to try and understand the fulness of ‘the mystery of Godliness’? It’s no good imposing the meaning and understanding of an earthly relationship between a father and his son to the deity, explaining that, well obviously, the father must have existed first, then to bring forth his son. We creatures of the dust with finite minds bound by time cannot understand the eternal; saving belief of these truths comes only by revelation of the Father. As it is evident that Jesus was the Son of God before he was sent into the world then we can only understand ‘only begotten’ as begotten from eternity. And if we believe that Jesus is God the Son then we must accept that ‘From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.’ Don’t try and understand it, or argue against it, but rather fall before him and seek of him that revelation of his Person.
Meanwhile consider this. Why did the Jews take up stones to stone Jesus when he said, ‘I and my Father are one’? ‘Because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God’, John 10:30-33. Jesus was speaking as the Son of God, the Son of his Father: ‘I and my Father’; and to the Jews’ ears any man who claimed to be the Son of God and ‘one’ with the Father would be saying that he was equal with, and was, God. The high priest heard the same: ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am’, which caused the high priest to rend his clothes, cry ‘blasphemer’, and put the Son of God upon a cross. Jesus deliberately said these things knowing full well that they would understand what he was saying about himself: that he was the Son of God, and always had been. Remember that it was specifically as Son (referring twice to ‘the Father’) that Jesus declared himself, ‘I AM’, see John 8:49-58.
Another verse, John 1:1, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Upon quoting this my adversary said, Yes, Jesus existed as the Word before the Incarnation, but not as the Son. The fact that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and that he was also known and revealed as the Son of God, he argued, still in itself doesn’t make John 1:1 say that Jesus was Son before he came into the world. Does John 1:1 actually say, ‘In the beginning was the Son’, with subsequent verses referring to him as Son? No, not actually; so, as he said, John 1:1 cannot be used to prove Christ’s eternal Sonship. (No doubt Hebrews 1:2 referenced above would have been dismissed for the same reason if it read, ‘…hath in these last days spoken unto us by the Word.’) Annoying as this may seem this argumentative, picky, style of his does highlight the fact that we should take more care over which verses we use to prove what we believe, for in many instances certain verses, which we know in the greater context do establish the doctrine, don’t actually in themselves, in isolation, prove our point.
Just one more verse which is used to argue for Christ’s eternal Sonship but which, again, technically speaking doesn’t, is Romans 8:32, ‘[God] that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all…’ Again this could just be referring to the delivering up of the Son upon the cross; the question of his eternal Sonship not being addressed. Well, I mention these things as more or less the sum and substance of the conversation I had, and with the hope that the relating of them might sharpen our resolve to understand what we believe, why we believe what we do, and whether the verses we use to justify what we believe actually do.
But again I must stress that we can actually believe the truth, proving it absolutely from scripture while doing no injustice to scripture by taking verses out of context or making them say something they don’t; we can live and die in our beliefs, and yet go to our graves unregenerate and lost because we have not received a knowledge of the truth, and especially of the Person of the Son of God, by revelation of the Father, but by revelation of ‘flesh and blood’ – natural learning – only. You don’t believe it? Well just read what the Lord Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16 when he, Peter, declared Jesus to be ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’: ‘Blessed art thou, Simon, Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven’, verse 17. Here Jesus is clearly saying that there are two possible ways by which this truth that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God can be revealed to us: one is by revelation of flesh and blood, the other by revelation of the Father, and Peter’s ‘blessedness’ was only because the Father had revealed it unto him and not flesh and blood. The inference obviously being that we can believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God by natural revelation only and therefore not be ‘blessed’. How? Well from being taught it by parents, Sunday school teachers and preachers from childhood; by absorbing and giving intellectual assent to the doctrine as taught in theological statements, confessions of faith, or denominational tradition; or even just by seeing it revealed on the pages of holy scripture, where it is evident to all who have eyes to see that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that from all eternity! But none of that natural revelation is saving; we must have it by revelation of the Father. We must have that revelation which Paul had: ‘When it pleased God… to reveal his Son in me’, Galatians 1:15,16; a revelation he evidently had from the very beginning, see Acts 9:17-20.
But let us come to John 17, to this intimate communication of the Son with his Father, and see just how full and radiant is its testimony as to the eternal Sonship of Christ! In fact, it is breathtaking!
The Lord Jesus had been speaking with his disciples of, among other things, the coming of the Spirit, the promise of the Father, and had concluded, ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee’, John 16:33-17:1.
Immediately we have the Son speaking with the Father; very important to the question at hand. If verse one had read, ‘And Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come, glorify thou me, that I also may glorify thee’, then none of the following could be related to eternal Sonship for, apart from verse one, Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as Son again in this prayer, though he still addresses the Father. Therefore the likes of my former friend could easily dismiss John 17 as relating at all to eternal Sonship, as he believes that Jesus called God ‘Father’ merely by becoming Son in the Incarnation. But, sorry unbeliever, Jesus does say, ‘Glorify thy Son’ in verse one, and so all references to himself during the remainder of the prayer: ‘I… me… mine…’, refer to him as Son, and as we shall see, Son from ‘before the world was.’ There is glory here!
In verses two and three Jesus continues to speak of himself, as Son, in the third person, ‘As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him’, verse 2. As many as thou hast given him? The Father has given certain ones to the Son? But when? Before he was sent! Jesus had already stated in John 6:37-39, ‘All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven [as Son, as he is speaking of himself in relation to the Father], not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.’ And what is that will? ‘And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.’ Jesus came because he already had a people given to him of the Father, before he came. If not, these verses make no sense and the actual reason for his coming becomes indefinite. Nowhere in the gospel are we led to understand that the Father sent the Son into the world and thereafter, during some point in his ministry, Jesus started to become aware of the fact that the Father was in the process of giving one and another to him, so that by the time he came to the cross it was fully decided and revealed who they were for whom he was to die. No, the thought is repulsive to all who know and love the truth of God’s ‘eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord’, Ephesians 3:11.
Those for whom the Son came were given him of the Father before the Incarnation, therefore in eternity; therefore he was Son in and from eternity. Later in John 10 Jesus is found speaking of his sheep, and that they were given to him of the Father, verse 29. And as he came into the world specifically to ‘give his life for the sheep’, verse 11, then, again, he must have known his sheep before he came. Notice that in this passage Jesus constantly refers to ‘the Father’; then in relation to him as Son.
Keeping in mind that the Father gave a people to his Son before he was sent, consider the following verses relating to eternal life and see if they confirm or deny this fact: 1 John 5:11, ‘And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’ John could have said, ‘…and this life is in Christ Jesus our Lord’, which here would have revealed no relation between ‘eternal life’ and ‘the Son’; but no. Jesus has already said in this prayer of John 17 that eternal life is to know Jesus Christ, as the Son, and in John 14:6 he has told us that he himself is ‘the life’. John again wrote at the beginning of his First Epistle that ‘the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifest unto us’, 1 John 1:2. Yes, John is immediately speaking of ‘the Word’ in verse one, but then equally immediately names him as the ‘Son Jesus Christ’ in verse three. The Son himself is ‘that eternal life, which was with the Father’! ‘In him was life’, John 1:4. ‘I am the life.’ There is no doubt from the testimony of scripture that the possession of eternal life is absolutely bound up with knowing Jesus Christ as Son, and as Son from all eternity. The Son is giving his people the life of eternity, he being that life; but he was not Son from eternity?! Listen to him, ‘For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself’, John 5:26. ‘As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him’, John 17:2. Bow and worship the eternal Son, the life.
One more. 2 Timothy 1:9, God, ‘who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.’ Read these verses in the context of the whole and it is evident from scripture that the Father had a Son in eternity, that we know him as Jesus Christ the Son of God; that he gave him a people according to his eternal purpose in Christ Jesus, and that the Son came specifically for that people, to give his life for them, thereby saving them and presently to call them. And the whole was purposed and settled by grace before the Son came into the world.
John 17:5. ‘And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.’ Read it, all you who deny the eternal Sonship of Christ, and tremble. If this is not the language of the unity of Father and Son from all eternity I know not what is. The Son is speaking of the glory which he had with the Father before the world was! What else can this be testifying but that the Son was with the Father equal in glory before time was created? ETERNAL SONSHIP.
John 17:6. Jesus says that he has ‘manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.’ This truth of the Father having given to the Son certain ones is repeated often in this prayer. The words ‘thine they were’ speak of their election and predestination in and by Christ, as Ephesians 1:4,5 states, ‘According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.’ And so, John 17:7, ‘they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.’ ‘For’, verse eight, ‘I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.’
What are these ‘words’ of which Jesus speaks? They are his doctrine, the doctrine of Christ, the gospel. ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me’, John 7:16. ‘For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak’, John 12:49,50. ‘He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me’, John 14:24. And those words which the Father hath given the Son to declare to his people are that the Son ‘came out from’ the Father, John 17:8: that God sent forth his Son into the world. And those who do not ‘keep’ these sayings, as treasure in the heart to meditate and feed upon, and by them grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, do not love him at all, neither do they love his gospel: ‘He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings…’ For you unbelievers do realise, don’t you? that the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, the words that the Father gave the Son to speak, are a declaration of the eternal Sonship of Christ. Throw this doctrine aside as unimportant, as a little matter, and you have no gospel left. You might hold ‘other doctrines’ dear – as if there are many – like election, the virgin birth, imputed righteousness, etc, all thoroughly biblical and reformed, but so what? The gospel isn’t many doctrines but one body of doctrine, the doctrine of Christ, the whole stands or falls together; and if you do not believe and abide in the whole of the doctrine of Christ then, says John, you ‘have not God.’ But ‘he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son’, 2 John 9. You see, you just cannot separate Father and Son. You cannot ‘have God’ without having both Father and Son. You cannot have just the Father without the Son. Why? ‘Because I and my Father are one’, John 10:30, and they are and have been one from all eternity.
But Jesus back in verse six of John 17 tells us that he has manifested the Father’s name to those given unto him out of the world. This is the revelation of the Father by the Son: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him’, John 1:18. The Father was not revealed before the Son came, but when he came from the Father he began to reveal him to his people. ‘In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him’, Luke 10:21,22. And what is this revelation but eternal life? ‘…that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’, John 17:3. Who is ‘thee, the only true God’ whom Jesus is addressing? The Father, verse 1. To know God as Father, and Jesus as Son sent from the Father is eternal life, nothing less and nothing other. Therefore revelation of the Father by the Son is vitally important, as is revelation of the Son by the Father: remember Paul’s, ‘When it pleased God… to reveal his Son in me.’ This is the only antidote to unbelief regarding any part of the doctrine of Christ, and this will silence the ‘wise and prudent’ in their own eyes and natural reasoning. When God commands the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ to shine into our hearts, then the truth of God in Father, Son and Holy Ghost is revealed and we know and worship the great I AM: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come’, Revelation 4:8. ‘Which was’? What, only from the Incarnation? Hardly. This is the everlasting God revealed in three Persons, in eternal relationship; hitherto unknown but now made manifest to the people of God, to all those of the faith, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Hence, Holy, Holy, Holy.
And notice how this revelation is all attended with glory: ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’, 2 Corinthians 4:6. ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father [then Son]), full of grace and truth’, John 1:14. ‘And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them…’ John 17:22. What happened when Jesus changed the water into wine? ‘This beginning of miracles [lit. signs] did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him’, John 2:11. This was a revelation of the glory of Christ in their hearts: ‘hath shined in our hearts’, interior illumination begetting faith. But Peter, James and John were also given to see something of the glory of his Person with their eyes as well, on the mount of transfiguration: Luke 9:32, ‘they saw his glory.’ And they never forgot it: ‘And [Christ] received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount’, 2 Peter 1:17,18. Even the announcement of the birth of the Saviour to the shepherds was attended with glory: ‘The glory of the Lord shone round about them’! Moments before Stephen died what did he see? ‘But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’, Acts 7:55,56. Yes, Stephen was so filled with a sense of the glory of God at his answer that he had begun by saying, ‘The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham’, verse 2. This all testifies to the answer of the Father to Jesus’ prayer for his people in John 17; ‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory…’, verse 24. Only as this prayer of the Son is answered is faith poured into our hearts to believe in him. ‘Faith’ in Jesus without this revelation of his glory in the heart, is but false faith and presumption, and is really nothing but unbelief. And you have to be brought to felt unbelief before you will seek that revelation which only will gender true faith. Until then you only possess ‘flesh and blood’ revelation, and what good will that do you on that Day? Well, the Son prays for his people to behold his glory and so all of them assuredly will; and when they do there will be no unbelief found in them, especially regarding his glorious Person.
Sent, Love, Unity
In John 17:9-12 the Lord Jesus repeats that there are those whom the Father has given him, and that, verse 9, ‘they are thine’; praying, ‘Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth’, verse 17. Again, do you believe the Father answers the prayers of his Son? Actually it’s not a question of ‘do you believe it’, but, does the Father answer the prayers of his Son? If so then they will be sanctified through the truth of the gospel; and if they remain unbelieving regarding the doctrine then it is evident that the Son is not praying for them.
But I want to mention three more aspects which flow from the truth of Christ’s eternal Sonship as found in the Lord’s prayer to his Father; and they are the meaning of the word ‘sent’ in verse 18; what Christ is saying regarding the love of his Father towards the end of his prayer; and to try and see something of the wonderful unity which exists between Father, Son, and those for whom he is praying.
In verse eighteen Jesus says, ‘As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.’ ‘As… so.’ Here again we have the phrase ‘being sent’: ‘As thou hast sent me into the world…’; ‘God sent forth his Son’, Galatians 4:4; ‘…he sent unto them his son…’, Matthew 21:37, see context of that parable. As we have already argued, the Son must have existed as Son before he was sent, a truth in itself enough to prove Christ’s eternal Sonship. But here in John 17:18 Jesus says that as the Father has sent him into the world, so now he is sending the apostles into the world. And there is no difference in the sending: ‘As… so.’ The word translated ‘sent’ is apostello, which is why I’ve just called the disciples apostles. This word means ‘sent forth’, or ‘sent away from’, as one that is with a certain person, and that person then sends the other away from him with, in this case, a message. The disciples were with Christ first, he ordained them as apostles, taught and prepared them for the work he was preparing them to do, and then sent them forth from himself to do that work, to preach that message. This is clearly seen in Mark 3:13,14, ‘And [Jesus] goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach.’ This is being sent.
The point is that ‘as…so’ is seen in that the apostles were with Christ and ordained of him before they were sent: they existed as apostles before their being sent. So, likewise, the Son was with the Father and was ordained to come to be the Saviour of sinners before he was sent. They existed as apostles, he existed as Son before being sent. Clear enough? This is proved again in Hebrews 3:1 where Christ Jesus is called ‘the Apostle and High Priest of our profession’; it’s the same word: ‘sent forth.’ The Son was sent forth by the Father out of eternity into time; therefore he was Son in and from eternity. Eternal Sonship.
In the latter part of John 17:24 the Son says to his Father, ‘…for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.’ Yea, ‘The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into his hand’, John 3:35. Who loved whom? The Father loved the Son! When? From the Incarnation only? ‘Before the foundation of the world’; then from all eternity. And as his people were given to the Son before the Incarnation then the Father loved them in him ‘before the foundation of the world’ also, ‘…that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me’, verse 23 – notice again that word ‘as’. Look at 1 John 4:10, and see the order, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ Before the Son was sent the Father loved both him and those for whom he was sent. In fact, God sent the Son because he loved those given to his Son, and because as sinners they needed a Saviour to be the propitiation for their sins: to bare their sins in his own body on the tree; to be made sin for them who knew no sin; to divert the wrath of God upon sin away from them onto himself their substitute, for them, in place of them: Propitiation. And it was all purposed in eternity! The Person to carry it out, the people for whom it was to be done, all out of that everlasting love which emanated from God himself. ‘Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen’, Revelation 1:5,6. And it all springs out of eternal Sonship!
And what of the unity of which the Lord Jesus speaks in John 17? This I admit is a deep which I can perceive more than explain. The Lord Jesus speaks of the unity which exists between himself and his Father, and that his people are to be brought into that same unity. Verses 21-23: ‘That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them: that they may be one, even as we are: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one: and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.’
The immediate context of these words is, of course, verse 20: ‘Neither pray I for these [the apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’ The apostles by their preaching the doctrine of the gospel of Christ would lay the foundation of the church, the ecclesia, upon which it would be built, and many would believe on Christ through their word: ‘And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone’, Ephesians 2:20; ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship…’, Acts 2:42; ‘According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ’, 1 Corinthians 3:10,11. And there would be a wonderful unity amongst the members of this ecclesia of Christ. What character their unity? Only the same as exists between Father and Son! ‘That they may be one, even as we are.’ But surely the church today in its denominated form is not unified! No, well, it doesn’t reflect an answer to Christ’s prayer to his Father then, does it. And as we know that the Father will always answer the prayers of his Son, then he must and will call his people out from this corruption.
So what is the nature of the unity of which Christ speaks? It is a unity of the state they abide ‘in’: ‘That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.’ Let the words just speak for themselves: ‘I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.’ We read that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’, 2 Corinthians 5:19. We read that there is one God, not three gods, manifest in three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. They have a unity in nature which is unfathomable to the natural mind; and yet we read that the church is ‘in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ’, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, it is actually ‘in’ them. ‘And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life’, 1 John 5:20.
The apostles’ doctrine constantly refers to the members of the body of Christ as being ‘in Christ’; it is the state they dwell in. Previously they dwelt ‘in sin’, but through a mighty miraculous work of God in regeneration they are now ‘in’ his Son, see Romans 6:1-3; in fact they have been made partakers of the divine nature, having been born of God: God himself in Father, Son and Holy Spirit has come and dwells in them! ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’ 1 Corinthians 3:16. ‘For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. ‘In [Christ] all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye are also builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit’, Ephesians 2:21,22. ‘For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell: for I have desired it’, Psalm 132:13,14. ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you… If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him’, John 14:15-20,23. The Lord then goes on to exhort his disciples to ‘abide in him’ and in his love; to love one another as he has loved them; and to keep his commandments: in other words, to dwell and abide in the new state in which they find themselves: ‘in Christ’, and in his doctrine.
It is all the language of unity; of such a close intimate unity between one another that it is the same in essence as that which exists, and has always existed, between the Father and his Son. This is what the Son prays for, and what is manifested among the members of his body to this day. He said, ‘I will build my church’, a determination which cannot be overthrown by ‘the gates of hell’, nor the traditions of men; it is what Jesus came to do, is what he is doing among those members of his building, and is why they are indeed manifest as one, even as the Father and the Son are one. Now is this the ‘church’ you desire to be part of? Then come out from that corruption which evidently does not answer to this prayer or work of the Son, and wait upon him to be gathered in that unity: ‘that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.’
But I must relate something of my own experience of coming into a realisation that Christ was the Son of God as presented in the above article. When I read Peter’s confession in Matthew 16, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’; it can only read, The Son of God from all eternity. If you’ve had the same revelation of the Father you know that is what Peter is confessing. It is not presumption but a blessed realisation that the Person who is Jesus Christ is the Son of God manifest in the flesh. The thought that he became the Son when he was born into the world is nowhere to be found or suggested in that revelation; you know and worship him as God: God manifest in the flesh.
I was brought up a ‘Christian’, a Bible-believer with no hint of unbelief, nor rebellious questioning of anything I was told was true about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or anything regarding the history recorded in the Book. All this ‘flesh and blood’ revelation was very straightforward and easily received as a child. But I remained dead to God, in actual enmity and rebellion towards Christ and his gospel, yea, dead in trespasses and sins, although of course I didn’t know it. And how far did I go in this state? I went till into my early thirties, by which time I had been baptised, was beginning to ‘take services’ in village chapels, and was helping at a children’s club at church. Of course I was happy and settled in my beliefs and was quite willing to argue with the Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the Person of Christ, always leaving them with the sure prospect that they were going to hell when they died.
Although in ‘real life’ I still had the world’s mentality, there was still some ‘comfort’ to be found in reading the Bible, reading good books and pondering the issues of eternity; mostly of course to confirm my presumption that it was well with my soul. Yes, good ministry from Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones: powerful preaching, gruff delivery, inspirational presentation. And as late as my thirty first year I distinctly remember saying to someone who was arguing for ‘election’ that, ‘Salvation is 99% free will! I’ve made my decision, and that’s that.’
Ninety nine percent? Whatever does that mean?! A few years later after I’d read A.W. Pink’s ‘The Sovereignty of God’ and come into an understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation, ‘election’, I remember arguing with someone who said that salvation was 95% free will; he allowed God five percent when I had only given Him one! And I would have continued in this arrogant unbelieving state to this day unless the God whom I knew not had intervened. For you must realise that regeneration, revelation, salvation, is indeed all of God and is an absolute miracle of grace: it is God doing something to you and in you in living experience: it is the heavenly Potter sovereignly and independently coming to a dead lump of clay and bringing it to life, without any consent or co-operation sought or needed from that lump. Well, did Jesus ask Lazarus if he’d like to come back to life? Of if he would mind awfully coming out of the tomb? And so it was with me. A dead person cannot choose, desire, or be consulted on anything spiritual; it must all come from God according to his own eternal purpose of grace in Christ Jesus before the world was. And where were we then? Ninety nine percent?!
So the time came for the Lord to begin to work, and he did it by speaking his word into my heart. And what word was that? A nice promise? An affectionate ‘sweet nothing’? ‘Oh, the first word of the gospel is Love!’ they all coo: ‘For God so loved…’ But is it? It certainly is not. The word that Almighty God, the Lord Jesus, spoke to me was one which exposed all my presumption and unbelief: ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven’, Matthew 7:21. It was a word which came unexpectedly, and which wrought in me over a few days a complete and utter destruction of all that I thought I believed, leaving me with absolutely nothing: no salvation, no faith, no assurance, and no understanding of anything pertaining to God and ‘Christianity’. How did this word work? Simply by causing me to reason that, just because I called Jesus ‘Lord’, didn’t in and of itself mean that I was going to heaven when I died. And just that.
How do I know it was revelation of God and not just my own imagination or a severe prick of conscience? Because it didn’t wear off; neither did it cause me to ‘turn over a new leaf’ and try all the more to be a good sincere Christian; and because it wrought so deeply and profoundly within my soul that I never thought this could apply to anyone else but me, for it did apply to me. This was no new wonderful realisation that I couldn’t wait to use when I preached again, telling the congregation that ‘out there somewhere’ were people who called Jesus Lord but who weren’t saved, which at length I discovered is how most serious preachers do present it. No. This wasn’t someone else, this was me. And I was undone. What did I have left? Nothing. But couldn’t I shake myself down and begin to reason that, because of all the things I did believe then probably on balance these words didn’t apply to me? Phew! Near miss? No. I was that man and I was lost.
I say I had nothing. Well I did have one thing: a cry. I knew this word had found me out, that it was true; I felt it! This was no academic realisation but a sharp sword which had come and pierced me to the depths of my being; this of course being that ‘word of God which is sharper than any two-edged sword…’ of Hebrews 4:12. No, this was not me being lightly wounded by having read a word written on the page of the Bible – my beloved Bible! – this was a living spoken word from the mouth of God himself. Scripture alone can’t convict you of what you are outside of Christ, and scripture can’t rescue you from that wrath to come; scripture can’t impart faith to you, and scripture cannot give you assurance that your sins are forgiven; only God can do that, something which I knew nothing of then but which he would prove at length.
And here is another reason why this experience wasn’t born out of my own imagination. Because God was starting to do something that I didn’t know he even did! I didn’t know that he actually ‘spoke’ to people, or that he actually came and intervened in a person’s life and wrought his salvation in them. I didn’t know God was an active God who did anything this dramatic today – apart from answer prayers, whatever prayers were, and whatever answers were. No. I just thought that God had done all he was to do two thousand years ago in ‘sending Jesus to die for our sins’, and that the rest was up to us: to believe it, accept it, testify to it, and say ‘thank you Jesus’ for saving us. But no. That false gospel has indeed sent many millions to hell in a false presumption that because they call Jesus ‘Lord’ then everything is all right. I was being taught that salvation is indeed all of God and all of grace – those reformed preachers love to talk about grace! – and that God had started a work in a poor lost soul to bring it in time to a knowledge of salvation in Christ, way above and beyond what I’d known and understood until then.
So, all I had was a cry. But surprisingly the cry wasn’t as yet for salvation but for something much more fundamental: to know the truth, whatever it was, and whatever it would cost to receive it. I cried that the Lord would teach me the truth because it was evident to me that all I had believed up till then was either a lie, false or at least unsaving. What a place to be brought to! Where everything you’ve ever presumed to be true turns out to be a deception. What was salvation? I didn’t know. Quoting Bible verses which spoke of salvation meant nothing now. What was faith? I didn’t know; how could I? I was full of unbelief, or, at least, darkness and ignorance. And this was the point. I was in total ignorance about anything and everything pertaining to God. I didn’t know him and presently I was shown that I didn’t know or believe in his Son. Whichever way I looked all I saw was confusion, loss, and despair. I’ve tried not to use over dramatic language in describing this state that I found myself in, but the scriptural language is sufficient, except that now I started to experience what those words meant: being lost, undone, out of the way, dead, ignorant. I can’t honestly say that the word ‘sinner’ was opened up to me in those very early days of awakening; that came a bit later; all I had was ignorance and a cry.
But this wasn’t the end of the matter. For the Lord came again and revealed an even more horrendous part of my state; and that was disbelief regarding his Son. With the cry that I had, to know the truth, I started reading the Bible more concentratedly, thinking, I suppose, to find some comfort or salvation therein; I don’t know; I didn’t know what I was looking for. You see, I still didn’t realise that God was working and that he actually would answer my cries! Strange as that might sound, but I wasn’t used to having prayers answered as such, I just presumed up till then that when you prayed God must have heard and answered; which answer you looked for in a change of circumstance or a feeling of relief or assurance: especially when a nice verse of scripture popped into your mind. No. I didn’t know that God was ever involved in the prayer process as if he actually heard and answered! (Though I’ve learnt since that all true prayer is actually indited of him.) And now, although I was crying to God I didn’t expect that he would actually answer or do anything really, I just had this helpless cry.
But he did come again, to reveal more unbelief: there’s a lovely answer to prayer, eh? I was searching the scriptures looking for I knew not what and came across the conversation the Lord Jesus was having with the woman at the well in John 4. She said, ‘I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.’ Now I was reading these verses out loud and when I got to those words of his and read them, I was so immediately struck by them that without thinking, out of my mouth, from my heart, came these words: I actually spoke them: ‘Well, what an arrogant thing to say! Who does he think he is to say such a thing?!’ They poured out in all their unbelief before I could put my hand over my mouth to stop them. What did Jesus say? I am the Messiah, that’s all. But to me, what he was saying was: I am the Son of God. I am God. I am he. I AM. I am the only begotten of the Father from all eternity. I am everything scripture testifies me to be. My unbelief was regarding the Person of Christ in all its attributes. It was a complete and total unbelief of heart which was revealed in my words. This is why I indicated before that Peter’s confession of Christ was more than just the words of his confession: it was a revelation and belief of His whole Person; the thought that Jesus only became the Son of God at the Incarnation was unthinkable. No, Jesus is all that scripture declares him to be and when the revelation of the Father comes to us we know who he is with a fulness of revelation; likewise, when a revelation of our unbelief comes, as is what happened to me, then it is a total unbelief: nothing I had previously believed regarding Jesus stood any more. I just didn’t believe in him at all. Well, I might still have had some vague notion that he was God, or the Saviour, or whatever; but so what if I had? it meant nothing. In fact none of those thoughts or reasons came into play; I just no longer believed he was who he said he was: it was total unbelief.
So I knew nothing and didn’t know what else to do but to cry. At length I was reminded of another verse in John which gave me a little encouragement: ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ Those were the words on the page, and so I attached myself to them particularly and prayed more earnestly in the light of them. And then one morning while I was lying in bed and looking out the window, in pretty much a state of despair – remember, I didn’t know what was meant to happen next, that God ever spoke – these words were literally spoken as it were through the window, not audibly but into my heart: ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ I can remember the moment well. Those words immediately produced in me such excitement and joy that I flung myself around the bed as one who was having some sort of delirious fit! But I wasn’t delirious, neither was I having a fit; I was in a state of momentary liberty; for it was a promise that my cry would be answered. The word itself wasn’t an answer but the promise of an answer. I would know the truth. No truth as such was revealed then, just the promise.
This encouraged me greatly to continue my search for the truth for God himself had promised that I would find it. If you’d come to me then and asked, What truth is it you’re looking for, Andrew? I would have replied that I didn’t know, just that I wanted to know the truth. Remember that I could have gone to John 14:6 and read Jesus saying that he was the truth, but that wouldn’t have made any difference to me then because I didn’t know him or believe in him; what comfort could I possibly have gained from that verse? No, still unbeknown to my understanding the Lord himself was teaching me, was actually communicating into my heart by his voice, by revelation.
And at length he started to reveal my sin to me; it was not, as I remember, an all encompassing, depth plummeting, hand wringing revelation of my state as one ‘in sin’ as distinct from being a person who ‘committed sins’; the knowledge of these things has grown to greater degrees over the years; but the one thing I did know was that I was a sinner because I was in such a terrible state of unbelief. That was the thing that shocked me so much about the initial revelations: I was an unbeliever. Nevertheless the Lord had obviously started to impart faith to me for the cry was itself a cry of faith, although I didn’t feel it to be so at the time. Absolute unbelief I suppose would have issued in rebellion and denial: in a headlong determination to prove God wrong by showing that I did believe, I was a good Christian, Matthew 7:21 didn’t apply to me, free will was right, we did have the power in and of ourselves to please God, and indeed, he expected us to! But no. That wasn’t my state now. So faith must have been there, but it certainly wasn’t my faith in exercise.
At length I was brought down low enough in my sinfulness to a point where all I had left was my sin to bring to the Lord. I’d had the promise from John 8:32 but could get no further than that. I wasn’t ‘advancing’ in my knowledge of the truth by my Bible reading; I dared not say that I actually believed anything as such yet: questions about election or free will, etc. were not an issue at this point because I had and knew nothing. All I had was a growing – if ‘nothing’ can grow – realisation of my sinfulness before God as a hindrance or barrier or, I knew not what, to knowing the truth or being saved, or having peace or anything else; that all I could do was confess my state to him.
I remember I was on my knees just confessing my sin. I don’t think I was confessing particular sins as such, just that I was a sinner. There wasn’t even a conscious cry to be forgiven or saved, these words held no comprehension to me then; it was just that I was a sinner and that was that. Looking back this was all so basic: a knowledge of my sinnership and utter hopelessness before God. Why did I cry to him in this state? I don’t know. Did I expect him to do anything for or to me while in this state? Probably not. When a man is drowning in a river he just cries. He doesn’t wait to see if there is anyone there who might hear him, he just cries as a natural response to the state he finds himself in. Who can tell! Perhaps someone will hear and come and rescue him. Does he need to know who his potential rescuer might be so that he can judge whether or not it is worthwhile calling out? No, he just cries. As I said, I didn’t know that God actually saves people, I thought we did that by our faith in Jesus; and as that had so evidently not worked in the past I wasn’t actually expecting anything from him. It was such a desperate state that I was in, in my sin, that I just had to confess, regardless of what I thought might happen next.
But what did happen next was that the Lord came and met me in that helpless state and literally washed me from head to foot. I felt it as I was confessing before him. It started in my head and worked its way down through my body to my feet. That is all I can describe it as: a washing, a cleansing. In a way it didn’t seem dramatic at the time. I don’t remember any words spoken in that moment. I didn’t feel elated or ecstatic. There was no throwing myself around the room, just a quiet realisation that God had met me and done something in me. It wasn’t till a few days later, when I was reading John chapter 8 and the woman taken in adultery that I came to these words of the Saviour, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more’, that I believe the Lord actually whispered those words into my heart and gave me an understanding that I was not condemned in his sight.
I didn’t fully understand all that had happened at the time, for at church I wasn’t coming under the sound of a true gospel ministry. Because that is what the preaching of the gospel of Christ is designed for: to teach the saints what their salvation is in Christ: who he is, what he wrought upon the cross, what he works in his people in their experience: what true faith is, and how he brings them into it, etc., etc. I knew none of those things then, except in the experience of them at the Lord’s hand! No. This salvation of the Lord is no academic exercise; it is a living experience which I have grown to realise is alien to the vast majority – well, to ‘many’ – of those who call him Lord, whether they be in pew or pulpit; the proof of which is their response when I merely quote Matthew 7:21-23 and ask if they could ever imagine that it applies to them. Not that the Lord has to use that word specifically to all his people in awakening them, but that those who have been so wrought upon will recognise the truth of this testimony and the Person who brought it to pass. But this verse of the Sermon on the Mount – and all Christians love the Sermon on the Mount – has caused more rage towards me from them than any other; and just in the quoting it.
‘We beheld his glory’
Well. To the Person of Christ and a revelation of his glory in me. This is why I’ve written this testimony to tell how the Lord was glorified in me.
Some time later, perhaps a year or more, I was asked to go and take a service at a village chapel I’d been to once before, and as they only had a morning service I asked if I could have two Sundays in a row so I could get into a text more fully. These services were usually only an hour long with, in this case, five hymns as well as the reading and prayer to be fitted in. I had as my text part of the last verse of John 16: ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ I spoke on the former clause the first week and announced I would be speaking on ‘overcoming’ the next.
You must understand that in those early days, despite my experience with Matthew 7:21, it still hadn’t really dawned on me that there might be people in the chapels who weren’t saved; I, like most other preachers in these places, just presumed that we were preaching to God’s people; the thought that the words of my text might not apply to them didn’t occur to me. The Lord Jesus speaks in intimate conversation to his disciples and we preachers just rend them out of context and apply them to anyone who walks into a church on a Sunday morning! Anyway, I spoke for twenty five minutes on ‘tribulation’ the first week, and there was an old lady in the congregation who apparently went home and said to her husband, ‘I think you should come next week, the young man is going to speak on ‘overcoming’, I think he might have something.’ But her husband was reluctant to come as he’d given up going as nothing preached in the place ever did him any good: ‘They know nothing’, he’d say. It turns out this man had preached the gospel in many places himself but had been rejected because he liked to preach, among other things, ‘the way of the cross’, the only way to overcoming in this world, something I knew nothing about then.
But the lady must have prevailed over her husband for the next week there he was sitting once again in the pew to hear what this young man had to say on the matter. After I’d rambled incoherently on the subject (my present judgment, looking back), I was asked if I would give them a lift home as it was on my way. And as I was driving them up the road Mr Snowball, for that was his name, who was sitting in the back, said to me, ‘Andrew, you know nothing about the cross, do you?’ And I remember looking at him in the mirror and saying, ‘What do you mean?’ And that started a two year friendship between us, until he died, during which time I would go to his house and sit with him and his wife in their kitchen/parlour, where he would minister the work of the cross to me, and especially as it related to the children of God overcoming in this world. One of his favourite verses was Revelation 12:11, ‘And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.’ And again, Luke 9:23,24, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.’
Mr Snowball preached to me that the work of Christ on the cross meant not only that our sins were put away, but that it was also the death of ‘self’, Paul saying, ‘I am [have been] crucified with Christ…’, Galatians 2:20. It was this doctrine of union with Christ in his death, as well as in his resurrection, which was so liberating because it enabled us to see the total victory of the work of the cross over the old man as well as over sin. And the reason that it was so liberating, or potentially so, was that it was eminently so practical; it touched and affected our daily walk: real life! If we could see and enter into this wonderful truth that we had actually been crucified with Christ, then we could see ourselves as dead, and alive from the dead with Christ ‘the other side of death’. Ephesians 2:5,6 says that God has quickened his people together with Christ, ‘and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ In other words: When Christ died, we died; when Christ rose from the dead, we rose in him and with him and are now, in effect, already raised and seated with him in heavenly places. When God looked at the work of his Son upon the cross he not only saw him die, but he saw all his people die in and with him also; when he rose, they all rose with him; and when he ascended into heaven, they all ascended with him; so as far as God is concerned we are there already! In Christ and by our union with him in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension, we are counted as already to have died, risen and ascended. The victory is already won in and with our Substitute! No wonder Paul could preach that the saints were ‘accepted in the beloved’, and that salvation is ‘not of works.’
Now this was revelatory to me, especially as I wanted to know the truth and be set free by it. If we can see it and begin to count ourselves as actually dead, then the way is opened to deny self – which is dead – and to follow Christ, which is what we surely want to do. Easier said than done of course as I have found out; but if we know the doctrine then we can pray to the Lord to lead us in that way; in the way of the cross; in a way of overcoming our enemies in this world, the devil, the flesh and our natural propensity to sin. If God himself sees us as already overcomers in his Son then that should liberate us to live as overcomers.
But there was more to this revelation which I received under Mr Snowball’s simple but profound ministry (no wonder he was banned from the churches!); and that was the glory of Christ. I point to this as the time when the Son was revealed in me and I beheld his glory. What a Saviour! How much greater was his work, his sacrifice, than what I’d been brought up to believe. I had been taught that Jesus died for our sins upon the cross and if we will believe in him and ask him to forgive us then we will be saved. The cross being merely a place to go to ‘get your sins forgiven’, before you leave it behind and go off into your new Christian life ‘happy all the day’; reading the Bible and trying to obey what you think you saw there, ‘following Jesus’, thereby living a good life pleasing to God; as if the cross were some sort of starting point in your journey to heaven, one which once you’d been there you didn’t have to think about too much again; well it was the place always mentioned in those ‘gospel services’ where you hoped there might be an unsaved person in church who hadn’t yet had their sins forgiven, so the cross was relevant for the unbeliever but not really for those of us who were now ‘saved’.
But no. The doctrine of the gospel of Christ places the work of the cross at the centre: it’s relevance to the walk of the child of God being just as important throughout life as at the beginning. Jesus himself walked in the way of the cross before he came to Calvary, and he expects his people to follow him in that way. His whole walk had been one of self sacrifice to the will of the Father. Read the gospels and see how he suffered the contradiction of sinners against himself; how he oftentimes opened not his mouth when being falsely accused; how he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; how he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; how that when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. This is self sacrifice in daily life in the midst of, and often at the hands of sinners. This was the Son of God coming to earth from the glory and purity of heaven into this fallen sinful corrupt cursed world to sacrifice himself for his people: and before he came to the cross he suffered as one holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners in his own nature; suffered at the hands of sinful men: even his own received him not; even his disciples often failed to understand him or believe him: How is it that ye have no faith? O ye of little faith. O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?
Moreover the people, along with their leaders, tried on more than one occasion to take him, to kill him, to stone him, to trap him in his words, to tempt him; they accused him of working by the power of the devil, called him a Samaritan, a blasphemer, and were often in a rage against him. But he suffered it all, not counting the cost to himself, out of obedience to the will of his Father and love towards his people. And that was all before he even came to the cross. And the point that Mr Snowball brought out to me was that this is how the Lord Jesus leads all his people to walk in this world: Follow me, he said; Come after me. I am walking a certain way and my people walk in the same path: ‘they follow me.’ If any man will come after me he will deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. And those who call themselves my disciples, but who do not walk in this way, are false. We must die to self if we are to live unto God and experience that liberty in this world which the Saviour promises to all who follow him. There is no room for fulfilling the desires or lusts of the flesh in this narrow way, it is ‘daily’. There is no place for ‘self’ at all! What I want, what I think, what I will, has all been crucified with Christ! No, it’s all ‘Nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.’ And it is all born out of the substitutionary work of Christ upon the cross for and as his people, as we are brought to see ourselves as dead with him and risen the other side of death to walk in newness of life. After all, in Christ we are now strangers and pilgrims upon the earth, and are citizens of another country; one not seen as yet, but one which we are already dwelling in, in spirit, in Christ, as far as God is concerned anyway.
No. I knew nothing about the cross then; Mr Snowball was right. And before then I had never beheld the glory of Christ in his Person and work; but I began to now. And as I would drive the dozen or so miles home after sitting at his feet for two hours, I remember feeling as though I was driving ten feet above the road: ‘full of glory’!
Well, it wasn’t Mr Snowball himself who revealed the glory of Christ to me; it was God himself who, by his Spirit, revealed his Son in me; and from that time on all my unbelief regarding his Person was gone. And no one now can tell me that Christ is not the Son of God from all eternity, because I have ‘seen’ him, and know him as such. And I can now also understand something of what John meant when he wrote: ‘And we beheld his glory; glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’