Christ’s Eternal Sonship

The Contention

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 writing that he has apparently been found out by the church he was attending, and asked to leave. Good for them!]

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.

John 17

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.’

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Personal Testimony

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.’

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Ecclesiastes: An Introduction

The book of Ecclesiastes is the last will and testament of King Solomon: ‘the son of David, king in Jerusalem’, verse 1. He is ‘the Preacher’, meaning ‘one who convenes, or gathers’: one who calls the people around him to hear his words; and here Solomon, at the end of his life, calls the people to hear his final statement on life and its meaning. And what is the great message of the world’s wisest man? ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity’, verse 2.

And after he expounds his reasons for saying this, he concludes the whole matter with the vital exhortation: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil’, Eccl. 12:13,14. And the preaching was ended.

And no doubt there were those who took these words to heart and obeyed them, for the people had been happy to hear his wisdom in the past. And after he died his wisdom remained with them and became part of the fabric of their consciousness and national identity, for their scriptures contained much of his writings and sayings: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon. So at the time of Jesus the people were fully aware of not only ‘the patience of Job’, but also of ‘the wisdom of Solomon’, Matthew 12:42.

After Solomon had ascended the throne of David his father and had asked the LORD for ‘understanding, judgment, and discernment’, 1 Kings 3:9, in other words ‘wisdom’, the LORD gave him his request to the full, for we read, ‘And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt… and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five… and there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom’, 1 Kings 4:29-34, cp. also 1 Kings 10:1-13.

And this he confirmed in Ecclesiastes 1:16, not out of pride but just as a matter of fact: ‘I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come into great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem [more even than David, then – the man after God’s own heart]: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ No, there was no pride here because in his wisdom he had also been brought to experience the sobering fact that, ‘In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow’, verse 18: the reasons for which we will come to.

It is evident, then, that the book of Ecclesiastes is an essential book to read, meditate upon, and fall under; for here is ‘the meaning of life’ in this world, what it is all about: the beginning, the end, the purpose, the sum and substance of it all; and in the light of that, the only thing needful for the individual really to be occupied with: the seeking of the salvation of the soul in the light of the fact that the day of judgment is coming. In fact Solomon’s closing words of this book, Eccl. 12:13,14, are the same in essence to those spoken by the apostle Paul in Athens a thousand years later, Acts 17: ‘God… now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness…’ verses 24-31, such is the unity of the message of the Book.

But what is the immediate background to Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes? Why do we say that it was his last will and testament? Because he constantly speaks in language which indicates he is at his end, that he has seen and done ‘all things’: ‘I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven… I have seen all the works that are done under the sun… So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me… [but] what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.’ Indeed didn’t he voice ‘the conclusion of the whole matter’ at the end? Therefore we can say that, because of the language – the absolute language – Solomon uses in these sayings, that he was near his end: one cannot speak of ‘all things’ if there is an expectation of more to come.

Moreover Solomon is speaking after having gone astray after ‘strange women’ and their gods, see 1 Kings 11. ‘And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice’. I believe the book of Ecclesiastes is born of Solomon’s falling under the rebuke and judgment of the LORD concerning his turning away: ‘Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant’, verse 11. And didn’t Solomon say, possibly with this in mind, ‘Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?’, Eccl. 2:19.

So Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s confession, his repentance, and he is eager to tell the people how that wisdom, lasting wisdom, is only found by continuing in ‘the fear of the LORD’, which is what he had fallen from in his latter years. Perhaps he was now thinking back to other words he’d once spoken: ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding’, Proverbs 9:10, and to the words of his father who had sung: ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever’, Psalm 111:10. But Solomon had not ‘done his commandments’ into old age and had therefore fallen into a grievous way. Nevertheless the LORD still loved Solomon, cp. 2 Samuel 12:24, and therefore restored him in his old age, though without removing the judgment upon his kingdom after him. Thus the old man wrote out of his wisdom of all things for his people’s good and for our admonition.

‘Vanity of vanities’

It is surprising to realise that the words ‘vanity of vanities’, so immediately associated with Ecclesiastes, appear in only two verses in the book: in chapters 1:2 and 12:8; in other words, at the beginning and at the end of Solomon’s testimony. Therefore they could be seen as the “speech marks” around everything he says: that which encapsulates or sums up his message.

But what a conclusion to come to at the end of a long and singular life! Surely there is more to it than that? Life in this world issues in more purposefulness, surely! Well, no. Solomon was the wisest of men, remember. There has never been another king like Solomon. Today’s monarchs and rulers fall infinitely short of Solomon in wisdom and understanding of those things which pertain to life and the ruling of the nations. Listen to what he said to the LORD, right at the beginning of his reign, when He said unto him, ‘Ask what I shall give thee’. The expected answer would have been what the LORD said in reply to his request: ‘long life and riches for thyself, and the life of thine enemies’, verse 11. But no, Solomon asked the following instead:

‘Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?’ 1 Kings 3:6-9.

And the LORD answered his request: ‘Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days’, verses 12,13. And the words of the LORD have stood to this day: there never has been such a king like unto Solomon.

So Solomon lived and walked in his wisdom, and according to the understanding – discernment – which the LORD had given him, until he went astray. But for all that, when he came to die and to look back over all the things his hands had wrought, his mind had pondered, and his position had afforded him, still the conclusion was this: ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’

Now this should be a salutary lesson to us ‘mere mortals’: the dust of the earth, as we sit and ponder our lives, the desires, lusts and ambitions of our hearts; as we work out how ‘happy’ and ‘fulfilled’ we are going to be in months or years to come if we can just get this, or achieve that, or gain the other. But if he who’d had it all, who’d done it all, and who’d had the power to command whatever his heart desired, concluded that – having attained to supreme fulfilment of all his desires way above and beyond what we will ever achieve – it was all vanity, what can we expect to conclude at the end of our few, poor, quickly passing days upon earth?

‘Vanity of vanities,’ saith the wise man by experience, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ Save yourself, then, the trouble of immersing yourself in the things of this world at the expense of your soul’s good, and go again straight to the end of the book and obey Solomon’s wise counsel: ‘Fear God and keep his commandments’, for judgment is coming. Solomon knew that every work, literally, ‘is brought into judgment with every secret thing.’ All that he had done and achieved was brought to judgment: that is, the state of his heart in all these things had been brought into judgment; and although many of the things he did do, in and of themselves, had not been ‘evil’ as such, many others had turned his heart away from his God, His commandments, statutes, and testimonies.

But today, in the light of the full revelation of the gospel, we have the teaching of ‘a greater than Solomon’ to hear and fall under: the Lord Jesus: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’; ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ This is the way of wisdom: obeying and following him who is Wisdom personified, Proverbs 8. And we know that all else, every other path, is vanity. All out of Christ just walk ‘in the vanity of their minds’, Ephesians 4:17, while the supposed worship of some, even of the true and living God, can be nothing other than ‘in vain’, Mark 7:6-8. So the wise king called it all vanity, and so it is.

And to illustrate his point he asks a question, as if to counter immediate argument against what he has said: Well, all right then, if you don’t believe that all is vanity, let me ask you this: ‘What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?’ Ultimately. Don’t you realise that ‘one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever’? Look at your life in the context of the passing years, decades and centuries. In our lifetimes some of us think we can be ‘someone’, and the more ambitious – or puffed up – think that the world is going to be different because of them, because of something they will do. But go back one hundred years: how many who were alive then in positions of power or authority still hold influence upon this generation? Very few, if any. Go back two or three hundred years and ask the same question. For all their fame then, and for all the fame some of them still have now, as kept alive by those who admire their work, art, or ideas, there are very few whose names, memories and influence have survived to this day. And anyway, if you could contact these great ones of years gone by and ask what they now think of all their achievements, and that their names are still revered, most likely you’d hear them crying out in torments: ‘It was all vanity!’

Which reminds us of another question beginning with the words ‘What profit…?’ Mark 8:36: ‘What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ So asked ‘the greater than Solomon’ in his wisdom. But Solomon has told us that he had gained the whole world, ‘all things’, but that it had been indeed no profit to his soul: it was all vanity outside of the fear of God.

Yes, men come and men go, ‘but the earth abideth for ever.’ Each generation has its own time, its own ideas, its own ‘wisdom’. Each generation thinks itself more ‘advanced’ than the previous one (cp. Prov. 30:12); but each generation dies away and at length is generally dismissed by succeeding generations as old-fashioned, out of date, primitive even, compared to us. Therefore if one generation is relatively ‘wise’, what good is it if the next is ‘foolish’ and lets go to waste all the understanding of the previous one? It is just vanity. Meanwhile the earth abideth for ever.

The Testimony of Nature

So Solomon does not go from chapter 1:2: ‘vanity of vanities’, straight to 12:13: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments’, without expounding his conclusion. As he begins to counter objections he next calls nature to testify to the fact that there is never any fulfilment in this world. He speaks of the sun, the wind, and the watercourses to prove that things just keep going round and round in the world regardless of what man might achieve in any given generation.

I witnessed this to a very small degree a few years ago when we went to Scotland. It had been twenty-eight years since I’d seen the mountains of Assynt (the most beautiful spot on earth!), but despite all the changes that had occurred in my life and in the world at large during that period – 1977-2005 – there they were, Quinag, Canisp, Suilven, Cul Mòr, Cul Beag, and Stac Pollaidh still standing there, unchanged. It was quite moving really, humbling: a wonderful picture of the immutability of God who formed them. The same, of course, can be said when you lift up your eyes at night, where you will see the same Orion in the heavens as Job and Amos saw, the same Arcturus and Pleiades. When David looked up and considered the heavens, the work of the LORD’s fingers, the moon and the stars, he mused, ‘What is man?’ in comparison to them, Psalm 8. How transient are our lives. How quickly the world is deteriorating with all its ‘advancement’, and getting daily riper for the final fiery judgment; but how breathtaking to see these parts of God’s creation, untouched by man, bearing mute testimony to our Creator’s immutability.

So Solomon points us to the sun in the heavens: just as one generation follows another so ‘the sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose’, Eccl. 1:5. And this is what we and our generations do: we ‘arise’ in birth and we ‘go down’ back to the dust in death. The sun is constantly circling above the earth regardless of what man is doing upon it. In this sense man is so small in the course of things. Nothing he can do can change the course of the sun in its circuit in the heavens. After all, this sun that Solomon is writing about and saw in his sky is the same sun we see today. It is that sun which was created on the fourth day of creation six thousand years ago. Everyone you read of in scripture from Adam in the Garden of Eden to John on the isle of Patmos saw this same sun in the sky, felt its warmth, lived by its light, and they are all gone; yet here we are, enjoying the benefits of the same sun today. But does it know any of these things? How can it, it is just a light in the firmament; but it is an object which has endured, and will endure, for the whole history of time, while fleeting man in his successive generations thinks that he is something important on the earth, and that what he does, makes and achieves is going to last for ever and change the world!

And then there is the wind: ‘The wind goeth about toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits’, verse 6. Of course modern man with all his ability to map the circuits of the winds over the face of the earth has only recently discovered what Solomon told us three thousand years ago. But then, true science will always prove the scriptural record. Again it is the unchanging nature of the wind, as with the sun, which serves to emphasise the transience of man upon the earth. The wonder of the natural order, sustained over millennia, remains constant while generations of proud men come, go, and are forgotten.

Observe the sun rising and setting, says Solomon; consider the wind whirling about the earth continually; what is new about it? Nothing. These things have always been, and they are a reflection of what goes on upon the earth. Nothing new appears, not in principle. He is soon to ask, ‘Is there any thing – just one thing – whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time which was before us’, verse 10. What is he actually saying? Man has been in sin from the fall in the Garden, and regardless of how that sin is manifested, and to what degree of rebellion in any given generation: no matter what ‘inventions’ he seeks out to compound and confirm the destruction of his original ‘uprightness’, Eccl. 7:29 – called elsewhere by Solomon ‘ways of death’, Proverbs 14:12 – and no matter how advanced man gets in hiding, excusing and justifying himself in his sin, nothing has really changed from the time that Adam was cast out of Eden.

O man! What is man! Can’t you see in all your rebellion that the heavens testify to the fact that there is no new thing under the sun? When will you cease from your pride and arrogance in thinking that you are becoming gods on the earth, that you will not surely die, that there is no God and no judgment to come? Don’t you realise that all your attempts to ‘make the world a better place for yourselves and for generations to come’ is not one of the commandments of your Creator? Don’t you know that whatever you might achieve on the earth will probably be lost on, or wasted, or perverted by the very next generation? and that when you die you will take nothing with you, no, not even that flesh which you have indulged so constantly? Let the wind and the sun instruct you: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man’; this is what man is for, to walk with God uprightly, to seek the salvation of his soul, and to keep in mind the day of judgment.

But there is yet another testimony from the earth which teaches the vanity of all things: and that is the rivers. Verse seven reads, ‘All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.’ Round and round continually. The rivers run into the sea, the sun evaporates the water from the oceans and forms clouds, the clouds are blown back over the land by the winds, they fall as rain on the hills, which makes its way into the streams and rivers, which then make their way back out to the sea. A never-ending cycle.

And what is your life? What is the end of all your desire? Each lust, each ambition, each achievement, is like a river running down into the sea of promised satisfaction which will never be filled. You will never find ‘it’, that ‘something’ you are ultimately looking for, in this life. All is vanity, all is empty, all is futile, all is waste. Look at the modern inventions which man has designed for his ‘betterment’ and satisfaction. Have they succeeded? Is man generally more satisfied now? How many times have you heard someone say, ‘Oh, I’m fed up. I know, I’ll watch my favourite programme and then I’ll be happy.’ So they watch it and then say, ‘That’s it, I’m content at last. I can throw my TV away now because it has fulfilled me.’ You never have heard it said. Why? Because they’ll be empty again tomorrow, and they’ll be fed up again tomorrow, and they’ll have to watch another programme tomorrow (or in ten minutes).

Then there are others who go shopping for that one item which will give them such joy that they’ll never need to go shopping again. And there are yet others who, having watched such a good game of football, are so satisfied that they will never need to watch another football match again. […add your own entertainment, pastime, or indulgence here…] Yes, and when you’ve come across these people – or millions of others like them – no doubt you will then hear them say, ‘This world has given me so much satisfaction, and my flesh is now so fulfilled and content, that I will now turn and spend the rest of my days in quiet contemplation of eternity and the state of my soul before the great God, my Creator.’ Will you hear it? But the world in its fallen state is not meant to satisfy you and cause you effortlessly to seek the LORD. It is in the world – which is in the hands of the god of this world, Satan, your sworn enemy – where you are to be kept from even thinking about God and your soul’s eternal safety, and kept ever yearning for more of those things it promises but never quite delivers.

Look at the rivers. They all run into the sea, but the sea never fills up! What a profound statement. What a hard lesson to learn. What a hard truth to experience. But experience it you must if ever you are to find yourself in the way of ‘fearing God, and keeping his commandments’, which is the whole of man.

Dissatisfaction Compounded

So the wise man continues: the man who has seen, done, and experienced life to the full: ‘All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it’, Eccl. 1:8. These things hadn’t come to Solomon easily, he had worked hard to achieve what he had gained: but how laborious it all was, and for what end? To discover that it was all vanity! Look again at the world around you. See people scheming, striving, labouring, ladder-climbing, achieving, arriving: and yet when they come to the end, to retirement or especially to death, what will they realise? If they’re honest they will conclude, ‘All was vanity.’ What do they gain for all their labour? Passing fulfilment. Temporary satisfaction. Fleeting contentment. Momentary security. And then what? What is the end? ‘We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out’, 1 Timothy 6:7. ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither’, Job 1:21. And this is the thing that has so struck me recently: that we don’t even take our bodies with us when we die. The dead body stays behind. All this achievement, all this ‘happiness’ we attained in this flesh: and even that flesh is left behind at the end. I remember reading once of some highly admired woman whose last words on her death-bed were to the effect, ‘Brush my hair, I cannot die looking so unkempt!’, and she was gone. But the spirit left the tidy body behind! Vanity!

It is no wonder that the constant exhortation to the people of God is to flee the indulgence of the flesh, to mortify your members which are upon the earth, to redeem the time, to cleanse our hands, to touch not – let alone embrace – the unclean thing, to keep in mind that this body of sin and death is decaying, and that it will soon return to the dust: so why continue to pamper it with ‘vanity’? Don’t you know that if we die out of Christ the very flesh in which we have lived our lives will be resurrected on the day of judgment, and that we will be judged for all those things committed in that body? We will be standing there incarcerated in that very flesh in which we have lived and walked in all our vanity. Does this cause us to fear? Are we happy with the thought that we won’t be able to hide from our vain flesh in that day?

Solomon goes on to confess that despite all his labouring, succeeding, and attaining, in fact, to be honest, ‘the eye was never really satisfied in seeing, neither was the ear ever filled with hearing’, verse 8. Not filled. As the sea is never filled as a result of all the rivers flowing into it, so are the ears never filled for all that enters them. How we love to hear ‘some new thing’ – some juicy bit of gossip! but after the momentary sensation – ‘never filled’. Those who like listening to the radio, to ‘interesting programmes’, find that their ears are ‘never filled’. Music? ‘Never filled’. Never contented. More, more, more. The eye likewise can never get enough. New sights, new places, new concepts to see: ‘never satisfied’. All vanity, ultimately. All that the world can produce for the ‘benefit’ of man – for his benefit only in time – is vanity. Yes, even those things thought to be the most ‘profound’ are all vanity in the end. Well, can Shakespeare save your soul? Or Beethoven? Can Leonardo da Vinci, Plato, Einstein, or (hardly!) John Lennon? They are all dead men!

It is a fact that the world cannot actually produce anything which is new, not in the proper sense: although some things may come as being new to us. For, says Solomon, ‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun’, verse 9. Even the world has taken up that last phrase: ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’

Again, you argue it? Well, Solomon has once more anticipated your contention. Just think about it: ‘Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new?’ Is there, really? No. ‘It hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after’, verses 10,11. Nothing new, ever. And in this latter verse Solomon actually transports himself and his wise judgment ahead into a time yet to come wherein they shall realise that anything they experience or achieve will not be remembered by those who come still later. So these words are valid for our day. Solomon is speaking of today.

It will perhaps benefit us here to remember what was written of man’s achievements even before the Flood. These were not ‘cave men’, grunting to each other with primitive sounds; these were highly intelligent men who invented things we are familiar with today – nothing new. To start with, Adam was created with fully formed intelligence in that he could not only understand language and the meaning of words but had the ability to name all animals according to their characters, Genesis 2:19,20. His immediate descendants built cities – with all the engineering skills that involves; they farmed, made and played instruments of music, and wrought in brass and iron: and Noah built an ark! Every imagination of the thoughts of men’s heart was only evil continually – nothing new, see up to Genesis 6.

So we have begun to hear the wisdom of Solomon. What grace we need to fall under it. And yet, how depressed – oppressed – this can make us. Let us for once be honest. As human beings we have been born in the flesh – we are flesh – and the only existence – life – we’ve ever known is life according to the flesh. And these truths of Solomon depress us because naturally we love to live in the flesh, we just cannot help it. But, then, when we are born again of the Spirit of God, we receive a new nature which at length is brought to hate the workings of the flesh, the things of the world, the mentality of the world, the very way of the world, because we see, and know, and feel it all to be vanity. But we remain in the flesh, and at times the flesh rises up and craves its natural pleasures, and so a war wages within: ‘the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are contrary the one to the other…’, Galatians 5:17. Oh, the oppression of ‘war in your members’. ‘Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?’ Thanks be unto God, he will deliver us ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, Romans 7.

Vexation Of Spirit

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 Solomon tells us again that he was king in Jerusalem, but adds the detail, king ‘over Israel’ in Jerusalem. Thus he was king over all the people of God. Here was not just a king over the heathen, over a benighted people, but one over the people who were known of the true and living God. Whereas the kings of the nations round about must have had their own level of power, authority and perhaps wisdom to reign, Solomon was the king with exceeding power, rule and wisdom as God’s anointed over His people. We must not forget this as we read what Solomon gave himself to next, for none could rightly exercise himself in these things and come to so correct and righteous a judgment of them, which judgment would be shown and taught to the people of God who would at least appreciate it and hopefully fall under it for their own soul’s good.

This then is no pygmy king, no self-indulgent fool, who had nothing better to do than to take advantage of his position just for the sake of it, and then to indulge the carnal musings of a heathen people in ‘the wisdom of this world.’ No. This was a man who had been given something by God to bring to light the meaning of life in this world, which he calls a ‘sore travail to afflict him’, [marg.]. So, thus stirred by God, he ‘gave his heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven’, verse 13. Again notice that this was no arbitrary exercise, no bored meander into searching these things out; this was ‘by wisdom’: serious, concentrated, thorough, it being of God.

And immediately, before he gives us any detail of his search, he gives the conclusion: ‘I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity’, the same conclusion then. But now he goes further: not just vanity but ‘vexation of spirit’ also, verse 14. This is a word which Solomon is to use ten times in this book as a repeated conclusion to each new search for meaning or fulfilment in life: his testimony constantly echoes with the sigh, ‘All is vanity, and vexation of spirit.’

Vexation here means, at least, a sadness to his spirit: something that is contrary to the good or well being of his spirit. He constantly realises that the things this world has to offer in the way of enjoyment, happiness, fulfilment and contentment, cause his spirit to cry, ‘No! It’s no good, it isn’t the answer to my deepest need and desire.’ To be vexed is to be troubled, disquieted, upset, galled, assaulted, discomfited, or to use the Lord’s words in Matthew 25:31-46, ‘an hungered, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison’; put mildly it is not a nice place to be nor a nice feeling to have. Vexation is the opposite to being in a restful state, having peace of mind. And to the child of God, as they are taught of God and grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; as they learn by experience the vanity of all things outside of knowing Christ and walking in the will of the Father, they find that the sense of the vanity of all things doesn’t come alone: being in this world is also an increasing vexation of their spirits, for they are a people alive unto God and dead to the world; surrounded by those who are the opposite. They are strangers and pilgrims on the earth: foreigners in an alien land, and therefore passers through, not settlers.

Do you think that being a saint in this world is a ‘nice’ or relatively easy thing to be? Consider righteous Lot in Sodom, ‘vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds’, 2 Peter 2:7,8; nothing new! Read Solomon’s father David’s cries throughout the psalms, many if not all of them in the spirit of Christ: of his trouble and vexation in the presence of his enemies; in the narrowness of the way; in walking in accordance with the will of God which so often is contrary to the desires of the natural man; in times when the LORD seemed distant and was silent; when the wicked seemed to have the upper hand and were O so happy, prosperous and content in this world. No, so often the worldly didn’t seem to be vexed as the man after God’s own heart was; even in their death their strength seemed to remain firm, they were not in trouble as other men are. And whereas there are many godless people in this life who do suffer vexation because of ‘misfortune’, and sin, and pride, arrogance and rebellion, the child of God suffers vexation in his spirit, as a spiritual man, because he is born of God, is not of this world, and has a strong enemy in the god of this world: that adversary of him and his Lord who is always seeking to devour, swallow up and destroy him. If you live your life seeking to follow Christ, and fall under the will of the Father, in the heat of the battle against the enemy, not to mention against the power of your own flesh, then you will know vexation in your spirit like the world never knows. You see then that all this world has to offer you with ‘the promise of life’ without Christ will not only issue in what could be called the passive feeling of ‘vanity’, but also the active disturbing experience of being a vexation to your spirit.

You are at liberty to live how you like in this world; you can seek to ‘live life to the full’; to pursue a course like Solomon who gave his heart ‘to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly…’ Eccl. 1:17; indeed he goes on at the beginning of Chapter 2 to tell of his pursuit of mirth, pleasure and laughter; but if you are a child of God you will be brought to perceive and realise sooner or later that ‘…this also is vexation of spirit’; as he likewise concluded elsewhere: ‘Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness’, Proverbs 14:13. Do you know it to be true? Have you been there and felt the emptiness? In all your pursuits in life can you conclude with wise Solomon, ‘Yes, all is vanity and vexation of spirit’? Then you will likely have been brought to know the one thing which is not vanity, and which is the direct opposite to vexation of spirit.

The One Exception

So as this article has only been written as an introduction to this book of Solomon and not as a verse by verse commentary throughout the whole, we must come to the one exception to ‘all is vanity’: Fearing God, and keeping his commandments, which, in New Testament language, is nothing other than finding the salvation of your soul in and by Christ, and abiding in the doctrine of Christ, the gospel.

When Solomon said ‘all is vanity’, he meant ‘all that is in the world’, all those things which emanate from time and which apply only to time; which are designed to stimulate and feed the flesh, the natural carnal man; all of that is vanity. But the gospel of Christ is not vain, as his final exhortation hints: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man’ – the word ‘duty’, being in italics, is not in the original. Fear God and keep his commandments: this is what man is all about. Contrary to the message of the world man wasn’t created to ‘live his own life’ and pursue his own pleasures, but to know God: to serve and worship him, to know and fall under his will, to love, submit to, and obey him. And as God can only be known in his Son then he can only be approached through and by this Man whom he hath ordained, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners. For the truth is that man is dead in trespasses and in sins, and therefore does not ‘fear God’, neither does he ‘keep his commandments’. Subsequently the wrath of God is upon him because he has not glorified God for who He is, neither been thankful to God for giving him life, breath, and all things. And as man has not determined to retain God in his knowledge, so he has proved and confirmed himself to be fallen and lost. Because of this he has forgotten that there is a day of judgment, the thought is too uncomfortable to him; and although he has grown to deny that such a day will even actually come, and so has lost completely a reason for his very existence on this earth, then he has been given over by God to a reprobate mind – a mentality devoid of judgment, reason, understanding and wisdom – and has turned to pursue nothing but vanity and lies in this world, contrary to the judgment of wisdom and the commandment of God. Therefore being totally sold out to sin he has come to deny his desperate need for salvation and to find out if there might indeed be a saviour. ‘O vain man’ indeed.

So the gospel is not according to vanity because it is the only message which describes his dreadful state in sin and rebellion, and which goes on to reveal the Saviour, the only one who can deliver him from all this vanity and foolishness. Every one dies, the life of each in this world comes to an end. Our bodies all return to the dust. But the spirit of man does not cease to exist, it leaves the body and returns ‘unto God who gave it’, Eccl. 12:7. And then what will He do with it? He certainly will judge it. The conclusion of Solomon is echoed again in Hebrews 9:27: ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.’ After death there is something else: ‘the judgment’. This is why ultimately ‘all is vanity’ in this world, which pertains only to this world.

It doesn’t matter how much you succeed and gain in this life if you forget ‘after death’. Why is it all vanity? Because it blinds the mind, the heart, the eyes – which are too busy seeking after new things in this world – from seeing and remembering the judgment to come. So it becomes more than just vanity, it becomes ‘vanity and lies’, Proverbs 30:8. It is a big lie to believe that all one has to do is immerse oneself in the here and now for satisfaction, because the moment after death it will all be taken away as the reality of the judgment appears. Therefore the message of the gospel, salvation only in Christ: that he by his death upon the cross has delivered his people from sin and from the wrath surely to come on that day of judgment, is so necessary to hear and fall under, it being the only thing in this world which is not vanity.

A Conclusion for Daily Life

But there is another conclusion that Solomon voices which answers the question, the cry even, of the Lord’s people: So how are we to live then? Practically day by day in this fallen world, where ‘all is vanity’, how are we actually supposed to spend our time outside of what we perceive to be ‘lawful employment’? This is a question which some of us have been sorely exercised with recently and which Solomon does answer.

From Chapter 11:9 he addresses specifically a ‘young man’ in the days of his youth. This is the wise old man seeking to counsel the young at the beginning of his days as to what life really is and how the young should best approach it: ultimately concluding, ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments.’ But before he arrives there he addresses the young man in the living reality of his daily life. Though he reminds him that ‘All that cometh is vanity’, Eccl. 11:8, he does not counsel that the whole life be spent in miserable employment of the wringing of hands, depression-filled days of hopeless pointlessness – which would lead quickly to despair and even suicide, the ultimate folly. No, to the young man he says rather, ‘Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes’, Eccl. 11:9.

Amazing as this might seem, in the context of the whole of his conclusions, this is not a contradiction, nor something that Solomon has not been slow in saying already. For all the way through the book as a sort of punctuation to each elucidation of vanity, he has constantly exhorted: ‘There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God’, 2:24; ‘I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God’, 3:12,13. ‘Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God’, 5:18,19 (Cp. also 1 Timothy 6:17-19). ‘Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun’, 8:15. ‘Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun’, 9:7-9. ‘Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth…’

So what is Solomon saying? Surely he is contradicting himself? for in one place he is saying that ‘all is vanity’ and in another, ‘enjoy it all anyway’. But, no, he is not saying that. He is exhorting the young man, and us who would know the answer, to reap the benefit of our own labour; that what we work for in this life, i.e. our daily bread, should be enjoyed, for we have earned it, can rest satisfied day by day that what we have, our daily needs, have been gained by our working for them. This is no exhortation to slothfulness, living off the state, or indulgence born out of having an abundance above and beyond what we need to sustain life.

Now this of course was written in a day when man did literally have to labour for his daily bread, not labour for, be enslaved by, others to earn ‘money’ to pay someone else to provide him with food, raiment and housing: not to mention possessions, ‘stuff’, holidays, luxuries, etc. No. The relationship of man to his daily provision was much more immediate and concentrated, he literally did work at producing the things he needed to sustain the life of himself and his family.

In pondering over these things, what life really is all about as it pertains to daily life, it struck me that when God created Adam He put him in a garden, not a city; and that has turned out to be quite a profound thought which has at length led me to Ecclesiastes. The world today is designed to oppose God’s original design for man’s habitation; most of us have to live, and can only afford to live, in boxes in towns and cities instead of in the more natural surroundings of a ‘garden’. Even before Adam fell into sin, and in fact even before Eve was created, the commandment of God to him in the Garden was ‘to dress it and to keep it’, Genesis 2:15. So even before the ground was cursed and began to bring forth thorns and thistles, there was still some work to be done ‘on the land’, even though it wasn’t laborious. Gardening is indeed the oldest occupation of man and the one most natural to him; and the countryside, not the city, is man’s natural habitat and the one which brings most temporal peace and ‘reality’ into his daily existence. But as I said, the modern ‘way of the world’ doesn’t encourage us to live in and fulfil that natural way of life at all.

But Solomon’s repeated exhortation through this book to labour for our daily bread and to ‘rejoice in our labour’ and, in effect, find satisfaction in this concentrated lifestyle, is not unique to Ecclesiastes. In fact this wretched ‘consumer society’ in which we now live, with most of us being debt slaves and/or tax slaves; where in effect we have to ‘trust in the state with all our hearts, and lean not upon our own natural inclination, but in all our ways acknowledge the state and it shall direct our paths’, and look after us with benefits, compensation, and ‘security’, actually makes many of the Lord’s exhortations and certain aspects of the doctrine of the gospel practically null and void. ‘Take no thought for the morrow…’? ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’? ‘With food and raiment let us be therewith content’? It doesn’t say, ‘With food, raiment, housing, health insurance and pension plan’, does it? Who do we really trust day by day?

With this thought in mind consider the following verses which, although they can apply to ‘employment’ in the modern sense, do still hint at something more basic: ‘Let your conversation [manner of life] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have…’, Hebrews 13:5. ‘…if any should not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread’, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12. ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap… In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good’, Eccl. 11:4,6. ‘The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing’, Proverbs 20:4. ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man’, Proverbs 6:6-11. After all, it is the lot of fallen man to eat his bread in the sweat of his face, Genesis 3:19.

I believe that when we begin to see the message of scripture in these things that the children of God will desire to separate as much as they can from the ‘way of life’ which the world has become, and seek to live simpler, though it would be by no means easier, and closer to how man was meant to live. Of course the system in which we have been born and brought up in is so ingrained in us that any degree of shift would be hard to adjust to; nevertheless where the Lord shows his people the right way, or a better way, even in temporal things, he will lead his people in it, I firmly believe that.

So labouring is good, and in the day, and for the day, it will not be vanity, for we must sustain our bodies; this, says the wise king, is our portion and it is the gift of God.

But to return to the young man. Solomon encourages him, or rather, does not discourage him, from rejoicing in his youth – in the flush of youthful vitality – when everything is ‘new’ and exciting and full of possibilities: what a big wide world there is to discover! Yes, ‘let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes…’ BUT… remember this one thing: ‘know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment’, Eccl. 11:9. How about that for a check upon the abandonment of indulging youthful lusts: you won’t escape accountability, sooner or later. And Solomon’s counsel is a sober consideration even in the days of youth that ‘life’ is not all that the world promises: in fact, the young man will soon find that the headlong pursuit of ‘happiness’ or ‘fun’ as they now call it, and of attainment, will be accompanied by ‘sorrow in heart’ and ‘evil in flesh’: why? ‘For childhood and youth is VANITY’, 11:10.

Yes, all is vanity, from the beginning of ones life to the end of it. Therefore, O young man, exercise thy mind God-ward early, instead of world-ward: ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth’, 12:1; not when you reach middle age, or old age – ‘the evil days’: ‘in the days of thy youth – now.’ Paul to Titus: ‘Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded’, Titus 2:6. It is so important for the young to grasp early the truth of the vanity of all things; they need to seek the LORD early before the world weighs them down – which it surely will – and before the regrets, remorse and bitterness which so often arise in middle and old age comes upon them: ‘when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them’, 12:1. Let them walk with God from their earliest years, find contentment in his will early, trusting in the LORD with all their hearts, leaning not unto their own [darkened] understanding, and learning quickly to value the necessities of life.

Read through the book of Ecclesiastes. See all that Solomon had: it covers everything in life; and take to heart, credit, believe and fall under his conclusion: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. And for the child of God caught up in all this vanity, who has proved it all to be ‘vexation of spirit’; a hindrance to his walk, a weighing down of his spirit, a cause of the loss of one of his most prized possessions: peace of mind, and the peace of God; the exhortation of the gospel is to turn away from it all and seek the Lord’s grace to hear his voice and walk in his ways; to abide in him and his doctrine, and to keep our eyes looking for his appearing; that great day, the day of our ultimate salvation, when he shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.