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Sermons for the Times, 8 - SONSHIP

By Charles Kingsley

      John v. 19, 20, 30. Then answered Jesus, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth.

      I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of my Father which is in Heaven.

      This, my friends, is why man should walk humbly and obediently with his God; because humility and obedience are the likeness of the Son of God, who, though He is equal to His Father, yet to do His Father's will humbled Himself, and took on Him the form of a slave, and though He is a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered; sacrificing Himself utterly and perfectly to do the commands of His Father and our Father, of His God and our God; and sacrificing Himself to His Father not as a man merely, but as a son; not because He was in the likeness of sinful flesh, but because He was The Everlasting Son of His Father; not once only on the cross, but from all eternity to all eternity, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. This is a great mystery; we may understand somewhat more of it by thinking over the meaning of those great words, Father and Son.

      Now, first, a son must be of the same nature as his father,--that is certain. Each kind of animal brings forth after its kind: the lion begets lions, the sheep, sheep; the son of a man must be a man, of one substance with his earthly father; and by the same law, the Son of God must be God. Take away that notion: say that the only- begotten Son of God is not very God of very God, of one substance with His Father, and the word son means nothing. If a son be not of the same substance as his father, he is not a son at all. And more, a perfect son must be as great and as good as his father, exactly like his father in everything. That is the very meaning of father and son; that like should beget like. Among fallen and imperfect men, some sons are worse and weaker than their fathers: but we all feel that that is an evil, a thing to be sorry for, a sad consequence of our fallen state. Our reasons and hearts tell us that a son ought to be equal to his father, and that it is in some way an affliction, almost a shame, to a father, if his children are weaker or worse than he is. But we cannot fancy such a thing in God; the only-begotten perfect Son of the Almighty and perfect Father must be at least equal to His Father, as great as His Father, as good as His Father; the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His Father's person.

      But there is another thing about father and son which we must look at, and that is this: a good son loves and obeys his father, and the better son he is, the more he loves and obeys his father; and therefore a perfect son will perfectly love and perfectly obey his father.

      Now, here is the great difference between animals and men. Among the higher animals, the mothers always, and the fathers sometimes, feed, and help, and protect their young: but we seldom or never find that young animals help and protect their parents; certainly, they never obey their fathers when they are full grown, but are as ready to tear their fathers in pieces as their fathers are to tear them: so that the love and obedience of full-grown sons to their fathers is so utterly human a thing, so utterly different from anything we find in the brutes, that we must believe it to be part of man's immortal soul, part of God's likeness in man.

      And in the text our Lord declares that it is so; He declares that His obedience to His Father, and His Father's love to Him, is the perfect likeness of what goes on between a good son and a good father among men; only that it is perfect, because it is between a perfect Father and a perfect Son.

      Father and Son! Let philosophers and divines discover what they may about God, they will never discover anything so deep as the wonder which lies in those two words, Father and Son. So deep, and yet so simple! So simple, that the wayfaring man, though poor, shall not err therein. 'Who is God? What is God like? Where shall we find Him, or His likeness?'--so has mankind been crying in all ages, and getting no answer, or making answers for themselves in all sorts of superstitions, idolatries, false philosophies. And then the Gospel comes, and answers to every man, to every poor and unlearned labourer: Will you know the name of God? It is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit of love, joy, peace; a Spirit of perfect satisfaction of the Father in the Son, and perfect satisfaction of the Son with the Father, which proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It needs no scholarship to understand that Name; every one may understand it who is a good father; every one may understand it who is a good son, who looks up to and obeys his father with that filial spirit of love, and obedience, and satisfaction with his father's will, which is the likeness of the Holy Spirit of God, and can only flourish in any man by the help of the Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father and the Son.

      Father and Son! what more beautiful words are there in the world? What more beautiful sight is there in the world than a son who really loves his father, really trusts his father, really does his duty to his father, really looks up to and obeys his father's will in all things? who is ready to sacrifice his own credit, his own pleasure, his own success in life, for the sake of his father's comfort and honour? How much more fair and noble must be the love and trust which is between God the Father and God the Son!

      I wish that some of those who now write so many excellent books for young people, would write one made up entirely of stories of good sons who have obeyed, and worked for, and suffered for their parents. Sure I am that such a book, wisely and well written, would teach young people much of the meaning of the blessed name of God, much of their duty to God. And yet, after all, my friends, is not such a book written already? Have we not the four Gospels, which tell us of Jesus Christ, the perfect Son, who came to do the will of a perfect Father? Read that; read your Bibles. Read the history of the Lord Jesus Christ, keeping in mind always that it is the history of the Son of God, and of His obedience to His Father. And when in St. John's most wonderful Gospel you meet with deep texts, like the one which I have chosen, read them too as carefully, if possible more carefully, than the rest; for they are meant for all parents and for all children upon earth. Read how The Father loves The Son, and gives all things into His hand, and commits all judgment to The Son, and gives Him power to have life in Himself, even as The Father has life in Himself, and shows Him all things that Himself doeth, that all men may honour The Son even as they honour The Father. Read how The Son came only to show forth His Father's glory; to be the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person: to establish His Father's kingdom; to declare the goodness of His Father's Name, which is The Father. How He does nothing of Himself, but only what He sees His Father do; how He seeks not His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him; how He sacrificed all, yea even His most precious body and soul upon the cross, to finish the work which His Father gave Him to do. How, being in the form of God, and thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, He could boldly say, 'As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father. I and my Father are one:' and still, in the fulness of His filial love and obedience, declared that He had no will, no wish, no work, no glory, but His Father's; and in the hour of His agony cried out, 'Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.'

      My friends, you will be able to understand more and more of the meaning of these words just in proportion as you are good sons and good fathers; and therefore, just in proportion as you are led and taught by the Holy Spirit of God, without whose help no man can be either a good father or a good son. A bad son; a disobedient, self- willed, self-conceited son, who is seeking his own credit and not his father's, his own pleasure and not his parent's comfort; a son who is impatient of being kept in order and advised, who despises his parent's counsel, and will have none of his reproof,--to him these words of our Lord, the deepest, noblest words which were ever spoken on earth, will have no more meaning than if they were written in a foreign language; he will not know what our Lord means; he will not be able to see why our Lord came and suffered; he will not see any beauty in our Lord's character, any righteousness in His sacrificing Himself for His Father; and because he has forgotten his duty to his earthly father, he will never learn his duty to God.

      For what is the duty of the Lord Jesus Christ is our duty, if we are the sons of God in Him. He is The Son of God by an eternal never- ceasing generation; we are the sons of God by adoption. The way in which we are to look up to God, The Holy Spirit must teach us; what is our duty to God The Holy Spirit must teach us. And who is The Holy Spirit? He is The Spirit who proceeds from The Son as well as from The Father. He is The Spirit of Jesus Christ, The Spirit of the Son of God, the Spirit who descended on the Lord Jesus when He was baptized, the Spirit which God gave to Him without measure. He is the Spirit of The Son of God; and we are sons of God by adoption, says Saint Paul; and because we are sons, he says, God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, by whom we look up to God as our Father; and this Spirit of God's Son, by whom we cry to God, Abba, Father, St. Paul calls, in another place, the Spirit of adoption; and declares openly that He is the very Spirit of God.

      Therefore, in whatsoever way the Spirit of God is to teach you to look up to God, He will teach you to look up to Him as a Father; the Father of Spirits, and therefore your Father; for you are a spirit. Whatsoever duty to God the Holy Spirit teaches you, He teaches you first, and before all things, that it is filial duty, the duty of a son to a father, because you are the son of God, and God is your Father.

      Therefore, whatsoever man or book tells you that your duty to God is anything but the duty of a son to his father does not speak by the Spirit of God. Whatsoever thoughts or feelings in your own hearts tell you that your duty to God is anything but the duty of a son to his father, and tempt you to distrust God's forgiveness, and shrink from Him, and look up to Him as a taskmaster, and an austere and revengeful Lord, are not the Spirit of God; no, nor your own spirit, 'the spirit of a man,' which is in you; for that was originally made in the likeness of God's Spirit, and by it rebellious sons arise and go back to their earthly fathers, and trust in them when they have nothing else left to trust, and say to themselves, 'Though all the world has cast me off, my parents will not. Though all the world despise and hate me, my parents love me still; though I have rebelled against them, deserted them, insulted them, I am still my father's child. I will go home to my own people, to the house where I was born, to the parents who nursed me on their knee, I will go to my father.'

      Fathers and mothers! if your son or daughter came home to you thus, though they had insulted you, disgraced you, and spent their substance in riotous living, would you shut your doors upon them? Would not all be forgiven and forgotten at once? Would not you call your neighbours to rejoice with you, and say, 'It is good to be merry and glad, for this our son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found?' And would not that penitent child be more precious to you, though you cannot tell why, than any other of your children? Would you not feel a peculiar interest in him henceforth? And do you not know that so to forgive would be no weak indulgence, but the part of a good father; a good, and noble, and human thing to do? Ay, a human thing, and therefore a divine thing, part of God's likeness in man. For is it not the likeness of God Himself? Has not God Himself, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, declared that He does so forgive His penitent children, at once and utterly, and that 'There is more joy among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance?' So says the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Let who dare dispute His words, or try to water them down, and explain them away.

      And why should it not be so? Do you fancy God less of a father than you are? Is He not The Father, the perfect Father, 'from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named?' Oh, believe that He is indeed a Father; believe that all the love and care which you can show to your children is as much poorer than the love and care God shows to you, as your obedience to your earthly parents is poorer and weaker than the love and obedience of Jesus Christ to His Father. God is as much better a Father than you are, as Jesus Christ is a better Son than you are. There is a sum of proportions; a rule-of-three sum; work it out for yourselves, and then distrust God's love if you dare.

      And believe, that whatsoever makes you distrust God's love is neither the Spirit of God who is the spirit of sonship, nor the spirit of man: but the spirit of the Devil, who loves to slander God to men, that they may shrink from Him, and be afraid to arise and go to their Father, to be received again as sons of God; that so, being kept from true penitence, they may be kept from true holiness, and from their duty to God, which is the duty of sons of God to their Father in heaven.

      Believe no such notions, my friends; howsoever humble and reverent they may seem, they are but insults to God; for under pretence of honouring Him, they dishonour Him; for He is love, and he who feareth, that is, who looks up to God with terror and distrust, is not made perfect in love. So says St. John, in the very chapter wherein he tells us that God is love, and has manifested His love to us by sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world; and that the very reason for our loving God is, that He loves us already; and that therefore He who loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.

      Yes, my friends, God is your Father; and God is love; and your duty to God is a duty of love and obedience to a Father who so loved you and all mankind that He spared not His only begotten Son, but freely gave Him for you. 'Our Father which art in heaven,' is to be the key-note of all your duty, as it is to be the key-note of all your prayers: and therefore the Catechism is right in teaching the child that God is his Father, and Jesus Christ the perfect Son of God his pattern, and the Holy Spirit of the Father and of the Son his teacher and inspirer, before it says one word to the child about duty to God, or sin against God. How indeed can it tell him what sin is, until it has told him against whom sin is committed, and that if he sins against God he sins against a Father, and breaks his duty to his Father? And how can it tell him that till it has told him that God is his Father? How can it tell him what sin is till it has told him what righteousness is? How can it tell him what breaking his duty is till it has told him what the duty itself is? But the child knows already that God is his Father; and therefore, when the Catechism asks him, 'What is his duty to God?' it is as much as to say, 'My child, thou hast confessed already that thou hast a good Father in heaven, and thou knowest as well as I (perhaps better) what a father means. Tell me, then, how dost thou think thou oughtest to behave to such a Father?' And the whole answer which is put into the child's mouth, is the description of duty to a father; of things which there would be no reason for his doing to anyone who was not his father; nay, which he could not do honestly to anyone else, but only hypocritically, for the sake of flattering, and which differs utterly from any notion of duty to God which the heathen have ever had just in this, that it is a description of how a son should behave to a father. Read it for yourselves, my friends, and judge for yourselves; and may God give you all grace to act up to it--not in order that you, by 'acts of faith,' or 'acts of love,' or 'acts of devotion,' may persuade God to love you; but because He loves you already, with a love boundless as Himself; because in Him you live, and move, and have your being, and are the offspring of God; because His mercy is over all His works, and because He loved the world, and sent His Son, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved; because He is The Giver, The Father of lights, from whom comes every good and perfect gift; because all which makes this earth habitable--all justice, order, wisdom, goodness, mercy, humbleness, self-sacrifice-- all which is fair, or honourable, or useful, in men or angels, in kings on their thrones or in labourers at the plough, in divines in their studies or soldiers in the field of battle--all in the whole universe, which is not useless, and hurtful, and base, and damnable, and doomed (blessed thought that it is so!) to be burned up in unquenchable fire--all, I say, comes forth from the Father of the spirits of all flesh, the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working; who spared not His only begotten Son, but freely gave Him for us, and will with Him freely give us all things.

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