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person, and says--not “T,” but “the Son ;” and then He, naturally and appropriately, says-not “ My Father,” but “the Father ;” meaning throughout His Father, but not using the pronoun, which is with sufficient clearness understood, because its frequent introduction would be displeasing to the ear. If any one of our readers should wish to put this to the test, he can easily do so by reading aloud the passage with the pronoun inserted, and saying everywhere “His Father" instead of “ the Father.” In verse 30 our Lord resumes the first person : “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father, who hath sent me;" the meaning being (as we think, evidently), “ My Father.”
It has been further observed, that our Lord, in His last prayer (John 17), speaks of declaring the name of the Father as a work which He had faithfully accomplished. Now, it is no doubt true that, in one view, to declare the name, or character of God was the great object of Christ's ministry on earth ; but the nineteenth chapter of John contains no evidence whatever that this name, or character, was the Father, or God's fathertherhood, of all mankind. Throughout His last prayer our Lord addresses God exclusively as His Father; and throughout the whole of the wonderful discourse which precedes it, His use of the name is similarly restricted, as is evident, not only from the general structure of the discourse, but more particularly from His occasional use of the express formula, “ My Father ”-chap. xiv. v. 2, 7, 20, 23, 28; chap. xv. v. 8, 10.
In relation to the subject before us, stress has been laid on the language of Paul at Athens; “As certain also of your own poets have said-For we are also His offspring ” (Acts xvii. 28). This saying, which, although quoted from a heathen writer, Paul by quoting it adopts as his own, has been supposed to indicate a relation of sonship belonging by a common right to all men. This interpretation of it, however, cannot, we think, be sustained. There was something in the occasion on which Paul quoted it which restricted its meaning within far narrower limits. He was addressing the assembly on Mars' Hill as a preacher of the gospel, and one part of his object was to expose the falsehood and the folly of the idolatry which prevailed around him. For this purpose he aptly cited a pagan authority: “One of your own poets has said, we are also His offspring ;” and he thus applied the saying: “Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like to gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." The Apostle's object is simple and obvious. We ought not, he asserts, to regard graven images as gods; and his argument is direct and conclusive. We are the offspring of God; but such
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gods as these cannot have any offspring—that is, they cannot give existence to any other being; and, consequently, they cannot to gods. The general fact that God is the author of our being is all that the argument of the Apostle requires or implies, and is obviously all that he has in his view. This, no doubt, is a universal fact, and comprehends not only the whole race of man, but a great deal besides; but it does not imply the relation of fatherhood and sonship in any higher sense.
Another scriptural phrase on which considerable stress has been laid occurs in the third chapter of the Gospel by Luke. In this chapter the Evangelist gives the genealogy of Jesus, beginning with His immediate (reputed) father, Joseph, and ascending up to Adam, who he says, “was the Son of God.” It would not seemn, however, that any particular stress can safely be laid on this phrase. The only object of Luke was to trace the fact of the genealogy, which he does by the use of the same phrase throughout; and when he rounds off the list by saying that the last member of it was the Son of God, he means no more than to represent God was the author of Adam's existence, as other parents in succession had been of their children's.
To this examination of Scripture references—and we know of no others than those we have adverted to-we may add a brief notice of the general argument that the paternal relation is necessarily involved in the act of creation, and grows naturally out of it. An obvious and fatal objection to this argument is that it has far too wide a scope. Upon this supposition, God must be the father in the highest sense of at least every intelligent being He has made, without any respect to their character; not only of angels as well as men, but of fallen angels as well as fallen men; a conclusion quite inadmissible.
To us, indeed, it seems obvious that the primary and only essential relation of God to mankind, is that of the Creator to the created ; a relation which He holds in fact to the entire universe, and to mankind in general with it. All other relations which He may hold to it, and any other relation which He may hold to any part of it, must be regarded as arising out of His sovereign will, and as varying with the character borne by the portions of the universe respectively, whether inanimate, animate, or rational. With respect to His intelligent creatures, it would seem that the Creator is entitled to form any relations He pleases between himself and them, provided only that they are characterized by equity--that He requires of them nothing more than can be justly demanded, and that He inflicts upon them nothing more than may be justly deserved.
Pursuing this line of thought in relation to mankind, we arrive shortly at the method of moral government, or govern
ment by command and recompense, the method which God was pleased to adopt in relation to our race, and thus He constituted between himself and us the relation of moral governor and subjects; both His law and its sanctions having an equitable relation to our faculties, circumstances, and events.
In addition to this, however, God has been pleased to assume an attitude of far richer benignity, conferring on the criminal and unworthy privileges of a much higher order, and securing them by arrangements of infinite wisdom and love. As expressive of this attitude, He calls himself Father, and thus constitutes the relation of fatherhood and sonship. According to the Scriptures, however, as we read them, this fatherly relation God bears, not to the whole of the human race, but to a part of them only; to such part of them, namely, as believe in the name, and are renewed in the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Of this tenor is clearly the passage which we have placed at the head of this paper.
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Cor. vi. 17, 18.
And fully to the same import are the following words from the Gospel by John :
He came unto his own and his own received Him not; but as many as received Him, to them gave IIc power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believe in Ilis name.” John i. 11, 12.
And similar passages abound in the Epistles, the following are examples :
Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Gal. iii. 26.
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. 1 John iii. 1.
God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to receive them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Gal. iv. 4, 5.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God. Romans viii. 14.
We are constrained to think, or confess, that the testimony of Scripture on this subject is at once plain and decisive, copious and unequivocal.
We have taken the more pains to show that the notion of the universal fatherhood of God is at once without scriptural foundation, and contradicted by Scripture testimony, because of the important position which it is made to hold in systematic theology, and the momentous practical influences which are drawn from it. It is laid down by its advocates that a real paternal relation is the one and all-comprehensive relation of
God to mankind, ruling and over-ruling every other; and that according to which all God's methods towards mankind must be regulated. That this cannot be so, must be now manifest to all who have come with us to the conclusion that no such relation exists; but it may be worth while to glance at the conclusions which are without scruple drawn from it by its advocates.
It is laid down, then, as a general principle that since God is to us a father, He can adopt no method towards us which is not accordant with those of domestic life; that whatever the father of a family cannot be supposed to do, God, in His ways towards man cannot be supposed to do. And this principle carried out into detail, leads to such conclusions as these—that in the divine administration there can be no destructive punishment, and especially no everlasting punishment, since all paternal punishment must of necessity be remedial, intended for, and issuing in the benefit of the offender; and that, in the divine administration there can be no such thing as expiation for sin by the suffering and death of another, it being quite inconceivable that a parent should, with respect to his erring children, pursue so frightful a method. It is quite monstrous, we are told, to suppose that a parent would not forgive the transgressions of a repentant child without executing the curse of a bloody sacrifice.
Now we fully admit the certainty of these conclusions, if the premises be granted. Once let us be convinced that God is a father to the whole human race, and we should no longer hold either of these doctrines; that, on the one hand, God “will render to every man according to his works” (Rom. ii. 6); or that Christ“ bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. ii. 24). We resist this process of reasoning at its commencement, by denying the premises from which the conclusions are drawn; and we must deny them, or prepare ourselves to abandon what we hold to be vital and all-important doctrines of the Gospel.
We wish our readers to understand, therefore, that, in refusing to admit the notion of the universal fatherhood of God, we are not magnifying a trivial distinction, or contending against a mere form of words. The conception is a practically fruitful one, and is pregnant with consequences of the greatest importance, we may add, with the most fatal mischiefs.
If we are now asked, what relation, then, we conceive God to hold towards all men, we answer with perfect readiness and entire simplicity, the relation of a moral governor. To repeat in a single sentence what we have already said, the primary and essential relation which God bears to mankind, is that of the Creator to the creature; a relation to which it is quite com
petent to Him, in His holy sovereignty, to superadd any other which may seem to Him good. On this broad basis it has seemed good to Him to establish a process of rule by motive and recompense, or a government by persuasion and reward; otherwise called a moral government, to distinguish it from the physical government, or the rule of force, which He administers over the inanimate and brute creation. This method of government comprehends all the human race who acquire the use of their rational powers, and, with this single limitation, God holds towards all men the relation of moral governor.
It is very clear that the principal elements which enter into the constitution of a moral government, or a government by persuasion and reward, are to be found in the Holy Scriptures. Thus, in an important passage in the Epistle to the Romans—the Apostle says :God will render to every man according to his deeds.
To those who by patient coutinuance in well-doing seek for glory, honour, and immortality, eternal life:
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath,
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel. Romans ii. 6–16.
Here the great principles of a moral government are clearly expressed. And in perfect accordance with these are the facts of human conviction. God has given to us a law, which is "holy and righteous, and good ;” and which our blessed Lord summed up in the two great commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark xii. 30, 31). He observes with a judicial eye, the conduct of those whom He has thus subjected to law, and "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men” (Romans i. 18); while, for the consummation of this great system, “ He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts xvii. 31).
Such being the leading features of the divine administration towards mankind, distinctly stated in the Scriptures, it is obvious that it cannot be illustrated by any analogies drawn from domestic life. If we wish to find any proceedings among men which bear a resemblance to these features, we must look, pot to the domestic, but to the judicial--not to the father, but to the magistrate. On a careful observation, it is plain that these two relations differ, not only widely, but essentially. A father has before him the welfare of his children, a magistrate the welfare of the community; a father must be guided by love, a magistrate by law; a father may do many things which a