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In other senses than those now exhibited, I find not the term son of God applied in the Scriptures; with the exception of its meaning when applied to the Saviour, and which will be the subject of inquiry in the succeeding Letter.
Let us now take a summary view of the various meanings of the phrase in question.
(1.) Sons of God means the pious, or those who profess to love and obey God. (2.) It means angels, or supernatural spiritual beings. (3) It means kings, and perhaps their vicegerents i. e. magistrates. (4.) It designates the relation in which all men stand to God, as the author of their being
The reason of the appellation in this last case is so obvious, and the analogy which leads to it so plain and striking, that it is unnecessary to say more than has been already said, to illustrate the ground of it. But it may not be useless to add a few remarks, .which may serve to explain the grounds of this appellation, in the three first of the cases just mentioned; for as all the uses of it just exhibited, are of a figurative or secondary nature, 80 the ground of such usage, it is probable, may be satisfactorily traced.
Sons of God, as a designation of the pious, may easily be explained. The Hebrew idiom calls him the son of any person or thing, who exhibits a resemblance in disposition or character. Thus our Saviour says to the malignant and persecuting Jews, who assailed him, “ Ye are of your father, the devil, and ye are desirous to accomplish his wishes.” So in the first Epistle of John; “ By this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest. Every one who doeth not righteousness is not of God, &c.” Agreeably to this idiom, our Saviour says to
the Jews, “ If ye were the sons of Abraham, ye would do the works of Abraham."
In like manner, in the sermon on the mount, Christ exhorts his disciples to show benevolence towards their enemies and persecutors, that they might be the children of their Father in heaven, who dispenses his blessings to the just and the unjust ; i. e. that they might be imitators of his conduct.
Another reason why the pious are called sons of God, is, that they receive divine instruction, or are his disciples. In conformity with this idiom, Paul says to the Corinthians, “ Ye have not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”
“ Those who are of God,” says the Saviour,“ hear the words of God;" i. e. those who are his children, listen to his instructions.
A third reason seems to be exhibited in Rom. 8: 17. “ For if we are children, then are we heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” The “ inheritance of the saints in light” is an expression, founded on the recognition of their character as children.
Lastly, Christians are said to be born of God, on account of the regenerating influences of his Spirit on their souls. Is it any wonder, then, that they are called the sons or children of God?
Uniting all these reasons, it is very easy to perceive how natural it was for Hebrew writers to designate the pious, by the title sons of God.
The application of the phrase to designate angels, is also easily to be accounted for. Angels are the ministers and vicegerents of the Deity, to execute his will. They are of a rank elevated far above men, in their present state; and their appearance to men, in ancient
times, was, no doubt, attended with striking indications of splendour and glory. To call them sons of God, as special representatives of the Deity, and bearing a high resemblance in holiness to him, was very natural to a Hebrew.
Finally, that kings and superior magistrates should be called the sons of God, or the sons of the most High, can create no wonder in the mind of any one, who has attended to the usus loquendi of the word son. The idea of a king or chief magistrate in the East was, and still is, very different from that which we form in a land of Christian freedom. Prostration in the dust before kings and nobles, is the common token of repect paid by all inferiors. The subject feels that there is an immeasurable distance between him and his prince. Hence the highest titles of honor and reverence are applied to him. Sons of the most high, spoken by a Hebrew to designate princes, would mean elevated to the highest dignity, controlling with absolute sway; and thus bearing a resemblance to God, in respect to the dominion which he exercises as Lord of the Universe. It is on this same ground, that the Hebrew Scriptures call kings or princes, gods, (69738); a title perhaps of a still higher nature, than sons of God ; but perfectly in accordance with the oriental views of the station and majesty of an absolute monarch. Being once applied to such a personage, it would naturally pass to bis vicegerents; and so we find it used by the Hebrew writers.
In my investigations, thus far, I have foreborne to touch
upon the phrase son of God as applied to Christ. We are prepared for a proper investigation of this subject, only when we come to it with correct general views of the latitude and peculiarities of the phrase in
question, as exhibited by the sacred writers. The way I trust, is now prepared, to proceed with the hope of acquiring satisfaction respecting the great question ; What idea do the sacred writers attach to the phrase Son of God, as applied to Christ? But the investigation of this must be reserved for another Letter.
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
After the investigation of the preceding Letter, I think it can easily be made to appear, that the name Son of God has, in some respects, a speciality of meaning when applied to the Saviour. We have seen that it is only the plural word sons, or the singular used as a collective noun, which is applied to designate believers ; and that it is said of no believer, individually considered merely as a believer, that he is the son of God.
I cannot help remarking here, that the same is the case, in regard to magistrates or princes. It is collectively, or as a body, that they are called 175 gods ; and no single magistrate is ever saluted with this appellation. The case where it is said of Moses that he should be made a god to Pharaoh, is no exception to this remark; as the sense plainly amounts to no more, than that Pharaoh should be submitted to the controul or disposal of Moses, while acting as the ambassador of God. The case which occurs in the forty fifth Psalm, is not one in point to disprove what I have alleged; as the
Apostle has told us this compellation is addressed to the
But to return, I find no case, where the term Son of God appears to be applied to Christ, simply on the ground of his moral resemblance to the Father. And though he often speaks of himself as having been instructed by the Father; yet I am unable to find any passage, in which the appellation of Son is represented as bestowed
him on this account. There remains, therefore, if I am correct here, but two of the senses in which the term is elsewhere used, that are applicable to Christ; viz, that of derivation from the Father; and that of kingly office, or of the dignity of the Messiah.
It is unnecessary to seek for a sense wholly new, of the phrase Son of God when it is applied to Christ. Son of God used in the sense of derivation from God, would agree either with the theory of those who hold the human nature only of Christ to be generated ; or of those who believe his divine nature to be begotten. In either case, the phrase has a sense analogous to that which it bears, when Adam is said to be the son of God, or when all men are represented as the children of God. I say analogous ; for certainly in all respects the sense could not be the same. Neither is it when applied to Adam, or to all mankind. But the idea of derivation in some way or other, (leaving the particular manner in each case to be defined by its peculiar circumstances,) is an idea equally common to all the three cases.
But although I admit, as will speedily appear, that Christ is called the Son of God, on account of a nature derived from God; yet I do not think this to be the only or the predominant reason, why this appellation is given to him. He is called Son, also, because he is the