THE SONS OF GOD
A sermon preached by Mr. Kenneth J. Cordle on 26th April 1981 at Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3.vvl-2.
We have before us a tremendous subject, a subject beyond our comprehension. This epistle was written by the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. Some think it was written when he was an old man and I am inclined to that view, but we cannot be sure. Error had already begun to assert itself in those early days. There were men who were denying the deity of Christ. There were some who were already denying the perfect humanity of Christ. There were others who were denying the doctrines that Christ taught. Some were saying that man had no sin, that he could live without sin, and others were testifying that sin did not matter. John takes his pen under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and writes this remarkable letter. It was not addressed to a particular church as many of Paul’s letters were but it was addressed more particularly to the Christian Jews of the day. It is applicable to the whole church of God, Jews or Gentiles, the real church all down the ages.
John here contends, as he does in his Gospel, for the deity, the Godhead, of our Lord Jesus Christ. He also contends for the doctrine of the Trinity, for there were those in his day as there are in our day who deny the distinct revelation of scripture that there are three persons in the one Godhead; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these three are One. There are not three gods, certainly not. This is a great mystery which no finite mind can comprehend. God only understands Himself. We only know what is truth as we receive it by divine teaching or revelation. John in this epistle declares the truth of the three persons in the one Godhead, co-
equal, co-eternal, co-essential; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost is not the Father. That which distinguishes
Father from the Son is paternity, and the Son from the Father .., filiation, and the Spirit from the Father and the Son is eternal procession. These things are revealed in scripture and, if you fear God, I warrant they will be revealed in some measure in your heart.
There are many who deny these things in your day and mine. Let us contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints, and care for neither men nor devils when it comes to the truth of God. “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23.23). You cannot buy it too dear. It does not matter what it costs you. When you come to die, all that will be of real value is an inwrought knowledge of Christ and His truth in your soul. There will be no easy passage out of this world unless you have the knowledge of the Truth. If your religion fails when you come to die, it will be no use your sending for the parson; he can do you no good. But if you fear God you will have grace enough in your dying hour; you’ll have none for the mantle shelf, but you’ll have enough to get through. Oh the value of knowing the Truth! Christ said of His disciples and of His people, ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The Father’s Love
We have a wonderful exclamation here. “Behold I” a note of attention, take note, something important is to follow. Do you remember when John stood at Jordan and saw Jesus Christ coming to him? His eyes met the eyes of the dear Redeemer. John looked into the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ as He came towards him, and John said, “Behold!” Look! See who comes here! “The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” That was John the Baptist. This John, the son of Zebedee, uses the same exclamation. ‘Behold!” Listen! Think of what I am about to set before you! The most inexplicable, incomprehensible, extraordinary truth. ‘Behold! What manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.” The Father’s love is a subject neglected sometimes by Christians and often by ministers. But it is a very important subject. We seek, and rightly so, to set forth the love of Christ. No finite mind can comprehend the love of the dear Redeemer; but let us remember the Father’s love, the Son’s love, and the Holy Ghost’s love. Some time ago this laid hold of me with some measure of consolation when my soul was somewhat depressed. Living souls do get depressed sometimes; as old William Cooper, the dear old pastor at Lakenheath, whom I dearly loved, once told a man who ‘knew it all’. “If you’ve got your head stuck out of the attic window I don’t wonder you can see above everybody else.” There are a lot of
religious people who have their heads ‘stuck out of attic windows’, but the Lord’s people sometimes spend time in the cellar! And they do know what it is to get depressed in spirit. I remember, when my soul received great consolation from this, the never failing love of the Holy Ghost. If you have never thought about it, give it some thought; the never failing love of the Holy Ghost. It is equal to the Father’s, and equal to the Son’s. The subject before us is the never Failing love of God the Father.
The Father’s love, like the Son’s love, is incomprehensible. We re unable to grasp or lay hold of it. Well might John say, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us.” The word love here, in the Greek means intense or dear affection. We cannot
measure divine love by human love; it is impossible. Human love can vary. Human love can wane. Human love sometimes is as hot as fire, sometimes as cold as ice. But there is no variation in divine love. It can never increase. If it did, then it was not perfect before. It can never decrease. If it could, then it becomes lower than it was and less than perfect. The Lord can never love His people more than He loves them now, and He never will love them more. “Behold, what manner of love”. The manner of love is infinite. It is beyond you and beyond me; it cannot vary. We read in Malachi, “I am the Lord”, where the Hebrew word is ‘Jehovah’, “I change not.” He does not change in His being. He does not change in His attributes, and one of His attributes is love. “Thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Ps. 102.27). There is no change. We live in a world of change. We who are a little older look back. We stand aghast sometimes at the changes in the last forty or fifty years. People change, countenances change. The world is constantly changing. ‘But thou art the same and thy years shall have no end.” God does lot change in His love. Joseph Hart says:
Whom once He loves He never leaves,
But loves him to the end.
I counted it a privilege last week to stand at the monument on the tomb of that dear man of God, Joseph Hart. His words are on his tombstone:
None but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good.
That touched my heart as I stood there. Hart has been dead a long time, but the truth remains. The truth can never be altered. Christ said, “I am the truth.” Therefore the truth cannot change. The truth will remain as it has always done. It can never be moved. “Behold
what manner of love”, the manner of love. It is beyond us! This love, then, is infinite, and unchangeable, and invariable; it can never fluctuate. You who fear God, when you get to glory the Lord will not love you with more love than you have now. You may realize the power of it and enjoy more of it in your soul then, because you will have capacities to receive when you get to heaven which you do not here. We shall all love Him, blessed be His dear name, when we get there!
You may say, “Well, He hides His face and I can’t see Him.” You may say, “Sometimes He seems at a distance and my soul is in barrenness and my spirit is shrivelled up like a potsherd, therefore God cannot love me.” Ah, that is unbelief preaching lying propaganda. Your soul may come into the dark. The psalmist did;
read the 73rd Psalm. He said he was as a beast before his Master;
and he was not delivered until he went into the sanctuary. The Lord may hide His face and you may be troubled. The Lord may withdraw His comfortable presence. David said, “Take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (Ps. 51.11,12). David had fallen into muddy water when he wrote that Psalm, and he realized it, but it never altered the love of God to him. The church stands complete in Christ, and as she stands in her covenant Head, she is without “spot or wrinkle or any such thing”, and nothing can interfere with the justifying righteousness of Christ. Sin, men, death, hell and devils; put them all together and they cannot in the slightest, spoil, interfere with, or tarnish the perfect righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ wherewith the church is clothed. She is clothed thereby because of “the manner of love (which) the Father hath bestowed upon us.”
“Behold what manner of love.” The manner of this love is sovereign. Worldly people do not like sovereignty. I can tell you who fear God, you do not learn divine sovereignty as a schoolboy learns his tables. When I went to school we had to learn tables. That is all right, but you do not learn divine sovereignty like that. J. C. Philpot said, “You don’t learn divine sovereignty sitting in an armchair with your feet on the mantlepiece, reading Elisha Coles on the subject.” Philpot appreciated that Elisha Coles was a blessed man of God who wrote a very sound treatise on divine sovereignty. If you have it and have never looked at it, get it out and read it. It is well worth your perusal, if you fear God. But you do not learn divine sovereignty like that. You learn it in everyday life. When you pray for something and the Lord does not give it you. When you pray against something and it comes to pass. When the Lord puts it into your heart to pray earnestly and you feel a gracious measure of
liberty and you know you have the thing in the hand of faith before you get it, then you are sure it will come to pass. That is how you earn divine sovereignty.
God is sovereign and His love is sovereign. However much people kick at it the truth remains, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” It is very solemn, but it is very true. God did not love Jacob because of any good or evil foreseen in him, and He did not hate Esau for any good or evil foreseen in him. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand” (Rom. 9.11). That is God’s truth. If you kick at the rock of divine sovereignty and of God’s electing love you are like a man wearing plimsolls and kicking at the Rock of Gibraltar. You won’t hurt the Rock but, my heart, you’ll trim your toes! Truth will stand, no matter what apposition there is. This love is sovereign. Why God chose Jacob I do not know, nor do you. Why God chose Ruth and left Orpah I do not know, nor do you. The Bible does not tell me; therefore I do not know. Why God loved Abel and not Cain I do not know. You cannot tell me, and no theologian can know because God has not revealed it. God has a right to do what He will with His own, and this love, I say the manner of love, is sovereign. It is effectual. It is eternal. It never had a beginning and it will never have an end. We cannot comprehend eternity.
Bestowed on sinners
We talk about eternity and God’s love being eternal, but we cannot grasp it. We are finite. God is infinite. God is eternal, self-sufficient. He ever was what He is, He ever will be what He has been. “Oh”, says the apostle, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” This word “bestows” in the Greek carries with it the idea of power. You might intend to bestow something, to bring something to pass, yet have no power to carry it out. But here we have the eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, self-sufficient, ever-blessed Jehovah. John says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed.” He has graciously brought it to pass. He has put it into effect. He needed no help. He needed no Sabriels, no angels, no preachers, no pope!
Here you have the execution of sovereignty, the unfolding of infinite power in the salvation of the worst of souls. The word is in the plural, “the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” Paul often takes this line. He links himself with those to whom he is writing. Who are the “us” then? The “us” are poor sinners, because the gospel is for sinners. Salvation is for sinners, and the worst of sinners, the vilest of sinners is in that “us.”
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, not good people. “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Luther said, “It is one of the masterpieces of the devil to get sinners to despair.” The devil tells people that they are too bad to be saved. He also tells a lot of people they are such good people they do not need salvation; he tells millions that. The devil is a liar and he deceives people and tells them they are not sinners. He is doing a tremendous lot of that today. I sometimes feel almost as if we have arrived at the time of the loosing out of Satan. He is “the prince of the power of the air” and he is deceiving the world and he is deceiving the nations. He is telling people by the million that there is no such thing as sin and they do not need any salvation, and millions believe him. He tells others, especially sometimes the people of God, when the Spirit of God convinces them of sin, that they are too bad to be saved. Now that is a lie. William Gadsby was right when he penned:
The vilest sinner out of hell,
Who lives to feel his need
Is welcome to a Throne of Grace
The Saviour’s blood to plead.
Some of you have proved that; and so have I. I say, the “us” are sinners, Mary Magdalenes, people like Saul of Tarsus, people like the dying thief, and people like Manasseh who made the streets of Jerusalem run with innocent blood. Oh the “manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us”, unworthy sinners, wretched “us” I believe heaven will be peopled with some of the worst, the vilest, the blackest, most abominable, despicable characters that ever lived. They will be there because they are washed, and cleansed, and justified through the person and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no need to despair. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.”
Now, “in this was manifested the love of God toward us”, that is the love of the Father, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4.9-10). I. K. Popham once said, “The love of God is one thing and the manifestation of it is another thing.” The love of God existed from all eternity, but the manifestation of it in the gift of Christ was not made until Christ came to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. O the manner of the love of God! It has been said naturally that love will show itself, and that is so between humans. You cannot compare human and divine love, but we can use illustrations. Human love has made wonderful sacrifices. You may have heard of the girl whose sweetheart was condemned to death many years ago. In those days they could not hang a person unless they tolled the
death knell. Her love for her sweetheart was so great that she climbed the rickety old stairs into the belfry. There she took a leap in mid-air and grasped the tongue of the bell, and when they rung the bell, the bell made no noise. And they tried and tried according to the specified time and there was no sound, so they could not hang the poor fellow. So eventually he was granted a reprieve. That is human love. It has no comparison with the divine love, but even human love must show itself. That girl’s love for her sweetheart was so profound, so real and genuine that she would risk her life and do anything. Worldly enemies were once hunting a godly man to persecute him and they went to his wife and they said, “Where is your husband? We must have him.” She clasped her hand to her breast and said, “He lies here, and to get him you must tear him out of my body.” Human love can make sacrifices, human love is extraordinary sometimes in what it will endure and in what it has been through, but it still is not comparable to the Father’s love who sent His only begotten Son. Oh the love that God “hath bestowed upon us.” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” How many of you are believers? “Oh”, you say,
“we are all believers because we go to chapel.” Do not follow that idea, because it does not work! Judas was a follower of Christ. He talked to Christ. He was sent out to preach for Christ. He had power given him over devils. He had power given him over unclean spirits. He preached so as the disciples never dreamed he was an imposter, but he was an unbeliever and when he died, he died by suicide and dropped into hell. Let us examine ourselves and see whether we be in the faith or no. Are you a believer? “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16.16). And that is as true as it was when it was written. Truth does not alter. It remains like its Author, unalterable, unchangeable. “He is antichrist” said John, “that denieth the Father and the Son.” This is antichrist. The religious world today, and I am sorry to have to say it, is full of antichrists. I wish it were not so. ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
Made Sons of God in Eternity
I would have liked to have dwelt further on “the manner of love”, and how the Father gave the Son to be the Saviour of the world, but I must touch on what I consider to be the kernel of the subject, “that we should be called (we should be made) the sons of God.” God has only one true, proper and eternal Son, that is Jesus Christ. Now I cannot explain Eternal Sonship, nor can anyone else. Great men have written books about it and battled to support the truth and
God has honoured them, but they all come to the same point here. No-one can explain it, nor comprehend it, nor grasp it. You can read great men like John Owen, a blessed man of God, and worth reading. You can read other great men among the Puritans. You can read other great men like Joseph Charles Philpot. It is beyond us. Gabriel cannot explain it, so do not expect me to try! The Father ever was the Father, the Son ever was the Son, and the Holy Ghost ever was the Holy Ghost, and beyond that I cannot go, nor can anyone else. God has put a limit where His creatures can go. There is certain ground regarding the existence of the three persons in the Godhead, and there is certain ground concerning the eternity of Jehovah that angels cannot explore, and they never will. God has one true, proper and eternal Son, but he has many adopted sons. It is on this particular point that we have it set forth in the text “the manner of love that the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called (made), the sons of God”; that we should be called, reckoned, accounted sons of God. For your interest, the Greek word here ‘sons’ means children, whether sons or daughters. There have been parents who have not had children of their own and they have been glad to adopt a son or a daughter. I speak with all reverence, but the Father had one eternal Son, yet see the manner of love that He bestowed upon us sinners, that we should be made (called), “the sons of God.” Eternity alone will unravel it. Eternity alone will begin to unfold it. God was under no obligation to make us sons. Paul says in Galatians 4.6, “Because ye are sons. God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Many years ago now, I was a young man seeking after truth. I heard my grandfather, John Cordle, and he quoted that text,
“Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” He said, “Notice, because ye are sons, not to make you sons.” That went home to me. I saw it.
“Because ye are sons.” See the manner of the love! They were chosen in Christ from all eternity, and given to Christ by covenant engagement, and the Holy Ghost entered into covenant that he would regenerate every one of these sons, who were adopted by covenant purpose. Oh, “the manner of the love.” If you are born of God, you will never be more of a son, and it makes no difference whether you are a man or a woman, it makes no difference when you come to these eternal verities. If you are a child of God you will be no more a son in glory than you are now. You will be no more a son by virtue of union to Christ according to the Father’s good pleasure than you are now, when you get to heaven. Evidence of it may be clearer, and as a redeemed soul in glory you will enjoy the blessed effects of it far more than ever you can in this world, but the
relationship will be the same. It will not be affected. Death will not
stretch it, death will not lengthen it. We need to get this very firmly fixed in our minds.
It is the same with the doctrine of justification. The church is justified through Christ and she is clean, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing”, and nothing can affect that justification. “Oh”, you say, “you are an antinomian.” Oh no I am not! “Oh”, people say, “your doctrine gives licence to careless living.” No, it does not! Read what John says as he wrote here through the Holy Ghost, concerning sin and living in sin and living without sin in the rest of these verses (vv.3-9), about committing sin and those who commit sin, and so on. John contends here for holy, godly living. He contends here for gracious walking, and he contends against sin. John does not mean that it is possible to live without sin. What he is against is habitual living in sin. John knows that no man lives in perfect righteousness without sin and is as righteous as God is righteous. But he is contending that where there is this glorious adoption by grace, there will be a consistent walk in the fear of God. Are you living as becomes a son of God? You must answer the question in the presence of your Maker.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” Paul takes this up, in his epistle to the Galatians. He says the servant is not comparable with the son and he is right. He says, “Thou art no more a servant, but a son” (Gal. 4.7). Jesus said to the disciples, “I call you not servants .. . but . . . friends” (Jn. 15.15). It is the same teaching, the same thought. You see, there is union, there is communion, and with these sons there is a relationship. It is a great mystery. God is their Father. The Bible is full of this teaching. Jesus said, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father.” The apostle says, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth”, and the Father “scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Some of the new versions have altered that word ‘and He scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.’ What have they put in? They have put in, ‘punish’. Don’t you agree with it? No I don’t. And why don’t you agree with them? Because the Father will never punish His children, legally and penally, for sin. He will chastise them, but there is no legal or penal punishment for them; all that was poured out upon Christ. I have heard professing Christians say, “The Lord will pay that back to him. It serves him right, the Lord will punish him for it.” A believer may make a mistake, he may have slipped, but his sins are all dealt with by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord will never punish him penally or legally. All that is dealt with by Christ. God may chasten a Christian as a loving Father chastens a wayward child; but that is a different matter. “If ye be without chastisement. . . then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12.6-8). People who are always pointing at others and expecting the
Lord to punish them and thrash them for their mistakes, have never had the chastising rod on their own backs perhaps. Well then, they need to consider themselves because if they have had no chastisement themselves they are bastards and not sons. I say, beloved friends, these “sons of God” are justified from all condemnation; they are righteous through the righteousness of Christ and made comely through the comeliness that He has put upon them. Therefore, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” We were never worth it. We never deserved it. We never asked for it. We had no hand in it. We were passive as clay in the hands of the potter, as Jeremiah had a wonderful view of it when he went down to the potter’s house, and as Paul picks up in his epistle to the Romans.
Unknown by the World, Beloved by the People of God
As a result of this, “therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” We are told today that you can get to heaven with the world on one arm and Jesus Christ on the other. They say, “It does not make any difference, you do not want to cut yourself off.” But that is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” “If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.” If you fear God, you will have to be separated from this ungodly world. This is the teaching of Scripture, and this will stand. This has stood the test since the world began and it will stand the test for the rest of time. If you belong to Christ, if you follow Christ, if you love Christ, if you seek to walk in the fear of God, the world will not recognize you as a son of God. Natural men do not believe in such things. They did not believe my Master was the Son of God, and they do not now, many of them; so I do not expect them to believe His children are adopted sons; do you? They do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. If you went to many of our religious leaders and asked them whether they believed what Peter said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” they would not know what you are were talking about. Consequently, “the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” The more you live like Christ, the less the world will know you. The nearer you live to Christ, the less the world will recognize you as a Christian. Marvel not if the world hates you. I will tell you what to marvel at; marvel if it doesn’t! You can be worried if the world does not hate you. There is one text I can take comfort from in Scripture. There is one “woe” I shall not come under: “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.” Thank God, I shall not come under that one. “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”
“Beloved.” This expression can be referred to in two ways. They
are beloved in God’s sight, and they are beloved by the people of God. John loved the people of God and so do I, and so do you if you fear God. “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” Beloved, now! This is wonderful to me; it is in the present tense. We are the sons of God now. At this present moment every one of you who is born of the Spirit is a son of God. There are thousands who are yet unborn naturally, and many unborn spiritually who by covenant engagement are “the sons of God”, and will eventually be manifest. “Now are we the sons of God.” This has been made clear.
Now the work of the Spirit in the heart, that is regeneration, is the evidence of sonship. If you have the faintest evidence of being born of God you have the most wonderful proof that it is possible to have that you belong to “the sons of God.” If you are a believer in Christ, if you love Jesus Christ, if you follow Christ, you are a son of God. The world does not know you and you do not want to have the world. But now, in the present tense, “now are we the sons of God.” “And it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” The future is wisely hidden. “But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Christ will come the second time without sin unto salvation, and every eye shall see Him. You will see Him. Will it be applicable to you, “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty and behold the land that is very far off”? It is true of “the sons of God.” When He shall appear in all His glory we shall be like Him “Who shall change our vile body,… that it might be fashioned like unto his glorious body, whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” John says that when Christ shall appear, we shall be like Him. The Father is on His throne. Millions upon millions are gathered before Him, and we shall all be individuals in His presence. Have you ever thought about it? I have! Oh, I have thought a lot about it. We shall all be individuals. “And every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him.” And He will say to His people, “Come, ye blessed of my Father.”
It is the same thought; “my Father,” He told the disciples, “and your Father.” You are still sons. You ever were sons by covenant engagement, and when we come to the judgment day and the judgment seat, Jesus says, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” ‘We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” To be like Him is to be without sin, to be like Him is to be eternally happy. Think of it. Christ is eternal. To be like Him, the Scriptures reveal, is to be holy, free from all possibility of sorrow, difficulty, calamity or trouble, to enjoy uninterrupted bliss in the presence of God the Father, the Son and the eternal Spirit throughout a never-ending eternity, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. Unto Him that
loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to Him be honour and glory and power and might and dominion both now and for evermore. Amen.