Children of God

John 1:12.---' As many as received him, to then gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.'

These words might well be taken out of the context in which they occur and placed at the beginning of the New Testament. They furnish us with a key to the contents of the Gospels and Epistles alike. They enable us to grasp the general idea, the commanding purpose, of the life of Jesus Christ. He came not simply to live amongst men a life of exemplary sinlessness and moral beauty. He came to do something; and that something was not just the performance of miscellaneous acts of benevolence, and the introduction of profound truths, as opportunities occurred. He had a settled object in view, and to the furtherance of that object the energies of His Will were undividedly directed. He came to affect the lives of men and women in the deepest of all conceivable ways---to give them power 'to become children of God.'

'To become children of God.' The verb is significant. Man is the child of God by nature. Our text does not oblige us to deny that fact. Various passages of Scripture can be cited in support of it. Take our Lord's Parable of the Prodigal, for example. The point of the story is not that the prodigal was a stranger who became a son on his return, but that he was always a son, though a willful and unworthy son. Take the speech of the Apostle Paul at Athens. Addressing a pagan audience, he frankly adopted the pagan poet's words: 'We are also God's offspring.'

The Bible justifies us in asserting that 'man is the child of God by nature.' Yet, alongside of that teaching, it tells us that the great purpose of Christ's presence in the world is that we might 'become' children of God. How are we to reconcile these two positions?

The 'childhood in relation to God the Father' which belongs to us all in virtue of our existence is a capacity, a promise unfulfilled. The tragedy of human life, that which makes sin such a dreadful thing, is the abuse of this capacity. Sin is a selling of one's birthright, a prostitution of the ideal promise of man's nature. But the 'childhood in relation to God the Father' which it was the purpose of Christ's life to secure to us a realized experience. It is something actual. It is essentially a condition of love to God, of obedience to His Will, of assurance in the midst of time's perplexing ordeals. That is a state in which we do not find ourselves by nature. It represents thought's which we do not think, feelings which we do not entertain, purposes which we do not cherish and achieve, consolations and guarantees of which we are ignorant by nature. You are a child of God all the time you are repudiating His Fatherhood of you, rejecting His claims upon your trust and love, betraying His Will, seeking the gratification of your own selfish and self-indulgent desires. It is because you are a child of God that your life is not simply a fiasco, a meanly played part on the world's stage, but a tragedy of infinite sadness and solemnity.

To become a child of God in truth and in fact, to have the relationship of childhood made a conscious, living, glad experience---mind and heart and will in loyal exercise towards the Father---that is our true destiny. And that we might be able to fulfil it, Jesus Christ came into the midst of humanity.

It is related about a king of Prussia that he was one day playing with children, and asked them to what kingdoms of Nature different things to which he pointed belonged: a stone to the mineral kingdom, a flower to the vegetable, a leopard's skin to the animal' according to the old classification. "And to what kingdom do I belong?" he asked. "To the Kingdom of Heaven," a little child replied.

The Authorized Version says, He gave 'power'; the Revised Version says, He gave the 'right.' Which is the correct reading? The word in the original includes both renderings, and if we reflect over the matter carefully we shall see that the necessities of the case require the use of such a word---a word meaning 'right' as well as 'power' and 'power as well as 'right.'

We need to have the RIGHT to become the children of God secured to us. If we take a low view of what 'childhood in relation to the Divine Fatherhood' means, if we think of it as realized in what a person with no distinctive moral and religious experience is, then we shall attach no significance to this idea of a right. But if we take a high view of it, if we think of it as a condition of amazing privilege, involving communion with God and expressing itself in a hearty conformity to God's Will, then the question of our right to become Children of God will be a living one to us. Conscience will make it a living question for us. But we shall not be without answer wherewith to meet conscience and every voice which insists upon our weakness and worthlessness and insignificance---every voice which awakens doubt in our heart concerning our title. By the life and death of Jesus Christ our right is established for evermore.

We need to have the POWER to become children of God---to maintain ourselves in this privileged condition, ever to be progressing in love to God, in obedience, and in trust. It is not in us, amid manifold temptations, cares, monotonies, and perplexing circumstances of life, to charge this relationship with fresh vitality every day, and make it the ruling relationship of our being, so that our thoughts and our plans, our words and deeds shall be governed by it---so that we shall think as children of God, and accept every joy and every sorrow as children of God. It is not in us even to grow old amid uneventful circumstances in that spirit. A right is a great prerogative. But if a right is unaccompanied by the power to exercise it, wherein does its worth consist? The more marked by majestic dignity the right the more barren the grandeur in such a case. He who gives us the right to become what we should be, what it is the glory of our manhood and womanhood to be---children of God---gives us also the power. He does not withhold from us that which is as essential as the right itself. He communicates His spirit to those that turn to Him, and seek His presence. To them He gives power, a secret inspiring energy, to become children of God.

'As many as received him,' says the Evangelist, 'even to them that believe on his name.' What he emphasizes is the attitude adopted towards Jesus Christ. Everything turns on that. Whether the 'right' to which he refers is secured, and whether the 'power' is appropriated, depends on a man's attitude to Christ. And he defines the true attitude by a couple of phrases, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the verse.

Now it is self-evident that a process depends for its reality on two conditions. In the first place it needs a BEGINNING. A commencement has to take place. And in the second place it needs a CONTINUANCE; for otherwise it is not a process at all.

In the process of becoming children of God, the BEGINNING is made when we receive Jesus Christ. That seems to be a simple matter. And so in this sense it is; it is simply matter when it is actually done. But our hearts are so apt to be so occupied as to have no room for Him. The hospitality they are disposed to offer is stinted and cold---too uninviting for so glorious a guest. We must look into His face, and let Him look into ours. He brings great gifts where He comes---for them that receive Him.

To those who receive Christ there comes a peace and strength, a patience to bear, an energy to work, which is to the soul itself a perpetual surprise and joy, a hope unquenchable, a love for and a belief in fellow-man that nothing can disturb, and, around all, as the great element of all, a certainty of God's encircling love to us which conquers sin and welcomes sorrow, and laughs at Death and already lives in Immortality. What shall we say of it that is not the words of Christ's beloved disciple, who knows it all so well, 'To as many as receive him, to them gives he power to become the sons of God.'

And in the process of becoming children of God, CONTINUANCE is secured by believing on His Name. That means believing on His sufficiency for our every need. All the assurance of right and all the sense of power that are necessary to enable us to contend with the fears and doubts, the temptations and problems of the recurring days, are not imparted to us when we receive Christ. From that past experience we cannot fetch by memory the grace which we require now. It is by fresh acts of believing on Him, by exercises of faith in His Name relevant to our present necessities, that we obtain the strength to maintain ourselves, and make progress as children of God.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha