“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Of the Christ, the Christ coming into the world, yet rejected by the world; coming to Israel, yet rejected by Israel, the evangelist had been speaking.

Then he reminds us that the rejection was not universal. He was acknowledged by some, however few; and these some were made partakers of no common honor; yet were they by nature no better than their fellows; owing all that they received—to the sovereign God alone.

There is here (1.) the honor; (2.) the giver of it; (3.) the way of attainment; (4.) the personal change through which it is reached.

I. The honor. To become “sons of God”—not merely by adoption, but by birth. It is the word used in Romans 8:16—”the Spirit bears witness that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs;” and in 1st John 3:10—”Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called sons of God!” On our side there is sonship—on God’s side fatherhood. Sonship is (1.) higher; (2.) nearer; (3.) more blessed; (4.) more glorious, than creaturehood. There is sonship in the angels, sonship in unfallen man; but this is beyond these; resting on a different foundation, introducing us into more intimate communion; making us partakers of the divine nature; partakers of Christ; one in nature, privilege, honor, dignity with Him who is “the Son of God.” This is the honor to which God is calling us—us who were children of wrath, children of the evil one! He invites us to this. He beseeches us to receive the honor, the dignity, the blessedness; to accept his divine fatherhood, to enter on the divine sonship! Such is the love!

II. The giver of it. It is Christ himself. Elsewhere it is the Father; here it is the Son. The Son makes us sons! “He gave!”—the sonship is Christ’s free gift. For all gifts are in his hands. “I give unto them eternal life.” He gives the living water; He gives the bread of life, which is his flesh. So here he gives the right or power of sonship. It is not, however; simply the sonship itself that is spoken of here; but the right to it—the power. This right, or power, or title, He has purchased for us—for those who had no right, nor power, nor title—He has so earned it, and so secured it, that it becomes a lawful and righteous title; and being so, it is secure and eternal. This He holds out, presents to us, as his own and the Father’s free gift. Become sons of God is the message of the gospel! Not, as some say, you are sons now, act on this, and be happy. But become sons! Take the right, the title, so dearly bought, so freely given. It is not merely, Come unto me, and I will give you rest; but, Come unto me—and I will make you sons!

III. The way of attainment. There is no bargain, no price; no terms, no conditions; yet there is an appointed way; and he who will have the sonship, must have it in this one way. This way is “receiving Him;” and this receiving him is explained as “believing in his name.”

(1.) Receiving Him. Doing the reverse of what Israel had done; accepting Him as “the Word;” the “light;” the “life;” the “Son;” the “Christ;” the Messiah sent of God; accepting and owning Him for all that God had announced Him to be; confessing with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God;” with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

(2.) Believing on His name. (1.) Believing, that is, receiving God’s testimony to Him, and his own testimony to Himself. (2.) Believing on his name. We need not confine this to his actual name Jesus, but to all that has been revealed concerning Him; his person, and character, and work. We get to know Him through his name—through that revelation of Him which we find in the gospels. There we find Himself and his name.

Thus accepting all that has been testified concerning Him; and joining with that the promise given of sonship to every one who thus accepts, we become sons of God. Faith in Him and in His name identifies us with Him who is the Son of God; and as He is, so are we in the world.

IV. The personal change through which this is reached. We are “born,” and so by birth become sons. We are born into the heavenly family; begotten again unto a lively hope. This is more than adoption, it is birth. As to this birth, the evangelist first tells us what it is not, before he tells us what it is.

(1.) We are not born of blood. Not of natural descent; not of circumcision. Human blood has nothing to do with our divine birth. We are not sons by nature.

(2.) Not of the will of the flesh. Not by natural generation. The flesh, or old nature, has nothing to do with the new birth. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. The flesh neither wills to make us, nor can make us sons.

(3.) Not of the will of man. Not by adoption. No man, and no will of man, whether self or another, can produce this new birth. Man can only adopt children like himself; children of wrath.

Then he adds, “but of God”; out of Him; by means of Him; through His will; His power. He alone can make us sons: can choose the honor for us, and us for the honor. It is He who begets sons; it is He who calls them to this honorable name: “Of his own will He begat us with the word of truth (James 1:18). Yet this fact should hinder none. His will and His grace do not contradict each other. Go to Him for sonship. Receive His Son, and He will make you sons. “He who believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.”

Horatius Bonar

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