SERVANT or SON?
by
Joseph D. McPherson
In his sermon entitled, On Faith, Mr. Wesley provides description of "several sorts of faith." He begins with that of a materialist, the lowest sort of faith, "if," as he says, "it be any faith at all." He then describes the faith of a deist and continues in an ascending order to the faith of heathens (including Muslims), Jews, Roman Catholics and Protestants. "But what," asks Mr. Wesley, "is the faith which is properly saving? Which brings eternal salvation to all those that keep it to the end?" In answer to his own question, he says, "It is such a divine conviction of God and the things of God as even in its infant state enables everyone that possesses it to 'fear God and work righteousness.' And," says he, "whosoever in every nation believes thus far the Apostle declares, is 'accepted of him.'" Though such a one is in a present state of acceptance, Mr. Wesley would classify him as "a servant of God, not properly a son. Meantime let it be well observed," says he, "that 'the wrath of God' no longer 'abideth on him.'" Mr. Wesley then draws from past experience to make his point.

Indeed, nearly fifty years ago, when the preachers, commonly called Methodists began to preach that grand scriptural doctrine, salvation by faith, they were not sufficiently apprized of the difference between a servant and a child of God. They did not understand, that even one “who feared God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him.” In consequence of this they were apt to make sad the hearts of those whom God had not made sad. For they frequently asked those who feared God, “Do you know that your sins are forgiven?” And upon their answering, “No,” immediately replied, “Then you are a child of the devil.” No; that does not follow. It might have been said, (and it is all that can be said with propriety,) “Hitherto you are only a servant, you are not a child of God. You have already great reason to praise God that he has called you to his honourable service, Fear not. Continue crying unto him, 'and you shall see greater things than these.’”

Wesley assures the reader that "unless the servants of God halt by the way, they will receive the adoption of sons." This will constitute their having received the "faith of the children of God by his revealing his only-begotten Son in their hearts." Accordingly, the "faith of a child is properly and directly a divine conviction whereby every child of God is enabled to testify, ‘The life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.' And whosoever hath this," says Mr. Wesley, "the Spirit of God witnesseth with his spirit, that he is a child of God."

For scriptural support Mr. Wesley refers to Galatians 4:6-7: "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."

So it is that the faith of a son gives the believer "a childlike confidence in him, together with a kind of affection toward him." On the basis then of the Apostle's teaching, Mr. Wesley assures us that this "properly constitutes the difference between a servant of God and a child of God. 'He that believeth,' as a child of God, 'hath the witness in himself.' This the servant hath not, Yet let no man discourage him; rather, lovingly exhort him to expect it every moment!"

In his sermon entitled, On the Discoveries of Faith, Mr. Wesley again defines in scriptural terms the faith of a servant in contrast to the faith of a son. He saw this to be a point of no small importance. In that discourse, he states that "Whoever has attained this, the faith of a servant, 'feareth God and escheweth evil;' or, as it is expressed by St. Peter, 'feareth God and worketh righteousness.'" The servant obeys God out of a sense of fear. This, says Mr. Wesley, "is not in any wise to be despised; seeing 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." He who has attained to the faith of a servant is to be exhorted "to press on by all possible means, till he passes 'from faith to faith;’ from the faith of a servant to the faith of a son; from the spirit of bondage unto fear, to the spirit of childlike love."

There may be those who are troubled with Mr. Wesley’s assertions, particularly with regard to his use of the term servant. They may have difficulty reconciling the above teaching with Romans 6:16-18, 22, where Paul writes: "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness . . . But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."

It is evident in this passage to the Romans that Paul is using the term servant differently than in his letter to the Galatians. Here Paul uses the term servant to describe the state of new born believers who have obeyed the Gospel and ceased from obeying sin. They are no more "servants of sin" but rather "servants of righteousness" and thus "servants of God." Here Paul focuses on the subject of obedience —obeying sin unto death or obeying righteousness unto everlasting life. The obedience of faith first produces repentance, then righteousness, as we keep the commandments of Christ. Thus, Paul describes sons who serve.

In the Galatian letter, however, the terms servant and son are mutually exclusive. Paul contrasts the faith of those under the law, a faith which falls short of an effectual faith in Christ, with a vital faith in Christ which brings an indwelling assurance that such believers are sons of God and no more servants. Thus, Paul describes servants who have not received the gift of the Holy Spirit which brings new life and adoption into the family of God.

Three times Paul declares that the regenerate are not “under the law” (Gal 5:18; Rom 6:14-15). They are neither under obligation to the Mosaic law nor are they under the condemnation of God’s eternal law. But while they are free from the law of sin and death, they do not live without law. It is through the law of the Spirit of life that they are freed from their former condemnation from the law (Rom 8:1-2).

Joseph Benson said the son of God is no longer a servant, “in a state of bondage, whether to the legal dispensation of Moses, or to the law of nature, and the ceremonial institutions attached to it, by custom or divine appointment.”

In response to Paul's statement: "Thou art no more a servant" Adam Clarke says, "Thou who has believed in Christ art no longer a slave, either under the dominion of sin or under obligation to the Mosaic ritual; but a son of God, adopted into the heavenly family."

Whether we are speaking in terms of the old covenant or in terms of those whose religious experience falls short of the new birth, the phrase "under the law" is descriptive of those in this legal dispensation who know that the law "is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." They are awakened to the demands of the law and the Gospel. They would not have known sin, except for the revelation of the law. Now they are convinced of sin and are seeking deliverance like the man described in Romans seven. Through the power of prevenient grace given them, they are found to be fearing God and working righteousness as were Cornelius and the Gentiles at Caesarea. It was only after Peter began preaching Christ and the "remission of sins" that the Holy Ghost "fell upon them," crowning the faith of these Gentiles with an assurance that they were now made children of God.

So it is that though the term servant is used in both letters by the same writer, they are used in different ways. The term servants, as used in the letter to the Romans, describes those who "have been made free from sin" and are assuredly said to "have their fruits unto holiness." There can be no doubt that they are full-fledged children of God or "sons" who obey God from hearts motivated by love. In contrast the term servant as used in the letter to the Galatians describes those who are yet "under the law" and serve God from a sense of fear. Paul makes it clear that only after receiving "the adoption of sons" does God send forth the Spirit of his Son into believing hearts, crying Abba Father. "This," says Wesley, "the servant [as described in Galatians] hath not."

For a number of years prior to Mr. Wesley's evangelical conversion at Aldersgate, he was extremely religious, even strictly so. "But," says he, "I was still 'under the law,' not 'under grace' (the state most who are called Christians are content to live and die in); for I was ‘only striving with’, not ‘freed from sin.’ Neither had I ‘the witness of the Spirit with my spirit.’" After returning from Georgia where he had hoped to convert the Indians in a spirit of complete self-denial and missionary ardor, he writes: "But what have I learned myself in the meantime? Why (what I the least of all suspected), that I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God." In later years, Mr. Wesley would, with more experience and maturity, soften the above judgment against himself. He would explain, "I had even then the faith of a servant, though not that of a son." After his heart was "strangely warmed" at Aldersgate, he found a remarkable difference. He says, "I was striving, yea fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror." Furthermore, he was now conscious of a wonderful peace and "an assurance" that Christ had taken away all his sins [Journal, Jan 29- May 24, 1738].

"Wherefore," writes the Apostle, "thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."

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