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Showing That Jesus Christ Is The True Book Of Life, And That His Poverty Teaches Us To Despise The Glory Of The World.
Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.—2 Cor. 8:9.
All who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are written “in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3), or as the Lord expresses it, “in heaven.” Luke 10:20. This shall be made manifest in that great day, when the Lord will “confess their names before his Father, and before his angels.” Rev. 3:5. But besides this, the Lord Jesus himself is a most complete Book of a truly Christian life: he being, as the word and wisdom of the Father, made man, and come into the world to teach us by his life and death; and by his conduct and conversation, to set a pattern before us for our imitation.
2. The whole of his life, from his tender infancy to his death, was made up of nothing but a continual series of crosses and afflictions; insomuch that he took hardly any step without the inseparable attendance either of a pressing poverty, or of great contempt, or of most exquisite pains and sufferings: and into these three heads the entire extent of the life of Christ may be fitly resolved.
3. The poverty which the Lord endured, may be considered again under a threefold aspect. In the first place, he was poor in relation to outward things. This he himself declared: “The foxes,” says he, “have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” Matt. 8:20.
4. This indigence in worldly goods was attended by another, which was a poverty of friends. Nothing was more visible in his birth than meanness and poverty. He was born at Bethlehem, the least among the cities of Judah, and of a mother that was destitute of all wealth and worldly greatness. Luke 2:4, 7. Nor did he ever court the favor and friendship of the great and wealthy of this world. It is true, that Lazarus of Bethany was his friend, the Evangelist taking particular notice, that the Lord loved him, and thought him worthy of the title of his friend (John 11:3, 5, 11, 36); but this friendship was not founded on any worldly advantage which the Lord expected from him, but on that faith, whereby he was induced to believe, that Jesus was really the true Messiah.
5. The third degree of the Lord's poverty, was the state of his humiliation, whereby, laying aside the form of God, he humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation. Phil. 2:6, 7. He thereby entered into the depth of our misery. He was wearied in the journeys he undertook, when he “went about doing good” (Acts 10: 38); but particularly, when he healed multitudes of sick and diseased, that continually crowded to him from all parts, and surrounded him often to that degree, that he could not so much as eat bread, and even his very friends thought him beside himself. Mark 3:20, 21. He fulfilled also what was said by the prophet, and is 210 repeated in the Gospel: “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Isa. 53:4; Matt. 8:17); never withdrawing from any hardship or approaching calamity, never shrinking under the burden of poverty, or cruel mockings, or unjust reproaches, or other evils, though they were sharp and numerous. And whereas he might have been served by all the creatures of God, and waited on by legions of angels, yet he dispensed with all this glory, and did not exert that sovereign power which he possessed. He suffered his head to be torn by thorns, his hands to be bound, his sacred body to be scourged, his hands and feet to be nailed to the cross, his side to be pierced with a spear. All this he freely allowed, though it was in his power to prevent it, and with one word to restrain all creatures from inflicting an injury on him.
6. In a word, for our sakes, he made himself subject to all creatures. He took upon him the form of a servant, that by his lowliness, he might repair our losses, and reinstate us in that sovereign dominion over all the creatures, which we had lost. He rose from the dead again, and gained a perfect conquest at last, thereby to purchase for us an everlasting victory. He suffered himself to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1, 8), hurried about by his malice, tormented by his instruments, the Jews, fastened to the cross by their cruelty; and all this he underwent, in order to rescue mankind from the power of the devil and all his subordinate tools and agents.
7. Thus the Strongest became weak; the Almighty infirm; the most Glorious, became most despicable; the most Beautiful, most abhorred and hated; the most Exalted, most exposed himself to temptations of all kinds, to sufferings and difficulties, to pains and hardships. Hereby he designed to check and put to shame our sinful tenderness and effeminacy. We are, alas! so tender and delicate that the smallest cross is now complained of as an insufferable burden, and a little trouble and toil undergone for the sake of God and our neighbor, seems a sufficient plea why men should start back into the smooth way, and forsake the Lord; whereas he sends such trials upon men for the purpose of promoting thereby the recovery of their own souls, and the glory of his name.
8. Thus the Lord laid aside for a while the form of God. But this was not all. He did no less lay aside the use of the divine wisdom which resided in him. His conversation with others was plain and easy; and he behaved himself like a man who had not learned letters, as the Jews expressed it. John 7:15. He did not assume to himself the wonted formalities of a great doctor, or of an acute reasoner and disputer. Neither did he act like men that value themselves on account of their parts, skill, polite learning, and high descent. Nothing was more visible in his life and conduct than that quiet serenity of mind which he enjoyed in the midst of all the storms of the world. This was attended, however, by a divine power, an unaffected holiness of manners, an unfeigned charity, meekness, and humility. He made use of plain and easy terms when he “taught the way of God in truth” (Matt. 22:16); therefore he was despised by the proud Jews as an unlearned man. Thus the eternal wisdom of God, speaking through the prophets of old, was cast aside as folly, and the true light of 211 souls rejected as deception: all which may serve to instruct us not to overvalue ourselves upon our parts and abilities; but to consider that they are not given us for the gratification of pride; and to employ them solely for advancing the glory of God, and the good of our fellow-creatures.
9. This simplicity of our Lord was manifested herein also, that he made no display of his glory and majesty. So great was his condescension, that he freely conversed with sinners. He did eat and drink with them; and this for no other reason, but to complete thereby the great work for which he was sent, which was, to “seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10. It was on this account that he was so grievously defamed with a multitude of odious names by his enemies, who called him “a gluttonous man, a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Luke 7:34): and at another time, they exclaimed against him as a Samaritan, that had a devil. John 8:48. And, at last, he suffered them to crucify him between two malefactors, as if he were the greatest criminal, whereas he then bore our transgressions.
10. Now he might have gained a greater repute than John himself, who, according to the Lord's own testimony, was a “burning and a shining light.” John 5:35. But he readily renounced any such honor, thereby to give a check to all superficial pretenders to piety, who are too apt to value themselves on account of an outward show of religion: though those that busy themselves so much about form and appearance, may have but little of the life and power of God within them.
11. In short, the Lord forsook all that is lofty and grand in the world. He was a king, and yet would be subject to kings and magistrates, nay, to Joseph and his mother, though they were so mean and indigent. “He went down with them to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” Luke 2:51. He was Lord over all, and yet when he came into the world, “He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Matt. 20:28), clothing himself in the attire of poverty and meanness. He was the great and wise Prophet, and chose disciples of the lowest rank, plain and simple people. And when it was in his power to behave himself as a Lord and Master in the small company of his followers, yet did he even there divest himself of that right, being “among them as one that serveth.” Luke 22:27. He assumed no lordlike air over them, but chose rather to be a master in life and doctrine, than to have any other distinguishing character of grandeur and pre-eminence. Thus when he taught the duty of obedience, he showed at the same time a pattern of obedience in his own conduct. When he endeavored to instil into his disciples a sense of humility, of patience, of subjection to their superiors, and of other Christian virtues; he practised them first himself, that so his own example might have the greater influence upon the lives of others. Being Head and Master, he thought it becoming his character to be chief also in bearing affronts, reproaches, injuries, poverty, misery, and in performing the most humble services, even such as that of washing his disciples' feet. John 13:5. Thus he proved a Master, Head, and Teacher, not in doctrine only; but in life, in example, and practice.
12. Alas! how great is our folly! Our Head despised worldly honor, 212 and lo! we are in pursuit of it. He submitted to crosses and trials, and we shrink back at the sight of them. He became obedient unto death; and we seek liberty, so that we may follow our own will. But this does not agree with the example which the Lord has set before us, nor with the spiritual maxims contained in the Book of Life, which he has left us for imitation.
13. Consider, therefore, O man, whether the way wherein thou walkest agrees with that excellent way wherein thy Lord and Master walked himself. If thou despisest the narrow way of Jesus, and followest the way of the world, then know certainly that thy way, though smooth and pleasing for a while, will end in utter destruction at last! And thus the first part of Christ's life of sorrow and poverty has been described.
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