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II. THE DIGNITY OF CHRIST
"Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Being made so much better than the angels." HEBREWS i. 3, 4.
SON.-" He hath spoken unto us in his Son." God has many sons, but only one Son. When, on the morning of his resurrection, our Lord met the frightened women, he said, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God." But, as he used the words, they meant infinitely more of himself than they could ever mean of man, however saintly or childlike. No creature-wing shall ever avail to carry us across the abyss which separates all created from all uncreated life. But we may reverently accept the fact, so repeatedly emphasized, that Jesus is "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father" (John i. i8). He is Son in a sense altogether unique.
This term, as used by our Lord, and as understood by the Jews, not only signified divine relationship, but divine equality. Hence, on one occasion, the Jews sought to kill him, because he said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God (John v. i8). And he, so far from correcting the opinion-as he must have done instantly, had it been erroneous, went on to confirm it and to substantiate its truthfulness. The impression which Jesus of Nazareth left on all who knew him was that of his extreme humility; but here was a point in which he could not abate one jot or tittle of his claims, lest he should be false to his knowledge of himself, and to the repeated voice of God. And so he died, because he affirmed, amid the assumed horror of his judges, that he was the Christ, the Son of God. "He counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God." It was his right.
His dignity is still further elaborated in the words which follow. He is THE BEAM OF THE DIVINE GLORY, for so might the word translated effulgence be rendered. We have never seen the sun, but only its far-traveled ray, which left its surface some few minutes before. But the ray is of the same constitution as the orb from which it comes; if you unravel its texture, you will learn something of the very nature of the sun; they live in perpetual and glorious unity. And as we consider the intimacy of that union, we are reminded of those familiar words, which tell us that though no man hath seen God at any time, yet he has been revealed in the Word made flesh. We hear our Master saying again the old, deep, mysterious words: "I and my Father are one. We will come and make our abode." And we can sympathize with the evening hymn of the early Church, sung around the shores of the Bosphorus:
"Hail! gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,
Who is the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Blest."
He is also THE IMPRESS OF THE DIVINE NATURE. The allusion here is to the impression made by a seal on molten wax; and as the image made on the wax is the exact resemblance, though on another substance, of the die, so is Christ the exact resemblance of the Father in our human flesh. And thus he was able to say, "He that bath seen me hath seen the Father." The Life of Jesus is the Life of God rendered into the terms of our human life; so that we may understand the very being and nature of God by seeing it reproduced before us, so far as it is possible, in the character and life of Jesus. These two images complete each other. You might argue from the first, that as the ray is only part of the sun, so Christ is only part of God; but this mistake is corrected by the second, for an impression must be coextensive with the seal. You might argue from the second, that as the impression might be made on a very inferior material, so Christ's nature was a very unworthy vehicle of the divine glory; but this mistake is corrected by the first, for a beam is of the same texture as the sun. Coextensive with God, of the same nature as God; thus is Jesus Christ.
He is, therefore, superior to angels (ver. 4).-Lofty as was the esteem in which Hebrew believers had been wont to hold those bright and blessed spirits, they were not for a moment to be compared with him whose majestic claims are the theme of these glowing words.
He surpasses them in the glory of Divine Nature. Turn to Psalm ii. -one of the grandest miniature dramas in all literature. Probably composed on some marked episode in the reign of David, there is a glow, a sublimity, in the diction which no earthly monarch could exhaust. We are not, therefore, surprised to find the early Church applying it to Christ (Acts iv. 25). In reading it, we first hear the roar of the mob and the calm decision of the throne; and then our attention is centered on him who comes forward, bearing the divine autograph to the decree which declares him Son. Nothing like this was ever said to angel, how-ever exalted in character or devoted in service. It is only befitting, then, that the unsinning sons of light should worship him; and as we hear the command issued, "Let all the angels of God worship him," we are still further impressed by the immense distance between their nature and his.
Do we worship him enough? During his earthly life he was constantly met by expressive acts of homage, which, unlike Peter in the house of Cornelius, he did not repress. The almost instinctive act of the little group, from which he was parted on the Mount of Olives in his ascension, was to worship him (Luke xxiv. 52). And no sooner had he passed to his home than there burst from the Church a tide of adoration which has only become wider and deeper with the ages. The Epistles, and especially the Book of Revelation, teem with expressions of worship to Christ. And the death-cries of martyrs must have familiarized the heathen mind with the homage paid to Christ by Christians. Of the worship offered him in catacombs, or in their secret meetings, amongst dens and caves, paganism was necessarily ignorant. But the behavior and exclamations of the servants of Jesus, arraigned before heathen tribunals, and exposed to the most agonizing deaths, were matters of public notoriety.
Some years ago, beneath the ruins of the Palatine palace, was discovered a rough sketch, traced in all probability by the hand of a pagan slave in the second century. A human figure, with the head of an ass, is represented as fixed to the cross; while another figure, in a tunic, stands on one side, making a gesture which was the customary pagan expression of adoration. Underneath this caricature ran the inscription, rudely written, Alexamenos adores his God. But what a tribute to the worship paid in those early days to our Saviour, amidst gibes and taunts and persecution!
The hymns which have come down to us ring with the same spirit. Pliny writes to tell the Emperor that the Christians of Asia Minor were accustomed to meet to sing praise to Christ as God. As each morning broke, the believer of those primitive days repeated in private the Gloria in Excelsis, as his hymn of supplication and praise: "Thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father." The early Church did not simply admire Christ, it adored him.
Is not this a great lack in our private devotions? We are so apt to concentrate our thoughts on ourselves; and to thank for what we have received. We do not sufficiently often forget our own petty wants and anxieties, and launch down our tiny rivulet, until we are borne out into the great ocean of praise, which is ever breaking in music around the person of Jesus. Praise is one of the greatest acts of which we are capable; and it is most like the service of heaven. There they ask for naught, for they have all and abound; but throughout the cycles of glory the denizens of those bright worlds fill them with praise. And why should not earthly tasks be wrought to the same music? We are the priests of creation; it becomes us to gather up and express the sentiments which are mutely dumb, but which await our offering at the altar of God.
Let a part of our private and public devotion be ever dedicated to the praise of Jesus; when we shall break forth into some hymn, or psalm, or spiritual song, singing and praising Christ with angels and archangels and all the hosts of the redeemed. On that brow, once thorn-crowned, let us entwine our laurels. Upon that ear, once familiarized with threats and scorn, let us pour the fullness of our adoring devotion. So shall we gain and give new thoughts of the supreme dignity of the Lord Jesus. "Thou art worthy to receive...honor."
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