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The Person of Christ the Foundation of all the Counsels of God.
Secondly, The person of Christ is the foundation of all the counsels of God, as unto his own eternal glory in the vocation, sanctification, and salvation of the church. That which I intend is what the apostle expresseth, Eph. i. 9, 10: “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” The “mysteries of the will of God, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself” — are his counsels concerning his own eternal glory, in the sanctification and salvation of the church here below, to be united unto that above. The absolute original hereof was in his own good pleasure, or the sovereign acting of his wisdom and will. But it was all to be effected in Christ — which the apostle twice repeats: he would gather “all things into a head in Christ, even in him” — that is, in him alone.
Thus it is said of him, with respect unto his future incarnation and work of mediation, that the Lord possessed him in the beginning of his way, before his works of old; that he was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was: Prov. viii. 22, 23. The eternal personal existence of the Son of God is supposed in these expressions, as I have elsewhere proved. Without it, none of these things could be affirmed of him. But there is a regard in them, both unto his future incarnation, and the accomplishment of the counsels of God thereby. With respect thereunto, God “possessed him in the beginning of his way, and set him up from everlasting.” God possessed him eternally as his essential wisdom — as he was always, and is always, in the bosom of the Father, in the mutual ineffable love of the Father and Son, in the eternal bond of the Spirit. But he signally possessed him “in the beginning of his way” — as his wisdom, acting in the production of all the ways and works that are outwardly of him. The “beginning of God’s ways,” before his works, are his counsels concerning them — even as our counsels are the beginning of our ways, with respect unto future works. And he “set him up from everlasting,” as the foundation of all the counsels of his will, in and by whom they were to be executed and accomplished.
So it is expressed: verses 30, 31, “I was by him, as one brought 55up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” And it is added, that thus it was before the foundation of the world was laid, or the chiefest part of the dust of the earth was made — that is, [before] man was created. Not only was the delight of the Father in him, but his delight was in the habitable part of the earth, and among the sons of men — before the creation of the world. Wherefore, the eternal prospect of the work he had to do for the children of men is intended herein. In and with him, God laid the foundation of all his counsels concerning his love towards the children of men. And two things may be observed herein.
1. That the person of the Son “was set up,” or exalted herein. “I was set up,” saith he, “from everlasting.” This cannot be spoken absolutely of the person of the Son himself — the Divine nature being not capable of being so set up. But there was a peculiar glory and honour belonging unto the person of the Son, as designed by the Father unto the execution of all the counsels of his will. Hence was that prayer of his upon the accomplishment of them: (John xvii. 5:) “And now, O Father, glorify me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” To suppose that the Lord Christ prayeth, in these words, for such a real communication of the properties of the divine nature unto the human as should render it immense, omniscient, and unconfined unto any space — is to think that he prayed for the destruction, and not the exaltation of it. For, on that supposition, it must necessarily lose all its own essential properties, and consequently its being. Nor doth he seem to pray only for the manifestation of his divine nature, which was eclipsed in his exinanition or appearance in the form of a servant. There was no need to express this by — the “glory which he had with the Father before the world was.” For he had it not, in any especial manner, before the world was; but equally from eternity, and in every moment of time. Wherefore, he had a peculiar glory of his own, with the Father, before the world was. And this was no other but that especial exaltation which he had when he was “set up from everlasting,” as the foundation of the counsels of God, for the salvation of the church. In those eternal transactions that were between the Father and the Son, with respect unto his incarnation and mediation — or his undertaking to execute and fulfill the eternal counsels of the wisdom and grace of the Father — there was an especial glory which the Son had with him — the “glory which he had with the Father before the world was.” For the manifestation hereof he now prays and that the glory of his goodness, grace, and love — in his peculiar undertaking 56of the execution of the counsels of God — might be made to appear. And this is the principal design of the gospel. It is the declaration, as of the grace of God the Father, so of the love, grace, goodness, and compassion of the Son, in undertaking from everlasting the accomplishment of God’s counsels, in the salvation of the church. And hereby doth he hold up the pillars of the earth, or support this inferior creation, which otherwise, with the inhabitants of it, would by sin have been dissolved. And those by whom the eternal, divine pre-existence, in the form of God — antecedent unto his incarnation — is denied, do what lies in them expressly to despoil him of all that glory which he had with the Father before the world was. So we have herein the whole of our design. “In the beginning of God’s ways, before his works of old” that is, in his eternal counsels with respect unto the children of men, or the sanctification and salvation of the church — the Lord possessed, enjoyed the Son, as his eternal wisdom — in and with whom they were laid, in and by whom they were to be accomplished, wherein his delights were with the sons of men.
2. That there was an ineffable delight between the Father and the Son in this his setting up or exaltation. “I was,” saith he, “daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” It is not absolutely the mutual, eternal delight of the Father and the Son — arising from the perfection of the same divine excellencies in each person — that is intended. But respect is plainly had unto the counsels of God concerning the salvation of mankind by him who is his power and wisdom unto that end. This counsel of peace was originally between Jehovah and the Branch, (Zech. vi. 13,) or the Father and the Son — as he was to be incarnate. For therein was he “fore-ordained before the foundation of the world;” (1 Pet. i. 20,) viz., to be a Saviour and a deliverer, by whom all the counsels of God were to be accomplished; and this by his own will, and concurrence in counsel with the Father. And such a foundation was laid of the salvation of the church in these counsels of God — as transacted between the Father and the Son — that it is said, that “eternal life was promised before the world began:” Tit. i. 2. For, although the first formal promise was given after the fall, yet was there such a preparation of grace and eternal life in these counsels of God, with his unchangeable purpose to communicate them unto us, that all the faithfulness of God was engaged in them. “God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” There was eternal life with the Father — that is, in his counsel treasured up in Christ, and in him afterwards manifested unto us: 1 John i. 2. And, to show the stability of this purpose and counsel of God, with the infallible consequence of his actual promise, and efficacious accomplishment thereof, “grace” is 57said to be “given us in Christ Jesus before the world began:” 2 Tim. i. 9.
In these counsels did God delight — or in the person of Christ, as his eternal wisdom in their contrivance, and as the means of their accomplishment in his future incarnation. Hence he so testifieth of him: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth;” (Isa. xlii. 1;) as he also proclaims the same delight in him, from heaven, in the days of his flesh: Matt. iii. 17; xvii. 5. He was the delight of God, as he in whom all his counsel for his own glory, in the redemption and salvation of the church were laid and founded: “My servant, in whom I will be glorified;” (Isa. xlix. 3;) that is, “by raising the tribes of Jacob, restoring the preserved of Israel, in being a light unto the Gentiles, and the salvation of God unto the ends of the earth:” verse 6.
We conceive not aright of the counsels of God, when we think of nothing but the effect of them, and the glory that ariseth from their accomplishment. It is certainly true that they shall all issue in his glory, and the demonstration of it shall fill up eternity. The manifestative glory of God unto eternity, consists in the effects and accomplishment of his holy counsels. Heaven is the state of the actual accomplishment of all the counsels of God, in the sanctification and salvation of the church. But it is not with God as it is with men. Let men’s counsels be ever so wise, it must needs abate of their satisfaction in them, because their conjectures (and more they have not) of their effects and events are altogether uncertain. But all the counsels of God having their entire accomplishment through revolutions perplexing and surpassing all created understandings, enclosed in them infallibly and immutably, the great satisfaction, complacency, and delight of the Divine Being is in these counsels themselves.
God doth delight in the actual accomplishment of his works. He made not this world, nor any thing in it, for its own sake. Much less did he make this earth to be a theatre for men to act their lusts upon — the use which it is now put to, and groans under. But he made “all things for himself,” Prov. xvi. 4; he “made them for his pleasure,” Rev. iv. 11; that is, not only by an act of sovereignty, but to his own delight and satisfaction. And a double testimony did he give hereunto, with respect unto the works of creation. (1.) In the approbation which he gave of the whole upon its survey: and “God saw all that he had made, and, behold, it was very good:” Gen. i. 31. There was that impression of his divine wisdom, power, and goodness upon the whole, as manifested his glory; wherein he was well pleased. For immediately thereon, all creatures capable of the conception and apprehension of his glory, “sang forth his praise:” 58Job xxxviii. 6, 7. (2.) In that he rested from his works or in them, when they were finished: Gen. ii. 2. It was not a rest of weariness from the labour of his work — but a rest of complacency and delight in what he had wrought — that God entered into.
But the principal delight and complacency of God, is in his eternal counsels. For all his delight in his works is but in the effects of those divine properties whose primitive and principal exercise is in the counsels themselves, from whence they proceed. Especially is it so as unto these counsels of the Father and the Son, as to the redemption and salvation of the church, wherein they delight, and mutually rejoice in each other on their account. They are all eternal acts of God’s infinite wisdom, goodness, and love — a delight and complacency wherein is no small part of the divine blessedness. These things are absolutely inconceivable unto us, and ineffable by us; we cannot find the Almighty out unto perfection. However, certain it is, from the notions we have of the Divine Being and excellencies, and from the revelation he hath made of himself, that there is an infinite delight in God — in the eternal acting of his wisdom, goodness, and love — wherein, according to our weak and dark apprehensions of things, we may safely place no small portion of divine blessedness. Self-existence in its own immense being — thence self-sufficiency unto itself in all things — and thereon self-satisfaction — is the principal notion we have of divine blessedness.
1. God delighteth in these his eternal counsels in Christ, as they are acts of infinite wisdom, as they are the highest instance wherein it will exert itself. Hence, in the accomplishment of them, Christ is emphatically said to be the “Wisdom of God,” 1 Cor. i. 24, he in whom the counsels of his wisdom were to be fulfilled. And in him is the manifold wisdom of God made known: Eph. iii. 10. Infinite wisdom being that property of the divine nature whereby all the actings of it are disposed and regulated, suitably unto his own glory, in all his divine excellencies — he cannot but delight in all the acts of it. Even amongst men — whose wisdom compared with that of God is folly itself — yet is there nothing wherein they have a real rational complacency, suitable unto the principles of their nature, but in such actings of that wisdom which they have (and such as it is) towards the proper ends of their being and duty. How much more doth God delight himself in the infinite perfection of his own wisdom, and its eternal acting for the representation of all the glorious excellencies of his nature! Such are his counsels concerning the salvation of the church by Jesus Christ; and because they were all laid in him and with him, therefore is he said to be his “delight continually before the world was.” This is that which is proposed as the object of our admiration, Rom. xi. 33–36.
592. They are acts of infinite goodness, whereon the divine nature cannot but be infinitely delighted in them. As wisdom is the directive principle of all divine operations, so goodness is the communicative principle that is effectual in them. He is good, and he doth good — yea, he doth good because he is good, and for no other reason — not by the necessity of nature, but by the intervention of a free act of his will. His goodness is absolutely infinite, essentially perfect in itself; which it could not be if it belonged unto it, naturally and necessarily, to act and communicate itself unto any thing without God himself. The divine nature is eternally satisfied in and with its own goodness; but it is that principle which is the immediate fountain of all the communications of good unto others, by a free act of the will of God. So when Moses desired to see his glory, he tells him that “he will cause all his goodness to pass before him, and would be gracious unto whom he would be gracious:” Exod. xxxiii. 19. All divine operations — in the gracious communication of God himself — are from his goodness, by the intervention of a free act of his will. And the greatest exercise and emanation of divine goodness, was in these holy counsels of God for the salvation of the church by Jesus Christ. For whereas in all other effects of his goodness he gives of his own, herein he gave himself, in taking our nature upon him. And thence, as he expresseth the design of man in his fall, as upbraiding him with folly and ingratitude, “Behold, the man is become as one of us,” Gen. iii. 22, we may, with all humble thankfulness, express the means of our recovery, “Behold, God is become like one of us,” as the apostle declares it at large, Phil. ii. 6–8. It is the nature of sincere goodness — even in its lowest degree — above all other habits or principles of nature, to give a delight and complacency unto the mind in the exercise of itself, and communication of its effects. A good man doth both delight in doing good, and hath an abundant reward for the doing it, in the doing of it. And what shall we conceive concerning eternal, absolute, infinite, perfect, immixed goodness, acting itself in the highest instance (in an effect cognate and like unto it) that it can extend unto! So was it in the counsels of God, concerning the incarnation of his Son and the salvation of the church thereby. No heart can conceive, no tongue can express, the least portion of that ineffable delight of the holy, blessed God, in these counsels, wherein he acted and expressed unto the utmost his own essential goodness. Shall a liberal man devise liberal things, because they are suited unto his inclination? Shall a good man find a secret refreshment and satisfaction in the exercise of that low, weak, imperfect, minced goodness, that his nature is inlaid withal? — And 60shall not He whose goodness is essential unto him — whose being it is, and in whom it is the immediate principle of communicating himself unto others — be infinitely delighted in the highest exercise of it which divine wisdom did direct?
The effect of these eternal counsels of God in future glory is reserved for them that do believe; and therein will there be the nearest manifestation of the glory of God himself unto them, when he “shall be glorified in his saints,” and eternally “admired in all that believe.” But the blessed delight and satisfaction of God, was, and is, in those counsels themselves, as they were acts of his infinite wisdom and goodness. Herein was the Lord Christ his “delight continually before the foundation of the world,” — in that in him were all these counsels laid, and through him were they all to be accomplished. The constitution of his person was the only way whereby divine wisdom and goodness would act and communicate of themselves unto mankind — in which actings are the eternal delight and complacency of the Divine Being.
3. Love and grace have the same influence into the counsels of God, as wisdom and goodness have. And, in the Scripture notion of these things, they superadd unto goodness this consideration — that their object is sinners, and those that are unworthy. God doth universally communicate of his goodness unto all his creatures, though there be an especial exercise of it towards them that believe. But as unto his love and grace, as they are peculiar unto his elect — the church chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world — so they respect them primarily in a lost, undone condition by sin. “God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us:” Rom v. 8. “God is love,” says the apostle. His nature is essentially so. And the best conception of the natural internal acting of the holy persons, is love; and all the acts of it are full of delight. This is, as it were, the womb of all the eternal counsels of God, which renders his complacency in them ineffable. Hence doth he so wonderfully express his delight and complacency in the acting of his love towards the church: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing:” Zeph. iii. 17. The reason why, in the salvation of the church, he rejoiceth with joy and joyeth with singing — the highest expression of divine complacency — is because he resteth in his love, and so is pleased in the exercise of its effects.
But we must return to manifest in particular how all these counsels of God were laid in the person of Christ — to which end the things ensuing may be distinctly considered.
611. God made all things, in the beginning, good, exceeding good. The whole of his work was disposed into a perfect harmony, beauty, and order, suited unto that manifestation of his own glory which he designed therein. And as all things had their own individual existence, and operations suited unto their being, and capable of an end, a rest, or a blessedness, congruous unto their natures and operations — so, in the various respects which they had each to other, in their mutual supplies, assistances, and co-operation, they all tended unto that ultimate end — his eternal glory. For as, in their beings and existence, they were effects of infinite power — so were their mutual respects and ends disposed in infinite wisdom. Thereon were the eternal power and wisdom of God glorified in them; the one in their production, the other in their disposal into their order and harmony. Man was a creature that God made, that by him he might receive the glory that he aimed at in and by the whole inanimate creation — both that below, which was for his use, and that above, which was for his contemplation. This was the end of our nature in its original constitution. Whereunto are we again restored in Christ: James i. 18; Ps. civ. 24; cxxxvi. 5; Rom. i. 20.
2. God was pleased to permit the entrance of sin, both in heaven above and in earth beneath, whereby this whole order and harmony was disturbed. There are yet characters of divine power, wisdom, and goodness, remaining on the works of creation, and inseparable from their beings. But the primitive glory that was to redound unto God by them — especially as unto all things here below—was from the obedience of man, unto whom they were put in subjection. Their good estate depended on their subordination unto him in a way of natural use, as his did on God in the way of moral obedience: Gen. i. 26, 28; Ps. viii. 6–8. Man, as was said, is a creature which God made, that by him he might receive the glory that he aimed at in and by the whole inanimate creation. This was the end of our nature in its original constitution. Whereunto are we again restored in Christ: James i. 18. But the entrance of sin cast all this order into confusion, and brought the curse on all things here below. Hereby were they deprived of that estate wherein they were declared exceeding good, and cast into that of vanity — under the burden whereof they groan, and will do so to the end: Gen. iii. 17, 18; Rom. viii. 20, 21. And these things we must again consider afterwards.
3. Divine wisdom was no way surprised with this disaster. God had, from all eternity, laid in provisions of counsels for the recovery of all things into a better and more permanent estate than what was lost by sin. This is the ἀνάψυξις, the ἀποκατάστασις πάντων, the revivification, the restitution of all things, Acts iii. 19, 21; the 62ἀνακεφαλαίωσις, or the gathering all things in heaven and earth into a new head in Christ Jesus: Eph. i. 10. For although, it may be, there is more of curiosity than of edification in a scrupulous inquiry into the method or order of God’s eternal decrees or counsels, and the disposal of them into a subserviency one unto another; yet this is necessary from the infinite wisdom, prescience, and immutability of God — that he is surprised with nothing, that he is put unto no new counsels, by any events in the works of creation. All things were disposed by him into those ways and methods — and that from eternity — which conduce unto, and certainly issue in, that glory which is ultimately intended. For as we are careful to state the eternal decrees of God, and the actual operations of his providence, so as that the liberty of the will of man, as the next cause of all his moral actions, be not infringed thereby — so ought we to be careful not to ascribe such a sacrilegious liberty unto the wills of any creatures, as that God should be surprised, imposed on, or changed by any of their acting whatever. For “known unto him are all his works from the foundation of the world,” and with him there is neither “variableness nor shadow of turning.”
4. There were, therefore, eternal counsels of God, whereby he disposed all things into a new order, unto his own glory, in the sanctification and salvation of the church. And of them two things may be considered: (1.) Their original; (2.) The design of their accomplishment.
(1.) Their first spring or original was in the divine will and wisdom alone, without respect unto any external moving cause. No reason can be given, no cause be assigned, of these counsels, but the will of God alone. Hence are they called or described, by — the “good pleasure which he purposed in himself,” Eph. i. 9, “the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will:”verse 11. “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given unto him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things:” Rom. xi. 34–36. The incarnation of Christ, and his mediation thereon, were not the procuring cause of these eternal counsels of God, but the effects of them, as the Scripture constantly declares. But, (2.) The design of their accomplishment was laid in the person of the Son alone. As he was the essential wisdom of God, all things were at first created by him. But upon a prospect of the ruin of all by sin, God would in and by him — as he was fore-ordained to be incarnate — restore all things. The whole counsel of God unto this end centred in him alone. Hence their foundation is rightly said to be laid in him, and is declared so to be by the apostle: Eph. i. 4. For the spring of the sanctification 63and salvation of the church lies in election, the decree whereof compriseth the counsels of God concerning them. Herein, God from the beginning “chooseth us unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit;” (2 Thess. ii. 13;) the one being the end he designeth, the other the means and way thereof. But this he did in Christ; “he chooseth us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love;” that is, “unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit.” In him we were not actually, nor by faith, before the foundation of the world; yet were we then chosen in him, as the only foundation of the execution of all the counsels of God concerning our sanctification and salvation.
Thus as all things were originally made and created by him, as he was the essential wisdom of God — so all things are renewed and recovered by him, as he is the provisional wisdom of God, in and by his incarnation. Therefore are these things put together and compared unto his glory. He “is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature: for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible; … all things were created by him and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist: and he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence:” Col. i. 15–18.
Two things, as the foundation of what is ascribed unto the Lord Christ in the ensuing discourse, are asserted: verse 15. — (1.) That he is “the image of the invisible God.” (2.) That he is “the firstborn of every creature;” things seeming very distant in themselves, but gloriously united and centring in his person.
(1.) He is “the image of the invisible God;” or, as it is elsewhere expressed, he is “in the form of God” — his essential form, for other form there is none in the divine nature — the “brightness of the glory, and the express image of the Father’s person.” And he is called here the “invisible God,” not absolutely with respect unto his essence, though it be most true — the divine essence being absolutely invisible, and that equally, whether considered as in the Father or in the Son — but he is called so with respect unto his counsels, his will, his love, and his grace. For so none hath seen him at any time; but the only-begotten, which is in the bosom of the Father, he declares him: John i. 18. As he is thus the essential, the eternal image of the invisible God, his wisdom and power — the efficiency of the first creation, and its consistence being created, is ascribed unto him: “By him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible:” Col. i. 17. And because of the great notions and apprehensions that were then in the world — especially among the Jews, unto whom the apostle had respect in 64this epistle — of the greatness and glory of the invisible part of the creation in heaven above, he mentions them in particular, under the most glorious titles that any could, or then did, ascribe unto them — “Whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him;” — the same expression that is used of God absolutely: Rom. xi. 36; Rev. iv. 11. Add hereunto those other places to this purpose, John i. 1–3; Heb. i. 1–3; and those that are not under the efficacy of spiritual infatuations, cannot but admire at the power of unbelief, the blindness of the minds of men, and the craft of Satan, in them who deny the divine nature of Jesus Christ. For whereas the apostle plainly affirms, that the works of the creation do demonstrate the eternal power and Godhead of him by whom they were created; Rom. i. 19, 20, and not only so, but it is uncontrollably evident in the light of nature: it being so directly, expressly, frequently affirmed, that all things whatever, absolutely, and in their distributions into heaven and earth, with the things contained respectively in them, were made and created by Christ — is the highest rebellion against the light and teachings of God, to disbelieve his divine existence and power.
(2.) Again it is added, that he is “the firstborn of every creature;” which principally respects the new creation, as it is declared: (verse 18) “He is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” For in him were all the counsels of God laid for the recovery of all things unto himself — as he was to be incarnate. And the accomplishment of these counsels of God by him the apostle declares at large in the ensuing verses. And these things are both conjoined and composed in this place. As God the Father did nothing in the first Creation but by him — as his eternal wisdom; (John i. 3; Heb. i. 2; Prov. viii.;) so he designed nothing in the new creation, or restoration of all things unto his glory, but in him — as he was to be incarnate. Wherefore in his person were laid all the foundation of the counsels of God for the sanctification and salvation of the church. Herein he is glorified, and that in a way unspeakably exceeding all that glory which would have accrued unto him from the first creation, had all things abode in their primitive constitution.
His person, therefore, is the foundation of the church — the great mystery of godliness, or the religion we profess — the entire life and soul of all spiritual truth — in that all the counsels of the wisdom, grace, and goodness of God, for the redemption, vocation, sanctification, and salvation of the church, were all laid in him, and by him were all to be accomplished.
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