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Chapter IV. The glory of Christ in his susception of the office of a mediator — first in his condescension.
The things whereof we have thus far discoursed, relating immediately unto the person of Christ in itself, may seem to have somewhat of difficulty in them unto such whose minds are not duly exercised in the contemplation of heavenly things. Unto others they are evident in their own experience, and instructive unto them that are willing to learn. That which remains will be yet more plain unto the understanding and capacity of the meanest believer. And this is, the glory of Christ in his office of mediator, and the discharge thereof.
In our beholding of the glory of Christ herein does the exercise of faith in this life principally consist; so the apostle declares it, Phil. iii. 8, 10, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” This therefore, we must treat of somewhat more at large.
323“There is one God,” saith the apostle, “and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Tim. ii. 5. In that great difference between God and man occasioned by our sin and apostasy from him, which of itself could issue in nothing but the utter ruin of the whole race of mankind, there was none in heaven or earth, in their original nature and operations, who was meet or able to make up righteous peace between them. Yet must this be done by a mediator, or cease for ever.
This mediator could not be God himself absolutely considered; for “a mediator is not of one, but God is one,” Gal. iii. 20. Whatever God might do herein in a way of sovereign grace, yet he could not do it in the way of mediation; which yet was necessary unto his own glory, as we have at large discoursed elsewhere.
And as for creatures, there was none in heaven or earth that was meet to undertake this office. For “if one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?” 1 Sam. ii. 25. There is not “any days-man betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both,” Job ix. 33.
In this state of things the Lord Christ, as the Son of God, said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. Sacrifice and burnt-offerings thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me; and, lo, I come to do thy will,” Heb. x. 5, 9. By the assumption of our nature into union with himself, in his own divine person he became every way meet for the discharge of this office, and undertakes it accordingly.
That which we inquire after at present, is, the glory of Christ herein, and how we may behold that glory. And there are three things wherein we may take a prospect of it.
1. In his susception of this office.
2. In his discharge of it.
3. In the event and consequence thereof, or what ensued thereon.
In the susception of this office we may behold the glory of Christ, — I. In his condescension; II. In his love.
I. We may behold this glory in his infinite condescension to take this office on him, and our nature to be his own unto that end. It did not befall him by lot or chance; — it was not imposed on him against his will; — it belonged not unto him by any necessity of nature or condition, he stood not in need of it; — it was no addition unto him; but of his own mind and accord he graciously condescended unto the susception and discharge of it.
So the apostle expresseth it, Phil. ii. 5–8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, 324he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
It was the mind that was in Jesus Christ which is proposed unto our consideration and imitation, — what he was inclined and disposed unto from himself and his own mind alone. And that in general which is ascribed unto him is κένοσις, exinanition, or self-emptying; he emptied himself. This the ancient church called his συγκατάβασις, as we do his condescension; an act of which kind in God is called the “humbling of himself,” Ps. cxiii. 6.
Wherefore, the susception of our nature for the discharge of the office of mediation therein was an infinite condescension in the Son of God, wherein he is exceedingly glorious in the eyes of believers.
And I shall do these three things:— 1. Show in general the greatness of his condescension; 2. Declare the especial nature of it; and, 3. Take what view we are able of the glory of Christ therein.
1. Such is the transcendent excellency of the divine nature, that it is said of God that he “dwelleth on high,” and “humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth,” Ps. cxiii. 5, 6. He condescends from the prerogative of his excellency to behold, to look upon, to take notice of, the most glorious things in heaven above, and the greatest things in the earth below. All his respect unto the creatures, the most glorious of them, is an act of infinite condescension. And it is so on two accounts.
(1.) Because of the infinite distance that is between his essence, nature, or being, and that of the creatures. Hence all nations before him “are as the drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance;” yea, that they “are as nothing, that they are counted unto him less than nothing, and vanity.” All being is essentially in him, and in comparison thereunto all other things are as nothing. And there are no measures, there is no proportion between infinite being and nothing, — nothing that should induce a regard from the one unto the other. Wherefore, the infinite, essential greatness of the nature of God, with his infinite distance from the nature of all creatures thereby, causeth all his dealings with them to be in the way of condescension or humbling himself. So it is expressed, Isa. lvii. 15, “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” He is so the high and lofty one, and so inhabiteth eternity, or existeth in his own eternal being, that it is an act of mere grace in him to take notice of things below; and therefore he does it in an especial manner of those whom the world does most despise.
(2.) It ariseth from his infinite self-sufficiency unto all the acts and 325ends of his own eternal blessedness. What we have a regard unto, what we respect and desire, it is that it may add unto our satisfaction. So it is, so it must be, with every creature; no creature is self-sufficient unto its own blessedness. The human nature of Christ himself in heaven is not so; it lives in God, and God in it, in a full dependence on God, and in receiving blessed and glorious communications from him. No rational creature, angel or man, can do, think, act any thing, but it is all to add to their perfection and satisfaction; — they are not self-sufficient. God alone wants nothing, stands in need of nothing; nothing can be added unto him, seeing he “giveth unto all life, and breath, and all things,” Acts xvii. 25. The whole creation, in all its excellency, cannot contribute one mite unto the satisfaction or blessedness of God. He has it all in infinite perfection from himself and in his own nature. Our goodness extends not unto him. A man cannot profit God, as he may profit his neighbour. “If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him?” God loseth nothing of his own self-sufficiency and blessedness therein by all this. And “if thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?” Job xxxv. 6, 7. And from hence also it follows that all God’s concernment in the creation is by an act of condescension.
How glorious, then, is the condescension of the Son of God in his susception of the office of mediation! For if such be the perfection of the divine nature, and its distance so absolutely infinite from the whole creation, — and if such be his self-sufficiency unto his own eternal blessedness, as that nothing can be taken from him, nothing added unto him, so that every regard in him unto any of the creatures is an act of self-humiliation and condescension from the prerogative of his being and state, — what heart can conceive, what tongue can express, the glory of that condescension in the Son of God, whereby he took our nature upon him, took it to be his own, in order unto a discharge of the office of mediation on our behalf?
2. But, that we may the better behold the glory of Christ herein, we may briefly consider the especial nature of this condescension, and wherein it does consist.
But whereas not only the denial, but misapprehensions hereof, have pestered the church of God in all ages, we must, in the first place, reject them, and then declare the truth.
(1.) This condescension of the Son of God did not consist in a laying aside, or parting with, or separation from, the divine nature, so as that he should cease to be God by being man. The foundation of it lay in this, that he was “in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” Phil. ii. 6; — that is, being really and essentially God in his divine nature, he professed himself therein to 326be equal with God, or the person of the Father. He was in the form of God, — that is, he was God, participant of the Divine nature, for God has no form but that of his essence and being; and hence he was equal with God, in authority, dignity, and power. Because he was in the form of God, he must be equal with God; for there is order in the Divine Persons, but no inequality in the Divine Being. So the Jews understood him, that when he said, “God was his Father, he made himself equal with God.” For in his so saying, he ascribed unto himself equal power with the Father, as unto all divine operations. “My Father,” saith he, “worketh hitherto, and I work,” John v. 17, 18. And they by whom his divine nature is denied do cast this condescension of Christ quite out of our religion, as that which has no reality or substance in it. But we shall speak of them afterward.
Being in this state, it is said that he took on him the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man, Phil. ii. 7. This is his condescension. It is not said that he ceased to be in the form of God; but continuing so to be, he “took upon him the form of a servant” in our nature: he became what he was not, but he ceased not to be what he was. So he testifieth of himself, John iii. 13, “No man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, the Son of man which is in heaven.” Although he was then on earth as the Son of man, yet he ceased not to be God thereby; — in his divine nature he was then also in heaven.
He who is God, can no more be not God, than he who is not God can be God; and our difference with the Socinians herein is, — we believe that Christ being God, was made man for our sakes; they say, that being only a man, he was made a god for his own sake.
This, then, is the foundation of the glory of Christ in this condescension, the life and soul of all heavenly truth and mysteries, — namely, that the Son of God becoming in time to be what he was not, the Son of man, ceased not thereby to be what he was, even the eternal Son of God. Wherefore, —
(2.) Much less did this condescension consist in the conversion of the divine nature into the human, — which was the imagination of some of the Arians of old; and we have yet (to my own knowledge) some that follow them in the same dotage. They say that the “Word which was in the beginning,” by which all things were made, being in itself an effect of the divine will and power, was in the fulness of time turned into flesh; — that is, the substance of it was so, as the water in the miracle wrought by our Saviour was turned into wine; for, by an act of the divine power of Christ, it ceased to be water substantially, and was wine only, — not water mixed with wine. So these men suppose a substantial change of the one nature into the 327other, — of the divine nature into the human, — like what the Papists imagine in their transubstantiation. So they say God was made man, his essence being turned into that of a man.
But this no way belongs unto the condescension of Christ. We may call it Ichabod, — it has no glory in it. It destroys both his natures, and leaves him a person in whom we are not concerned. For, according unto this imagination, that divine nature, wherein he was in the form of God, did in its own form cease to be, yea, was utterly destroyed, as being substantially changed into the nature of man, as the water did cease to be when it was turned into wine; and that human nature which was made thereof has no alliance or kindred unto us or our nature, seeing it was not “made of a woman,” but of the substance of the Word.
(3.) There was not in this condescension the least change or alteration in the divine nature. Eutyches and those that followed him of old conceived that the two natures of Christ, the divine and human, were mixed and compounded, as it were, into one. And this could not be without an alteration in the divine nature, for it would be made to be essentially what it was not; — for one nature has but one and the same essence.
But, as we said before, although the Lord Christ himself in his person was made to be what he was not before, in that our nature hereby was made to be his, yet his divine nature was not so. There is in it neither “variableness nor shadow of turning.” It abode the same in him, in all its essential properties, acting, and blessedness, as it was from eternity. It neither did, acted, nor suffered any thing but what is proper unto the Divine Being. The Lord Christ did and suffered many things in life and death, in his own person, by his human person, wherein the divine neither did nor suffered any thing at all — although, in the doing of them, his person be denominated from that nature; so, “God purchased his church with his own blood,” Acts xx. 28.
(4.) It may, then, be said, What did the Lord Christ, in this condescension, with respect unto his divine nature? The apostle tells us that he “humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation,” Phil. ii. 7, 8. He veiled the glory of his divine nature in ours, and what he did therein, so as that there was no outward appearance or manifestation of it. The world hereon was so far from looking on him as the true God, that it believed him not to be a good man. Hence they could never bear the least intimation of his divine nature, supposing themselves secured from any such thing, because they looked on him with their eyes to be a man, — as he was, indeed, no less truly and really than any one of themselves. Wherefore, on that testimony given of himself, “Before Abraham was, I am,” — which asserts a pre-existence 328from eternity in another nature than what they saw, — they were filled with rage, and “took up stones to cast at him,” John viii. 58, 59. And they gave reason of their madness, John x. 33, — namely, that “he, being a man, should make himself to be God.” This was such a thing, they thought, as could never enter into the heart of a wise and sober man, — namely, that being so, owning himself to be such, he should yet say of himself that he was God. This is that which no reason can comprehend, which nothing in nature can parallel or illustrate, that one and the same person should be both God and man. And this is the principal plea of the Socinians at this day, who, through the Mohammedans, succeed unto the Jews in an opposition unto the divine nature of Christ.
But all this difficulty is solved by the glory of Christ in this condescension; for although in himself, or his own divine person, he was “over all, God blessed for ever,” yet he humbled himself for the salvation of the church, unto the eternal glory of God, to take our nature upon him, and to be made man: and those who cannot see a divine glory in his so doing, do neither know him, nor love him, nor believe in him, nor do any way belong unto him.
So is it with the men of these abominations. Because they cannot behold the glory hereof, they deny the foundation of our religion, — namely, the divine person of Christ. Seeing he would be made man, he shall be esteemed by them no more than a man. So do they reject that glory of God, his infinite wisdom, goodness, and grace, wherein he is more concerned than in the whole creation. And they dig up the root of all evangelical truths, which are nothing but branches from it.
It is true, and must be confessed, that herein it is that our Lord Jesus Christ is “a stumbling-stone and a rock of offence” unto the world. If we should confess him only as a prophet, a man sent by God, there would not be much contest about him, nor opposition unto him. The Mohammedans do all acknowledge it, and the Jews would not long deny it; for their hatred against him was, and is, solely because he professed himself to be God, and as such was believed on in the world. And at this day, partly through the insinuation of the Socinians, and partly from the efficacy of their own blindness and unbelief, multitudes are willing to grant him to be a prophet sent of God, who do not, who will not, who cannot, believe the mystery of this condescension in the susception of our nature, nor see the glory of it. But take this away, and all our religion is taken away with it. Farewell Christianity, as to the mystery, the glory, the truth, the efficacy of it; — let a refined heathenism be established in its room. But this is the rock on which the church is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.
329(5.) This condescension of Christ was not by a phantasm or an appearance only. One of the first heresies that pestered the church immediately after the days of the apostles was this, that all that was done or suffered by Christ as a man were not the acts, doings or sufferings of one that was truly and really a man, but an outward representation of things, like the appearance of angels in the shape of men, eating and drinking, under the Old Testament; and suitably hereunto some in our days have spoken, — namely, that there was only an appearance of Christ in the man Jesus at Jerusalem, in whom he suffered no more than in other believers.33 The Docetæ, to whom Dr Owen refers, were a sect of the Asiatic Gnostics. The founder of the sect was Marcion, who was born in Pontus, near the beginning of the second century. He held that Christ was a manifestation of God under the appearance of man. The name was applied to some who, in the beginning of the sixth century, held that the body of Christ was not created, and therefore, that he only appeared to sleep, hunger, thirst, and suffer. — Ed. But the ancient Christians told those men the truth, — namely, that “as they had feigned unto themselves an imaginary Christ, so they should have an imaginary salvation only.”
But the true nature of this divine condescension does consist in these three things:—
1. That “the eternal person of the Son of God, or the divine nature in the person of the Son, did, by an ineffable act of his divine power and love, assume our nature into an individual subsistence in or with himself; that is, to be his own, even as the divine nature is his.” This is the infallible foundation of faith, even to them who can comprehend very little of these divine mysteries. They can and do believe that the Son of God did take our nature to be his own; so as that whatever was done therein was done by him, as it is with every other man. Every man has human nature appropriated unto himself by an individual subsistence, whereby he becomes to be that man which he is and not another; or that nature which is common unto all, becomes in him to be peculiarly his own, as if there were none partaker of it but himself. Adam, in his first creation, when all human nature was in him alone, was no more that individual man which he was, than every man is now the man that he is, by his individual subsistence. So the Lord Christ taking that nature which is common unto all into a peculiar subsistence in his own person, it becometh his, and he the man Christ Jesus. This was the mind that was in him.
2. By reason of this assumption of our nature, with his doing and suffering therein whereby he was found in fashion as a man, the glory of his divine person was veiled, and he made himself of no reputation. This also belongs unto his condescension, as the first general effect and fruit of it. But we have spoken of it before.
3. It is also to be observed, that in the assumption of our nature 330to be his own, he did not change it into a thing divine and spiritual; but preserved it entire in all its essential properties and actings. Hence it really did and suffered, was tried, tempted, and forsaken, as the same nature in any other man might do and be. That nature (as it was peculiarly his, and therefore he, or his person therein) was exposed unto all the temporary evils which the same nature is subject unto in any other person.
This is a short general view of this incomprehensible condescension of the Son of God, as it is described by the apostle, Phil. ii. 5–8. And this is that wherein in an especial manner we are to behold the glory of Christ by faith whilst we are in this world.
But had we the tongue of men and angels, we were not able in any just measure to express the glory of this condescension; for it is the most ineffable effect of the divine wisdom of the Father and of the love of the Son, — the highest evidence of the care of God towards mankind. What can be equal unto it? what can be like it? It is the glory of Christian religion, and the animating soul of all evangelical truth. This carrieth the mystery of the wisdom of God above the reason or understanding of men and angels, to be the object of faith and admiration only. A mystery it is that becomes the greatness of God, with his infinite distance from the whole creation, — which renders it unbecoming him that all his ways and works should be comprehensible by any of his creatures, Job xi. 7–9; Rom. xi. 33–36.
He who was eternally in the form of God, — that is, was essentially so, God by nature, equally participant of the same divine nature with God the Father; “God over all, blessed for ever;” who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth, — he takes on him the nature of man, takes it to be his own, whereby he was no less truly a man in time than he was truly God from eternity. And to increase the wonder of this mystery, because it was necessary unto the end he designed, he so humbled himself in this assumption of our nature, as to make himself of no reputation in this world, — yea, unto that degree, that he said of himself that he was a worm, and no man, in comparison of them who were of any esteem.
We speak of these things in a poor, low, broken manner, — we teach them as they are revealed in the Scripture, — we labour by faith to adhere unto them as revealed; but when we come into a steady, direct view and consideration of the thing itself, our minds fail, our hearts tremble, and we can find no rest but in a holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend. Here we are at a loss, and know that we shall be so whilst we are in this world; but all the ineffable fruits and benefits of this truth are communicated unto them that do believe.
It is with reference hereunto that that great promise concerning him is given unto the church, Isa. viii. 14, “He shall be for a sanctuary” 331(namely, unto all that believe, as it is expounded, 1 Peter ii. 7, 8); “but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence,” — “even to them that stumble at the word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed.”
He is herein a sanctuary, an assured refuge unto all that betake themselves unto him. What is it that any man in distress, who flies whereunto, may look for in a sanctuary? A supply of all his wants, a deliverance from all his fears, a defence against all his dangers, is proposed unto him therein. Such is the Lord Christ herein unto sin-distressed souls; he is a refuge unto us in all spiritual diseases and disconsolations, Heb. vi. 18. See the exposition of the place.44 In Dr Owen’s work entitled, “Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” — Ed. Are we, or any of us, burdened with a sense of sin? are we perplexed with temptations? are we bowed down under the oppression of any spiritual adversary? do we, on any of these accounts, “walk in darkness and have no light?” One view of the glory of Christ herein is able to support us and relieve us.
Unto whom we betake ourselves for relief in any case, we have regard to nothing but their will and their power. If they have both, we are sure of relief. And what shall we fear in the will of Christ as unto this end? What will he not do for us? He who thus emptied and humbled himself, who so infinitely condescended from the prerogative of his glory in his being and self-sufficiency, in the susception of our nature for the discharge of the office of a mediator on our behalf, — will he not relieve us in all our distresses? will he not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved? will he not be a sanctuary unto us? Nor have we hereon any ground to fear his power; for, by this infinite condescension to be a suffering man, he lost nothing of his power as God omnipotent, — nothing of his infinite wisdom or glorious grace. He could still do all that he could do as God from eternity. If there be any thing, therefore, in a coalescency of infinite power with infinite condescension, to constitute a sanctuary for distressed sinners, it is all in Christ Jesus. And if we see him not glorious herein, it is because there is no light of faith in us.
This, then, is the rest wherewith we may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshment. Herein is he “a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Hereon he says, “I have satiated the weary soul, and have refreshed every sorrowful soul.” Under this consideration it is that, in all evangelical promises and invitations for coming to him, he is proposed unto distressed sinners as their only sanctuary.
Herein is he “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” unto 332the unbelieving and disobedient, who stumble at the word. They cannot, they will not, see the glory of this condescension; — they neither desire nor labour so to do, — yea, they hate it and despise it. Christ in it is “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” unto them. Wherefore they choose rather utterly to deny his divine person than allow that he did thus abase himself for our sakes. Rather than they will own this glory, they will allow him no glory. A man they say he was, and no more; and this was his glory. This is that principle of darkness and unbelief which works effectually at this day in the minds of many. They think it an absurd thing, as the Jews did of old, that he, being a man, should be God also; or, on the other hand, that the Son of God should thus condescend to take our nature on him. This they can see no glory in, no relief, no refuge, no refreshment unto their souls in any of their distresses; therefore do they deny his divine person. Here faith triumphs against them; it finds that to be a glorious sanctuary which they cannot at all discern.
But it is not so much the declaration or vindication of this glory of Christ which I am at present engaged in, as an exhortation unto the practical contemplation of it in a way of believing. And I know that among many this is too much neglected; yea, of all the evils which I have seen in the days of my pilgrimage, now drawing to their close, there is none so grievous as the public contempt of the principal mysteries of the Gospel among them that are called Christians. Religion, in the profession of some men, is withered in its vital principles, weakened in its nerves and sinews; but thought to be put off with outward gaiety and bravery.
But my exhortation is unto diligence in the contemplation of this glory of Christ, and the exercise of our thoughts about it. Unless we are diligent herein, it is impossible we should be steady in the principal acts of faith, or ready unto the principal duties of obedience. The principal act of faith respects the divine person of Christ, as all Christians must acknowledge. This we can never secure (as has been declared) if we see not his glory in this condescension: and whoever reduceth his notions unto experience, will find that herein his faith stands or falls. And the principal duty of our obedience is self-denial, with readiness for the cross. Hereunto the consideration of this condescension of Christ is the principal evangelical motive, and that whereinto our obedience in it is to be resolved; as the apostle declares, Phil. ii. 5–8. And no man does deny himself in a due manner, who does it not on the consideration of the self-denial of the Son of God. But a prevalent motive this is thereunto. For what are the things wherein we are to deny ourselves, or forego what we pretend to have a right unto? It is in our goods, our liberties, our relations, — our lives. And what are they, any or all of them, in themselves, 333or unto us, considering our condition, and the end for which we were made? Perishing things, which, whether we will or no, within a few days death will give us an everlasting separation from, under the power of a fever or an asthma, &c., as unto our interest in them. But how incomparable with respect hereunto is that condescension of Christ, whereof we have given an account! If, therefore, we find an unwillingness in us, a tergiversation in our minds about these things, when called unto them in a way of duty, one view by faith of the glory of Christ in this condescension, and what he parted from therein when he “made himself of no reputation,” will be an effectual cure of that sinful distemper.
Herein, then, I say, we may by faith behold the glory of Christ, as we shall do it by sight hereafter. If we see no glory in it, if we discern not that which is matter of eternal admiration, we walk in darkness. It is the most ineffable effect of divine wisdom and grace. Where are our hearts and minds, if we can see no glory in it? I know in the contemplation of it, it will quickly overwhelm our reason, and bring our understanding into a loss: but unto this loss do I desire to be brought every day; for when faith can no more act itself in comprehension, when it finds the object it is fixed on too great and glorious to be brought into our minds and capacities, it will issue (as we said before) in holy admiration, humble adoration, and joyful thanksgiving. In and by its acting in them does it fill the soul with “joy unspeakable, and full of glory.”
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