John Owen

 

 

Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,

in His Person, Office, and Grace:

with

The Differences between Faith and Sight;

applied unto the use of them that believe.

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CHAPTER VI

 

THE GLORY OF CHRIST IN THE DISCHARGE OF HIS MEDIATORY OFFICE

 

SECOND, as the Lord Christ was glorious in the assumption of His office, so was He also in its discharge.

An unseen glory accompanied Him in all that He did, in all that He suffered. Unseen it was to the eyes of the world, but not in His who alone can judge of it. Had men seen it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Yet to some of them it was made manifest. Hence they testified that, in the discharge of His office, they "beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14); and that when others could see neither "form nor comeliness in him that he should be desired" (Isa. 53:2). And so it is today. I shall make only a few observations: first, on what He did in a way of obedience; and then on what He suffered in the discharge of the office undertaken by Him.

1. What He did was all of His own free choice. The obedience He yielded to the law of God in the discharge of His office (concerning which He said, "Lo, I come . . . to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" Ps. 40:7,8), was of His own election and was resolved thereinto alone. It is our duty to endeavor after freedom, willingness, and cheerfulness in all our obedience. Obedience has its formal nature from our wills. So much as there is of our wills in what we do towards God, so much there is of obedience, and no more.

Howbeit we are, antecedently to all acts of our own wills, obliged to all that is called obedience. From the very constitution of our natures we are necessarily subject to the law of God. All that is left to us is a voluntary compliance with unavoidable commands; with Him it was not so. An act of His own will and choice preceded all obligation as to obedience. He obeyed because He would, before because He ought. He said, "Lo, I come to do thy will, 0 God," before He was obliged to do that will. [From Hebrews 10:7—9.] By His own choice, and that in an act of infinite condescension and love, as we have showed, He was "made of a woman," and thereby "made under the law" (Gal. 4:4). In His divine person He was Lord of the law, above it, no more subject to its commands than its curse. Neither was He afterwards in Himself, on His own account, free from its curse merely because He was innocent, but also because He was every way above the law itself and all its force.

This was the original glory of His obedience. This wisdom, the grace, the love, the condescension that was in this choice, animated every act, every duty of His obedience, rendering it amiable in the sight of God and useful to us. So, when He went to John to be baptized, he who knew He had no need of it on His own account would have declined the duty of administering that ordinance to Him; but He replied, "Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15); this I have undertaken willingly, of My own accord, without any need of it for Myself, and therefore will discharge it. For Him, who was Lord of all universally, thus to submit Himself to universal obedience, carries along with it an evidence of glorious grace.

2. The use and end of this obedience was not for Himself, but for us. We were obliged to it and could not perform it; He was not obliged to it except by a free act of His own will, and did perform it. God gave Him this honor that He should obey for the whole Church, that by "his obedience many should be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). Herein, I say, God gave Him honor and glory that His obedience should stand in the stead of the perfect obedience of the Church as to justification.

3. His obedience being absolutely universal and absolutely perfect, was the great representative of the holiness of God in the law. It was represented glorious when the ten words were written by the finger of God in tables of stone; it appears yet more eminently in the spiritual transcription of it in the hearts of believers; but absolutely and perfectly it is exemplified only in the holiness and obedience of Christ which answered it to the utmost. And this is no small part of His glory in obedience, that the holiness of God in the law was therein, and therein alone, as to human nature, fully represented.

4. He wrought out this obedience against all difficulties and oppositions. For although He was absolutely free from that disorder which has invaded our whole natures, which internally renders all obedience difficult to us, and perfect obedience impossible; yet as to opposition from without, in temptations, sufferings, reproaches, contradictions, He met with more than we all. Hence is that glorious word, "Although he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). See our exposition of that place. But—

5. The glory of this obedience arises principally from the consideration of the person who thus yielded it to God. This was no other but the Son of God made man—God and man in one person. He who was in heaven, above all, Lord of all, at the same time lived in the world in a condition of no reputation, and a course of the strictest obedience to the whole law of God. He to whom prayer was made, prayed night and day. He whom all the angels of heaven and all creatures worshiped was continually conversant in all the duties of the worship of God. He who was over the house (Heb. 3:6) diligently observed the meanest office of the house. He that made all men, in whose hand they are all as clay in the hand of the potter, observed among them the strictest rules of justice in giving to every one his due; and of charity, in giving good things that were not so due. This is what renders the obedience of Christ in the discharge of His office both mysterious and glorious.

Again, the glory of Christ is proposed to us in what He suffered in the discharge of the office which He had undertaken. There belonged, indeed, to His office, victory, success, and triumph with great glory (Isa. 63:1—5); but there were sufferings also required of Him prior to this: "Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?"

But such were these sufferings of Christ that our minds quickly recoil in a sense of our insufficiency to conceive aright of them. No one has ever launched into this ocean in his meditations but has quickly found himself unable to fathom the depths of it; nor shall I here undertake an inquiry into them. I shall only point at this spring of glory, and leave it under a veil.

We might here look on Him as under the weight of the wrath of God and the curse of the law; taking on Himself, and on His whole soul, the utmost of evil that God had ever threatened to sin or sinners. We might look on Him in His agony and bloody sweat, in His strong cries and supplications, when He was sorrowful to the death, and began to be amazed, in apprehensions of the things that were coming on Him—of that dreadful trial which He was entering into. We might look upon Him conflicting with all the powers of darkness, the rage and madness of men, suffering in His soul, His body, His name, His reputation, His goods, His life; some of these sufferings being immediate from God above, others from devils and wicked men acting according to the determinate counsel of God.

We might look on Him praying, weeping, crying out, bleeding, dying—in all things making His soul an offering for sin; so was He "taken from prison, and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off from the land of the living: for the transgression," saith God, "of my people was he smitten" (Isa. 53:8). But these things I shall not insist on in particular, but leave them under such a veil as may give us a prospect into them, so far as to fill our souls with holy admiration.

"Lord, what is man, that thou art thus mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (Ps. 8:4). Who hath known Thy mind, or who hath been Thy counselor? "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33). What shall we say to these things? That God spared not His only Son, but gave Him up unto death (Rom. 8:32) and all the evils included therein, for such poor, lost sinners as we were; that for our sakes the eternal Son of God should submit Himself to all the evils that our natures are liable to, and that our sins had deserved, that we might be delivered!

How glorious is the Lord Christ on this account, in the eyes of believers! When Adam had sinned, and thereby eternally, according to the sanction of the law, ruined himself and all his posterity, he stood ashamed, afraid, trembling, as one ready to perish forever under the displeasure of God. Death was what he had deserved, and immediate death was what he looked for. In this state the Lord Christ in the promise comes to him, and says, Poor creature! how woeful is thy condition! how deformed is thy appearance! What is become of the beauty, of the glory of that image of God wherein thou wast created? how hast thou taken on thee the monstrous shape and image of Satan? And yet thy present misery, thy entrance into dust and darkness, is no way to be compared with what is to ensue. Eternal distress lies at the door. But yet look up once more, and behold Me, that thou mayest have some glimpse of what is in the designs of infinite wisdom, love, and grace. Come forth from thy vain shelter, thy hiding place. I will put Myself into thy condition. I will undergo and bear that burden of guilt and punishment which would sink thee eternally into the bottom of hell. I will pay that which I never took; and be made temporally a curse for thee, that thou mayest attain unto eternal blessedness. To the same purpose He speaks to convinced sinners, in the invitation He gives them to come to Him.

Thus is the Lord Christ set forth in the gospel, "evidently Crucified" before our eyes (Gal. 3:1), in the representation that is made of His glory, in the sufferings He underwent for the discharge of the office He had undertaken. Let us, then, behold Him as poor, despised, persecuted, reproached, reviled, hanged on a tree—in all, laboring under a sense of the wrath of God due to our sins. To this end are they recorded in the Gospels, read, preached, and represented to us. But what can we see herein? What glory is in these things? Are not these the things which all the world of Jews and Gentiles stumbled and took offense at—those wherein He was appointed to be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense? Was it not esteemed a foolish thing to look for help and deliverance by the miseries of another—to look for life by His death? The apostle declares at large that such it was esteemed (I Cor. 1).

So was it in the wisdom of the world. But even on the account of these things is He honorable, glorious, and precious in the sight of them that believe (I Pet. 2:6,7). For even in this He was "the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1:24). And the apostle declares at large the grounds and reasons of the different thoughts and apprehensions of men concerning the cross and sufferings of Christ (II Cor. 4:3—6).




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