Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,
in His Person, Office, and Grace:
The Differences between Faith and Sight;
applied unto the use of them that believe.
THE THINGS we have thus far discoursed, relating immediately to the person of Christ in itself, may seem to have somewhat of difficulty in them to those whose minds are not duly exercised in the contemplation of heavenly things. To others they are evident in their own experience and instructive to them that are willing to learn. That which remains will be yet more plain to the understanding and capacity of the most ordinary believer. And this is the glory of Christ in His office of Mediator and the discharge thereof. In our beholding the glory of Christ as Mediator the exercise of faith in this life principally consists; so the apostle declares it (Phil. 3:8,10): "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.
"There is one God," saith the apostle, "and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5). 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 a righteous peace between them. Yet must this be done by a mediator, or cease forever.
This Mediator could not be God Himself absolutely considered; for "a mediator is not of one, but God is one" (Gal. 3:20). 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 to 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?" (I Sam. 2:25). There is not "any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both" (Job 9:33).
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. 10:5,9). 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 in this and how we may behold that glory. And there are three ways in which we may look at it:
First, in His assuming of this office
In the assuming of this office we may behold the glory of Christ 1) in His condescension; 2) in His love.
1. We may behold this glory in His infinite condescension in taking this office on Him and taking our nature to be His own. It did not befall Him by lot or chance; it was not imposed on Him against His will; it did not belong to Him by any necessity of nature or condition; He stood nor in need of it; it was no addition to Him; but of His own mind and accord He graciously condescended to the assuming and discharge of it.
So the apostle expresses it (Phil. 2:5—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, he 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 to our consideration and imitation, what He was inclined and disposed to from Himself and His own mind alone. And that in general which is ascribed to Him is kenósis, [the word generally used to indicate the self-emptying aspect of the incarnation of Christ, revealed in Phil. 2:7. The verbal form is kenos, as here, and I Cor. 9:3. The noun form means vain, for example, Eph. 5:6; Col: 2:8; I Cor. 15:14; or fruitless, I Cor. 15:10; Gal. 2:2; etc.] exinanition [a word now almost never used, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, the action or process of emptying, whether in a material or immaterial sense; emptied or exhausted condition.] or self-emptying; he emptied Himself. This the ancient Church called His sugkatabasis, [meaning to go down with, from a higher place to a lower, as from Jerusalem to Caesarea, Acts 25:5.] as we do His condescension; an act of which kind in God is called the "humbling of himself" (Ps. 113:6).
Wherefore, the assuming 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: first, show in general the greatness of His condescension; second, declare the special nature of it; and, third, take what view we are able of the glory of Christ therein.
a) 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. 113:5,6). 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 to 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" (Isa. 40:15), 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 thereto 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 to the other.
Wherefore, the infinite, essential greatness of the nature of God, with His infinite distance from the nature of all creatures thereby, causes all His dealings with them to be in the way of condescension or humbling Himself. So it is expressed (Isa. 57:15): "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 inhabits eternity, or exists 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 a special manner to those whom the world most despises.
(2) It arises from His infinite self-sufficiency to all the acts and ends of His own eternal blessedness. We regard, we respect and desire what adds to our satisfaction. So it is, so it must be, with every creature; no creature is self-sufficient to 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 anything, 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 to Him, seeing He "giveth unto all life, and breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25).
The whole creation, in all its excellency, cannot contribute one mite to the satisfaction or blessedness of God. He has it all in infinite perfection from Himself and in His own nature. Our goodness extends not to Him. A man cannot profit God as he may profit his neighbor. "If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him?" God loses nothing of His own self-sufficiency and blessedness by all this. And "if thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?" (Job 35:6,7). And from hence also it follows that all God’s concern in the creation is by an act of condescension.
How glorious, then, is the condescension of the Son of God in His assumption 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 to His own eternal blessedness that nothing can be taken from Him, nothing added to Him, so that every regard of His to 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 to be His own, in order to discharge the office of mediation on our behalf?
b) But, that we may the better behold the glory of Christ herein, we may briefly consider the special nature of this condescension and wherein it consists.
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 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. 2:6); that is, being really and essentially God in His divine nature, He professed Himself therein to be equal with 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 to Himself power with the Father, as to all divine operations. "My Father," saith He, "worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17,18). And they by whom His divine nature is denied cast this condescension of Christ out of our religion, as having 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. 2:7). 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 testifies of Himself (John 3:13), "No man hath 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 is this, that 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. [Socinians: Followers of Laelius Socinus, an Italian theologian of the last half of the sixteenth century. Socinianism denies the doctrine of the Trinity, insisting that God is Himself inscrutable, but has revealed Himself through Christ. For them, Christ was miraculously born, and able to perform miracles, but He was nevertheless only a man. That Christ made satisfaction for sin by His atonement is denied. The Holy Spirit is only another name for the influence of God.]
This, then, is the foundation of the glory of Christ in this condescension, the life and soul of all heavenly truth and mysteries: 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 fullness 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 other—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 to 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 to 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 ceased to be when it was turned into wine; and that human nature which was made thereof has no alliance or kindred to 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. [Eutyches: a presbyter of Constantinople, of the fifth century, who held that Christ after the Incarnation possessed one nature, had been transmuted into divine and that the body of Christ was not of the same nature as our human bodies.]
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, actings, and blessedness as it was from eternity. It neither did, acted, nor suffered anything but what is proper to 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 anything 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 20:28).
(4) It may then be said, What did the Lord Christ, in this condescension, with respect to His divine nature? The apostle tells us that He "humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation" (Phil. 2:7,8). 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 was so far from looking on Him as the true God that it did not believe Him 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 from eternity in another nature than what they saw, they were filled with rage, and "took up stones to cast at him" (John 8:58,59). And they gave a reason of their madness (John l0:33)—namely, that "he, being a man, should make himself to be God." They thought it could never enter into the heart of a wise and sober man to 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 the Jews in an opposition to 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 forever," 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 neither know Him, nor love Him, nor believe in Him, nor do any way belong to Him.
So is it with the men of these abominations. Because they cannot behold the glory of it they deny the foundation of our religion—the divine person of Christ. Seeing He would be made man, He shall be esteemed by them no more than a man. So 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 in this respect our Lord Jesus Christ is "a stumbling stone and a rock of offense" to the world (Rom. 9:33). If we should confess Him only as a prophet, a man sent by God, there would not be much contest about Him, nor opposition to Him. The Mohammedans 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 assumption 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 (Matt. 16:18).
(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 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 some in our days have said that there was only an appearance of Christ in the Man Jesus at Jerusalem, in whom He suffered no more than in other believers. But the ancient Christians told those men the truth, that "as they had feigned unto themselves an imaginary Christ, so they should have an imaginary salvation only." [Docetae: adherents of the heretical teaching that Christ did not have a real material body, but only an apparent body. Docetism has frequently been called "the first Christian heresy." It originated in the idea of some philosophers that matter is essentially evil. This heresy necessarily denied the reality of Christ’s sufferings.]
But the true nature of this divine condescension consists in these three things:
First, 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 probably a quotation from some creedal formula, but I have not been able to identify the source.] 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 took our nature to be His own; so 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 to 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 to all into a peculiar subsistence in His own person, it becomes His, and He the Man, Christ Jesus. This was the mind that was in Him.
Second, 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 to His condescension, as the first general effect and fruit of it. But we have spoken of it before.
Third, it is also to be observed that in the assumption of our nature to 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 to all the temporary evils which the same nature is subject to 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. 2:5—8). Here in an especial manner we behold the glory of Christ by faith while we are in this world.
But had we the tongue of men and angels, we would not be 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 toward 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 carries 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. It is a mystery 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 11:7—9; Rom. 11 :33—36).
He who was eternally in the form of God, that is, was essentially God by nature, equally participant of the same divine nature with God the Father, "God over all, blessed forever"; who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth, 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 to 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, to that degree that He said of Himself that He was a worm and no man, in comparison to 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 labor by faith to adhere to 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 while we are in this world; but all the ineffable fruits and benefits of this truth are communicated to them that believe.
It is with reference to this that that great promise concerning Him is given to the Church (Isa. 8:14), "He shall be for a sanctuary" (namely, to all that believe, as it is expounded in I Peter 2:7,8): "and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them that stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed."
He is herein a sanctuary, an assured refuge to all that betake themselves to Him. What is it that any man in distress looks for in a sanctuary? A supply of all his wants, a deliverance from all his fears, a defense against all his dangers. Such is the Lord Christ to sin-distressed souls; He is a refuge to us in all spiritual distresses and sorrows (Heb. 6:18). See the exposition of the place. [See Owen’s: Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. by W. H. Gould, V. pp. 270—279.] 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 is able to support us and relieve us.
When we betake ourselves to a person 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 to 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 assumption 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 not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved? Will He not be a sanctuary to us? Nor have we 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 anything, 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 do not see Him glorious in this, 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. He is "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" (Isa. 32:2). He says, "I have satiated the weary soul, and have refreshed every sorrowful soul" (Jer. 31 :25). It is under this consideration that, in all evangelical promises and invitations for coming to Him, He is proposed to distressed sinners as their only sanctuary.
Herein is He "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense" to the unbelieving and disobedient, who stumble at the Word. They cannot, they will not, see the glory of this condescension; they neither desire nor labor so to do—yea, they hate it and despise it. Christ in it is "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense" to them. Wherefore they choose rather to utterly deny His divine person than to allow that He did thus abase Himself for our sakes. Rather than own this glory, they will allow Him no glory. They say He was a man 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. They can see no glory in this, no relief, no refuge, no refreshment to their souls in any of their distresses; therefore 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 to 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 those who 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 to diligence in the contemplation of this glory of Christ, and the exercise of our thoughts about it. Unless we are diligent in this, we shall not be steady in the principal acts of faith, or ready to 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 if we do not see His glory in this condescension; and whoever reduces his notions to 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. To this end 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. 2:5—8). And no man denies himself in a due manner who does not do it on the consideration of the self-denial of the Son of God. But this is a prevalent motive. For what are the things which we are to deny ourselves, or forego what we pretend to have a right to? It is in our goods, our liberties, our relations—our lives. And what are they, any or all of them, in themselves, or to 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, or the like, as to our interest in them.
But how incomparable to this is that condescension of Christ, of which we have given an account! If, therefore, we find an unwillingness in us, an evasion in our minds about these things, when called to them in a way of duty, one view by faith of the glory of Christ in this condescension and what He parted from when He "made himself of no reputation," will be an effectual cure of that sinful distemper.
In this 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 to this loss 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 in holy admiration, humble adoration, and joyful thanksgiving. In and by its actings in them it fills the soul with "joy unspeakable, and full of glory."