The Excellency Of Christ - Part 2 of 3 by Johnathan Edwards
II. To show how this admirable conjunction of excellencies appears in Christ’s acts.
First, it appears in what Christ did in taking on him our nature. In this act, his infinite condescension wonderfully appeared, that he who was God should become man, that the word should be made flesh, and should take on him a nature infinitely below his original nature! And it appears yet more remarkably in the low circumstances of his incarnation: he was conceived in the womb of a poor young woman, whose poverty appeared in this, when she came to offer sacrifices of her purification, she brought what was allowed of in the law only in case of poverty, as Luke 2:24, “According to what is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.” This was allowed only in case the person was so poor that she was not able to offer a lamb. Lev. 12:8.
And though his infinite condescension thus appeared in the manner of his incarnation, yet his divine dignity also appeared in it. For though he was conceived in the womb of a poor virgin, yet he was conceived there by the power of the Holy Ghost. And his divine dignity also appeared in the holiness of his conception and birth. Though he was conceived in the womb of one of the corrupt race of mankind, yet he was conceived and born without sin, as the angel said to the blessed Virgin, Luke 1:35, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God.”
His infinite condescension marvelously appeared in the manner of his birth. He was brought forth in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. The inn was taken up by others, that were looked upon as persons of greater account. The blessed Virgin, being poor and despised, was turned or shut out. Though she was in such necessitous circumstances, yet those that counted themselves her betters would not give place to her. Therefore, in the time of her travail, she was forced to betake herself to a stable, and when the child was born, it was wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger. There Christ lay a little infant, and there he eminently appeared as a lamb. But yet this feeble infant, born thus in a stable, and laid in a manger, was born to conquer and triumph over Satan, that roaring lion. He came to subdue the mighty powers of darkness, and make a show of them openly: so to restore peace on earth, to manifest God’s goodwill towards men, and to bring glory to God in the highest. According[ly] the end of his birth was declared by the joyful songs of the glorious hosts of angels, who appeared to the shepherds at the same time that the infant lay in the manger, whereby his divine dignity was manifested.
Second, this admirable conjunction of excellencies appears in the acts and various passages of Christ’s life. Though Christ dwelt in mean outward circumstances, whereby his condescension and humility especially appeared, and his majesty was veiled, yet his divine divinity and glory did in many of his acts shine through the veil, and it illustriously appeared, that he was not only the Son of man, but the great God.
Thus, in the circumstances of his infancy, his outward meanness appeared, Yet there was something then to show forth his divine dignity, in the wise men’s being stirred up to come from the east to give honor to him, their being led by a miraculous star, and coming and falling down and worshipping him, and presenting him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. His humility and meekness wonderfully appeared in his subjection to his mother and reputed father when he was a child. Herein he appeared as a lamb. But his divine glory broke forth and shone when, at twelve years old, he disputed with doctors in the temple. In that he appeared, in some measure, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
And so, after he entered on his public ministry, his marvelous humility and meekness was manifested in his choosing to appear in such mean outward circumstances; and in being contented in them, when he was so poor that he had not where to lay his head, and depended on the charity of some of his followers for his subsistence, as appears by Luke 8 at the beginning. How meek, condescending, and familiar his treatment of his disciples. His discourses with them, treating them as a father his children, yea, as friends and companions. How patient, bearing such affliction and reproach, and so many injuries from the scribes and Pharisees, and others. In these things he appeared as a Lamb. And yet he at the same time did in many ways show forth his divine majesty and glory, particularly in the miracles he wrought, which were evidently divine works, and manifested omnipotent power, and so declared him to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah. His wonderful and miraculous works plainly showed him to be the God of nature, in that it appeared by them that he had all nature in his hands, and could lay an arrest upon it, and stop and change its course as he pleased. In healing the sick, and opening the eyes of the blind, and unstopping the ears of the deaf, and healing the lame, he showed that he was the God that framed the eye, and created the ear, and was the author of the frame of man’s body. By the dead’s rising at his command, it appeared that he was the author and fountain of life, and that “God the Lord, to whom belong the issues from death.” By his walking on the sea in a storm, when the waves were raised, he showed himself to be that God spoken of in Job 9:8, “That treadeth on the waves of the sea.” By his stilling the storm, and calming the rage of the sea, by his powerful command, saying, “Peace, be still,” he showed that he has the command of the universe, and that he is that God who brings things to pass by the word of his power, who speaks and it is done, who commands and it stands fast; Psa. 65:7, “Who stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves.” And Psa. 107:29, “That maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.” And Psa. 89:8, 9, “O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto thee, or to thy faithfulness round about thee? Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.” Christ, by casting out devils, remarkably appeared as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and showed that he was stronger than the roaring lion, that seeks whom he may devour. He commanded them to come out, and they were forced to obey. They were terribly afraid of him: they fall down before him, and beseech him not to torment them. He forces a whole legion of them to forsake their hold, by his powerful word, and they could not so much as enter into the swine without his leave. He showed the glory of his omniscience, by telling the thoughts of men, as we have often an account. Herein he appeared to be that God spoken of, Amos 4:13, “That declareth unto man what is his thought.” Thus, in the midst of his meanness and humiliation, his divine glory appeared in his miracles, John 2:11, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory.”
And though Christ ordinarily appeared without outward glory, and in great obscurity, yet at a certain time he threw off the veil, and appeared in his divine majesty, so far as it could be outwardly manifested to men in this frail state, when he was transfigured in the mount. The apostle Peter (2 Pet. 1:16, 17) was an “eye-witness of his majesty, when he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; which voice that came from heaven they heard, when they were with him in the holy mount.”
And at the same time that Christ was wont to appear in such meekness, condescension, and humility, in his familiar discourses with his disciples, appearing therein as the Lamb of God, he was also wont to appear as The Lion of the tribe of Judah, with divine authority and majesty, in his so sharply rebuking the scribes and Pharisees and other hypocrites.
Third, this admirable conjunction of excellencies remarkably appears in his offering up himself a sacrifice for sinners in his last sufferings. As this was the greatest thing in all the works of redemption, the greatest act of Christ in that work, so in this act especially does there appear that admirable conjunction of excellencies that has been spoken of. Christ never so much appeared as a lamb, as when he was slain: “He came like a lamb to the slaughter,” Isa. 53:7. Then he was offered up to God as a lamb without blemish, and without spot: then especially did he appear to be the anti-type of the lamb of the passover: 1 Cor 5:7, “Christ our Passover sacrificed for us.” And yet in that act he did in an especial manner appear as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Yea, in this above all other acts, in many respects, as may appear in the following things.
1. Then was Christ in the greatest degree of his humiliation, and yet by that, above all other things, his divine glory appears. Christ’s humiliation was great, in being born in such a low condition, of a poor virgin, and in a stable. His humiliation was great, in being subject to Joseph the carpenter, and Mary his mother, and afterwards living in poverty, so as not to have where to lay his head, and in suffering such manifold and bitter reproaches as he suffered, while he went about preaching and working miracles. But his humiliation was never so great as it was, in his last sufferings, beginning with his agony in the garden, till he expired on the cross. Never was he subject to such ignominy as then, never did he suffer so much pain in his body, or so much sorrow in his soul. Never was he in so great an exercise of his condescension, humility, meekness, and patience, as he was in these last sufferings. Never was his divine glory and majesty covered with so thick and dark a veil. Never did he so empty himself and make himself of no reputation, as at this time. And yet, never was his divine glory so manifested, by any act of his, as in yielding himself up to these sufferings. When the fruit of it came to appear, and the mystery and ends of it to be unfolded in its issue, then did the glory of it appear, [and] then did it appear as the most glorious act of Christ that ever he exercised towards the creature. This act of his is celebrated by the angels and hosts of heaven with peculiar praises, as that which is above all others glorious, as you may see in the context (Rev. 5:9-12) “And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts, and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
2. He never in any act gave so great a manifestation of love to God, and yet never so manifested his love to those that were enemies to God, as in that act. Christ never did anything whereby his love to the Father was so eminently manifested, as in his laying down his life, under such inexpressible sufferings, in obedience to his command, and for the vindication of the honor of his authority and majesty; nor did ever any mere creature give such a testimony of love to God as that was. And yet this was the greatest expression of his love to sinful men who were enemies to God, Rom. 5:10, “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God, by the death of his Son.” The greatness of Christ’s love to such, appears in nothing so much as in its being dying love. That blood of Christ which fell in great drops to the ground, in his agony, was shed from love to God’s enemies, and his own. That shame and spitting, that torment of body, and that exceeding sorrow, even unto death, which he endured in his soul, was what he underwent from love to rebels against God to save them from hell, and to purchase for them eternal glory. Never did Christ so eminently show his regard to God’s honor, as in offering up himself a victim to justice. And yet in this above all, he manifested his love to them who dishonored God, so as to bring such guilt on themselves, that nothing less than his blood could atone for it.
3. Christ never so eminently appeared for divine justice, and yet never suffered so much from divine justice, as when he offered up himself a sacrifice for our sins. In Christ’s great sufferings, did his infinite regard to the honor of God’s justice distinguishingly appear, for it was from regard to that that he thus humbled himself. And yet in these sufferings, Christ was the mark of the vindictive expressions of that very justice of God. Revenging justice then spent all its force upon him, on account of our guilt, which made him sweat blood, and cry out upon the cross, and probably rent his vitals — broke his heart, the fountain of blood, or some other blood vessels — and by the violent fermentation turned his blood to water. For the blood and water that issued out of his side, when pierced by the spear, seems to have been extravasated blood, and so there might be a kind of literal fulfillment of Psa. 22:14, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” And this was the way and means by which Christ stood up for the honor of God’s justice, namely, by thus suffering its terrible executions. For when he had undertaken for sinners, and had substituted himself in their room, divine justice could have its due honor no other way than by his suffering its revenges. — In this the diverse excellencies that met in the person of Christ appeared, viz. his infinite regard to God’s justice, and such love to those that have exposed themselves to it, as induced him thus to yield himself a sacrifice to it.
4. Christ’s holiness never so illustriously shone forth as it did in his last sufferings, and yet he never was to such a degree treated as guilty. Christ’s holiness never had such a trial as it had then, and therefore never had so great a manifestation. When it was tried in this furnace, it came forth as gold, or as silver purified seven times. His holiness then above all appeared in his steadfast pursuit of the honor of God, and in his obedience to him. For his yielding himself unto death was transcendently the greatest act of obedience that ever was paid to God by anyone since the foundation of the world.
And yet then Christ was in the greatest degree treated as a wicked person would have been. He was apprehended and bound as a malefactor. His accusers represented him as a most wicked wretch. In his sufferings before his crucifixion, he was treated as if he had been the worst and vilest of mankind. Then he was put to a kind of death, that none but the worst sort of malefactors were wont to suffer, those that were most abject in their persons, and guilty of the blackest crimes. And he suffered as though guilty from God himself, by reason of our guilt imputed to him. For he who knew no sin, was made sin for us. He was made subject to wrath, as if he had been sinful himself. He was made a curse for us.
Christ never so greatly manifested his hatred of sin, as against God, as in his dying to take away the dishonor that sin had done to God. Yet never was he to such a degree subject to the terrible effects of God’s hatred of sin, and wrath against it, as he was then. In this appears those diverse excellencies meeting in Christ, viz. love to God, and grace to sinners.
5. He never was so dealt with, as unworthy, as in his last sufferings, and yet it is chiefly on account of them that he is accounted worthy. He was therein dealt with as if he had not been worthy to live: they cry out, “Away with him! away with him! Crucify him.” John 19:15. And they prefer Barabbas before him. And he suffered from the Father, as one whose demerits were infinite, by reason of our demerits that were laid upon him. And yet it was especially by that act of his subjecting himself to those sufferings, that he merited, and on the account of which chiefly he was accounted worthy of the glory of his exaltation. Phil. 2:8, 9, “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death; wherefore God hath highly exalted him.” And we see that it is on this account chiefly, that he is extolled as worthy by saints and angels in the context: “Worthy,” say they, “is the Lamb that was slain.” This shows an admirable conjunction in him of infinite dignity, and infinite condescension and love to the infinitely unworthy.
6. Christ in his last sufferings suffered most extremely from those towards whom he was then manifesting his greatest act of love. He never suffered so much from his Father (though not from any hatred to him, but from hatred to our sins), for he then forsook him, or took away the comforts of his presence. Then “it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to grief.” as Isa. 53:10. And yet he never gave so great a manifestation of love to God as then, as has been already observed. So Christ never suffered so much from the hands of men as he did then, and yet never was in so high an exercise of love to men. He never was so ill-treated by his disciples, who were so unconcerned about his sufferings that they would not watch with him one hour in his agony. And when he was apprehended, all forsook him and fled, except Peter, who denied him with oaths and curses. And yet then he was suffering, shedding his blood, and pouring out his soul unto death for them. Yea, he probably was then shedding his blood for some of them that shed his blood, for whom he prayed while they were crucifying him; and who were probably afterwards brought home to Christ by Peter’s preaching. (Compare Luke 23:34; Acts 2:23, 36, 37, 41, and chap. 3:17. and chap. 4:4.) This shows an admirable meeting of justice and grace in the redemption of Christ.
7. It was in Christ’s last sufferings, above all, that he was delivered up to the power of his enemies, and yet by these, above all, he obtained victory over his enemies. Christ never was so in his enemies’ hands, as in the time of his last sufferings. They sought his life before, but from time to time they were restrained, and Christ escaped out of their hands. This reason is given for it: that his time was not yet come. But now they were suffered to work their will upon him, he was in a great degree delivered up to the malice and cruelty of both wicked men and devils. And therefore when Christ’s enemies came to apprehend him, he says to them, Luke 22:53, “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hand against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
And yet it was principally by means of those sufferings that he conquered and overthrew his enemies. Christ never so effectually bruised Satan’s head, as when Satan bruised his heel. The weapon with which Christ warred against the devil, and obtained a most complete victory and glorious triumph over him, was the cross, the instrument and weapon with which he thought he had overthrown Christ, and brought on him shameful destruction. Col. 2:14, 15, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances, — nailing it to his cross: and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” In his last sufferings, Christ sapped the very foundations of Satan’s kingdom. He conquered his enemies in their own territories, and beat them with their own weapons; as David cut off Goliath’s head with his own sword. The devil had, as it were, swallowed up Christ, as the whale did Jonah. But it was deadly poison to him: he gave him a mortal wound in his own bowels. He was soon sick of his morsel, and was forced to do by him as the whale did by Jonah. To this day he is heart-sick of what he then swallowed as his prey. In those sufferings of Christ was laid the foundation of all that glorious victory he has already obtained over Satan, in the overthrow of his heathenish kingdom in the Roman empire, and all the success the gospel has had since, and also of all his future and still more glorious victory that is to be obtained in the earth. Thus Samson’s riddle is most eminently fulfilled, Jdg. 14:14, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” And thus the true Samson does more towards the destruction of his enemies at his death than in his life, in yielding up himself to death, he pulls down the temple of Dagon, and destroys many thousands of his enemies, even while they are making themselves sport in his sufferings. So he whose type was the ark, pulls down Dagon, and breaks off his head and hands in his own temple, even while he is brought in there as Dagon’s captive. (1 Sam. 5:1-4)
Thus Christ appeared at the same time, and in the same act, as both a lion and a lamb. He appeared as a lamb in the hands of his cruel enemies, as a lamb in the paws and between the devouring jaws of a roaring lion. Yea, he was a lamb actually slain by this lion: and yet at the same time, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, he conquers and triumphs over Satan, destroying his own devourer, as Samson did the lion that roared upon him, when he rent him as he would a kid. And in nothing has Christ appeared so much as a lion, in glorious strength destroying his enemies, as when he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter. In his greatest weakness he was most strong; and when he suffered most from his enemies, he brought the greatest confusion on his enemies. — Thus this admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies was manifest in Christ, in his offering up himself to God in his last sufferings.
Fourth, it is still manifest in his acts, in his present state of exaltation in heaven. Indeed, in his exalted state, he most eminently appears in manifestation of those excellencies, on the account of which he is compared to a lion; but still he appears as a lamb; Rev. 14:1, “And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on mount Sion;” as in his state of humiliation he chiefly appeared as a lamb, and yet did not appear without manifestation of his divine majesty and power, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Though Christ be now at the right-hand of God, exalted as King of heaven, and Lord of the universe, yet as he still is in the human nature, he still excels in humility. Though the man Christ Jesus be the highest of all creatures in heaven, yet he as much excels them all in humility as he does in glory and dignity, for none sees so much of the distance between God and him as he does. And though he now appears in such glorious majesty and dominion in heaven, yet he appears as a lamb in his condescending, mild, and sweet treatment of his saints there. For he is a Lamb still, even amidst the throne of his exaltation, and he that is the Shepherd of the whole flock is himself a Lamb, and goes before them in heaven as such. Rev. 7:17, “For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Though in heaven every knee bows to him, and though the angels fall down before him adoring him, yet he treats his saints with infinite condescension, mildness, and endearment. And in his acts towards the saints on earth, he still appears as a lamb, manifesting exceeding love and tenderness in his intercession for them, as one that has had experience of affliction and temptation. He has not forgot what these things are, nor has he forgot how to pity those that are subject to them. And he still manifests his lamb-like excellencies, in his dealings with his saints on earth, in admirable forbearance, love, gentleness, and compassion. Behold him instructing, supplying, supporting, and comforting them, often coming to them and manifesting himself to them by his Spirit, that he may sup with them, and they with him. Behold him admitting them to sweet communion, enabling them with boldness and confidence to come to him, and solacing their hearts. And in heaven Christ still appears, as it were, with the marks of his wounds upon him, and so appears as a Lamb as it had been slain. [This is] as he was represented in vision to St. John, in the text, when he appeared to open the book sealed with seven seals, which is part of the glory of his exaltation.
Fifth, and lastly, this admirable conjunction of excellencies will be manifest in Christ’s acts at the last judgment. He then, above all other times, will appear as the Lion of the tribe of Judah in infinite greatness and majesty, when he shall come in the glory of his Father, with all the holy angels, and the earth shall tremble before him, and the hills shall melt. This is he (Rev. 20:11) “that shall sit on a great white throne, before whose face the earth and heaven shall flee away.” He will then appear in the most dreadful and amazing manner to the wicked. The devils tremble at the thought of that appearance, and when it shall be, the kings, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond-man, and every free-man, shall hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains. [They] shall cry to the mountains and rocks to fall on them, to hide them from the face and wrath of the Lamb. And none can declare or conceive of the amazing manifestations of wrath in which he will then appear towards these, or the trembling and astonishment, the shrieking and gnashing of teeth, with which they shall stand before his judgment-seat, and receive the terrible sentence of his wrath.
And yet he will at the same time appear as a Lamb to his saints. He will receive them as friends and brethren, treating them with infinite mildness and love. There shall be nothing in him terrible to them, but towards them he will clothe himself wholly with sweetness and endearment. The church shall be then admitted to him as his bride: that shall be her wedding-day. The saints shall all be sweetly invited to come with him to inherit the kingdom, and reign in it with him to all eternity.