by J. C. Philpot
The EXECUTION of this purpose in the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Son of God.
Our blessed Lord, speaking of himself, said, "Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit." (John 12:24.) Under this figure, the grain of wheat, the Lord intimated his death and resurrection, and the fruit which was to spring out of them. Using the same figure, the Apostle says, "But God gives it a body, as it has pleased him." (1 Cor. 15:38.) Thus, in order to carry out God's eternal purposes to glorify his dear Son, it was needful that he should take a body chosen and prepared for him by the Father. He was to be exalted to regal dignity and power, not merely as the Son of God, but as the Son of man, or rather as the Son of God and the Son of man in one Person. In this mysterious and most blessed union of Deity and humanity in one glorious Person, lie hidden boundless treasures of grace and glory. To be a King he became incarnate. In reply, therefore, to Pilate's question, "Are you a King, then?" Jesus answered, "You say (that is, say truly,) that I am a King. To this end was I born," (John 18:37.) The road to royalty, to a throne which should endure as the days of heaven, lay through the Virgin's womb. The eternal Son of God must become in time a man, that he might reign as God-man forever and ever. He must come down to earth, that all power might be given unto him in heaven and in earth. (Matt. 28:18.) He must be made lower than the lowest, that he might become higher than the highest; must serve, that he might rule; wash his disciples' feet, that a crown of glory might be put upon his head; take upon him the form of a servant, that God might "highly exalt him and give him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth." (Phil. 2:7-10.)
Through the disobedience and transgression of man, created in the image of God to be his representative on earth, God's lower creation became marred and defaced. Sin, the spoiler, entered Paradise. With sin entered death; and with death--disorder, wreck, and ruin spread themselves far and wide over this once fair domain which God himself pronounced very good, until earth has become a very Aceldama—a field of blood. How dishonorable, then, would it have been to the ever-living God had Satan been thus permitted to triumph. Would it not have been the boast of devils and the wonder of angels, that the arch-fiend of hell should have, as it were, outwitted by his skill all the wisdom of Omniscience, and defeated by his power all the strength of Omnipotence?
To destroy, we all know, is easier than to create. A child may, by accident or thoughtlessness, in a moment break a priceless vase; a madman set fire to the accumulated wealth of ages; a vile assassin take at one thrust a life precious to a whole nation. But if to destroy be so much easier than to create, how much more difficult is it to restore what is destroyed! What skillful hand shall repair the shattered vase? What are can give us back the precious manuscripts, the antique cameos, the statues of a Phidias, the paintings of a Raphael? What Promethean skill renew the murdered statesman's life? Here the skill of man fails; here the mocking devil seems to triumph, and to gather up fresh strength to go on with that infernal work whence he borrows his name, "Abaddon," the destroyer. (Rev. 9:11, margin.)
But where man falters in despair and Satan shouts in triumph, the wisdom of the All-wise, the might of the Almighty, the grace of the All-gracious, eminently shine and display themselves with infinite luster before the eyes of all created intelligences. Over man Satan prevailed by craft and infernal skill; but by man—by that very nature which he sought utterly to destroy, shall he be baffled, defeated, overwhelmed with shame and everlasting contempt. He was allowed to bind wretched man in the chain of sin until the iron entered into his soul; but by man shall everlasting chains be bound round him unto the judgment of the great day. As Apollyon, the destroyer, shall he destroy the image of God in man; but by man shall that image be restored, and not only so, but raised to a glory, a brightness, and a luster to which it never could have attained by its original creation.
Pride and envy, inflamed by desperate malice against God and man that human nature, inferior to angelic by creation, should be promoted to the favor from which he had fallen, urged on Satan to plot the deadly deed. He would ruin and destroy that nature. The image of God should not shine upon earth. He would mar and deface it; he would pollute with his own infernal spawn the very nature on which that image had been stamped; would debase it to the lowest hell; would fill it with bestiality and filth, blood and crime, until, as sunk below the brute creation, God should loathe and abhor the work of his own hands. In this hellish plot he was, in the inscrutable wisdom of God, allowed so far to succeed as to make the world what we now see it, a hideous wreck and ruin, festering and sweltering, like a huge carcase, in its own corruption, until the burning flames of hell seem to be the only place into which it can be cast out of the sight and presence of a God of purer eyes than to behold evil, and who cannot look on iniquity.
But O the depths of eternal wisdom and surpassing grace! Into this very time-worn scene of sin and woe, just as the spring-tide of iniquity had risen to its utmost height, and the whole world seemed flooded with evil as with the waters of a second deluge into this wrecked and ruined world, and what was far worse, amid these degraded and debased wild beasts of men, the Son of God came in the flesh. From the bosom of the Father did the Son of his love come forth to repair the waste places, the desolations of many generations. On this very sin-stricken earth, this abode of misery and crime, did the feet of the Son of God in our nature rest. This valley of tears he trod with holy steps--in the world but not of it--a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. According to ancient promise, "when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law to redeem those who were under the law." (Gal. 4:4.) In that sacred humanity—real flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the children, though not fallen like theirs, but holy and pure--the eternal Son of the Father stood in the gap and repaired the breach, took a holy portion of that nature which sin and Satan had defiled into union with his own divine Person, obeyed in it the law, enduring the curse, offered up his holy body and soul as a sacrifice for sin, laid down the life which for that purpose he had taken, and raising his incorruptible body from the tomb, took it with him into the courts of bliss, there to sit down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
O the wisdom and power of God! O the unfathomable depths of mercy and grace! O the unsearchable treasures of goodness and love! O the opening visions of eternal glory! Satan baffled! Sin blotted out! The image of God restored! Human nature raised to inconceivable dignity by its personal union with the divine Person of the Son of God! The fallen Church washed, justified, sanctified, and glorified with all the glory of her Head and Husband, and an eternal revenue of glory brought to a Triune Jehovah—to God the Father for his eternal purposes of wisdom and love; to God the Son for his unspeakable condescension in the work of redemption; to God the Holy Spirit for his forming the sacred humanity of Jesus, and sanctifying the elect of God to know his grace, be conformed to his image, and partake of his glory.
But carried away by the grace and glory of a theme so precious, we have rather anticipated our subject. We proposed to show the connection between the incarnation and death of Jesus--and his exaltation to royal dignity. We have thus far, then, showed that, in the boundless depths of the wisdom of God, his dear Son took flesh that as our great High Priest he might put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. But the same boundless wisdom and grace which provided the sacrifice assured him of a crown as his reward. This was a part of "the joy set before him, for which he endured the cross, despising the shame." Death was not only necessary as a part—a main part of the sacrifice which he, as Priest, offered, but as a requisite for the glory with which he, as King, should be crowned. In fact all his three offices, as Prophet, Priest, and King, required to be sustained and magnified by his sufferings and death. What an example of meekness and martyrdom, what lessons of suffering and patient endurance of the deepest agony and shame are seen in the dying Prophet; what precious blood in a dying Priest; what grace in a dying King! How this last shone forth so conspicuously that the dying thief acknowledged him as King, and begged for an interest in his kingdom.
But there was another reason why the road to the throne lay through the valley of the shadow of death. Our blessed Lord had "to destroy death and him that had the power of death, that is the devil." But this was "through death." (Heb. 2:14.) Through sin death had come into the world, and had no sooner entered than it set up its throne on the earth, for "it reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them (that is, infants) who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression," which was a voluntary act of disobedience, but as overwhelmed in his original sin, they had fallen under the power and authority of the grim king of terrors. The scepter had therefore to be wrung out of his hand. But, according to the eternal appointments of infinite wisdom, this could only be by the Son of God submitting to die. He therefore took a nature which could die—not in itself mortal, but capable of dying by a voluntary act. No man took his life from him. The Lord of life could not be robbed of life by the creatures to whom he had himself given breath. But he could lay down the life which he had taken by a voluntary submission to the reign of death. He could thus snatch the scepter from his grasp, destroy and disannul him, and by the same act of meritorious obedience break to pieces the reign of Satan, "who had the power of death," as ever terrifying by it the children of God, whom by this terror he held in cruel bondage.
It deserves our utmost attention and prayerful consideration to see, by the eye of faith, the display of wisdom and power shining forth in the way in which the all-wise God sent his dear Son "to destroy," or as the word is in the original, to unloose "the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8.) Satan had, so to speak, spun a raveled knot when he cast the cords of sin round man's heart. This tangled and tightly drawn knot could not be cut through as by a sword of omnipotent power; but had by infinite wisdom and patience to be unraveled through its whole length. The work which Satan had done was to be undone. Disobedience had to be repaired by obedience—the voluntary obedience of the Son of God, and therefore of infinite value. Sin had to be atoned for by sacrifice—the sacrifice of the nature which had sinned, in union with the Person of the Son of God, and therefore deriving from it unspeakable efficacy. Death had to be destroyed by the ever-living Son of God submitting to die. The law must be magnified by being obeyed by him who by his divine Person is above law. The Lawgiver must be the law-fulfiller. He who is the ever-blessed One must be made a curse; and the holy One of Israel, who know no sin, must be "made sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." "Who will set the briars and thorns against me in battle?" asked the Lord; "I would go through them," is his answer. (Isa. 27:4.) So our blessed Lord went through these thorns and briars set against him in battle. He thoroughly went through all that he undertook; and by going through unraveled the work of Satan.
Let us explain this more distinctly, as a point full of truth and blessedness. Thus he went through temptation—wholly through, for he "was in all points tempted like as we are," (Heb. 4:15,) and by going through every possible temptation which can beset us, threaded, so to speak, the whole avenue of temptation from beginning to end. So he went through the whole of the law, rendering a perfect obedience to it in every demand of unfailing love to God and his neighbor. So he went through the whole of suffering, for "he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," experiencing every possible form of suffering that was compatible with a holy nature. And, in a sense, he went through the whole of sin—not as a personal transgressor, for he was perfectly holy in body and soul, "a lamb without blemish and without spot"--but by imputation, feeling the weight, grief, and burden of all the sins of his elect people. So also did he go through the whole wrath of God, for he drank the cup of his indignation against sin to the very dregs. We can only glance at these things, but they are full of the deepest import--and might, with God's help and blessing, form a theme of most fruitful meditation, for they embrace the whole of the work which the Father gave him to do.
But in thus going through, and by going through undoing the works of the devil, it is desirable to bear in mind and have, as it were, before our eyes that the blessed Lord went through all that we have mentioned in his complex Person as God-man. Thus his sacred humanity, in union with his Deity, went through the law, temptation, suffering, and death—the human nature tasting each and all in their utmost intensity--but the divine nature sustaining, dignifying, ennobling, and bestowing unutterable value, merit, and validity upon every thought, word, and act of the suffering and obedience of the holy humanity--for there was but one Person, though two natures, and therefore all the acts were personal acts. As an illustration of this, look at the actings of our own soul and body. These are distinct, but as united in one person are viewed as one. Thus, as our blessed Lord went through the whole work which the Father gave him to do, his Deity, being in union with his obeying, suffering humanity, stamped each successive movement, as he went through it, with all the value and validity of Godhead. If this is difficult to understand—or at least realize, for who can understand it?—revert to our figure. Is not the mind of an artist stamped upon his work? Does not our soul impress itself and express itself by our body? So Deity stamped value and validity on all the acts of the Redeemer's humanity.
This is beautifully alluded to, Psalm 45, in the description of the bridal garments of the Church as the queen—"The King's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the King in clothing of needlework." The gold was to be wrought into her clothing, the clothing to be of needlework, intimating that her robe of justifying righteousness was wrought, as it were, as in needlework, stitch by stitch; yet that every thread was embroidered with gold. Here we have the thread of the humanity in union with the gold of Deity, and yet each in such close union that the thread is but one. In gold thread the beauty, the value is in the gold; yet how close the union. Gold by itself could not be made into embroidery. So Deity cannot suffer, bleed, or die; but humanity can in union with it. It is this union of Deity with humanity which made the work of redeeming love so unspeakably glorious, and so meritoriously efficacious. As Hart says--"Almighty God sighed human breath."
It is indeed a mystery; but "great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh." O glorious mystery!"
"The highest heavens are short of this;
Yet what or where would redemption have been, unless Deity had imparted value and validity to every thought, word, and act of the obedient, suffering humanity.
Our blessed Lord, then, passed through death seemingly conquered, but really a conqueror; seemingly overthrown by Satan, but really his overthrower; seemingly covered with shame, but only to be crowned with glory and honor; seemingly under the curse of God, but really enduring the curse that he might be made a blessing; as a servant, obedient unto death, for crucifixion was the mode of punishment for slaves, yet that he might be exalted in that very nature which there suffered, bled, and died--to a throne of immortal glory. Thus, too, he lay in the grave, that as by dying he might rob death of his sting, so by the tomb he might spoil the grave of its victory. But death could not hold the Lord of life, nor the grave enchain the hand that held the keys of hell, as the Apostle preached, and as faith believes—"Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death; because it was not possible that he should be held by it." (Acts 2:24.) He fought, he won, and to him as the overcomer was the crown given—"To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and have sat down with my Father in his throne." (Rev. 2:21.)
But the question may arise in the mind, When, that is, at what particular period, did the blessed Lord enter upon his kingly office? We have already shown that in his other offices there was an initial entrance before his full assumption of them. Thus, as Priest, he entered initially into the priestly office at his circumcision; as Prophet, he entered initially into his prophetical office when, a child in the temple, he sat among the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. But he did not enter fully upon his prophetical office until after his baptism, nor upon the priestly until he consecrated himself in the prayer recorded John 17. In a similar way he entered initially upon his kingly office at his birth, for he was "born King of the Jews;" (Matt. 2:2;) but he did not enter actually upon it until after his resurrection, for then it was that "all power was given unto him in heaven and in earth." (Matt. 28:18.) But it was more especially when he went up on high, and sat down at the right hand of the Father that the scepter of royal dignity and power was put into his hands. In Psalm 24 we have a beautiful description of Zion's anointed King entering into the courts of bliss as he returned victorious from the conquest over sin, death, and hell—"Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, invincible in battle. Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is the King of glory? The Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory." Then did God highly exalt him, and give him a name which is above every name.
In bringing before our readers our thoughts and Meditations on the Kingly Office of the Lord Jesus Christ we have thus far attempted to trace out, in full harmony, we trust, with the word of truth, two prominent, though as yet preliminary, features of its peculiar character, and have shown, 1. The eternal purpose of God the Father to glorify his dear Son, and exalt him to his own right hand as Lord and King; and, 2. The execution of this purpose in the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of our adorable Redeemer.
The point at which we somewhat abruptly stopped was the exact period at which the blessed Lord entered upon the full exercise of this royal dignity and power. We drew, as our readers will doubtless remember, a distinction between the initial and the full assumption of his kingly authority, and showed, from his own words to the disciples, that "all power in heaven and in earth" was not given unto him until after his resurrection and just antecedently to his ascension and glorification. Until then, though his Son, he was the Servant of the Father, meekly doing his will, and finishing the work which he had given him to do. (Isa. 42:1; 49:3; John 17:4; Heb. 10:7.) Even among his disciples, in the days of his flesh, he was "as he who serves;" (Luke 22:27;) and "being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:8.) He was then "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;" who "hid not his face from shame and spitting." Out of his mouth there went not then "a sharp two-edged sword," (Rev. 1:16,) but "prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears." (Heb. 5:7.) "His visage" then, as viewed in vision by the evangelical prophet, "was so marred more than any man;" (Isa. 52:14;) for "his countenance" was not yet, as seen by the beloved disciple in the Isle of Patmos, "as the sun shines in his strength." (Rev. 1:16.) Lots were then cast on his vesture; (Matt. 27:35;) for on it was not yet written, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." (Rev. 19:16.) The kiss which touched his sacred cheek was the kiss of a base traitor, (Matt. 26:49,) not that of loving, loyal, submissive allegiance. (1 Sam. 10:1; Psalm 2:12.) The crown of thorns then pressed his brow, not the diadem of glory; a reed, not a scepter, was put into his right hand; and the knee bowed before him was not the knee "of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth," but the knee of mockery and scorn. (Matt. 27:29; Phil. 2:10.)
Yet was there a joy set before him; and this was the joy of being "set at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come;" in seeing of the travail of his soul, and having "all things put under his feet, and made the Head over all things to the Church." Eph. 1:20-22.) But when exalted to the throne of glory, then was fulfilled the promise, "The Lord said unto my Lord--Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of your enemies." (Psalm 110:1, 2.)
This present kingly power is mystically represented in the word of truth by his sitting on Mount Zion; for that is "the city of the great King," (Psalm 48:2,) and as such typified the royal dignity and sway of Jesus.* As thus mystically his royal residence, Zion became the perfection of beauty, for out of it God had shined; and out of it now sends forth the rod, or scepter, of his strength. (Psalm 50:2; 110:2.)
The peculiar glory and blessedness of this exaltation of Jesus is that it is in our nature. As one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he ever was King; for "Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see—kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together." (Col. 1:16, 17.) He who created all things must be the King of all things; he who is before all things must rule all things, as their rightful Sovereign; he who daily holds all creation together, must needs ever sway over them his protecting scepter. But this is not the regal dignity which Jesus now wears, nor the peculiar scepter put by the Father into his hands. The peculiar glory of his kingly office is that the scepters held by human hands—by those very hands through which the nails of the cross were driven. Yes; that very hated Nazarene, against whom "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together;" that very abhorred Jesus, against whom the maddened crowd, in their bitter enmity, cried, "Crucify him, crucify him;" that despised One of men, and rejected of the people, whom they, in their judicial blindness, did "esteem stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted;" that "very Man of Sorrows," who poured out his soul unto death, and who was numbered with the transgressors, now seated on his throne of glory, reigns with sovereign sway, and must reign until he has put down all rule and all authority and power. This exaltation to the right hand of power was the promised reward of his humiliation, sufferings, and death. (Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 12:2; Rev. 3:21.) But as we shall have occasion to enter more fully into this subject before we close our Meditations, we shall now proceed to our next point.