The Subjection of All Things Under the Feet of Jesus
Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford,
on November 28, 1858, by J. C. Philpot
"You have put all thing in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him." Hebrews 2:8
In opening up, then, the words of our text, I shall, with God's blessing,
First, endeavor to direct your thoughts to the humiliation of our most blessed Lord; for without understanding his humiliation, we can have no spiritual or adequate views of his subsequent glorification.
Secondly, to the subjection of all things as put under his feet.
Thirdly, that in this matter there is no exception; for "in that God put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him."
Fourthly, that at present this subjection is not complete. It is begun, it is carrying on, but it is not finished—"But now we see not yet all things put under him."
I. The HUMILIATION of Christ.The incarnation of the Son of God is always spoken of in the inspired volume as the greatest depth of divine wisdom, the fullest display of divine power, and the highest fruit of divine love. As such therefore it is the most sublime mystery that can ever enter into the heart of man or angel on which to exercise their admiring thoughts, whether they adore the wisdom of God in designing, or his love in giving it birth, or his power in bringing it into execution.
II.But we pass on to show the exaltation of the Lord Jesus in the subjection of all things under Christ's feet.
We have viewed him in his humiliation; we have seen him at the cross, beheld his atoning blood, and heard his expiring voice. Now then let us look at him as raised from the dead and EXALTED to the right hand of the Father. And you will observe, that he is exalted not only to the throne of dignity but to the throne of power. "You have put all things in subjection under his feet." This exaltation was the promised reward of his humiliation. This is clearly put before us by the apostle, when having shown us how Jesus "humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," he adds, "therefore God also has highly exalted him, and given 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. 2:9, 10.) This was a part of the "joy set before him for which he endured the cross, despising the shame." (Heb. 12:2.) In the verse therefore following our text, the apostle says, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor." Thus his exaltation consists mainly in two things—
First, that God has crowned him with glory and honor.
Secondly, that he has put all things in subjection under his feet.
The last is that which we have here chiefly to consider. The figure is taken from the practice of ancient conquerors, as we find Joshua bringing the five kings of the Amorites out of the cave, and bidding the captains of the men of war to put their feet upon their necks. And I remember to have seen a representation of a picture, still existing in one of the Egyptian tombs, of a conqueror putting his feet upon the necks of those whom he had vanquished. Thus when we read in the text, "You have put all things in subjection under his feet," the meaning is, that all things are submitted to the sovereign command of the Lord Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father. Let us then look at some of these things. How comprehensive the expression; what a wide scope it affords for thought. But time and opportunity only allow me to hint at a few of them.
1. First, all PERSONS, from the Queen upon the throne to the pauper in the workhouse, are put in subjection under Christ's feet. The Queen's throne is not her own. She is only there because Jesus has put her there, and will only be there as long as he sees fit. We see men high in power and place, the rulers of our land, to whom we owe subjection, as powers ordained of God, on the same gospel principle as we owe honor and loyalty to our Queen. But who gives them that power? Who exalts them to that authority? The Lord Jesus Christ! He is Sovereign king over them all! Now if this be true, and it must be so unless the word of God be false, how it represents men of every station, rank, and degree as completely subject to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. They cannot move hand or foot, except by his sovereign good pleasure; and to lift up a hand against him, is to lift up a hand against that Sovereign, who, with one frown, could crush them into the very dust!
Now could we carry about with us a realizing sense of this Sovereign supremacy of Jesus, how little we would fear the face of man. We should still render to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor (Rom. 13:7); but we should stand in slavish fear to no man. You may have those placed in worldly circumstances over you, who seem not only to have the will but the power sadly to oppress you. Need you fear them if you are one of the Lord's? Why need you fear the face of any man? Look around you; view your oppressor; look him fairly and steadfastly in the face. Need you fear his frown, or cower before his angry look? Is he not, with all other men, put in subjection under the feet of Christ? Could he lift up a hand against you, except the Lord Jesus Christ gave him permission? Can he go a single step beyond the will and intention of the Lord Jesus Christ? He cannot! Fear not then the face of the oppressor—he has no power against you, except so far as the Lord Jesus Christ gives him power; and that power he will never allow him to do you any real harm. I can speak here from experience; for I remember on one occasion being much afraid of one high in power who could have done me, and indeed threatened to do me serious injury. But before the appointed day came for my coming before him, he was in his grave! And O how sweet were those words made to me, "Who are you, that you should be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?" (Isaiah 51:12.)
2. But again, as all persons are subject unto his authority, so all THINGS are equally subject to his almighty power. There may be circumstances in your earthly lot which at this moment are peculiarly trying. You look round and wonder how this or that circumstance will terminate. At present it looks very dark; clouds and mists hang over it, and you fear lest these clouds may break, not in showers upon your head, as Cowper speaks in his hymn, but burst forth in the lightning flash and the thunder stroke. But all things, and if all things then this circumstance also that fills your mind with apprehension, are put in subjection under Christ's feet. The thing cannot take place except by his sovereign will, nor can it move any further except by his supreme disposal. Then make yourself quiet; he will not allow you to be harmed. It shall only execute his sovereign purposes, and it shall be among those all things which, according to his promise, shall work together for your good.
3. But all TRIALS are also put in subjection under him. Many are the trials of the righteous, for we read, "The Lord tries the righteous" (Psalm. 11:5); and if the Lord himself try them, how can you escape if you are one of the righteous nation which keeps the truth? (Isaiah. 26:2.) But none of these trials come upon them by chance. They are all appointed in weight and measure, are all designed to fulfill a certain end; and however painful they may at present be, yet they are intended for your good. When the trial comes upon you, what a help it would be for you if you could view it thus—"This trial is sent for my good; it does not spring out of the dust; the Lord himself is the supreme disposer of it; for I am sure it could not come without his sending or permission. It is very painful to bear; but let me look up to him who sits at God's right hand; let me believe that he has appointed me this peculiar trial; it is in subjection under his feet along with every other circumstance. He will bring about his own will therein, and remove the trial, or give me patience under it, and submission to it."
You may be afflicted by sickness. It is not by chance that such or such sickness visits your body; that the Lord sees fit to afflict head, heart, chest, liver, hand, foot, or any other part of your body. If all things are put in subjection under him, has he exempted sickness and disease? Whatever you suffer in bodily disease, if you can but believe that it is put in subjection under his feet, and that he appoints and arranges it for your good, it will give you resignation to his holy and almighty will.
4. Again, if all things are put in subjection under him, then are all TEMPTATIONS also put under his feet. Do we not read? "And the God of peace shall bruise (margin "tread") Satan under your feet shortly." (Rom. 16:20.) And why under your feet, but because Satan and with him all his temptations are put under Jesus' feet as your risen and exalted Head? How sweet to see and feel this. Your path may at present be a path of great temptation; snares of the most dangerous and most deceitful kind may be laid for your feet in various directions; Satan may be allowed to assault your soul with all his infernal arts and weapons. You may have a sad conflict with the vile lusts of your depraved nature, and feel that you have as many sins alive in your heart as there are hairs upon your head. But are not these things put in subjection under his feet? Would it be true that God has put all things under his feet if temptations were omitted? Is it not expressly said of our gracious Lord? "For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to support them that are tempted." (Heb. 2:18.) And again, "There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man—but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13.) "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations" (2 Pet. 2:9); and we are told, that "Blessed is the man that endures temptations," so that you are bidden even to count it all joy when you fall into them. (James 1:1, 12.) Can Satan tempt you a single point beyond the Lord's permission? How was it with Job, when Satan was allowed to tempt him? Did not God fix the exact length of Satan's tether when he said, "Touch not his life?" He was allowed to destroy all his property, to sweep off all his children at a stroke, to smite him with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown, and, what was worse, to fill his carnal mind with the most horrid suggestions to blaspheme God and die. But he could not touch his life, either natural or spiritual, or drive him to blaspheme God, though he so far prevailed as to make him curse the day of his birth. "Hitherto shall you come, but no further," the Lord virtually said to him, "and here shall your proud waves be stayed." (Job 38:11.) So with you—if indeed you are the Lord's, whatever temptations you may have to endure, they can never touch your life; for that is "hid with Christ in God"—safely lodged in his heart and hands who reigns supreme in power and glory.
5. So with all AFFLICTIONS also. They too are put under the feet of Jesus. You may think at times how harshly you are dealt with; mourning, it may be, under family bereavements, sorrowing after the loss of your 'household treasures'--a beloved husband, wife, or child; or you may be severely fretting in your own soul under such afflictions of body and mind, as you could not disclose even to your nearest friend; or you may be even, what is worst of all, murmuring and rebelling against the Lord himself. But O that you could bear in mind that all your afflictions, be they what they may, are put under the feet of Jesus, so that, so to speak, not one can crawl from under his feet but by his permission, and, like scolded hounds, they crawl again beneath them at a word of command from his lips.
III.But I pass on to our third point, which is to show, that in putting all things in subjection under the feet of Jesus, God left NOTHING that is not put under him.
The apostle seems to add these words as if he would, to use a familiar expression, clinch the nail. A person might say, for instance, "Well, I do believe in a general way that all things are put in subjection under Jesus' feet; but when I take a survey of all the various, I might say, immense and complicated circumstances of this world, I find it very difficult to raise my faith up to that point to believe that every individual thing, through the whole complicated series of human events, is under his positive, immediate, and direct control." Now the apostle meets that difficulty not by explaining it, but by enlarging more fully on his previous declaration. He adds, therefore, these decisive words—"In that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him."
It is worth observing the stress and authority which he lays upon God's word. That is his ultimatum—the word of a king, from which there is no appeal. Receive it as fully as he does and your unbelief will stop her mouth. But you may look round and ask, as if still unconvinced, "If so, why do the ungodly prosper? Why is sin permitted to go to such awful lengths in the world, and to run down our streets unchecked like water? Why are the children of God so oppressed? Why is true religion so hated? And why, if Jesus is so supreme in authority and power, is Satan allowed to carry the chief sway?"
I fully grant, that many of the saints of God have been puzzled and perplexed upon these points, and have been scarcely able to answer them to their own satisfaction or to that of others. I fully admit, that one would have thought, reasoning naturally, if the Lord Jesus Christ were at God's right hand, and all things put in subjection under his feet, matters would not be as they are, either in the church or in the world. We would not see saints slip and fall and bring reproach on the cause of God and truth; we would not see hypocrites so abounding in churches and congregations; we would not see the truth despised and hated, and error patronized and loved; we would not see the enemies of truth rejoice, and the friends of Jesus mourn; we would not see in this so-called Christian nation sins only to be paralleled by heathens and savages, and the gospel only known and professed by a few despised and outcast people!
Reasoning naturally, should we not say, "How can Jesus be at God's right hand, and all things put in subjection under his feet, yet such evils prevail, and so little good be accomplished? As Lord of all, why does he not cause the gospel to be preached more truthfully, widely, and successfully? Why are not more called out of darkness into light? Why does he not make us really what we are nominally, a Christian nation? Why should he have so few to serve and glorify him, and they so feebly and imperfectly?" These questions, and numberless others of a similar nature, may suggest themselves to a reasoning mind—but the apostle meets all such inquiries with this pointed declaration—"In that he put all things in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him."
We shall presently see another explanation which he gives; but for the present, he beats down all such inquiries by bringing down upon them the hammer of God's word—the full force of God's own positive declaration. Then, 'reason'—be still if you can, hold your peace, and allow 'faith' to come forth and submit to the word of truth.
But even look at it thus. If all things were not put under the feet of Jesus, would this world be habitable? Would not men rend and tear each other to pieces like wild beasts? Could the saints of God dwell in this valley of tears for a single day, had Satan full dominion, surrounded as they are by the most deadly enemies, and hated by all the malice of the wicked one? No! their enemies would swallow them up, the gospel be uprooted, the ministers of truth silenced, and darkness and heathenism spread over the land; nor would there be a single saint of God left upon earth, for such a storm of persecution would break out against them as would sweep every one away. Let us then hold fast this truth, for on it depends so much of our comfort, that, in putting all things under the feet of Jesus, God left nothing which was not put under him.
IV.But we pass on to our fourth and last point, and one which, as I just hinted, may furnish an answer to some of those inquiries which naturally suggest themselves to a reasoning mind—"We see NOT YET all things put under him."
The same difficulty met the apostle's eye as meets yours and mine. He saw that, viewed by the eye of sense, all things were not put visibly under Jesus, though they were actually; that sin still reigned in high places; that persecution still raged against the saints of God; that this was still a disordered world, presenting little outward evidence that the Lord of heaven and earth was exercising supreme government in and over it. He therefore directs our eyes to a future day. "We see not yet all things put under him." The day is coming when it will be seen by all that "all power is given unto Jesus in heaven and in earth." (Matt. 28:18.) A day is coming when the world shall acknowledge his power and his sway; when there will be a universal reign of righteousness, and it shall be seen by men upon earth as well as by saints in heavenly bliss that all things are put under his feet!
It may seem hard to believe this, and many will not believe it—But what has God said? and let God be true and every man a liar. "As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Num. 14:21); and again, "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Isa. 11:9.) How do the waters cover the sea? In whole or in part? So to fulfill the promise must the knowledge of the Lord one day wholly fill the earth. But that day has not yet come—nor do we know when it will come.
But take another view of the words. Look at them experimentally. Take them as applicable to the various circumstances which continually meet your eye, and especially to the trials that your mind is continually exercised with. Is it not true in this point of view, that though all things are virtually put in subjection under Jesus' feet, yet "we see not yet all things actually put under him?"
1. You may, for instance, be in very trying circumstances as regards PROVIDENCE. These trying circumstances are put in subjection under his feet, but as yet you do not see it. A 'cloud' is over your eyes; unbelief dims your view; and you do not yet see that those circumstances which are so trying, put under the feet of him who rules all things. You have proved it so in times past; but as regards your present trial you do not yet see it in subjection to his sovereign sway as managed by him for your good.
2. Or it may be that you are now passing through some very painful and severe TRIAL under which you groan, being burdened, nor have you any present evidence that the Lord Jesus is managing that trial for you. Your oppression, or persecution, or family trial, or church trouble, you do not yet see put under his feet. It is still too much upon your own shoulders; it is still too much carried, and that very ineffectually, by your own strength. But is not this to test your faith? Is it not that you may wait and watch the Lord's hand? By and by you will see that very circumstance, which seems now almost to escape his notice, put under the Lord's feet. Perhaps your oppressor may have still power and even increasing power over you. Or perhaps you may lose a good situation, be deprived of your lawful right, and what you have a fair claim to. Or perhaps you may be prevented from rising as you ought to rise in business, if were fair measures were carried out. Or perhaps you've been defeated in your attempts to gain a honest livelihood, and every plan of yours crossed and thwarted.
And under all this you may murmur, fret, and rebel that these things are permitted, and that these adverse circumstances are not yet put under Jesus' feet. But you shall see it! The day will come, and it may be before long, for this painful mystery to be cleared up. You may hear the church-bell toll and be one to carry the coffin of your oppressor to the cemetery. You may look into his grave or see his name on a tombstone, and say, "There lies my cruel enemy. What and where is he now who sometimes made me fairly tremble? A heap of dust!"
So with your afflictions. This affliction of yours that does not at present seem to be one of the things that the Lord is managing for you—you will one day see put under his feet. And you will also see that it was just as much under his feet when you did not see it, as when you do see it. And you will then see how it worked together for your good—what submission it wrought in you to the divine will—what prayer was offered up in and by it—what searchings of heart it led to—what promises were applied to your soul in and under it to which you were previously a stranger—and what strength was given to endure the affliction even when it pressed the hardest. Then you will see that it was even then put under his feet, and that nothing but your unbelief prevented you seeing it!
3. But you complain, and justly, that YOUR SINS are not yet put under his feet. These are your greatest burdens. Pride, lust, covetousness, carnality, and a host of other evils, how they oppress you! You would, if you could, take these sins and put them under Jesus' feet, saying, "Lord, trample them down, that I may never feel their hateful workings more. O take them and put them under your feet! O tread them down into the very dust that they may never rise out of their ashes to plague me more!" And yet you see them not yet under his feet. Your lusts still work; pride, covetousness, carnality are still alive and lively. You see them not yet, put under his feet—but you will see them! The Lord will crucify the flesh and subdue all your iniquities—as well as pardon all your sins, for that is his promise.
4. Or the TEMPTATIONS you are assailed by, which seem to gather fresh strength and become stronger instead of weaker—or perhaps some old temptation that you have been freed from for months or weeks, but which now has risen again, like a phoenix from its ashes, stronger than ever—you see not yet this temptation put under his feet. (Editor's note– a phoenix is a legendary bird which burned itself to ashes, and afterwards rose alive from the ashes to live another period.) But does it not give more room for prayer that it may be put under his feet? more reason to abhor yourself in dust and ashes? Or may it not be instrumental in crushing that hydra-headed monster of self-righteousness in you with its seven necks! Or the means of bringing you to a spot you were never brought to before, for your mouth to be stopped and you to become guilty before God? Or may it not bring you down to feel that indeed you are the chief of sinners and less than the least of all saints? But you see not yet the temptation put under his feet. But it will be so—when it has done its work, and let out the life-blood of self-righteousness—and convinced you that nothing but his rich, free, and superabounding grace can save your guilty soul.
5. So also may we apply the words to all CIRCUMSTANCES which may occur in Providence or grace; however dark or mysterious now, whatever dismal line they may wear, however the riddle cannot be read by human reason or explained by yourself or others, whatever mystery may envelop the Lord's present dealings with your soul, it will be seen by and by, still to be one of those things which are put under the feet of Jesus.
Do you not wish to be there? To lie at his feet—is not that your coveted posture? Is there a better posture than that? Yes, there is one—to lie in his bosom. But do not despair of help or hope if you are but made willing to lie at his feet. Are you not willing that he should put under his feet everything opposed to his grace and his glory? Are you not willing that your sins, your lusts, your temptations should all be put under his feet who reigns and rules above? And are you not willing and more than willing that he should be your Lord and King, bear the chief sway, guide you with his counsel, and afterwards receive you to glory? (Psalm. 73:24.) Can you have a believing heart in your bosom and not be thus minded? Can the Lord the Spirit have begun and is carrying on a sacred work upon your soul and you not be made willing to lie at the feet of the Lord—not to be willing that he should put his feet upon the neck of his enemies and your enemies?
Do you need any King but Jesus as your spiritual King? We owe all loyalty to our earthly Queen—she has not a more loyal subject than myself. But we have a spiritual King to whom we owe spiritual allegiance, to whom we give what we give to no earthly monarch—the affections of our spiritual mind. Do we then want any one to reign over us but Jesus? We say, "Lord, take us and make us wholly yours. We would be yours here on earth as well as your hereafter in heaven. Only give us now and then as we struggle through the wilderness a look of love—a cheering word—apply to our heart a comforting promise, and give us a blessed testimony that as we are suffering with you here, we shall be glorified with you hereafter. Lord, enable us to believe, to hope and to love, to struggle on through this valley of tears, not giving way to sin or Satan, but ever seeking to know your will and do it, and ever desiring that you should be our Lord and God, be the strength of our heart below, and our portion forever above."