The Excellency of Christ (6)
“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:5-6).
[Edwards continues his portrayal of Jesus Christ as the one in whom seemingly divergent and mutually exclusive excellencies and acts are found in perfect harmony.]
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.