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THE WISDOM OF GOD, DISPLAYED IN THE WAY OF SALVATION.
Epasdians iii. 10.—To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places,
might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.
Introduction. The apostle is speaking in the context of the glorious doctrine of the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ ; and how it was in a great measure kept hid in the past ages of the world. It was a mystery that before they did not understand, but now it was in a glorious manner brought to light. Ver. 3—5, “By revelation he made known unto me the mystery (as I wrote afore in few words ; whereby when ye read ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets, by the Spirit.” And ver. 8, 9, “ Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.”
And the apostle in the text informs us, that what Christ had accomplished towards his church, in the work of redemption, had not only in a great measure unveiled the mystery to the church in this world; but God had more clearly and fully opened it to the understanding even of the angels themselves ; and that this was one end of God in it, to discover the glory of his wisdom to the angels. “ To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”
One end of revealing God's counsels concerning the work of redemption, is making known God's wisdom. It is called manifold wisdom; because of the manifold glorious ends that are attained by it. The excellent designs, hereby accomplished, are very manifold. The wisdom of God in this is of vast extent. The contrivance is so manifold, that one may spend an eternity in discovering more of the excellent ends and designs accomplished by it; and the multitude and vast variety of things that are, by divine contrivance, brought to conspire to the bringing about those ends.
We may observe, to whom it is that God would manifest this his wisdom, by revealing the mystery of our redemption ;-and they are not only men, but the angels. “ To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known—the manifold wisdom of God." The angels are often called principalities and powers, because of the exalted dignity of their nature. The angels excel in strength and wisdom. Those who are the wise men of the earth are called princes in the style of the apostle, 1 Cor. ii. 6: " Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world.”—Ver. 8, “ Which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” So the angels are called principalities for their great wisdom. They may also be so called for the honor God has put upon them, in employing them as his ministers and instruments, wherewith he governs the
world: and therefore are called thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, Col. i. 16.
They are called principalities and powers in heavenly places, as distinguishing them from those that are in places of earthly power and dignity. The offices or places of dignity and power that the angels sustain, are not earthly, but heavenly. They are in places of honor and power in the heavenly city and the heavenly kingdom.
One end of God in revealing his design or contrivance for redemption, as he hath so fully and gloriously done by Jesus Christ, is that the angels in heaven may behold the glory of his wisdom by it. Though they are such bright intelligences, and do always behold the face of God the Father, and know so much; yet here is matter of instruction for them. Here they may see more of the divine wisdom than ever they had seen before. It was a new discovery of the wisdom of God to them.
The time when this display of the wisdom of God was especially made to the angels is, when Christ introduced the gospel dispensation, implied in those words, " To the intent that now unto the principalities,” &c. When Christ came into the world and died, and actually performed the work of redemptionwhen he had fully and plainly revealed the counsels of God concerning it; and accordingly introduced the evangelical dispensation, and erected the gospel church --then the angels understood more of the mystery of man's redemption, and the manifold designs and counsels of divine wisdom, than ever they had done before.
In the foregoing verse the apostle, after speaking of revealing this wisdom of God to man," and to make all men see, what is the fellowship of this mystery," &c., speaks of this mystery as a thing from the beginning kept hid till now, " The mystery, which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God that now,” &c. In this verse he mentions another end, viz., that he may, at the same time, make the angels also see God's wisdom in his glorious scheme of redemption.—“Now," at this time, implies that it was before a mystery kept hid from them in comparison of what it is now. And here is room enough for the angels to discover more and more to all eternity of the wisdom of God in this work.
Observe the medium by which the angels come by this knowledge, viz., the church.-" That now unto principalities--might be known by the church," i. e., by the things they see done in the church, or towards the church : and by what they see concerning the church. So hath it pleased the sovereign God, that the angels should have the most glorious discoveries of divine wisdom by his doings towards his church, a sort of beings much inferior to themselves. It hath pleased God to put this honor upon us.
The wisdom appearing in the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, is far above the wisdom of the angels. For here it is mentioned as one end of God in revealing the contrivance of our salvation, that the angels thereby might see and know how great and manifold the wisdom of God is; to hold forth the divine wisdom to the angels' view and admiration. But why is it so, if this wisdom be not higher than their own wisdom? It never would have been mentioned as one end of revealing the contrivance of redemption, that the angels might see how mainfold God's wisdom is; if all the wisdom to be seen in it was no greater than their own. It is mentioned as a wisdom such as they had never seen before, not in God, much less in themselves. That now might be known how manifold the wisdom of God is; now, four thousand years since the creation. In all that time the angels had always beheld the face of God; and had
been studying God's works of creation; yet they never, till that day, had seen any thing like that; never knew how manifold God's wisdom is, as now they knew it by the church.
Wonderful things done, by which salvation is procured. Such is the choice of the person chosen to be our redeemer,—the substitu ting of him in our room ;—his incarnation—his life—his death—and exaltation. And,
1. We will consider the choice of the person to be our redeemer. When God designed the redemption of mankind, his great wisdom appears in that he pitched upon his own, his only-begotten Son, to be the person to perform the work. He was a redeemer of God's own choosing, and therefore he is called in Scripture, God's elect, Isa. Ixii. 1. The wisdom of choosing this person to be the redeemer, appears in his being every way a fit person for this undertaking. It was necessary, that the person that is the redeemer, should be a divine person.
None but a divine person was sufficient for this great work. The work is infinitely unequal to any creature. It was requisite, that the redeemer of sinners, should be himself infinitely holy. None could take away the infinite evil of sin, but one that was infinitely far from and contrary to sin himself. Christ is a fit person upon this account.
It was requisite, that the person, in order to be sufficient for this undertaking, should be one of infinite dignity and worthiness, that he might be capable of meriting infinite blessings. The Son of God is a fit person on this account. It was necessary, that he should be a person of infinite power and wisdom ; for this work is so difficult, that it requires such a one. Christ is a fit person also upon this account. It was requisite, that he should be a person infinitely dear to God the Father, in order to give an infinite value to his transactions in the Father's esteem, and that the Father's love to him might balance the offence and provocation by our sins. Christ is a fit person upon this account. Therefore called the beloved, Eph. i. 6. He hath made us accepted in the beloved.
It was requisite that the person should be one that could act in this as of his oun absolute right : one that, in himself, is not a servant or subject; because, if he is one that cannot act of his own right, he cannot merit any thing. He that is a servant, and that can do no more than he is bound to do, cannot merit. And then he that has nothing that is absolutely his own, cannot pay any price to redeem another. Upon this account Christ is a fit person ; and none but a divine person can be fit.-And he must be a person also of infinite mercy and love ; for no other person but such a one would undertake a work so difficult
, for a creature so unworthy as man.—Upon this account also Christ is a fit person. It was requisite that he should be a person of unchangeable perfect truth and faithfulness; otherwise he would not be fit to be depended on by us in so great an affair.
Christ is also a fit person upon this account. The wisdom of God in choosing his eternal Son, appears, not only in that he is a fit person; but in that he was the only fit person of all
persons, whether created or uncreased. No created person, neither man, nor angel
, was fit for this undertaking; for we have just now shown, that he must be a person of infinite holiness-dignity-power-wisdom ; infinitely dear to God-of infinite love and mercy; and one that may act of his own absolute right. But no creature, how excellent soever, has any one of these qualifications. There are three uncreated persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and Christ alone of these
was a suitable person for a redeemer. It was not meet, that the redeemer should be God the Father ; because he, in the divine economy of the persons of the Trinity, was the person that holds the rights of the Godhead, and so was the person offended, whose justice required satisfaction ; and was to be appeased by a mediator. It was not meet it should be the Holy Ghost, for in being mediator between the Father and the saints, he is in some sense so between the Father and the Spirit. The saints, in all their spiritual transactions with God, act by the Spirit; or rather, it is the Spirit of God that acts in them; they are the temples of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit dwelling in them, is their principle of action, in all their transactings with God. But in these their spiritual transactings with God, they act by a mediator. These spiritual and holy exercises cannot be acceptable, or avail any thing with God, as from a fallen creature, but by a mediator. " Therefore Christ, in being mediator between the Father and the saints, may be said to be mediator between the Father and the Holy Spirit, that acts in the saints. And therefore it was meet, that the mediator should not be either the Father or the Spirit, but a middle person between them both. It is the Spirit in the saints, that seeks the blessing of God, by faith and prayer; and, as the apostle says, with groanings that cannot be uttered: Rom. viii. 26, “ Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities : for we know not what we should pray for as we ought : but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us,
that cannot be uttered.” The Spirit in the saints seeks divine blessings of God, by and through a mediator; and therefore that mediator must not be the Spirit, but another person.
It shows a divine wisdom, to know that he was a fit person. No other but one of divine wisdom could have known it. None but one of infinite wisdom could have thought of him to be a redeemer of sinners. For he, as he is God, is one of the persons offended by sin; against whom man by his sin had rebell. ed. Who but God infinitely wise could ever have thought of him to be a re deemer of sinners; against whom they had sinned, to whom they were enemies, and of whom they deserved infinitely ill? Who would ever have thought of him as one that should set his heart upon man, and exercise infinite love and pity to him, and exhibit infinite wisdom, power, and merit in redeeming him? We proceed, 2. To consider the substituting of this person in our room.
After choosing the
person to be our redeemer, the next step of divine wisdom is, to contrive the way how he should perform this work. if God had declared who the person was, that should do this work, and had gone no further ; no creature could have thought which way this person could have performed the work. If God had told them, that his own Son must be the redeemer; and that he alone was
person for the work; and that he was a person every way fit and sufficient for it, but had proposed to them to contrive a way how this fit and sufficient person should proceed,---we may well suppose that all created understandings would have been utterly at a loss.
The first thing necessary to be done, is, that this Son of God should become our representative and surety; and so be substituted in the sinner's room. But who of created intelligences would have thought of any such thing as the eternal and infinitely beloved Son of God being substituted in the room of sinners ? his standing in stead of a sinner, a rebel, an object of the wrath of God? Who would have thought of a person of infinite glory representing sinful worms, that had made themselves by sin infinitely provoking and abominable ?
For, if the Son of God be substituted in the sinner's room, then his sin must be charged upos him : he will thereby take the guilt of the sinner upon hin
* self; he must be subject to the same law that man was, both as to the com
mands, and threatenings : but who would have thought of any such thing concerning the Son of God? But we proceed,
3. To consider the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The next step of divine wisdom in contriving how Christ should perform the work of redeeming sin
ners, was in determining his incarnation. Suppose God had revealed his counid sels thus far to created understandings, that his own Son was the person chosen
for this work, that he had substituted bim in the sinner's room, and appointed e him to take the sinner's obligations and guilt on himself—and had revealed no a more, but had left the rest to them to find out ; it is no way probable, that even 13. then they could ever have thought of a way, whereby this person might actuzally have performed the work of redemption. For if the Son of God be substiy tuled in the sinner's stead, then he takes the sinner's obligations on himself. For 17 instance, he must take the obligation the sinner is under to perform perfect obe
dience to the divine law. But it is not probable, that any creature could have , conceived how that could be possible.—How should a person who is the eternal
Jehovah, become a servant, be under law, and perform obedience even to the x law of man?
And again, if the Son of God be substituted in the sinner's stead, then he comes under the sinner's obligation to suffer the punishment which man's sin deserved. And who could have thought that to be possible ? For how should a divine person, who is essentially, unchangeably, and infinitely happy, suffer pain and torment? And how should he who is the object of God's infinitely dear love, suffer the wrath of his Father? It is not to be supposed, that created wisdom ever would have found out a way how to have got over these difficulties. But divine wisdom hath found out a way, viz., by the incarnation of the Son of God. That the Word should be made flesh, that he might be both God and man, in one person : what created understanding could have conceived that such a thing was possible? Yet these things could never be proved to be impossible. This distinction duly considered will show the futility of many Socinian objections.
And if God had revealed to them, that it was possible, and even that it should be, but left them to find out how it should be; we may well suppose that they would all have been puzzled and confounded, to conceive of a way for so uniting a man to the eternal Son of God, that they should be but one person ;
who is truly a man in all respects, should indeed be the very same Son of God, that was with God from all eternity. This is a great mystery to us. Hereby, a person that is infinite, omnipotent, and unchangeable, is become, in a sense, a finite, a feeble man; a man subject to our sinless infirmities, passions, and calamities! The great God, the sovereign of heaven and earth, is thus become a worm of the dust. Psal. xxii. 6, “I am a worm, and no man.” He that is eternal and self-existent, is by this union born of a woman! He who is the great original Spirit, is clothed with flesh and blood like one of us! He who is independent, self-sufficient, and all-sufficient, now is come to stand in need of food and clothing: he becomes poor," has not where to lay his head;"-stands in need of the charity of men; and is maintained by it! It is far above us, to conceive how it is done. It is a great wonder and mystery to us; but it was no mystery to divine wisdom.
4. The next thing to be considered is, the life of Christ in this world. The wisdom of God appears in the circumstances of his life--and in the work and business of his life.
(1.) The circumstances of his life. If God had revealed that his own Son VOL. IV.