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THE HUMILIATION OF CHRIST.
ACTS 2; 33.-Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalled, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.
On the memorable day when this text was uttered, the church experienced a revival of religion. The multitude had listened to him, who spake as never man spake; yet they were unmoved. An eventful stillness had succeeded the eventful scenes of the crucifixion. The disciples were first scattered and perplexed, then assembled with one accord in one place, and engaged in prayer,-"that prayer which opens heaven." So it proved. Eminent displays of God's power soon appeared among the disciples. This was noised abroad, and soon brought together a great multitude, to whom Peter preached the Gospel.
Then it was the Gospel was attended with "the demonstration of the Spirit and of power." The multitude, who just now mocked, were pricked in the heart, and called on Peter and the other apostles to guide them. That was a great day for the church, a day when sinners were made to feel, when the stupidity by which the heart is usually kept from the free and full access of the Gospel, had fled, and all was eye, all ear, all anxiety.
The Apostle, in his preaching, ascribes these wonderful displays of power in the physical, intellectual, and moral revolutions there effected, to Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Jews had crucified, but whom the apostles now declared to be the Son of God, the true Messiah, the Maker of worlds, the only hope and Saviour of men. These positions he proved to the Jews by the most unequivocal evidences, drawn from their own Scriptures, and finally from his resurrection, of which the apostles themselves, and a great many others, were witnesses.
"Therefore," said he, "being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear."
Much of the plan of redemption is distinctly comprised in this single sentence. We are led to consider in this text the HUMILIATION of Christ, his EXALTATION, and the TRINITY EMPLOYED in the work of man's salvation.
THE HUMILIATION OF CHRIST distinctly set forth in the discourse of Peter, is more than implied in the text itself; for when it is said, he is exalted, we cannot comprehend the term except as we contrast it with humiliation, or a state inferior to that he now is declared to occupy.
VOL. X.-No. 6.
The humiliation of Christ, which we propose to consider in this discourse, may be embraced under three inquiries. I. In what does it consist?
II. What was its object?
III. What is its influence?
I. What was the humiliation of Christ? Not the act of humility, which becomes a sinner; for he knew no sin, and therefore could never have that sense of guilt, which prompts to humility. But it was a descent from greatness, a stooping from dignity, which may consist with the greatest purity, as it is often the exhibition of the most disinterested benevolence.
From what, then, did the Savior stoop? Here we are brought directly to inquire what he is. Who and what is Christ? In answer to this question let the Scriptures speak; for the voice of inspiration alone is competent. Isaiah, in prophetic vision, calls him "the mighty God, the everlasting Father." The same prophet also said, "his name shall be called Immanuel," which is, being interpreted, God with us. John says, the Word was God," and Christ was the Word. Paul says, "Christ is over all, God blessed for ever." And in another place, "he thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Again, "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." And again, "God was manifest in the flesh." Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." In John's Gospel, it is said, "all things were made by Him." And in Hebrews, "he that made all things is God." In John's Epistle it is said, "hereby perceive we the love of GOD, because He laid down his life for us."
On this point it is not now my design to multiply all possible proof, but merely to assert the supreme claims of Christ to divine honors, in order to illustrate another point-the humiliation of Christ in executing his of fice of Mediator. It is this Being, thus exalted, and clothed with supreme majesty, "who was found in fashion as a man, and took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Yes, it is the same Being, who made the worlds; who said, "Let there be light, and there was light;" who fashioned man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; who created the human soul. It is the same who, eighteen hundred years ago, in our assumed nature, suffered under Pontius Pilate the ignominious death of the cross, who gave his back to the smiter, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and hid not his face from shame and spitting."
Here is humiliation indeed, descent from dignity, and submission to unmerited pains. Oh, that we might estimate it more fully, and be more suitably affected by the truth as it is in Jesus. But it is impossible for us to see what Christ has done, until we have a correct view of his character. We can never perceive his true humiliation, until we measure the distance he has stooped-till we go up to heaven and down to hell. Yet standing where we do, with the inspired Scriptures to help our survey, we may see wonders, which philosophy never taught, which the light of nature never revealed, what no unassisted eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived. On the cross, where Jesus of Nazareth was nailed, and poured out his life-blood, we behold the Maker of worlds, the Sovereign of the universe, the Former of our bodies, the Author of our spirits. Do you know of any deeper humiliation than this? Can you conceive of any greater disparity of circumstances?
Here is a place, to which we should tread softly and frequently. Here we ought to linger ånd meditate, for the survey is full of instruction. Christian brethren, are you familiar with this ground? Have you been often here? Have you often, in your pious contemplations, trodden the heights of Calvary, and considered the wonderful display, which the scene of the crucifixion exhibited? God comes down to men, converses with them, does them good; and in return is despised, rejected, maltreated and crucified. Is this real? Then it is marvellous, and the mind is soon lost amid the varied scenes of wonder, love and praise displayed in it. It was done in a manner and recorded in a style peculiarly calculated to excite attention. Let the mind return from every other object to dwell upon it; for no beings are so deeply interested in the event as we are. This will appear more manifest in the consideration of the second question proposed.
II. What was the object of this humiliation? When God had made the world, and fitted it up for the accommodation of man, he created a holy race to inhabit it. They abused his mercies, lost their love for their Benefactor, and wandered away from him. So that, when the Lord looked down from heaven to see if there were any that did understand, it is testified-"they have all gone out of the way, there is none that doeth good, no, not one "
It is after this rebel race that Christ is reaching. He came from heaven to seek and save the lost. For this, he took our nature, endured and suffered long, and when he found the immutable law standing in the way of our salvation, he fulfilled it, and answered its demands on us by the vicarious sacrifice of himself. He can be deterred from his benevolent purpose, neither by the rejection of sinners against himself, nor by the contumely they poured upon him, nor by the penalties of the holy and irreversible law. He meekly endured all, and returns in triumph from the grave, to effect and show forth a new and more glorious creation than that, which first produced the material and intelligent universe.
'The object embraced in the mission of Christ is expressed in a single declaration of the Apostle-" He came into the world to save sinners." To save sinners! This was his object, his enterprise on earth. How great, in this view, appears the condescension of God, when he thus stoops from his throne to save his enemies! What are we that the Lord should thus regard us, even more than we regard ourselves? We are brands snatched from the burning, worms rescued from corruption, and clothed with dignity and glory-and this has been done in disinterested benevolence; for, "though man were not, heaven would not want spectators, nor God want praise." God does not need us. Had sentence been passed on us without mercy, we should never have been missed from our present places, nor any places we may hereafter occupy. Heaven would still have been happy; God would have been glorified. Poor are we as sinners, and worthless. We say to corruption, thou art our mother, and soon find our habitation with the worm. Yet to effect our salvation, it was necessary the penalty of the law should be met; and to remove this difficulty in the way of pardon, the Savior consented to receive the expression of divine wrath upon himself. His humiliation was necessary to the work he undertook, and the object was accomplished in his sufferings and death.
My brethren, are you familiar with the object, for which the Son of
God came into the world? It is an object, in which you are deeply interested. His eye was upon you. His benevolence reached after sinners that were lost. He surveyed the wide-spread desolation, the utter ruin which every where marked our world, and he came for its salvation. Objects of personal interest ordinarily secure attention. That which is here presented, transcendently surpasses every other; and what hold does it take on your affections? Are your feelings here alive? Are you sensible and sensitive to the fact, that in the humiliation of Christ, the purchase of these privileges, the services of this house, the revelations of this Book, were contemplated and provided?
III. The influence of this humiliation, therefore, or the effect of it, is, 1. The removal of all insuperable objections to the sinner's salvation. The remark is sometimes made, that God in the exercise of infinite power, could do as he pleases, and therefore could pardon sin without an atonement. But he cannot deny himself. He has made a law, and shall he not keep it? Where is his truth, his dignity, his immutability? He must execute that law. We can easily see that the maintenance of the divine government required that notice should be taken of sin. What shall be done? The sinner himself is unmoved. He is in rebellion. He cares not for the consequences. Shall he be left to those consequences? The benevolence of God forbids it. Shall he be saved? The justice of God forbids it. What remains then, but to devise a plan, in which both the benevolence and justice of God shall be exhibited and illustrated? This is done while the penalty is sustained by Christ, and the claims of the violated law are thereby averted from the guilty.
2. A second effect of this humiliation of Christ, is the exhibition of the divine attributes in a manner and to a degree they would never otherwise have been seen. Many of the attributes of God were indeed displayed in the work of creation, such as his wisdom in planning, power in executing, &c. But his truth and mercy and justice were but faintly seen. Those perfections, which most endear him to his creatures, have here an eminent illustration. Whatever contributes to display the divine perfections, serves one purpose of direct benevolence under the government of God. In the development of divine perfections consequent on the fall, the mind is furnished with additional sources of happiness, and new motives to love and obedience. This result could have no influence to make the fall of man in itself a desirable event, but may very justly be contemplated with interest, as an eminent effect of the humiliation of Christ. In the work of redemption is displayed a plan and exhibited attributes of character, which will be the subject of increasing admiration with men and angels through eternity; for as age accumulates upon age to heighten and enlarge the joys of the saints in glory, their love to God as the Author of these joys must also strengthen and increase.
3 The humiliation of Christ furnishes a subject peculiarly calculated to affect and soften the heart. Here is not only favor extended and grace dispensed, but personal suffering; individual, vicarious sacrifice comes between the guilty and his merited punishment. The mind is led to a scene of deep suffering, and compelled to dwell on what excites its sympathies and commiseration. I say then, the manner in which Christ has come down to us on the cross, is directly calculated to soften the heart, and to produce a lively and tender state of feeling and affection. All the severe features of a Sovereign are laid by, when God comes down to us in
the Mediator. He comes to plead, to ask us to accept a favor, to return to him. The justice of God is indeed rolling on its floods, and presenting its terrors to the guilty soul. But they are resisted and stayed at the cross of Christ, on whom they blacken and break with violence, while he still turns to the sinner, and with agonies, and tears, and smiles, calls on his heart to relent, on his penitence to flow, on his love to burn. The heart that is not past feeling, must here be tried. There is no alternative. Its attention must be diverted, or it yields to the force of a divine influence. It cannot dwell at Golgotha, and look steadily at the cross of Christ, without breaking and bursting.
4. In the humiliation of Christ, God's hatred of sin is eminently displayed. How absolute and unchangeable, that it could not even spare the only Son! If so, then think you that God will spare the sinner, who rolls sin as a sweet morsel under his tongue? Think you that he will justify it in those who remain relentless, while pardon is offered on the only possible conditions?
Where is the hateful nature of sin so eminently displayed as at the cross of Christ? Where can its dreadful effects be more clearly seen ? It has gone, when forbid by infinite mercy to wreak its consequences on man, it has gone in pursuit of a victim even to heaven, and invaded the throne of God; and rather than it should destroy for ever this fair portion of the moral universe, it has been permitted to spend its force and display its power on the Son of God!
5. In this event, God has shown his exceeding great love to man. When the thunder was about to break on his guilty head, Christ interposed and received the stroke. He survived, and brought up mercy from that grave where he had paid the sinner's debt. Instead of the lightning's wrath, we now feel the Savior's love. Instead of the thunder's roar, it is the voice of mercy. How matchless, how unparalleled the mercy God! "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend, but God hath commended his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
6. In the humiliation of Christ, we have an example for imitation. The greatest obstacle to the enjoyment of pardon and divine favor, is the pride of the sinner's heart. Little haughty ignorance in man is ever imperious in her demands, and unlimited in her claims. The pride of superiority is ever seeking in the heart of the aspiring sinner, a place which does not belong to him, and which he is ill calculated to fill. In the example of the Savior, this pride is rebuked. How great his condescension! How humble his walk! How far he came, and laid his glory by, to perform the work of man's redemption! As he humbled himself to exalt us, while we were yet sinners and enemies, may we learn to be humble in the enjoyment of those distinctions which were his purchase and gift. What a reproof to the pride of the human heart is the example of Christ! May we, by contemplating him, learn to practise that spirit of forbearance, condescension, and love, which shall exclude "envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, and perverse disputings," from the church, and to practise that self-denial and self-sacrifice which may make us efficient in every good work to do his will.
7. The effect of Christ's humiliation is to deepen our impression of the grace of God. Grace is the more dear to those who experience it, and rises in value in proportion to the expense at which it is extended, and