Chapter 2

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In the history of flesh and blood, given to us in Scripture, we learn that by sin came death. To all, as headed or represented in Adam, it was this: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:1717But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:17)). Touching, however, the promised Seed of the woman, who was not thus represented, it was said to the serpent, “Thou shalt bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:1515And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15)). The death of this Seed was thus to be as peculiar as His birth. He was, in birth, to be the woman’s Seed; in death, He was to have His heel bruised. In the fullness of time, this promised One was “made of a woman.” The Son of God, the Sanctifier, took part of flesh and blood; He became “that holy thing” (Luke 1:3535And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)).
Had death, I ask, any title? None whatever. Whatever title the everlasting covenant had on His heel, death had none on His flesh and blood. In this blessed One, if I may so express it, there was a capability of meeting the divine purpose, that His heel should be bruised; but there was no exposure to death in anywise.
Under the covenant, under this divine purpose, at His own divine pleasure, He had surrendered Himself, saying, “Lo, I come” (Heb. 10:77Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:7)). For the great ends of God’s glory and the sinner’s peace, He had taken “the form of a servant” (Php. 2:7) And, accordingly, in due time, He was made “in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:8) and being found in that “fashion,” He went on in a course of self-humbling, even to “the death of the cross”* (Phil. 2).
(* Had He not been equal with God, He could not have done this; because every creature, every one less than God, is already a servant to his Creator. One Jew might be a voluntary servant to another Jew—a servant with a bored ear (Exod. 21.) —but no creature could be a voluntary servant to God, inasmuch as all creatures are already bound servants to Him by reason of the relationship of Creator and creature.)
In such a course, we see Him through life. He hides His glory, “the form of God” under this “form of a Servant.” He did not seek honor from men. He honored the Father that had sent Him, and not Himself. He would not make Himself known. He would not show Himself to the world. Thus we read of Him, and all this belonged to the “form” He had taken, and gets its perfect illustration in the histories or narratives of the Gospels.
Under the form of a tributary, He hid the form of the Lord of the fullness of the earth and sea. He was asked for tribute; at least Peter was asked if his Master did not pay it. The Lord declares His freedom; but, lest He should offend, He pays the custom for Peter and Himself. But who, all the while was this? None less than He of whom it had been written, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:11<<A Psalm of David.>> The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)). For He commands a fish from the sea to bring Him that very piece of money, which He then passed over to the receivers (Matt. 17).
What an instance of the precious mystery that He who was “in the form of God,” and “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,”—using thus the treasures of the deep, and commanding the creatures of God’s hand as all His own—took on Him “the form of a servant!” What glory breaks through the cloud in that passing and trivial occurrence! It was all between the Lord and Peter; but it was a manifestation of “the form of God” from beneath “the form of a servant,” or of a subject to the power (Rom. 13:11Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. (Romans 13:1)). The fullness of the earth was tributary to Him at the moment when He was consenting to pay tribute to others. As, on another occasion, the unnoticed guest at the marriage-feast spread the feast, not merely as though He had been “the bridegroom,” but as the very Creator of all that furnished it. There again He “manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him” (John 2:1111This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. (John 2:11)).
So again we read of Him, He would not strive, nor cry, nor lift up His voice in the street. He would not break the bruised reed, but rather withdraw Himself. And all this because He had taken “the form of a servant.” And accordingly, on that very occasion, the scripture is quoted, “Behold My Servant, whom I have chosen” (Matt. 12:1818Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles. (Matthew 12:18)).
Very significant of His way, all this was. Show us a sign from heaven, was another temptation to Him to exalt Himself (Matt. 16). The Pharisees then tried Him, as the devil tried Him when he would have Him cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; and as the kinsfolk were doing when they said, “Show Thyself to the world” (John 7). But what said the perfect Servant? No sign should be given but that of Jonas—a sign of humiliation, a sign that the world and the prince of the world were apparently to get advantage over Him for a moment, instead of such a sign as would awe and silence the world into subjection to Him.
Excellent, indeed, are these traces of God’s perfect Servant. David and Paul, standing, as it were, on either side of Him, like Moses and Elias on the holy hill, reflect this Servant thus hiding of Himself, as a well-known tract has told us. David slew the lion and the bear, and Paul was caught up to the third heaven; but neither of them spoke of those things. And lovely reflections of the perfect Servant such actings were. But they and all like them, which we may find in Scripture or among the saints, are more distant from the great Original than we have measures to measure. He hid “the form of God” under “the form of a servant.” Jesus was the strength of David when he killed the lion and the bear; and He was the Lord of that heaven to which Paul was caught up; but He lay under the form of one who had “not where to lay His head” (Matt. 8:2020And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20)).
So on the top of “the holy hill,” in the sight of His elect, for a passing moment He was the “Lord of glory”; at the foot of it, He was “Jesus only,” charging them not to tell the vision to any till the Son of Man were risen from the dead (Matt. 17).
Observe Him again in the vessel on the lake during the storm. He was there as a tired laboring man whose sleep was sweet. Such was His manifested form. But underneath lay “the form of God.” He arose, and as the Lord who gathers the wind in His fists and binds the waters in a garment, He rebuked the sea into a calm (Prov. 30:44Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell? (Proverbs 30:4); Mark 4:3939And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39)).
It is in the full and varied glories of the Jehovah of Israel that Jesus passes at times before us. In other days, the God of Israel had commanded the creatures of the great deep, and “a great fish” was prepared to swallow up Jonah, and give him a burying-place for the appointed time. And so, in His day, Jesus approved Himself the Lord of the fullness of “this great and wide sea,” summoning a host of the “small beasts,” thereof into the net of Peter (Psa. 104; Luke 5). “Both small and great beasts,” that find their pastime therein, thus in earlier and later days, owned the word of Jehovah-Jesus.
So, the God of Israel, as the Lord of the fullness of the earth as well as of the sea, would use the dumb ass to rebuke the madness of the prophet. But more in character than even that, when the ark had to be brought home from the land of the Philistines, the God of Israel controlled nature, forcing the kine that were yoked to the cart on which the ark was placed, to take the right and ready road to Beth-shemesh, on the borders of Israel, though this journey was taken by them under the strong resistance of all the instincts of nature (1 Sam. 6.).
The Lord Jesus acted afterward in the very striking assertion of this same glory and power of the God of Israel. For in His day, He, the True Ark, had to be borne homeward. In the progress of His history, the moment came when He needed, like the ark in the days of Samuel, to be borne from the place where He was. He had to visit Jerusalem in His glory. It was needful that, as King of Zion, He should enter the royal city; and He gets the ass and the colt, the foal of an ass, to do that service for Him. And He does this in all the conscious dignity and rights of the Lord of the fullness of the earth. The owners of the beast had to listen to this claim; “The Lord hath need of him;” and, contrary to nature, opposed to all that the heart of man would have stood for and pleaded, “straightway” they sent him (Mark 11; Luke 19).
Thus again was Jesus shining in the characteristic glory of the God of Israel. The veil may have been very thick, and so it was. It was no other than that of Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, the carpenter’s son (Matt. 13:5555Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? (Matthew 13:55); Mark 6:33Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. (Mark 6:3)). The cloud that covered was heavy indeed; the glory that was under it was infinite. It was the full Jehovah-glory; and no ray of all the divine brightness would refuse to assert and express it. He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” though He “made Himself of no reputation” (Phil. 2:6-76Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (Philippians 2:6‑7)). Faith understands this veiled glory, and affection guards it as with a wall of fire. “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in His fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” (Prov. 30).
We will not attempt to tell it; but, like Moses, while Jesus passes by, we will learn to bow our head to the earth, and worship (Ex. 34).
What instances are these in which Scripture teaches us to trace “the form of a servant” hiding “the form of God.” But so also, I am bold to say, of this same character and meaning, are those cases in which He appears to be sheltering Himself from danger or securing His life. And a delightful task it should ever be to the soul to discover thus His beauty and His glory, which lie hidden from the eye of man. But many of us, who would not for worlds sully that glory, may still be unapt in apprehending it and often mistake the way of it or the form which it takes.
The Son of God came into the world, the very contradiction of him who is still to come, and after whom, as we read, the whole world is to wonder. As He Himself says, “I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive” (John 5:4343I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. (John 5:43)). And, in accordance with this, if His life is threatened, He does not at once become a wonder in the eyes of the world, but the very opposite. He makes Himself of no reputation. He would be nothing and nobody. He refuses altogether to be a wonder in the sight of men—the great and glorious contradiction of him whose deadly wound is to be healed, so that the whole world may wonder and worship, whose image is to live and to be made to speak, that all, both small and great, may take his name in their foreheads (Rev. 13).
The Son of God was the very contradiction of all this. He came in His Father’s name, and not in His own. He had life in Himself. He was equal with Him of whom it is written, “Who only hath immortality”; but He hid that brightness of the divine glory under the form of one who appeared to shelter His life by the most ordinary and despised methods. Blessed to tell it, had we but worshiping hearts! The other who is to come “in his own name” by-and-by, may receive a deadly wound by a sword, and yet live, that the world may wonder; but the Son of God will flee into Egypt.
Are we so far wanting in spiritual apprehension that we cannot perceive this? Is the sight of the glory thus hidden to be indeed forced upon us? If we need that, the Lord even so far bears with us and gives it to us. For under this veil there lay a glory which, had it pleased, might, like the flames of the Chaldean furnace, have destroyed its enemies at once. For at the last, when the hour had come and the powers of darkness were to have “their hour,” the servants of those powers, in the presence of this glory, “went backward, and fell to the ground”; teaching us that Jesus was entirely a willing captive then, as afterward He was a willing victim.*
(* When I remember who He was, the woman’s Seed, the Son of God, God manifest in the flesh; when I remember also that death, come he in what shape he may, had no title against Him, I can have no other thought. Considered in the flesh and blood which He took, death had no title, because there was no sin there: considered in His full Person, death could not touch Him, save as He voluntarily met it under the everlasting covenant. So that the soul fully refuses the thought of His saving His life in the ordinary sense of these words.)
In connection with this, look at Him on the occasion to which I have already referred in Matthew 12. Did the Lord, I ask, fear at that moment the anger of the Pharisees and feel as one that must provide for the safety of His life? That cannot be my thought. He was taking one suited and consistent stage in His beautiful and precious path as a servant, going on, not to get Himself a name of honor in the world, but such a name (through humiliation and death), as that the Gentiles might trust in it and sinners be saved through the faith of it.
Look at Him for another moment, when the sword of Herod a second time threatened (Luke 13). How did the Lord rise before it or above it? In the consciousness of this: that, let the king be as crafty as he may, let him add subtlety to force, He Himself must and would walk His appointed journey and do His appointed work and then be perfected; and His perfection, as He there speaks, was to come, as we know, not by any prevailing of Herod or of the Jews over Him, but by His surrender of Himself to be made the Captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings. And on the same occasion, He recognizes this: that, though as a Prophet He may have to die at Jerusalem, it is that Jerusalem may fill up the measure of her sins; for that He, all the while, was Jerusalem’s God who throughout ages of patient love had borne with her, and pleaded with her, and would soon in judgment leave her desolate (Luke 13:31-3531The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. 32And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. 33Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. 34O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! 35Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Luke 13:31‑35)).
Again I say, what glories are hidden here under the lowly form of One who was threatened with the anger of a king and had to meet the scorn and enmity of his people!
But I may refer to one or two cases still more marked than these. Look at one in the earliest time of His ministry, in His own city. There the same great principle is exhibited; for the hill of Nazareth is, in my sight, not a place of danger to the life of Jesus, but just what the pinnacle of the temple had been (Luke 4:9,299And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: (Luke 4:9)
29And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. (Luke 4:29)
). The devil had no thought of the Lord’s death at the bottom of the pinnacle; none whatever. He tempted Him —as he had tempted the woman in the garden—to magnify Himself, to make Himself, if I may so speak, as the devil had said to Eve, to be as God. He sought to corrupt the sources in Christ, as he had corrupted them in Adam, and to get “the pride of life” in as one of the master-springs. But Jesus kept “the form of a servant.” He would not cast Himself down, but obediently remembered, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
So at the hill of Nazareth, that hill was not higher than the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus was in no more danger at the one spot than at the other. He would have been as entirely unhurt at the foot of the hill as at the bottom of the pinnacle. But how then should the Scripture be fulfilled, that He came not to honor Himself? He, therefore, “passing through the midst of them, went His way.” He retired unnoticed and unknown, fulfilling His form as a servant and manifesting His grace in the thoughts of His saints.
We dare not speak of such things as being done to save His life. The thought is contrary to the glory of His person, God manifest in the flesh. Jesus was again and again, in the days of His flesh, refreshed in spirit when faith discovered His glory under the veil. When the Son of David, or the Son of God, or the Lord of Israel, or the Creator of the world, was known to faith under the form of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus rejoiced in spirit. And so now we may say at this time, when the form of a servant is afresh presented to our thoughts, He will joy in the saints’ discovering the glory under the cloud.
The “flight,” as we may call it, into Egypt in earlier days, the days of the “young Child” of Bethlehem, is a very peculiar and beautiful incident. We may remember, that in the time of Moses, Israel in that land was like a bush in the midst of fire; but because of the sympathy and presence of the God of their fathers, the bush was unconsumed. Jehovah was above Pharaoh; and when Pharaoh would have destroyed the people, Jehovah preserved them and caused them to multiply in the very heart of Pharaoh’s land. And this was done, “not by might, nor by power”; for Israel was there no better than a bush, a bramble-bush which a spark might have consumed. But the Son of God was in the bush. That was the secret. He was with Israel in Egypt, as afterward He was in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego; and the smell of fire, though the bush was burning and the furnace was heated seven fold more than was wont, did not pass on them.
A “great sight,” so that Moses turned aside to look at it. And we may still, in the spirit of Moses, turn aside and visit the same spot. We may read Exodus 1-15, and then look again at this strange sight, why the bush was on fire and the bush was not burnt; how the poor bramble of Israel was kept in the midst of the Egyptian furnace unhurt, because of the presence of the Son of God.
Let the fire be heated again and again, it never prevails. And how at the last does Israel leave Egypt? Just as the three children afterward left the furnace in triumph, which Nebuchadnezzar had heated, with nothing burnt but the bands which bound them. Pharaoh and the Egyptian host perish in the Red Sea, but Israel goes out under the banner of the Lord.
But was Israel in Egypt, with the sympathies of the Son of God, more secure than Jesus, “God manifest in flesh”? Shall the Israelitish bush be proof against the strength of the Egyptian fires, and shall not the lowly flesh of Jesus, though in the full enmity of man, the hatred of the king, the envy of the scribes, and the rage of the multitude, be unassailable when God Himself is manifested in that flesh? The full mystery of the burning and unconsumed bush lies in that. Israel could not suffer beyond divine appointment, because of the sympathies of the Son of God; Jesus could not be touched beyond His pleasure, because of the incarnation of the Son of God.
“Out of Egypt have I called My Son,” was true of Jesus as of Israel. Both Jesus and Israel, in their day, were burning, unconsumed bushes; weak things, to all appearance and in the judgment of men, but unassailable. Both may know their sorrows in this Egyptian world, but life is unreached; Israel from the sympathies they enjoyed, Jesus because of the Person that He was.
Was it, then, to save His life that “the young Child” was carried into Egypt? Did Israel of old leave Egypt to save their lives? Did Shadrach and his companions leave the Chaldean furnace to save their lives? Israel’s life was as safe in Egypt as out of it. The Jewish children were as little hurt by fire in the furnace as out of it. Israel left Egypt to witness the glory of Jehovah their Saviour; and so did Israel’s children the Chaldean fires. In like manner, and for the like end, “the young Child” was taken from Judaea, from the wrath of Herod the king. The Son of God had taken the form of a servant. He had not come in His own name, but in His Father’s. He had emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation, and in the fulfilling of that form He began His course while yet but a “young Child”; and He was, among other humiliations, obedient even to a flight into Egypt, as though to save His life from the wrath of the king, for the glory of Him who had sent Him.
We must watch indeed against taking these instances of His perfect servant-form, and using them to the depreciation of His person. He was unassailable. Till His hour came and He was ready to surrender Himself, captains and their fifties again and again would fail ere they could reach Him; but rather than this, He would again and again “humble Himself,” going into “Egypt” on one occasion and into “another village” on another, the scorned, rejected Son of Man.
Shall we treat this mystery of the subjection, the voluntary subjection of the Son of God, with a careless mind? Shall we draw aside the veil irreverently? And yet, if these instances to which I have referred, and others kindred with them, be cited to prove the mortal condition of the flesh and blood which the Lord took, we do draw aside the veil with an irreverent and unskillful hand. Yes, and with more than that. We do Him double wrong. We depreciate His person through acts which manifest His boundless grace and love to us and His devoted subjection to God.
And yet it is now said, that nature or violence or accident would have prevailed over the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus, to cause death as with us. But does not such a thought, I ask, connect the Lord Jesus Christ with sin? It may be said that it is not meant to do so. That may be, but is it not really so? Does it not link the Lord with sin, inasmuch as in the inspired history of flesh and blood—and we are to be wise only according to what is there written—death attaches to it only through sin?
If flesh and blood in His person were liable to die, or by its own nature and condition capable of dying (save by His gracious surrender of Himself), is it not therefore connected with sin? And if so, is Christ before the soul? This suggestion treats Him as one exposed to death. It takes such knowledge of Him as leaves Him liable to die in a way which He could never have taken up in the fulfilling of His form as a servant. And beyond what He took up in that character, He was liable to nothing.
There is, indeed, something in this suggestion to make one fear that “the gates of hell” are again attempting the “Rock” of the Church, the person of the Son of God. And if it be vindicated on this plea, that it is designed only to illustrate the Lord’s true humanity, the vindication itself becomes matter of increased suspicion. For I ask, is it mere humanity I get in the person of Christ? Is it not something immeasurably different, even “God manifest in the flesh”? He would not, as a Saviour, do for me, a sinner, if He were not Jehovah’s Fellow. Every creature owes all that he can render. None but One who thinks it not robbery to be equal with God can take “the form of a servant”; for He is a servant already, as I have said before. No creature can supererogate, as another has said; the thought would be rebellion. None could be qualified to stand surety for man, but One who could, without presumption, claim equality with God and consequently be independent.
True humanity was capable of sinning. Adam in the garden was so, for he did sin. We may say, more simply and certainly, that he was capable of sinning than that he was capable of dying. The history shows us the first, but forbids us to determine the second; inasmuch as it tells us that death came in by sin. By nature there was a capability of sinning, but we are not told the same as to a capability of dying.
If then, by and by, another were to come, and, just to illustrate, as he might say, the true humanity of Christ were to suggest the capability or possibility of His sinning, I ask, what would the soul say to him? We may leave the answer to those who know Christ. But at the same time, we may be sure of this—that the devil is in all these attempts upon the “Rock” of the Church, which is the person of the Son of God (Matt. 16:1818And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)). For His work, His testimony, His sorrows, His death itself, would be absolutely nothing to us, if He were not God. His person sustains His sacrifice, and in that way, His person is our Rock. It was a confession to His person, by one who was at that time ignorant of His work or sacrifice, which led the Son of God to speak of the “Rock” on which the church was to be built, and also to recognize that truth or mystery against which “the gates of hell,” the strength and subtlety of Satan, were to try their utmost again and again.
And they have been thus engaged from the beginning, and are still so. By Arians and Socinians, the full glory of “God manifest in flesh” was clouded long ago with either a deeper or a more specious falsehood. Lately, the moral nature of the Man Christ Jesus, “over all, God blessed forever,” was assailed in Irvingism, and it was blotted and tainted as far as that evil thought could reach. Still more lately, the relationships to God in which Jesus stood, and the experiences of the soul in which Jesus was exercised, have been the unholy traffic of the human intellect; and now His flesh and blood, the “temple” of His body, has been profaned.
But one can trace a kindred purpose in all, the depreciation of the Son of God. And whence comes this? And whence comes the very opposite and contradictory energy? What is the Father occupied with or jealous about, if it be not the glory of the Son, in resistance of all that would depreciate Him, be it gross or subtle? Read, beloved, the Lord’s discourse to the Jews in John 5. There that secret is disclosed, that though the Son has humbled Himself, and can, as He says, “do nothing of Himself,” the Father will see to it that He be not thereby dishonored or in anywise depreciated; watching over the rights, the full divine rights of the Son, by this most careful and jealous decree; “He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him” (John 5:2323That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent him. (John 5:23)).
Patience in teaching, patience with the simply ignorant, is surely the divine way, the way of the gracious Spirit. The Lord exercised that way Himself: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip?” But no allowance of any depreciation of Christ is also the divine way. John’s writings prove this to us—the most awful portion of the oracles of God, as well as being so peculiar and precious, because they so concern the personal glory of the Son. And they seem to me to show but little, if any, mercy to those who would sully that glory or carelessly watch over and around it.
And let me add other facts in the history of the blessed Lord, such as hunger and thirst and weariness, are not to be used as the least warrant for this thought about the mortality of His flesh and blood. The Son of God in flesh was exposed to nothing. Nothing outside the garden of Eden was His portion. He was hungry and wearied at the well of Samaria. He slept in the ship after a day of fatiguing service. But whatever of all this He knew in the place of thorns and thistles and sorrow and sweat of face, He knew it all and took it all, only as fulfilling that “form of a servant,” which in unspeakable grace He had assumed.
The “Man of sorrows” may be addressed on one occasion as though He appeared to be nearly 50 years old (John 8:5757Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? (John 8:57)). But I am to know, from that, only how He had borne sorrows and services for our blessing and the Father’s glory. In such features, I am to read Him whose “visage was so marred more than any man,” because of His endurings for us and the contradiction of sinners against Him; and not because of the decaying tendencies of natural old age in the smallest measure of them, as though such tendencies by any possibility could attach to Him.
Strange, it may seem to reason, but what we read touching this is perfect in the esteem of faith: “No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father” (John 10:1818No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:18)). He was free and yet under commandment. Again I admit, this is all strange to reasonings and unbelief, but perfect in the judgment of faith.
The Son of God died on the tree where the wicked hand of man had nailed Him and the eternal purpose and grace of God had appointed Him. There He died, and died because He was there. The Lamb was slain. Who would think of gainsaying such a thought? Wicked hands murdered Him, and God provided Him as His own Lamb for the altar. Who would touch for a moment so needed and precious a mystery? And yet the Lamb gave up His own life. No exhaustion under suffering and no pressure of the cross led Him to the death; but His life He yielded of Himself. In token of being in full possession of that which He was rendering up, “He cried with a loud voice,” and then “gave up the ghost.” The history of the moment admits of no other thought; and, I will add, neither should the worshipping affections of the saints. Pilate marveled that He was dead already; he would not believe it; he had to satisfy himself of it. No time had passed on the cross sufficient to extort the life, so that the legs of the others had to be broken. But He was dead already, and Pilate must make inquiry and call for the witness, ere he would believe it.
The thought we claim is thus the only interpreter of the strict, literal history of the fact. And our souls, had we grace, would bless God for such a picture of His slain Lamb, and of our crucified, dying, killed, and murdered Savior. Do we blot out the record that He was the slain Lamb or silence the song in heaven which celebrates that mystery, when we say that His life the slain Lamb rendered up Himself? The history of Calvary, which the Holy Spirit has written, sustains this thought; and again we say, what we claim is the only interpreter of the strict history of the fact. He was free and yet under commandment. Faith understands it all. And according to this mystery, when the hour had come, as we read, “He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:3030When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. (John 19:30)). He owned the commandment which He had received, and yet of Himself yielded up His life. He was obedient unto death and yet laid down His life as of Himself.
Faith understands all this without difficulty; yea, understands that herein alone lies the true and perfect mystery. He died under covenant counsels, to which He willingly yielded, being the “Fellow” of the Lord of hosts.
But, as we have already said to His praise, the Son of God on earth was ever hiding His glory, “the form of God,” as we have been seeing, under “the form of a servant.” His glory had been owned in all parts of the dominions of God. Devils owned it, the bodies and the souls of men owned it, death and the grave owned it, the beasts of the field and the fish of the sea owned it, winds and waves owned it, and so did the corn and the wine. I may say that He Himself was the only One who did not own or assume it; for His way was to veil it. He was “Lord of the harvest,” but appeared as one of the laborers in the field; He was the God of the temple and the Lord of the Sabbath, but submitted to the challenges of an unbelieving world (Matt. 9:1212But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. (Matthew 9:12)).
Such was the veil or the cloud under which He thus again and again causes the glory to retire. And so in entire fellowship with all this, as we have already said, did He carry Himself on those occasions when His life was threatened. Under despised forms, He hid His glory again. At times, the favor of the common people shelters Him (Mark 11:32; 12:1232But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. (Mark 11:32)
12And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way. (Mark 12:12)
; Luke 20); at times, He withdraws Himself in either an ordinary or a more miraculous manner (Luke 4:3030But he passing through the midst of them went his way, (Luke 4:30); John 8:59; 10:3959Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (John 8:59)
39Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand, (John 10:39)
); at times, the enemy is restrained from laying hands on Him, because His hour was not come (John 7:30; 8:2030Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come. (John 7:30)
20These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come. (John 8:20)
); and on one distinguished occasion, as we have seen, a flight into Egypt removes Him from the wrath of a king who sought His life to destroy it.
In all this I see the one thing from first to last—the Lord of glory hiding Himself, as One who had come in Another’s name and not His own. But He was “the Lord of glory” and “the Prince of life.” He was a willing captive, as I have already observed, and so He was at the very last a willing victim. “He gave His life a ransom for many”* (Matt. 20:2828Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28); Titus 2:1414Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14)).
In other days, the ark of the Lord was in the hands of the enemy; it had been taken captive by the Philistines at the battle of Ebenezer. Then God “delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy’s hand;” but it was unassailable. It was apparently a weak thing, a thing of wood and gold. Its presence troubled the uncircumcised, their gods, their persons, their lands. It was all unaided and alone, and in the midst of enemies who were fresh in the heat and pride of victory. Why, then, did they not break it to pieces? Apparently, to dash it against a stone would have been to destroy it. It was constantly in their way, and appeared to be always at their mercy. Why, then, did they not rid themselves of it? They could not: that is the answer. The ark among the Philistines was another burning and unconsumed bush. It might appear to have been at the mercy of the uncircumcised, but it was unassailable. The Philistines may send it from Ashdod to Gath, and from Gath to Ekron; but no hand can touch it to destroy it (1 Sam. 4-6).
And so the True Ark, the Son of God in flesh, may be the sport of the uncircumcised for a little season: Pilate may send Him to Herod, and Annas to Caiaphas; the multitude may lead Him away to Pilate, and Pilate may give Him up again to the multitude; but His life is beyond their reach. He was the Son of God, and though manifested in flesh, still the Son as from eternity. Whatever sorrows He had gone through, whatever weariness He had endured, or hunger or thirst, all had been filling out “the form of a servant,” which He had taken. But He was the Son who had “life in Himself,” the unassailable Ark, the Bush, even in the midst of the raging flames of the world’s full hatred, unconsumable.
Such was the mystery, I doubt not.
But while saying this—while going through the meditations of this paper with some desire of my soul, and, I trust, profit also—there is nothing I would more cherish than to feel as a true Israelite should have felt on the day when the ark of God returned home out of the land of the Philistines. He should then have rejoiced and worshiped; he should have been very careful to assure himself that this great event had indeed taken place, even though he were living at a distance from the scene. As an Israelite of any of the tribes, this thing deeply concerned him, that the ark had been rescued, and that the uncircumcised were not still handling it or sending it hither and thither among their cities. But being satisfied of that, he had to be watchful that he himself did not touch it or inspect it, that he did not sin against it, like a Bethshemite, even after it had come from among the Philistines.
We are right, I am sure, in refusing those thoughts upon the mortal condition of the blessed Lord’s body. All such words and speculations are as the handling of the ark with uncircumcised or Philistine hands. And we are to show the error of the thought itself as well as its irreverence; that is, we are to be satisfied only with the full deliverance of the ark, and its return to us. But then, another duty becomes us: we are not to handle it or inspect it, as though it were ordinary. Our words are to be few; for in “the multitude of words” on such a matter, “there wanteth not sin.” Physical considerations of such a subject are not to be indulged, even though they may be sound and not to be gainsaid; for such considerations are not the way of the Spirit or of the wisdom of God. The Lord’s body was a temple, and it is written, “Ye... shall reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:3030Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:30)).
If one were to refuse to follow these speculations, and instead of answering them to rebuke them, I could say nothing. It might be with many a soul a holy, sensitive refusal to meddle beyond one’s measure and the standard of Scripture with what must ever be beyond us. I remember the words, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him” (Prov. 26:44Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. (Proverbs 26:4)). But these speculations on the person of the Son of God began in other quarters. The ark got into uncircumcised hands—and this word which I have taken on me to write is an endeavor to recover it thence—and what I would indeed desire is to take it down from “the new cart” with the reserve and holiness that becomes the soul in doing such service.
I will just add that all this present question is made to profit the soul. A lion’s carcass (forbidding as such an object must have been) of old time was forced to yield even honey, delicate as it is and good for food. Paul had to do the forbidding work of vindicating the doctrine of resurrection in the very face of some among the saints at Corinth; but that was made fruitful, like the carcass of the lion. For not merely does a vindication of the doctrine itself come forth, but glory after glory, belonging to that mystery, passes before him. He is given, through the Spirit, to see resurrection in its order or in its different seasons; the interval between such seasons and the business to be done in each of them, according to divine dispensations; the scene which is to succeed the last of those seasons; and also the great era of the resurrection of the saints in all its power and magnificence, with the shout of triumph which is to accompany it (1 Cor. 15). Here was honey, and honey again, I may say, out of a lion’s carcass, for such is controversy among brethren.
But as it was once written, so is it, in the abounding grace of God, still existent: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake” (Psalm 15:11<<A Psalm of David.>> Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? (Psalm 15:1)).