POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION
THE REVELATION OF MAN
"But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honor; Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that He subjected all things unto him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold Him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor."—Heb. ii. 6-9. (R. V.)
These words form the beginning of a marvelous passage the subject of which is " Christ our Representative." That He might become our Representative, the inspired writer teaches, it was needful that He should identify Himself with us. Therefore it was that He became man.
Language had been exhausted to exhibit the divine dignity of our Representative. In contrast with those men of God, the prophets, in whom God dwelt and through whom God spoke, He is called a Son through whom the worlds were made and by the word of whose power all things are upheld; who is the effulgence of God's glory and the very impression of His substance. In contrast with the most exalted of the creatures of God, the angels, He is given the more excellent name of the Son of God, His firstborn, whom all the angels of God shall worship; nay, He is given the name of the almighty and righteous God Himself, of the eternal Lord, who in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth and framed the heavens, and who shall abide the same when heaven and earth wax old and pass away.
Language is now exhausted to emphasize the perfection of the identification of this divine being with the children of men, when He who by nature was thus infinitely exalted above angels was made, like man, "a little lower than the angels . . . because of the suffering of death." "It behooved Him," we are told, "in all things to be made like unto His brethren "; and "since then the children are sharers in blood and flesh, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same," in order "that through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." The emphasis is upon the completeness of the identification of the Son of God with the sons of men, that by His sufferings many sons might be brought unto glory. And the implication is that as He was thus so completely identified with us for His work, so we are equally completely identified with Him in the fruits of that work. He shared with us our estate that we might share His merit with Him.
There is a great deal more precious truth in this passage than we can profitably attempt to consider in a single discourse The whole gospel of the grace of God is in it. I have chosen its initial words for my text, and I purpose to ask you to fix your attention on its initial thought—the perfect identification of Christ with man. And even this in only one of its aspects, viz.: the consequent revelation of man which is brought us by the man Christ Jesus. Because our Lord is the Son of God, the impressed image of God's substance—as the stamp of a seal is the impressed image of the seal—His advent into our world was the supreme revelation of God. But, equally, because of His perfect identification with the children of men, partaking of their blood and flesh, and made in all things like unto men, He stands before us also as the perfect revelation of man. It behooves us to look with wondering eyes upon Him whom to see is to see the Father also, that we may learn to know God—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who "so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life." It may also behoove us to look upon Him who is not ashamed to call us brethren, that we may learn to know man—the man that God made in His own image, and whom He would rescue from his sin by the gift of His Son.
The text assuredly fully justifies us in looking upon Christ as the revelation of man. It begins, as you observe, by adducing the language of the eighth Psalm, in which God is adoringly praised for His goodness to man in endowing him, despite his comparative insignificance, with dominion over the creatures. The psalmist is contemplating the mighty expanse of the evening sky, studded with its orbs of light, among which the moon marches in splendor; and he is filled with a sense of the greatness of the God the work of whose hands all this glory is. "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth, who hast set Thy glory upon the heavens I" He is lost in wonder that such a God can bear in mind so weak a thing as man. "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" But his wonder and adoration reach their climax as he recounts how the Author of all this magnificent universe has not only considered man, but made him lord of it all. In an inextinguishable burst of amazed praise he declares: "Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and crownedst him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet." He enumerates the minor elements of man's strange dominion, emphasizing its completeness and all-inclusiveness. "All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas." Nothing is omitted. So the praise returns upon itself and the Psalm closes with the repeated and now justified exclamation, "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!" It is a hymn, you observe, of man's dignity and honor and dominion. God is praised that He has dealt in so wondrous a fashion with mortal man, born from men, that He has elevated him to a position but little lower than that of the angels, crowned him with glory and honor, and given him dominion over all the works of His hands.
Now, observe how the author of this epistle deals with the Psalm. He adduces it as authoritative Scripture declaring indisputable fact. "One hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honor; Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet." He expounds its meaning accurately. "For in that He subjected all things unto him, He left nothing that is not subject to him." And then he argues thus: "But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold Him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor." That is, of course, in Jesus only as yet do we see in actual possession and exercise, in its completeness and perfection, that majesty and dominion which the inspired psalmist attributes to man. God has expressly subjected all things to man; man has obviously not entered into his dominion; but the man Jesus has. Therefore it is to Him that we are to look if we would see man as man, man in the possession and use of all those faculties, powers, dignities for which he was destined by his Creator. In this way the author of this epistle presents Jesus before us as the pattern, the ideal, the realization of man. Looking upon Him, we have man revealed to us.
I beg you to keep fully in mind that our Lord's adaptation to reveal to us what man is, is based by the author of this epistle solely on the perfection of His identification with us in His incarnation. To the author of this epistle, our Lord in His own proper person is beyond all comparison with man. As God's own Son, the effulgence of His glory and the impressed image of His substance, He is beyond comparison even with prophets and infinitely above angels. He became identified with us by an act of humiliation and for an assigned cause, viz.: for the sake "of the suffering of death," that is, in order that He might be able to undertake and properly to fulfill His high-priestly work—as we are immediately instructed in detail. This act of humiliation is expressed here, for the sake of giving point to the argument, in language derived from the Psalm: "He hath been made a little lower than the angels." Observe, then, the pregnant difference which emerges in the use of this phrase of man and of our Lord. That man was made but little lower than the angels marks the height of his exaltation: "Thou didst make him a little lower than the angels, Thou didst crown him with glory and honor." That our Lord was made a little lower than the angels, marks the depth of His humiliation: "We behold Jesus, who hath been made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death." So wide is the interval that stretches between Him and man. He stoops to reach the exalted heights of man's as yet unattained glory.
But the perfection of His identification with us consisted just in this, that He did not, when He was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, assume merely the appearance of man or even merely the position and destiny of man, but the reality of humanity. Note the stress laid in the passage, on the reality of the humanity which our Lord assumed, when, as the inspired writer pointedly declares, He was made
like to His brethren in all things. He was made like them in their physical nature: as they were "sharers in blood and flesh, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same." He was made like them in their psychical nature: as they suffered and were tempted, He also " Himself hath suffered being tempted." Jesus Christ is presented before us here as a true and real man, possessed of every faculty and capacity that belongs to the essence of our nature: as a veritable "son of man," born of a woman, and brother to all those whom He came to succor. It is because He was in this true and complete sense what He so loved to call Himself, the Son of man—doubtless with as full reference to the eighth Psalm as to Daniel's great apocalypse —that He reveals to us in His own life and conduct what man was intended to be in the plan of God.
We must keep these great facts in mind that we may preserve the point of view of the inspired writer, as we strive to follow him in looking upon Jesus as the representative man, in whose humanity man is revealed to us. He is not the representative man in the sense that man is all that He is. When He entered the sphere of human life, by the assumption of a human nature, He did not lay aside His Godhead. He is, while being all that man is, infinitely more. He is God as well as man. He is not the representative man in the sense that in Him the age-long process of man's creation was first completed— that His exalted humanity is the goal toward which nature had been all through the aeons travailing, till now at last in Him the man-child comes to a tardy birth. He is the revelation of man only in the sense that when we turn our eyes toward Him, we see in the quality of His humanity God's ideal of man, the Creator's intention for His creature; while by contrast with Him we may learn the degradation of our sin; and happily also we may see in Him what man is to be, through the redemption of the Son of God and the sanctification of the Spirit. Let us think a little on these things.
And, first, in the quality of Christ's manhood we may see the perfect man, the revelation of what man is in God's idea of him, of what the Creator intended him to be.
And what is the quality of Jesus' manhood? There is no other word to express it except the great word perfection. Sin? We cannot think of it in connection with Him. Those who com
panied with Him testify that He was "without blemish and without spot"; that " He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." The author of our epistle declares that He was "separate from sinners," that He was, in the midst of temptation, "without sin." The story of His life and sayings leaves us without trace of acknowledgment of fault on His own part, without betrayal of consciousness of unworthiness, without the slightest hint of inner conflict with sinful impulses.
And if the quality of His excellence is too positive to permit us even to speak of sin in connection with it, it is equally too universal to admit of adequate characterization. The excellences of the best of men may usually be condensed in a single outstanding virtue or grace by which each is peculiarly marked. Thus we speak of the faith of Abraham, the meekness of Moses, the patience of Job, the boldness of Elijah, the love of John. The perfection of Jesus defies such particularizing characterization. All the beauties of character which exhibit themselves singly in the world's saints and heroes, assemble in Him, each in its perfection and all in perfect balance and harmonious combination. If we ask what manner of man He was, we can only respond, No manner of man, but rather, by way of eminence, the man, the only perfect man that ever existed on earth, to whom gathered all the perfections proper to man and possible for man, that they might find a fitting home in His heart and that they might play brightly about His person. If you would know what man is, in the height of His divine idea, look at Jesus Christ.
Is it not well for the world once to have seen such a man? How easy it is to accuse nature of our faults, to confront God with what we have wrought, and to seek to roll upon our Creator the responsibility for the creatures which our own deeds have made us. How easy to look upon corruption as the inevitable incident of existence for such beings as men; and to speak of sin as only the mark of our humanity. How easily a cynical temper waxes within us as we mix with men in the world's marts and tread with them the devious paths of life. We mark their ways and ask, waiting, like Pilate, for no answer, Who shall show us any good? How easily our ideals themselves sink to what we fancy the level of human powers. We note the aims of those who strive about us. We note the aims of the great figures which flit across the pages of history, commanding the acclamation of all the ages. We look within at the seething caldron of passions and impulses of our own souls. Do not all these voices call us to one natural, one unavoidable issue? If in the far distance we faintly discover hanging above us the beckoning glimmer of some star of heaven—what is poor wingless man, that he should hope to rise to grasp it? Is it not the part of wisdom, as well as the demand of nature, that worms shall crawl? Is it not folly unspeakable for such as we to attempt to mount the skies? But we see Jesus, and the scales fall from our eyes; in Him we perceive what man is in his idea, and what it may be well for him to seek to become.
The man Jesus stands before us as the revelation of man's native dignity, capacities, and powers. He exhibits to us what man is in the idea of his Maker. He uncovers to our view, in their perfection and strength, those qualities and forces of good, the ruins of which only we may see in our fellow-men, and enables us to admire, honor, love, and hope for them, because they still possess such qualities and capacities though in ruins. To look upon Him is to ennoble and elevate our ideals of life; the sight of Him forbids us to forget our higher nature and higher aspirations; it quickens in us our dead longings to be like Him, men after God's plan and heart, rather than after our own corrupt impulses. It is well for the world once to have seen such a man.
Once and once only. Ah, there is the pity of it, and there is the despair of it! In no other than in Him has the ideal ever been realized. And the more we look upon His perfections the more we perceive, as in no other light, how far short of the ideal man have been our highest imaginations. For we need to note, secondly, that in the light of Jesus' perfect manhood we have, by contrast, revealed to us what man is in his sin and depravity, what he has made himself in his rebellion from good and from God.
The Greeks had a proverb: "By the straight is judged both the straight and the crooked; the rule is singly the test of both." And so it is. Wherever the straight is brought to light, there inevitably is also the crookedness of the crooked made visible. Let the builder hang his plumbline, with whatever careless intent, over any wall; and if the wall be not straight, every wayfarer may perceive it. Let the carpenter lay his straightedge alongside of any board, and every crook and bend is brought to the instant observation of all. This is what is meant when the Scriptures tell us that by the law is the knowledge of sin. For the law is for moral things what the plumb-line and the straight-edge are for physical things: it is the rule by which our hearts are measured and in the presence of which what we really are is made manifest. We may sin and scarcely know we sin, until the straight-edge of the law is brought against us. Oh, how we fall away from its line of rectitude!
Now, our blessed Saviour, as the perfect one, full of righteousness and holiness, is the embodiment of the law in life. And more perfectly and vividly than any law—though that law be holy and just and good—does His presence among men measure men and reveal what men are. The presence of any good man in our midst acts, in its due proportion, as such a measure. And, therefore, from the beginning of the world men have been stung by the presence of a good man among them to hatred of him, and have evilly entreated and persecuted him. He is a standing accusation of their sins. "There is certainly," says Miss Yonge in The Heir of Reddiffe —that uplifting story which has been such a factor in the lives of such men as Mr. William Morris and Dr. A. Kuyper—" there is certainly a 'tyrannous hate' in the world for unusual goodness, which is a rebuke to it." But no man ever so feels his utter depravity as when he thinks of himself as standing by the side of Jesus. In this presence, even what we had fondly looked upon as our virtues hide their faces in shame and cry, Depart from us, for we are sinful in thy sight, O Lord.
Lay open the narrative in these gospels, of how the Son of man went about among men, in the days of His sojourn here below. Note on the one hand the ever-growing glory of that revelation of a perfect life. And note on the other hand the ever-increasing horror of the accompanying revelation of human weakness and human depravity. It could not be otherwise. When we see Jesus, it must be in the brightness of His unapproachable splendor that we see those about Him: as it is in the light of the sun that we see the forms and colors and characters of all objects on which it turns its beams. Especially when we see Him in conflict with His enemies, as we cannot avoid being moved with amazement by the spectacle of His utter perfection; so must we, in that light, be shocked by the spectacle of the utter depravity of men. Men are revealed in this presence in their true, their fundamental tones of nature with a vivid completeness in which they are never seen elsewhere.
Now, such a crisis as this, Jesus is bringing into the life of every man upon whom the light of His knowledge shines. No man can escape the test. Christ Jesus has come into the world and He confronts every one with the spectacle of His perfect humanity. When men are least thinking of Him, lo! there He is by their side. Every time His name is mentioned in the assemblies of men, every time His image rises in a brooding human heart, the crisis comes again to human souls. They may not realize it; they may prefer otherwise; they may determine otherwise. But they are being tried and tested against their wills every moment they live in His presence. Some, like the priests, burn with rage at every thought of the supreme claim He makes upon their homage, and refuse with all violence to have this man to rule over them. Others, like Pilate, yield a languid and chill recognition to His goodness and worth, yet choose the pursuit of pleasure or gain above the service of Him. Others, like the mob, may in easy indifference prefer some other leader, though he be a robber and a murderer. Thus a crisis is brought by His presence to every heart; and a revelation of man in his true depravity is the result. As He moves through the world the whole race lies at His feet self-condemned. We shudder as, in the light of His brightness, we see man as he is.
Yet we have the word of Jesus Himself for it that God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Let us turn our eyes away, then, from the terrible spectacle of a race revealed in its sin to observe, in the third place, that in the perfection of Christ's manhood we have the revelation of what man may become by the redemption of the Son of God and the sanctification of the Spirit.
We observe that the element of promise is made very prominent in the text and in the wider passage of which the text is a part. Mark those words of hope, " Not yet." "We see not yet all things subjected to him." The psalmist's ascription is then yet to be fulfilled in man himself. In Jesus' dominion, and in Jesus' perfection, we are to see only the earnest and the pledge. When He entered through sufferings into glory, it was in the process of bringing many sons unto glory. If He is the sanctifier, they are the sanctified; and He is not ashamed to call them brethren. If He became like them in order that He might die in their behalf; this death was to be accomplished in order that He might, by making propitiation for their sins, deliver them from their bondage. In a word, we are to look upon Jesus in His perfect manhood as our forerunner. In His perfection we are to see the revelation of what we too shall be when He shall have perfected His work in us as He has already perfected it for us.
Let us bless God for these precious assurances. Without them the sight of Jesus could but bring us despair. Men speak of Him, indeed, as our example; and we praise God that He has given us such an example—we bless His holy name that He has permitted the world to see one such man. But if He were only our example, as we looked upon Him and saw His perfection and by contrast saw our depravity, who would not cry that this example is too high, we cannot attain unto it!
I fear we do not always consider with what limitations mere example is hedged about. Limitations of space. How narrow a circle can really feel the uplift of even the most moving personal example. At the best, only those who cluster most nearly round the figure of a good man, however impressive, can be much affected by his example. Limitations of time. How soon the force of the mightiest personality is drowned in the stream of the years. As the flood of days falls over it how rapidly it becomes at best a story —an empty name. Could Jesus have declared that it was expedient for Him to go away, if it were only or chiefly as an example that He came into the world? Would not it have been rather expedient that He should have lived through all the ages, and kept His living example as a living force before the eyes of men for all time and in every land? Limitations of power. The most inspiring example cannot change the heart, cannot impart new life to a dead soul. At best it can but deflect the direction of powers already existent and operative. We thank God that Christ is our example, that we see in Him all that we fain would be. But we thank Him that He is much more than our example; that He is our life as well. It is only because He is our life, that as our example He can be our hope and joy.
With Him as only our example we could see in His perfect manhood only what we ought to be, ought but cannot. Hopeless gloom would inevitably settle upon our souls. With Him as our life, who has died for our sins and purchased the sanctifying Spirit for us, we see in His perfect manhood what we are to be. Do we peer into that mysterious future, with doubt if not dismay? We have the precious assurance based upon His perfected work of propitiation and purchase: "Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him." "We shall be like Him." Our hearts take courage, and we rest on this word. We shall be like Him! "We all remember," says Bishop Gore, "the pathetic words of Simmias in the argument with Socrates about the immortality of the soul. 'I dare say,' he says,' that you, Socrates, feel as I do, how very hard and almost impossible is the attainment of any certainty about questions such as these in the present life. And yet I should deem him a coward who did not prove what is said about them to the uttermost, or whose heart failed him before he had examined them on every side. For he should persevere until he has ascertained one of two things: either he should discover and learn the truth about them; or, if this is impossible, I would have him take the best and most irrefragable of human notions, and let this be the raft on which he sails through life—not without risk, as I admit, if he cannot find some word of God which will more surely and safely carry him.' 'Some word of God': it has come to us; crowning the legitimate efforts, supplying the inevitable deficiencies of human reasoning; satisfying all the deepest aspirations of the heart and conscience. It has come to us, and not as a mere spoken message, but as an incarnate person, at first to attract, to alarm, to subdue us; afterwards, when we are His servants, to guide, to discipline, to enlighten, to enrich us, till that which is perfect is come, and that which is in part shall be done away." Aye, this is it which meets every longing of our hearts. We shall be like Him when we see Him as He is.
Oh, toil-worn pilgrim, weary with your burden, would you know the glory in store for you? Look at Jesus: you shall be like Him. Are you tempted to despair? Do you shrink from an endless future in which you shall remain for ever yourself? Look at Jesus: not as you are, but like what He is, you are to be. If we can but attain to such a hope, heaven bursts at once upon our souls. To be like Jesus! Is this not a glory, in the presence of which all other glories fade away by reason of the glory that is surpassing? When we look at Jesus, we may not—we cannot afford to—forget that we are looking at that which, by the grace of God, we may and shall become.
And you, in whose veins the pulses of youth are still beating, whose hearts are high as you look out upon the still untrodden fields of life— fields which you doubt not you are to subdue— you, all of you, no doubt, have your ideals and your heroes. Some figure rises before your eyes, now as I speak to you, whom you would fain be like—a soldier, a thinker, some master of assemblies, some leader of men, some lord of finance. Or, perhaps, your gentler blood throbs with exhilarated longing as you fancy yourself repeating in your own life the strivings or the accomplishments of some noble woman of history or of romance—some high-minded Hypatia, some patient Griselda, some devoted Saint Catharine— a Florence Nightingale, an Elizabeth Fry, a Dora Pattison, a Frances Havergal. What would it be to you to have an angel visitant stand suddenly by your side—as long ago there stood suddenly by Mary, most blessed of women, one with the greeting on his lips of "Hail Mary! thou that art highly favored!"—rand say, "Your wish is granted; this—all this—you shall be!" Are we so blind that we do not see that this, and more, is just what has come to us? All these heroes of our hearts, great and inspiring as they are, are but men and women like ourselves, touched with our faults, our failings, our sins. Partial and incomplete, alike in themselves and in their accomplishments, they can provide us with but stepping-stones to higher things. The one perfect man, the one perfect model of life, stands before us in Christ Jesus. And the voice comes to us—not the voice of an angel only, but God's own voice of power—proclaiming, Ye shall be like Him!
Could there be another proclamation of equal encouragement, of equal strengthening? Up, brethren, let us take Him, the perfect One, for our model; let us nurse our longing to be like Him; and let us go forth to the work of life buoyant with the joy of this greatest of hopes, this most precious of assurances—We shall be like Him; what He is, that shall we also become! In the strength of this great hope let us live our life out here below, and in its joyful assurance let us, when our time comes to go, enter eagerly into our glory.
THE SAVING CHRIST