The Greatness of Christ

Notes of an address given in Edinburgh in April, 1921

My desire is to follow on the line marked out by the last speaker (who spoke on “The Advent of Christ”), and to this end I would, first of all, refer to that which the Spirit of God brings before us in the first chapter of Hebrews. You will notice, for it has often been referred to, how very abruptly the epistle begins. It is the God who had previously spoken to the people out of the midst of the thick darkness and the devouring fire, and that by angelic means; and from the whirlwind of the prophets’ fiery denunciations of their rebellious behaviour, or their still small voice speaking of the grace that should come to them at the advent of their long-looked for Messiah—it is the same God who in these last days has spoken in the Person of the Son.

You will notice that “his” is in italics, and should not be there. It is the God who spoke in the past times by means of prophets who has now spoken personally, by no intermediary, but in His own person; become Man that He might be able to do so. It is God, God the Son, speaking directly to Israel in the last days of the legal dispensation.

He is the Creator of all things, the Heir of all that He has created, the perfect manifestation of the glory of God, the very impress of His Being, and the upholder of all things by the word of His power, who having made purification for sins set Himself down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. This is the Messiah, but what Jew had ever such glorious thoughts of the long-expected Ruler of the people?

Next, we have the unfolding of His name in contrast with angels, as found in the Scriptures of the prophets. In the estimation of God’s earthly people, angels were the highest order of created beings, and in a sense they were, though the place that man had in Divine counsel had been overlooked. They were not set over all things, but the Son of Man was, and in that place of pre-eminence He is viewed as having companions. To none of those celestial beings had God ever said, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” This is said to the Son as born in time. And, “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son.” But more than this, “When He bringeth His first-begotten into the world, He says, And let all the angels of God worship Him.” This does not refer to His coming into the world when born of the virgin, as verse 5 does, but to the time in which He will bring Him into the world in glory. Then the angels will be called upon to worship a Man, infinitely more than a man surely, but still a Man. God and Man in one Person.

Our brother referred to the passage in Matthew’s Gospel where it says, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.” Then the Scripture goes on to say, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” How was the calling of Him Jesus the fulfilment of this passage, in which He is said to be called Emmanuel?

What is the meaning of Jesus? Jehovah the Saviour. The Jews had known Jehovah as Lawgiver, but now they were to know Him in another character altogether: they were now to know Him as Saviour. But Jehovah was their God, and now He was with them in the Person of Jesus. He was Emmanuel, God with us. God here on earth as a Man amongst men, that He might be able to draw near to men; One whose terror would not make men afraid, whose hand would not be heavy upon them (Job 33:7). It is this glorious Person the Spirit of God brings before us in Philippians 2, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.” What a mighty descent that was! Divesting Himself of the outward semblance of God, and taking the form of a servant: who could do this but God? What created being could be anything but a servant? It is this he is created, and this he must remain, or fall away from God, and bring down judgment upon his rebellious head.

But here we have One who was no servant, but God blessed for ever, and who took upon Himself the form of a servant, taking His place in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man He became obedient unto death, and that the death of the cross, in order that a basis might be laid, on the ground of which the counsel of eternal Love might be for ever established. And this basis being laid, the answer of God was not long deferred, “Wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly, earthly, and infernal things: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2). The Father should see that His Son has equal honour with Himself throughout the whole creation.

But I come back to Hebrews 1, where He is placed in contrast with the angels. “Of the angels He says, Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire”; but as to the Son, He is not said to make Him anything; He is addressed according to the glory and greatness of His Person, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, Thy God, has anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” Here we hear God in heaven speaking to God upon earth. He has been in the furnace of affliction, and by His obedience unto death has given proof abundant that He loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; and therefore has He title to the throne of the universe, for only those who know how to obey have the right to govern. We who believe shall be His companions in that day of His glory, and of the gladness of His heart.

But again, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thy hands: they shall perish; but Thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.” And all this is said to Him when in the sorrow of His soul He beseeches God not to take Him away in the midst of His days (Ps. 102). What a mystery the incarnation of the Son is!

In chapter 3 He is contrasted with Moses, who was a servant in the house of God; but Christ is Son over God’s house, for He built the house, and is therefore greater than the house itself. He is also Mediator of a better covenant than that of which Moses was mediator; and it is established on better promises, and in the power of blood of infinite value, and in connection with a tabernacle pitched by the Lord, and not by man. In contrast with Aaron, who was but a feeble, mortal man, He lives in the power of an endless life, is higher than the heavens, a Priest after the order of Melchisedec, and that by the oath of God, seated upon the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. The poverty of every official dignity in heaven and earth is apparent when contrasted with Christ.

But I come to Colossians 1. Here we are said to have been delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of the Father’s love. What a change that is! We are brought out from under that cruel oppressive power that rules in the darkness, and by means of the darkness, over poor fallen sinners. Darkness is ignorance of God, and by this the devil keeps his dupes in bondage. But in the power of heavenly light we are brought out of the darkness, and placed under the rule of. the beloved Son of the Father, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God; that is, the God whom no man can see is found in Jesus. Every eye in redeemed creation shall be lit up with the glory of Jesus. He will represent God in creation, and will present Him perfectly to all. There will be no lack of light, for the One who is the image of the Invisible is Himself God, and therefore as far as God can be seen by the creature He will be seen in Jesus. He could say when here upon earth, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” In Him, in the days of His humiliation, the manifestation of God was perfect, for He could not be other than He was, and He was God manifest in flesh. When one of His disciples said to Him, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,” Jesus answered him, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip?” Philip thought, like many another today, that there was something more to be seen of the Godhead than had come to light in Jesus, but what more can be seen than the Father? And He has been perfectly expressed in the Son. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When He, the Son, was here in manhood, the Father was also here in testimony, and the Spirit in power in Him; therefore all that God is in His approach to man came to light in Jesus. In His essential Being He cannot be seen. He is the invisible God, who dwells in light unapproachable, whom no man has seen or is capable of seeing.

In past ages He had spoken to creation in various ways, but always as One outside it, but in becoming a Man He took a place in creation; He is Firstborn. He could not take a less place than Firstborn; that is, the supreme place, for He is the Creator, “By Him were all things created,” and not exactly “by” Him, but in Him (R.V.). It was in the power that lay in Himself. He created all things. He was not an exalted creature to whom was committed this stupendous work, and also the power to do the work. No, “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Everything that has received being has received that being through Him. Therefore were He a creature, as some who have turned from the faith tell us, He would have had to be His own Creator.

But, as I have said, it is not by Him, but in Him that all things were created. It was in His own intrinsic power He brought the universe into existence. There is no created thing that does not owe its creation to Him. Whether they be things in heaven, or things on earth; whether they be visible, or invisible, He created them all, and He created them both by Himself, and for Himself; and in His power everything subsists. He holds everything together by the Word of His power.

The eternal counsels of the Father required a universe for the fulfilment of these counsels, and the One Person of the Godhead who was to carry out the eternal will of God created a universe in which that will could be fulfilled. In all the works of God the three Persons are ever said to be engaged; but in certain parts of those works certain Persons of the Trinity come more into prominence than the Others. Counsel belongs to the Father, creation and redemption to the Son, power to the Holy Spirit; but in each work All are concerned.

He is Head of the body, the church. How closely this brings Him to us, or rather how closely we are brought to Him—members of His body—part of Himself. But He is Head. He is supreme everywhere. In all things He has pre-eminence. Let it be angels or men, living or dead, heavenly or earthly, visible or invisible; He is pre-eminent everywhere. To Him every knee must bow, every tongue must own Him Lord. His name must be great in heaven, and excellent in all the earth. And the day of His glory is coming, and for that day we wait with expectant hearts, and cry, Come Lord Jesus.