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How the wisdom of God appears in the manner and circumstances of obtaining the good intended.
WE now come to take notice of some wonderful circumstances of the attainment of our good, hereby; which shows the great wisdom of this contrivance.
1. So hath God contrived in this way, that a sinful creature should become not guilty; and that he who has no righteousness of his own, should become righteous. These things, if they had been proposed, would have appeared contradictious to any but the divine understanding.
If it had been proposed to any created intelligence, to find out a way in which a sinful creature should not be a guilty creature, how impossible would it have been judged, that there should be any way at all. It would doubtless have been judged impossible but that he who has committed sin, must stand guilty of the sin he has committed; and if sin necessarily obliges to punishment, it must oblige him who has committed it. If punishment and sin be inseparable, then that punishment and the sinner are inseparable. If the law denounces death to the person who is guilty of sin, and if it be impossible that the law should not take place, then he who has committed sin must die. Thus any created understanding would have thought.
And if it had been proposed, that there should be some way found out, wherein man might be righteous without fulfilling righteousness himself; so that he might reasonably and properly be looked upon and accepted as a righteous person, and adjudged to the reward of righteousness, and yet have no righteousness of his own, but the contrary—that he should righteous by the righteousness of the law, by a perfect righteousness, and yet have broken the law, and done nothing else but break it—this doubtless would have been looked upon as impossible and contradictious.
But yet the wisdom of God has truly accomplished each of these things. He hath accomplished that men, though sinners, should be without guilt, in that he hath found out a way that the threatenings of the law should truly and properly be fulfilled, and punishment be executed on sin, and yet not on the sinner. The sufferings of Christ answer the demands of the law, with respect to the sins of those who believe in him; and justice is truly satisfied thereby. And the law is fulfilled and answered by the obedience of Christ, so that his righteousness should properly be our righteousness. Though not performed by us, yet it is properly and reasonably accepted for us, as much as if we had performed it ourselves. Divine wisdom has so contrived, that such an interchanging of sin and righteousness should be consistent, and most agreeable with reason, with the law, and God’s holy attributes. For Jesus Christ has so united himself to us, and us to him, as to make himself ours, our head. The love of Christ to the elect is so great, that God the Father looks upon it proper and suitable to account Christ and the elect as one; and accordingly to account what Christ does and suffers, as if they did and suffered it.—That love of Christ which is so great as to render him willing to put himself in the stead of the elect, and to bear the misery that they deserved, does, in the Father’s account, so unite Christ and the elect, that they may be looked upon as legally one.
2. It shows wonderful wisdom that our good should be procured by such seemingly unlikely and opposite means, as the humiliation of the Son of God. When Christ was about to undertake that great work of redemption, he did not take that method that any creature-wisdom would have thought the most proper. Creature-wisdom would have determined that in order to his effectually and more gloriously accomplishing such a great work, he should rather have been exalted higher, if it had been possible, rather than humbled so low.—Earthly kings and princes, when they are about to engage in any great and difficult work, will put on their strength, and will appear in all their majesty and power, that they may be successful.—But when Christ was about to perform the great work of redeeming lost world, the wisdom of God took an opposite method, and determined that he should be humbled and abased to a mean state, and appear in low circumstances. He did not deck himself with glory, but laid it aside. He emptied himself. Phil. ii. 6, 7, 8. “Being in the form of God—he made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”—Creature-wisdom would have thought that Christ, in order to perform this great work, should deck himself with all his strength; but divine wisdom determined, that he should be made weak, or put on the infirmities of human nature.
And why did divine wisdom determine that he should become thus weak? It was that he might be subject to want, and to suffering, and to the power and malice of his enemies. But then what advantage could it be to him in this work, to be subject to the power and malice of his enemies? It was the very design on which he came into the world, to overcome his enemies. Who would have thought that this was the way to overthrow them, that he should become weak and feeble, and for that very end that he might be subject to their power and malice. But this is the very means by which God determined, that Christ should prevail against his enemies, even that he should be subject to their power, that they might prevail against him, so as to put him to disgrace, and pain, and death.
What other but divine wisdom could ever have determined, that this was the way to be taken in order to being successful in the work of our redemption. This would have appeared to creature-wisdom the most direct course to be frustrated that could be devised. But it was indeed the way to glorious success, and the only way. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” 1 Cor. i. 25. God has brought strength out of weakness, glory out of ignominy and reproach. Christ’s shame and reproach are the only means by which a way is made to our eternal honour.
The wisdom of God hath made Christ’s humiliation the means of our exaltation; his coming down from heaven is that which brings us to heaven. The wisdom of God hath made life the fruit of death. The death of Christ was the only means by which we could have eternal life. The death of a person who was God, was the only way by which we could come to have life in God.—Here favour is made to arise out of wrath; our acceptance into God’s favour out of God’s wrath upon his Son. A blessing rises out of a curse; our everlasting blessedness, from Christ being made a curse for us. Our righteousness is made to rise out of Christ’s imputed guilt. He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. v. 21. By such wonderful means hath the wisdom of God procured our salvation.
3. Our sin and misery, by this contrivance, are made an occasion of our greater blessedness. This is a very wonderful thing. It would have been a very wonderful thing if we had been merely restored from sin and misery, to be as we were before; but it was a much more wonderful thing that we should be brought to a higher blessedness than ever; and that our sin and misery should be the occasion of it, and should make way for it.
(1.) It was wonderful that sin should be made the occasion of our greater blessedness; for sin deserves misery. By our sin we had deserved to be everlastingly miserable; but this is so turned by divine wisdom, that it is made an occasion of our being more happy.—It was a strange thing that sin should be the occasion of any thing else but misery: but divine wisdom has found out a way whereby the sinner might not only escape being miserable, but that he should be happier than before he sinned; yea, than he would have been if he had never sinned at all. And this sin and unworthiness of his, are the occasion of this greater blessedness.
(2.) It was a wonderful thing that man’s own misery should be an occasion of his greater happiness. For happiness and misery are contraries; and man’s misery was very great. He was under the wrath and curse of God, and condemned to everlasting burnings.—But the sin and misery of man, by this contrivance, are made an occasion of his being more happy, not only than he was before the fall, but than he would have been if he never had fallen.
Our first parents, if they had stood and persevered in perfect obedience, till God had given them the fruit of the tree of life as a seal of their reward, would probably have been advanced to higher happiness: for they before were but in a state of probation for their reward. And it is not to be supposed but that their happiness was to have been greater after they had persisted in obedience, and had actually received the reward, than it was while they were in a state of trial for it. But by the redemption of Christ, the sin and misery of the elect are made an occasion of their being brought to a higher happiness than mankind would have had if they had persisted in obedience till they had received the reward.—For,
1st, Man is hereby brought to a greater and nearer union with God. If man had never fallen, God would have remained man’s friend; he would have enjoyed God’s favour, and so would have been the object of Christ’s favour, as he would have had the favour of all the persons of the Trinity.—But now Christ becoming our surety and Saviour, and having taken on him our nature, occasions between Christ and us an union of a quite different kind, and a nearer relation than otherwise would have been. The fall is the occasion of Christ’s becoming our head, and the church his body. And believers are become his brethren, and spouse, in a manner that otherwise would not have been. And by our union with Christ we have a greater union with God the Father. We are sons by virtue of our union with the natural Son of God. Gal. iv. 4-6. “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” And therefore Christ has taught us, in all our addresses to God, to call him our Father, in like manner as he calls him Father, John xx. 17. “Go tell my brethren, behold I ascend to my Father, and your Father.”
This is one of the wonderful things brought about by the work of redemption, that thereby our separation from God, is made an occasion of a greater union than was before, or otherwise would have been.—When we fell, there was a dreadful separation made betwixt God and us, but this is made an occasion of a greater union. John xvii. 20-23. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.”
2dly, Man now has greater manifestations of the glory and love of God, than otherwise he would have had. In the manifestations of these two things, man’s happiness principally consists. Now, man by the work of redemption, has greater manifestation of both, than otherwise he would have had. We have already spoken particularly of the glory of God, and what advantages even the angels have by the discoveries of it in this work; but if they have such advantages, much more will man who is far more directly concerned in this affair than they.—Here are immediately greater displays of the love of God, than man had before he fell; or, as we may well suppose, than he would have had, if he had never fallen. God now manifests his love to his people, by sending his Son into the world, to die for them. There never would have been any such testimony of the love of God, if man had not fallen.
Christ manifests his love, by coming into the world, and laying down his life. This is the greatest testimony of divine love that can be conceived. Now surely the greater discoveries God’s people have of his love to them, the more occasion will they have to rejoice in that love. Here will be a delightful theme for the saints to contemplate to all eternity, which they never could have had, if man never had fallen, viz. the dying love of Christ. They will have occasion now to sing that song for ever, Rev. i. 5, 6. “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to whom be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.”
3dly, Man now has greater motives offered him to love God than otherwise he ever would have had. Man’s happiness consists in mutual love between God and man; in seeing God’s love to him, and in reciprocally loving God. And the more he sees of God’s love to him, and the more he loves God, the more happy must he be. His love to God is as necessary in order to his happiness, as the seeing of God’s love to him; for he can have no joy in beholding God’s love to him, any otherwise than as he loves God.—This makes the saints prize God’s love to them; for they love him. If they did not love God, to see his love to them would not make them happy. But the more any person loves another, the more will he be delighted in the manifestations of that other’s love.—There is provision therefore made for both in the work of redemption. There are greater manifestations of the love of God to us, than there would have been if man had not fallen; and also there are greater motives to love him than otherwise there would have been. There are greater obligations to love him, for God has done more for us to win our love. Christ hath died for us.
Again, man is now brought to a more universal and immediate and sensible dependence on God, than otherwise he would have been. All his happiness is now of him, through him, in him. If man had not fallen, he would have had all his happiness of God by his own righteousness; but now it is by the righteousness of Christ. He would have had all his holiness of God, but not so sensibly; because then he would have been holy from the beginning, as soon as he received his being; but now, he is first sinful and universally corrupt, and afterwards is made holy. If man had held his integrity misery would have been a stranger to him; and therefore happiness would not have been so sensible a derivation from God, as it is now, when man looks to God from the deeps of distress, cries repeatedly to him, and waits upon him. He is convinced by abundant experience, that he has no place of resort but God, who is graciously pleased, in consequence of man’s earnest and persevering suit, to appear to his relief, to take him out of the miry clay and horrible pit, set him upon a rock, establish his goings, and put a new song into his mouth.—By man’s having thus a more immediate, universal, and sensible dependence, God doth more entirely secure man’s undivided respect. There is a greater motive for man to make God his all in all,—to love him and rejoice in him as his only portion.
4thly, By the contrivance for our salvation, man’s sin and misery are but an occasion of his being brought to a more full and free converse with and enjoyment of God than otherwise would have been. For as we have observed already, the union is greater; and the greater the union, the more full the communion, and intimate the intercourse.—Christ is come down to man in his own nature; and hereby he may converse, with Christ more intimately, than the infinite distance of the divine nature would allow. This advantage is more than what the angels have. For Christ is not only in a created nature, but he is in man’s own nature.—We have also advantages for a more full enjoyment of God. By Christ’s incarnation, the saints may see God with their bodily eyes, as well as by an intellectual view. The saints, after the day of judgment, will consist of both body and soul; they will have outward as well as spiritual sight. It is now ordered by divine wisdom, that God himself, or a divine person, should be the principal entertainment of both these kinds of sight, spiritual and corporal: and the saints in heaven shall not only have an intellectual sight of God, but they shall see a divine person as they see one another; not only spiritually, but outwardly.—The body of Jesus Christ will appear with that transcendent visible majesty and beauty, which is exceedingly expressive of the divine majesty, beauty, and glory. The body of Christ shall appear with the glory of God upon it, as Christ tells us, Matt. xvi. 27. “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father.” Thus to see God will be a great happiness to the saints. Job comforted himself that he should see God with his bodily eyes, Job xix. 26. “And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
5thly, Man’s sin and misery is made an occasion of his greater happiness, as he has now a greater relish of happiness, by reason of his knowledge of both. In order to happiness, there must be two things, viz. union to a proper object—and a relish of the object. Man’s misery is made an occasion of increasing both these by the work of redemption. We have shown already, that the union is increased; and so is the relish too, by the knowledge man now has of evil. These contraries, good and evil, heighten the sense of one another. The forbidden tree was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil; of evil, because by it we came to the experience of evil; of good, because we should never have known so well what good was, if it had not been for that tree. We are taught the value of good, by our knowledge of its contrary, evil. This teaches us to prize good, and makes us the more to relish and rejoice in it. The saints know something what a state of sin and alienation from God is. They know something what the anger of God is, and what it is to be in danger of hell. And this makes them the more exceedingly to rejoice in the favour and in the enjoyment of God.
Take two persons; one who never knew what evil was, but was happy from the first moment of his being, having the favour of God, and numerous tokens of it; another who is in a very doleful and undone condition. Let there be bestowed upon these two persons the same blessings, [subjectively,] the same good things; and let them be objectively in the same glorious circumstances,—and which will rejoice most? Doubtless he that was brought to this happiness out of a miserable and doleful state. So the saints in heaven will for ever the more rejoice in God, and in the enjoyment of his love, for their being brought to it out of a most lamentable state and condition.
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