I’m preaching on Revelation 5 on Sunday. Really looking forward to it. I’ve taken the opportunity to read Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon on Christ as the Lion and the Lamb: “The Excellency of Christ.” In it his thesis is that the Lion-ness and Lamb-ness of Jesus represent…
“…an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.”
I enjoyed much of the sermon.
I was also dis-heartened by much of it.
Well Edwards does not crudely assign all Lamb-ness to Christ’s human nature and all Lion-ness to His divine nature. But that’s often the flavour of things. And so he says things like this:
In the person of Christ do meet together infinite glory and lowest humility. Infinite glory, and the virtue of humility, meet in no other person but Christ. They meet in no created person, for no created person has infinite glory, and they meet in no other divine person but Christ. For though the divine nature be infinitely abhorrent to pride, yet humility is not properly predicable of God the Father, and the Holy Ghost, that exists only in the divine nature, because it is a proper excellency only of a created nature. For it consists radically in a sense of a comparative lowness and littleness before God, or the great distance between God and the subject of this virtue. But it would be a contradiction to suppose any such thing in God.
Do you see how straight away Edwards has a pre-formed conception of what humanity and divinity are like – a conception that sits ill with the Glorious-Humble God-Man! The essence of glory and humility are decided in advance of considering the Lamb at the centre of the throne. (Ironic given that this is a sermon on Revelation 5!). If Edwards was determined to have Christ define glory and humility, the direction of the argument would be very different.
Now if Edwards’ logic is followed (humility is only proper to creatures) then what we have is a divine nature for which humility is impossible. How then can Edwards see Christ as humble? Well it must be only according to his human nature. To ask whether the Person of Christ is humble would receive the answer – according to His human nature yes, but according to His divine nature, no. This opens up two problems.
Christ’s humanity and divinity are conceived in completely contradictory ways. (Nestorianism)
Christ is not really humble. 2 Corinthians 8:9 ought to read: “You know the grace of our LORD Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, He opened up another bank account with no money in it at all… so that we through His (only apparent) poverty might become rich.”
Edwards’ next point is this …
In the person of Christ do meet together infinite majesty and transcendent meekness. These again are two qualifications that meet together in no other person but Christ. Meekness, properly so called, is a virtue proper only to the creature. We scarcely ever find meekness mentioned as a divine attribute in Scripture, at least not in the New Testament.
Now it’s very telling Edwards should want the New Testament to speak of the divine attribute of meekness. Surely the decisive argument against his position – the argument against which he must guard – is that, pre-incarnation, the LORD is spoken of as meek. And the truth is, He is spoken of as meek – 2 Sam 22:36; Ps 18:35; Ps 45:4. What’s strange is that Edwards goes on to quote Psalm 45 to prove Christ’s majesty (v4), failing conspicuously to spot His meekness proclaimed in the very same verse! Now here is an OT description of the God Messiah – and He is majestic and meek. It is not His humanity per se that makes Christ meek. In His pre-incarnate Person He is already meek. In this way we see that the incarnation is a revelation not a concealment.
Let’s look at one last quote:
In Christ do meet together self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God, which is another conjunction peculiar to the person of Christ. As he is a divine person, he is self-sufficient, standing in need of nothing. All creatures are dependent on him, but he is dependent on none, but is absolutely independent. His proceeding from the Father, in his eternal generation or filiation, argues no proper dependence on the will of the Father. For that proceeding was natural and necessary, and not arbitrary. But yet Christ entirely trusted in God…
Now where does Edwards get the idea that the Son (at any point) relied on Himself? (From Calvin yes, but where in Scripture!) There is perhaps no statement about His own identity that Christ makes more frequently than that He depends on His Father. Are we to believe that this is a new state of affairs (again the incarnation concealing rather than revealing)? Do we imagine that the One eternally in the bosom of the Father was eternally self-sufficient?
Edwards echoes the distinction Athanasius made between begotten and made – that His begotten-ness was a matter of nature, it was not a matter of will (which would imply ‘making’). But saying the eternal generation was natural and necessary does not get Edwards off the hook regarding the Son’s dependence. He is still, as the creeds say ‘God from God’? Is that not genuine and on-going dependence? Does He not receive His life and being from the Father? And does not the Father depend on the Son to be Father? Etc etc.
All this is a playing out of a non-trinitarian concept of aseity that’s defining Edwards’ concept of ‘divine nature.’ Here are some problems:
- Jesus is not defining the divine nature. Rather a divine nature different to what is revealed in Jesus is pre-supposed.
- Jesus is not defining human nature. Rather a human nature that excludes the glory of the exalted Priest/King/Prophet is assumed.
- This divine nature is defined not in relational terms but in terms of aseity (i.e. self-sufficiency)
- Jesus therefore fits poorly into the pre-fab mould of divinity – the bits left over are ascribed to ‘His humanity’.
- What we see in the Man Jesus is not properly thought of as divine!
- There are extra ‘bits’ to Jesus when considered from above and below. From below, we look at the Man Jesus, yet this is not all of Jesus. There’s an extra bit of divinity that is not like the human Jesus we see. From above, God is one with Jesus except for an extra bit of humanity that is not like the God He’s revealing.
Now it’s ironic that all of this is based on thoughts from Revelation 5. Because here we read
“You are worthy… for you were slain.” (Rev 5:9,12)
It’s the death of Christ that causes His worship. It’s His very Lambness that we will praise into all eternity. Revelation 5 tells us to accord all divine honours to Jesus not in spite of but because of His death as a human sacrifice. The deity of Christ does not exist apart from His Lambness but is most brightly manifested in it.
Therefore there are no extra bits to Jesus. His divinity is precisely in His being as the Lamb (and the act this implies). His humanity is not locked off from His being as God. There is not 6 feet of insulation between Jesus of Nazareth and divine life. Jesus is divine. Even as He is Jesus in all His Lamb-ness.
And He is, in all His Lamb-ness the revelation of the Father. Our notions of God should not lie behind glass in pristine majesty. They are laid bare at the rugged cross.
So, yes, Christ’s excellency does indeed consist in an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies. But these excellencies are true to the very depths of His Person, true to the depths of eternity, true to the very depths of God.
Worthy is the Lamb