Chapter 18: All Things Tributary the Cross
The subject on which we propose to submit a few thoughts, in the present chapter, is one which is intimately connected with the great principles of Christian doctrine and practice. It is, the subserviency of all things to the cross of Christ. I say the subserviency of all things; and by this I mean to express the thought which the words literally convey. There is nothing within the compass of the created universe, which is not, directly or indirectly, voluntarily or by coercion, made tributary to the great work of Christ. He is the master-spirit of the whole—the all-presiding Deity. "As in great maps, or pictures, you will see the border decorated with meadows, fountains, and flowers, represented on it, but in the middle you have the main design—so among the works of God is it with the fore-ordained redemption of man. All his other works in the world—all the beauty of the creatures, the succession of ages, and the things that come to pass in them, are but as the border to this main piece. But as a foolish and unskillful beholder, not discerning the excellency of the principal piece in such maps or pictures, gazes only on the fair border, and goes no further—thus do the greatest part of us to this great work of God, the redemption of our personal being, the re-union of the human with the Divine, by and through the Divine Humanity of the Incarnate Word."
It is according to the dictates of Divine wisdom to give preeminence to some one design. The ways of God often appear complicated and embarrassed, because they are so many, because they are comprised in so many different departments, and because, to superficial observers, the great end and object of them is overlooked. Not a few of them are inscrutable, and men are confounded by them. They are like the prophet’s vision of the cherubim—as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel; as for their wings, they are so high that they are dreadful. Ezek. 1. The unity of the Divine government results from the unity of its design. The prophet saw in his vision of the cherubim, that, while they looked different ways, "they went every one straight forward—where the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went." Various and apparently complicated as are the works of God, they are not wrought at random. There is no sameness; no two lines of them are perfectly parallel; while amid all this inconceivably rich variety, they have one great object, and are all one in design. There is nothing incongruous, nothing exuberant; and such is their adjustment to each other, and to the great end they aim at, that we cannot fail to see that they all originate in infinite wisdom, and that "the spirit of the living creature is in the wheels." The wisdom of God is that attribute by which he forms the best designs, and the best means of carrying them into execution. It would naturally give preeminence to some one great design above another, unless all his designs were of equal importance, and no one was actually to be preferred to another. All his designs are important in their place, and none of them can be dispensed with; but we see, in fact, that they are not all equally important. His purpose to create a pebble was not so important as his purpose to create an intellectual, moral being, and one born for immortality. It is therefore in accordance with the Divine wisdom to give preeminence to some one great design above another, and above all others. His goodness, his wisdom, his power, his high regard for himself, and his own honor, are the best pledge that, in laying out his plans, he has given the most important the first and highest place.
Now the work of redemption is God’s most important work, and, in itself, worthy to be subserved by everything that he has made. It is a design which was very early formed, and in all its parts and comprehensiveness was spread out in his own mind before the foundation of the world. He did not form it for any other reasons than those which existed within himself. Though we may not limit the wisdom of God, we do not see that it derogates from it to say, that the method of redemption by his Son is his greatest and best work. He himself declares that principalities and powers in heavenly places discover in it the "manifold wisdom of God." Other designs he has formed, and other works he has wrought, which are "very good," and worthy of their author; but none of them can be compared with this. For these six thousand years, has it been the object of thought and inspection; the purest and most exalted minds in the universe have been looking into it; and the more they have done so, the more has it excited their admiration, and drawn forth their ascriptions of praise. God himself has not seen fit to alter or modify it, because he has never discovered in it the least defector imperfection. It is great and important enough to be his leading purpose, and to lie at the foundation of all his purposes. It contains ineffably "wondrous things." There is no other work of God so good, so great, so all-comprehensive, as this. It comprises more of God himself than any other of the productions of his infinite mind. It is the appointed means and medium by which his ineffable greatness and goodness are manifested before all worlds. We wonder and adore, and cover our faces at the view it furnishes of the infinite and ever-blessed God. The more we study it, the more do we see that it is full of God, and that its great object and aim are to give "glory to God in the highest." Comprising, as it does so much of God himself, it necessarily comprises all his truth. It is the great witness and the great expression of all religious truth; and its lessons stand forth before the universe as the most complete, and, at the same time, the most brilliant and enduring system of belief ever revealed, or ever to be revealed hereafter. It comprises also more of holiness than is comprised in any other work of the great First Cause. To men it is the only means of holiness, and reveals the only agency by which holiness is secured and extended, and perpetuated on earth. "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell." The influence that illuminates, elevates, and sanctifies the human mind is all from this source. Here are the wisdom that guides, and the grace that sustains it; here are the kindlings of its love, the meltings of its penitence, the vigor of its faith, the energy of its hope, and the strength and firmness of its principles and rectitude. The highest orders of intelligence in the universe receive new views of God and truth through Christ—their consequent knowledge of his work, and subjection to his authority, are the brightest adornments of their character. And because this redemption is thus preeminent in such influences, it is preeminent in securing and advancing the happiness of the holy universe. Whatever comprises most of God, of truth, of rectitude, by an unchanging law of the Divine kingdom comprises most of happiness. For this fallen world, we know there had been nothing but the wrath and curse of God—nothing but the blackness of darkness—nothing but despair and wailing, but for the cross. The vast aggregate of happiness enjoyed by the unnumbered millions of mankind, through all the ages of time, and the interminable ages of the future—a blessedness greater than that to which man could have aspired in his primeval integrity, and which immaculate innocence merely could never attain—has its origin and nourishment only in Christ’s redemption. Such a work deserves to hold the highest place, and make everything tributary to its claims and objects. It is a most wonderful work. Travel through all the works of God, and, if it were possible, travel through all eternity, and you will find no such work of God as this mystery of man’s redemption. To make this great work subordinate to any other, were to make the greater subservient to the less—were to make the sun eclipsed by the morning star.
In addition to this, it should also be remarked, that the Savior himself, the great Author and Finisher of this redemption, deserves the high honor of making every thing subservient to the great work which, at so much sacrifice, he has undertaken to perform. This thought commends itself to every mind to whom the Savior is precious. He deserves this high honor from his character as "God manifest in the flesh;" as "Immanuel, God with us." Correct views of his personal glory are essential to all right apprehensions of his official character and claims as the great Mediator. It is as the God-man that he is the Author and Finisher of the work of redemption, and it is in this character that he has the prerogative of presiding over and directing all things with a view to that spiritual kingdom for which he laid down his life. His condescension, sacrifices, and sorrows, invest him with the right and title to all things as the Sovereign of a holy and happy kingdom. He stood pledged to this great work, cost him what it might, and he met the exigencies of it as they arose, with a firmness, a zeal and ardor, a constancy and self-devotedness, that remained unabated and unrelaxed, until he "poured out his soul unto death." And for this wondrous service, God engaged to give him the crown which he so dearly purchased. When the service was completed, he actually awarded it to him; expressly appointed him the "heir of all things;" "set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion,…not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be Head over all things to the church." He obtained his official ascendancy for stipulated services—services that deserve such a reward, and entitled him in all things to have the preeminence. God the Father distinctly recognizes this claim. "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, 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. 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 things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." This deserved preeminence of Christ can scarcely escape the notice even of the most cursory reader of the Bible. "All things are put under him," with the single exception of "Him who put all things under him." This is the glorious exaltation which he now enjoys, and the delightful subserviency of all things to him, for what he is, and for what he has done and suffered for man’s redemption.
To this it may be added, that without this subserviency, it would be impossible that the work of redemption could be perfected. This work itself bears such a relation to every part of the Divine government, and wears such a diversified aspect toward every being, every occurrence, and every object in the universe, that it cannot be completed, unless Jesus Christ so controls them all, that each, according to its various nature and fitness, shall be made to subserve its purposes. The whole plan was formed with a view to this universal control, and cannot be carried into effect without it. The Mediator must have recourse to this authority, or the objects of his mediation can never be secured. If there be a mind in the universe he does not govern, an event he does not overrule, a particle of matter he does not direct, who does not see that he has no security that that mind, that event, and that particle of matter, might fail to answer the ends for which it was created, and defeat his purposes of mercy? If it be necessary that anything should be made subservient to these purposes, it is necessary that all things should be so. If it be necessary that all things as a whole, and collectively, be thus controlled, it is necessary that every particular thing and all the parts be thus controlled. Joseph’s dream was as truly tributary to the great work of redemption, as the removal of Jacob and his family into Egypt. The personal beauty of Esther was as truly tributary to it, as the deliverance of the Jewish nation from a general massacre. The advancement of Nehemiah to the court of Artaxerxes was as truly tributary to it, as the restoration of the visible church of God from its captivity in Babylon. Nor would it be possible for this redemption to be brought to its glorious issues, and all the glory of it ascribed to its great Author, unless he be above all that which may, either designedly or undesignedly, oppose, counteract or frustrate it, unless in some way he make everything instrumental in accomplishing this glorious design.
But let us proceed to illustrate this position by the induction of several particulars. Where shall we go to find an exception to the things which Christ does not govern and control for the sake of his church? In what world is that exception to be found? what height, what depth does it occupy? in what creature does it dwell?
Look to this material creation. Whose is it? and for whom, and for what was it called into being? The redemption by Christ Jesus was not devised for the earth we dwell in; but the earth we occupy was planned and called into being, for this more wonderful redemption. The Author of redemption was its Author. By him and for him it was formed; nor would it ever have been called into existence, but to be the theater of his redeeming mercy. "When he prepared the heavens, I was there—when he set a compass upon the face of the depth;…then I was by him, as one brought up with him;…rejoicing in the habitable parts of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men." The world of matter was formed for the world of mind. Matter is dead and powerless; and, but for its subserviency to higher and nobler interests, would be a useless thing. Its true importance and value are learned only by ascending from its gross and palpable forms to those causes which govern it, and those ends for which it is governed. The vast extent of this material creation, its wonderful variety, its majesty and beauty, its waters and its solid land, its light and darkness, its suns and storms, its seasons and its fertility, its laws and its revolutions, so much the objects of our admiration and wonder, are all under the control of the Lord Jesus, sustained by him, and directed by him, and all its wonderful resources are employed by him, to answer the purposes of his redeeming wisdom and love. If his church need it, he holds back the flowing tide of its rushing waters, that she may pass through on dry land. If the interests of his kingdom require it, the sun stands still in the heavens, while the enemies of this kingdom are slain. Not only are the laws by which the earth turns on its axis arrested at his will, but the shadow goes back on the dial, that the message of his prophet may be fulfilled. Rain and hail, fire and vapor, fulfill his word. Throughout all this wide dominion of nature, he is the acknowledged sovereign, and rules in order to secure and advance the great designs of grace. Suns shine, and systems revolve, and the bounds of the people are fixed, according to the provisions of his covenant of peace. He hung the earth upon nothing that became his cradle. He stretched out the heavens that they might bear witness to his humiliations, and enjoy his triumphs. He enriches by his bounty and beautifies all by his smiles, and makes sublime and dreadful by his power, all his manifold works, that they may be instrumental in advancing his glory, and become vocal with his praise. "The several creatures bear their part in this; the sun says somewhat, and the moon and stars, yes, the lowest have some share in it." Infidels have more than once impugned the scriptural account of the material creation, because they have severed it from that greater work which unlocks all its mysteries. "O Lord, how great are your works! and your thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knows not; neither does a fool understand this." Slow of heart are they to believe, who, with the Bible in their hands, have not learned that every page in the book of nature repeats some lesson from the cross. From the dark chaos to this finished and beautiful world, everything was originally arranged for the promotion of this great design. From the first anthem of those morning stars who sang together, down to the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God, every sound in the material universe is in unison with the ascription, "Of him, and through him, and to him are all things!" And when his great work is finished, and all his redeemed ones are gathered in, then "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."
From the material, look now to the intellectual creation, composed as it is of the unfallen and fallen angels, and of good and bad men. Inspect the whole of it. If Jesus Christ make this world of matter subserve his redemption, much more does he thus govern and overrule the intellectual beings that occupy it. Of the angels that are unfallen, the word of God furnishes us with the most explicit information relating to the part they sustain in carrying forward the Savior’s designs. They tell us of an "innumerable company of angels," of "cherubim and seraphim," of "thrones and dominions," of "principalities and powers;" while they teach us that these "things in heaven" are all "gathered together in Christ," subject to his dominion, and swift to do his will, "hearkening unto the voice of his word." At his bidding, they come down to this world on errands of mercy, and on errands of judgment; while they are "all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." They appeared to Abraham, on the plains of Mamre; to Lot, to hasten him out of Sodom; to Isaiah, when he spoke of His glory who was to come; to Zacharias, to Mary, to the shepherds of Bethlehem, to the agonizing Savior in the garden. They were the witnesses of his resurrection; attended him in his triumphant departure from earth, and his more triumphant entrance into heaven; and at his second coming all the holy angels shall be with him to augment his splendor, and fulfill the high commands of his throne. Of the angels that are fallen we can only say that they are made subservient to the work of redemption, not willingly, but by constraint. In every house, there are vessels of honor, and vessels of dishonor. The kingdom of Christ is erected on the ruins of the fall, out of low and base materials—there are departments of it which must be purified and cleansed in ways in which none but fallen, filthy spirits can be employed. To give them the opportunity of acting out their own impure and filthy nature, Jesus Christ makes use of them to defeat their own purposes and accomplish his. He permitted them to seduce our first parents, that he might make a show of the powers of darkness openly, and triumph over them. Satan’s power was great which he thus erected on human crime; it was the reign of sin. And the reason why Christ permitted him to erect it was, to show that his own power was greater, and to make it subserve his reign of grace. Christ and his kingdom have suffered temporarily from the malice of fiends, and still suffer; but he is above them, and turns all their malice to good account. It is among the more resplendent glories of his throne, that he wrests the scepter from their grasp, and awards them a more signal defeat for all their hostility. Nor do we need a more impressive exemplification of this truth, than that, at the very "hour and power of darkness" when all the hosts of hell were summoned against him, and every are was tried, and all their malice raged, and they had actually compassed his death, unwittingly they struck the blow which crushed the serpent’s head. From that day to this, he has not only been limiting and counteracting their influence, but overruling it for their loss and his gain, for their shame and his triumph, for their misery and his and his people’s everlasting joy. To say that good men are subservient to this redemption is a truism which needs no illustration; for they are its objects as well as its subjects. They are said to be "in Christ," to "suffer with him," to be "crucified with him," to "die with him," to "rise with him," to be "glorified together with him." He it is that secures the energy, and gives a consistent development, a growing ascendancy, a final triumph, to their every gracious principle and affection, and imparts to them those supplies of the Holy Spirit by which their spiritual life is sustained, matured, and perfected. There is nothing they recognize more implicitly and more gratefully than the importance of their relation to him as their vital Head. This gracious union is indissoluble by any of the circumstances by which it may be threatened, and is eminently conducive to the promotion of those great purposes for which, from eternity, he resolved to redeem a church from among men. They are one in him, as well as one with him. He is the center and bond of their unity. They are found in different lands and in different nations; some of them are glorified in heaven, and some are militant on the earth; but they are all one body, of which he is the glorified and reigning Head. "None of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord.—For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living." When, at the last day, he shall surrender the mediatorial trust, all his people shall be found gathered together in one body, and be presented "complete in him." And all this takes place in pursuance of the comprehensive design, "that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he would gather together in one all things in Christ."
That bad men subserve the interests of Christ’s kingdom is not owing to them, but to him. They mean not so, neither in their heart do they think so. Still they do it, and often very effectually. The antediluvian world did, when they built the ark; Joseph’s brethren did, when they sold him into Egypt; the Assyrian Sennacherib did, when he invaded Judea; the Jews did, when they delivered the Son of God to be crucified; and Pilot and Herod did, when they condemned and executed him. So did Titus when he besieged Jerusalem; and Tetzel, by the sale of indulgences; and James, by his severity toward the English Puritans; and the demon of persecution, by the blood of the martyrs. Many a time has God employed ambitious conquerors for the diffusion of his gospel; the tyranny of despots to give liberty to his people; the pride of science to give knowledge of salvation; the enterprise and economy of the covetous to hoard up treasures for his cause and kingdom; and the "wrath of man to praise the Lord." Where he does not thus overrule the wickedness of men, he restrains it; and when their course is finished, he hurls them from the pinnacle of their glory to the dust, and, by all the triumphs of his justice over his enemies, signalizes the still greater triumphs of his grace toward his friends.
What is the providence of God but the execution of this great purpose of redemption? If we trace the prominent events in the history of the world, from the first apostasy to the present hour, we see that the great outlines of the Divine government, and the issues of all the great movements of his providence, have had but this common center, and this commanding object. It is truly wonderful to reflect on the events that have taken place, and the changes that have been brought about, for advancing the kingdom of Christ in the world. With this purpose in view, men have been called into existence. For this kings have been enthroned, and dethroned; nations have been born, and destroyed. "I have loved you," says God to his church, "therefore will I give men for you, and people for your life.—I gave Egypt for your ransom; Ethiopia and Seba for you." The kingdom of providence is the theater of the most wonderful and magnificent operations; and they are all made tributary to the kingdom of Christ. The more minutely they are inspected, the more clearly will they be found to develop some important feature in the method of redeeming mercy. It is often matter of admiration to us that so many and such important events take place in such rapid succession; that so many are brought about by the most unexpected and unnoticed instrumentality; so many that are apparently casual and contingent; while the cross, in some of its unseen and unnumbered influences, is exerting its attractions upon them all. Latent springs are in operation that are too nice and delicate to be adjusted by the human mind, and that are directed only by infinite wisdom. The infinite Redeemer, everywhere present, and coming, as it were, in contact with all the affairs of this world, is giving them a direction with his own mighty and invisible hand. It is very difficult for a Christian to give any account of innumerable events which have taken place, and are continually taking place, without tracing them up to their designed subserviency to the cross. We may account for some links in the chain, but the chain itself terminates at the cross. Just as certainly as all finite things and all finite minds are under the direction of the Infinite, are they all made to concentrate in this great and comprehensive plan. This wonderful design diffuses itself everywhere, and grasps everything. It has unmeasured plenitude, and is the "fullness of Him that fills all in all." It is severed from nothing. While it connects with it the whole material and intellectual universe, it binds to it in close and intimate relations all the movements of both. Though not a few of them may be dissimilar in their nature, and in their tendencies uncongenial, the God of providence lays them all under contribution to the "riches of his glory in Christ Jesus," and makes them all speak forth his praises. Go where you will, and you will see results which but for him had never been known—results which will forever be viewed with increasing interest from the relation they bear to his cross.
How unquestionable, then, is the truth that a sad defeat awaits the expectations of those who hope to prosper in their hostility to the kingdom of Christ! It cannot be otherwise than that they shall be put to shame. This great Savior shall rule even in the midst of his enemies. He has them in his power, because God has given him power over all flesh. If you are his enemy, let it not be forgotten that your being and well-being are dependent on his will. Your respite from the condemning sentence depends solely on his pleasure; and when his purposes are answered you will be taken by his unseen hand, and ensnared and broken. He limits and restrains, and controls the influence you are exerting against him, and is even now making it subserve his great design. It is a most mistaken policy to set yourself against the Lord and against his Christ; because, without destroying your accountability, or interfering with your freedom, he makes all your conduct subservient to the accomplishment of his own counsels. It is as though the instrument should rebel against him that wields it; "as if the rod should shake itself against those who lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood!" He is now seeking your salvation; but if you still oppose and rebel, instead of convincing and converting you, he will confound and destroy you. Honor him you must, either by cheerfully submitting to the power of his grace, or being made to submit to his justice.
But the main thought of the present chapter is fraught more with consolation than with rebuke. It is altogether from a mistaken view of God’s providence that those who have an interest in this redemption sink into depression and despondency, either on their own account, or on account of Zion’s calamity. There cannot be a source of higher exultation than that Jesus Christ is "Head over all things to the church." Whatever is tributary to the interests of his kingdom, is tributary to the highest interests of all those who belong to it. Come what will, they are safe, they are happy. "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." The Christian’s highest interests are bound up in that redemption to which everything in the universe is made subservient. No envenomed dart can reach him that does not first strike the heart of his Divine Lord, there lose its sting, and thence be turned back on the foe. His severest afflictions are to be numbered among his choicest mercies, and as certainly subserve his welfare as they do the kingdom of his adorable Master. "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s." The bond which unites the believer to Christ is an impervious shield against every enemy and evil. Tribulation may come; those he loves, and whom Jesus loves, may die and be gathered home; but their "flesh shall rest in hope," and because Jesus lives they shall live also. "All things," be they what they may, and where they may, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, good and evil, friends and foes, though often by wonderful combinations and contrast, "work together for good to those who love God." If the omniscient Savior know
how to promote their highest and holiest happiness; if the gracious Savior be disposed to do this—if there be no restraint upon his power, and the omnipotent Savior be able to bring about a result so glorious; then have his people the assurance that he will bring good out of evil, and light out of darkness, and may therefore cast their care upon him, knowing that he cares for them. "Dominion is with him!" "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." Jesus reigns, and let the earth rejoice!
It is delightful, also, to have the confidence, that the great work of redemption, in the hands of the gracious dispenser of the new covenant, will be crowned with success. Because all things are subjected to Christ, he will not fail to make them all tributary to his kingdom. It will hold on its course, and will ultimately receive both the reluctant and the willing homage of the whole creation. We cannot have a surer guarantee of its universal ascendancy, than the truth we have been considering. It will reign triumphantly over the world, and all will honor the Son, even as they honor the Father who sent him. His gospel shall be everywhere proclaimed; his Spirit shall be sent down to dwell with men; and Christ shall be all in all. Great holiness and great happiness shall bless mankind, because the King of Zion is the King of the universe. He shall "create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy; and I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and the voice of weeping shall no more be heard in her, nor the voice of crying." All that is written of the truth of Christianity, and the power of godliness, and the glory of the Son, shall then be verified. The earth shall become his temple, consecrated by his presence, bright with his glory, and filled with his praise. "Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea," shall then be heard, "saying, Blessing and honor, and glory and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and forever!" And the four living creatures shall say, Amen! And the four-and-twenty elders shall fall down and worship Him that lives forever and ever!
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