THE EXCELLENCY OF CHRIST
Written by: Edwards, Jonathan Posted on: 04/01/2003
INTRODUCTORY REMARK BY THE TRANSCRIBER
When this sermon was preached, the average listener had a
considerably greater attention span than his modern counterpart.
The reader may therefore be daunted by the length of the sermon. I
had considered abridging it, but finally decided not to.
Some readers will also complain that it gets off to a slow start.
This is standard for an extended speech in any context. An
experienced speaker intending to speak at length will give his
audience a minute or so to settle down into listening mode before he
says anything essential, anything that they must hear if they are
not to miss the whole point of the speech. And those who stick with
him will find that the pace does pick up after the first page.
THE EXCELLENCY OF CHRIST
a Sermon by Jonathan Edwards
+ And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion
+ of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to
+ open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I
+ beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne, and of the four
+ beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had
+ been slain --. Rev. 5:5-6
The visions and revelations the apostle John had of the future
events of God's providence, are here introduced with a vision of the
book of God's decrees, by which those events were fore-ordained.
This is represented (Revelation 5:1) as a book in the right hand of
him who sat on the throne, "written within and on the back side, and
sealed with seven seals." Books, in the form in which they were wont
of old to be made, were broad leaves of parchment or paper, or
something of that nature, joined together at one edge, and so rolled
up together, and then sealed, or some way fastened together, to
prevent their unfolding and opening. Hence we read of the roll of a
book Jer. 36:2. It seems to have been such a book that John had a
vision of here; and therefore it is said to be "written within and
on the back side," i. e. on the inside pages, and also on one of the
outside pages, namely, that which it was rolled in, in rolling the
book up together. And it is said to be "sealed with seven seals," to
signify that what was written in it was perfectly hidden and secret;
or that God's decrees of future events are sealed, and shut up from
all possibility of being discovered by creatures, till God is
pleased to make them known. We find that seven is often used in
Scripture as the number of perfection, to signify the superlative or
most perfect degree of anything, which probably arose from this,
that on the seventh day God beheld the works of creation finished,
and rested and rejoiced in them, as being complete and perfect.
When John saw this book, he tells us, he "saw a strong angel
proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and
to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth,
neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look
thereon." And that he wept much, because "no man was found worthy to
open and read the book, neither to look thereon." And then tells us
how his tears were dried up, namely, that "one of the elders said
unto him, "Weep not, Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah hath
prevailed" etc. as in the text. Though no man nor angel, nor any
mere creature, was found either able to loose the seals, or worthy
to be admitted to the privilege of reading the book, yet this was
declared, for the comfort of this beloved disciple, that Christ was
found both able and worthy. And we have an account in the succeeding
chapters how he actually did it, opening the seals in order, first
one, and then another, revealing what God had decreed should come to
pass hereafter. And we have an account in this chapter, of his
coming and taking the book out of the right hand of him that sat on
the throne, and of the joyful praises that were sung to him in
heaven and earth on that occasion.
Many things might be observed in the words of the text; but it
is to my present purpose only to take notice of the two distinct
appellations here given to Christ.
1) He is called a Lion. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
He seems to be called the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in allusion to
what Jacob said in his blessing of the tribe on his death-bed; who,
when he came to bless Judah, compares him to a lion, Gen. 49:9.
"Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up:
he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall
rouse him up?" And also to the standard of the camp of Judah in the
wilderness on which was displayed a lion, according to the ancient
tradition of the Jews. It is much on account of the valiant acts of
David that the tribe of Judah, of which David was, is in Jacob's
prophetical blessing compared to a lion; but more especially with an
eye to Jesus Christ, who also was of that tribe, and was descended
of David, and is in our text called "the Root of David"; and
therefore Christ is here called "the Lion of the tribe of Judah."
2) He is called a Lamb. John was told of a Lion that had
prevailed to open the book, and probably expected to see a lion in
his vision; but while he is expecting, behold a Lamb appears to open
the book, an exceeding diverse kind of creature from a lion. A lion
is a devourer, one that is wont to make terrible slaughter of
others; and no creature more easily falls a prey to him than a lamb.
And Christ is here represented not only as a Lamb, a creature very
liable to be slain, but a "Lamb as it had been slain," that is, with
the marks of its deadly wounds appearing on it.
That which I would observe from the words, for the subject of
my present discourse, is this, namely --
THERE IS AN ADMIRABLE CONJUNCTION
OF DIVERSE EXCELLENCIES IN JESUS CHRIST.
The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures,
yet have each their peculiar excellencies. The lion excels in
strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice: the lamb
excels in meekness and patience, besides the excellent nature of the
creature as good for food, and yielding that which is fit for our
clothing and being suitable to be offered in sacrifice to God. But
we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the
diverse excellencies of both wonderfully meet in him, -- In handling
this subject I would
FIRST, Show wherein there is an admirable conjunction of
diverse excellencies in Christ.
SECOND, Show how this admirable conjunction of excellencies
appear in Christ's acts.
THIRD, make application.
***** PART ONE *****
First, I would show wherein there is an admirable conjunction
of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ. which appears in three
A) There is a conjunction of such excellencies in Christ, as,
in our manner of conceiving, are very dlverse one from another.
B) There is in him a conjunction of such really diverse
excellencies, as otherwise would have seemed to us utterly
incompatible in the same subject.
C) Such diverse excellencies are exercised in him towards men
that otherwise would have seemed impossible to be exercised towards
the same object.
A) There is a conjunction of such excellencies in Christ as, in
our manner of conceiving, are very diverse one from another. Such
are the various divine perfections and excellencies that Christ is
possessed of. Christ is a divine person, and therefore has all the
attributes of God. The difference between these is chiefly relative,
and in our manner of conceiving them. And those which, in this
sense, are most diverse, meet in the person of Christ. I shall
mention two instances.
1) There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite
Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all.
He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of kings,
and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than
the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all
kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations
are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance;
yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high,
that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we
cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we
cannot comprehend him. Prov. 30:4 "What is his name, and what is his
Son's name, if thou canst tell?" Our understandings, if we stretch
them never so far, cannot reach up to his divine glory. Job 11:8 "It
is high as heaven, what canst thou do?" Christ is the Creator and
great Possessor of heaven and earth. He is sovereign Lord of all.
He rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him.
His knowledge is without bound. His wisdom is perfect, and what none
can circumvent. His power is infinite, and none can resist Him. His
riches are immense and inexhaustible. His majesty is infinitely
And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low or
inferior, but Christ's condescension is sufficient to take a
gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels,
humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but
he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only
so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are
of meanest rank and degree, "the poor of the world," James 2:5. Such
as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ does not
despise. I Cor. 1:28 "Base things of the world, and things that are
despised, hath God chosen." Christ condescends to take notice of
beggars Luke 16:22 and people of the most despised nations. In
Christ Jesus is neither "Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free" (Col.
3:11). He that is thus high condescends to take a gracious notice of
little children Matt. 19:14. "Suffer little children to come unto
me." Yea, which is more, his condescension is sufficient to take a
gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that
have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill
Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only
sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but
sufficient for every thing that is an act of condescension. His
condescension is great enough to become their friend, to become
their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage.
It is enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them,
that he may be one with them. Yea, it is great enough to abase
himself yet lower for them, even to expose himself to shame and
spitting; yea, to yield up himself to an ignominious death for them.
And what act of condescension can be conceived of greater? Yet such
an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are
so low and mean, despicable and unworthy!
Such a conjunction of infinite highness and low condescension,
in the same person, is admirable. We see, by manifold instances,
what a tendency a high station has in men, to make them to be of a
quite contrary disposition. If one worm be a little exalted above
another, by having more dust, or a bigger dunghill, how much does he
make of himself! What a distance does he keep from those that are
below him! And a little condescension is what he expects should be
made much of, and greatly acknowledged. Christ condescends to wash
our feet; but how would great men, (or rather the bigger worms,)
account themselves debased by acts of far less condescension!
2) There meet in Jesus Christ, infinite justice and infinite
As Christ is a divine person, he is infinitely holy and just,
hating sin, and disposed to execute condign punishment for sin. He
is the Judge of the world, and the infinitely just Judge of it, and
will not at all acquit the wicked, or by any means clear the guilty.
And yet he is infinitely gracious and merciful. Though his
justice be so strict with respect to all sin, and every breach of
the law, yet he has grace sufficient for every sinner, and even the
chief of sinners. And it is not only sufficient for the most
unworthy to show them mercy, and bestow some good upon them, but to
bestow the greatest good; yea, it is sufficient to bestow all good
upon them, and to do all things for them. There is no benefit or
blessing that they can receive, so great but the grace of Christ is
sufficient to bestow it on the greatest sinner that ever lived. And
not only so, but so great is his grace, that nothing is too much as
the means of this good. It is sufficient not only to do great
things, but also to suffer in order to do it, and not only to
suffer, but to suffer most extremely even unto death, the most
terrible of natural evils; and not only death, but the most
ignominious and tormenting, and every way the most terrible that men
could inflict; yea, and greater sufferings than men could inflict,
who could only torment the body. He had sufferings in his soul, that
were the more immediate fruits of the wrath of God against the sins
of those he undertakes for.
B) There do meet in the person of Christ such really diverse
excellencies, which otherwise would have been thought utterly
incompatible in the same subject; such as are conjoined in no other
person whatever, either divine, human, or angelical; and such as
neither men nor angels would ever have imagined could have met
together in the same person, had it not been seen in the person of
Christ. I would give some instances.
1) 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 exist 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.
But in Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, those two diverse
excellencies are sweetly united. He is a person infinitely exalted
in glory and dignity. Phil. 2:6. "Being in the form of God, he
thought it not robbery to be equal with God." There is equal honor
due to him with the Father. John 5:23. "That all men should honor
the Son, even as they honor the Father." God himself says to him,
"thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever," Heb. 1:8. And there is
the same supreme respect and divine worship paid to him by the
angels of heaven, as to God the Father, ver. 6. "Let all the angels
of God worship him."
But however he is thus above all, yet he is lowest of all in
humility. There never was so great an instance of this virtue among
either men or angels, as Jesus. None ever was so sensible of the
distance between God and him, or had a heart so lowly before God, as
the man Christ Jesus. Matt. 11:29. What a wonderful spirit of
humility appeared in him, when he was here upon earth, in all his
behavior! In his contentment in his mean outward condition,
contentedly living in the family of Joseph the carpenter, and Mary
his mother, for thirty years together, and afterwards choosing
outward meanness, poverty, and contempt, rather than earthly
greatness; in his washing his disciples' feet, and in all his
speeches and deportment towards them; in his cheerfully sustaining
the form of a servant through his whole life, and submitting to such
immense humiliation at death!
2) 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; for thereby seems to be signified, a
calmness and quietness of spirit, arising from humility in mutable
beings that are naturally liable to be put into a ruffle by the
assaults of a tempestuous and injurious world. But Christ, being
both God and man, hath both infinite majesty and superlative
Christ was a person of infinite majesty. It is he that is
spoken of, Psalm 45:3. "Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most
mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty." It is he that is mighty,
that rideth on the heavens, and his excellency on the sky. It is he
that is terrible out of his holy places; who is mightier than the
noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea: before
whom a fire goeth, and burneth up his enemies round about; at whose
presence the earth quakes, and the hills melt; who sitteth on the
circle of the earth, and all the inhabitants thereof are as
grasshoppers, who rebukes the sea, and maketh it dry and drieth up
the rivers, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, from whose presence,
and from the glory of whose power, the wicked shall be punished with
everlasting destruction; who is the blessed and only Potentate, the
King of kings, and Lord of lords, who hath heaven for his throne,
and the earth for his footstool, and is the high and lofty One who
inhabits eternity, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and of
whose dominion there is no end.
And yet he was the most marvellous instance of meekness, and
humble quietness of spirit, that ever was; agreeable to the
prophecies of him, Matthew 21:4f "All this was done, that it might
be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the
daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and
sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." And, agreeable
to what Christ declares of himself, Matt. 11:29. "I am meek and
lowly in heart." And agreeable to what was manifest in his behavior:
for there never was such an instance seen on earth, of a meek
behavior, under injuries and reproaches, and towards enemies; who,
when he was reviled, reviled not again. He had a wonderful spirit of
forgiveness, was ready to forgive his worst enemies, and prayed for
them with fervent and effectual prayers. With what meekness did he
appear in the ring of soldiers that were contemning and mocking him;
he was silent, and opened not his mouth, but went as a lamb to the
slaughter. Thus is Christ a Lion in majesty and a Lamb in meekness.
3) There meet in the person of Christ the deepest reverence
towards God and equality with God. Christ, when on earth, appeared
full of holy reverence towards the Father. He paid the most
reverential worship to him, praying to him with postures of
reverence. Thus we read of his "kneeling down and praying," Luke
22:41. This became Christ, as one who had taken on him the human
nature, but at the same time he existed in the divine nature;
whereby his person was in all respects equal to the person of the
Father. God the Father hath no attribute or perfection that the Son
hath not, in equal degree, and equal glory. These things meet in no
other person but Jesus Christ.
4) There are conjoined in the person of Christ infinite
worthiness of good, and the greatest patience under sufferings of
He was perfectly innocent,and deserved no suffering. He
deserved nothing from God by any guilt of his own, and he deserved
no ill from men. Yea, he was not only harmless and undeserving of
suffering, but he was infinitely worthy; worthy of the infinite love
of the Father, worthy of infinite and eternal happiness, and
infinitely worthy of all possible esteem, love, and service from all
And yet he was perfectly patient under the greatest sufferings
that ever were endured in this world. Heb. 12:2. "He endured the
cross, despising the shame." He suffered not from his Father for his
faults, but ours; and he suffered from men not for his faults but
for those things on account of which he was infinitely worthy of
their love and honor, which made his patience the more wonderful and
the more glorious. 1 Pet. 2:20, "For what glory is it, if when ye be
buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently, but if when ye
do well. and suffer for it, ye take it patiently; this is acceptable
with God. For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also
suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his
steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who
when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered, he
threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth
righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the
tree, that we being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness: by
whose stripes ye were healed." There is no such conjunction of
innocence, worthiness, and patience under sufferings, as in the
person of Christ.
5) In the person of Christ are conjoined an exceeding spirit of
obedience, with supreme dominion over heaven and earth.
Christ is the Lord of all things in two respects: he is so, as
God-man and Mediator, and thus his dominion is appointed, and given
him of the Father. Having it by delegation from God, he is as it
were the Father's vicegerent. But he is Lord of all things in
another respect, namely, as he is (by his original nature) God; and
so he is by natural right the Lord of all, and supreme over all as
much as the Father. Thus, he has dominion over the world, not by
delegation, but in his own right. He is not an under God, as the
Arians suppose, but to all intents and purposes supreme God.
And yet in the same person is found the greatest spirit of
obedience to the commands and laws of God that ever was in the
universe; which was manifest in his obedience here in this world.
John 14:31 "As the Father gave me commandment, even so I do."-- John
15:10. "Even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in
his love." The greatness of his obedience appears in its perfection,
and in his obeying commands of such exceeding difficulty. Never any
one received commands from God of such difficulty, and that were so
great a trial of obedience, as Jesus Christ. One of God's commands
to him was, that he should yield himself to those dreadful
sufferings that he underwent. See John 10:18. "No man taketh it from
me, but I lay it down of myself." "This commandment received I of my
Father." And Christ was thoroughly obedient to this command of God.
Heb. 5:8. "Though he were a Son, yet he learned obedience by the
things that he suffered." Philip. 2:8. "He humbled himself, and
became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Never was
there such an instance of obedience in man or angel as this, though
he was at the same time supreme Lord of both angels and men.
6) In the person of Christ are conjoined absolute sovereignty
and perfect resignation. This is another unparalleled conjunction.
Christ, as he is God, is the absolute sovereign of the world,
the sovereign disposer of all events. The decrees of God are all his
sovereign decrees; and the work of creation, and all God's works of
providence, are his sovereign works. It is he that worketh all
things according to the counsel of his own will. Col 1:16f. "By him,
and through him, and to him, are all things." John 5:17. "The Father
worketh hitherto, and I work." Matt. 8:3. "I will, be thou clean."
But yet Christ was the most wonderful instance of resignation
that ever appeared in the world. He was absolutely and perfectly
resigned when he had a near and immediate prospect of his terrible
sufferings, and the dreadful cup that he was to drink. The idea and
expectation of this made his soul exceeding sorrowful even unto
death, and put him into such an agony, that his sweat was as it were
great drops or clots of blood, falling down to the ground. But in
such circumstances he was wholly resigned to the will of God. Matt
26:39. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:
nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. Verse 42. "O my
Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, thy
will be done."
7) 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, 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: -- his enemies say that
of him, "He trusted in God that he would deliver him," Matt. 27:43.
And the apostle testifies, I Pet. 2:23. "That he committed himself
C) Such diverse excellencies are expressed in him towards men,
that otherwise would have seemed impossible to be exercised towards
the same object; as particularly these three, justice, mercy, and
truth. The same that are mentioned in Psalm 85:10. "Mercy and truth
are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other."
The strict justice of God, and even his revenging justice, and
that against the sins of men, never was so gloriously manifested. as
in Christ. He manifested an infinite regard to the attribute of
God's justice, in that, when he had a mind to save sinners, he was
willing to undergo such extreme sufferings, rather than that their
salvation should be to the injury of the honor of that attribute.
And as he is the Judge of the world, he doth himself exercise strict
justice, he will not clear the guilty, nor at all acquit the wicked
Yet how wonderfully is infinite mercy towards sinners displayed
in him! And what glorious and ineffable grace and love have been and
are exercised by him, towards sinful men! Though he be the just
Judge of a sinful world, yet he is also the Savior of the world.
Though he be a consuming fire to sin, yet he is the light and life
of sinners. Rom. 3:25f. "Whom God hath set forth to be a
propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his
righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the
forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his
righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which
believeth in Jesus."
So the immutable truth of God, in the threatenings of his law
against the sins of men, was never so manifested as it is in Jesus
Christ, for there never was any other so great a trial of the
unalterableness of the truth of God in those threatenings, as when
sin came to be imputed to his own Son. And then in Christ has been
seen already an actual complete accomplishment of those
threatenings, which never has been nor will be seen in any other
instance; because the eternity that will be taken up in fulfilling
those threatenings on others, never will be finished. Christ
manifested an infinite regard to this truth of God in his
sufferings. And, in his judging the world, he makes the covenant of
works, that contains those dreadful threatenings, his rule of
judgement. He will see to it, that it is not infringed in the least
jot or tittle: he will do nothing contrary to the threatenings of
the law, and their complete fulfilment. And yet in him we have many
great and precious promises, promises of perfect deliverance from
the penalty of the law. And this is the promise that he hath
promised us, even eternal life. And in him are all the promises of
God yea, and Amen.
***** PART TWO *****
Having thus shown wherein there is an admirable conjunction of
excellencies in Jesus Christ, I now proceed,
SECONDLY, To show how this admirable conjunction of
excellencies appears in Christ's acts, [ namely:]
A) in his taking of human nature,
B) in his earthly life,
C) in his sacrificial death,
D) in his exaltation in heaven,
E) in his final subduing of all evil when he returns in glory.]
A) It appears in what Christ did in taking on him our nature.
In this act, his infinite condescension wonderfully appeared,
That he who was God should become man; that the word should be made
flesh, and should take on him a nature infinitely below his original
nature! And it appears yet more remarkably in the low circumstances
of his incarnation: he was conceived in the womb of a poor young
woman, whose poverty appeared in this, when she came to offer
sacrifices of her purification, she brought what was allowed of in
the law only in case of poverty, as Luke 2:24. "According to what Is
said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young
pigeons." This was allowed only in case the person was so poor that
she was not able to offer a lamb. Lev. 12:8.
And though his infinite condescension thus appeared in the
manner of his incarnation, yet his divine dignity also appeared in
it; for though he was conceived in the womb of a poor virgin, yet he
was conceived there by the power of the Holy Ghost. And his divine
dignity also appeared in the holiness of his conception and birth.
Though he was conceived in the womb of one of the corrupt race of
mankind, yet he was conceived and born without sin; as the angel
said to the blessed Virgin, Luke 1:35. "The Holy Ghost shall come
upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee,
therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be
called the Son of God."
His infinite condescension marvelously appeared in the manner
of his birth. He was brought forth in a stable because there was no
room for them in the inn. The inn was taken up by others, that were
looked upon as persons of greater account. The Blessed Virgin, being
poor and despised, was turned or shut out. Though she was in such
necessitous circumstances, yet those that counted themselves her
betters would not give place to her; and there
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