Great Texts of the Bible
The Crowned Christ
But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that by the grace of God he should taste death for every man.—Hebrews 2:8-9.
We have a comparison in this chapter between humanity uncrowned and humanity in Jesus Christ crowned. Humanity is a tender and beautiful plant, but it is flowerless apart from Jesus Christ. All the strength, the grace, and the beauty of the race express themselves once for all in Christ who is the flower of the race. And we see the meaning, the purpose and the sovereignty of the human race when we see Jesus crowned.
Following the writer’s thought, let us consider,
I. Man’s unrealized Destiny.
II. His Sovereignty secured in Christ.
Man’s unrealized Destiny
“But now we see not yet all things subjected to him.”
1. That man was made for sovereignty was declared by the Psalmist whom the writer quotes. “Thou hast made him”—that is, man—“a little lower than the angels. Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” And this is not a doctrine peculiar to the Psalmist; it is not merely the excitement and rapture of genius that affirm it. Read the earliest pages of the Jewish Scriptures, and you will discover that in the record of creation it is said that man was made in the image of God, was appointed to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth; and he was charged by God to subdue the earth, which had been made his kingdom.
Readers of Tennyson will remember the magic Hall of Camelot, with its four great zones or belts of sculpture. On the lowest belt were represented beasts slaying men. On the next higher, men are slaying beasts, on the third are warriors, perfect men, while on the highest are men with growing wings; and over all the ideal man beckoning upward to those beneath. A wonderful parable of the advancing man. To the writer of the 8th Psalm man had already tamed the beast, tamed its passions. He had made the ox the slave of agriculture. He had harnessed the fury of the fire, and found a way for his commerce in the seas. But while he thus felt how great was his place in the universe, nothing impressed him so much as that God thought about him and visited him. The greatest thing one can say is that man can hold communion with his God, that man can walk with the Eternal and have the atmosphere of heaven.1 [Note: J. E. Rattenbury.]
(1) Man’s sovereignty extends over the material universe.—Man is infinitely more than the last and the highest result of operations entirely within the material. He is the last and the highest result of such operations, in certain senses; but he did not become man by such operations and processes. He became man by an act of God, distinct from all other acts; an act by which He did, in the mystery of His wisdom and the operations of His might, differentiate by infinite distance between man and everything that lay beneath him in the scale of creation. God’s place for this man in the earth is that of dominion. He made him to have dominion over the whole earth; over all that the earth yields in the mystery of its life; over all that dwells upon the earth, having sentient life. Over all these He placed man, that he might have dominion over them. All beneath man is imperfect without him, and can be perfected only as he exercises his dominion.
I refuse to be reduced to the same rank, to be placed in the same order, as the cattle that browse on the hills, or the fish that people the sea. I assert my supremacy. I believe that I have received from the hand of God crown and sceptre, and that although other designs may be accomplished by the existence of the material and living things around me, they are intended to serve me. The sun shines that I may see the mountains and the woods and the flashing streams, and that I may do the work by which I live. For me the rain falls and the dews silently distil—to cherish the corn which grows for my food, to soften the air I breathe, and to keep the beauty of the world fresh and bright on which I rejoice to look. The music of the birds is for me, and the perfume of flowers. For me it was that forests grew in ancient times and have since been hardened into coal; for me there are veins of iron and of silver penetrating the solid earth; and for me there are rivers whose sands are gold. The beasts of the earth were meant to do my work; sheep and oxen are given me for food. Fire and hail and the stormy wind were meant to serve me. I have authority to compel the lightning to be the messenger of my thought, and the servant of my will. Man is placed over the works of God’s hands; for those works were meant to minister to man’s life, man’s culture, and man’s happiness.1 [Note: R. W. Dale, The Jewish Temple and the Christian Church, 49.]
(2) Man bears “the image of God.”—In the creation which surrounds us, there are marvellous manifestations of the Divine attributes. A power to which we can give no other name than omnipotence, a knowledge which we cannot but call infinite, a wisdom whose depths are unfathomable, and an inexhaustible goodness, are revealed in the heavens above and in the earth beneath. But in man, God has given existence to a creature in whom we recognize not merely the operations of the Divine attributes, but the attributes themselves, though in a less noble form and an inferior degree. There is the manifestation of wisdom, of power, and of love, in the other works of God; but in man there is wisdom itself, love itself.
The preparation of the Declaratory Act, to remove difficulties and scruples felt by some in reference to the declaration of belief required from persons who receive office or are admitted to office in the Free Church, was undertaken with great care. At the Assembly of 1891, Principal Rainy was able to bring up the document which the Committee proposed to be adopted. The fourth section read as follows: “That in holding and teaching, according to the Confession of Faith, the corruption of man’s whole nature as fallen, this Church also maintains that there remain tokens of his greatness as created in the image of God; that he possesses a knowledge of God and of duty; that he is responsible for compliance with the moral law and with the Gospel; and that, although unable without the aid of the Holy Spirit to return to God, he is yet capable of affections and actions which in themselves are virtuous and praiseworthy.”1 [Note: P. C. Simpson, The Life of Principal Rainy, ii. 125.]
(3) Man is endowed with freedom.—He is like God in this, that he possesses freedom to choose the objects of his life, and the means by which he will secure them. Let the iron hand of necessity control all things besides,—the eagle in her daring flight, the tumult of the ocean, the dance of the spray, the rush of the winds, the fury of the storm,—the will of man stands erect, confronting and defying all authority and all power. No outward force can compel it; no inward necessity bind it. The foundations of that throne on which the human will has been placed by the hand of the Creator cannot be shaken by the tremendous energies which rend asunder the everlasting hills. A solitary man can stand against a million; they may torture his physical frame till he cries aloud in his agony, but the whole force of a great empire has been met and mastered by the will of a quiet scholar and of a feeble woman. God has given to the human will the power of refusing to bow before His own greatness, and of disobeying His own commands. This imperial faculty it is, beyond all others, which stamps man as the rightful master of the world. He alone has this indispensable attribute of sovereignty. All creatures besides are in bondage to irresistible law; he alone has received the gift of freedom. “Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.”
But it exceeds man’s thought to think how high
God hath raised man, since God a man became;
The angels do admire this mystery,
And are astonished when they view the same.
Nor hath he given these blessings for a day,
Nor made them on the body’s life depend.
The soul, though made in time, survives for aye;
And though it hath beginning, sees no end.2 [Note: Sir John Davies.]
2. Man’s sovereignty, conferred on him originally by the appointment of his Creator, has not been fully realized. How miserably he has come short of it has been shown by the condition of all nations and of all ages. His freedom has been manifested in his violation of the most solemn and imperative obligations. The image of God has been so defaced that it has almost disappeared. The intellect of man has sunk into a chaos of ignorance and error, and, instead of rightly understanding the universe, he has constructed a thousand monstrous theories concerning its origin, concerning the very structure of material things, concerning his own nature and destiny. The commonest laws of the external world remained hidden from him for thousands of years, and remain hidden even now from the immense majority of his race. Instead of being the master of the inferior creation, he has been—and to a large extent, continues still—its unhappy victim. His life is destroyed by the poison of reptiles, and by the brute strength of beasts of prey. The vineyards he has laboriously cultivated he cannot protect from blight. The harvests he is ready to reap are wasted by destructive rains. On the land, his cities perish by earthquakes: on the sea, his ships go down in the storm. His health is ruined and his moral nature corrupted by the strong temptations of the outward world, which betray him into sensual excesses. He has come to be so humiliated and degraded that he has looked up to the moon and stars which were made to serve him, and has called them his gods; he has placed four-footed beasts and creeping things in the shrine of his temples, and has implored them to avert the calamities he dreaded, and to bestow on him the blessings for which he longed. The traces of his kingship have not disappeared; slowly and painfully in one province of his dominions after another, especially since Christ came, and in the lands of Christendom, he has been winning back the authority he had lost; but his hand is too feeble to hold the sceptre, and on all sides the subject creation is in open revolt—revolt which he seems often unable even to check, and is quite unable to subdue. “We see not yet all things put under him.”
If that psalm be God’s thought of man, the plan that He hangs up for us, His workmen, to build by, what a wretched thing my copy of it has turned out to be! Is this a picture of me? How seldom I am conscious of the visits of God; how full I am of weaknesses and imperfections, the solemn voice within me tells me at intervals when I listen to its tones. On my brow there gleams no diadem; from my life, alas! there shines at the best but a fitful splendour of purity, all striped with solid masses of blackness. And as for dominion over creatures, how superficial my rule over them, how real their rule over me! I can tame animals or slay them; I can use the forces of nature for my purposes. I can make machinery, and bid the lightning do my errands, and carry messages, the burden of which is mostly money, or power, or sorrow. But all these things do not signify that man has the dominion over God’s creation. That consists in using all for God, and for our own growth in wisdom, strength, and goodness; and he only is master of all things who is servant of God. “All are yours, and ye are Christ’s.” If so, what are most of us but servants, not lords, of earth and its goods? We fasten our very lives on them, we tremble at the bare thought of losing them, we give our best efforts to get them; we say to the fine gold, “Thou art my confidence.” We do not possess them, they possess us, though materially we may have conquered the earth (and wonderfully proud of it we are now), spiritually, which is the same as to say really, the earth has conquered us.
The sense I had of the state of the churches brought a weight of distress upon me. The gold to me appeared dim, and the fine gold changed, and though this is the case too generally, yet the sense of it in these parts hath in a particular manner borne heavy upon me. It appeared to me that through the prevailing of the spirit of this world the minds of many were brought to an inward desolation, and instead of the spirit of meekness, gentleness, and heavenly wisdom, which are the necessary companions of the true sheep of Christ, a spirit of fierceness and the love of dominion too generally prevailed. From small beginnings in error great buildings by degrees are raised, and from one age to another are more and more strengthened by the general concurrence of the people; and as men obtain reputation by their profession of the truth, their virtues are mentioned as arguments in favour of general error; and those of less note, to justify themselves, say, such and good men did the like.1 [Note: The Journal of John Woolman.]
Sovereignty secured in Christ
“But we behold him … even Jesus … crowned with glory and honour.”
The writer of the Epistle has quoted the 8th Psalm as an illustration of his thesis that Christ, and we in Christ, are exalted above angels, and then he proceeds to admit that, as a matter of fact, men are not what the Psalmist describes them as being. But the psalm is not, therefore, an exaggeration, or a dream, or a mere ideal of the imagination. True, as a matter of fact, men are not all this. But, as a matter of fact, Jesus Christ is, and in His possession of all that the psalm painted our possession is commenced and certified. It is an ideal picture, but it is realized in Jesus, and, having been so in Him, we have ground to believe that it will be so in us. We see not yet all things put under man—alas, no—but we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour; and as He tasted death for every man, so in His exaltation He is prophecy and pledge that the grand old words shall one day be fulfilled in all their height and depth.
1. Christ’s sovereignty was won through humiliation and suffering.
(1) He was content to be “made a little lower than the angels.”—Wherein was Jesus set under the angels? Not simply in that He became man; for His manhood is as truly the ground of His exaltation as of His humiliation. It is to man as man that the psalm ascribes the coronet of glory and honour—the exaltation over all creatures into which Jesus has entered. With Jesus, as with man in general, the inferiority to the angels is one of dispensation, not of nature. To be subordinated to the angelic dispensation is the same thing as to be “made under the law.” Jesus shared man’s humiliation, to win, not for Himself only, but for men, His brethren, the destined glory. God brings many sons to glory along with Him, inasmuch as He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one piece. Thus the blessings of the psalm do, in the world to come, fall to man. But they are earned for him by the man Christ Jesus who, tasting death for all, delivers us from the fear of death and so from bondage. And this blessing of deliverance from the bondage of the Old Covenant belongs even now to Christians, who have already tasted the powers of the world to come, who are regarded as dissociated from the earthly theocracy and living in view of that which is to come. “The world to come” is in fact the equivalent of the Kingdom of God in the gospel—already present among men, though hitherto as an object of faith, not of sight.
(2) He endured the suffering of death.—There are many ways of winning a crown. Here, and in these great chapters of Revelation (5, 6), we see Jesus greeted with unspeakable acclaim because He has suffered. Because of the suffering of death which He bore, because of the way in which He bore it, and because He bore it to such limits of endurance as are possible on earth, He was raised from the cross of shame to the throne of God. If we see truly, He changed the cross of shame into a throne of glory. Because it was He who was crucified, and because of the manner and spirit in which He bore the suffering of death, He Himself transformed and transfigured the shameful cross, until to-day it is the throne from which this universe is ruled.
(3) Because He wears the crown He still drinks man’s cup.—“That by the grace of God he should taste death for every man.” Jesus did not finish His suffering on Calvary. We have to recall the thought which John taught us when he showed us the Lamb standing in the midst of the throne, as though it had been slain—the thought that Calvary was but the revelation of the suffering of God which was from the foundation of the world, and shall be until earth and heaven are brought to peace and righteousness. So here we have this thought in a new and wondrous form. The crown of Christ and the glory which was awarded Him were like no other crown or glory ever awarded to man. We speak in our poor fashion of Christ’s suffering being followed by glory, and we mean a glory according to the fleshly heart of man. We speak of His exchanging the cross for the crown, not knowing that the crown is ever the crown of thorns. This writer tells us that the glory with which He was crowned was the glory of tasting death for every man. That was the glory He won by suffering so supremely on Golgotha. That was the glory He attained to because He was very faithful on that narrow cross, even as far as death.
The Cross of Calvary was taken into the very heart of the Eternal. From earth there went One who, by the experience of earth, was fitted to regain His place in the fellowship of God. That is the thought that places us at the very heart of what we generally mean by the Atonement. The Saviour who bears the sin of this world to-day is a living crucified Saviour to-day. Wherever there is sin, there is He crucified. So much of it as was possible out of the venom and malice of those Jewish foes fell upon Him in Jerusalem, but to-day He is free from the limits of mortal flesh, and has entered into the eternal Spirit of God once again; and wherever there is sin, there is Christ crucified. As He died that day for those who then lived, He tastes death in every ruined life, He is crucified in every lustful heart; His heart is broken in every ruined home, and smitten with pain by our coldness, and failure, and disobedience.1 [Note: F. W. Lewis, The Work of Christ, 86.]
2. Christ’s crown is the prophecy and pledge of man’s dominion. He is the pattern of human nature. From Christ comes the power by which the prophecy is fulfilled and the pattern reproduced in all who love Him. Whosoever is joined to Him receives into his soul that spirit of life in Christ which unfolds and grows according to its own law, and has for its issue and last result the entire conformity between the believing soul and the Saviour by whom it lives. It were a poor consolation to point to Christ and say, “Look what man has become, and may become,” unless we could also say, “A real and living oneness exists between Him and all who cleave to Him, so that their characters are changed, their natures cleansed, their future altered, their immortal beauty secured.” He is more than pattern, He is power; more than specimen, He is source; more than example, He is Redeemer. He has been made in the likeness of sinful flesh, that we may be in the likeness of His body of glory. He has been made “sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
The hopes for the future lie around us as flowers in some fair garden where we walk in the night, their petals closed and their leaves asleep, but here and there a whiter bloom gleams out, and sweet faint odours from unseen sources steal through the dewy darkness. We can understand but little of what this majestic promise of sovereign manhood may mean. But the fragrance, if not the sight, of that gorgeous blossom is wafted to us. We know that “the upright shall have dominion in the morning.” We know that to His servants authority over ten cities will be given. We know that we shall be “kings and priests to God.” The fact we know, the contents of the fact we wait to prove. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” Enough that we shall reign with Him, and that in the kingdom of the heavens dominion means service, and the least is the greatest.1 [Note: Alexander Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, ii. 185.]
(1) “For every man.” The virtue of Christ’s cross is for all. Criminals may put themselves outside the pale of human sympathy easily enough. Their misdeeds may slay the sentiment of pity for them even in the heart of the most pitiful. Society, horrified and revolted by their evil doing, may with one voice demand the full penalty of the law. Yes, and even a mother’s love, the divinest thing on earth, may not be deep enough to condone the evil. Man by his sin may put himself outside the circumference of the tenderest human affection, beyond the range of the most pitiful human compassion. But no sinner can outrange the infinite love of God. His compassions flow beyond the widest and wildest wanderings of man’s transgressions. His tender love is deeper than the lowest depths of vice and wickedness. And the death of the Crucified One is gloriously sufficient to atone for the sins of every member of our sinful race.
I do find the love of God is the only power in the universe to accomplish any result. All must be the Devil’s, if it were not at work. Shall it not in some way or other vindicate all to itself? I wish to think awfully on the question, confessing with trembling that there is an unspeakable power of resistance in our wills to God’s love—a resistance quite beyond my understanding or any understanding to explain—and not denying that this resistance may be final, but still feeling myself obliged when I trust God thoroughly to think that there is a depth in His love below all other depths; a bottomless pit of charity deeper than the bottomless pit of evil. And I answer that to lead people to feel that this is a ground for them to stand upon is the great way of teaching them to stand. They are not made to hang poised in the air, which is the position I fear of a good many religious people, in a perpetual land of mist and cloud, never seeing the serene heaven, nor feeling the solid earth. “God is in the midst of us, therefore we cannot be moved.” What might there is in these words!1 [Note: The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, i. 528.]
(2) Christ’s crown and ours are in the last resort the fruits of grace. This was granted to Him—this awful eminence, this sole right and power to taste death for every man, was granted to Him “by the grace of God.” It was by God’s gracious act and permission that He was welcomed back into the eternal Sonship. He had lived with the Father in eternity before He came to earth, and He went back not only Son of God but Son of Man. He went back the Head of our race. He went back our Brother. He went back, as He is called in this letter, the Leader whose followers we are. We have gained a place in the fellowship of the eternal suffering; our blood is there shed, mingled indistinguishably with the blood of God. We see not yet all things won and conquered, but we see this: that from our cradle, and our weakness, and our frailty, and our strife, Jesus has gone into the perfect suffering of God our Saviour, and man with God is on that awful throne. By the grace of God it has been granted. We have been taken into the veriest Divinity, for there is no Divinity ever imagined by man comparable with the Divinity that is revealed in the suffering of God; and we in Jesus Christ have been united with the very heart of the mystery of God Himself. Many things—all good things—come from the grace of God, which giveth all; and St. Paul tells us it has been “granted” to us not only to believe, but also to suffer (Php 1:29). The word there is the same as the word here—the word “grace.” God’s highest gift is not the gift of all enjoyment, it is not the gift of all peace and blessedness; the highest gift of God is the gift of the fellowship of suffering, whereby we are raised into the society and friendship and likeness of no less an One than the Eternal God, who thereby becomes, as He never was before, our Father; thereby we become, as never before, His children.
I have so much cause for wonder at the human as well as the Divine love which has been poured out upon me. No one ever deserved it less. I am sure if I do not know what free grace means, or use the expression as a mere cant one, I am more to blame than all. It seems to me, from the highest to the lowest, from the manner of God’s redemption to the kind look and obedience of a servant, all is grace; all are parts of one living chain which is let down upon me and which is meant to draw me up.1 [Note: The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, i. 527.]
Seven vials hold Thy wrath: but what can hold
Thy mercy save Thine own Infinitude,
Boundlessly overflowing with all good,
All loving kindness, all delights untold?
Thy Love, of each created love the mould;
Thyself, of all the empty plenitude;
Heard of at Ephrata, found in the Wood,
For ever One, the Same, and Manifold.
Lord, give us grace to tremble with that dove
Which Ark-bound winged its solitary way
And overpast the Deluge in a day,
Whom Noah’s hand pulled in and comforted:
For we who much more hang upon Thy Love
Behold its shadow in the deed he did.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poetical Works, 264.]
The Crowned Christ
Edwards (T. C.), The Epistle to the Hebrews, 21.
Griffith-Jones (E.), Faith and Verification, 146.
Lewis (F. W.), The Work of Christ, 80.
Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, ii. 170.
Norton (J. N.), Short Sermons, 136.
Sowter (G. A.), Trial and Triumph, 199.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxv. (1879), No. 1509.
Westcott (B. F.), The Historic Faith, 59.
Wynne (G. R.), In Quietness and Confidence, 138.
British Weekly Pulpit, iii. 225 (A. Cave).
Christian World Pulpit, xl. 241 (J. Clifford); lvi. 4 (J. T. Parr); lxx. 166 (J. E. Rattenbury); lxxii. 73 (A. Clayton); lxxxii. 273 (G. C. Morgan).
Marylebone Presbyterian Pulpit, ii., No. 6 (C. Lorimer).
Record, Feb. 6, 1914 (E. N. Pearce).