But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
I. THE NATURE OF CHRIST'S MERIT.
1. Let us gain a clear idea of a meritorious act.
(1) It must be good. Actions claiming the highest regards of God are those which have an intrinsic perfectness, and which, when looked at on all sides, are in entire correspondence with the mind and will of God. Christ's actions in perfectness contrast with those of the creature. Their peculiar goodness arises from the absence of any stain of sin and any material defect: our good actions have both these drawbacks.
(2) It must be voluntary. Even an heroic action loses its moral value if necessitated. Personal effort freely made lies at the root of all sacrifice. Christ's actions were of this character (Romans 15:36; Luke 22:42).
(3) Our Lord's actions could have obtained no merit, whatever their perfection, had they resulted only from His natural powers. Nature, even when pure, cannot purchase a supernatural reward. Grace must aid and enrich the operation of the human faculties. Even in Christ grace imparted worth to His natural actions (John 5:19). Christ as man had within Himself the foundations of a true merit, and by His Divine personality communicated to His actions an infinite value.
2. Yet after all, with this combination of natural, super natural, and Divine energies in the work of Christ, its claim on Divine retribution must rest on some covenant or promise. Merit in the sense of an action to which a reward is due on grounds of justice can only exist where there is some stipulation. The merit which appeals to goodness sets up no claim; that which rests on fidelity involves a promise; that which trusts to the justice of the rewarder implies a covenant. Not to reward in the one case may be churlishness; in the other it would be to break one's word; whilst in the third there would be positive dishonesty. For God therefore to be liable to any claim, He must have graciously condescended to involve Himself in an obligation. Such a covenant was made with Abraham (Hebrews 6:17, 18). The entering into covenant and confirming by an oath were human types and shadows of the great covenant between God and man in Christ (Hebrews 7:21). God has entered into covenant with man in Christ to crown with a reward those works which Christ first wrought in Himself, and after wards by His grace should work through His members. All is traceable to Divine mercy as its first source (Psalm 62:12), yet it is the Divine justice which is represented as under an obligation to repay the services which are rendered (Hebrews 6:10). There is nothing derogatory to the sacred manhood of Christ in this covenant. If the Son could address the Father, and say, "Lo, I come," etc., we can conceive the human will of Christ in fulfilling the Father's will as resting on the Divine promise (Psalm 16:10, 11; Acts 1:4).
II. THE CROSS AS ITS FOUNTAIN.
1. The merit of the Cross rested on the whole of His life: as He foresaw His passion, so He accepted it.
2. The Cross is the great instrument in the acquirement of merit on two grounds. Merit may be calculated by the condition of the person who merits, or by the difficulty of the action. Thus if Adam in Paradise, and some of His fallen descendants were to perform the same virtuous action, the act of the former would have more merit in the one sense; the act of the latter in the other. In the latter sense the Cross outstrips all other portions of our Saviour's life in its value. In it the activities of endurance were taxed to the utmost limit. To bear up under fierce pain for a few hours is a greater test of moral strength than the lifelong efforts of a healthy person. Not, however, that suffering in itself is acceptable to God; the thief suffered; it was the way in which the purpose for which it was borne which made it acceptable.
3. The Cross completed the treasure of merit. The Cross was the ultimate limit of those labours which purchased a reward. The resurrection, ascension, etc., could add nothing. Merit ceased with the Cross: what follows is reward (John 19:30).
4. The atoning value of the Cross lay in the removal of a hindrance: its meritoriousness acquired a positive gain. The removal of sin was the preliminary to Divine communications. Human nature was not left in a state of neutrality, as if God should look upon it without wrath or favour, hut was again to become the subject of Divine complacency.
III. THE OBJECT FOR WHOM THIS MERIT WAS ACQUIRED.
1. For Himself (ver. 9; Hebrews 2:9; Luke 24:26, 46; Psalm 110:7; Hebrews 12:2). It was not simply glory for His body that He purchased, but exaltation and kingly power; a name above every name.
2. For all. He took the nature of all, and thus merited for all (Hebrews 2:14). But although He merited for all, all do not receive the grace He purchased. A fountain is useless to the thirsty unless they drink. What is necessary therefore is for us to become the recipients of His grace? We must have union with Christ for pardon and life (John 15:16; John 1:16; 2 Peter 1:4). Christ saves by becoming a new principle of life in the soul through the action of the Divine Spirit.
(W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: