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By Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Or Jesus Christ Gloriously Exalted Above All Evil In The Work Of Redemption ,
Dated August 1738. Lecture.
1 Corinthians 15:25, 26
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed, is death.
Subject: Our Lord Jesus Christ in the work of redemption gloriously appears above all evil.
THE apostle in this chapter particularly opposes some among the Christian Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the dead and infested the church with their doctrine. There were two sorts of persons in that age who were especially great opposers of the doctrine of the resurrection. One among the Jews were the Sadducees, of whom we read, Acts 23:8. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, either angel or spirit. And we have the same account in other places. Among the heathen that were the chief opposers of this doctrine were their philosophers. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was not consistent with their philosophy, by the principles of which, it was impossible that one who was deprived of the habit of life, would ever receive it again. And therefore they ridiculed the doctrine when the apostle preached it among them at Athens. (Acts 17) Probably the church at Corinth received this corruption from the philosophers, and not the Sadducees. For Corinth was near to Athens, and the place of the chief resort of the philosophers of Greece.
The apostle, in opposing this error, first insists on Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and next on the resurrection of all the saints at the end of the world. And in the verses next before the text, shows how both are connected, or that one arises or follows from the other. And then adds, “then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority, and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
Observe, I. Here is one thing wherein appears the glory of that exaltation and dominion, that Christ has as our redeemer, viz. that it issues in the subjection of all enemies under his feet. It is not said all his enemies, possibly because those that shall be put under his feet are not only his enemies, but also the enemies of his Father and of his people. Their being under his feet denotes their being perfectly subdued, and his being gloriously exalted over them. It shall be thus with respect to God’s and his, and his people’s enemies universally, not one excepted; which universality is signified here two ways; all enemies — and the very last enemy: when there shall be but one enemy left, that shall also be put under his feet.
II. We may learn what is here meant by enemies by the particular instance here given as the last that shall be destroyed, viz. death. Which shows that by enemies, is not meant persons only, that set themselves in opposition to God and his people, but evils; whatever is against God and his people, and opposes Christ or his saints, whether they be persons or things.
How evil of all kinds has prevailed and highly exalted itself in the world.
Evil, of all kinds, has risen to an exceeding height in the world, and highly exalted itself against God, and Christ, and the church. — This will appear by the following particulars.
I. Satan has highly exalted himself, and greatly prevailed. He is vastly superior in his natural capacity and abilities to mankind. He was originally one of the highest rank of creatures, but proudly exalted himself in rebellion against God in heaven. We are told, that pride was the condemnation of the devil. (1 Tim. 3:6) He became proud of his own superior dignity and mighty abilities, and the glory which his Creator had put upon him. And [he] probably thought it too much to submit to the Son of God, and attempted to exalt his throne above him. And he prevailed to draw away vast multitudes of the heavenly hosts into an open rebellion against God.
And after he was cast down from heaven, he proudly exalted himself in this world, and prevailed to do great things. By his subtle temptations he procured the fall of our first parents, and so brought about the ruin of their whole race. He procured their ruin in body and soul, and the death of both, and that they should be exposed to all manner of calamity in this world, and to eternal ruin hereafter. He so far prevailed, that he drew men off from the service of their Maker, and set up himself to be the god of this world. And in a little time, [he] drew the world into that almost universal corruption, which brought on the flood of water, but which it was destroyed. And after that, he drew on all nations, except the posterity of Jacob, from the worship of the true God, and darkened all the world with heathenism, and held them under this darkness for a great many ages, he himself being worshipped as God almost all over the world. The nations of the earth offered sacrifices to him and multitudes offered up their children. And during that time, he often so far prevailed against the people of God, that he had almost swallowed them up.
And when Christ himself appeared in the world, how did he exalt himself against him! And prevailed so far, as to influence men to hate and despise him all the days of his life. And at last he persuaded one of his own disciples to betray him. Accordingly, he was delivered into the hands of men, to be mocked, buffeted, spit upon, and treated with the greatest ignominy that unrestrained malice could devise. And at last procured that he should be put to the most cruel and ignominious kind of death. And since that, he has greatly exalted himself against the gospel and kingdom of Christ. And he has infected the Christian world with multitudes of heresies and false ways of worship, and greatly promoted atheism and infidelity. Thus highly has the devil exalted himself against God and Christ, and the elect. And so far he prevailed.
II. Guilt is another evil which has come to a great height in the world. All guilt is an evil of a dreadful nature. The least degree of it is enough utterly to undo any creature. It is a thing that reaches unto heaven, and cries to God, and brings down his wrath. The guilt of any one sin is so terrible an evil that it prevails to bind over the guilty person to suffer everlasting burnings. And so is in some respect infinite, in that it obliges to that punishment which has no end. And so is infinitely terrible. But this kind of evil has risen to a most amazing height in this world. Where not only some persons are guilty, but all, in all nations and ages, are naturally guilty wretches. And they who live to act any time in the world, are not only guilty of one sin, but of thousands, and thousands of thousands. What multiplied and what aggravated sins are some men guilty of! What guilt lies on some particular persons! How much more on some particular populous cities! How much more still on this wicked world! How much does the guilt of the world transcend all account, all expression, all power of numbers or measures! And above all, how vast is the guilt of the world, in all ages, from the beginning to the end of it! To what a pitch has guilt risen! The world being, as it were, on every side, loaded with it, as with mountains heaped on mountains, above the clouds and stars of heaven.
And guilt, when it was imparted to Christ, greatly prevailed against him — though in himself innocent, and the eternal Son of God — even so as to hold him prisoner of justice for a while, and to open the flood-gates of God’s wrath upon him, and bring his waves and billows over him.
III. Corruption and wickedness of heart is another thing that has risen to an exceeding height in the world. Sin has so far prevailed that it has become universal. All mere men are become sinful and corrupt creatures. Let us attend to St. Paul’s description of the world (Rom. 3:9-18), “Jews and Gentiles are all under sin. As is written, There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable, there is none that doeth good, no not one.” And not only is every one corrupt, but they are all over corrupt, in every power, faculty, and principle. Every part is depraved. Which is here represented by the several parts of the body being corrupt, as the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth, the feet. “Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues they have used deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood.” And not only is every part corrupt, but exceeding corrupt, being possessed with dreadful principles of corruption. horribly evil dispositions and principles of sin, that may be represented by the poison of asps, which makes men like vipers and devils, principles of all uncleanness, pride, deceit, injustice, enmity, malice, blasphemy, murder. Here their throats are compared to an open sepulcher, and their mouth is said to be full of cursing and bitterness, and destruction and misery are said to be in their ways.
And there are those principles of sin not only that are very bad, but every kind. Here is no sort of wickedness, but there is a seed of it in men. And these seeds and principles have not only a being in men’s hearts, but are there in great strength. They have the absolute possession and dominion over men so that they are sold under sin. Yea, wicked principles, and those only, are in the heart. The imagination of the thoughts of their heart is evil only. There are bad principles only, and no good ones. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Thus the hearts of all men are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9).
And if we look, not only at the natural corruption of the heart, but at the contracted habits of sin, by wicked education and customs, how full shall we find the world of wickedness, in this respect! How have men, by bad customs in sinning, broken down all restraints upon natural corruption, and as it were abandoned themselves to wickedness! So far has corruption and wickedness prevailed in the world, and so high has it risen, that it is become a great and universal deluge, that overtops all things, and prevails with that strength, that it is like the raging waves of the tempestuous ocean, which are ready to bear down all before them.
IV. Many of the devil’s instruments have greatly prevailed and have been exalted to an exceeding height in the world. It has been so in almost all ages of the world. Many of the devil’s instruments have prospered and prevailed till they have got to the head of great kingdoms and empires, with vast riches and mighty power.
V. Affliction and misery have also prevailed and risen to an unspeakable height in the world. The spiritual misery which the elect are naturally in is great. They are miserable captives of sin and Satan, and under obligations to suffer eternal burnings. This misery all mankind are naturally in. And spiritual troubles and sorrows have often risen to a great height in the elect. The troubles of a wounded spirit and guilty conscience, have been felt with intolerable and insupportable weight. “A wounded spirit who can bear?” (Pro. 18:14). And the darkness that has risen to God’s people after conversion, through the temptations and buffetings of the devil, and the hidings of God’s face, and manifestations of his anger, have been very terrible. And temporal afflictions have often risen exceeding high.
But the height to which the evil of affliction has risen, nowhere appears so much as in the afflictions that Christ suffered. The evil of affliction and sorrow exalted itself so high, as to seize the Son of God himself, and to cause him to be all in a bloody sweat, and to make his soul exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. It caused him to cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Affliction never prevailed to such a degree in this world, as in Christ, whose soul was, as it were, overwhelmed in an ocean of it.
VI. Death is an evil which has greatly prevailed and made dreadful havoc in this world. How does it waste and devour mankind, one age after another, sparing none, high or low, rich or poor, good or bad! Wild beasts have destroyed many. Many cruel princes have taken away the lives of thousands, and laid waste whole countries. But death devours all. None are suffered to escape. And the bodies of the saints as well as other, fall a prey to this great devourer. Yea, so high did this enemy rise, that he took hold on Christ himself, and swallowed him among the rest. He became the prey of this great, insatiable monster. By his means, was his bodily frame destroyed, and laid dead in the dark and silent grave. And death still goes on destroying thousands every day. And therefore the grave is one of those things which Agur says, never has enough (Pro. 30:16). — So have evils of every kind prevailed, and to such a degree have they exalted themselves in the world.
How Jesus Christ, in the work of redemption, appears gloriously above all these evils.
It was not the will of the infinitely wise and holy Governor of the world that things should remain in this confusion, this reign of evil, which had prevailed and exalted itself to such a height. But he had a design of subduing it, and delivering an elect part of the world from it, and exalting them to the possession of the greatest good, and to reign in the highest glory, out of a state of subjection to all these evils. And he chose his Son as the person most fit for an undertaking that was infinitely too great for any mere creature. And he has undertaken the work of our redemption. And though these evils are so many and so great, and have prevailed to such a degree, and have risen to such a height, and have been, as it were, all combined together; yet wherein they have exalted themselves, Christ, in the work of redemption, appears above them. He has gloriously prevailed against them all, and brings them under his feet, and rides forth, in the chariots of salvation, over their heads, or leading them in triumph at his chariot wheels. He appears in this work infinitely higher and mightier than they, and sufficient to carry his people above them, and utterly to destroy them all.
I. Christ appears gloriously above all evil in what he did to procure redemption for us in his state of humiliation, by the righteousness he wrought out, and the atonement he made for sin. The evils mentioned, never seemed so much to prevail against him as in his sufferings. But in them, the foundation was laid for their overthrow. In them he appeared above Satan. Though Satan never exalted himself so high, as he did in procuring these sufferings of Christ; yet, then, Christ laid the foundation for the utter overthrow of his kingdom. He slew Satan, as it were, with his own weapon, the spiritual David cut off this Goliath’s head with his own sword, and he triumphed over him in his cross. “Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it,” (Col. 2:15) i.e. in his cross, mentioned in the preceding words. Then the wisdom of Christ appeared gloriously above the subtlety of Satan. Satan, that old serpent, used a great deal of subtlety to procure Christ’s death. And doubtless, when he had accomplished it, thought he had obtained a complete victory… But so did the wisdom of Christ order things that Satan’s subtlety and malice should be made the very means of undermining the foundations of his kingdom. And so he wisely led him into the pit that he had dug.
In this also Christ appeared gloriously above the guilt of men. Though the guilt of man was like the great mountains, whose heads are lifted up to the heavens; yet his dying love, and his merits, appeared as a mighty deluge that overflowed the highest mountains, or like a boundless ocean that swallows them up, or like an immense fountain of light that with the fullness and redundancy of its brightness, swallows up men’s greatest sins, as little motes are swallowed up and hidden in the disk of the sun.
In this Christ appeared above all the corruption of man, in that hereby he purchased holiness for the chief of sinners. And Christ in undergoing such extreme affliction, got the victory over all misery; and laid a foundation for its being utterly abolished, with respect to his elect. In dying he became the plague and destruction of death. When death slew him, it slew itself. For Christ, through death, destroyed him that had the power of death, even the devil (Heb. 2:14). By this he laid the foundation of the glorious resurrection of all his people to an immortal life.
II. Christ appears gloriously exalted above all evil, in his resurrection and ascension into heaven. When Christ rose from the dead, then it appeared that he was above death, which, though it had taken him captive, could not hold him.
Then he appeared above the devil. Then this Leviathan that had swallowed him was forced to vomit him up again, as the Philistines that had taken captive the ark were forced to return it, Dagon being fallen before it, with his head and hands broken off, and only the stumps left. — Then he appeared above our guilt. For he was justified in his resurrection (Rom. 4:4, 25; 1 Tim. 3:16). In his resurrection he appeared above all affliction. For though he had been subject to much affliction and overwhelmed in it, he then emerged out of it, as having gotten the victory, never to conflict with any more sorrow.
When he ascended up into heaven, he rose far above the reach of the devil and all his instruments, who had before had him in their hands. And now has he sat down at the right hand of God, as being made head over all things…, in order to a complete and perfect victory over sin, Satan, death, and all his enemies. It was then said to him, “Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” (Psa. 110:1). He entered into a state of glory, wherein he is exalted far above all these evils, as the forerunner of his people, and to make intercession for them, till they also are brought to be with him, in like manner exalted above all evil.
III. Christ appears gloriously above all evil, in his work in the hearts of the elect, in their conversion and sanctification. This is what the application of redemption, so far as it is applied in this world, consists in, which is done by the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Christ. In this work of Christ in the hearts of his elect, he appears glorious above Satan. For the strong man armed is overcome, and all his armor, wherein he trusted, is taken from him, and his spoil divided. In this work, the lamb is, by the spiritual David taken out of the mouth of the lion and bear. The poor captive is delivered from his mighty and cruel enemies.
In this Christ appears gloriously above the corruption and wickedness of the heart, above its natural darkness in dispelling it, and letting in light, and above its enmity and opposition, by prevailing over it, drawing it powerfully and irresistibly to himself, and turning a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, above the obstinacy and perverseness of the will, by making them willing in the day of his power. In this he appears above all their lusts. For all sin is mortified in this work, and the soul is delivered from the power and dominion of it. — In this work the grace of Christ gloriously triumphs over men’s guilt. He comes over the mountains of their sins, and visits them with his salvation.
And God is wont often in their work, either in the beginning or progress of it, to give his people those spiritual comforts, in which he gloriously appears to be above all affliction and sorrow. And often gives them to triumph over the devil, and his powerful and cruel instruments. Many saints, by the influences of Christ’s Spirit on their hearts, have rejoiced and triumphed, when suffering the greatest torments and cruelties of their persecutors. And in this work Christ sometimes gloriously appears above death, in carrying his people far above the fears of it, and making them to say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
IV. Christ gloriously appears above all these aforementioned evils, in his glorifying the souls of departed saints in heaven. In this he gives a glorious victory over death. Death by it is turned from an enemy into a servant. And their death, by the glorious change that passes in the state of their souls, is become a resurrection, rather than a death. Now Christ exalts the soul to a state of glory, wherein it is perfectly delivered from Satan and all his temptations, and all his instrument, and from all remains of sin and corruption, and from all affliction. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat — and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,” (Rev. 7:16, 17).
V. Christ appears gloriously above these evils, in what he does in his providence in the world, as head and redeemer…
Christ gloriously triumphed over these his enemies, in a remarkable success of his gospel, soon after his ascension, when many thousands in Jerusalem, and all parts of the world, were so soon turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, and in causing his word to go on and prosper, and …to increase and prevail against all the opposition of the heathen world, when they united all their power to put a stop to it, and root it out. So that, in spite of all that the philosophers, and wise men, and emperors and princes could do, the gospel in a little time overthrew Satan’s old heathenish kingdom in the whole Roman empire, which was then the main part of the world. And so brought about the greatest and most glorious revolution. Instead of one single nation, now the greater part of the nations of the known world were become God’s people.
And Christ’s exaltation above all evil in his government of the world, in his providence, as the Redeemer of his people, has since gloriously appeared in reviving his church by the reformation from popery, after it had for many ages lain in a great measure hid, and dwelt in a wilderness, under antichristian persecution.
And he will yet far more gloriously triumph over Satan and all his instruments, in all the mighty kingdoms that have been set up in opposition to the kingdom of Christ, …spoken of in Scripture prophecy “And then the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever,” (Rev. 11:15). Though great and mighty empires have been set up one after another in the world, in opposition to the kingdom of Christ, during the succession of so many ages; yet, Christ’s kingdom shall be the last and the universal kingdom,. Whatever great works Satan has wrought, the final issue and event of all, …shall be the glorious kingdom of Christ
The glorious kingdom of Christ …; a kingdom of righteousness and holiness, of love and peace,… Agreeable to the ancient prediction, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man, came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him,” (Dan. 7:13, 14, 27).
Then shall Christ appear gloriously exalted indeed above all evil. And then shall all the saints in earth and heaven gloriously triumph in him, and sing, “Hallelujah, salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God; for true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. Hallelujah: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” (Rev. 19:1, 2, 6).
VI. Christ will appear gloriously above all evil in the consummation of the redemption of his elect church at the end of the world. Then will be completed the whole work of redemption with respect to all that Christ died for, both in its interpretation and application; and not till then. And then will Christ’s exaltation above all evil be most perfectly and fully manifest. Then shall the conquest and triumph be completed with respect to all of them. Then shall all the devils, and all their instruments, be brought before Christ, to be judged and condemned. And then shall be completed their destruction in their consummate and everlasting misery; when they shall be all cast into the lake of fire, no more to range, and usurp dominion in the world, or have liberty to make opposition against God and Christ. They shall forever be shut up, thence forward only to suffer. Then shall death be totally destroyed. All the saints shall be delivered everlastingly from it. Even their bodies shall be taken from the power of death by a glorious resurrection.
Then shall all guilt, and all sin and corruption, and all affliction, all sighs and tears, be utterly and eternally abolished, concerning every one of the elect, they being all brought to one complete body, to their consummate and immutable glory. And all this as the fruit of Christ’s blood, and as an accomplishment of his redemption.
Then all that evil, which has so prevailed, and so exalted itself, and usurped and raged, and reigned, shall be perfectly and forever thrust down and destroyed, with respect to all the elect. And all will be exalted to a state wherein they will be forever immensely above all these things. “And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away,” (Rev. 21:4).