DIVI E CO DESCE SIO . BY JOH STYLES, D.D.
" Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high ; who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth ! "—Psalm cxiii. 5, 6. Some of the most magnificent expressions of Scripture are those which relate to the Divine condescension. The doctrine that the infinite God, who inhabits immensity and eternity, enters minutely into all the affairs of his creatures, presented to the mind of the psalmist an image of condescension so overwhelming, that he exclaimed, " Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth !" Observe, he couples together the things that are in heaven and earth, without distinction. ow, to our apprehension, the things of heaven are inconceivably greater, more important, more worthy of the Divine attention, than the things of earth. But in the eye of God the difference is K
98 DIVI E CO DESCE SIO . only a difference in minute degrees — a difference in degrees of littleness — and therefore, in itself, a very little difference. Were you, from the top of some lofty eminence, some dizzy height, to look down upon two objects — the one a man and the other a child — though they would doubtless consider the difference between themselves to be very great, to you it would appear to be very little, if any. This, indeed, would arise from the necessary imperfection of your organs of sight — but the idea may serve for an illustration. For while to our apprehension the things of heaven are unspeakably greater than the things of earth, we are to bear in mind that
the Almighty is infinitely higher than the highest created intelligence in heaven; that while the difference between the highest and the lowest of his creatures can be measured, the difference between him and the highest creature which he has formed cannot be measured; so that he has to look down — (if we may say so) — he has to look down from an infinite height upon the highest as well as upon the lowest, upon the things that are in heaven, as well as upon the things that are in the earth. The wonder is, that he condescends to regard the things that are in heaven ; but having stooped thus far, we are prepared to hear that he stoops a little farther, and regards the things that are on earth. For though there is a difference between them, and though his eye measures that difference in all its proportions, yet is it really so
DIVI E CO DESCE SIO ". 99 insignificant to Him whom heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain, that it is an act of infinite condescension in him to notice either. Looking at the history of this condescension toward man, there appear to have been four remarkable stages in it, at each of which we behold him carrying it a degree farther than before, until he has reached the very lowest point to which it could be carried. We say nothing of the benignity which he displayed towards our first parents, while yet they retained their original purity,— benignity which showed itself in symbolically walking with them in paradise, in visible manifestations, in frequent and familiar converse. That belonged to a state which soon passed away, and of which we know little more than this— that it once existed. But we have to contemplate the Divine conduct in a subsequent and far different state— a state which was commenced by an act of disobedience and rebellion against God— a state in which man has outraged every attribute of the Divine character, in which he has lost all love and likeness to God, and has joined in league with his enemies; in which the prevailing habit of his mind is that of
enmity against God; and a state, therefore, in which his holy and insulted Maker might justly have left him to perish, and have withdrawn and inclosed himself for ever within the depths of his everlasting dwelling-place. ow it was towards man in this state that the Almighty took the first step in his career of condescension,
100 DIVI E CO DESCE SIO . I. By speaking to him. He broke the fearful silence which sin had produced, and which might have lasted for ever, and spoke to us. And every accent he uttered was an accent of love. For the sentence which consigned our bodies to the stroke of death, was only the application of what had been previously threatened ; while every additional word was intended to mitigate that doom, by inspiring us with the hope of being finally delivered from it. And having broken the silence, he proceeded to address us at sundry times and in divers manners. He prescribed the way by which we might hope to regain his favour ; he added promise after promise, to encourage our obedience; and though it did not comport with the majesty of his holiness to maintain, as before, familiar intercourse with our polluted race, yet every time he spoke to us he opened a fresh view of his excellence, and furnished an additional proof of his condescension. Another stage in his Divine condescension to man was, II. When he appointed a place for the SYMBOL OF HIS PRESE CE TO DWELL I , A D WHERE MA MIGHT BE ALWAYS WELCOME TO APPROACH A D COMMU E WITH HIM. That Presence, indeed, was concealed from the public eye, and could be approached only
in a prescribed manner. But still it was a vast advance in the Divine condescension : it seemed to say that his benignity knew no limits ; it seemed to place earth in close proximity to heaven. When
DIVI E CO DESCE SIO . 101 Solomon offered up the first prayer at the dedication of that hallowed edifice, he appears to have been almost overwhelmed with the idea : — " Will God," said he, " in very deed dwell with man upon the earth ? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, how much less this house which I have built ! " Will the Divine Omnipresence take up his dwelling here ? Is not the expectation too great to be realized ? Will he do so " in very deed ? " To this appeal of his servant, which showed a mind labouring and staggering under the amazing conception, the Almighty replied, " I have chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually." And through a long succession of ages he continued to meet with his people there, and to commune with them from off" the mercy-seat. But all this, astonishing as it was, was only preliminary. The next stage in the condescension of God to man threw all his past history into the shade. III. The " Word" became flesh, and dwelt AMO G US. Great, indeed, is the mystery of godliness : God was manifest " in iheflesli" — came and tabernacled among us in our own nature. By a mysterious act he took our nature into union with his own, actnally walked the earth, conversed with us, instructed us, pitied and wept over us, and by all the arts of a Divine compassion commended his love to us. This was a stoop of condescension immeasurably k3
102 DIVI E CO DESCE SIO . deep. Beyond this (we might have said) he cannot go — even he cannot go. He has now reached the lowest point to which he can descend, for he has reached the low basement of earth, he has placed himself on a perfect level with ourselves. We have now seen the utmost limits of his condescending grace. " But my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." Look at that cross — at him who hangs upon it. Look at that bleeding form — that is a lower point of condescension. IV. He is dying — dying for us — dying for us the accursed death of the cross. " He was in the form of God, and 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." That was, indeed, the lowest point to which he could descend. The sun shrunk back, amazed at that sight; angels hung over it perplexed, unable to comprehend it. All nature sympathized and wondered. And shall we, for whom all this voluntary humiliation was endured, be the only beings who are unmoved by it? Let us glance at the ground over which we have passed. We have seen that man had reduced himself to the condition of an enemy against God ; and that with this condition h« was in love, when
DIVI E CO DESCE SIO . 103 God, who is rich in mercy, resumed the intercourse
which sin had interrupted, by speaking to him. This was the commencing act of his condescension : and it was amazing. When any thing of a similar kind takes place among men— when a party injured is known to have spoken first to the party which injured him, especially, too, if he be his superior in rank, the act is spoken of with unfeigned admiration. But that the Creator should have thus acted towards his creature — that the infinite God should have first spoken, and have spoken amicably, to the poor, alienated, debased children of men, surpasses unspeakably the utmost condescension which man can show to his fellow-man. And still more, that he should appoint a place for his presence to dwell in, where we might go and commune with him ; that he should hide from our sight the glories of his throne, lest they should overwhelm our feeble spirits ; that he should conceal from us the ministries of his celestial court, and, dismissing that train which filleth the temple above, should stoop to visit the lowly abodes of those that fear him, and dwell as a Father in the homes of earth : this was a lower stage in his condescension still. That he should have left the high and holy place which he had inhabited from eternity, and have assumed the nature of his creature man, and have become a resident on earth, was another and a far lower stage in his condescension still. But that while here he should have submitted to suffer death — " the death of the cross" — by the hand of those he came to redeem — was a depth of condescension never before imagined, never after to be surpassed. If he humbles himself when he only deigns " to behold the things that are in heaven and earth," then what shall we say of his condescension in becoming flesh, and dying for us ? It is the everlasting wonder of the universe.
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