VII. THE MIND OF CHRIST (Continued).
"Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even to death, yea, the death of the cross. Why also God highly exalted Him, and gave to Him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." — Phil. ii. 5-11 (R.V.).
It proves hard to make us aware of the sin and the misery involved in the place commonly allowed to Self. Some of its conspicuous outrages on Christian decency we do disapprove and avoid: perhaps we have embarked in a more serious resistance to its domination. Yet, after all, how easily and how complacently do we continue to give scope to it! In forms of self-assertion, of arrogance, of eager and grasping competition, it breaks out. It does so in ordinary life, in what is called public life, and, where it is most offensive of all, in Church life. Hence we fail so much in readiness to make the case of others our own, and to be practically moved by their interests, rights, and claims. There are certainly great differences here; and some, in virtue of natural sympathy or Christian grace, attain to remarkable degrees of generous service. Yet these also, if they know themselves, know how energetically self comes upon the field, and how much ground it covers. Many among us are doing good to others; but does it never strike us that there is a distant and arrogant way of doing good? Many in Christian society are kind, and that is well; but undoubtedly there are self-indulgent ways of being kind.
Having to deal with this evil energy of self, the Apostle turns at once to the central truth of Christianity, the person of Christ. Here he finds the type set, the standard fixed, of what Christianity is and means: or rather, here he finds a great fountain, from which a mighty stream proceeds; and before it all the forms of self-worship must be swept away. In bringing this out the Apostle makes a most remarkable statement regarding the Incarnation and the history of our Lord. He reveals, at the same time, the place in his own mind held by the thought of Christ coming into the world, and the influence that thought had exerted on the formation of his character. He bids us recognise in Christ the supreme exemplification of one who is looking away from his own things — whose mind is filled, whose action is inspired by concern for others. This is so at the root of the interposition of Christ to save us, that the principle becomes imperative and supreme for all Christ's followers.
We have to consider the facts as they presented themselves to the mind of Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, that we may estimate the motive which he conceives them to reveal, and the obligation which is thus laid upon all who name the name of Christ and take rank among His followers.
The Apostle, let us first observe, speaks of the Incarnation as that reveals itself to us, as it offers itself to the contemplation of men. To involve himself in discussion of inner mysteries concerning the Divine nature and the human, and the manner of their union, as these are known to God, is not, and could not, be his object. The mysteries must be asserted, but much about them is to continue unexplained. He is to appeal to the impression derivable, as he maintains, from the plainest statement of the facts which have been delivered to faith. This being the object in view, determines the cast of his language. It is the manner of being, the manner of living, the manner of acting characteristic of Christ at successive stages, which is to occupy our minds. Hence the Apostle's thought expresses itself in phrases such as "form of God," "form of a servant," and the like. We are to see one way of existing succeeding another in the history of Christ.
First, our Lord is recognised as already existing before the beginning of His earthly history; and in that existence He contemplates and orders what His course shall be. This is plain; for in the seventh verse He is spoken of as emptying Himself, and thus assuming the likeness of men. For the Apostle, then, it was a fixed thing that He who was born in Nazareth pre-existed in a more glorious nature, and took ours by a notable condescension. This pre-existence of Christ is the first thing to consider when we would make clear to ourselves how Christ, being true man, differs from other men. In this point Paul and John and the writer to the Hebrews unite their testimony in the most express and emphatic way; as we hear our Lord Himself also saying, "Before Abraham was, I am," and speaking of the glory which He had before the world was. But what manner of existence this was is also set plainly. He "existed in the form of God." The same word "form" recurs presently in the expression "the form of a servant." It is distinguished from the words "likeness," "fashion," which are expressed by other Greek terms.
Frequently we use this word "form" in a way which contrasts it with the true being, or makes it denote the outward as opposed to the inward. But according to the usage which prevailed among thinking men when the Apostle wrote, the expression should not be understood to point to anything superficial, accidental, superimposed. No doubt it is an expression which describes the Being by adverting to the attributes which, as it were, He wore, or was clothed with. But the word carries us especially to those attributes of the thing described which are characteristic; by which it is permanently distinguished to the eye or to the mind; which denote its true nature because they rise out of that nature; the attributes which, to our minds, express the essence. So here. He existed, how? In the possession and use of all that pertains to the Divine nature. His manner of existence was, what? The Divine manner of existence. The characters through which Divine existence is revealed were His. He subsisted in the form of God. This was the manner of it, the glorious "form" which ought to fix and hold our minds.
If any one should suggest that, according to this text, the pre-existent Christ might be only a creature, though having the Divine attributes and the Divine mode of life, he would introduce a mass of contradictions most gratuitously. The Apostle's thought is simply this: For Christ the mode of existence is first of all Divine; then, by-and-by, a new form rises into view. Our Lord's existence did not begin (according to the New Testament writers) when He was born, when He was found in fashion as a man, sojourning with us. He came to this world from some previous state. One asks from what state? Before He took the form of man, in what form of existence was He found? The Apostle answers, In the form of God.
To Him, therefore, with and in the Father, we have learned to ascribe all wisdom and power, all glory and blessedness, all holiness and all majesty. Specially, through Him the worlds were made, and in Him they consist. The fulness, the sufficiency, the essential strength of Godhead were His. The exercise and manifestation of all these was His form of being. One might expect, then, that in any process of self-manifestation to created beings in which it might please Him to go forth, the expression of His supremacy and transcendence should be written on the face of it.
The next thought is expressed in the received translation by the words "thought it no robbery to be equal with God." So truly and properly Divine was He that equality with God could not appear to Him or be reckoned by Him as anything else than His own. He counted such equality no robbery, arrogance, or wrong. To claim it, and all that corresponds to it, could not appear to Him something assumed without right, but rather something assumed with the best right. So taken, these words would complete the Apostle's view of the original Divine pre-eminence of the Son of God. They would express, so to say, the equity of the situation, from which all that follows should be estimated. Had it pleased the Son of God to express only, and to impress on all minds only His equality with God, this could not have seemed to Him encroachment or wrong.
I think a good deal can be said for this. But the sense which, on the whole, is now approved by commentators is that indicated by the Revised Version. This takes the clause not as still dwelling on the primeval glory of the Son of God, and what was implied in it, but rather as beginning to indicate how a new situation arose, pointing out the dispositions out of which the Incarnation came. "He counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God." To hold by this was not the great object with Him. In any steps He might take, in any forthgoings He might enter on, the Son of God might have aimed at maintaining and disclosing equality with God. That alternative was open. But this is not what we see: no holding by that, no solicitude about that appears. His procedure, His actings reveal nothing of this kind. What we see filling His heart and fixing His regard, is not what might be due to Himself or assumed fitly by Himself, but what might bring deliverance and blessedness to us.<
On the contrary, "He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men." In the Incarnation our Lord assumed the "form" of a servant, or slave: for in the room of the authority of the Creator, now appears the subjection of the creature. He who gave form to all things, and Himself set the type of what was highest and best in the universe, transcending meanwhile all created excellence in His uncreated glory, now is seen conforming Himself to the type or model or likeness of one of His creatures, of man. He comes into human existence as men do, and He continues in it as men do. Yet it is not said that He is now merely a man, or has become nothing but a man; He is in the likeness of men and is found in fashion as a man.
In taking this great step the Apostle says "He emptied Himself." The emptying is perhaps designedly opposed to the thought of accumulation or self-enrichment conveyed in the phrase "He counted it not a prize." However this may be, the phrase is in itself a remarkable expression.
It seems most certain, on the one hand, that this cannot import that He who was with God and was God could renounce His own essential nature and cease to be Divine. The assertion of a contradiction like this involves the mind in mere darkness. The notion is excluded by other scriptures; for He who came on earth among us is Immanuel, God with us: and it is not required by the passage before us; for the "emptying" can at most apply to the "form" of God — the exercise and enjoyment of Divine attributes such as adequately express the Divine nature; and it may, perhaps, not extend its sense even so far; for the writer significantly abstains from carrying his thought further than the bare word "He emptied Himself."
On the other hand, we are to beware of weakening unduly this great testimony. Certainly it fixes our thoughts on this, at least, that our Lord, by becoming man, had for His, truly for His, the experience of human limitation, human weakness and impoverishment, human dependence, human subjection, singularly contrasting with the glory and plenitude of the form of God. This became His. It was so emphatically real, it became at the Incarnation so emphatically the form of existence on which He entered, that it is the thing eminently to be regarded, reverently to be dwelt upon. This emptiness, instead of that fulness, is to draw and fix our regard. Instead of the form of God, there rises before us this true human history, this lowly humanity — and it took place by His emptying Himself.
Various persons and schools have thought it right to go further. The word here used has appeared to them to suggest that if the Son of God did not renounce His Godhead, yet the Divine nature in Him must have bereaved itself of the Divine attributes, or withheld itself from the use and exercise of them; so that the all-fulness no longer was at His disposal. In this line they have gone on to describe or assign the mode of self-emptying which the Incarnation should imply.
It does not appear to me that one can lay down positions as to the internal privations of One whose nature is owned to be essentially Divine, without falling into confusion and darkening counsel. But perhaps we may do well to cherish the impression that this self-emptying on the part of the eternal Son of God, for our salvation, involves realities which we cannot conceive or put in any words. There was more in this emptying of Himself than we can think or say.
He emptied Himself when He became man. Here we have the eminent example of a Divine mystery, which, being revealed, remains a mystery never to be adequately explained, and which yet proves full of meaning and full of power. The Word was made flesh. He through whom all worlds took being, was seen in Judæa in the lowliness of that practical historical humanity. We never can explain this. But if we believe it all things become new for us: the meaning it proves to have for human history is inexhaustible.
He emptied Himself, "taking the form of a servant," or bondslave. For the creature is in absolute subjection alike to God's authority and to His providence; and so Christ came to be. He entered on a discipline of subjection and obedience. In particular He was made after the likeness of men. He was born as other children are; He grew as other children grow; body and mind took shape for Him under human conditions.
And so He was "found in fashion as a man." Could words express more strongly how wonderful it is in the Apostle's eyes that He should so be found? He lived His life and made His mark in the world in human fashion — His form, His mien, His speech, His acts, His way of life declared Him man. But being so, He humbled Himself to a strange and great obedience. Subjection, and in that subjection obedience, is the part of every creature. But the obedience which Christ was called to learn was special. A heavy task was laid upon Him. He was made under the law; and bearing the burden of human sin, He created redemption. In doing so many great interests fell to Him to be cared for; and this was done by Him, not in the manner of Godhead which speaks and it is done, but with the pains and labour of a faithful servant. "I have a commandment," He said, as He faced the Jews, who would have had His Messianic work otherwise ordered (John xii. 49).
This experience deepened into the final experience of the cross. Death is the signature of failure and disgrace. Even with sinless creatures it seems so. Their beauty and their use are past; their worth is measured and exhausted; they die. More emphatically in a nature like ours, which aims at fellowship with God and immortality, death is significant this way, and bears the character of doom. So we are taught to think that death entered by sin. But the violent and cruel death of crucifixion, inflicted for the worst crimes, is most significant this way. What it comprehended for our Lord we cannot measure. We know that He looked forward to it with the most solemn expectation; and when it came the experience was overwhelming. Yes, He submitted to the doom and blight of death, in which death He made atonement and finished transgression. The Incarnation was the way in which our Lord bound Himself to our woful fortunes, and carried to us the benefits with which He would enrich us; and His death was for our sins, endured that we might live. But the Apostle does not here dwell on the reasons why Christ's obedience must take this road. It is enough that for reasons concerning our welfare, and the worthy achievement of the Father's Divine purposes, Christ bowed Himself to so great lowliness. A dark and sad death — a true obedience to death — became the portion of the Son of God. "I am the Living One, and I was dead." So complete was the self-emptying, the humiliation, the obedience.
"Therefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him the Name that is above every name." For still we must think of Him as One that has come down into the region of the creatures, the region in which we are distinguished by names, and are capable of higher and lower in endless degrees. God, dealing with Him so situated, acts in a manner rightly corresponding to this great self-dedication, so as to utter God's mind upon it. He has set Him on high, and given Him the Name that is above every name; so that Divine honour shall be rendered to Him by all creation, and knees bowed in worship to Him everywhere, and all shall own Him Lord — that is, partaker of Divine Sovereignty. All this is "to the glory of the Father," seeing that in all this the worthiness and beauty of God's being and ways come to light with a splendour until now unexampled.
So then, we may say, perhaps, that as in the humiliation He who is God experienced what it is to be man, now in the exaltation He who is man experiences what it is to be God.
But the point to dwell on chiefly is this consideration — What is it that attracts so specially the Father's approbation? What does so is Christ's great act of self-forgetting love. That satisfies and rests the Divine mind. Doubtless the Son's pure and perfect character, and the perfection of His whole service, were on all accounts approved; but specially the mind of Christ revealed in His self-forgetting devotion. Therefore God has highly exalted Him.
For, in the first place, Christ in this work of His is Himself the revelation of the Father. All along the Father's heart is seen disclosed. It was in fellowship with the Father, always delighting in Him, that the history was entered on; in harmony with Him it was accomplished. Throughout we have before us not only the mind of the Son, but the mind of the Father that sent Him.
And then, in the next place, as the Son, sent forth into the world, and become one of us, and subject to vicissitude, accomplishes His course, it is fitting for the Father to watch, to approve, and to crown the service; and He who has so given Himself for God and man must take the place due to such a "mind" and to such an obedience.
Let us observe it then: what was in God's eye and ought to be in ours, is not only the dignity of the person, the greatness of the condescension, the perfection of obedience and patience of endurance, but, in the heart of all these, the mind of Christ. That was the inspiration of the whole marvellous history, vivifying it throughout. Christ, indeed, was not One who could so care for us, as to fail in His regard to any interest of His Father's name or kingdom; nor could He take any course really unseemly, because unworthy of Himself. But carrying with Him all that is due to His Father, and all that befits His Father's Child and Servant, the wonderful thing is how His heart yearns over men, how His course shapes itself to the necessities of our case, how all that concerns Himself disappears as He looks on the fallen race. A worthy deliverance for them, consecrating them to God in the blessedness of life eternal — this is in His eye, to be reached by Him through all kinds of lowliness, obedience, and suffering. On this His heart was set; this gave meaning and character to every step of His history. This was the mind of the good Shepherd that laid down His life for the sheep. And this is what completes and consecrates all the service, and receives the Father's triumphant approbation. This is the Lamb of God. There never was a Lamb like this.
How all this was and is in the Eternal Son in His Divine nature we cannot suitably conceive. In some most sublime and perfect manner we own it to be there. But we can think of it and speak of it as the "mind of Christ": as it came to light in the Man of Bethlehem, who, amid all the possibilities of the Incarnation, is seen setting His face so steadily one way, whose life is all of one piece, and to whom we ascribe GRACE. "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." Therefore God has highly exalted Him, and given Him the Name that is above every name. This is the right way. This is the right life.
Are we followers of Christ? Are we in touch with His grace? Do we yield ourselves to His will and way? Do we renounce the melancholy obstructiveness which sets us at odds with Christ? Do we count it our wisdom now to come into His school? Then, let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, this lowly, loving mind. Let it. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Do nothing through strife or vainglory. In lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and envy, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. If there is any comfort in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, let this be so. Let this mind be in you; and find ways of showing it. But, indeed, if it be in you it will find ways to show itself.
The Church of Christ has not been without likeness to its Lord, and service to its Lord: yet it has come far short in showing to the world the mind of Christ. We often "show the Lord's death." But in His death were the mighty life and the conclusive triumph of Christ's love. Let the life also of Christ Jesus be manifest in our mortal body.
We see here what the vision of Christ was which opened itself to Paul, — which, glowing in his heart, sent him through the world, seeking the profit of many, that they might be saved. This was in his mind, the wonderful condescension and devotion of the Son of God. "It pleased God to reveal His Son in me." "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus." "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that though He was rich yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich." "He loved me and gave Himself for me." And in various forms and degrees the manifestation of this same grace has astonished, and conquered, and inspired all those who have greatly served Christ in the Church in seeking to do good to men. Let us not separate ourselves from this fellowship of Christ; let us not be secluded from this mind of Christ. As we come to Him with our sorrows, and sins, and wants, let us drink into His mind. Let us sit at His feet and learn of Him.
A line of contemplation, hard to follow yet inspiring, opens up in considering the Incarnation of our Lord as permanent. No day is coming in which that shall have to be looked upon as gone away into the past. This is suggestive as to the tie between Creator and creature, as to the bridge between Infinite and finite, to be evermore found in Him. But it may suffice here to have indicated the topic.
It is more to the point, in connection with this passage, to call attention to a lesson for the present day. Of late great emphasis has been laid by earnest thinkers upon the reality of Christ's human nature. Anxiety has been felt to do full right to that humanity which the Gospels set before us so vividly. This has been in many ways a happy service to the Church. In the hands of divines the humanity of Christ has sometimes seemed to become shadowy and unreal, through the stress laid on His proper Godhead; and now men have become anxious to possess their souls with the human side of things, even perhaps at the cost of leaving the Divine side untouched. The recoil has carried men quite naturally into a kind of humanitarianism, sometimes deliberate, sometimes unconscious. Christ is thought of as the ideal Man, who, just because He is the ideal Man, is morally indistinguishable from God, and is in the closest fellowship with God. Yet He grows on the soil of human nature, He is fundamentally and only human. And this, it is implied, is enough: it covers all we want. But we see this was not Paul's way of thinking. The real humanity was necessary for him, because he desiderated a real incarnation. But the true original Divine nature was also necessary. For so he discerned the love — the grace, and the gift by grace; so he felt that the Eternal God had bowed down to bless him in and by His Son. It makes a great difference to religion when men are persuaded to forego this faith.
From the Epistle to the Philippians by Robert Rainy, D.D., Principal of New College. Edinburgh. Published by FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY in 1990. Digitally produced by Colin Bell, Julia Neufeld and the Online
Reach for the Calling Creator
To the Philippians - R. Rainy
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your calling be the best.