A Sermon by Ebenezer Erskine
Proverbs 8:23. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
In this passage there are such evident rays of the eternal and supreme deity of Christ, and of His personality and essential oneness with the Father, as puts the Arians and Socinians (2), these blasphemers of the Son of God, quite out of countenance. They are obliged, though with great absurdity, to allege that what is spoken of and by Christ in this chapter, particularly in verses 22-31, is to be understood of wisdom as one of the attributes of the divine nature. But it is beyond controversy, among all orthodox interpreters, that it is Christ, the second person of the glorious Trinity (under the idea of wisdom) that here speaks – as might be proved from the many personal properties, personal acts and personal words that are ascribed to Him in this passage of Scripture, which, for brevity’s sake, I cannot insist upon at this time.
The penman of this book was Solomon. But, “behold, a greater than Solomon is here”, even “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God”, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Solomon had all his wisdom out of this treasure; so, being under the direction of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, he is led, as a type, to speak in the person of his glorious antitype, as his father David doth frequently in the book of the Psalms, particularly in Psalms 16 and 40. Christ recommends his dictates in the Word unto the children of men and shows what advantage will accrue to them by the study of the Scriptures, agreeable unto what He says: “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). From verse 22 unto verse 31, in order to engage our faith and trust in Him, He elegantly describes the glory of His own person. Thus we, beholding His glory as in a glass, may be changed into His image. More particularly, (1.) He shows how from all eternity He lodged in His Father’s arms and bosom, as His beloved Son in whom He was and is well pleased: “The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old” (verse 22). (2.) He speaks of His eternal appointment unto the great work and service of our redemption, in the words of my text, “I was set up from everlasting . . .”. We may notice:
1.The divine person who is the speaker, in the pronoun I, the eternal Son of God, the glorious Immanuel, the faithful and true witness: I who am God co-equal with the Father and who sat as a constituent member of the council of peace, about the great affair of man’s redemption, and therefore cannot but be well acquainted with what was transacted there.
2. The result of that eternal transaction declared with relation to Himself, I was set up – that is, I was, by an act of the divine will, common to all the three Persons of the glorious Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – elected, set apart, or fore-ordained to the great service of man’s redemption. A word parallel unto this, which casts a light upon the text, you have in Psalm 2:7, where Christ, speaking of Himself, says, “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee”. This is called the Father’s will: “Lo I come, in the volume of the book, it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will” (Ps 40:7,8).
3. In the words we have the date of the divine council and decree, with relation to our Redeemer, or when He was set up for that service. It bears date from the ancient years of eternity, I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, ere ever the earth was. Here are words that swallow up all finite thought and consideration; they lead us back to an eternity past, and who could ever have told us what was acted in the divine mind and council from all eternity but He only who is the Alpha and the Omega, from everlasting to everlasting God. So much for explaining the words.
Doctrine: That as Christ is the everlasting God; so, from all eternity, He was foreordained and set up for the great service of man’s redemption. I was set up from everlasting . . . . To this purpose is that verse of the apostle: “He was verily foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times” (1 Pet 1:20).
The method, through divine assistance, I shall observe, is as follows:
1. To prove that Christ is the everlasting God, and that He was from the beginning, ere ever the earth was.
2. Show what is meant by His being set up from everlasting.
3. For what ends and purposes He was set up.
4. Why He, and none else, was set up for this end.
5. Make some application of the whole.
1. To prove that Christ is the everlasting God, and that He was from the beginning, ere ever the earth was.
The Socinians affirm that He had no being before His actual incarnation. And the Arians, though they allow that He had a being before His incarnation; yet they deny His eternal existence, and consequently make Him but a nominal deity and reduce Him to the rank of created beings. Now, in opposition to both these damnable heresies, I shall endeavour to trace a little of the scriptural account of the eternal existence of the Son of God, our glorious Redeemer.
And firstly, that He existed before His incarnation, or His being born of the Virgin, is evident from the appearance He made to our first parents in paradise after the fall: “It [the seed of the woman] shall bruise thy head” (Gen 3:15) – the serpent’s, as explained by the apostle in Hebrews 2:14. That this was God in the person of the Son, intimating His future incarnation and the design thereof, is evident, for God absolutely considered is not a promising but an avenging God, a consuming fire unto the workers of iniquity. And all the promises in Him are yea and amen. It is only the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and none else, that opened the book of the divine counsel for our redemption. And therefore it was He, and none else, that broke up this seal, and disclosed this secret unto our first parents in paradise. In like manner, it was He that preached the gospel to Abraham, saying, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”, as is clear from Galatians 3:8.
We find Him executing His threefold mediatorial offices before ever He came in the flesh. We find Him, as a prophet, preaching righteousness unto the great congregation, “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained My lips, O Lord, Thou knowest!” (Ps 40:9). And by His Spirit in Noah, He preached to the old world, who, because of their disobedience, were shut up in the prison of hell, as we see in 1 Pet 3:18-20. We find Him acting as the great Priest of His Church before His actual appearance in the flesh, “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). And His royal and kingly office is asserted by God the Father before ever He appeared in the flesh: “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion” (Ps 2:6); I have done it; it is not a thing to do, but it is done already: I have set Him King. And He speaks to Him as a person actually existing: “Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession”. Thus you see Him executing all His offices before He was incarnate.
But I need not stand upon this point in opposition to the Socinians, seeing we have it from Christ’s own mouth, who is the faithful witness. Says He to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), alluding probably unto that same name He took to Himself when He appeared unto Moses in the bush and sent him to bring Israel out of Egypt. Go, says He, and tell them, “I AM hath sent me unto you” (Ex 3:14), a name equivalent unto the name Jehovah, which signifies past, present, and to come, and distinguishes Him from all the dunghill deities of the nations.
But then, secondly, let us go back further, even to the creation of the world, and we shall find His existence and agency in the production of all created beings: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2,3). He must needs be the everlasting God who is the Creator of all the ends of the earth: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen 1:1); hence, “of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Thy hands . . . ” (Ps 102:25). Which words are applied unto Christ, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail” (Heb 1:10-12).
Again, thirdly, Let us run up to the endless ages before the creation of the world, and we find Him existing or ever the earth was (John 17:5). He prayeth that He might be glorified with His Father, with the same glory that He had with Him before the foundation of the world. Hence He is not only called the mighty God, but the everlasting Father, or the Father of eternity; and “His goings forth were from of old, from everlasting” (Mic 5:2). But I need not stand upon this, seeing the very words of the text are so clear as to this matter, “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was”. If He were not the everlasting God, He could never have been set up from everlasting.
2. To enquire what is meant by His being set up from everlasting.
First, it supposes the council of peace, or an eternal transaction between the Father and the Son concerning the redemption of lost sinners; for this is the result of the counsel here declared by the Son, I was set up from everlasting “The counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zec 6:13).
Second, it implies the infinite complacency that the Father and the Son had in each other from all eternity. This is more clearly expressed in the verse immediately preceding the text, “The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His ways, before His works of old;” and yet more clearly: “When He appointed the foundations of the earth, then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (verses 29,30). (So Is 42:1, Matt 3:17, 17:5.)
Third, it implies a divine ordination and decree, whereby he was from eternity elected unto the great service of man’s redemption. Hence He is called His Father’s elect, “Behold My Servant whom I behold, Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth” (Is 42:1). So says God the Father, “I have laid help upon one that is mighty, I have exalted one chosen out of the people” (Ps 89:19); and with an eye to this decree of the election of Christ is that fore-cited verse of the apostle: “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world,” (1 Pet 1:20). Though He be God coequal with the Father, yet He voluntarily came under a decree of election that so He might be the head of the election among mankind sinners, in whom they are elected unto everlasting life: “He hath chosen us in Him, before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).
Fourth, “I was set up from everlasting”, implies that, in consequence of the decree, He was called of God to undertake the work of redemption, “I the Lord have called Thee in righteousness, and will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee, and give Thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles” (Is 42:6). “No man taketh this honour unto Himself, but he who is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest, but He that said unto Him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee” (Heb 5:4,5).
Fifth, it implies His own voluntary consent to, and compliance with, His Father’s call. This is of so great moment, that it is registered in the volume of the book of God: “Then said I, Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Thy will, O My God; yea Thy law is within My heart” (Ps 40:7,8). Upon which words the Apostle Paul comments in Hebrews 10:5-10, applying them to the purpose in hand.
And a multitude of great promises that the Father made to Him followed upon this voluntary consent of the Son of God. The Father promised to fit Him with a human nature, which was to be personally united to His divine nature: “A body hast Thou prepared Me”, a promise of all needful preparation and assistance in the undertaking. The Father promised that an immeasurable fulness of the Spirit and all His gifts, graces and qualifications should rest upon Him (Is 11:2,3, Is 43). He promised that “the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. . . . Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong”; that He should see His seed (Is 53:10-12); that a seed should serve Him which should be accounted to Him for a generation (Ps 22:30,31); that He would make His enemies His footstool, and greatly plague all that hated Him; and that, when He had drunk of the brook that ran in the way, He should again lift up the head, and be repossessed, even in the human nature, of all that glory which He had with the Father before the world was.
But now, before I go on to the third general head, I would here show how (in consequence of all this which was done before the foundation of the world was laid) He was actually set up in time, in the view of lost simmers of Adam’s family, whom He came to save and redeem.
1. His first appearance was in the promise made to our first parents, of His future incarnation, already mentioned (Gen 3:15), which was the only foundation of faith the Church had until the days of Abraham, to whom that promise was renewed: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen 22:18).
2. He was set up typically, in the view of the Church, under the old testament. What was the meaning of the tabernacle and temple and of all the sacrifices and ceremonies of that economy? They were all intended as shadowy representations of good things to come, upon the actual appearance of the Son of God in our nature.
3. He was set up in the prophecies of the prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and the rest – for all the prophets prophesied of Him. To Him they did all bear witness, and every one of them successively spoke more clearly than another, till John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elias, pointing Him out with the finger, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God”.
4. He was set up personally and actually in His incarnation, obedience and death. His birth was celebrated and intimated by a company of angels, saying, “Unto you is born, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” and in their heavenly anthem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”. His inauguration unto His mediatorial work, at His baptism, was celebrated by the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit upon Him in the likeness of a dove, and a voice coming from His Father, from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;” which voice was again repeated at His transfiguration and His passion. His death was celebrated by the rending of the veil of the temple from top to bottom, a quaking of the earth, a rending of the rocks, and a darkening of the sun in the firmament; all signifying that now the finishing stroke was given to the head of the old serpent, and that principalities and powers were spoiled, and the prince of this world cast out of his usurped authority and government.
5. He was set up in a glorious and triumphant manner in His resurrection and ascension; for then He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by His resurrection from the dead”. He was set up also when “He ascended up on high”, “led captivity captive”, and “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” – things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth being ordered to bow at the name of Jesus, and every tongue to confess that He is the Lord, to the praise and glory of His Father.
6. He was and is set up declaratively in the preaching of the everlasting gospel, which is like the pole upon which the brazen serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, by looking unto which the Israelites were cured of the fiery serpents. Says Christ, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).
7. He is set up sacramentally in the sacraments of baptism and of the supper, particularly in the last of these, which we are about this day to celebrate. In these symbols and sacramental acts of His own institution, He is evidently set forth crucified before you; and therein we may, as in a mirror, discern the Lord’s body, which was broken for us, and His blood of the new testament, which was shed for us. There He is present, though not in a corporal and carnal manner, yet in a symbolical and spiritual manner, saying to His people, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved”.
8. He is set up in an efficacious manner in a day of conversion, and in the renewed manifestations of Himself to the souls of His people, by the power of His Word and Spirit, when He draws aside the veil and makes the light of the knowledge of His glory to shine into the heart. Then, O then, Christ is set up in the heart of the sinner; He gets the throne of the heart, and every thought is brought into captivity unto His obedience. What a pleasant setting up of Christ and His kingdom would it be to see Him going forth with His bow and sword, in the gospel, travelling in the greatness of His strength, making all the inhabitants of the land to fall under Him, everyone crying, “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our king, the Lord is our lawgiver!” O then covenanting work would go on apace, and everyone will say to another, “Come, and let us join ourselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten” (Jer 50:5).
9. Christ will be set up in a glorious and remarkable manner at His second coming, without sin, unto the salvation of His people; for then He will descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, when He shall come with clouds, and every eye shall see Him. Then shall He be glorified in His saints, and admired in all them that believe, while all the wicked, unbelieving world, and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him, crying to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; and the heavens passing away with a mighty noise, the elements melting with fervent heat.
1. This is the first half of a sermon preached before the Lord’s Supper was administered. It will be concluded next month, DV. It is reprinted from The Works of Ebenezer Erskine, vol 3. This three-volume set is being reprinted by Free Presbyterian Publications. If ordered from the F P Bookroom before March 31, it will cost £45 (normal price is £55).
2. Both these groups of heretics denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.