A Sermon by Ebenezer Erskine
Proverbs 8:23. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
First, He was set up from everlasting as a Sun to give light unto this lower world which, through the sin of man, had become like a dungeon of darkness. No sooner had man sinned, but his mind became dark, yea, darkness itself, although before it was like a lamp of light, as to the knowledge of God and of His mind and will. “Ye were sometimes darkness”, says the apostle, speaking of man in his natural state. There is the face of a covering cast over all people and the veil that is spread over all nations, and upon this account this world is called a dark place, and these parts of the earth where Christ is not known are called the dark places of the earth. But now Christ is and was set up as a glorious Sun to enlighten the world in the knowledge of God and of the way of salvation; hence He is called the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world, because He, by His Word and Spirit, spreads the light of the knowledge of the glory of God among lost sinners of Adam’s family. Hence, when the gospel of Christ, which is the lamp of God’s anointed, comes unto a people, they that “sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up”.
Second, He is set up as a second Adam, the Head of a new covenant of grace and promise. All mankind were lost and ruined in the first Adam – by the breach of the covenant of works made with him as their federal head and representative – so that the curse of that covenant was the only legacy he could bequeath unto his posterity. And under this curse we had lain through all eternity if God had not raised up for us “a Horn of salvation . . . in the house of His servant David”. Sirs, God had a purpose of love and grace, from all eternity, toward a select company of Adam’s family. He pitches upon His own beloved Son as a new covenant Head, and enters into a covenant of grace with Him, to deliver them out of a state of sin and misery and bring them unto a state of salvation through Him: “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David My servant” (Ps 89:3). Accordingly Christ, as the second Adam, steps into the room of the first Adam and fulfils the covenant of works, both as to its precept and penalty; whereby the promise of eternal life made to Him, upon condition of perfect obedience, devolves upon Him as a second Adam and He becomes the righteous heir of everlasting life, not only by birth, but also by purchase; and all the promises of the covenant, and all the salvation of the covenant, stand in Him. And that moment a sinner quits his holding of the first Adam and of the law as a covenant and, by a faith of God’s operation, is determined to take hold of Christ and the covenant whereof He is Head, that moment, I say, he is brought into the bonds of the covenant of grace and promise, according to that, “Hear, and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Is 55:3).
Third, He was set up from everlasting, as a repairer of breaches between God and man. Whenever man sinned, and joined himself in a confederacy with Satan, the god of this world, the breach between God and man became wide like the sea. Death and hell were the penalty of the law; and the faithfulness of God was pledged, so that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins. And though all the angels of heaven and men upon earth had been sacrificed and their blood shed in order to satisfy justice, it would have been rejected; the offence was infinite, with respect to the object of it, and therefore a satisfaction of infinite value had to be offered. Sacrifices and offerings – that is, of man’s providing (Ps 40:6, Heb 10) – Thou wouldest not. Well then, how shall the breach be repaired? How shall the different claims of mercy and justice be reconciled with respect to the guilty criminal? Lo, I come, says Christ, I will assume the human nature, and in that nature I will die in the room of the criminal; and in this way I will make peace through the blood of the cross. I will be wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities; the chastisement of their peace shall be upon Me, and by My stripes they shall be healed; and so justice shall be satisfied, and mercy shall be for ever magnified. “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Thus He is set up as the Repairer of breaches, hence called the Mediator between God and men; and there is no Mediator between God and men but the man Christ Jesus.
Fourth, He is set up as the true temple where God sets His name, and in which alone God is to be worshipped in an acceptable manner. The old testament tabernacle and temple were but shadows of Christ, in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily. And as all the worship of Israel was to be performed in the temple, so all our sacrifices and services are to be offered up in the name of Christ, for He hath made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him, as our new testament temple, is to be seen the true Shechina, the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His Person. Here is the true oracle whereby the mind of God is conveyed unto us, for “no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him”. Here is the true ark where the tables of the law are kept, and in whom the law is magnified and made honourable. In Him we have the true mercy seat and throne of grace, unto which we are called to come with boldness, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in every time of need. Here we have the Priest of our profession ministering in the holy of holies, and appearing in the presence of God for us.
Fifth, He is set up as a bridge of communication between God and man, between heaven and earth, by which God comes down to us and we come up unto Him, notwithstanding the two infinite gulfs of natural and moral distance between Him and us. These gulfs were impassible until Christ, by His incarnation, took away the natural distance, for in Him, as Immanuel, God and Man meet together in one person; and by His death and satisfaction He removed the moral distance, by taking away the sin of the world; for this end was He manifested, to take away our sin. Now these two infinite gulfs being removed, God and man meet together in a blessed friendship, and we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus”. Hence is that of Christ: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:16). This was shadowed by Jacob’s dream of the ladder reaching from heaven unto earth and the angels of God ascending and descending thereupon, signifying that through Christ – in whom all the rounds and steps of the ladder are finished – the angels are ministering spirits unto the heirs of salvation upon the footing of Christ’s mediation, and that we have access to God through Him. Through Him we ascend unto God’s holy hill and abide in His tabernacle.
Sixth, He is set up as the great gospel city of refuge, typified by the cities of refuge under the law, unto which the manslayer was to flee for safety from the avenger of blood (Heb 6:18). Believers are said to flee for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before them: justice cries for vengeance; God’s broken law cries for vengeance; conscience cries for vengeance; the devil, as God’s executioner, cries for vengeance. O the deplorable case and condition of the poor guilty criminal before the revelation of Christ! All refuges fail him, for the hail sweeps away all his refuges of lies, and in this case his hope and strength perishes from the Lord until God make a discovery of Christ as the city of refuge that He has set open, with a cry from heaven, “Turn ye to your strongholds, ye prisoners of hope”. Then, O then, the soul flees for refuge as a dove to its windows and gets into the clefts of the rock and abides in the secret place and shadow of the Almighty, saying, O this is my rest, and here will I dwell at ease, for “there is . . . no condemnation to them that are in Christ”. Here the poor soul can turn about to law, to justice, to conscience, to the devil and the world, and say, “Who can lay any thing to my charge? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?”
Seventh, He is set up as a mystical brazen serpent in the camp of Israel, in the camp of the visible church, that the poor sinner, finding himself stung by the fiery serpents, sin and Satan, may be healed by looking unto Him. Hence is that of Christ, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14,15). The gospel is the pole upon which He is lifted up in the view of all mankind: for by His commission we preach the gospel unto every creature and the cry goes forth to the ends of the earth, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else”. Sirs, the venom of the old serpent has diffused itself through all the powers and faculties of the soul and body and it is worming out your life, and die you must unless you cast the eye of faith upon Christ as the only ordinance of God for your salvation. As the stung Israelite infallibly died unless he looked unto the brazen serpent; so the sinner that does not look by faith unto Christ, the true brazen serpent, shall infallibly die, not the first death only, but also the second; for there is no name under heaven, given among men, whereby a poor sinner can be saved, but the name of Jesus. But whosoever believes in the name of Jesus shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.
Eighth, He is set up as a foundation of hope and help to the lost family of Adam to build upon for their eternal salvation: “Behold, I lay in Zion, for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste (shall not be ashamed or confounded)” (Is 28:16). All other foundations are but foundations of sand, and the house built upon the sand will fall, and great will the fall thereof be; “for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ”. Adam, in innocency, did indeed stand upon another foundation; and, if he had continued there, he would have obtained life and happiness, through the covenant of works; but there is no other foundation for a lost sinner to build upon but the foundation Christ.
Ninth, He is set up as the end of the law for righteousness to every sinner that believes in Him. He has, by His obedience unto death, and the perfect holiness of His nature, brought in an everlasting righteousness for the justification of the ungodly sinner that believes in Him. This is His name, whereby He is called, The Lord our Righteousness (Jer 23:6); and “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us”. This is that white raiment Christ counsels us to buy of Him that the shame of our nakedness may not appear. And see how He sets up, or sets out, this righteousness, even to the stout-hearted, those far from righteousness: “I bring near My righteousness; it shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not tarry” (Is 46:13). And the language of the soul, when it puts on that robe, is, “Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength. . . . In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory” (Is 45:24,25).
Tenth, He is set up as a storehouse, out of which the bankrupted and beggared sinners of Adam’s family may be supplied with everything they need, for it hath pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell and that, out of His fulness, we may all receive grace for grace. We, who are His ministers and ambassadors, are authorised to cast open the gates of this storehouse and give full liberty unto all wretched, miserable, blind, poor and naked sinners to come and take what they want, without money and without price (Is 55:1, Rev 22:17).
Eleventh, to shut up this head at present, He is set up as the salvation of God to all lost sinners. Christ, in Scripture, is frequently called The Salvation of God. Jacob, when he is addressing his children, makes a pause, casting his eyes upon the Shiloh that was to spring out of the tribe of Judah, and cries, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord” (Gen 49:19). Old Simeon gets Christ, when a babe, in his arms and says, “Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation” (Luke 2:29). In Him, He who is our God, is the God of salvation. He has wrought, and still works, manifold salvation in the midst of the earth, salvation from sin (Matt 1:22), salvation from the curse of the broken law (Gal 3:13), salvation from Satan, for He through death destroyed him (Heb 2:14), salvation from the sting of death (1 Cor 15:55), salvation from hell and the wrath that is to come (2 Thess 1:10). So that, whenever a sinner looks unto Him by the eye of faith, he may sing that song, “I will praise thee: though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation: I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation” (Is 12:1,2).
Many more particulars might be insisted on if time and strength would allow. I only name some of them:
1. He was set up as our Redeemer, to pay the ransom which justice demanded, that we might not go down to the pit.
2. As a Surety, to pay the debts of bankrupts; therefore He is called, “The Surety of a better testament” (Heb 7:22).
3. As a Physician, to heal us of all our diseases. With Him is the balm in Gilead, and He is the Physician there.
4. As a Shepherd, to gather His Father’s flocks unto His fold: “He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd” (Is 40:11).
5. As a wonderful Counsellor, to give advice in all doubtful cases (Is 9:6). So David: “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel” (Ps 16:7).
6. As an everlasting Father, in whom the fatherless orphans of Adam’s family find mercy (Is 9:6, Hos 14:3).
7. As the mighty God that was able to encounter principalities and to spoil them on His cross (Is 9:6).
8. As the Prince of peace, the King of Salem: “I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace, to him that is afar off”.
9. As the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, by whose declaration all controversies are to be decided between God and man, and man and man.
10. As a Guide and Leader, to guide the blind by a way they know not, by His Word and Spirit.
11. As a Captain of salvation, or Commander, under whose banner we are to light our way to heaven, through the armies of hell and earth.
12. As a Bridegroom, with whom we are called to make a match (Is 54:6, Hos 2:19,20).
4. To enquire into the grounds and reasons why Christ was set up from everlasting for the great work and service of redemption.
1. Here we must have recourse unto adorable sovereignty, because it was His will and pleasure, and say, as Christ said in another case, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matt 11:26).
2. Because of the goodwill He did bear to man upon earth. Hence this was one of the notes of the song of angels at His birth, “Glory to God in the highest; peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).
3. Because of His ability for the undertaking. “I have”, says the Lord, “laid help upon one that is mighty” (Ps 89:19). He is the man of God’s right hand, and the arm of Jehovah was in Him and with Him.
4. Because He voluntarily offered Himself unto the work and service, as you heard in the first head of the doctrine; He had a heart to the work. “Thy law”, says He, “is within My heart” (Ps 40:8, Is 50:5).
5. Because of His undaunted courage to encounter all difficulties and opposition in the way; hence called “The Lion of the tribe of Judah”. See His courageous behaviour (Is 50:7-9).
6. Because from everlasting God foresaw what a revenue of glory would accrue to the crown of heaven through His mediation, even a greater glory than by all His other works of creation and providence. Hence the first note of the song of angels is, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14). That is to say, “All the other works of God praise Him, but now we see the highest revenue of glory to be levied out of the strange work of God in uniting the divine and human natures in that Child that is born in the city of David”. And I conceive it was with an eye to this, when they are viewing the personal glory of our Redeemer, that the seraphim cry out, “The whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). As if they had said, “It is no surprise to us angels to see His glory shining in the heavens, but to see the glory of the only begotten of the Father made flesh, and dwelling among men upon earth, a theatre of sin, rebellion and misery, this is what indeed strikes us with astonishment and admiration”.
5. The application of the doctrine. Is it so that Christ was set up from all eternity for the great work and service of man’s redemption?
1. Then, see hence the antiquity and eternity of the love of God towards lost sinners of Adam’s family. His love must be from everlasting, because Christ was set up from everlasting as a help meet for us: “I have laid help upon one that is mighty” (Ps 89:19). I have done it in eternity, before the world was. Hence the eternity of His love is asserted: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3). Run back the love of God, we shall never find the beginning of it.
2. See hence, not only the eternity, but the activity of the love of God. It was not an indolent but an operative love; it was such a love as set His power, His wisdom and other perfections to work, and all the persons of the glorious Trinity to work, to accomplish His purpose of grace and love towards sinners of mankind. So that if the question be put: What was God doing from all eternity before He created the world? here you have an answer: The Father and Son possessed one another “in the beginning of His ways, before His works of old”, and Infinite Wisdom, inspired by infinite and amazing love, set Him to work to lay the plan of our salvation through His beloved Son, as you see here: “I was set up from everlasting”.
3. See hence that Christ is the great Secretary of heaven, who is intimately acquainted with the mind of God, which is unsearchable by any other but Himself. For you see here that He brings forth things that were done in eternity, before ever man or angels had any being: “I was set up from everlasting”. There is a word to this purpose, “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Matt 11:27). Sirs, would you know the secrets of heaven, the mysteries of the kingdom, that were hid in God from eternity? Then come to Christ: hear ye Him, and He will tell you things that none in heaven or earth can tell you, but Himself: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him”.
4. See hence the stability and perpetuity of the covenant of grace. Why, Christ was set up from everlasting, as the new covenant Head. The covenant was transacted with Him, as second Adam, from everlasting (Ps 89:3). And the covenant derives its stability from the covenant Head: “My covenant shall stand fast with Him” (Ps 89:28), and this is the very thing that makes it a sure covenant to us. Hence “I will visit their transgression with the rod; nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not take from Him” (Ps 89:33,34), and therefore “My covenant will I not break (with them), nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips”. “For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. . . . For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from thee” (Is 54:9,10).
5. See the great ground and reason of the stability and perpetuity of the Church. Why, it is founded upon the everlasting mountains of the divine decrees and perfections, whereby Christ was set up from everlasting as the basis and foundation upon which she stands. This is the rock upon which He builds His Church, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against her. Storms and tempests are raised against her: tempests of persecution, tempests of error, tempests of divisions and delusions. But what do they all come unto in the issue? Why, they are just like the billows of the sea breaking upon a rock, dashing themselves into foam, while the rock stands immoveable.
6. Was Christ set up from everlasting? Then see hence a good reason why all hands should be at work to exalt Him and set Him on high. Why, in so doing, we join with a whole Trinity; whose plan was to set Him up from everlasting. Though He is rejected by the generality of builders throughout England and Ireland, and in Scotland also, God, who set Him up from everlasting, has made Him the head stone of the corner; and therefore, however weak and impotent they be that are bearing testimony for Him and His cause, yet they shall prevail. Christ and His cause will aye be uppermost at the end of the day, for He that set Him up from everlasting will have His cause maintained through all periods of time, in spite of all the powers of hell and earth.
7. See how it is, that faith pleases God, insomuch that, without it, “it is impossible to please Him”. Why, faith exalts Christ, whom God set up from everlasting; it falls in with the great plan of heaven and cries, O precious Christ, precious Christ; none but Him! “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth whom I desire besides Thee” (Ps 73:25). O, says faith, He is “my Lord and my God”. He is “my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him”. He is indeed “fairer than the children of men”, “as the apple tree among the trees of the wood”, “the chiefest among ten thousand” and “altogether lovely. This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Now, I say, such language of faith cannot but be pleasing unto God, who set Him up from everlasting. Hence faith is called the very work of God: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent” (John 6:29).
8. See the reason why God has such an implacable quarrel against the sin of unbelief as to declare, “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). Why, the reason is, it counteracts the work of God from eternity. God set Him up from everlasting; but unbelief is for pulling Him down, tramples His blood underfoot, and crucifies Him afresh; it despises and rejects Him whom God set up from everlasting. And is it any wonder, then, that God is so much offended at the unbeliever? O sirs, you that reject Christ, and continue in your unbelief, remember that the arrows of God’s vengeance will be made drunk with your blood through eternity for the indignities done to Him whom God set up from everlasting.
9. See the reason why the pleasure of the Lord has prospered, and shall prosper, in His hand, in spite of all the opposition of hell and earth. Why, God set Him up from everlasting, and therefore He has upheld, and will uphold, Him. As He has finished redemption in a way of purchase, so He shall finish it in a way of power; all His enemies shall be His footstool.
“I will beat down before His face
all His malicious foes
I will them greatly plague who do
with hatred him oppose.” (Metrical Psalm 89:23)
His victorious arms shall prosper; He shall ride forth in glory and in majesty; and they shall bow under Him because God hath set Him up from everlasting. Who then shall ever be able to shake His throne and government? (Ps 11:1-6).
10. See what good reason we have to celebrate our Christian Passover, and to set Him up sacramentally, by perpetuating His memory upon earth until His second coming. This sacrament of the Supper is a public owning and confessing Him and His dying love and glorious achievements in the work of redemption before God, angels and men. It is putting honour upon Him and avouching Him as our Redeemer, our Mediator, our Prophet, Priest and King in the face of the devil and his angels, who are looking on us with vexation. It galls the devil, and stills that enemy and avenger, to see Christ, who bruised his head upon Mount Calvary, exalted and set up among the children of men at a communion table. “Through death He” destroyed “him that had the power of death” (Heb 2:14), and spoiled principalities and powers. How tormenting then must it be to the devil to see Christ at His table, dividing the spoils among a company of poor sinners, who once in a day were His vassals and bond slaves?
1. The first part of this action sermon was printed last month and it is now concluded. The first heads were: 1. To prove that Christ is the everlasting God, and that He was from the beginning, ere ever the earth was. 2. To show what is meant by His being set up from everlasting. The sermon is reprinted from The Works of Ebenezer Erskine, vol 3. This three-volume set is being reprinted by Free Presbyterian Publications, and is available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.