By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
The Diverse Excellencies of Jesus Christ
The American Theologian and Pastor, Jonathan Edwards (1703 -1758), once preached a sermon entitled “The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Jesus Christ”. The sermon was based on Revelation 5:5-6, in which John depicts Jesus as a Lion and a Lamb. Edwards expounded the ways in which seeming opposites are to be found in Jesus Christ, his life and his ministry:
There is in Jesus Christ:
- infinite highness and infinite condescension
- infinite justice and infinite grace
- infinite glory and lowest humility
- infinite majesty and transcendent meekness
- the deepest reverence towards God and equality with God
- infinite worthiness of good, and the greatest patience under sufferings of evil
- an exceeding spirit of obedience, with supreme dominion over heaven and earth
- absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation
- self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God. When we think about the cross, we see:
- Christ was in the greatest degree of his humiliation, and yet by that, above all other things, his divine glory appears.
- He never in any act gave so great a manifestation of love to God, and yet never so manifested his love to those that were enemies to God, as in that act.
- Christ never so eminently appeared for divine justice, and yet never suffered so much from divine justice, as when he offered up himself a sacrifice for our sins.
- Christ’s holiness never so illustriously shone forth as it did in his last sufferings, and yet he never was to such a degree treated as guilty.
- He never was so dealt with, as unworthy, as in his last sufferings, and yet it is chiefly on account of them that he is accounted worthy.
- Christ in his last sufferings suffered most extremely from those towards whom he was then manifesting his greatest act of love.
- It was in Christ’s last sufferings, above all, that he was delivered up to the power of his enemies; and yet by these, above all, he obtained victory over his enemies.
Edwards makes the point that there are so many attributes and characteristics that are seemingly diametrically opposed to each other and yet are to be found in Christ who is fully God and fully Man, the Majestic Lion and the Gentle Lamb, that it would appear to be inconceivable that they might be compatible in the same person. Such is the glory of Jesus.
Jesus is unique; his saving work is unique. Nevertheless, flowing from his person and work, out of union and communion with him, something of his boldness and grace ought to be displayed in the lives of his people.
We need to contend for the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Church of England today with the Lion-like courage and Lamb-like gentleness. There is a need for courage to overcome our cowardice and instinctive preference for a quiet life. There is a need for Christ-like graciousness in how we contend for gospel truth. We are called to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to speak boldly the Word of God to a nation that rejects it and in a Church that is in danger of abandoning it.
To do so we need to walk in vital, close communion with Jesus Christ, the Lion and the Lamb:
“There is only one thing that has helped me overcome these fears and it is zeal for the gospel and it is zeal for the gospel and its effects in the world. When I am living out the gospel – and the gospel is living in me with power – my fears shrink to Lilliputian size. If we walk with Jesus, we will begin to take on both His Lamb-like gentleness and His Lion-like courage.”105
Thus the plea in this chapter is for local churches:
I. To be intentionally praying for and asking God to raise up more workers for his harvest field. If every evangelical Anglican local church had a vision to raise up and send at least one person every five years into ordained ministry in the Church of England, we would be well on the way to a thousand new gospel-ministers over ten years.
In Matthew 9 Jesus is clear that it is ultimately God who raises up labourers, however, He does that through means. Here are some suggestions for what it might look like for a local church to have a vision to raise up and send at least one person every five years into ordained ministry:
• Make it an intentional prayer for God to raise up at least one person in 5 years into ordained ministry, and for this to be prayed for at the church prayer meeting, staff meetings, PCC meetings and in church services.
- For it to be a regular agenda item on the PCC for reflection, discussion and assessment, simply asking “How are we doing on this?”
- Hold an annual ‘Vocations Sunday’106 – not entirely given over to thinking about ‘ordained ministry’107, but with that always an integral part of it. This would give an opportunity to preach and teach on why this is so important, including a call for people to consider prayerfully before the Lord if he is calling them to full-time gospel ministry.
- For it to be a particular focus for the incumbent to be prayerfully sensitive and watchful for individuals who God might be raising up to send as labourers into his vineyard, and then to invest time one-to-one in teaching and discipling such individuals.
II. To see that a local church that is truly gospel-driven will quite rightly have a focus on the spread of the gospel in its immediate parish. But that focus will not end there, it will look ever further outwards to the ends of the earth. However, my plea is that this mission emphasis be ‘ecclesiologically’ shaped. Of course, there are numerous occasions when Anglicans might want to partner with non-Anglican evangelicals for the cause of the gospel locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. That said, if we are to integrate our ecclesiology with evangelism and mission, as I think we ought, then it follows naturally that we will also be committed to the spread of the gospel and to pioneering, establishing and securing biblically faithful, gospel-driven local Anglican churches, deaneries, and dioceses throughout the whole denomination. This ought to be the intentional and focussed mission of every local evangelical Anglican church. We should seek to do so with Lion-like courage and Lamb-like gentleness.