Unbelievers Contemn The Glory And Excellency Of Christ
By Jonathan Edwards
Dated May, 1736 (and 1753)
This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders.
Subject: Unbelievers set nothing by all the glory and excellency that is in Christ.
IN the foregoing chapters we have an account of the out-pouring
of the Holy Ghost on the apostles, and of its extraordinary effects in their
speaking boldly in the name of Jesus, and speaking many strange languages, and
so being made the instruments of the sudden conversion of vast multitudes. And
in the chapter immediately preceding, there is an account how Peter and John
miraculously healed a man who had been a cripple from his birth; which,
together with the word which they spake to the people that flocked together on
the occasion, was the means of a new accession to the church; so that the
number of them that heard the word believed , as we are told in the fourth
verse of this chapter, was about five thousand.
This sudden and extraordinary
progress of the gospel greatly alarmed the priests and scribes, and other chief
men among the Jews; so that they laid hands on Peter and John, and put them in
hold, and the next day brought them forth to appear before them, and called
them to an account for what they had done. They asked them particularly by what
power, or by what name, they had wrought the miracle on the impotent man. Upon
which Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, makes answer, “Ye rulers of the
people, and elders of Israel, — Be it known unto you all, and to all the people
of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified,
whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you
whole. This is the stone which was set at nought by you builders, which is become
the head of the corner.” The apostle quotes to them as now fulfilled, Psa.
118:22, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head-stone of the
corner.” This text, in that psalm, the apostle applies by telling them:
I. That This is the stone,
i.e. this person of whom he had spoken in the foregoing verse, viz. Jesus
Christ of Nazareth, whom they had crucified, and whom God had raised from the
II. That they were the builders
spoken of. They before whom the apostle then was, and to whom he was speaking,
were rulers, and elders, and scribes of the people, the high priest and other
priests. They, as they were set to be rulers and teachers among God’s people,
by their office, were called to be builders of the church of God.
III. That they set this stone at
nought. They had so done by refusing to accept of him. Christ came to his
own, and his own received him not. And not only so, but they had openly
manifested the greatest contempt of him. They had mocked him, scourged and spit
upon him, and in derision crowned him with a crown of thorns, and arrayed him
in a mock robe, and then had put him to a most ignominious death.
IV. That notwithstanding this, he
was become the head of the corner. In spite of all that they could do, he had
obtained the chief place in the building. God had made him the main foundation
of it, by raising him from the dead, and so putting great honor upon him; by
pouring out his Spirit, and enduing his disciples with extraordinary gifts; by
suddenly converting so many thousands to be the followers of Christ. — They put
him to death, that he might have no followers, concluding that that would
utterly put an end to his interest in Judea. But they were greatly
disappointed. For the gospel had incomparably greater success after Christ’s
death than before. God had accomplished that very thing which they endeavored
to prevent by Christ’s crucifixion, viz. Christ’s being believed in and
submitted to, as the great prophet of God, and prince of his people.
Unbelievers set at nought the
glory and excellency in Christ.
I. They set at nought the
excellency of his person. — Christ is a great and glorious person, a person of
infinite worthiness, on which account he is infinitely esteemed and loved of
the Father, and is continually adored by the angels. But unbelievers have no
esteem at all for him on that account. They have no value for him on account of
his being the Son of God. He is not set the higher in their esteem on the
account of his standing in so near and honorable a relation to God the Father.
He is not valued at all the more for his being a divine person. By his having
the divine nature, he is infinitely exalted above all created beings. But he is
not at all exalted by it in their esteem. They set nothing by his infinite majesty.
His glorious brightness and greatness excite not any true respect or reverence
Christ is the holy One of God. He is so holy that the heavens are not pure in his sight. He is possessed of all that holiness which is the infinite beauty and loveliness of the divine nature. But an unbeliever sets nothing by the holiness of Christ. — Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God, 1 Cor. 1:24. But an unbeliever sets nothing by his power and wisdom. The Lord Jesus Christ is full of grace and mercy. The mercy and love of God appear no where else so brightly and gloriously as they do in the face of Jesus Christ. — But an unbeliever sets no value at all upon the infinite grace of Christ.
Neither do unbelievers set
anything by those excellent virtues which appeared in Christ’s human nature
when he was upon earth. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from
sinners. He was meek and lowly of heart. He was patient under affliction and
injuries. When he was reviled, he reviled not again. But unbelievers set
nothing by these things in Jesus Christ. — They very often hear how excellent
and glorious a person Christ is. They are told of his holiness, and grace, and
condescension, and meekness, and have the excellencies of Christ plainly set
forth to them; yet they set all at nought.
II. They set at nought his
excellency in his work and office. They are told how glorious and complete a
mediator he is, how sufficient to answer all our necessities, and to save
sinners to the uttermost. But they make light of it all; yea, they make nothing
of it. They hear of the wonderful wisdom of God in contriving such a way of
salvation by Christ. They have the manifold wisdom of God set forth to them.
But they make no account of the excellency of this way of salvation.
The unbeliever hears what a
wonderful thing it was, that he who was in the form of God, and esteemed it no
robbery to be equal with God, should take upon him the human nature, and come
and live in this world in a mean and low condition. — But he makes nothing of
this. He hears much of the dying love of Christ to sinners, how wonderful it
was that so glorious a person, who is infinitely above the angels, should so
set his love on such worms of the dust, as to come and be made a curse for
them, and die a cruel and ignominious death in their stead. But he sets nothing
by all this. This dying love of Christ is of no account with him. Those great
things that Christ hath done and suffered are with him light matters.
Unbelievers not only set little
by the glory and excellency of Christ, but they set nothing by these
things. Notwithstanding all the shows and pretenses which many natural men make
of respect to Christ, by speaking honorably of him in their prayers, and in
their common conversation, and by coming to sacraments, and attending other
ordinances of Christ; yet indeed they do not set so much by all the glory and
excellency of Christ — either of his person, or of his work as a Savior — as
they do by the smallest earthly enjoyment.
I proceed now to mention some evidences
of the truth of this doctrine.
First, they never give
Christ any honor on account of his glory and excellency. They may, and
often do, pay Christ an external and seeming respect; but they do not honor him
in their hearts. They have no exalting thoughts of Christ, no inward respect or
reverence towards him. All their outward worship is only feigned; none of it
arises from any real honor or respect in their hearts towards Christ. It is
either only for fashion’s sake, and in compliance with custom, or else it is
forced, and what they are driven to by fear, as we read, Psa. 66:3, “Through
the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.” In
the original it is, shall thine enemies lie unto thee, i.e. yield a
feigned obedience. Through the greatness of Christ’s power, and for fear of his
wrath, his enemies who have no respect or honor for him in their hearts, will
lie to him, and make a show of respect when they have none.
An unbeliever is not sensible that
Christ is worthy of any glory, and therefore does not at all seek the glory of
Christ in anything that he does. He does nothing in religion out of respect to
Christ’s glory, but wholly for other ends; which shows that he sees not Christ
to be worthy of any glory. — Christ is set last and lowest in the heart of an
unbeliever. — He has high thoughts of other things. He has high thoughts of
created objects and earthly enjoyments, but mean and low thoughts of Christ.
The unbeliever shows the mean and
contemptible thoughts that he has of Christ, in refusing to accept of him, and
in shutting the door of his heart against him. Christ stands at the door and
knocks, and sometimes stands many years knocking at the door of his heart, but
he refuses to open to him. — Now it certainly shows that men have a very mean
thought of a person, when they shut him out of their doors. Unbelievers show
the mean and dishonorable thoughts they have of Christ, in that they dare not
trust him. They believe not what he says to be true. They will not trust the
word of Christ, so far as the word of one of their honest neighbors, or of a
servant whom they have found to be faithful. It also appears that they have no
real honor for Christ in the hearts, in that they refuse to obey his commands.
They do nothing from a spirit of obedience to him. And that external obedience
which they render is but a forced, feigned obedience, and not from any respect
to Christ’s authority or worthiness to be obeyed.
Second, they have no love
to him on account of his glory and excellency. If they saw any excellency in
Christ, they would have some measure of love to him. But the truth is, they see
no form or comeliness in Christ, and hence they have no love at all to him. An
unbeliever never exercises one act of true love to Christ. All that he is told
of his divine perfections, of his holiness, his meekness, and grace, has no
influence at all to draw forth any love. The display of these things doth no
more draw forth love out of the heart of an unbeliever than it draws forth love
from the stones and rocks.
A natural man hath no love of
benevolence towards Christ. Notwithstanding all that is declared to him of the
excellency of Christ, he has no good-will toward him. He rejoices not in his
glory and happiness. He would not care what became of Christ, if he could but
escape hell. If Christ should be dethroned, or should cease to be, he has not
so much goodwill to Christ, as would make him concerned about it. And if the
kingdom and interest of Christ in the world should go to ruin, it would be
nowise grievous to the unbeliever, provided his own interest could be secure.
So also an unbeliever has no love
of complacency in Jesus Christ for his excellency. He takes no delight in the
consideration of that excellency of Christ of which he is told. — He is told
that it is exceedingly beautiful and glorious. But the thoughts of the glory of
Christ are nowise entertaining to him. He has no delight in the thoughts of it,
or in any contemplations upon it. He takes delight in thinking of earthly
objects. But when he comes to turn his mind upon Jesus Christ, if ever he so
does, this is to him a dry and barren subject; he finds nothing there to feed
and delight his soul; no beauty or loveliness to please or gratify him
Third, unbelievers have no desires
after the enjoyment of Christ. If they did set anything by the excellency of
Christ, they would have some desires after him on account of that excellency;
especially when he is offered to them, and is from time to time set forth as
the proper object of their choice and desires. That which men prize, they are
wont to desire, especially if it be represented to them as attainable, and as
fit and suitable for them. But unbelievers only desire to be delivered from
hell, but not to enjoy Christ.
They cannot conceive what
happiness there can be in beholding Christ and being with him, in seeing his
holiness, and contemplating his wonderful grace and divine glory. They have no
relish for any such thing, nor appetite after it.
Fourth, they show that they
set at nought the glory and excellency of Christ, in that they seek not a
conformity to that glory and excellency. A natural man may seek to be holy, but
it is not for holiness’ sake, it is only that he may escape wrath. He has no
desires after holiness, nor is it indeed holiness that he seeks, because he is
all the while an enemy to holiness. A natural man has no desires to have his
soul conformed to the glorious beauty and excellency of Christ, nor to have his
image upon him.
If he prized or delighted in the
excellencies of Christ, he would necessarily desire to be like him so far as he
could. — This we see in ourselves and in all men. When we see any
qualifications in others that are pleasing to us, it is natural for us to
endeavor to imitate, and to be conformed to those persons. Hence men are apt to
learn of those for whom they have a great esteem; they naturally fall into an
imitation of their ways and manner of behavior. But natural men feel within
themselves no disposition or inclination to learn of Christ, or to imitate him.
Their tempers and dispositions remain quite contrary to Christ’s. Neither do
they grow at all better or more conformed to him, but rather worse. 2 Tim.
3:13, “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.”
I. This doctrine may teach us the
heinousness of the sin of unbelief, as this sin sets all the glory and
excellency of Christ at nought. It often appears strange to natural men, that
unbelief should be spoken of as such a heinous and crying sin. They cannot see
such evil in it. There are other sins which often trouble their consciences,
when this troubles them not at all, though it be that which brings far greater
guilt upon them, than those sins about which they are more troubled.
What has been said may show why
unbelief is spoken of as a heinous sin, John 3:18, and Chap. 16:9, and 1 John
5:10. For thereby all the glory of Christ is set at nought, though it be so
great, though it be infinite, though it be the glory of the Godhead itself, and
though it has been so gloriously manifested in what Christ has done and
suffered. Natural men, in their unbelief, cast contempt on all this glory, and
tread it under foot, as being nothing worth. Their unbelief treats the
excellency of Christ as being of less value than the meanest earthly enjoyments.
II. This doctrine may convict
natural men in four particulars.
First, hereby you may be
convinced of the greatness of your guilt. Consider how great and excellent that
Person is, whom you thus set at nought. Contempt of any person is heinous in
proportion to the worthiness and dignity of the person contemned. Though we are
but worms of the dust, and very vile, sinful creatures; yet we take it
grievously when we are despised. Consider how you yourselves are ready to resent
it, when any of your neighbors seem to slight you, and set light by what you
say and do, and to make no account of it, but to treat you as if you were good
for nothing, or not worth minding. Do you take this well of your neighbors and
equals, when you observe anything of this nature? Are you not ready to look
upon it with resentment, to think very ill, and to judge that you have great
cause to be offended?
But if it be such a crime to
despise you and set you at nought, what is it to set at nought the eternal
infinitely glorious Son of God, in comparison with whom you and all nations are
nothing, and less than nothing, and vanity? You dislike it much to be contemned
by your equals. But you would take it yet more grievously to be despised by
your inferiors, by those whom, on every account, you must excel, — What a crime
is it then for a vile, sinful worm, to set at nought him who is the brightness
of the glory of the King of kings!
It would be a crime inexpressibly
heinous, to set little by the glory and excellency of such a person. But it is
more so, to set nothing at all by it, as you do. You have no value at all for
it, as has been shown. And this is the more aggravated, as Christ is a person
whom you so much need, and as he came into the world out of infinite grace to
sinners, to lay down his life to deliver them from hell, and purchase for them
eternal glory. How much has Christ done and suffered, that you might have
opportunity to be saved! Yet you set nothing by the blood of Christ, even that
blood that was shed for such poor sinners as you are, and that is offered to
you for your salvation. But you trample under foot the blood of the Son of God.
If Christ had come into the world only to teach us, it would have been a
heinous thing to trample under foot his word and instructions. But when he came
to die for us, how much more heinous is it to trample under foot his blood!
Men take it hardly to have any of
their qualifications or actions despised, which they esteem commendable. But
especially do they highly resent it when others slight their kindness. And
above all when they put themselves out of their way, and have denied
themselves, and suffered considerably to do others a kindness; then to have
their kindness despised and set at nought, is what men would above all things
resent. How heinous then is it, and how exceedingly provoking to God must it
be, thus to set at nought so great kindness and love of Christ, when from love
to sinners he suffered so much!
Consider how highly the angels,
who are so much above you, do set by the glory and excellency of Christ. They
admire and adore the glory of Christ, and cease not day nor night to praise the
same in the most exalted strains. Rev. 5:11, 12, “And I beheld, and I heard the
voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts, and the elders;
and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of
thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to
receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and
blessing”. The saints admire the excellency of Christ, and the glorious angels
admire it, and every creature in heaven and earth, but only you unbelieving
children of men.
Consider not only how much the
angels set by the glory of Christ, but how much God himself sets by it; for he
is the darling of heaven, he was eternally God’s delight; and because of his
glory God hath thought him worthy to be appointed the heir of all things, and
hath seen fit to ordain that all men should honor the Son even as they honor
the Father. — Is he thus worthy of the infinite esteem and love of
God himself? And is he worthy of no esteem from you?
Second, hereby you may be
convinced of your danger. You must needs think that such guilt will bring great
wrath. Dreadful destruction is denounced in Scripture against those that
despise only the disciples of Christ, Mat. 18:6. What destruction then will
come on them that despise all the glorious excellency of Christ himself ?
Consider that you not only have no
value for all the glory and excellency of Christ; but you are enemies to him on
that very account. The very ground of that enmity and opposition which there is
between your hearts and Jesus Christ, is the glorious perfections and
excellencies that there are in Jesus Christ. By being such a holy and excellent
Savior, he is contrary to your lusts and corruptions. If there were a Savior
offered to you that was agreeable to your corrupt nature, such a Savior you
would accept. But Christ being a Savior of such purity, holiness, and divine
perfection, this is the cause why you have no inclination to him, but are
offended in him.
Instead of being a precious stone
in your eyes, he is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to you. That he
is a Savior who hath manifested such divine perfections in what he hath done
and suffered, is one principal reason why you set nothing by him. Consider how
provoking this must needs be to God the Father, who has given his only-begotten
Son for your salvation; and what wrath it merits from the Son whom you thus
treat. And consider how you will hereafter bear this wrath.
Consider that, however Christ be
set at nought by you, he shall be the head of the corner. Though you set him
low, yet he shall be exalted even with respect to you. It is but a vain thing
for you to make light of Christ and treat him with contempt. How much soever
you contemn him, you cannot break his bands asunder, nor cast his cords from
you. You will still be in his hands. While you despise Christ, God will despise
you, and the Lord will have you in derision. God will set his King on his holy
hill of Zion in spite of all his enemies; Psa 2:1-6. Though you say, We will
not have this man to reign over us, yet Christ will rule over you; Psa 110:2,
“Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.” If you will not submit to the
scepter of his grace, you shall be subject to the rod of his wrath, and he will
rule you with a rod of iron; Psa 2:9-12.
Third, you may hence be led
to see how worthless many of those things in yourselves are, that you have been
ready to make much of. Particularly, if you set nothing by all the glory of
Christ, what are those desires that you have after Christ good for? And that
willingness that you think you find to come to Christ? Sinners are often wont to
excuse themselves in their unbelief, because they see not but that they are
willing to come to Christ and would gladly come to him if they could. And they
make much of such desires, as though God were unjust to punish them for not
coming to Christ, when they would gladly come if they could. But this doctrine
shows that your willingness and desires to come to Christ are not worthy to be
mentioned as any excuse. For they are not from any respect to Christ, but are
merely forced. You at the same time set nothing by all his excellency and glory.
So you may hence learn the
worthlessness of all your pains and endeavors after Christ. When sinners have
taken a great deal of pains to get an interest in Christ, they are wont to make
a righteousness of it; little considering that at the very time they are taking
so much pains, they set nothing at all by Christ for any glory or excellency
there is in him; but set him wholly at nought, and seek him out of respect to
their own interest.
Fourth, hence learn how
justly God might forever refuse to give you an interest in Christ. For why
should God give you any part or interest in him whom you set at nought, all
whose glory and excellency you value not in the least, but rather trample it
under your feet.
Why should God give you any interest in him whom you so despise? Seeing you despise him, how justly might you be obliged to go without any interest in him! How justly might you be refused any part in that precious stone, whose preciousness you esteem no more than that of the stones of the street! Is God obliged to cast such a pearl before swine who will trample it under their feet? Is God obliged to make you possessors of his infinitely glorious and dear Son, when at the same time you count him not worth the having, for the sake of any worth or excellency that there is in him; but merely because you cannot escape hell without him?