Unbelievers Contemn the Glory and Excellency of Christ
A Sermon, Dated May, 1736 (and 1753)
Acts 4:11 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 dead.
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 in them.
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?