The Four Canons: “For the Glory of God (Part 2)”

4canonsgears2016James 2

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

In 1975, Calvin Miller wrote his amazing poetic retelling of the life of Jesus, The Singer. It would soon grow into a trilogy, The Singer Trilogy. It is viewed by many as a modern classic. I certainly see it as one. I will never forget reading it for the first time after my father gave me a copy. I return to it time and time again.

I thought of Calvin Miller’s Singer recently because the format of the story is so conducive to saying what must be said about the glory of Jesus Christ. In Miller’s poem, Jesus is “the Singer.” He awakes and realizes that Earthmaker (Miller’s name for God in the book) is calling Him to sing what Miller calls “the Ancient Star-Song.” He does not feel worthy to sing “the Ancient Star-Song” at first. He considers Himself a tradesman. But God tells Him that He is not a tradesman but a troubadour! What is more, the Singer alone on the earth knows the song and He knows it because He knew it with God before the world began.

So the Singer begins to sing. His song heals. His song brings hope. However, the world does not know the song. The world is under the spell of the evil song of World Hater. They do not know the Ancient Star-Song. What is more, the people of the earth are so deluded and deaf to it that there are laws forbidding the singing of new songs. The Singer knows that if He sings the Ancient Song he will likely be killed, but God has called Him to sing.

He does sing the Song. As a result, World Hater has Him killed. But the Singer rises again and the triumph of the Song goes out into the world. Now, we too are called to sing the Ancient Song, a song the world needs to hear but also a song that the world will initially hate because it threatens the song they know.

This is Miller’s poetic retelling of the gospel in a creative and memorable work.

It is a stunning work of art, The Singer. I mention it for one reason: I believe it is the perfect medium to capture and to frame our consideration of the idea of the glory of Jesus Christ. We may rightly view the glory of God as a song. We have said that the glory of God is the beauty of God arising from the totality of all of His attributes. We might also say that the glory of God is the beautiful song that erupts outward wherever the God is present. It is the eternal, cosmic Hallelujah! that happens when we see God for who He is.

We have discussed the glory of God. Let us now consider the particular question of the glory of Jesus Christ.

Before the world was created, Jesus sang the song of glory with the Father in eternity past.

If we think of the glory of God as a song that bursts forth from the beauty of His being, then we would say that Jesus sang this song with the Father in eternity past. He knew it and sang it and the song went forth from His perfect diving being, from the perfect three-in-oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In John 17, Jesus spoke of this when He prayed His “High Priestly Prayer.”

3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him “with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” So Jesus had glory with the father before the world was created.

In John 1:1, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…” Jesus sang the song of glory with the Father from eternity past! How tragic, then, to hear a theologian in one of the mainline Protestant denominations, a theologian who wrote one of the standard textbooks for his denomination’s seminaries, dismiss the idea of the pre-existence of Christ.

We can, he tells us, no longer transpose “the history of Jesus into a mythological framework where he is seen as a supernatural pre-existent being who had come down from heaven.” The Incarnation “is to be understood as the union of a being with Being in the fullest and most intimate way possible.” In other words, the creedal declaration that God loved us so much that he took a human body and let himself die in agony means only that Jesus showed us how to be authentically human—“to be all that you can be,” as the army has advertised its own form of salvation. The biblical story of the Incarnation is only a poetic way of putting it.[1]

Come now! The coming of Christ in flesh certainly means much more than the slogan, “Be all that you can be!” If He came to us, He came to us from some place, and that place, Jesus tells us, was with the Father in the glory of the Father.

It is said that Augustine was once asked what God was doing before He made the world. “Making a hell for people who ask stupid questions,” was the alleged response. We might say more judiciously that what God was doing before He created the world was existing as the great I AM bathed in the glory of His resplendent majesty. This God is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When we speak of the glory of Jesus, then, we are not speaking of a good man upon whom God placed glory. We are speaking of God Himself who existed in glory in eternity past. Jesus knew the song and had sung it with the Father in the countless and beginningless eons of the past.

Because the world rejected the song, Jesus stepped off the stage, left the theater, and decided to sing it in the streets among us.

There was a brief time when we too knew the song. However, humanity, in its wickedness, rejected the song of glory for another: the discordant, soul-destroying, and demonic song of darkness. But Jesus is not content to leave us to our ugly song. Thus, Jesus stepped off the stage of glory, left the theater of His own glory, and decided to sing the song in the streets among us.

Interestingly, the classic biblical explanation of this is found in a section of Philippians 2 that was quite possibly an ancient hymn. We call it the “Carmen Christi.”

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Verse 7 is key for our point today: “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” The Weymouth New Testament translates that verse like this:

7 Nay, He stripped Himself of His glory, and took on Him the nature of a bondservant by becoming a man like other men.

The incarnation constituted a kind of emptying. We must be careful here. Jesus did not empty Himself of deity. He was ever God, though, in flesh, He was the God-man. Nor was He inglorious in His essence when He took on flesh. After all, John wrote in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Also, we must understand that the cross of Christ was not a denial of glory but rather, paradoxically, a shocking display of what the glory of God is really like. In truth, many of those aspects of the life of Christ that the world and, tragically, the Church, would call “inglorious” were anything but!

However, in taking on flesh, He did set aside the outward display of His glory, that display of glory that He knew in its fullness before He took on flesh. Christ in flesh appeared differently than Christ before He took on flesh. In flesh He took on the limitations of having a body. In that sense, then, we might say that Jesus stepped off the stage and left the theater. In that sense, He set aside His glory. The great commentator Matthew Henry put it like this:

Thus low, of his own will, he stooped from the glory he had with the Father before the world was. Christ’s two states, of humiliation and exaltation, are noticed. Christ not only took upon him the likeness and fashion, or form of a man, but of one in a low state; not appearing in splendour. His whole life was a life of poverty and suffering.[2]

In his prophecy of the coming Christ, Isaiah 53 captured this idea in these words:

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Christ in flesh “had no form or majesty.” Christ is ever glorious, but in taking on flesh He certainly took on an unlikely and unexpected glory, the glory of humility. Every Christmas we sing the beautiful words of Charles Wesley, penned in 1739:

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die.

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Yes, “mild He lays His glory by.” The Son of glory sets His glory aside to take on human flesh. Nor, He tells us, did He come to seek His own glory. He came, rather, to seek the glory of the Father. Even so, Jesus tells us that the Father never stopped seeking the glory of the Son! On the contrary, listen to this amazing exchange between Jesus and the skeptical Jews of John 8.

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’

This is most fascinating. Christ is glorious but Christ does not seek His own glory. It is the Father who seeks the glory of the Son! While Christ did not appear with the same unveiled glory that He had before taking on flesh, the Father was ever and always seeking to promote the glory of Jesus. In Hebrews 2, the writer of Hebrews wrote:

9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

“For a little while” Christ was “made lower than the angels.” He was clothed in humility. Yet Jesus is “crowned with glory and honor.”

The Father is always proclaiming the glory, the beauty, and the majesty of the Son! Christ stepped off the stage and left the theater to teach us how to sing the song of glory, but the Father never let us forget that Christ is the most beautiful note of the song!

We who have received the song of glory are now privileged to sing it with Him and to Him and to call others to join us in this great concert of praise.

Because Christ came among us and sang the song, we who received it have now been saved and freed to sing it with Him. Furthermore, we are privileged to call others to join us in this great concert of praise. What this means is the Church now exists for the glory of the Son as it sings the song of glory! In Hebrews 3 we read:

1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later

Jesus receives greater glory than Moses because Jesus is the builder of the house! And who is the house? Listen:

6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

We are His house! The Church is the house! If, then, Christ receives glory as the builder of the house and if we, the Church, are the house, then this means that whenever the Church is built up in faith, hope, and love, the glory of Christ is magnified. When we truly are the Church, we are so to the glory of Jesus Christ!

Paul put it more bluntly in 2 Corinthians 8.

23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.

That phrase, “the glory of Christ,” could refer either to “our brothers…messengers” or to “the churches.” I would propose that either application of that phrase leads inevitably to the same conclusion: when and where the word goes forth through the faithfulness of the people of God the people of God are the glory of Christ! Even so, there are indeed reasons to say that “the glory of Christ” refers specifically to “the churches.” A.W. Pink rightly made the interesting point that this is not the only time that the people of God are referred to as the glory of God.

Christ needed a vessel which He might fill, that should reflect His glory; hence we read, “the messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 8:23); and again, “Israel My glory” (Isa. 46:13) He calls her. In the last reference made to her in Holy Writ we read, “Come hither, I will show thee the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife…descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, and her light is like unto a stone most precious” (Rev. 21:9-11). In and by and through the Church Christ will be glorified to all eternity.”[3]

Similarly, while Colin G. Kruse believes that “the glory of Christ” is “probably referring” to “our brothers,” but that the phrase “could refer to the churches.” He points to Barnett who “suggests that the churches were the glory of Christ because, against the dark background in which they were situated, they shone brightly and so glorified Christ.”

The Church, when it is the Church, brings glory to Jesus Christ! What this means is the Church now joins with the Father in celebrating, seeking, and proclaiming the glory of Jesus!

We live in a tone-deaf, discordant, unharmonious culture. Our world no longer knows the song of glory. It sings its own song. It does not want the song of glory, the song of the beauty of God in Christ, the song of the gospel of Jesus. But the world needs the song! The world needs to know again and sing again of the glory of God! The world needs to stop singing the song of its own glory, a song that is always, necessarily, ugly.

How can we get them to hear the song of the glory of Jesus Christ? We sing it ourselves. We sing it with our lives. We sing it with our words. We show them how the song can set us free, how the song of glory changes us forever!

We were made to sing the song of glory. We were made to join in this great chorus! The Father seeks the glory of Christ. The Church is now called to join Him in that great effort by making much of Jesus!




[3] Arthur W. Pink, Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 7 (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 2005), p313. Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), p.213.

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