Of Christ's Humiliation in his Life

by John Flavel



And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself; and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.

Phil. 2: 8


This scripture has been once already under consideration, and, indeed, can never be enough considered: It holds forth the humbled state of the Lord Jesus, during the time of his abode on earth. The sum of it was delivered you before in this point:

Doct. That the state of Christ, from his conception to his resurrection, was a state of deep debasement and humiliation.

The humiliation of Christ was proposed to you under these three general heads or branches; of his humiliation in his incarnation; his humiliation in his life; and his humiliation in his death. How he was humbled by incarnation, has been opened above in the 18th sermon. How he was humbled in his life, is the design of this sermon: yet expect not that I should give you here an exact history of the life of Christ. The scriptures speak but little of the private part of his life, and it is not my design to dilate upon all the memorable passages that the evangelists (those faithful narrators of the life of Christ) have preserved for us; but only to observe and improve those more observable particulars in his life, wherein especially he was humbled: and such are these that follow.

First, The Lord Jesus was humbled in his very infancy, by his circumcision according to the law. For being of the stock of Israel, he was to undergo the ceremonies, and submit to the ordinances belonging to that people, and thereby to put an end to them; for so it became him to fulfil all righteousness. Luke 2: 21. "And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus." Hereby the Son of God was greatly humbled, especially in these two respects.

1. In that hereby he obliged himself to keep the whole law, though he was the Law-maker; Gal. 5: 3. "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law." The apostle's meaning is, he is a debtor in regard of duty, because he that thinks himself bound to keep one part of the ceremonial law, does thereby bind himself to keep it all; for where all the parts are inseparably united, (as they are in the law of God) we pull all upon us, by engaging or meddling with any one. And he that is a debtor in duty to keep the whole law, quickly becomes a debtor in regard of penalty, not being able to keep any part of it. Christ therefore coming as our surety, to pay both those debts, the debt of duty, and the debt of penalty to the law; He, by his circumcision, obliges himself to pay the whole debt of duty by fulfilling all righteousness: and though his obedience to it was so exact and perfect, that he contracted no debt of penalty for any transgression of his own, yet he obliges himself to pay the debt of penalty which he had contracted, by suffering all the pains due to transgressors. This was that intolerable yoke that none were able to bear but Christ, Acts 15: 10. And it was no small measure of Christ to bind himself to the law, as a subject made under it: For he was the Law-giver, above all law: and herein that sovereignty of a God (one of the choice flowers in the crown of heaven) was obscured and veiled by his subjection.

2. Hereby he was represented to the world not only as a subject, but also as a sinner: for though he was pure and holy, yet this ordinance passing upon him, seemed to imply as if corruption had indeed been in him, which must be cut off by mortification. For this was the mystery principally intended by circumcisions: it served to mind and admonish Abraham, and his seed, of the natural guiltiness, uncleanness, and corruption of their hearts and nature. So Jer. 4: 4, "Circumcise yourselves unto the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, ye men of Judah;" i.e. the sinfulness and corruption of them. Hence the rebellious and immortified are called "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart," as it is Acts 7: 51. And as it served in convince of natural uncleanness, so it signified and sealed "the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh," as the apostle phraseth it, Col. 2: 11. Now, this being the end of God in the institution of this ordinance for Abraham and his ordinary seed, Christ, in his infancy, by submitting to it, did not only veil his sovereignty by subjection, but was also represented as a sinner to the world, though most holy and pure in himself.

Secondly, Christ was humbled by persecution, and that in the very morning of his life: he was banished almost as soon as born. Matth. 2: 13. "Flee into Egypt (saith the angel to Joseph) and be thou there until I bring thee word, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him." Ungrateful Herod! was this entertainment for a Saviour? what, raise a country against him, as if a destroyer, rather than a Saviour, had landed upon the coast? what, deny him the protection of those laws, under which he was born, and that before he had broken the least punctilio of them? The child of a beggar may claim the benefit and protection of law, as his birth-right; and must the Son of God be denied it! But herein Herod fulfilled the scriptures, whilst venting his own lusts; for so it was foretold, Jer. 31: 15. And this early persecution was not obscurely hinted in the title of the 22d Psalm, that psalm which looks rather like a history of the New, than a prophecy of the Old Testament; for as it contains a most exact description of Christ's sufferings, so it is fitted with a most suitable title, To the chief musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, which signifies the Hind of the morning, or that deer which the Hunter rouses betides in the morning, and singles out to hunt down that day; and so they did by him, as the 16th verse will tell you; for, (saith he), "Dogs have compassed me, the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me." Upon which Musculus sweetly and ingeniously descants: "O what sweet venison, (saith he) is the flesh of Christ! abundantly sweeter to the believing soul, than that which the nobles of this world esteem most delicate: and lest it should want the highest and richest savour to a delicate palate, Christ, our hart, was not only killed, but hunted to the purpose before he was killed; even as great men use, by hunting and chasing, before they cut the throat of the deer, to render its flesh more sweet, tender, and delicate:" Thus was Christ hunted betides out of the country he was born in. And, no doubt but where such dogs scent and wind the Spirit of Christ in any, they would pursue them also to destruction, did not a gracious Providence rate them off. But to returns, how great a humiliation is this to the Son of God, not only to become an infant, but in his infancy, to be hurried up and down, and driven out of his own land as a vagabond!

Thirdly, Our Lord Jesus Christ was yet more humbled in his life, by that poverty and outward meanness which all along attended his condition: he lived poor and low all his days, so speaks the apostle, 2 Cor. 8: 9. "Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor;" so poor, that he was never owner of a house to dwell in, but lived all his days in other men's houses, or lay in the open air. His outward condition was more neglected and destitute than that of the birds of the air, or beasts of the earth; so he told that scribe, who professed such readiness and resolution to follow him, but was soon cooled, when Christ told him, Matth. 8: 20. "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay his head.

It was a common saying, among the Jews, when the Messiah comes, he will not find a place to sit down in. Sometimes he feeds upon barley bread and broiled fish, and sometimes he was hungry, and had nothing to eat, Mark 11: 12. As for money, he was much a stranger to it; when the tribute-money was demanded of him, he and Peter were not so well furnished to make half-a-crown betwixt them to pay it, but must work a miracle for it, Matt. 17 ult.

He came hot to be ministered unto, but to minister, Mat. 20: 28. not to amass earthly treasures, but to bestow heavenly ones. His great and heavenly soul neglected and despised those things, that too many of his own too much admire and prosecute. He spent not a careful thought about those things that eat up thousands and ten thousands of our thoughts. Indeed he came to be humbled, and to teach men by his example the vanity of this world, and pour contempt upon the ensnaring glory of it; and therefore went before us in a chosen and voluntary poverty: yet he lived not a mendicant life neither; but was sometimes fed by ordinary, and sometimes by miraculous and extraordinary ways. He had wherewith to support that precious body of his, till the time was come to offer it up to God; but would not indulge and pamper that flesh, which he purposely assumed to be humbled in.

Fourthly, Our dear Jesus was yet further humbled in his life, by the horrid temptations wherewith Satan assaulted him, than which nothings could be more grievous to his holy heart. The Evangelist gives us an account of this in Luke 4 from the first to the fourteenth verse: in which context you find how the bold and envious spirit meets the Captain of our salvation in the field, comes up with him in the wilderness, when he was solitary, and had not a second with him, verse 1. There he keeps him fasting forty days and forty nights, to prepare him to close with his temptation: all this while Satan was pointing and edging that temptation, with which at last he resolves to try the breast of Christ by a home thrust. verse

2. By this time he supposes Christ was hungry, (as indeed he was) and now he thought it was time to make his assault, which he does in a very suitable temptation at first, and with variety of temptations, trying several weapons upon him afterwards But whom he had made a thrust at him with that first weapon, in which he especially trusted, "command that these stones may be made bread," verse 3, and saw how Christ had put it by, verse 4, then he changes postures and assaults him with temptations to blasphemy, even "to fall down and worship the Devil." But when he saw he could fasten nothing on him, that he was as pure fountain water in a crystal phial, how much soever agitated and shaken, no dregs, or filthy sediment would rise, but he remained pure still: I say, seeing this, he makes a politic retreat, quits the field for a season, verse 13. yet leaves it cum animo revertendi, with a resolution to return to him again. And thus was our blessed Lord Jesus humbled by the temptations of Satan: and what can you imagine more burdensome to him that was brought up from eternity with God, delighting in the holy Father, to be now shut into a wilderness with the Devil, there to be baited so many days, and have his ears filled, though not defiled, with horrid blasphemy, quantum mutatus AB illo? O how was the case altered with Christ! From what, to what was he now come? A chaste woman would account it no common misery to be dogged up and down, and solicited by some vile ruffian, though there were no danger of defilement.

A man would account it no small unhappiness to be shut up five or six weeks together with the Devil, though appearing in a human shape, and to hear no language but that of hell spoken all that time; and the more holy the man is, the more would he be afflicted to hear such blasphemies malignantly spat upon the holy and reverend name of God; much more to be solicited by the devil to join with him in it. This, I say, would be accounted no small misery for a man to undergo. How great a humiliation then must it be to the great God, to be humbled to this! to see a slave of his house, setting upon himself the Lord! His jailer coming is take him prisoner, if he can! A base apostate spirit, daring to attempt such things as these upon him! Surely this was a deep abasement to the Son of God,


Fifthly, Our blessed Lord Jesus was yet more humbled in his life than all this, and that by his own sympathy with others, under all the burdens that made him groan. For he, much more than Paul, could say, who is afflicted, and I burn not? He lived all his time as it were in an hospital among the sick and wounded. And so tender was his heart, that every groan for sin, or under the effects of sin, pierced him so, that it was truly said, "himself bare our sicknesses, and took our infirmities," Matth. 8: 16, 17. It was spoken upon the occasion of some poor creatures that were possessed by the devil, and brought to him to be dispossessed. It is said of him, John 11: 33 "That when he saw Mary weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the Spirit, and was troubled." And verse 35. Jesus wept: yea, his heart flowed with pity for them that had not one drop of pity for themselves. Witness his tears spent upon Jerusalem, Luke 19: 41, 42. He foresaw the misery that was coming, though they never foresaw, nor feared it. O how it pierced him to think of the calamities hanging over that great city! Yea, he mourned for them that could not mourn for their own sins. Therefore it is said, Mark 3: 5. "He was grieved for the hardness of the people's hearts." So that the commendation of a good physician, that he does as it were die with every patient, was most applicable to our tender-hearted Physician. This was one of those things that made him "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." For the more holy any is, the more he is grieved and afflicted for the sin of others; and the more tender any man is, the more he is pierced with beholding the miseries that lie upon others. And it is sure, never any heart more holy, or more sensible, tender and compassionate than Christ's.

Sixthly, Lastly, That which yet helped to humble him lower, was the ungrateful, and most base and unworthy entertainment the world gave him. He was not received or treated like a Saviour, but as the vilest of men. One would think that he who came from heaven, "to give his life a ransom for many," Matt. 20: 28. He that was, "not sent to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved", John 3: 17. He that came "to dissolve the works of the devil," 1 John 3: 8. knock off the chains, "open the prison-doors, proclaim liberty to the captives," Isa. 61: 1. I say, when such a Saviour arrived, O with what acclamations of joy, and demonstration of thankfulness, should he have been received? One would have thought they should even kiss the ground he trod upon: but instead of this, he was hated, John 15: 13. He was despised by them, Matt. 13: 55. So reproached that he became "the reproach of men," as who should say, a corner for every one to spit in; a butt for every base tongue to shoot at, Psal. 22: 6. Accused of working his miracles by the power of the devil, Mat. 12: 24. He was trod upon as a worm, Psal. 22: 6;. They buffeted him, Matt. 26: 67. smote him on the head, Matt. 27: 30. arrayed him as a fool, ver. 20. spat in his face, ver. 30. despised him as the basest of men, "this fellow said," Matt. 26: 61. One of his own followers sold him, another forswore him, and all forsook him in his greatest troubles, All this was a great abasement to the Son of God, who was not thus treated for a day, or in one place, but all his days, and in all places. "He endured the contradiction of sinners against himself." In these particulars I have pointed out to you something of the humble life Christ lived in the world. From all these particulars some useful inferences will be noted.


Inference 1. From the first degree of Christ's humiliation, in submitting to be circumcised, and thereby obliging himself to fulfil the whole law, it followeth, that justice itself may set both hand and seal to the acquittances and discharges of believers. Christ hereby obliged himself to be the law's pay-master, to pay its utmost demand; to bear that yoke of obedience that never any before him could bear. And as his circumcision obliged him to keep the whole law; so he was most precise and punctual in the observation of it: so exact, that the sharp eye of Divine Justice cannot espy the least flaw in it; but acknowledges full payment, and stands ready to sign the believer a full acquittance. Rom. 3: 15. "That God may be just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus." Had not Christ been thus obliged, we had never been discharged. Had not his obedience been an entire, complete, and perfect thing, our justification could not have been so. He that has a precious treasure, will be loth to adventure it in a leaky vessel: wo to the holiest man on earth, if the safety of his precious soul were to be adventured on the bottom of the best duty that ever he performed. But Christ's obedience and righteousness is firm and sound; a bottom that we may safely adventure all in.

Inf. 2. From the early flight of Christ into Egypt we infer, That the greatest innocence and piety cannot exempt from persecution and injury. Who more innocent than Christ? And who more persecuted? The world is the world still. "I have given them thy word, and the world has hated them," John 17: 14. The world lies in wait as a thief for them that carry this treasure; they who are empty of it may sing before him, he never stops them: but persecution follows piety as the shadow does the body, 2 Tim. 3: 12. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution." Whosoever resolves to live holy, must never expect to live quietly. It is godliness, and godliness in Christ Jesus, i.e. such as is derived from Christ, tulle godliness; and it is true godliness as it is manifested in practice. All that will live godly, that will exert holiness in their lives, which convinces and galls the consciences of the ungodly. It is this enrages, for there is an enmity and antipathy betwixt them: and this enmity runs in the blood; and it is transmitted with it from generation to generation, Gal. 4: 29. "As then he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit; even so it is now." Mark, so it was, and so still it is. "Cain's club is still carried up and down crimsoned with the blood of Abel," said Bucholtzer: but thus it must be, to conform us unto Christ: and O that your spirits, as well as your conditions, may better harmonise with Christ. He suffered meekly, quietly, and self-denyingly; be ye like him. Let it not be said of you, as it is of the hypocrite, whose lusts are only hid, but not mortified by his duties, that he is like flint, which seems cold; but if you strike him, he is all fiery. To do well, and suffer ill, is Christ-like.

Inf. 3. From the third particular of Christ's humiliation, I infer, that such as are full of grace and holiness, may be destitute and empty of creature-comforts. What an overflowing fulness of grace was there in Christ? and yet to what a low ebb did his outward comforts sometimes fall? and as it fared with him, so with many others now in glory with him, whilst they were in the way to that glory; 1 Cor. 4: 11. "Even to this present hour, we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and buffeted and have no certain dwelling-place." Their souls were richly clothed with robes of righteousness, their bodies naked or meanly clad. Their souls fed high, even on hidden manna, their bodies hungry. Let us be content (saith Luther) with our hard fare; for do we not feast with angels upon that bread of life? Remember, when wants pinch hard, that these fix no marks of Gods hatred upon you. He has dealt no worse with you than he did with his own Son. Nay, which of you is not better accommodated than Christ was? If you be hungry or thirsty, you have some refreshments; you have beds to lie on; the Son of man had not where to lay his head; the Heir of all things had sometimes nothing to eat. And remember you are going to a plentiful country, where all your wants will be supplied; "poor in the world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God has promised," James 2: 5. The meanness of your present, will add to the lustre of your future condition.

Inf. 4. From the fourth particular of Christ's humiliation in his life, by Satan's temptations, we infer, That those in whom Satan has no interest, may have most trouble from him in this world, John 14: 30. "The Prince of this world comes, and has nothing in me." Where he knows he cannot be a conqueror he will not cease to be a troubler. This bold and daring spirit adventures upon Christ himself; for doubtless he was filled with envy at the sight of him, and would do what he could though to no purpose, to obstruct the blessed design in his hand. And it was the wisdom and love of Christ to admit him to come as near him as might be, and try all his darts upon him; that by this experience he might be filled with pity to succour them that are tempted. And as he set on Christ, so much more will he adventure upon us; and but too oft comes off a conqueror. Sometimes he shoots the fiery darts of blasphemous injections. These fall as flashes of lightning on the dry thatch, which instantly sets all in a combustion, And just so it is attended with an after thunderclap of inward horror, that shivers the very heart, and strikes all into confusion within.


Divers rules are prescribed in this case to relieve poor distressed ones. One adviseth to think seriously on that which is darted suddenly, and to do by your hearts as men used to do with young horses, that are apt to start and boggle at every thing in the way; we bring them close to the things they fright at, make them look on them, and smell to them, that time and better acquaintance with such things, may teach them not to start. Others advise to diversions of the thoughts, as much as may be, to think quite another way. These rules are contrary to one another, and I think signify but little to the relief of a poor soul so distressed. The best rule, doubtless, is that of the apostle, Eph. 6: 16. "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." Act your faith, my friends, upon your tempted Saviour, who passed through temptations before you: and particularly exercise faith on three things in Christ's temptations.


1. Believingly consider, how great variety of temptations were tried upon Christ; and of what a horrid blasphemous nature that was, fall down and worship me.

2. Believingly consider, that Christ came off a perfect conqueror in the day of his trial, beat Satan out of the field. For he saw what he attempted on Christ was as impossible as to batter the body of the sun with snow-balls.

3. Lastly, Believe that the benefits of those his victories and conquests are for you; and that for your sakes he permitted the tempter to come so near him: as you find, Heb. 2: 18. Object. Heb. 4: 15. If you say, true, Christ was tempted as well as I; but there is a vast differences betwixt his temptations and mine: fir the prince of this world came, and found nothing in him, John 14:13. He was not internally defiled, though externally assaulted; but I am defiled by them as well as troubled.


Sol. This is a different case. True, it is so, and must be so, or else it had signified nothing to your relief: For had Christ been internally defiled, he had not been a fit Mediator for you; nor could you have had any benefit, either by his temptations, or sufferings for you. But he being tempted, and yet still escaping the defilement of sin, has not only satisfied for the sins you commit when tempted, but also got an experimental sense of the misery of your condition, which is in him, (though now in glory) as a spring of pity and tender compassion to you. Remember, poor tempted Christian, "the God of peace shall shortly tread Satan under thy feet," Rom. 16: 20. Thou shalt set thy foot on the neck of that enemy: and as soon as both thy feet are over the threshold of glory, thou shalt cast back a smiling look, and say, now, Satan, do thy worst; now I am there where thou canst not come. Mean while, till thou be out of his reach, let me advise thee to go to Jesus Christ, and open the matter to him; tell him how that base spirit falls upon thee, yea, sets upon thee, even in his presence: entreat him to rebuke and command him off: beg him to consider thy case, and say, Lord, dost thou remember how thy own heart was once grieved, though not defiled, by his assaults? I have grief and guilt together upon me. Ah Lord, I expect pity and help from thee; thou knowest the heart of a stranger, the heart of a poor and tempted one. This is singular relief in this case. O try it!

Inf. 5. Was Christ yet more humbled, by his own sympathy with others in their distresses? Hence we learn, that a compassionate spirit, towards such as labour under burdens of sin, or affliction, is Christ like, and truly excellent: this was the Spirit of Christ: O be like him! Put on as the elect of God, bowels of mercy, Col. 3: 12. "Weep with them that weep, and rejoice with them that rejoice," Rom. 12: 15. It was Cain that said "Am I my brother's keeper?" Blessed Paul was of a contrary temper, 2 Cor. 11: 29. "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?" Three things promote sympathy in Christians, one is the Lords pity for them; he does as it were suffer with them; "in all their afflictions he was afflicted;" Isa. 63: 9. Another is, the relation we sustain to God's afflicted people: they are members with us in one body, and the members should have the same care of one another, 1 Cor. 12: 25. The last is, we know not how soon ourselves may need from others, what others now need from us. "Restore him with the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted," Gal. 6: 1.

Inf. 6. Did the world help on the humiliation of Christ by their base and vile usage of him? Learn hence that the judgement the world gives of persons, and their worth, is little to be regarded. Surely it dispenses its smiles and honours very preposterously and unduly, in this respect, among others, the saints are styled persons, "of whom the world is not worthy" Heb. 11: 38. i.e. it does not deserve to have such choice spirits as these are, left in it, since it knows not how to use or treat them. It was the complaint of Salvian, above eleven hundred years ago? "if any of the nobility (saith he) do but begin to turn to God, presently he loses the honour of nobility! O in how little honour is Christ among Christian people, when religion shall make a man ignoble! So that (as he adds) many are compelled to be evil, lest they should be esteemed vile." And indeed, if the world gives us any help to discover the true worth and excellency of men by, it is by the rule of contraries, for the most part. Where it fixes its marks of hatred, we may usually find that which invites our respect and love. It should trouble us the less to be under the slights and disrespects of a blind world. "I could be even proud upon it, (saith Luther) that I see I have an ill name from the world." And Jerome "blessed God that counted him worthy to be hated of the world." Labour to stand right in the judgement of God, and trouble not thyself for the rash and headlong censures of men. Let wicked men, saith one, cut the throat of my credit, and do as they like best with it; when the wind of their calumnies has blown away my good name from me in the way to heaven, I know Christ will take my name out of the mire, and wash it, and restore it to me again.

Inf. 7. From the whole of Christ's humiliation in his life, learn you to pass through all the troubles of your life with a contended, composed spirit, as Christ your fore-runner did. He was persecuted, and bare it meekly: poor, and never murmured; tempted, and never yielded to the temptation; reviled, and reviled not again. When ye therefore pass through any of these trials, look to Jesus, and consider him. See how he that passed through those things before you, managed himself in like circumstances; yea, not only beat the way by his pattern, and example for you, but has in every one of those conditions left a blessing behind him, for them that follow his steps.

Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ.


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