Jesus Christ: Commissioned for the Happiness and Comfort of Poor Elected Sinners

Taken and adapted from, “The Gospel Banner” No. 55, January 1884, Vol. VI.
Sermon written (c.1699?) by James Barry.
Edited for thought and sense.

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‘As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.’
—Song of Solomon 2:3.

AMONG all the metaphors whereby the wisdom of God hath seen fit to set forth the excellency and completeness of Christ his Son…

…which he is commissioned for the happiness and comfort of poor elected sinners, and none so sets him forth to this life as that of this of the apple tree, which will most plainly appear by two things:

First. By explaining or unfolding the sense and meaning of the Spirit of God in this allegory or metaphor.

Secondly. By a due and scriptural application of the same to the souls of poor, weak, tempted believers, for the relief and comfort of whom the same is left upon record.

I begin with the first. To explain and unfold the sense and meaning of the Spirit of God in this allegory or metaphor.

The design of the Spirit of God in this allegory is, I humbly conceive, to set forth the incomparable and transcendent excellency of Jesus Christ above all other of Adam’s children, and that on a twofold account:

I. On the account of what he is in himself.

II. On the account of the great work he is designed and called to by his Father.

I.   On the account of what Christ is in himself.

He far and unspeakably transcends all the children of Adam; so witnesses the Spirit of God concerning him: ‘Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips; therefore God hath blessed thee forever’ (Psalm 45:2). To this also witnesses the church of God, the true spouse of Christ, which is acted and guided by the Spirit of God: ‘My beloved is white and ruddy, the chief among ten thousand. His mouth is most sweet; yea, he is altogether lovely’ (Song of Solomon 5:10, 16). This transcendent excellency of Christ in himself, on which account he excels all the children of Adam, is to be considered with respect to two things:

1. In respect of his Godhead. As Christ is God, he possesses an uncreated and essential excellency above all created beings; from whom, as such, all created and communicated excellency, in angels and saints, flows and springs (Zech. 13:7; John 17:5; Phil. 2:9; Heb. 1:3).

2. In respect of his Humanity, Christ is transcendently more excellent than all the children of Adam, and that on a twofold account:

1. On the account of the spotless purity and perfect integrity of his human nature, whereby a foundation was laid for uniting the elect world to God in a bond of an everlasting union. Had not the humanity of Christ been spotless, and free from all stain of sin, it could not possibly have been capable of union with the divine Being (Psalm 5:4; 2 Cor. 5:21). It is on this account that Christ is styled the Lamb of God (John 1:6). John speaks with allusion to the paschal lamb under the law, which was to be a lamb without spot or blemish (Exod. 12:5). To this alludes the apostle Peter: ‘But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Pet. 1:19). The sinless purity of his human nature, and the exact conformity of all his human actions to the demand of God’s law, are here intended.

2. On the account of the extraordinary anointing of the Spirit, poured out on the humanity of Christ, to fit and complete him for the great work of mediation between God and elect sinners. Of this Christ himself gives an account by the evangelical prophet: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach glad tidings to the meek…’ (Isa. 61:1). This was excellently held forth in the person of Aaron the high-priest, under the dark dispensation of the ceremonial administration; an eminent and glorious type and shadow of Christ, the elect’s high-priest.

‘It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments’ (Psalm 133). The material oil wherewith Aaron, Christ’s type, was anointed, did prefigure and type out the effusion of the Spirit’s gifts and graces on the human nature of Christ, to fit and qualify him for the work the Father hath sent him about. This anointing was poured out on Christ without measure, as witnesses the scripture: ‘For he whom God hath sent speaks the words of God; for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him’ (John 3:34). This is farther backed and confirmed by Colossians 1:19: ‘For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.’ And Colossians 2:9: ‘For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’

Besides the personal anointing of Christ’s human nature, wherewith the Father anointed him above his fellows (Psalm 45:7), there was a soul-enriching stock of grace put into his hands, as mediator, in time to be communicated to all the elect who are to be the members of his mystical body. Hence it is that believers are said to receive of Christ’s fullness: ‘And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace’ (John 1:16). ‘But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ’ (Eph. 4:7). Christ, as God, is the source and fountain of all the graces of believers; as God-man, he is the one who both merited and was the purchaser of all grace for them; and Christ, as mediator, hath the dispensing power committed to him by the Father to communicate to, and bestow upon every member of his body what measure of grace he pleases.

II.   Christ far excels all Adam’s children on the account of the work to which the Father designed him in eternity, and whereto he, in time, called him.

This great work is to reconcile God and elect sinners together by the interposition of his mediatorial righteousness; to make up that breach which the sin and apostasy of Adam had effected between God and the elect; and to keep and continue them in an everlasting covenant of love and peace, so that there should never be any possibility of their being at enmity any more forever: ‘To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them’ (2 Cor. 5:19). By world in this, as in other places, is intended the elect world, for whom Christ was made sin and a curse; and between whom and God, his offended Father, he stepped in as a mediator, to make peace, by offering up himself in sacrifice to God’s justice. ‘For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time’ (1 Tim. 2:5, 6). Compare with this, John 10:15 and John 17:9, and it will plainly appear that Christ became a mediator of redemption and intercession for God’s elect, and none else.

There are three things in the apple tree which bespeak the Lord Jesus a nonesuch for the elect:

1. The lowness and homeliness of the apple tree above other trees: it grows lower, and nearer the ground than other trees usually do. The matchless lowliness and humility of Christ are hereby set forth. None could ever compare with him herein: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly’ (Matt. 11:29). This is anciently predicted of him; as appears from Zech. 9:9: ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass’ (Matt. 21:4, 5). There are six things wherein this will appear:

1. His condescending to become his Father’s inferior:

a. As a son: a relation which imports superiority and inferiority, ‘I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,'(Psalm 2:7). ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,’ &c. (John 3:16). ‘For my Father is greater than I’ (John 14:28).

b. As a servant to do his work: ‘I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him’ (Psalm 89:20). ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delights’ (Isa. 42:1).

2. This inferiority of Christ to God is to be understood in respect of the office he voluntarily took on him for the elect’s sake; not in respect of nature or essence, as appears from Zech. 13: 7: ‘Awake, 0 sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow.’ ‘I and my Father are one’ (John 10: 30). ‘Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,’ (Heb. 1:3).

3. His condescending to assume the human nature: ‘Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same. . . . For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham’ (Heb.2:14, 16). There are two things which, if considered, will put a bright luster on this act of Christ’s condescension:

a. The baseness of the matter of that body he assumed—a clod of earth, and that the worst of earth, viz. red earth; so the word Adam, in Hebrew, signifies.

b. The abject state and wretched condition into which it fell by the apostasy and rebellion of Adam, to which he knew he must become subject. Hence it is that he is styled ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3,4). ‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,’ &c. (Rom. 8:3).

4. In his being born of ordinary parents. Christ, as God, did single out and choose the womb in which his humanity was to be conceived; which was not an empress, a queen, or some lady of rich and noble extraction according to the flesh; but a mean and despicable maid, of a mean and poor family; so poor, that she was not able to compass a lamb, but must be trusting to a pair of turtle-doves for a sacrifice (Luke 2:24 compared with Lev. 12:8).

I wonder which of all the wise men, or the professors of this age, would freely make such a choice for themselves or theirs! Christ had regard to the promise, not to riches or honors.

5. His taking on him the form of a servant: ‘Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears thou opened’ (Psalm 40: 6). David, personating Christ, speaks with allusion to Exodus 21: 6, where the law for servants is set down. That ceremony of boring the servant’s ear through with an awl, did prefigure Christ’s perpetual servitude to his Father, until he should finish the work he had undertaken to go through with: ‘I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do’ (John 17:4). ‘And made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant,’ (Phil. 2:7).

6. The objects of his choice whom he loves and delights in; namely, the poor and despised ones of the world.

The design of the scriptures now quoted is not to assure us that all poor ones in this world are to be inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, or that all who are richly or nobly born after the flesh shall be damned; but the design is, that very few comparatively of the rich and noble of this world are saved.

Worldly greatness and saving grace very rarely meet together in the same person. When they do, none on earth prove more lowly minded, and abundant in love to and zeal for God, than such. ‘Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is made high, but the rich in that he is made low,’  (James 1:9,10).

2. A second thing in the apple tree, which allegorically sets forth the excellency and usefulness of Christ to the elect, is its spreading and shadowy nature. As the apple tree is of singular use and advantage to human bodies, to shelter them from storms and showers; so the Lord Jesus, spiritually fled or run to by faith, is useful and advantageous to the souls of God’s elect in time of spiritual storms. Christ is set forth in scripture as the only shadow of security to the children of God in time of all their distress and tribulations: ‘And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain’ (Isa. 4:6). ‘Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall’ (Isa. 25:4).

The prophecies now mentioned are to be understood of and applied to Christ and the elect, and none else. Christ is a shadow to them, and to none else; and none in earth or heaven can secure them from the dreadful storms they meet with but he, and none besides him.

3. The doctrinal observation which naturally results from the former part of the text is, that Christ the Son of God, allegorically set forth by the apple tree, is a shadow of protection to the weakest believer, let what storms will come on him in this world. Or thus: In the most distressed and deplorable case and condition a believer can possibly be in, in respect of sin and misery, he is forever secured from perishing, being found under the shadow of Christ’s protection. Besides the words of the text, that in Isa. 25:4 is a full and convincing proof of the observation now laid down. To which, many other scriptures may be added, out of both the Old Testament and the New. But, omitting many quotations, I shall proceed to a more clear and convincing demonstration of the truth of the doctrine now asserted; and that by an enumeration of the several particular storms wherewith the weak believer must look and expect to meet before he arrives at heaven; and out of all which Christ will most certainly deliver him.

There are six sharp and dreadful storms wherewith God’s elect meet between the cradle and the crown in glory; from all which the shadow of Christ’s mediatorship covers and secures them forever:

1. The storm of the law’s damnatory sentence, which thunders out curses and eternal death on all Adam’s children, none excepted. ‘Now we know that what things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’ (Rom. 3:19). ‘For as many as are of the works of the law, they are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the law to do them'(Gal. 3:10). Here is a storm which is like the avenger of blood under the law: it will never be laid till the awakened, convinced sinner be either in hell, or sheltered under the shadow of Christ’s mediatorial satisfaction, given to offended justice for the sins of God’s elect. From this storm none can secure but the Lord Jesus: ‘If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’ (John 8: 36). ‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth’ (Rom. 10: 4). When the elect sinner flies for refuge to the shadow of Christ’s mediatorial satisfaction from the terrifying sentence of the law’s malediction and curse, the law sounds a retreat; it ceases to pursue the sinner, or to threaten him any more with damnation.

As the avenger of blood was not to follow the man-slayer into the city of refuge, so neither will the law pursue with curse and vengeance the believing sinner who hath gotten under Christ’s shadow.

2.  The bitter agonies of a wounded conscience when the law’s terror reaches the soul, and, like fire, drinks up the very spirit of a poor sinner, so that he knows not which way to go, or what to do, for ease and healing. O what but Christ’s mediatorial shadow can shelter such a wounded soul! It is marvelous to think what various and pitiful shifts the bewildered sinner makes to shelter himself from this storm, and to lick the wound whole which the killing terror of the law hath given the soul and conscience within: the distressed sinner lying bound in the law’s prison, and ready every moment to sink into final desperation under the insupportable burden of its own guilt, according to that in Proverbs 18:14: ‘But a wounded spirit who can bear?’ Of this Job seems to complain most bitterly: ‘The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me’ (Job 6:4). He is filled with perplexing thoughts what he had best do in this sad and deplorable condition. ‘Do and live,’ being the principle derived from the first Adam, to the trade of working he goes; thinking and hoping, with his father Adam, to hide and cover, from the eye of God’s all-seeing knowledge, his spiritual nakedness and deformity with the fig-leaves of his own performances. Somewhat he must do in order to help and save himself; but how or where to begin he finds himself at a loss. Hence those queries,’ What shall we do?’ Acts 2:37; Mark 10:17; Acts 16:30; which plainly shew that all Adam’s children, when awakened by the terrors of God’s law, do seek for life and salvation in a way of works. This is farther confirmed by Romans 10:3: ‘For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.’

While the sinner resolves within himself he will amend his sinful course, and be, for the time to come, a better man; he will say his prayers, he will confess and break off his sins, he will forsake his vain companions and sinful pastime; and the church, and serving God, he resolves he will frequent, and constantly attend.

He will now take on him a strict profession; a church communicant he must be, to the sacrament he goes, and from that to other duties, such as fasting, alms-deeds, and keeping up a strict watch over himself in all his ways. He is now not the same man he was before; he can, with the Pharisee, boast of his negative and positive righteousness (Luke 18:11). And now he thinks and hopes the work is done, although he was never nearer hell and eternal min than by these acts of morality, negative and positive, he hath brought himself. He hath been all this while but scouring and making clean and bright the outside of the cup and platter, not heeding or regarding the filth and nastiness which cleaves to the inside. A change of state he is a stranger to; external reformation lie takes to be the conversion which must fit him for heaven, though most certain it is that no reformation but what flows from an effectual change of state will evidence or prove a man to be a real convert. Such an external reformation may qualify a man for church-communion, but never for heaven; and it is to be feared that there is but very little, even of this visible reformation, in some churches who seem, at least in their own and other injudicious people’s conceits, to be far purer and holier than their neighbor churches who make not so much noise and bluster as they themselves do.

There are some churches, so-called, who, for want of charity, monopolize a pure church state to themselves, as if Christ had no true gospel church in this day beside themselves; whose preachers and rulers are of so impetuous a spirit, as drives them to the very precipice of anathematizing all but themselves; as if the doctrine of God’s grace, and the form of a true gospel-church state, were to be found nowhere but among them. These are like violent storms and showers, which will not hold long; and indeed it is a pity they should. All I shall say farther of such is, the Lord rebuke their furious and Bedlam-like spirit; and give them to see, and in time to be convinced, how far wide they are from what they fancy they have attained to, namely, a Christ-like spirit, and a true conformity to the pattern of God’s house; a thing so much boasted of and gloried in, and that without a cause. The word of God assures us, up and down, that no works or duties which sinners are capable of performing can possibly give ease or peace to that conscience which the law of God, set home by the spirit of bondage, hath wounded. Healing and peace are to be found nowhere but under the shadow of Christ’s satisfaction; there being nothing short of what satisfies divine Justice for the violation of the moral law, which can satisfy and quiet the conscience of a wounded sinner. ‘For he makes sore, and binds up; he wounds, and his hands make whole’ (Job 5: 18). ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28).

3. A third storm wherewith the elect meet is, the fiery assaults and temptations of the devil. They are called ‘fiery’ from the sad and dreadful effects in the soul and conscience of the poor distressed sinner, they being to the soul what poison and fire are to the body. ‘Above all, taking the shield of faith, whereby ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked’ (Eph. 6:16). The darts here intended are the assaults and temptations of the devil, which are injected or cast into the soul suddenly and invisibly, as darts are cast or shot by an unseen enemy; which, when they find entrance, they immediately inflame the soul, as poisoned darts or arrows, hardened in fire, envenom or poison the body. These temptations or Satanical injections are numberless, and of various sorts; sometimes to presumption, sometimes to desperation, sometimes to atheism, sometimes to blasphemy against the majesty of God, sometimes to one wickedness, and sometimes to another. Satan is a busy enemy, and a restless enemy; always tempting, and that all men, and to all manner of folly and sin; on which very account he is, by the Spirit of God, styled, ‘the tempter,’ who is always busy at his trade, piercing to know what is in men, that so he might accordingly suit his baits to the disposition and temper of Adam’s children, whom he seeks to prey upon. Yea, so restless and unwearied is he at his trade of throwing or injecting his fiery darts into the soul, that he will not lose the time of men’s sleeping. Satan, in this case, is like an enemy that surprises in the dead of the night, when persons are buried in sleep and security. And as, in nature, no alarm is so amazing and frightful as that which is given in the dead of the night; so, as experience teaches, no temptation makes a sadder hurricane in the soul than the night sallies which he makes on the soul when the person is buried in sleep. Now, in such storms as these, what can poor tempted souls do, were it not for the shadow of Christ’s cleansing and healing virtue? Herein the brazen serpent in the wilderness did eminently type out the Lord Jesus Christ’s virtue, to heal and cleanse the sting and pollution given and occasioned by the infernal serpent’s stinging temptations. No way possible for help or cure in this case but flying by faith and prayer to the shadow of Christ’s healing and cleansing virtue. It is on this very account that the grace of faith is preferred above all the other parts of the Christian’s spiritual armor, in that it looks and flies to Christ immediately for help and cure.

No sooner hath the devil cast his frightening dart into the soul of a true believer, but the grace of faith, like an expert and experienced soldier who whips up the grenade thrown in by the enemy, and throws it back on the enemy again, repels and throws back the fiery-poisoned dart injected by Satan.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: James Barry was born in Ireland in the year 1641, the year in which the Irish massacre of Protestants began. He was called to the ministry in Dublin, where he labored with great success. After suffering much persecution, during which time a reward of one hundred pounds was offered for his head, he was prevailed upon to escape to England; and became pastor of a church near Stepney: he continued there for many years, in much esteem with his people, but owing to indisposition of body he begged his dismissal of them, in order to take charge of a church at Croydon, in Surrey, for the benefit of his health. From thence he returned to London, in the times of persecution, and went and dwelt in the Mint, in what was then called The Verge of the Court, which was a place of safety. In that place he hired a large room for a lecture on the Lord’s Day evening, in which he preached for a considerable time.

Twenty years before his death Mr. Barry was rendered incapable of the ministry by the many afflictions which attended him, and the persecutions which he endured from his youth. His affectionate wife and daughter supported him by their work, and the never-failing providence of God, of which he so sweetly treats, followed him to the last, which occasioned him often to say, when any present came in a time of need,’ Here is God’s basket come again,’ meaning the hand-basket portion.

When he was first laid aside from the ministry, he was under much darkness and dejection of mind, but after some time he came to enjoy great consolations, and bore his afflictions with remarkable patience and cheerfulness: a little before his death he said, ‘I am nearer my home than ever; I am soon going.’

He entered into his rest on the 3rd of July, 1719, aged 78 years.