The Humiliation and Condescension of Christ - Phil. 2: 5-8

by John Owen


"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."—PHIL. 2:5–8.

THE apostle tells us, 1 Tim. 2:5, that "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men." The difference, by reason of sin, between God and men was such as could not be made up without a mediator. God himself could not be this mediator; so the same apostle tells us, Gal. 3:20, "A mediator is not of one, but God is one." A mediator must be a middle person, and God in his divine nature is one: "A mediator is not of one." Suppose this mediator be taken from among men, for one man's sinning against another, "the judge shall judgo him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him?" 1 Sam. 2:25. "There is no umpire betwixt us," saith Job, chap. 9:33, "that might lay his hand upon us both." Who, then, is this mediator? Why, "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." How comes he so to be? This office was not imposed upon him against his mind and will; it did not befall him by chance; we did not choose him; it was not a matter of any advantage unto him; neither did it befall him by necessity of nature or condition. How, then, did he come unto this office? how came it that this mediator was "the man Christ Jesus"? Why, it was his mind; it was from his own mind. Not to insist upon the designation of the Father, the apostle places it there: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." What was the mind that was in Christ Jesus? This was the mind, that when he was "in the form of God," and "thought it not robbery to be equal with God," he "made himself of no reputation:" which was the original of Christ's mediation.

There are three things in the words:—

First, The substance of them,—a description of the self-humiliation and condescension of Jesus Christ, in becoming the mediator between God and men by the taking up of this office. And there are two parts of it:—1. Ἐκκένωσις,—his emptying of himself; 2. Ταπείνωσις,—the humbling of himself. He "being in the form of God, took upon him the form of a servant." Ἐκκένωσε, saith the apostle. We say, "He made himself of no reputation;" he emptied himself. Having taken this form of a servant, what did he do? Why, "he humbled himself." He emptied himself to take the form of a servant; and he humbled himself in that form, to engage in obedience, to undergo death. There is an infinite distance between the ἐκκένωσις, the self-emptying of Christ, when, "being in the form of God, he took upon himself the form of a servant," and the ταπείνωσις, the taking on him the form of a servant to obey and die. The one infinitely excels the other.

Secondly, There is in the words the principle from whence these distinct acts arise,—self-emptying, by taking our nature; self-humiliation, engaging in our nature to do and suffer. Whence doth it proceed? It proceeds solely from his own mind: "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not: then said I, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God."

Thirdly, There is the application and improvement of these things unto our practice: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus;" which is the thing I principally aim at, though I cannot reach unto it at this time.

The words, so far as we are concerned, will be opened in our passage. I shall take these two propositions from them:—

First, That it was an infinite, mysterious self-humiliation and condescension in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to take our nature upon him, with reference unto the office of a mediator. That is the truth which the apostle designs here to demonstrate.

Secondly, That there is a spiritual greatness of mind, like unto the mind that was in Christ, required of all believers, unto that self-denial and unto those sufferings which they may be called unto for the gospel, and are like to be: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."

I shall now treat of the first, that it was an infinite, mysterious self-humiliation of the Son of God, in taking upon him our nature, for the discharge of the office of a mediator. I shall,—1. Prove it in general; 2. Show wherein it consists; and, 3. Make some use of it, if I am able.

1. For the proof of it, I would lay down but that one consideration which you have, Ps. 113:5, 6, "Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!" Such is the infinite perfection of the divine nature, that it is an act of self-humiliation, it is a condescension from the prerogative of his excellency and glory, to take notice of the most glorious things in heaven, and of the greatest things upon the earth.

And it is so upon these two accounts:—

(1.) Upon the account of that infinite distance which is between his nature, being, and essence, and the nature, being, and essence of any creature of any kind. Hence, Isa. 40:15, 17, it is said, "The nations are before him as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: all nations are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity." He is the infinite Being; and in comparison of him all creatures are "nothing," even "less than nothing." Now, there is no measure, no proportion, between an infinite Being and nothing and that which is as nothing: so that there can be no reason why an infinite Being should have any regard unto that which is as nothing, but its own infinite condescension. They are vain thoughts and imaginations of men that would find out foreseen causes in ourselves of God's eternal election, in the first choice he makes of us. There is no proportion between an infinite Being and nothing. Isa. 57:15, He is "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity;" and, "To this man will I look, even to him that is of an humble heart and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." He is "the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity," who exists in his own eternal being; and what is beyond that is a bowing down to look on "him who is of an humble heart and of a contrite spirit." The most glorious exaltation that a creature can have brings him not one step nearer the essence of God than a worm; for between that which is infinite and that which is not infinite there is no proportion. That is the first reason: God "humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth," because of the infinite distance that is between his nature and the nature of all things.

(2.) Because of his infinite self-sufficiency to all the ends of his own blessedness and eternal satisfaction. Whatever we desire, it is that it may add unto our satisfaction. There is no creature in heaven or earth that is self-sufficient The top of the creation, the flower, the glory of it, is the human nature of Christ; yet is it not self-sufficient. It eternally lives in dependence on God and by communications from the divine nature. No creature can be self-sufficient. No angel in heaven or man on earth who can have any desire, or act any thing, but it is to add to his satisfaction; and therefore he takes the reason of what he doth from without. But, saith the apostle, 'God stands in need of nothing, inasmuch as he gives life and breath to all things.' There is nothing can add unto God, unto his satisfaction. There is nothing wanting in himself unto his own eternal blessedness: Job 35:6, "If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him?" God loses nothing of his own eternal sufficiency: Verse 7, "If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth be of thine hand?" There can be no addition made unto God. Therefore it must be an infinite condescension in him and a humbling of himself, to behold the things done in heaven and on earth.

I make my inference from hence: If such be the eternal, blessed nature of God, and his infinite distance from all creatures, if such be his infinite self-sufficiency and blessedness, that it is a humbling of himself so much as to behold the most glorious things in heaven or the greatest things on earth, what great humiliation is it in the Son of God, who did not only look upon and behold us, and act kindly towards us, but took our nature upon him to be his own! This is the self-humiliation which the apostle proposes unto us, and which for ever we are to be found in.

2. I shall show you wherein this humiliation of the Son of God did consist; which will tend to the opening of the words. And because it is the centre, life, and soul, of religion, the main rock on which the church is built, and against which there hath been opposition in all ages, but never so fierce and subtle as in the days wherein we live, I shall show you first wherein it doth not consist, as far as may be apprehended, and then wherein it doth.

(1.) When Christ humbled himself, he did not leave, he did not relinquish, he did not forego, his divine nature. He did not cease to be God when be became man. The foundation of it lay here; He was "in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God," Phil. 2:6. He was "in the form of God." God hath no innate form but his nature, his being, his essence; and therefore to be "in the form of God" is to be participant of the nature, essence, and being of God. What follows thereon? He "thought it not robbery to be equal with God" the Father, in dignity, power, and authority. Because he was "in the form of God," partaking of the divine essence, therefore he was "equal with God," in dignity, power, and authority: which nothing could give him but only his being in the form of God; for though there is an order in the persons of the Trinity, there is no distinction or inequality in the nature of God. Every one who is partaker of that nature is equal in that nature, in dignity, power, and authority. This was the state of Christ. He had the same nature with God the Father, he was "in the form of God;" and had the same dignity, authority, and power,—"equal with God." Here is the "terminus a quo." This the apostle states. He "took upon him the form of a servant." Ἐκκένωσε, he did "empty himself, he did humble himself, and took upon him the form of a servant" When? While he was God; when he abode "in the form of God," and was "equal with God," then he "took upon him the form of a servant." This is that glorious condescension of Christ, which is the greatest of all gospel mysteries, which is the life and soul of the church. He that is God can no more cease to be God, by any act of his own, or act upon him, than he that is not God can become God by any act of his own, or any act upon him. Christ could not cease to be God,—no more than a worm can make itself God. We say, Christ, being God, was made man for our sakes. The Socinians say, that, being a man, he was made a god for his own sake; he was made equal unto God, in the same authority, but never "in the form of God." In brief, we say, "The Word was made flesh,"—that is, had glorious authority and power given him in this nature. But Jesus Christ did not forego his divine nature; that he could not do. The apostle speaks that with as much confidence as that God cannot cease to be God.

(2.) This condescension did not consist in any substantial conversion of the divine nature into the human, though some of the Arians thought so of old; and some (too many), following their dotage to this day, say, ' "The Word was made flesh." But how? As the water was made wine by a miracle, by a substantial conversion; the substance of the water was turned into the substance of wine.' As there the accident of water ceased, and the accident proper to wine did accompany it, they would have it so here,—that the divine nature of Christ was created by the will of God before the world was made, and after, by a substantial conversion, was turned into human nature. They assert that that which is called the divine nature was destroyed, as water was no more water when made wine. And so a human nature is produced that is of no affinity and cognation unto us; not derived of Adam as we, but made of the substance of the divine Word. This is far from being a due representation of this condescension of Jesus Christ.

(3.) It was not hereby, that the divine and human natures were mixed and compounded into one nature, so that it was neither that divine nature that was originally and eternally, nor human nature, but another, a third nature, made in time. This frenzy troubled the church for above one hundred years. Though Christ was made to be what he was not, yet he never ceased to be distinctly what lie was. The divine nature had neither change nor shadow of turning. Consider this condescension of Christ, and observe all its essential properties. It acts suitably unto itself; it acts nothing but what becomes it and is proper unto the divine nature. Jesus Christ did many things in the human nature wherein his divine nature had no concurrence but in the sustentation of the human nature in his one person. The divine nature did not act in hungering, and thirsting, and weariness, and bleeding, and dying; it cannot do so. All the acts of the divine nature on the human were acts of sustentation, whereby he acted these things.

But you will say, 'What did Christ do with reference to his divine nature, when he took our nature upon him?' That the apostle expresses in this mysterious word, ἐκκένωσε. He veiled himself, he shadowed himself, he hid his divine nature, he eclipsed the glory of it. Not absolutely; all things under heaven cannot veil, eclipse, or hide, the glory of the divine nature. But he eclipsed, shadowed, hid, and laid it aside, as to himself and his interest in it: for upon his taking our nature upon him, men were so far from looking on him as God, that they did not look on him as a good man; and the reason was, because they saw and knew him to be a man, and he professed himself to be a man, and was no less a man than any of themselves were. And yet he professes himself to be God. They were so far from believing him so to be, that they took him not to be so much as a good man. Therefore, upon the mentioning of his pre-existence to his incarnation,—"Before Abraham was, I am," John 8:58,—they fell into a great rage and madness, and took up stones to cast at him, as we read in the nest verse; and they give this reason, John 10:33, "We stone thee because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." This they could not understand. 'This we will not believe,' say they. And this overthrew the persuasion of many, that if Christ will be man, he shall be only a man.

All this is part of the condescension of Christ, if we will believe what the apostle here saith, He was "in the, form of God," and "equal with God,"—partaking of his essence, and equal in dignity, authority, and power. What then? "He took upon him the form of a servant;" that is, our nature, that therein he might be "obedient unto death." How did he take it upon him so to be his own that he should be a man, and in that nature be "obedient unto death"?

Having showed you that it was not by the relinquishment of his divine nature, that, being God from eternity, he then ceased to be God when lie was made man; that it was not by a conversion of the divine nature into the human,—the "the Word was not made flesh as the water was made wine; that it was not by a composition of two natures into one, for still they remained distinct in their essence; I shall now show you wherein it did consist:—

(1.) The condescension of Christ consisted in veiling the glory of the Deity,—not in taking a man to himself, but in taking the nature of man upon himself. Flesh and blood can reveal that unto no man.

I shall show you how it was; and then give you a word of use:—

What, then, did Christ do in his condescension? Pray remember it, for it is the principal object of your faith, and the life of your souls. This was that which he did: The person of the Son of God, or the divine nature in the second person, continuing God in his essence and God in his state and dignity, did take "upon" him (I use that word rather than take "unto" him) the nature of man, into an individual subsistence in his own person, whereby he became that man; and what was done and acted in it by that man was done and acted by the person of the Son of God. This is that condescension of Christ that is here spoken of. Every man hath his own individual subsistence, whereby the human nature is divided in particular. We have all of us the same nature in general;—that is, the same specific human nature belongs unto us equally and unto all men in the world; yet every man and woman hath this nature entire and absolutely unto himself, as if there were no other man or woman in the world. And Adam was not more a single person when there was none in the world but himself, than every one of us is a single person now the world is full of men, as if there were but one man. And every one comes into the world in his own individual subsistence unto himself, whereby he becomes a man as much as any of us. Here is the great act of self-denial in Christ.

I should have insisted upon the consequences of it,—for neither of his natures is changed,—and how the divine nature was concealed and veiled hereby; but these must be waived at present.

3. I shall speak to the use of it, and so conclude:—

The use should be, to raise up our hearts into the admiration of the great condescension of Christ in thus humbling and emptying himself for our sakes. But I cannot enlarge upon this. The prophet tells us, Isa. 8:14 (which is a prophecy of Christ), "And he shall he for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel; for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem." Peter expounds this place, 1 Epist. 2:6–8. He shall be "a sanctuary" unto them who believe, to them who are oppressed; but "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word." Both these is our Lord Jesus Christ in a peculiar manner, by this self-emptying, by this self-humiliation; he is "a sanctuary," and he is "a stone of stumbling." Herein Christ is principally a sanctuary unto them who do believe. What do men look for in a sanctuary? Freedom from danger, deliverance out of trouble, and a supply of all their wants. All these are proposed in this self-humiliation of Jesus Christ, if we could by faith make him our sanctuary,—if we could by faith, as we ought, go unto him for relief. If we go unto any one for relief, we question but two things,—his will and his power. If he be willing and if he be able, you have no ground to question but you shall have relief. I know how it is with us all. We have all wants, we have all temptations, we have all fears, we have all inward conflicts and perplexities, more or less; and we all secretly groan to be delivered from all those things. Groaning is the best of our spiritual life,—to live in continual groaning. Oh, that we may do so every morning and every evening! that there may be nothing but God and Christ in our souls, all clear and serene, and all our minds spiritual and heavenly! Where shall we betake ourselves, then, for relief in all cases? If any one have will and power to relieve us, oh, that he would come in to our relief and help; thither would we go! But here is the loss of our souls and peace, here is that which keeps us at such a poor, low rate, and makes us scramble for the world,—because we neglect going unto Christ for relief in all our wants. How few of us live in the exercise of faith for this purpose! 'But will he relieve me?' Why, he hath humbled, emptied himself, and laid aside his glory, for this very end, that he might relieve us. For my own part, I do verily believe that all coming short of all gospel joy, strength, and power, is for want of due application unto Jesus Christ for relief. The not believing of his willingness shall be the condemnation of the world for their ingratitude. "Ye will not come unto me that ye may have life." 'Oh, who would have thought that he would have received us?' Why, can I give you greater encouragement than I do? He still retains his omnipotent power; he is still "in the form of God." The holy God help us to live more in the exercise of faith on him, that we may have more comfort in our lives!

But herein Christ is also "a stumbling-block and a rock of offence" unto the rest of the world. This they stumbled at of old, and this is that which the world continues yet to do. Some asserted Jesus Christ only to be a prophet come out from God. This the Mohammedans will all comply with; and the Jews were well enough content that John the Baptist should be a prophet, but Christ should be none, because he made himself equal unto God. There they stumbled and fell. And at this day great offence is taken in the world at this divine person of Christ and his self-humiliation. The truth is, "All flesh hath corrupted his way." All the world begins to grow weary of the religion which they profess, and to question whether there be any thing of supernatural revelation. God gave us a natural religion at first; we lost it; and God raised it by supernatural revelation, which continued till the coming of Christ Then he put an end unto all supernatural revelation. Then the devil was at a loss, and he raised a scandal upon supernatural revelation. The world is grown weary of it, and would return unto a natural religion, having lost the power of all supernatural revelation. It makes way for atheism. They believe nothing the Scripture expresses of gospel mysteries; and this makes way for the disbelief of the Trinity and incarnation of the Son of God. They follow the conduct of men influencing them unto their own secular advantage. But let us hold this fast, because the world grows weary of it. Let this corner-stone be laid hold of by us for a foundation, and it will prove our lift; and safety.



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