‘Of my own accord’: The Eager Redeemer (pt. 1)
by Tony Reinke
“As a voluntary captive he was bound, and as a willing substitute he died.” – C.H. Spurgeon
When I approached the conclusion of my undergraduate degree, it was time to select a topic for my final thesis. I would eventually tackle the various contours of God’s saving message to mankind (see my final paper, Come Unto Me: God’s Invitation to the World). But I had originally selected a thesis topic suggested to me by a Puritan scholar on the Christology of Thomas Goodwin. For about one month I pursued my research with this topic in mind.
Those hours spent reading Goodwin (largely spent in Christ our Mediator, volume five of his works) were perspective-transforming. Goodwin slowly and meticulously detailed all of the steps leading to redemption. He began far before the Cross, reminding us that the terms of redemption were discussed and agreed upon between the Father and Son from eternity past. Christ accepted the redemptive terms of the Father.
Goodwin proceeded to display the many proofs that Christ was the ONLY fit mediator. He must be God and Man together because creatures and angels would not suffice. He must be perfectly obedient. Tainted sinners would be shattered under the task, and would fail even to redeem themselves.
But just when I expected Goodwin to transition from the fitness of the Son into the work of the Son as our mediator, he threw in one more chapter. This little chapter is titled, “Christ’s Willingness to Do the Work of Redemption.” I must admit that I had never seriously considered this topic in the scope of redemption history. I had always jumped from the fitness of the Son for redeeming sinners right into the Cross-work of Christ without stopping to ponder the eagerness of the Son.
Goodwin soberly reminded me that Christ could be especially suited for the salvation of sinners — the only hope for sinners! – and yet be unwilling to take the task upon Himself. The determining factor in His redemptive love towards us was not merely His perfect character or His God-man incarnate life. The determining factor was His willingness to take the task of redemption upon Himself. That He is suited, does not make Him willing.
For the past year I have been challenged to see how central to the plan of redemption was the willingness/eagerness of the Son for the task.
To prove the willingness of the Redeemer, Goodwin points his readers to Hebrews 7:21-22 and 10:3-10 to show that the Priesthood of Christ is not by appointment, but by oath. Hebrews 7:28 says, “For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” In this passage the second “appoints” is a word not in the Greek manuscript. Old covenant priests held their posts by appointment, the Son holds His post as High Priest based upon a mutual oath with the Father because “a covenant is always the consent of two, and not of one only” (Goodwin, 5:140). The swearing of an oath shows both the agreement of the Father and the willingness of the Son.
The Incarnation of Christ also embodies this willingness. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). These two phrases of willingness — “made himself nothing” and “humbled himself” – show the volitional activity of Christ. The Incarnation was no duty pressed by a harsh father upon an unwilling son.
Jesus Himself made this willingness clearly known: “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). Incredibly, Goodwin reminds us that this statement was on the lips of Christ for all of eternity past. The free willingness to endure the Cross was not determined a few weeks before His death.
The willingness of Christ is worth some reflection.
Spurgeon writes, “Many a martyr has suffered much, but he could not avoid it; for he was bound, and he was not able to smite his foes or to escape. But here sat One, to be spit upon, who could, if he had willed it, have withered into nothingness all who stood about him” (sermons, vol. 49). Christ was no subdued prisoner, but a willing prisoner. He was no mere man awaiting natural death, but the Infinite God who willingly tasted death. He was no ignorant bull being led to the slaughter for the forgiveness of sin but a fully conscious and willing sacrifice. He willingly submitted Himself to curse and death and pain.
So what does the voluntary redemption of Christ all mean? This week I hope to unfold this biblical truth and discover a bit more of its depth.