In Psalm 45, the Psalmist addresses the divine, eternal King, who rules righteously: 'Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre' (v. 6). But in the next verse, the Psalmist goes on to speak of this divine King’s God: 'Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows'. One verse seems to contradict the other, but the clearer light of the New Testament makes obvious what was more dimly revealed in the Old: while there is one, and only one, God, this true God exists in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But what puts the matter completely beyond doubt is the fact that the verses from Psalm 45 are quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9, where we are told that these words are spoken 'unto the Son' – to the Son of God in human nature.
There could be no doubt that, before the incarnation, the Son of God eternally loved righteousness, and hated wickedness; but would that be consistently true of him when he came into a fallen world? The angels had begun their existence with a love to righteousness and a hatred of wickedness, both perfect – though, when there was yet no sin, it might have been impossible for finite creatures to imagine something so repulsive to their holy natures. Yet some of the angels did fall into a state of sin. We may not be able to understand how beings who were perfectly holy could possibly have fallen from that condition, but Scripture makes clear that this was indeed what happened, and its testimony ought to satisfy us even when we cannot fully understand. Now the fallen angels love wickedness and hate righteousness, and under Satan their head they do all in their power to promote wickedness and oppose righteousness.
Adam and Eve also were created perfectly holy, living in holy fellowship with each other and with God. But the devil appeared in the Garden of Eden in the hope of leading the human race away from God. In this wicked purpose he was entirely successful, and fallen human beings love wickedness, while they have no love for righteousness – though God restrains them from going further in sin than they actually do.
It seemed such a small point on which Satan tempted Eve, to take just one piece of fruit, but 'whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all' (James 2:10). When Eve transgressed God’s command at this one point, she was a law-breaker, and this one point was what she and Adam had been particularly warned about; the all-wise God had appointed it as a test of whether their love of righteousness would endure.
Satan and his followers do all in their power to prevent sinners from forsaking wickedness and returning to God; 'the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them' (2 Cor. 4:4). Correspondingly sinners have no desire to lay hold of Christ’s righteousness, however warmly it is set before them and however earnestly they are warned against the sin of unbelief. Even apart from the evil activity of the devil, sinners will go on in sin rather than walk in the way of holiness – unless and until the Holy Spirit will work savingly in their hearts.
Jesus grew up in a sinful environment. His was a godly family, yet neither Joseph nor Mary were free from sin. Further, we are told that 'neither did his brethren believe in him' (John 7:5); they were still in their sins, and we can assume that this was the condition also of almost everyone around him as he grew up in Nazareth. Certainly the reaction of the local people to Jesus’ address in their synagogue was the reverse of what we would expect from a godly community (and behind this ungodly reaction, we can readily recognise the evil influence of the tempter: his hatred of righteousness and love of wickedness). Yet in his childhood 'Jesus increased . . . in favour with God' (Luke 2:52); it was evident that he loved righteousness, and hated wickedness. And the all-seeing eye of his Father observed this.
Satan had been successful in tempting holy Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he could not resist tempting the holy God-man. There was the particular confrontation immediately after the baptism of Christ, at his entrance to his public ministry – when the Saviour showed his love of what is right by insisting to John: 'Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness' (Matt. 3:15). Yet we should note that the Saviour went out deliberately to confront Satan – 'led by the Spirit' – for to 'resist the devil' was an element of the work that had been entrusted to him for the redemption of his people.
His love to righteousness and hatred of wickedness was manifest as Christ forcefully rejected Satan’s temptation, even when that enemy of all righteousness quoted from the Scriptures. Even after being twice repulsed with 'the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God' (Eph. 6:17), Satan returned a third time to tempt the Saviour. Having shown him 'all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them', Satan made the offer: 'All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me'. Commenting on this passage, David Brown points out that Satan 'has ceased now to present his temptations under the mask of piety and stands out unblushingly as the rival of God himself in his claims on the homage of men. Despairing of success as an angel of light, he throws off all disguise and, with a splendid bribe, solicits divine honour.'
Besides, Satan was offering what was not his to give; he was speaking to One who loved righteousness and hated wickedness from the core of his being, even of his humanity. Accordingly Christ would not move in the slightest degree from the principle he enunciated in his reply, again using the words of Scripture, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve' (Matt. 4:8-10). It was the first and most fundamental of all the Ten Commandments that was being attacked, but Christ could say, 'I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart' (Psa. 40:8). No doubt Adam and Eve could have said so before their fall into sin, but, in contrast with them, the second Adam could not be deflected from his entire love to righteousness and hatred of wickedness; they could not be erased from his heart. Anything short of a perfect delight in God’s will was sin, and he could not sin. His resistence to temptation was complete. Not even Satan himself, with all his powers and all his subtlety, could tempt the Lord Jesus Christ away from perfect holiness in thought, word or deed.
But why was the Son of God in the world? Why did he condescend to confront the evil one in this fallen world and in our nature? It was so that he might, in a way that was consistent with the divine love to righteousness, redeem sinners from their sin and from the consequences, not only of their own sins, but also of Adam’s original transgression. So, in particular, he must confront the devil at the very point where Adam had failed; he must stand where Adam fell, and do so as the sinner’s substitute. He had come under the law; he had taken on himself a responsibility to keep the law. Yes, he must take upon himself the guilt of his people and bear it away, in his suffering unto death. 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die' (Ezek. 18:4), and when the Son of God becomes man to save his people from the death which is the result of their guilt, he must die instead.
Yet he must do more. The law not only demands freedom from guilt; it demands entire obedience to the law, from any sinner who is to be accepted by God as righteous and at last be admitted to heaven. It must be said of everyone who is received to glory: he has loved righteousness and hated wickedness; yet that cannot be said of any mere human being in the full sense of the expression. Paul himself, whose holy, earnest desire was 'to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men' (Acts 24:16), had to complain of the power of sin in his heart. Only after entering glory could it be said that he was perfectly holy. So he needed a substitute to whom it could be said without qualification: 'Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness', One who could do so continuously.
But the Father said – and the words were heard on earth more than once – 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased', and there was never a moment when the Father could not have spoken of him in these terms. There was never a moment when Christ’s obedience fell short of absolute perfection. In his reactions to the insincere legality of the Pharisees, the sceptical attitudes of the Sadducees, the unbelief of the Jews generally and the disciples’ lack of understanding, Christ reacted appropriately, in perfect obedience to all the precepts of the law of God. In all circumstances, he loved his Father with all his heart and soul and strength and mind. And his perfect obedience was on behalf of Paul and on behalf of every other sinner for whom he was a substitute.
So when sinners look to Christ by faith, they are justified. Not only are their sins forgiven on account of the substitutionary sufferings of Christ, they are treated as if they had kept the law perfectly – as if they themselves had, without a moment’s interruption, loved righteousness and hated wickedness. And when the time comes for them to leave this world, 'with gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought . . . into the King’s palace' (Psa. 45:15) – because of what the King did for them when he veiled his glory – when, to quote Paul’s inspired words, he '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. 2:7, 8).
But he has his reward; Paul continues: 'Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every nameh. He who perfectly loved righteousness and hated wickedness is further addressed: 'God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows'. His brethren, who in this world began, however imperfectly, to love righteousness and to hate wickedness, are welcomed to glory with such words as these: 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' (Matt. 25:21). That joy is unspeakably great, but the joy of the God-man, who finished the awful work given him to perform in this world for the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, will be far greater. Not least is the joy of bringing all these many sons to glory.
What should be our response to his work, to his perfect delight in the Father’s will? It is to believe on him and to worship wholeheartedly.
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the May 2012 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.