6Inasmuch as he was in the form of God. This is not a comparison between things similar, but in the way of greater and less. Christ’ humility consisted in his abasing himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy: our humility consists in refraining from exalting ourselves by a false estimation. He gave up his right: all that is required of us is, that we do not assume to ourselves more than we ought. Hence he sets out with this — that, inasmuch as he was in the form of God, he reckoned it not an unlawful thing for him to shew himself in that form; yet he emptied himself. Since, then, the Son of God descended from so great a height, how unreasonable that we, who are nothing, should be lifted up with pride!
The form of God means here his majesty. For as a man is known by the appearance of his form, so the majesty, which shines forth in God, is his figure. (103) Or if you would prefer a more apt similitude, the form of a king is his equipage and magnificence, shewing him to be a king — his scepter, his crown, his mantle, (104) his attendants, (105) his judgment-throne, and other emblems of royalty; the form of a consul was — his long robe, bordered with purple, his ivory seat, his lictors with rods and hatchets. Christ, then, before the creation of the world, was in the form of God, because from the beginning he had his glory with the Father, as he says in Joh_17:5. For in the wisdom of God, prior to his assuming our flesh, there was nothing mean or contemptible, but on the contrary a magnificence worth of God. Being such as he was, he could, without doing wrong to any one, shew himself equal with God; but he did not manifest himself to be what he really was, nor did he openly assume in the view of men what belonged to him by right.
Thought it not robbery. There would have been no wrong done though he had shewn himself to be equal with God. For when he says, he would not have thought, it is as though he had said, “ knew, indeed, that this was lawful and right for him,” that we might know that his abasement was voluntary, not of necessity. Hitherto it has been rendered in the indicative — he thought, but the connection requires the subjunctive. It is also quite a customary thing for Paul to employ the past indicative in the place of the subjunctive, by leaving the potential particle
ἄν, as it is called, to be supplied — as, for example, in Rom_9:3,
ηὐχόμην, for I would have wished; and in 1Co_2:8;
εἰ γὰρ ἔγνωσαν, if they had known. Every one, however, must perceive that Paul treats hitherto of Christ’ glory, which tends to enhance his abasement. Accordingly he mentions, not what Christ did, but what it was allowable for him to do.
Farther, that man is utterly blind who does not perceive that his eternal divinity is clearly set forth in these words. Nor does Erasmus act with sufficient modesty in attempting, by his cavils, to explain away this passage, as well as other similar passages. (106) He acknowledges, indeed, everywhere that Christ is God; but what am I the better for his orthodox confession, if my faith is not supported by any Scripture authority? I acknowledge, certainly, that Paul does not make mention here of Christ’ divine essence; but it does not follow from this, that the passage is not sufficient for repelling the impiety of the Arians, who pretended that Christ was a created God, and inferior to the Father, and denied that he was consubstantial. (107) For where can there be equality with God without robbery, excepting only where there is the essence of God; for God always remains the same, who cries by Isaiah, I live; I will not give my glory to another. (Isa_48:11.) Form means figure or appearance, as they commonly speak. This, too, I readily grant; but will there be found, apart from God, such a form, so as to be neither false nor forged? As, then, God is known by means of his excellences, and his works are evidences of his eternal Godhead, (Rom_1:20,) so Christ’ divine essence is rightly proved from Christ’ majesty, which he possessed equally with the Father before he humbled himself. As to myself, at least, not even all devils would wrest this passage from me — inasmuch as there is in God a most solid argument, from his glory to his essence, which are two things that are inseparable.
(103) “Car tout ainsi qu’ homme est cognu quand on contemple la forme de son visage et sa personne, aussi la maieste, qui reluit en Dieu, est la forme ou figure d’;” — “ just as a man is known, when we mark the form of his appearance and his person, so the majesty, which shines forth in God, is his form or figure.”
(104) “Le manteau royal;” — “ royal mantle.”
(105) “La garde a l’;” — “ guard in attendance.”
(106) “Comme s’ ne faisoyent rien a ce propos-la;” — “ if they had no bearing on that point.”
(107) “C’ à dire d’ mesme substance auec le Pere;” — “ is to say, of the same substance as the Father.”