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THE CHRISTIAN’S ASSURED PROSPECT OF GLORY
2 Corinthians 5:1-5. We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven; if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
IT has justly been said of Christians, that if in this life only they had hope, they would be of all men in the most pitiable condition; seeing that they renounce all the pleasures of sin, and are exposed to all manner of trials for their Lord’s sake. And certainly, if we consider the variety and greatness of St. Paul’s sufferings, this may be applied to him with more propriety than to any other of the children of men. But, notwithstanding he was “delivered daily unto death for Jesus’ sake, he was still cheerful and still happy: and, notwithstanding “his outward man decayed, his inward man was renewed day by day.” Do we seek the cause of this? he had his eye fixed on eternal things, and derived from thence a fund of consolation sufficient to bear him up above all his afflictions. Death had no terrors for him; because “he knew that, when his earthly tabernacle should be dissolved, he had a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
But, as this experience was not confined to him, we shall take occasion from the words which we have read to shew,
The Christian’s experience in the prospect of the eternal world—
He knows that there is a glorious mansion prepared for him—
[Here he dwells in a poor frail “tabernacle,” like the patriarchs of old [Note: Hebrews 11:9.], exposed to vicissitudes of every kind, and uncertain how soon he may be called to change his precarious abode. But he has a better tabernacle prepared for him, a house more glorious in its structure, and more lasting in its duration, even “a building of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Nor is his speedy enjoyment of this house a matter of conjecture with him, nor even of hope; it is a certainty, of which he is assured: he “knows” that such a tabernacle is prepared, prepared for him too; and that, “as soon as his earthly tabernacle shall be dissolved,” he shall instantly be translated to it. It is the inheritance to which he has been born; and which is therefore “reserved for him,” as he also is for it; the very power which made it for him being pledged to put him into the possession of it [Note: 1 Peter 1:3-5.]. To it the patriarchs looked forward as the certain termination of their earthly pilgrimage [Note: Hebrews 11:10.]: and with still greater certainty does the Christian look forward to it, as being at this instant occupied by his forerunner, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who is gone before to prepare it for him, and is coming speedily to remove him to it [Note: John 14:2-3.].” Like Job, he can say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, and mine eyes shall behold him [Note: Job 19:25-27.];” and with the same blessed assurance also he can add, “I shall be with him, and be like him,” for ever and ever [Note: 1 John 3:2.].]
In the prospect of this he longs for the period of his dissolution—
[In his present tabernacle he is laden with grievous corruptions, and beset with manifold temptations, and exposed to injuries on every side: and, from “his fightings without, and fears within,” his time is often spent in sighs and groans. Many, many times does he exclaim with St. Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” Notwithstanding “he has within himself the first-fruits of the Spirit, he groans within himself, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body [Note: Romans 8:23.].” Twice is this mentioned in our text, to certify us the more fully, that groans are the common language of the heaven-born soul; and that it is in that language more especially that “the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us [Note: Romans 8:26.].”
“To be delivered from the bondage of corruption,” is certainly one great object which the Christian panteth after: but he also longs, and “earnestly desires,” to be brought “into the glorious liberty of the children of God [Note: Romans 8:21.].” He knows that “when unclothed, as it respects his present tabernacle, he shall not be found naked” and destitute, seeing that a better habitation is ready for him; and it is his desire after this better habitation, that chiefly actuates him in his longings for the dissolution of his earthly tabernacle. It is “not merely to be unclothed,” and to get rid of his present troubles, but “to be clothed upon with his house from heaven,” and have “mortality swallowed up of life.” It is no disparagement to a godly soul to say, “O that I had wings like a dove [Note: Psalms 55:6.]! for then would I flee away and be at rest:” but it is a higher attainment to say, “I long to be dissolved, that I may be with Christ [Note: Philippians 1:21-23.].”
We are ready to imagine that there is a confusion of metaphor in this place, and that “to be clothed upon with a house,” is an absurd expression: but, if we advert to the circumstance, that that house is “a tabernacle,” and that a tabernacle is constructed with an awning or covering cast over it, the propriety, and indeed the beauty, of the expression will appear at once. And when it is considered that even the tabernacle of the Most High was not so far superior to the accommodation of the meanest Israelite, as the mansions prepared for us are above the tabernacle in which we now live, we shall not wonder, that the soul of the believer sighs and groans for his blest abode; his abode, the residence of angels, the habitation of his God. It was this consideration that made Paul so satisfied in the near prospect of martyrdom: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand: but there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me [Note: 2 Timothy 4:7-8.].” It was the same, that rendered Peter also equally composed in the near approach of crucifixion. He designates even that cruel death by the gentle term of “putting off this tabernacle;” to which he was reconciled by the thought that an infinitely better mansion awaited him at his departure hence [Note: 2 Peter 1:13-14.]. But is it for Apostles only to enjoy this sweet assurance? Are they alone authorized to look forward with delight to the eternal world? No: this is the privilege of every saint. Heaven is the believer’s home: whilst he is here, he is a sojourner, in a state of exile from his Lord: and when he goes hence, he ceases from his pilgrimage, and goes home to the bosom of his God [Note: ver. 6, 8. See the Greek.]. If we are “walking by faith and not by sight,” that is, if we are true believers, that is our present portion, and “our eternal great reward.”]
But, whilst we assert that this is the Christian’s experience, it will be proper to shew,
How he attains to it—
It is wrought in him by his God—
[Man cannot work it in himself. Man may desire to get rid of his present trials, and in a fit of impatience may “choose strangling rather than life:” indeed it is but too common for those who are bowed down with a load of worldly troubles, to seek relief in suicide. But this is very different from the experience in our text, a principal ingredient in which is a desire after the glory and felicity of heaven. This no man can produce in his own soul. Man, of himself, has no conception of that blessedness, nor any taste for the enjoyment of it: much less has he such a view of it as will incline him to brave the most cruel death for the attainment of it. He who alone can work this in the soul of man, is God. He alone, who opened the eyes of Stephen to behold God, and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God, can give to any man a just apprehension of the heavenly glory, together with an assurance of his title to it, and his interest in it. He alone, who raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead, can so deliver us from the fear of death, that it shall appear to us a desirable acquisition. He alone, who has enabled us to say, “To me to live is Christ,” can enable us to add, “To me also it is gain to die.”
How God works this in the soul, it is not easy to state. We are but little acquainted with the workings of our own spirit, and still less with the operations of the Spirit of God. We know little of wind, but by its effects: as to the mode of its operation, we have but very indistinct notions about it: it is no wonder therefore that there should be many things relative to the operation of the Holy Spirit on our souls which we are not able clearly to define. But from the effects produced by him, we do assuredly collect his agency: and where we see an ardent desire after the heavenly glory, we do not hesitate to affirm, that the author of it is God; since none but He, who created the universe out of nothing, can create so blessed a disposition in the soul. This disposition is called “the earnest of the Spirit,” which God gives to his believing people. Now an earnest is, not merely a pledge of any thing, but a part of the thing itself, given as a pledge that the remainder shall be imparted in due time: and hence that which is called in our text “the earnest of the Spirit,” is in another place called “an earnest of our inheritance [Note: Ephesians 1:14.];” which being given to the soul by God, is to that soul a ground of the strongest assurance that the promised blessing shall in due time be communicated in all its fulness.]
It shall be wrought in all who heartily desire it—
[One of the most important lessons which the Gospel teaches us, is, that we should be ever “looking for that blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ [Note: Titus 2:11-13.].” We should not only be looking for it, but “hasting unto it,” even “to the coming of the day of Christ [Note: 2 Peter 3:12.]:” and the character given to all Christians is, that they do thus “love his appearing [Note: 2 Timothy 4:8.].” But, if we have not a well-grounded hope of glory, how can we delight ourselves in the prospect of that day? It is our taste of the grapes of Eshcol that assures to us the full enjoyment of the promised land: and it is our partial entrance on our rest in this world, that assures to us the complete possession of “the rest that remaineth for us [Note: Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews 4:9.].” Let us therefore seek the first-fruits, and we need entertain no fears respecting the full harvest.]
From hence we may learn,
How desirable it is to have the evidences of our conversion clear—
[Though the earnest of the Spirit is itself both a seal and evidence of our conversion, it must not be found alone; much less must it be supposed to exist, where any habitual or allowed sin attests the contrary. The witness of the Spirit is in perfect harmony with the written word: and though it may for wise and gracious reasons be withheld from a person who is walking uprightly before God; (for a man may “fear the Lord, and yet walk in darkness and have no light [Note: Isaiah 50:10.];”) yet it never is vouchsafed to any one who is not serving God in sincerity and truth: and the man who imagines that he has the earnest of the Spirit, and the witness of the Spirit, whilst yet he is not unfeignedly and unreservedly devoted unto God, deceiveth his own soul. Some imagine that to speak of evidences is to encourage legality: but it is impossible to read the Epistles of St. John, and not to see, that he lays down, I had almost said, a system of evidences, whereby a man should try his state before God. Feelings, however strong, and whatever confidence they may generate in the soul, cannot be depended on, if separated from the dispositions and actions produced by them: and therefore I cannot but earnestly recommend every one to examine carefully the state of his own soul, lest he dream of heaven and awake in hell.”]
How light all trials should be to the believing soul—
[Well does the Apostle in the words before our text call them “light and momentary;” so light, as to be “lightness” itself [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17. See the Greek.]. Of what moment are the accommodations of an inn, where the traveller stops an hour in his journey to his father’s house? Such travellers are we; and the period of our stay is at the utmost an hour, or rather, the twinkling of an eye. I may ask too, of what moment are his little inconveniences there, in comparison of the great and permanent felicity that awaits him? This is the true way to estimate our sufferings, of whatever kind they be [Note: Romans 8:18.]. You who are most tried, fix your eyes upon the glory that shall be revealed: think of “the grace that shall be given you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Think especially too of your trials as loosening the pins of your present tabernacle, and hastening forward your entrance into that tabernacle that is prepared for you: view them, I say, in this light, and you will be so far from complaining of them, that you will rejoice and glory in them as the wise appointments of a gracious God: and “the trial of your faith will be precious, because it will be found to his praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.].”]
How blessed is the portion of every child of God—
[Inconvenient as his present abode is, and painful as his state at present is in some respects, he yet is truly blessed. Consider what prospects he enjoys, yea, what anticipations and foretastes of his future bliss; for by faith he has already as clear evidence of the future glory, as if he saw it with his bodily eyes; and as truly the substance of it, as if he had it already in his possession [Note: Hebrews 11:1.]. Tell me not of his trials; for I say, he is a truly blessed man: and our blessed Lord again and again declares him blessed [Note: Matthew 5:11-12.]. Then think of his state as soon as this earthly tabernacle is dissolved; think of him as clothed upon with his house from heaven, and mortality, with all its attendant pains, “as swallowed up of life.” Not an atom of his former troubles or weaknesses remains; all is swallowed up, and is as if it had never been. Read the account of him as dwelling in the tabernacle of his God [Note: Revelation 21:3-4.], and you will break forth into the most heart-felt congratulations, “Happy art thou, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord [Note: Deuteronomy 33:29.]!”]
THE CHRISTIAN WALKING BY FAITH
2 Corinthians 5:7. We walk by faith, not by sight.
IF we behold any wonderful effects, we naturally inquire after the cause that has produced them. Now in the preceding context we behold as extraordinary a phenomenon as can be conceived: a sinner, like ourselves, not only divested of all fear of death, but longing after it as the consummation of all his hopes, and the completion of all his desires. This is a frame of mind totally unknown to man by nature, and incapable of being produced by any natural means. How then was it produced in the Apostle Paul? He tells us, “He that hath wrought us to the self-same thing, is God.” But how did God work it? for it is certain that he works by means. I answer, By forming in his soul a principle of faith, and making that the great moving cause of all his actions. This is the account which St. Paul himself gives us in the words before us: “We are willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight [Note: Compare the text with the preceding and following verses.].” It was by faith that he attained this blessed state: and if, like him, we cultivate that heavenly principle, and take it as the spring and source of all our conduct, we shall find it productive of similar blessedness in our souls. It is, in truth, this principle, which above all others distinguishes the true Christian from every other person under heaven.
To explain and vindicate his conduct in reference to this matter, we will shew,
The principle by which the Christian is actuated—
He fixes his eye, not on things visible and temporal, but on things invisible and eternal—
[This is declared at the close of the preceding chapter [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:18.]; and the same contrast is marked in our text. Faith is opposed to sight, and has respect entirely to things which are beyond the reach of mortal eyes. It looks upon an unseen God; even as Moses did, who feared not the wrath of Pharaoh, because “he saw him that is invisible [Note: Hebrews 11:27.].” This great and adorable Being it beholds, and contemplates all his glorious perfections. It sees all his mind and will in the book of revelation: it recognises his superintending providence in all events: it regards him as inspecting continually the most hidden recesses of our souls, and noting every thing in the book of his remembrance in order to a future judgment.
Faith also views an unseen Saviour as the supreme object of his people’s love, and the only foundation of all their hopes [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.]. It beholds him dying for their sins, and rising again for their justification: yea, it sees him interceding for them at the right hand of God, and preserving for them that peace which by their sins and infirmities they would soon forfeit. It enters into the whole of the Saviour’s work and offices, surveying them in all their extent and variety; and particularly regards him as the fountain of life to all his people; as having in himself all fulness of spiritual blessings treasured up for them, and imparting to them continually out of that fulness according to their several necessities.
Faith views an unseen heaven also. It soars and penetrates into the very paradise of God, and surveys the crowns and kingdoms which God has there prepared for all that love him. There it beholds that glorious tabernacle which the soul shall inhabit as soon as this earthly house shall be dissolved: and in the promises recorded in the written word, it sees the possession of that glory assured to every believing soul, assured by an everlasting covenant, and by the oath of a “God that cannot lie.”
Such are the objects of faith! and such the objects on which the Christian’s eye is continually fixed!]
By these he regulates the whole of his life and conversation—
[These are the things which draw forth his regards; and in comparison of these all earthly things are but as dung and dross. For these he sighs, and groans, and weeps, and strives: to obtain an interest in them is more to him than ten thousand worlds. Whatever will endanger the loss of these, he flees from, as from the face of a serpent: and whatever has a tendency to secure his interest in them, he labours incessantly to perform. In these all his affections centre: his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows, all terminate in these: and, in exact proportion as he is enabled by faith to realize and apprehend these, he is happy. In a word, “he walks by faith:” and every step he takes is under the influence of that principle. Faith is to the Christian what the compass is to the mariner in the trackless ocean: under all circumstances he consults its testimony, and follows its directions: and, in so doing, he fears not but that in due time he shall arrive at his destined haven.
This was the character of the Apostle Paul: and it is the character of every true Christian under heaven: “the life which he now lives in the flesh, he lives by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him, and gave himself for him [Note: Galatians 2:20.]?”]
But as to those who understand not his views he appears to act absurdly, we will proceed to mark—
The reasonableness of his conduct in this respect—
Doubtless the people who are strangers to this principle must “gaze strangely at” the Christian, and account him almost mad. The overlooking with comparative contempt all that he has ever seen, and following with all possible ardour things which no mortal eye ever did see, must appear the height of folly and enthusiasm; and we wonder not if many should say to him, “Thou art beside thyself; much thoughtfulness hath made thee mad.” But we reply, that there is no comparison between the wisdom of walking by faith or of being actuated by sight.
The principle of faith is,
More exalted in its objects—
[The objects of sense are all poor, and mean, and worthless. Take all that eye ever saw, or ear heard, or heart conceived; and it would not weigh against one glimpse of the Saviour’s glory, or one taste of his love. Besides, it is all transient and of very short duration. But think of Almighty God and his covenant of grace; think of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all the wonders of redeeming love; think of heaven, and all its glory and blessedness; and then say, which are most deserving of our regard? In attaching ourselves to the one, we degrade ourselves to the state of unenlightened heathens, I had almost said, of the brute beasts; but by living wholly with a reference to the latter, we emulate, as it were, the glorified saints and angels. The one is as high above the other, as the heavens are above the earth.]
More certain in its testimony—
[Earthly things may dazzle us with their glare and glitter: but they are all a lie, a cheat, a shadow, a delusion: there is no substance in them. With whatever confidence we press forward for the attainment of them, the more they disappoint our endeavours: and, when we think we have secured thee prize, we no sooner stretch out our hands to lay hold on it, than it eludes our grasp: or, if we apprehend the object of our desires, it proves to us no better than vanity and vexation of spirit. But was ever any one deceived in apprehending the realities of the eternal world? Did ever any one who sought them by faith, fail in the pursuit of them, or find them, when attained, below his expectation? No truly: it is justly said by the Lord Jesus Christ under the character of wisdom, “I cause them that love me to inherit substance [Note: Proverbs 8:17.]:” and every promise that makes over these things to the believing soul, is as immutable as God himself.]
More excellent in its operations—
[The tendency of visible things is to sensualize and debase the soul: but the effect of heavenly things is to purify and exalt it. The more we contemplate the Divine Being, the more shall we be transformed into his blessed image. The more we exercise faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, the more will grace, and mercy, and peace be multiplied unto us. The more we breathe the atmosphere of heaven, the more shall we be fitted for the everlasting enjoyment of it. “Every man that has such hopes in him, purifieth. himself even as God is pure [Note: 1 John 3:3.]:” and the very promises by which he apprehends them, lead him to “cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].” Truly “by these he becomes a partaker of the divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.],” and is progressively “changed into the divine image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of our God [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]
More conducive to our true happiness—
[What does he possess who has the whole world at his command? A mere phantom: and, if he look for any solid happiness from it, he will find, that he has only “filled his belly with the east wind.” But who can describe the happiness of him, who, by faith, has already in his soul “the substance of things hoped for, as well as the evidence of things not seen [Note: Hebrews 11:1.]?” Who can declare the blessedness of him, who has God for his Father, Christ for his Saviour, the Holy Spirit for his Comforter, and heaven for his home? This man lives on “angels’ food.” He has grapes of Eshcol already by the way: he stands on Pisgah’s top, surveying in all its length and breadth the land of promise: he has already an earnest and foretaste of the heavenly bliss: and, when he goes hence, he will change neither his company nor his employment: he is already dwelling in, and with, his God; and tuning his harp ready to join the choirs above, as soon as ever his attendant angels shall have received their commission to bear him hence.]
Those who are walking by sight—
[You are reputed wise by the men of this world; but are worse than fools in the estimation of your God. What has the world ever yet done for you? Has it ever yet afforded you any solid satisfaction? Possess what ye may, will not a pain, a loss, a disappointment, be sufficient to rob you of all your enjoyment? And what can it do for you in a dying hour? Will it prolong your life, or assuage your anguish, or pacify your conscience, or take away the sting of death? But, above all, what will it do for you at the bar of judgment? Will it bribe your Judge, or avert the wrath of an offended God, or mitigate your torments in the world of woe? You think the Christian unwise in having respect to things which his eye has never seen. But who will be found the wise man in that great and awful day? Not he that neglected God and his own soul; not he that trampled under foot his dying Saviour, and poured contempt on all the glory and blessedness of heaven; but he who lived as a pilgrim and a sojourner here, and “looked for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” O, that you “may be wise, and consider, ere it be too late, your latter end!”]
Those who profess to walk by faith—
[We thank our God that there are a goodly number of you who have learned to estimate things by their relation to eternity. O beg of God to “turn off your eyes from beholding vanity, and to quicken your souls in his way.” Pray to him to “increase your faith,” that your discernment of unseen things may be more clear, your enjoyment of them more rich, your improvement of them more uniform and abiding. Pray that your faith may be more and more influential on the whole of your life and conversation: and strive, in dependence on the Spirit of God, to walk more and more “worthy of your high calling.” St. Paul, in his most assured prospects of glory, “laboured, that, whether present in the body, or absent from it, he might be accepted of the Lord [Note: ver. 9.].” Do ye in this respect follow his example: “not setting your affections on any thing here below,” but “having your conversation altogether in heaven, from whence you look for the Lord Jesus Christ” “to come and take you to himself,” that you may “be with him, and like him “for ever [Note: 1 John 3:2.].]
THE IMPROVEMENT TO BE MADE OF THE DOCTRINE OF A FUTURE JUDGMENT
2 Corinthians 5:10-11. We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that erery one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.
TIME is generally thought to be of little use, except as it may be employed in amusements or in the prosecution of worldly business; but its value, as it stands connected with eternity, exceeds all calculation. The manner in which every hour is spent is recorded in heaven; every moment, as it were, increases our eternal happiness or misery. This consideration made the Apostle solicitous to redeem time himself, and to improve it for the good of others: “We knowing therefore,” &c.
The Apostle’s account of the day of judgment—
“Christ” is the person who shall judge the world—
[He who stood at Pilate’s bar is exalted for this purpose [Note: Acts 17:31.]. Our Lord himself plainly and repeatedly affirmed it [Note: John 5:22; John 5:27.].]
He will erect his “tribunal” in a solemn and public manner—
[Daniel spake of this in very exalted terms [Note: Daniel 7:9-10.]. Our Lord also has declared it [Note: Matthew 25:31.].]
Before this “we must all appear”—
[All who have ever existed from the beginning to the end of the world shall stand at his bar [Note: Revelation 20:12-13.]. None shall be able to elude or to withstand the summons [Note: John 5:28.].]
All that we have done in the body will then be made manifest—
[The secrets of every heart shall be disclosed [Note: Ecclesiastes 12:14.]. The mask will be taken from the face of the hypocrite: the tears and sighings of the contrite will be declared before all [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.].]
Then shall every one receive according to his doings, “whether they be good or bad”—
[The seeming inequalities of the Divine government will then be rectified: the godly will not then be any more condemned, or the wicked be justified. They who from faith and love have obeyed God shall be rewarded: they who have been disobedient and unbelieving shall be punished [Note: Romans 2:5-11.].]
The rewards and punishments shall be respectively proportioned to the good or evil that has been done—
[They who have greatly improved their talents will be greatly rewarded [Note: Luke 19:17; Luke 19:24.]: they whose sins have been peculiarly aggravated will be more severely punished [Note: Luke 12:47.].]
A more important consideration than this cannot enter into the mind of man.
The improvement which he made of it—
This subject is extremely awful even to the best of men—
[The most eminently pious are conscious of many defects. They know also the deceitfulness of their hearts. Hence not even St. Paul himself could fully rely on the verdict of his own conscience [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:4.].]
But it is full of “terror” to the ungodly—
[To see him as their Judge, whose dying love they despised! To be confronted with all their accomplices in wickedness! To have the books of God’s remembrance opened! To have all their secret thoughts and desires exposed! To know that their doom is irrevocably fixed! To wait the dreadful sentence from the mouth of their Judge! To have nothing but an eternity of unmixed misery before them! What can be more terrible [Note: Revelation 6:14-17.]?]
Paul well “knew” this terror of the Lord. He therefore laboured “to persuade men”—
[He persuaded men to “flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life:” he spared no pains to attain this object of his wishes [Note: Rom 15:19. 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.] — — — he regarded no sufferings if he might but prevail on some [Note: 2 Timothy 2:10. Acts 20:24.] — — —]
[We would improve this subject as the Apostle did. We know most assuredly these terrors of the Lord. We, on account of our office, are peculiarly interested in the events of that day [Note: Hebrews 13:17. If this subject were addressed to the Clergy, this thought should be amplified.]: we therefore would persuade you to repent, and believe the Gospel [Note: Mark 1:15.]: we would persuade you by every alarming or encouraging consideration. Consider the certainty of that day—the nearness of it—the greatness of the preparation necessary—and the consequence of dying unprepared. Consider the free remission, and the almighty assistance now offered you, and the blessedness of being prepared to meet your God. May we all lay these considerations to heart! May we at the last be found, not only almost, but altogether Christians!]
THE CONSTRAINING POWER OF CHRIST’S LOVE
2 Corinthians 5:14-15. The love of Christ conslraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
ST. PAUL was more abundant both in labours and in sufferings than any other of the Apostles: but his zeal was by many considered as no better than madness. To the lukewarm, as well as to those who were altogether careless, he appeared to be transported far beyond the bounds of reason and propriety; and they therefore did not hesitate to say that “he was beside himself.” But whilst he was thus condemned as a wild enthusiast, he cultivated in reality the strictest sobriety; as is evident throughout his whole history, and in all his epistles. But, “it was with him a small matter to be judged of man’s judgment:” he cared not what opinion his adversaries formed of him, whilst he had the consciousness that he was actuated by zeal for God, and by love to man. Nevertheless he was not backward to declare whence his zeal arose; nor was he afraid to let his enemies themselves judge whether it was rational or not. He tells them, that, “if he was beside himself, it was to God,” that he might be glorified; or, “if he was sober, it was for their cause,” that they might be benefited: but that, whatever judgment might be passed upon him, the love of Christ constrained him, and under the influence of that he thought it right to live entirely to his God.
In vindication of the Apostle, and for the regulating of our own minds, we shall inquire,
What it was which stimulated him to such unparalleled exertions—
It was “the love of Christ which constrained him.” By this I understand, not his love to Christ, but Christ’s love to him; which is here mentioned in its two great leading features;
His dying for us—
[Wonderful indeed was this love! that when he was incapable of any increase of honour or happiness himself, he left the bosom of his Father, and took our nature upon him with all its sinless infirmities, on purpose that he might expiate our guilt by his own blood, and work out a righteousness for our acceptance before God — — — That he should do this so readily, undertaking every thing as soon as it was proposed to him by the Father [Note: Psalms 40:6-8.], and adhering to his engagement till it was perfectly fulfilled, not dissuaded by any [Note: Matthew 16:23.], nor deterred by the dreadful prospect of all his sufferings [Note: Luke 12:50.], but drinking to the very dregs the bitter cup, and completing every thing till he could say “It is finished:” well may it be said, “What manner of love was this!”]
His employing for us the life that was restored to him at his resurrection—
[As “he died for our offences, so he rose again for our justification.” He is as much occupied about the work of our salvation now, as he was when living on earth, or dying on the cross: “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” Every thing is put into his hands, in order that he may manage it for our good. All the works of Providence are directed and overruled by him for the furtherance of our welfare: and he, as the living Head of his people, imparts to them such measures of grace as he sees needful for them. In a word, he lives in them as in his temple, and carries on the whole work of grace in them, and never suffers so much as “one of them to perish” — — — Can we wonder that such love as this constrained the Apostle, and carried him forward, like a resistless torrent, in the service of his God? — — —]
The Apostle, in further vindication of himself, proceeds to state,
Why he suffered it to have such an ascendant over him—
He acted not from feeling only, though doubtless the flame of love that was thus kindled in his soul burned with inextinguishable ardour [Note: Song of Solomon 8:7-8.]; but from judgment also: “he judged,”
That our obligations to the Lord Jesus Christ are infinite—
[It is plain, that “if one died for all, then were all dead.” And was this our state? Were we dead in trespasses and sins, and under a sentence of eternal condemnation? O! what do we owe to that Saviour who emptied himself of all his glory for us, “who died for us when enemies,” and actually became a curse for us, bearing in his own person all that was due to the iniquities of a guilty world! The apostate angels had no such mercy shewn to them: they fell, and had none to help them; and are therefore “reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” And had not the Lord Jesus Christ died for us, we had been dead still, and should have been to all eternity companions with the fallen angels in misery, as we have been in transgression. Moreover, his life is as necessary for us as his death: for if he did not keep us every moment, even as the apple of his eye, no one of us could endure unto the end: the great adversary of mankind, who tempted our first parents to sin, would beguile and ruin us for ever, if Jesus did not carry us in his bosom, and give us grace sufficient for our returning necessities.
Judge then whether this be not a reason for loving him, and for devoting ourselves unreservedly to his service? Can too much be done for him, who has done, and is doing, so much for us? Or should we think much of any sufferings that we may be called to endure for him? Should we not even rejoice if we are counted worthy to suffer for him, and welcome even death itself, if only “his name may be magnified?” If to entertain such sentiments, and to pursue such conduct, be madness, I would to God that we all were as obnoxious to the charge as Paul himself! But let the world say or think as they will, such a devotedness to God is “a reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].”]
That the very end for which the Lord Jesus Christ has conferred those obligations upon us, is, that he may bind us to himself in a state of holy obedience—
[It is not to rescue us from death and hell only, that Jesus has died for us, but to deliver us also from sin and Satan, and to bring us back to the state from which we are fallen. Were we created holy and happy, even like the angels themselves? to that state would the Lord Jesus elevate us again, that both in this world and to all eternity we may delight ourselves in God. This is declared to be the express purpose of his death [Note: Titus 2:14.].” Did he then “die to redeem us from all iniquity,” and shall we still live in sin of any kind? Did he die to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works; and shall we not labour to attain this blessed character? Shall there be any bounds to our zeal; or shall we restrain it because a blind and ungodly world agree to call it madness? What if Mary was censured by the proud Pharisee for her over-righteous zeal; did Christ condemn it? Did he not even compel the Pharisee unwittingly to condemn himself [Note: Luke 7:37-47.]? We mean not by this to justify any departure from real sobriety of mind; for religion is a sober thing, being not like the transient glare of a meteor, but like the steady course of the sun: but this we would do; we would dissuade all from living in any measure to themselves, and bring them to live wholly and entirely to their God; and, if the world deride this as enthusiasm, and prescribe to us a lower standard of duty, we would say with Peter, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye;” for we cannot but consult his will, and approve ourselves to him [Note: Acts 4:19-20.].]
Let us all seek an interest in Christ—
[Has he died for us; and shall we die too? God forbid. It is a blessed truth, that he has “died for all,” and “given himself a ransom for all,” and “tasted death for every man,” and made himself “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” How awful then the thought that any should “perish, for whom Christ died!” What a bitter reflection will it be to such persons in the eternal world, that Christ died for them, and yet they would not seek for salvation from him! O that this may not be our unhappy state! Let us look to him, and believe in him, and live by faith upon him now, that we may live with him for evermore.]
Let us meditate much upon his love—
[Were we but duly sensible of his love to us, we could not refrain from loving and serving him. O think what a subject for contemplation this is! It has been the one theme of praise and adoration in heaven for thousands of years, and will be to all eternity; and shall we not delight in the contemplation of it? It has “a height and depth, and length and breadth, that is utterly unsearchable.” Beloved brethren, meditate upon it, till the fire kindle in your hearts, and you be constrained to “glorify him with your bodies and your spirits which are his.”]
Let us endeavour to answer the true end of all his love—
[You have heard what this was, even “that you should not henceforth live unto yourselves, but unto him.” Now, then, set about the blessed work. Let the pleasures, the riches, the honours of the world be to you as the dirt under your feet: “be crucified to the world, and let the world be crucified unto you.” And begin to walk as Christ walked, and to follow the example which St. Paul has set you. Let the world despise you, if they please; seek ye the approbation of your God: and when they, like Michal, deride your piety, say ye with holy David, “If this is to be vile, I will be yet more vile than thus [Note: 2 Samuel 6:22.].”]
THE CHRISTIAN A NEW CREATURE
2 Corinthians 5:17. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
A FAITHFUL discharge of our duty to God has in every age rather provoked the displeasure, than conciliated the favour, of a wicked world. The most eminent characters, instead of escaping censure by means of their distinguished piety, have on the contrary incurred the greatest portion of obloquy and reproach. It was thus that St. Paul’s love and zeal were requited by many at Corinth; he was deemed “beside himself.” But indifferent both to their censure and applause, he declared to them the motives by which he was actuated; he told them plainly that he was under the constraining influence of the love of Christ, and that, however strange his views and actions might appear, they, if they were Christians indeed, would certainly adopt and imitate them; their present views and habits would pass away, and all become new. In the words of the text we have the character of a Christian,
A man is said to be “in Christ,” when he is engrafted into him as a branch of the living vine, or, in other words, when he truly believes in Christ: he is then a Christian. But in order to shew what a change every man experiences when he becomes a Christian, the Apostle says of him that he is “a new creation [Note: Κτίσις.].” In this term there is a reference to the creation of the world, which may be considered as a type or pattern of that work which God performs in the hearts of his people. The correspondence between them may be seen in the manner, the order, and the end of their formation—
In the manner—
[The world was created by God, according to his own sovereign will, without the intervention of human aid: and, though brought into existence in a moment, was gradually perfected in its various parts [Note: Genesis 1:3-31.]. Thus the souls of God’s people are regenerated purely by the sovereign will of God, and entirely through the agency of his word and Spirit [Note: James 1:18. John 1:13.Titus 3:5; Titus 3:5.]; though they use the appointed means, it is God alone that renders those means effectual [Note: 1Co 3:5-6 and Ephesians 2:10.]; “He who made the light to shine out of darkness, shines into their hearts to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].” There is an instant of time, however unknown to us, when the new man as well as the old, receives the vital principle; a moment, wherein we are “quickened from the dead,” and “pass from death unto life:” but the work of grace is carried on in a constant progression, and “the inward man is renewed day by day [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:16.].”]
In the order—
[Light was the first thing that was produced in the material world: and, after that, the confused chaos was reduced to such a state as that there should be an harmony in all the parts, and a subserviency in each to the good of the whole. Thus light is first darted into the mind of the regenerate man [Note: Colossians 3:10.]; a view of his guilt and misery is given to him, and then his disorderly passions, which blinded his judgment and sensualized his soul, are rendered subject to reason and religion [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18. Colossians 1:9-10.].]
In the end—
[The world was formed by God for his own glory: as all things were by him, so also were they for him [Note: Colossians 1:16. Revelation 4:11.], It is for this end also that he renews the souls of men after his own image. He rejoices indeed in the good of his creatures, and in a subordinate measure may propose that as the end of his dispensations: but we are assured his principal intent is, to shew forth the exceeding riches of his own grace, and to exalt himself in the eyes of his redeemed people [Note: Ephesians 2:7.].]
We are at no loss to understand the preceding figure, since we have, in the text, its import,
Justly is a work of grace represented as a new creation; for, as in the reduction of the confused chaos to order and beauty, so also in the restoration of the soul after God’s image, “old things pass away and all things become new.” The Christian experiences this change,
In his views of every important subject—
[He once judged sin to be a light and venial evil: if it were of a very gross nature indeed, or committed against himself in particular, he might feel some indignation against it: but if it were not reprobated by the world, or injurious to himself, he would behold it without sorrow and practise it without remorse. But very different are his views of it when once his eyes are opened to behold it in its true colours: it then appears to him as base, loathsome, abominable: he hates it from his inmost soul: he desires deliverance from it as much as from hell itself: he would not harbour it in his heart for one moment, but would extirpate it utterly, as well from his thoughts as from his actions. Nor are his sentiments less altered respecting Christ: he once felt no love towards him, notwithstanding he complimented him with the name of Saviour. But now the name of Jesus is precious to him: he is filled with admiring thoughts of his incomprehensible love: he adores him with devoutest affection; and “cleaves to him with full purpose of heart.” He once “saw no beauty nor comeliness in him;” but now views him as “fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely.” The same change takes place with respect to the world, and holiness, and every thing that has any relation to eternity: so that he really becomes altogether a new creature.]
In the great ends and aim of his life—
[The unregenerate man, to whatever class he may belong, whether he be sensual and profane, or moral and devout, invariably makes self the principle and end of all his actions: his life is one continued scene of self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-complacency. He makes his very duties to God subservient to his main end of gratifying his desire after self-approbation and the applause of man. But these old desires are mortified when once he becomes a real Christian: they will indeed often rise in his mind, because he is “renewed only in part;” but he has a far higher end, which he infinitely prefers, and to which he gives a deliberate, determined ascendency. He has a concern for the honour of his God; and he strives that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus. Whether his actions be of a civil or religious nature, he still proposes to himself the same end, to glorify God with his body and his spirit which are God’s [Note: 1 Peter 4:11. 1 Corinthians 6:20. 1 Corinthians 10:31.]. To this the Apostle seems to have peculiar respect in the preceding context [Note: See ver. 15. with which, rather than with ver. 16. the text is connected.]; nor is there any thing that more strongly characterizes the child of God.]
Let every one put this question to himself, Am I a real Christian?
[The Apostle leaves no room for exceptions in favour of any man whatsoever; “if any man be a Christian, he is, and must be, a new creature.” Nor does this import a mere change from profligacy to morality, or from a neglect of outward duties to the performance of them: the change must be entire; it must pervade every faculty of the soul; it must influence all our words and actions, our thoughts and desires, our motives and principles. Has then this great change been accomplished in us? On this point eternity depends. O that we might not give sleep to our eyes or slumber to our eyelids, till we can return a favourable answer upon sure and scriptural grounds!]
Let those who have experienced a work of grace, seek to have it carried on and perfected in their souls—
[It must ever be remembered, that the renovation of the soul is a gradual and progressive work: we are to be continually putting off the old man, and putting on the new [Note: Ephesians 4:22-24.]. Let us then not rest in low attainments; but rather, “forgetting the things that are behind, let us press forward unto that which is before.” Let us beg of God to “perfect that which concerneth us,” and to form us altogether “into his own image in righteousness and true holiness.” It is by our progress that we must manifest the work to have been begun; and then only can we be sure that our path is right, when, “like the light, it shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”]
THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION
2 Corinthians 5:19-20. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christs stead, be ye reconciled to God.
NATURAL as well as revealed religion teaches us that God is the author and giver of all good things. He originally formed man out of the dust of the earth, and still brings us into existence in our successive generations. He appoints the time and place of our birth: he bestows the talents we severally possess: he preserves the health of our bodies, and the vigour of our minds: “in him we altogether live, and move, and have our being.” Nor is it less evident that redemption also is the work of his hands: for he formed the plan alone, and executed it without the creature’s aid. He sent his Son; and qualified him for his office; and upheld him in it. He laid our iniquities on him; and accepted his vicarious sacrifice; and commissioned his Apostles to declare these tidings to the world. All this is plainly asserted in the passage before us; from which we shall,
Shew what God has done to save us—
There are two things particularly specified in the text:
He has wrought salvation for us—
[Man in innocence walked with God as a friend; but, as soon as he had fallen, shunned his presence, and fled from him as an enemy. Since that time “the carnal and unrenewed mind has been in a state of enmity against God;” and all the children of men have shewn themselves “enemies to God in their minds by wicked works.” To effect a reconciliation for themselves was impossible: but God, in his infinite mercy, opened a way for their restoration to his favour. He assumed our nature, and, in the person of Jesus Christ, became our substitute and surety; that, by his own obedience to the law which we had broken, and his enduring of the penalties which we had incurred, he might make satisfaction to his injured justice, and pardon us without any dishonour to himself. By this means “he has reconciled the world unto himself;” “nor will he impute to any their trespasses,” if they will accept the reconciliation which he offers them.]
He has sent salvation to us—
[God has in every age raised up men to whom “he has committed the word of reconciliation,” on purpose that they might publish it to their fellow-creatures. He has not committed it to angels, whose presence would confound us, and who, from their never having tasted the bitterness of sin, would probably be unable to sympathize with us: but he has appointed those to speak to us, who are “encompassed with the same infirmities,” and who need the same forgiveness, as ourselves. To these “he has given the ministry of reconciliation.” He sends them forth, not to tell men how to purchase his favour, or how (as the common expression is) to make their peace with God; but to inform them, that “Christ is our peace,” and that “God, for Christ’s sake, is ready to forgive us all our trespasses.” This is the sum and substance of the Gospel. This is the “treasure which God hath put into us earthen vessels,” for the enriching of the poor, and the saving of the lost. And, in having thus sent the tidings of salvation home to our own doors, he has done what will leave us without excuse for ever.]
That such grace may not be displayed in vain, let us,
Urge you to accept salvation—
The message we are commissioned to deliver to you, is, “Be reconciled to God”—
[Acknowledge that you have indeed been enemies to God. Surely none of us can doubt whether such have been our state. Let us only look back upon our violations of his law, and they will bear ample testimony to this melancholy truth.
Being convinced of your enmity against God, be humbled for it in dust and ashes. It is not possible to bewail too deeply the guilt which you have contracted.
Be careful to seek reconciliation with God in the way which he has pointed out. Beware of attempting to make satisfaction, as it were, for your sins; for you owe ten thousand talents, and cannot pay one single mite. God in Christ has taken your debt upon himself; and he is willing “frankly to forgive you all.” Go to him then, and receive mercy at his hands “without money, and without price [Note: Some have thought that because we are called upon to be reconciled to God, the enmity subsists only on our part. But not to mention a multitude of passages that represent God as “angry with the wicked,” the very term διαλλάγηθιis used by our Lord himself as expressive of the offending party seeking pardon from the offended, Matthew 5:24.].”]
As ambassadors of Christ we would urge our suit with becoming earnestness—
[Though we are neither inspired, nor empowered to work miracles, like the Apostles of old, yet are we truly “ambassadors from Christ” to a guilty world; and we come in his name and stead to treat with you respecting peace. We proclaim an eternal amnesty, if you return to your allegiance: and though, as God’s representatives, we might command, yet, after Christ’s example, “we beseech you to be reconciled to God.”
And is this an unreasonable request? Is it not, on the contrary, most reasonable that you should be reconciled to him, who never rendered any thing to you but good, in return for all the evil you have done against him? Is it not madness to continue in rebellion against him, who must prevail at last? And is it not better to bow to the sceptre of his grace, than to be “broken in pieces with his rod of iron?”
What would you reply, if God should entreat you by a voice from heaven? would you still refuse? Know then, that “God himself beseeches you by us;” and if you continue to pour contempt on this mercy, your “punishment will be sore” indeed.]
[What account now shall we give to him who sent us? Must we return and say, “Lord, we have spoken to them; but they will not hear; we have invited; but they all begin with one consent to make excuse?” O think with yourselves, how soon “this day of acceptance and salvation” may be passed; and how aggravated will be your condemnation, if you reject these overtures of mercy! Let not our embassy be unsuccessful; but be prevailed upon to “seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is near.” Remember however that, if you be restored to God’s favour, you must also be reconciled to his government: you must not assume a subject’s name, and retain a rebel’s heart: if you “name the name of Christ, you must depart from all iniquity.”]
THE WAY OF RECONCILIATION WITH GOD
2 Corinthians 5:21. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
A MORE important question cannot be asked than this, “How shall man be just with God?” In the words before us, that question is resolved. The Apostle has before declared in more general terms, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them:” but in our text he enters more particularly into the subject, and informs us, that, in order to effect a reconciliation between our offended God and us, God caused a double transfer to be made; first, of our sins to Christ, that they might be punished in him; and next, of Christ’s righteousness to us, that it might be rewarded in us, and that we might be accepted through it. This doctrine of the mutual transfer of our sins to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness to us, being not generally understood, we will,
Two things are to be explained:
The imputation of our sins to Christ—
[It is an undoubted fact, that the Lord Jesus Christ died under the curse of God’s broken law. But was he himself a sinner? No: in him was no sin: both in his Divine and human nature he was perfectly holy: and he was able to appeal to his bitterest enemies, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” Indeed, if he had had sin himself, he could not have atoned for our sins. The lamb that was slain at the passover was to be without spot or blemish: and such was Christ, after the fullest possible examination, proclaimed to be by the very judge who condemned him. It was for our sins that he died: they were laid upon him by his own consent, that they might be punished in him, and that through his vicarious sacrifice we might be absolved. This will be best understood by the sacrifices which were offered under the law. The person who had sinned was exposed to the wrath of his offended God. But by God’s appointment he brought an offering, a bullock or a kid, and, after putting his hands upon the head of his offering in token of his transferring his guilt to it, the victim was slain in his stead, and he was absolved from his guilt. The particular command, that the offender should put his hand on the head of his offering, place beyond all reasonable doubt the point we are insisting on [Note: Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:29. See also particularly Leviticus 16:21-22.] — — —]
The imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us—
[Man, though forgiven, was still incapable of fulfilling perfectly in future the law of God, and consequently was incapable of working out a righteousness wherein he could stand before God. A righteousness therefore was provided for him fully adequate to all the demands of God’s holy law, even the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by his own obedience unto death, not only “made an end of sin, and reconciliation for iniquity, but brought in also an everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24.],” which is “unto all, and upon all them that believe in him [Note: Romans 3:21-22.].” It is on this account that he is called, “The Lord our righteousness.” Thus, “He is made righteousness unto us,” and we are made, as our text expresses it, “the righteousness of God in him.” It is not to be expected that this should be capable of such illustration as the former point, because nothing similar to it ever did, or could, exist: yet we may behold something of the kind in the very sacrifices which were first offered. We are informed, that, after their fall, our first parents “sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons,” because by their sin they had made themselves naked to their shame. But God, we are told, “made coats of skins, and clothed them [Note: Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:21.].” If it be asked, of what beasts were these skins? we answer, of those beasts which God had previously appointed to be offered in sacrifice to him: (for, if this was not the time when sacrifices were ordained, we have no account whatever of their first institution, notwithstanding they were undoubtedly of Divine origin:) and the very beasts which died as sacrifices for their sins, provided them also with clothing to cover their nakedness. Thus the Lord Jesus by his death atones for our sins, and by his righteousness clothes us as with an unspotted robe, in which we stand before our God without spot or blemish [Note: Isaiah 61:10.].]
But as this doctrine is disputed by many, we will proceed to,
Some deny this doctrine as unscriptural, whilst others abuse it to licentiousness: but against all we will vindicate it as the only true way of reconciliation with God: against,
The proud infidel—
[One will say, this doctrine of a mutual transfer is not agreeable to my reason. But reason is not competent to judge of these matters. This is a point of pure revelation: and the office of reason in relation to it is, not to sit in judgment upon it, but to inquire whether it be really revealed: and, if it be, then is it to be assented to as true, whether we can comprehend it or not. But it is not at all repugnant to reason. We see daily somewhat of a similar nature transacted before our eyes. A man has made himself surety for his friend; that friend becomes insolvent; and his debt is required at the hands of his surety. If it be not discharged, the surety is imprisoned: but if the surety discharges the debt, the original debtor has no further claim made upon him. Thus do reason and experience fully sanction the substitution of the innocent for the guilty, and the liberation of the guilty through the sufferings of the innocent. And that this is the way for man’s reconciliation with God, is abundantly testified throughout all the inspired writings. That the types are all founded in this notion, has already appeared: and the prophecies declare the same with one voice. No one can read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and doubt of this truth. “All our iniquities were laid upon him:” “he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed.” The New Testament speaks the same language throughout: “He bare our sins in his own body on the tree,” and “suffered, the just for the unjust [Note: 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18.].” Here there is a substitution of Christ in the place of sinners: just as it is said, that peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die; that is, would die in his place, in order to preserve his life; so Christ died for, and in the place of, the ungodly, that by his own death he might preserve them from everlasting death [Note: Romans 5:6-8.]. Yes, however the scoffing infidel may deride these things, they are the very truth of God; nor is there any other way of reconciliation for any child of man.]
The self-righteous Pharisee—
[Many will admit that Christ died for sinners, who yet cannot receive the idea of his righteousness being imputed to them for their justification before God. They think that, though Christ by his death atoned for our sins, we are to procure for ourselves a title to heaven by a righteousness of our own. But this cannot be; for it would give to man a ground of glorying before God, when God has expressly said that all boasting is excluded by the Gospel, and that men must glory in Christ alone. This was the great error of the Pharisees of old; and it proved a stumbling-block to them to their everlasting ruin [Note: Romans 9:31-33; Romans 10:1-2.]. This is the great error of the Papists also, and, more than all other things, contributed to stir up the more enlightened part of the Christian world to separate themselves from the corruptions of the Church of Rome. Happy would it be, if many, who call themselves Protestants, did not in this matter go back again to the heresies which they profess to have renounced! But however pertinaciously men cling to the covenant of works, they never can obtain salvation by it: they must lay hold on the covenant of grace: they must renounce their own righteousness, even as the Apostle Paul himself did, and seek for acceptance by Christ’s alone [Note: Philippians 3:9.]: “in Christ shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory [Note: Isaiah 45:25.].”]
The Antinomian professor—
[There are, it must be confessed, some who abuse the doctrine of our text, and maintain, that, because Christ is our righteousness, we need no righteousness of our own. They acknowledge indeed that Christ is our sanctification: but they suppose that his sanctification is imputed to us in the same way as his righteousness. But this is contrary both to reason and Scripture; for sanctification necessarily implies a change both of heart and life. We may easily conceive righteousness to be imputed, and that persons not righteous in themselves, may be dealt with as righteous on account of the righteousness of another: but it is not possible that a person can be made inwardly holy by the holiness of another, any more than a dead tree can be made a fruitful one by having the fruit of another tree suspended on it. And the Scripture universally requires us to be daily putting off the old man and putting on the new. If real and radical holiness be not required of us, why is it so strongly and so continually inculcated throughout all the apostolic writings? Of those who deny that the law is to the believer a rule of life, we would ask one question: What does the law require which the Gospel does not? The law requires us to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves; and what does the Gospel require less? What part of our duty does it dispense with? Alas! it is a fatal error to imagine that holiness is not as necessary now as formerly. Were this true, Christ would actually be a minister of sin, in that he would be vacating the obligations of God’s law, which is as immutable as God himself. For our justification, it is true, we do not need any righteousness of our own; and if we were to attempt to unite our righteousness to that of Christ, we should make void the whole Gospel; and Christ would have died in vain. But to attest the reality of our faith, and manifest our love to Christ j to glorify our God on earth, and obtain a meetness for heaven, holiness is absolutely indispensable; and if we cultivate it not, even universal holiness of heart and life, we shall never see the kingdom of God.]
Having thus endeavoured to establish the doctrine of our text, we proceed,
To improve it—
Let no man despair of mercy—
[What can any person want in order to his reconciliation with God, which has not been already wrought? There is a perfect atonement for your sins, and a perfect righteousness for your justification; and the benefits of both are offered you freely, without money and without price. All that is necessary to your reconciliation on God’s part, is already done by Jesus Christ: and all that remains to be done on your part, is to receive gratefully what God offers freely. Truly this is, if I may so call it, the religion of a sinner: it is suited to sinners of every class: and wherever it is received in truth, it shall prove effectual for our present peace, and our everlasting salvation.]
Let no man attempt to alter the plan which God himself has devised—
[We are ever leaning to the side of self-righteousness. But the righteousness which God imputes to us is, and ever must be, “a righteousness without works [Note: Romans 4:6.].” We must be justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Why should we wish to alter this? What is it less than madness for a person destitute of one single farthing to undertake to pay ten thousand talents, when he may be freely forgiven his whole debt? Be content to be indebted wholly to the grace of God and the mediation of the Lord Jesus: and let God alone be exalted in your salvation.]
Let all who embrace this salvation endeavour to adorn it—
[This is the duty of all, and the privilege of all; this is what “the grace of God teaches us;” and it is a most important end of our union with Christ [Note: Romans 7:4.]. Are you reconciled to God? endeavour henceforth to manifest your friendship towards him in every possible way. Think not much of any thing you are called either to do or suffer for his sake. Can any thing be too much to do for one who has done so much for you, or to suffer for one who has suffered so much for you? If a man will lay down his life for an earthly friend, of how small account should you reckon any temporal interests, or even life itself, for such a friend as this? Seek to know more and more of this stupendous mystery revealed in our text: and, whilst you are filled by it with rapturous admiration, give full scope to all its transforming efficacy, till it has changed you into the very image of your God.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25