« PreviousContinue »
On Tue Divinity Of Christ.
2 Peter Ii. 1.
There shall be false ttachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
"Whosoever will be saved, before all things, it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith," "the faith which was once delivered to the saints," and has been maintained by the Christian Church, from the time of its foundation even until now. It was to disseminate this faith that our Lord Jesus Christ sent forth his apostles, and promised to be "with them alway, even unto the end of the world;" and they, in the fulfilment of the lofty commission with which they had been invested, travelled to the ends of the earth, "in weariness and painfullness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness," in order to " preach among the heathen the unsearchable riches of Christ." They saw, however, by the spirit of prophecy which had been given them from above, that despite all their vigilance and all their zeal, there would arise in the Church "false apostles, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ," —" teaching tilings which they ought not,"—" causing divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine of the gospel, and by good words and fair speeches deceiving the hearts of the simple." They knew, moreover, that " the time would come when the people would not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts should heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;" and, therefore, whilst they cautioned their converts against being led away even by an angel from heaven who should preach unto them " any other gospel than that they had received," they also pressed earnestly upon " those who were set over them in the Lord," their obligation to maintain a stedfast opposition against the least departure from the truth, by preaching the word zealously and carefully, not "shunning to declare all the counsel of God."
The events which they predicted speedily came to pass. For scarcely were the foot-prints of the Saviour effaced from the earth, and the vine* yard of his Church was yet cultivated by some of those labourers to whom he had personally entrusted the work, when divers heresies began to be introduced, and the simplicity in Jesus to be grievously corrupted. And from that time to the present there have ever been found amongst " those who profess and call themselves Christians," many by whom the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel have been opposed and denied, whilst others have been taught on the authority of divine revelation, what that revelation expressly condemns.
The heresy which the apostle refers to in our text consisted, in part, in rejecting the doctrine of the atonement. The false teachers by whom it was maintained " denied the Lord that bought them ;" they refused to the Saviour the attribute of deity, and poured contempt on the sacrifice of the Cross. Nor have these awful sentiments yet passed away. There still exist those who seek to rob Christ of his godhead, and would fain reduce, in the apprehension of his followers, his office of Saviour and Redeemer of the world, of Mediator between God and man, to that of a mere teacher of morality, who came only to declare more plainly, and to enforce more strongly, what was already partially known. I purpose, therefore, my brethren, in the first place, briefly to state from holy Scripture, the doctrine of the atonement, which forms so important a portion of the faith for which we are directed to contend; and then to consider the momentous practical results to which, when received into an honest and good heart, that doctrine gives rise.
You know that God originally made man holy and pure; for God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness;" but he who had been thus formed by the hand of the Almighty Creator fell from his state of holiness and bliss, and forfeited the favour of Heaven by eating of the fruit whereof he had been commanded, "Thou shalt not eat of it, neither shalt thou touch it, lest thou die." Then did the sentence of death pass upon himself and his posterity; henceforward he became "by nature inclined to evil," unable to regain the favour of God, and exposed to his wrath and eternal damnation. Such was our state, " having no hope, and without God in the world;" but when we were thus without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly." For " God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He " was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Though " all we like sheep have gone astray, and have turned every man to his own way, yet the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," and so " mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Yea, truly, he paid the penalty of our transgressions, and "we are therefore accounted righteous before God, not for our own works or deservings, but only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," whilst, moreover, it is solely through his humiliation and sufferings that the precious gift of the Holy Spirit hath been obtained for us, whereby alone we are enabled to fulfil those conditions of repentance and faith without which even his merits would prove unavailing.
Now, from this statement, my brethren, we cannot but be struck, in the first place, with the exceeding sinfulness of sin. The Majesty of heaven had been offended; and though men should " come before the Lord with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old, with thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil;" though they should testify their sorrow by giving their first-bom for their transgressions, the fruit of their bodies for the sin of their souls ;" yet all would be insufficient to make satisfaction to the Most High, and procure his reconciliation and favour. "Sacrifice and meat-offering he would not; in burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin he had no pleasure:" the blood of bulls, therefore, and of goats, could not possibly take away sin, and unless He, of whom it had been written in die volume of the book that he should do his Father's will, he who was with God from the beginning, and "was God, unless he had "for us men, and for our salvation, come down from heaven," and offered up his body on the cross a sacrifice for the sins of the world, we have no reason to believe that any better hope would have been brought in, than that we must perish everlastingly. See, then, my brethren, if you receive this statement as correct, see how dreadful a thing is sin; how hateful and abominable in the sight of the Almighty, when nothing less than the humiliation and death of his well-heloved Son, who partook of his nature, and shared in his perfections, could be accepted as an atonement, and release us from its penalty. How shall we be otherwise than humble when we reflect on the awful nature of our guilt! how, otherwise than careful to "sin no more," when we remember in what light sin is regarded by our Father in heaven! Deny, however, the truth of this representation, divest Christ of his divinity, and his death of its character, as a sacrifice and an atonement, and see how unworthily you sink your transgressions in the estimation of your Maker, how you make it a light and easy thing for him to forgive iniquity and sin; how, in short, you trifle with his mercy, and tamper with his justice, and thus remove from the mind of the Christian one of the most powerful considerations to induce him to walk in the way of God's commandments!
But whilst we are taught by this doctrine of Christ's atonement the exceeding sinfulness of sin, we cannot, at the same time, fail to be impressed with the wonderful love of God. Wonderful indeed it is, and past finding out, if we consider it only with reference to " our creation, preservation, and the blessings of this life;" but when we regard it as manifested in " the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ," to which redemption the means of grace owe all their efficacy, and whereby alone we became possessed of the hope of glory, we have then before us an exhibition of the Almighty loving-kindness, such as the intellect of an archangel is unable to grasp, and which eternity alone can teach us to comprehend. It was, indeed, a noble display of faith and obedience when Abraham, even at the command of his heavenly Father, of whose goodness and mercy he had had such unbounded experience, took his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, to offer him up for a burnt-offering in the place which God should tell him of: but what shall we think of the intensity of that love whereby God was induced to spare not his only Son, the man of his right hand, whom he had made strong for himself, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, in whom dwelt all the fulness of the godhead bodily, whom all the angels of God were commanded to worship;—what, I say, shall we think of the love which prompted him to give up this his beloved Son, in whom he was wellpleased, to live upon earth a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, to endure the contradiction of sinners against himself, to be " captive, beaten, bound, reviled,"* to become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, in order that a world dead in trespasses and sins, a world consisting of those who had despised his counsel, and would none of his reproof; of those who had rebelled against him, neither had obeyed his voice, to walk in his laws; of those, in short, who were enemies in their
minds, by wicked works ;—what, I repeat, shall we think of the love whereby God gave up his only-begotten Son to a life of shame and a death of agony, in order that a world such as this might be rescued from a state of never-ending perdition? Is there any consideration of equal power to induce us to love the Lord our God in return, yea, to love him with all the heart, with all the soul, with all the mind, and with all the strength? We may, indeed, and we ought, to love him for our creation, that he hath called us into existence, and furnished us with such glorious endowments both of mind and body, as to make us but a little lower than the angels, and crown us with glory and honour. We may, indeed, and we ought, to love him for our preservation, that he hath provided us with so many comforts and blessings for " the life that now is;" that his mercies are new every morning, and repeated every evening. But shall we not, far more especially, "love him because he hath first loved us, and hath sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins?" Shall we not find this instance of compassion powerful beyond all others, to induce us to "show forth his praise by giving up ourselves to his service, and by walking before him in holiness and righteousness all our days f"
And when we think of the love of Him who, in compliance with the Father's purpose, laid down his life for his enemies, who died that they might live, and who is now gone to prepare a place in heaven for those who, by repentance and faith, will accept of his offered salvation, shall not the thought work in us a return of love which will delight to manifest itself in the way that he hath prescribed—by keeping his commandments? Shall it not stir us up, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to work out our salvation by a patient continuance in well-doing, lest we should, as far as we are able, frustrate the object of his mission, and render "the mystery of his holy incarnation, his holy nativity, and circumcision, his baptism, fasting, and temptation; his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and passion, his precious death and burial, his glorious resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost," so far as respects ourselves, all in vain? Shall it not urge us ever to " press forward toward the mark, for the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus," since, if we "draw back unto perdition," independently of the miserable consequences that will result to ourselves, "we crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame T" Surely no consideration can be conceived more powerful than this, of the wondrous love of our Great High Priest in offering up himself to bear the sins of many; no consideration, I say, can be conceived more powerful to effect the purpose for which he " both died and rose again,"—" that he might purify us unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." But if we look upon Him, who was God manifest in the flesh, simply as the highest of created beings, and regard his life solely in the light of an example, and his death in no higher view than that of an attestation to the truth of his mission, though we cannot but feel for him such admiration and love as we feel for the martyrs of the truth, and the benefactors of the world, yet inasmuch as we acknowledge not the greatest of those benefits which, by the appointment of the Father, he wrought in our behalf, we miserably detract from his claims on our gratitude and affection, and shall accordingly fix but a low standard for the love which we ought to render him in return: whilst, moreover, by thus " denying the Lord that bought us," and " counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing," we cast from us the high and powerful motive to holiness of life arising from the costly price wherewith we have been redeemed.
But besides the moral results arising from these important truths of the sinfulness of sin and the love of God, the atonement of Christ, by impressing upon us the fundamental doctrine of the gospel,—that " by grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast,"—tends to work in us a spirit of deep humility and dependence on God. It teaches us to ascribe our salvation entirely to the merits of Him who died to save us, since it is only in consideration of them that our sins are forgiven, and that imperfect obedience to his commands is accepted, which the Holy Spirit, sent through his intercession, enables us to render. Hence, whenever it produces its due effect, whilst it renders us " careful to maintain good works," from the consideration that we have been thereto redeemed, it also banishes far away all arrogance and selfexaltation, by the recollection that such works " cannot of themselves endure the severity of God's judgment," but are " pleasant and acceptable to him " only "in Christ," being, moreover, wrought by the help of" the grace of God preventing us, that we may have a good-will, and working with us when we have that good-will." He, therefore, who receives this doctrine of Christ's atonement in sincerity and truth, can never be otherwise than humble-minded, and will be ready, equally with reference to bis best attainments in holiness as to the glorious reward of everlasting salvation, to exclaim in the words of the Psalmist, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name, give the glory." They, however, who reject this doctrine, must suppose, in direct contradiction to the apostolic declaration, that the happiness of heaven is given to man in consideration of his goodness and virtue; that he is, in short, "saved by works of righteousness which he hath done;" and that these works are of themselves sufficient to obtain from him, " in whose sight the very heavens are not clean, and who chargeth his angels with folly," the glorious and unspeakable gift of eternal life. I need not point out how awfully such persons "deny the Lord that bought them ;" nor can you fail to perceive how grievously their notions tend to foster a spirit of pride and self-confidence, whilst they rob Christ of the glory that is due to his name, and insult the Lord of heaven and earth by offering as a sacrifice well pleasing in his sight, that from which he cannot but turn away with contempt and indignation.
From sentiments such as these, my brethren, may God of his great mercy keep you free! and having "brought you nigh unto himself by the blood of the cross," may he preserve you from being led away by any " strong delusion to believe a lie!" It is in the hope of keeping you, by his blessing, " sound in the faith," that I have endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to state the practical consequences of a doctrine which may be truly regarded as the sum and substance of the christian revelation; so that, seeing the important bearing which it has on the state of your hearts and the actions of your lives, you may " give the more earnest heed lest at any time you should let it slip ;" and may also