It cannot be denied that man, according to the measure in which God has endowed him with wisdom, has in his fallen condition accomplished marvels. He has digged deep into the bowels of the earth; he has torn up the mountains by the roots; by him the everlasting hills have been disembowelled; he has sawn his way through the granite ribs of the planet, from the dust of which his primal parent was formed, brought its entrails to light, and examined post mortem its pre-Adamic inhabitants.
His inventive genius has made it possible for him to mount up into the heavens; to explore the starry systems; to measure the greatness, the density, the weight, the movements, and the orbits of suns, planets, satellites. In imitation of God he tells the number of the stars, and calls them by their names (Ps. 147:4).
Nor are the secrets and resources of nature hidden from him. The electric current will faithfully carry a message for him to the utmost limits of the world. He can rival the eagle in his airy flights and the deep-sea monster in his watery pilgrimages. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, and his inventions also are both fearful and wonderful.
And in these works of his are brought to light his moral characteristics, for when we examine the use to which his inventive powers are dedicated, we have to admit that there are very few of his achievements that are not with a view to the destruction of his own unhappy race. Every power of nature is by him requisitioned with a view to the overthrow and annihilation of his fellows, and for no other object than the satisfaction of his own wretched ambition. How horrible it is to have to contemplate the human race as the ardent disciple and imitator of that old anointed cherub, the fell destroyer of our race, and rivalling him in wickedness and cruelty! In his works the fallen nature of man comes clearly into evidence, but how terribly to his disadvantage.
Yet the most awful engines of destruction, while casting upon the soul the fearful gloom of the infernal regions, are able to give one an unspeakable impression of the marvellous inventive genius of the human mind. And in these inventions men pride themselves, seek to make themselves a name, to ascend into the firmament of earthly splendour, and to get a little worship from their fellows. And in measure they are successful; for God, who made man at the beginning and endowed him with all the wisdom needful to make him happy, is of no account in the struggle for human greatness.
The things most sought after and admired are the things in which man in his fallen condition comes most into light. The reign of a tyrant is more interesting reading than the kindly government of a beneficent monarch. “Paradise Lost” is much more engaging to the natural mind than is “Paradise Regained.” “Harrowing details” of some terrible crime or catastrophe will have thousands of readers, while the fair history of a patient life of well-doing lies utterly neglected on the shelf. The strong hand of the law is needed to keep the printing press from pouring its bestial corruption into the bosom of the people; and we must keep in mind that it is the customer that makes the article, and the supply is always limited by the demand.
I mention this because it is in all these things that what is in man’s moral nature is manifested. Men themselves come to light in their actions. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil (Luke 6:45). And the evil that the soul lusts after finds abundant supply in an evil world.
And men persuade themselves into thinking things are not so bad because they seem to have an appreciation for that which is good and beautiful. Philanthropy, natural affection, kindness and mercy have their quota of praise. The eye and the ear desire pleasant things, things that are beautiful and harmless. The music of a Mendelssohn, the lines of a Shakespeare, the conception of a Rubens, such things as these have an indescribable way of delighting the senses, and for the moment removing from the soul the burden of life’s anxious cares; for man, as I have said, is a marvellous being, equally delighting in that which is most vicious and degrading and in that which is naturally good and beautiful.
But whether it be that which is naturally good, or that which is evil, it is really all evil together, for all these things are but the outcome of what is in the fallen sinner, and his pleasure in them is but the pleasure a man may have in beholding his natural face in a glass; he sees his fallen and godless life set before him objectively, and in that which he sees himself to be is all his delight. From that life God is rigidly excluded. This is why I say it is all evil together. Such is man: fearfully and wonderfully made at the beginning, but more fearful, if not more wonderful, in his fallen condition. To contemplate him in his present best makes one shudder.
But has not God also brought Himself to light, first of all in creation, but above all in redemption? How awe-inspiring to hear Him in the thunder of His power, to feel the rustle of His robes as He passes by upon the wings of the wind, to see Him in the lightning flash, the pouring rain, the cold of winter, the heat of summer-tide!
In what a multitude of things are His power and wisdom displayed! Uncountable their number, incomprehensible their greatness, and bewildering their glory! What thought could comprehend the smallest of His worlds? or understand one of His atoms? The covering of the earth with fertile soil, the gentle rain, the verdant vales, the purple hills, the wildering forest, the polar frosts and snows, the equatorial warmth, the changeful seasons, the silent movements of the heavenly bodies, the fiery flames that gird the lord of day, the mellow light that clothes the queen of night, the orbits and the order of the worlds: these display before our admiring eyes His eternal power and divinity, and minister to us His mercy everlasting.
How marvellous and how interesting are these works of His! How wonderful to be permitted to draw near and to contemplate the works of His fingers! All around us we can see the works of man, and we can hear His loud and fulsome boasting in the triumph of his skill, as though he was the author of his own existence, and that his cleverness was all self-created. But with what holy awe we draw near to contemplate the work of God! We see Him moving in creative power, and we feel Him all about us in His preserving might and infinite mercy: for in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
But there is one work of our God that far exceeds anything He ever has previously done, and beyond anything He ever can do again; and that work is the work of Redemption. His creature was lying in sin and under the righteous judgment of death, a slave also of his fell destroyer, the devil. This put God to the test as He never had been put before, and never can be again. It is not now, Can He create worlds? but, Can He redeem men?
And this is the question He asks Himself: “Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver?” (Isa. 50:2). That man had no power to work deliverance for himself had been well proven. Every attempt that he had made, even with the assistance of God, had but strengthened the chains that bound him, and had made his miserable and undone condition more hopelessly evident. Every dispensation under which he had been placed had, in spite of the overtures of divine mercy extended to him, done nothing but bring more clearly into evidence the melancholy fact, that the very fountain of his life was corrupt, that he was the slave of sin, and the victim of his pitiless oppressor the devil. He could do nothing for himself, nor could his neighbour render him the slightest assistance (Ps. 49:7).
But is God as powerless as man? The latter has shown that he is very inventive, and that he can do very wonderful things; but to deliver himself from the dominion of sin, death, and the devil, is beyond his powers. What can God do? He says: “Behold, at My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness.” Here the creature is left far behind, nor is able to touch the utmost fringe of everlasting might. Nor is His power limited to earthly manifestations. He says again: “I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.” The heavens are under His control as well as the earth. He created both at the beginning. He made the heavens by His Word, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. And as to the earth: “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps 33). At these manifestations of His power we read that: “The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job. 38:7). Creation was brought into existence by His Word, and by His Word it is upheld (Heb. 11:3; 1:3). He has no need to ask Himself the question, Can I do this? Or, Can I not? He has but to speak, and the thing is done.
But the work of redemption is another thing altogether. It shall require the putting forth of the whole might of God, and it will put His infinite wisdom to the Supreme test. He cannot speak, and bring it about. He cannot command the thing to come to pass, and lo, it is done. In this work His every attribute is engaged to the utmost of its power. Not only does His might come into evidence, but His weakness also: not only His wisdom, but, from a human standpoint, His foolishness. His righteousness, His holiness, His truth, His majesty, His authority, His wrath, His mercy, His goodness, His severity, His hatred, and His love: all these must be brought into evidence, for all that can be known of God by the creature must like the noonday sun shine out in this work before the eyes of the whole intelligent universe.
The first thing brought to light by the undertaking of this work is the triune existence of the Divine Being. This comes to light when the Son, who became Man, takes His place in testimony for God (Matt. 3:16-17). Hence we have the eternal Son in manhood in this world, the Father declaring His delight in Him from the opened heaven), and the Holy Spirit coming upon Him in the form of a dove. This is God come forth in the power and blessedness of His own essential Being to take up the redemption of His poor fallen and degraded creature. But it is only the beginning of this work.
In days gone by He had sent angels to speak to men; and from the fallen mass He had prepared vessels to carry glad tidings of mercy to the rebel race of Adam. But all such workings of His grace and such overtures of mercy were, as far as the creature could see, only arbitrary acts, and done without regard to the claims of righteousness, holiness, or the majesty of His Person. Men were sinners, and their sins were passed over. His name had been dishonoured, His rights disputed, His laws broken, His claims ridiculed, and no atonement made. This was to be now brought to an end, and men were to see God in the truth and reality of His nature and attributes. Men were to behold the wonderful works of God: they were to see the Father and the Son.
God, in the person of the Son, had come into the scene where man was toiling under the cruel oppression of his hard taskmaster the devil. It might be that men would resent His intervention on their behalf, and they did, but before redemption could be wrought for sinners it was necessary that they should be manifested, not only as having no power in themselves to effect their own recovery, but as utterly averse to the intervention of God in their behalf; for their deliverance from the power of the enemy meant their being brought back to God, and the thought of God was obnoxious to the human mind; for the carnal mind is enmity against God
Therefore the pathway to Golgotha, where redemption was accomplished, teemed with sorrows for the Son of Man. He was here to speak a word in season to him that was weary, but His voice had no charms for the haughty leaders of the people, nor for the thoughtless multitude. John the Baptist had mourned to them, and they had not wept; Jesus had piped to them, and they had not danced. In His presence the innate evil of the human heart came out into full display; but it was the revelation of God’s grace in Jesus that brought it out. Nothing but good in God, nothing but evil in man. Perfect love to man on the part of God met by unmixed hatred on the part of man.
He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting. Every indignity that the human heart could invent was heaped upon Him. For His love He had hatred. And in Him there was no more cause for their hatred than there was cause in them for His love. Their hatred of Him was just what was native to their own hearts, as His love to them was only what was native to His: for God is love.
But nothing of all the persecutions that He endured entered into the work of redemption; no, not even His crucifixion at the hands of men. It required something deeper than the wrath of the creature to accomplish this mighty work. Man was a sinner under the righteous judgment of God, and this judgment must be executed, and if it came upon the sinner he was lost for ever. But He gave Himself for our sins. The Just stands in the room and stead of the unjust, and in Him our sins were dealt with, and also our whole sinful condition. The state in which we were by nature has been judged, and in His death all that God is has been brought to light and has been glorified. The question of what the believer had done and of what he is has been gone into, settled, and closed for ever. It can never be reopened, for if it were it would be reopened with Christ, and would be a reflection upon the value of His work.
The redemption that is ours necessitated the revelation of God’s love, for in order to accomplish it the only-begotten Son of God had to die our death, but if this was a divine necessity we rejoice that the love of God was equal to the demand made upon it, and it declares itself in the giving of that Gift; for in this was manifested the love of God toward us, in that He gave His only-begotten Son, that propitiation might be made for our sins.
This, the love of God, is the glory of redemption, and it will fill the whole universe of blessing. The love of God: it is God Himself, God in the truth and blessedness of His being: for God is love. This shall fill the vision of every redeemed soul, and the whole redeemed creation shall rejoice with the praises of it. It was all declared amid the darkness of Golgotha; it centres in the risen Son of God; it is in the hearts of believers in the power of the Spirit; and the day is fast approaching in which we shall sit down in His presence in that home of spotless purity, in the perfect enjoyment of the Father and the Son, and know as we have never known before the deep blessedness of that glorious truth, that GOD IS LOVE.