The very name of this subject points out to some extent its character. It implies, at least, that enmity had somewhere been existing; and when it is remembered that the question is concerning the reconciliation of sinners to God, it may well be asked, Where was the enmity? It is the more important to answer this question, owing to the fact that the statement is continually made, that God is reconciled to man in Christ. This indeed was the general thought at the time of, and subsequent to, the Reformation, and it has found expression in many formal theological treatises. But it only concerns us to ascertain the teaching of the Scriptures. If, then, the reader will turn to Rom. 5 he may read, "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (v. 10.) This places beyond dispute that the enmity was on our part, that it was we who needed to be reconciled to God, and not God to us. The latter thought, indeed, loses sight altogether - as may be more fully seen farther on - of the fact that God Himself is the fountain of all grace, and that it was acting from His own heart "that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
There are three scriptures which especially speak of reconciliation - Rom. 5:10, 11, 2 Cor. 5:18-21, and Col. 1:20-22,* and we hope to refer to each of these in tracing out the subject. Let it then be borne distinctly in mind that man, man as such, is an enemy of God. The scripture says, the carnal mind - the mind of the flesh - that is, the mind of every natural man, is enmity against God (Rom. 8:7), and this was proved when the Lord Jesus came into the world, as He Himself says, "They hated me without a cause" (John 15:25), and they rested not in their hatred until they had nailed Him to the cross. Perfect goodness did but elicit perfect evil: perfect light was in the world, "and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." (John 3:19, 20.) Let us now see how God met all this enmity, and what steps He took to break it down, and to reconcile the sinner to Himself.
*In Hebrews 2:17 the word is found, but it should be "propitiation," whereas the word "atonement" in Rom. 5:11 ought to be "reconciliation."
Turning, first of all, to 2 Cor. 5, we shall perceive that the Holy Spirit is careful to remind us, what has already been insisted on, that God Himself is the source of reconciliation. "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ," etc. (v. 18.) Of necessity it was so; for how could man make approaches to God when he was already not only a poor, lost sinner, but also his mind was enmity against God, and when there was no foundation laid on which a righteous reconciliation could be effected? No; man was helpless, and could never, even if he had the desire, have bridged over the chasm that separated him from God. God alone could undertake this mighty work. And this expression - "All things are of God" - tells the blessed tale of grace which flowed out from His heart towards poor guilty man, and made provision for his eternal reconciliation. And the passage in Romans, already cited, teaches us, furthermore, that the motive for the action on God's part was in Himself alone: it was when we were enemies - when our backs were turned to Him in our hatred, that was the moment when God unfolded the depths of His own heart in the gift of His beloved Son. (Rom. 5:8-10.)
We may trace the stream of grace in its onward course. Its first appearance in this world is indicated by the words: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." (2 Cor. 5:19.)* This refers to the attitude of God in Christ in incarnation. He came into a world of sinners, all of whom were under the just judgment of God on account of sin, and who all, had He dealt with them in righteousness, must have been swept away to eternal destruction. But He came in grace, dwelt with sinners, submitted Himself to all their taunts, malice, and hatred, did not for the time impute their trespasses unto them, but bore all their hatred and malice in patience, and even entreated them to come to Him and live. God was thus in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Instead of exacting what was due to Himself, He offered mercy, rest, forgiveness, life, and would fain have in this way broken down the enmity of their hearts. But all was in vain, man would not be reconciled. Still the stream of grace flowed on, for the heart of God was unwearied, even in the presence of the ever increasing manifestation of the enmity of man's heart, which rose up to the total rejection and crucifixion of Him who would if possible have reconciled them to Himself. The cross was the answer to man's hatred; that is, the work that was there accomplished. And the aspect of it presented here is very beautiful, "for He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin." It is, as suited to the subject, an action on the part of God. It is God who is reconciling in this chapter, and hence He was acting both in Christ and on the cross (as also in His messengers after the cross), that He might, by the exhibition of His own heart, melt the hard heart of man, break down His enmity. Let the reader ponder this wondrous display of the riches of His grace. For what did God accomplish by the death of Christ? He made Him sin, He exacted from that spotless and willing victim, who offered Himself to endure all that the glory of God demanded on account of sin, all His claims upon us, so that He might lay a foundation, righteous and immovable, on which He could still proceed to satisfy His own heart, in harmony with all His attributes, in His longing desire to reconcile men to Himself.
(*The reader should carefully mark the exact wording of this scripture. It does not say that God has reconciled the world to Himself, as, for example, the Swedish Bible translates, and as was stated recently by one of the most popular preachers in London; that would mean universal salvation.)
The stream still flowed. Christ died on the cross, was buried, rose again, ascended up to heaven, and sat down on the right hand of God. Thereon the Holy Spirit was given, souls were converted and reconciled, and then sent forth with God's message to the whole world. The apostle says, "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." And then he proceeds to describe the carrying out of this ministry: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech by us: we pray in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God." (v. 20.) Sent forth as Christ's ambassadors, after He had taken His seat at the right hand of God, it is still, as it were, the voice of God beseeching through those who were pleading with men, in the stead of Christ (for He was no longer here), to be reconciled to God. Such has been the action of God with the view of reconciling men. He Himself was here in the person of Christ, here in grace in the attitude of seeking to reconcile, then, still proceeding with His object, He made Him, who knew no sin, sin on the cross, and thereon He took up men, reconciled them to Himself, and put in them the ministry of reconciliation, that the whole world might know what was in His heart. And though the immediate ambassadors of Christ are no longer upon the earth, yet wherever the gospel message is proclaimed there is still heard the entreating voice of God addressed to His enemies.
We may now look a little more closely at the truth of reconciliation; but first it may be necessary to state distinctly its ground. This is brought forth prominently in all the three scriptures named. We take one of these: "Having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile," etc. (Col. 1:20.) Here is given, in precise form, the foundation on which God proceeds; it is the peace which has been made by the blood of the cross of Christ. The reader will at once perceive that this peace is not peace between God and man, not the peace with God which those possess who are justified by faith, because it is set forth as the ground on which God can act in reconciliation. It is rather the peace of God's throne, consequent upon all the claims of that throne, the claims of a Holy God upon sinners, having been completely met by the precious blood of Christ. God, having been thus glorified by the death of the Lord Jesus, is free, in righteousness as well as in grace, to take the first step in the work of reconciliation. The death of Christ is the alone ground on which He acts; so in Romans we read, "We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Rom. 5:10); in Colossians, "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death." And as it is on the ground of the death of Christ, so it is by the presentation of what God is in Christ, when down here, and through Christ in His death on the cross, that God speaks in power, through the Holy Spirit, to the hearts of sinners, and effects their reconciliation by the revelation of what He is in all His goodness and grace. The work of reconciliation is thus the work of God, even as the apostle says, "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself;" and again, "And you hath He reconciled."
What, then, is meant by reconciliation? Between men who may have been at variance it is the restoration of happy relationships; it is much more than this between God and man. The enmity was in the heart of man alone; and it is not only the removal of this, but it is also bringing man to God according to the eternal efficacy of the perfect work of Christ - a perfect work as estimated by God Himself. It is a reconciliation, therefore, according to all that God is as displayed in the death of Christ, and we brought to be - to quote the words of another - "in absolute harmony with the full display of what God is in His own character and nature." It is not, therefore, merely removing the enmity of our hearts, and God fully and freely forgiving our sins, but it is lifting us up into His own presence, setting us in the light as He is in the light, bringing us to Himself, and causing us to be in harmony with the full manifestation of Himself in Christ. The apostle could therefore say, "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation." (Rom. 5:11.) That is, the result of reconciliation is that we can joy in God, delight ourselves in all that He is, in His holiness, love, grace, majesty, truth, righteousness - in a word, in Himself. What a contrast between joying in and being enemies of God! And this mighty change has been effected by His grace.
If now we turn once more to the epistle to the Colossians, we shall learn the scope of reconciliation. Believers are reconciled. This is the precise statement of the apostle (v. 21), as also in both Romans and 2 Cor. 5; and the character of it may again be marked from the words he employs in Colossians: it is, "To present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight" Such is the wondrous place in which God brings all whom He has reconciled to Himself, and all, it need scarcely be added, whom He may yet reconcile. But the reader should observe that, while it is God's work, it is through faith, for this opens the door of reconciliation to every poor sinner who listens and yields to the beseeching cry, "Be reconciled to God."
There is, however, outside of believers, another field in which God will work for the same end. The apostle says, "Having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." (v. 20.) It is of the utmost moment to observe, especially in a day when false teachers, presuming upon a wide-spread ignorance of the Scriptures, are seeking on every hand to substitute their own thoughts for the infallible word of God, that here the apostle speaks of things and not persons. Had it been persons, there were no need to proceed to speak of believers as a separate class. The "all things" that are to be reconciled correspond with the headship of Christ over all creation - "He is before all things, and by Him all things consist." (v. 17) - just as believers correspond with His headship of the body. (v. 18.) And these "all things," "whether things in earth, or things in heaven" - i.e., the heavenly things, which were to be purified by better sacrifices than those used for the patterns of things in the heavens (Heb. 9:23) - are regarded in this scripture, not only as defiled by sin, but also, through being connected with man and Satan, as under the power of evil, and, therefore, of hostility to God. (Compare Rom. 8:19-22.) God, therefore, will act in power (peace having been made by the blood of the cross), and bring, through Christ, all these things back into harmonious relationship with Himself. This will be seen in measure during the thousand years, when Christ will wield His kingly sceptre over the whole earth; but it will be then only in measure, for evil, if repressed, will still be there, and breaking forth, under the instigation of Satan at the close of the kingdom, will again defile the beauteous scene. It will be, however, its last appearance; for the dark and awful judgments, which will consummate the ways of God with earth and man, will but be preparatory to the introduction of the new heavens and the new earth, wherein righteousness will for ever dwell. All things are now made new, and "the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21:3, 4.) It is only in this perfect scene - perfect according to the thoughts of God - that we behold the far-reaching consequences and efficacy of the precious blood of Christ; for here we are permitted to see all things, whether on earth or in heaven, actually reconciled; and the foundation on which God will work out this glorious result is the peace which has been made by the blood of the cross. E. D.
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The blood, that justified God in pardoning me, has shut my mouth from saying a word for myself, and opened it to say much for God.