Matthew 27:50; Luke 15:17 to end.
You cannot understand the Gospel if you do not understand what is the matter with you. I believe the great lack of souls is that they do not know the nature of their distance from God. If that is not removed there is no true happiness; therefore it is a very important point to know the nature of the weight and of the distance which sin has created between God and man. What is the nature of the distance? All admit that there is a distance. Even heathen admit it. Cain admitted it. As eldest born he recognizes that there is a distance between God and man; but Cain's mistake was that he did not know the nature of the distance. That is where many a religious man is today. He is trying to make terms with God in order to remove the distance. But, beloved friends, he effects nothing but his own confusion, because he does not know the nature of the distance. Such an one is like a physician trying to cure a disease that he does not know. If I know what was the matter with me, and I know that it is removed, I am at peace. But this is the great lack. Now Abel says, "I will show you the right way." He sets forth that there must be a victim, not chargeable with your offence, bearing the judgment of your offence, and, at the time of bearing it, having a personal excellency. The end could not have been obtained without death. Many have received the gospel as far as that Christ died; but they are not in liberty. They are saved, but have not peace. "By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." I desire to keep very distinctly before you the nature of the distance. If you turn to Genesis 3 you find there, when God's voice was heard in the garden, Adam hid himself, and as soon as God came near him he was conscious that he had lost his body in the sight of God; that is, that he was naked. Adam tried to hide himself among the trees of the garden. God said, "Who told thee that thou wast naked?" I believe that is the first sense of the soul near to God - fear. As the thief said, "Dost not thou fear God?" Why did he fear? Man has the sense that he is under the judgment of God. "I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself." "Who told thee that thou wast naked?" The devil did not. Nearness to God made him sensible of it, and then he tried to hide himself among the trees of the garden. Man likes to conceal himself from God amidst the glories of this world. The judgment is, "The day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." That man in whom sin is must go in death. It is not enough that another should die for sin, there must be also resurrection from the dead. I trust that you understand the nature of the distance.
Now I come to the fact that you could not remove God's judgment yourself. It is impossible for a man to save himself. "Ah!" you say, "now you put me in a corner." I am very glad of it. Is there no door open for you? Yes, mercy. Mercy is your only door. I do not know whether you remember that there were four lepers at the siege of Samaria, and they said, "If we stay here we shall die here, and if we go into the city we shall die there." Is there no door then open for these wretched men? Yes, there is - mercy. Mercy from their enemies. "Let us go to the Syrians," they say. "If they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die." Only mercy is open. They trusted to mercy, and what did they find? When they came to the camp of the Syrians no one was there. The Syrians had left their tents and their horses and asses in the camp, and fled for their life. The lepers ate and drank and made a fortune, and then became evangelists. They went back to the city and told what they had found. Mercy is the door for you the moment you see that your distance is irretrievable, for I need not go into works of supererogation in Romanism, doing good works to make up for bad ones. Generally a man will own himself to be a sinner, but he is not aware that death is on him, that he has lost his body in the sight of God. Hence, we read in 2 Cor. 5, "If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked," that is, without a body. That is the judgment of God, "the wages of sin is death." It is not made a question of bad works. Some pious people think that Christ's righteousness can be a set-off for their unrighteousness. You have not met the judgment of God there. You must be found before God in another Man, and not in the one who offended God. It is plain that death is the judgment of God on man. "The wrath of God" abides on the unbeliever. It is on him.
Next I come to the fact that you cannot save yourself, but God tells you in His Word that His own arm hath brought salvation. How has it come? "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 came to do the will of God, He says. "A body hast Thou prepared Me," and "I have meat to eat that ye know not of." "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." Now I come to most marvellous grace; that is, that God, the One who was offended, is the One who removes the offence from His own side. He is offended by man's sin. Your body must go in judgment. You have lost it as it is for ever. It is consistent with the holiness of God that you should lose it. The creature who sets up his own will against God cannot continue now in grace. God undertakes to remove the distance. In John 1:29 we read, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Do you think a pious Jew would understand that? He would not see that God could require a Lamb, appropriate the Lamb; he would be himself thinking of his salvation, but not of the One who was offended. The One who was offended is the One first relieved, to His own infinite satisfaction and glory. You have offended against God, and God Himself (for you could not have removed the distance), God in His most marvellous grace Himself removes it. I sometimes explain it by the example of a child who has broken a clock. He has to go to his room, and stay there till the clock is mended. He stays there for weeks. At last the father says, "He frets so much, I will mend it myself." See the effect on the child. If he has any sense he is deeply touched with the father's love, and also with respect to the removal of the offence. If the father mends it himself he cannot find fault with the way it is done. God has provided a Lamb Himself, and He has removed the distance Himself.
Now I turn to Matthew 27:50, and what do you get there? "Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost." "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." As we read in Genesis 3, the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. Christ dies. He has borne the judgment. "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it? "He cried" with a loud voice." His strength was unimpaired. It was not that He was worn out. He gave up His life of Himself. What was the effect? "The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." The distance is gone from God's side. God has found the Man who was typified by the golden ark in the Holiest. Nothing could be more marvellous. The offence is gone from God's eye in Christ. He had found a Man who could remove it, and hence we read, "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." The testimony is that the distance on God's side is gone, and He can "be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." How wonderful grace is, that God can come forth, the distance having been removed, and embrace the returning prodigal. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." Now I turn you to Luke 15, which I also read, and you see how the One who was offended receives the offender. Nothing can be plainer. If I read a gospel sermon, I am told how a man finds relief. I say, and insist on it, that the One offended has been first relieved. The God whom sin hath offended has been relieved. The offence has been removed from His side by Christ. As He says, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." When did He say it? When Judas had gone out; when man was at his worst. Man then, as Judas, was at his worst, and "now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." Where? In the most distant spot - in death. As another has said, and truly, "God was indebted to a man for glory, but that man was His own Son." "If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him."
Now I want you to understand what grace is. It is wonderful that when the sinner turns, God is for him. He has been relieved of all the offence, and He can receive him joyfully. Is it to put him back to the place he had before the fall? A man in innocence in the garden of Eden? No; but something infinitely higher. People say the need is the measure of the grace. It is not true. The grace is infinitely beyond the need. The greatness of the grace roused the jealousy of the elder brother. "Thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends"; but your son, who has spent all you gave him in riotous living, you welcomed to the highest festivity. He did not begrudge that his brother should be forgiven, but that he should be feasted in this great way. The fatted calf was kept for the chosen guest. The guest had come, and that guest was the prodigal son. Many do not believe it, but here it is. Because God's heart has been relieved, and now He can satisfy His breast, because the MAN who removed the judgment at the same time glorified Him. I will not add much more, but I just turn to Luke xv. There are three parables in the chapter. One was the shepherd. If Christ had riot died God could not have come out in righteousness to receive the prodigal, and the prodigal could not have turned to God. The light works in his soul, and he comes to himself. He is led to go and see what he can get from his father. "The goodness of God" leads him to repentance." It is important to bear in mind that he goes the contrary road to his mother Eve. She said in act, "I can do better for myself than God acts." She took of the tree, and did eat it. She walked in independence. Now this poor prodigal son, when brought to the lowest point, is reduced to a state of misery. Everyone is in a state of misery before he is converted. I know it, because I was there myself. Saul of Tarsus, who thought that he was the pink of everything good, had to fall to the ground.
Now it is here where the sinner is. The prodigal comes to himself. He says, "I will arise, and go to my father." He believes that there is good in his father. There is good in God; and, believe me, it will be terrible misery to the lost when they find out for the first time that there is goodness in God. "Make me as one of thy hired servants" was the prodigal's gospel. Now he comes, and what is his surprise when his father falls upon his neck and covers him with kisses! Most unexpectedly, the prodigal found his father was on the best of terms with him. How could he be so? If you turn to Matthew 27 you will understand how God can "be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." Here we get the feelings of the Father, the joy of the finder. How little we take in the fact that God has removed the distance by His Son, and that there is delight of heart in God in receiving the returning sinner. Christ said, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work." God has an interest in the gospel. Hence our need is not the measure of His grace. God's heart is the measure of it. The prodigal knows that he is not fit for his father. The father replies, "I will make you fit." The moment the best robe was on him he was fit, and he went in. The father says, "It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." I do not dwell on it. The Lord alone can fix it in your heart.
If I speak to one thoughtless person here tonight, I ask you, When you are brought to God what will you find? You will find that God has to His own infinite and entire satisfaction removed all that was against you in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will never revive it, because man under judgment has been judicially terminated there, and He delights to receive you returning to Him. You are brought back to share in the festivities of the Father's house. The one fact I desire to lay upon every heart in this room tonight is, that God can "be just and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus"; that is, that He has removed the distance on His own side. He has removed in the cross the man under judgment, and now He has the Man who bore the judgment risen from the dead. There is only one passage more - Luke 23:39 - that I will say a word about. The thief goes into paradise from the most degraded position in which a man could be found in this world. "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise." Not a paradise of man, but the paradise of God - in the same nearness as Christ - in company with Him. If you look at Matthew 27 there is the point. The door to God Himself is thrown open. And now the thief by divine grace goes in with the Son of God into the paradise of God. Nothing can be more marvellous. J. B. Stoney.