Romans 3:24-26; 5:5-8
It is impossible for man to divest himself entirely of the idea of a supreme Being, One all-wise, almighty, and omniscient. On account of the darkness in which he is by nature, and on account of the wretched conceit of his foolish heart he may change the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and to birds, and quadrupeds, and creeping things, but he will clothe these images with divine attributes, and pay to them divine honours, as the whole world has done at one time or another (Rom. 1:22-23). A god of some sort he must have.
But while the creature is thus worshipped and served, in the deep sub-consciousness of the degraded devotee is the conviction that outside the circle in which his activities are displayed the living and the true God has His habitation. Hence on the entry into Athens of the herald of the gospel, he finds an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD (Acts 17:23). “Him,” says the apostle, “declare I unto you.” There, in that learned city, was found the public confession that not by idolatry had they reached the knowledge of the One to whom they owed their existence as His offspring.
But why should the creature be found in this unhappy ignorance of his Creator? Why should this world exist at all, with its self-love, its pride, its covetousness, its violence, its cruelty, its corruption? It forces itself upon the thoughtful mind that God, who is all-wise, almighty, omniscient, must have had some marvellous purpose in view when He allowed such a flood-tide of evil to enter His creation, and to sweep over this world of men in the way in which it has done. A benevolent Being—and everywhere do we find traces of His benevolence—would not have allowed His weak creature to be subjected to such a terrible condition of things, without having some wonderful purpose of blessing in view, and which in no other way could have been effectuated.
That man is under judgment and afraid of his Maker requires no proving. The fact is evinced by his subjection to mortality, his terror at the prospect of dissolution and of what may come after, and his manifest confusion when in the presence of others he is confronted with the question of his relations with God. He may profess to be able to look death calmly in the face, and he may protest that his relations with God is his own private affair, with which no third person has anything to do, but he is not generally believed, from the sinking of a passenger ship at sea, and on the field of battle the order to be ready to go “over the top” in half an hour, will send the vast majority of even the most thoughtless to their knees. No worshipper of a false god will blush to be found at his devotions, for his conscience is undisturbed by his conception of his deity, because the idol that he worships is in his estimation no better morally than he himself is. It is the inflexible and burning holiness, righteousness, and truth of the true God with whom he has to do that fills him with dismay, for he feels his utter unfitness for such a Presence.
But seeing that on account of the entrance of sin into the world man in his natural state is alienated from the life of God, the question as to what is to be the end of all the miseries of the fallen creature, and of all the unwearied activities of God with the poor foolish wanderer that would infinitely prefer to be let alone, must continually arise until a perfectly satisfactory answer has been given, what is the object in it all?
With the light of the revelation God has been pleased to give us the question should not be difficult to answer. But before we come to that revelation might we not wisely ask ourselves why the creature exists? Surely it is not that he should go out fresh from the hand of his Creator, forget all about Him, and live to please himself. Surely it is rather that man should serve his Maker, and bask in the sunshine of whatever light may have been given to him by the One to whom he owes his existence. Right through the whole revelation God has given to us runs this glorious truth, that the end that God has in view is that He may be known by His creature.
Therefore it was a necessity that sin should be allowed entrance into this world, for though an enemy has brought it to pass, God will make it serve to give effect to His eternal purpose. It must not for a moment be supposed that He was the author of sin, or that He brought it into the world. Had He done either His purpose never could have been effectuated. It was by one of His creatures it was brought into existence, and by another of His creatures it found entrance into the world. The devil was the first sinner. His pride made him think he was the equal of God (Ezek. 28:9); Adam by an attempt at equality with God allowed it to come into the world (Gen. 3:5). That God could have prevented the existence of sin, or having allowed it to exist, He could have prevented its entrance into the world, cannot rightly be questioned. It is obnoxious to Him, and He will eventually cleanse His universe from its presence, but in the meantime He makes it, as well as the one who is its father, to serve His purpose.
The ways of God are intricate, inscrutable, and past finding out, and they are very often perplexing, but how could they be otherwise than mysterious to the finite creature? To any creature they must be simply incomprehensible. If He is pleased to bestow upon us His Holy Spirit that we may understand His wondrous thoughts, that is entirely another matter; and because He has done so our hearts should be filled with thanksgiving, but without the indwelling of that Spirit, which He gives to all who believe on His Son, we could not understand the purposes of His divine mind (1 Cor. 2:9-14). Nothing but the sinful conceit of the human heart would cause anyone to think otherwise.
To take His place in the centre of a universe that would be radiant with the knowledge of Himself, His creature finding his perfect satisfaction and delight in the knowledge of his Creator fully revealed, and the Creator having His delight in the blessing of His creature, was the purpose of the mind divine; and it was by means of man, through man, in man, and for man’s glory, that this eternal purpose was to be brought to pass.
Men, even with the gospel ringing in their ears, see little more than the fact of man’s fall, his resultant ruin, and the infinite pity of God in bringing salvation near to all by means of the cross of Christ, and though that is not a false view for the bearer of the gospel to take, it is very far short of that which he has yet to learn when he believes the gospel and has received the Spirit.
When he is anointed with the Holy Unction, he begins to view the whole matter from the side of divine counsel, and he sees God by the revelation of Himself bringing everything in heaven and on earth into new and eternal relationship with Himself, the glory of that revelation permeating and vivifying the length, breadth, height, and depth of that universe of blessing which existed in eternal counsel before this world was. And what an advance this is from looking at the gospel as setting forth the compassions of God, however great and good this may be.
But as to the knowledge of God: for us to have any assurance of permanent peace and happiness two most important qualities must be found in the revelation which God has given of Himself: one is righteousness, and the other is love. Suppose—and may He forgive the supposition—that God thought as little of sin as man does, what guarantee would we have that His world would be any better than man’s world? What an eternity of misery would open up before the vision of our souls! And suppose—and may He forgive this blasphemous supposition also—He cared as little for the welfare of man as man does for the welfare of his neighbour, what guarantee would we have against violence, oppression, cruelty, and wrong? For true rest for our souls we require to be assured that the Governor of the universe hates sin with a perfect hatred, but loves His creature with a perfect love. Have we any proof that those qualities are possessed by Him? Can we have any true knowledge of Himself?
Thank God, with regard to this we are not left in the least uncertainty. He has taken occasion of the utter ruin in which His creature man was found, by reason of his departure from his primal state, to bring Himself to light, not only in His attributes but even in His very nature, so that we might know Him, and that our knowledge of Him might give us the utmost confidence that all is unspeakably well with those who put their trust in Him.
In the sight of the universe of intelligent beings He has demonstrated His utter abhorrence and unsparing judgment of sin, that had filled this world with woes indescribable, brought death upon the human race, and made man amenable to eternal judgment and wrath.
But first of all the total ruin of the creature as dominated by sin had to be brought to light, and when by means of the various tests to which man was subjected, it was made apparent that there was no power in the creature to effect his own recovery, God in grace was presented to him in the person of Jesus; but this only served to disclose the unfathomable depths of moral depravity that lay in the fallen nature of the human race, for man in his natural condition was found to be absolutely irreconcilable to God. The dealings of God with man during the first four thousand years of the world’s history proved that man could do nothing in the direction of his own recovery; the rejection of Christ proved that God could do nothing that would bring about the recovery of man in the flesh as a child of Adam. The carnal mind was proven to be enmity against God (Rom. 8:7).
Sin, the thing that God hated, and that dominated man, had its seat in the flesh, and was so truly the nature of the flesh that the flesh is called “the flesh of sin” (Rom. 8:3, R.V. marg.). Therefore if sin is to receive its judgment it must receive it in that in which it has its seat, and which is in its nature sin. There is no other way by which man can be delivered from its power and presence. How is this to be done and at the same time have a way of salvation opened up for the sinner? The answer to this brings to light the wisdom, the righteousness, the power, and the love of God.
I have said that the final test of man was the presentation of God to him in Jesus. But this was only one aspect of the life of Jesus here below. If He was God before the vision of man, He was also Man before the vision of God, the Man that in the counsels of the Father was destined to displace the man after the flesh, and yet the Man in whom salvation should be found for all the lost sons of Adam who would put their trust in Him.
Having been rejected as the Christ the Son of God, He takes the place of the Victim, in order that God might give expression to His holy abhorrence and unsparing judgment of sin. Sinless Himself, but in the likeness of the flesh of sin, He gives Himself up to he dealt with as sin deserves to be dealt with, and in the awful judgment of that cross of woe He parts with the life of flesh for ever, and risen from the dead He becomes the fountain of life—divine life—life eternal—for all who receive Him by faith.2
Judicially sin—sin in the flesh—the flesh itself—has been brought to an end, the righteousness of God has thus been manifested, and sin is seen to be that cursed thing that God cannot tolerate, but the thing He must condemn wherever it is found. He can never now be charged with indifference to sin. Woe be to the sinner who appears before Him in the day of judgment in his sinful condition! The blood is on the mercy-seat. The witness that the life of flesh is gone in the judgment of the cross is ever before God. It is the witness of His intolerance of sin. It declares His righteousness regarding the passing over of sins that had taken place before the cross, and also at this present time declares His justice when He pronounces righteous the sinner that believes in Jesus. The cross has vindicated Him against every charge of being indifferent to sin.
But in that same cross His love has been brought to light. He could very well have shown His hatred against sin by the eternal condemnation of the sinner, but instead of doing this He sent His only-begotten Son to bear our deserts, and thus declared the infinite love of His heart, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” When our lost condition had been thoroughly brought to light, then the “due time” was come when God took our salvation into His own hand, and manifested a love toward us such as never had been seen upon earth, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners. Christ died for us.” Where His hatred against sin was fully declared, there also was manifested His great love to the sinner. This makes the cross infinitely precious to us. And surely above all thought precious to God and to us is the One who gave Himself that we might be saved, and that God might be glorified in our salvation.
In the light of the revelation of God our souls live. We know that in His universe of blessing, to which He has called us, no evil thing can ever enter. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, in that sphere of eternal glory, for righteousness shall have its home there, and love also. And we shall be there, made fit for that scene of spotless purity by the cross and by the water of the word—the work wrought for us, and the work wrought in us—to live in the light of God made manifest in Jesus. Well may we praise Him who has brought us out of darkness into His marvellous light.