The Cross Of Christ
Five Sermons by Dr. G. Campbell Morgan
EVERYTHING A SINNING MAN NEEDS HE FINDS AT THE CROSS. Apart from the
fact of human sin, the Cross is indeed foolishness, a veritable
stumbling-block. To the Greek, seeking for the culture of uncultured
man, "foolishness," something without meaning, a story that can have no
moral effect. To the Hebrew, that is the degraded Hebrew, whose ideals
are materialized, a stumbling-block, a skandalon, something that
interferes with progress rather than helps it. And both are fight,
unless we see the background of sin that makes the Cross necessary, and
the foreground of redemption that comes by the way of the Cross.
Unless there is some profounder meaning in the death of Jesus of Nazareth than the end of His life, then the Cross brings me into the realm of the greatest mystery, the deepest darkness, the most unfathomable wonder I have ever known. I will put this as superlatively as I feel, and as carefully as I may; unless there be some meaning in that Cross for others than the One dying on it, then the Cross makes me an unbeliever in the government of God. I cannot believe in the beneficence and goodness and righteousness of God if the Cross is nothing more than the ending of the life of Jesus. We speak of the problem of evil; it confronts us everywhere, but that Cross is the crux of it. If Incarnate Purity must be mauled to death by vile impurity, and God never interfere; if a life absolutely impulsed by love must be brutally murdered by devilish hatred, and God say nothing; and if that is all, then I decline to believe in the goodness of God. There must be some other explanation of the Cross if I am to be saved from infidelity. If in the life of Jesus the Cross was an accident, then the world is handed over to chaos, there is no throne, there is no government, and we are but puppets, and none knows the issue.
But to see the Cross in its relation to the fact of human sin, intelligently to appreciate what the New Testament teaches us concerning it, to see how the experience of nineteen hundred years verifies the doctrines of the New Testament in the lives of countless multitudes of men and women, is at the Cross to become, not an infidel, but a believer. Then at the Cross I see, not chaos, but the dawn of cosmos, not a darkness and an anarchy that appall me and fill me with despair, but a light and a government that make my heart sing amid the processes of a new creation, for I know by that sign amid the world's darkness that God is on the throne, and that at last He must win.
I want to speak of some of the blessings, the advantages, the values that have come to men, and still are at the disposal of men by the way of the Cross. I propose to begin with the very simplest, to begin in the line of experience, with Pardon. That is only the first thing. It is not the last thing, it is not the deepest thing, it is not that after which some of our hearts are supremely hungry. In my next sermon I shall speak of another value of the Cross. Purity. Then I will speak of Peace by the way of the Cross, and after that of Power by the way of the Cross, and, finally, of Promise by the way of the Cross. In all this series of studies I shall do no more than touch the fringe. Every day I need the Cross more, and can talk of it less glibly. Every day I live this Christian life I am more and more conscious that I cannot understand the mystery of all Jesus did; yet more and more conscious that by the way of that Cross, and that Cross alone, my wounded heart is healed, my withered soul is renewed, my deformed spirit is built up, my broken manhood is re-made; and every day I live I sing in my heart with new meaning,
The first thing that a sinning man needs is pardon. The note of
preaching may differ in the West from that of the East, but whether in
West or East, North or South, amid high or low, rich or poor, bond or
free, the first fact that attracts men to Christianity is the fact that
it proclaims pardon for sin; and as a man begins to weigh his life by
the infinite balances, and to measure it by the undying standards, the
first consciousness that breaks in upon his spiritual conception is
that he needs forgiveness.
In speaking of the work of Jesus, Paul declares that we have "our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses." "Our redemption," "our trespasses." The former is the foreground, and the latter, background of the Cross. We will begin with the background, "our trespasses."
The particular word here translated "sins" or "trespasses" is a word that signifies actual wrongdoing, and we are restricted this evening, not by my own choice, but by the very terms of the text, to that idea of sin, actual wrong-doing, wrong knowingly, wilfully, done. Sin as a principle we shall consider in a subsequent sermon.
The apostolic word in the epistle to the Romans, which is the foundation epistle of the gospel of the grace of God, declares that all have sinned. The Apostle does not say all are sinners. That is true. He will say that again, and in other ways; but he says "all have sinned." I need take no time to discuss the question of how it comes that all have sinned. I am not speaking of the fall of man, of the fall of the race. I will not now discuss the sins of such men as have never walked in the light of revelation. I speak of the actual sins of men who have broken law definitely, positively, wilfully. That is the aspect of sin with which my text deals. And before we can understand this subject we must go back to first principles. We do not begin to know what sin is until there is a recognition of the government and claim of God in every human life. Exile God from the moral government of His universe, and we shall no longer make our confession of sin or sins. Exile God from relationship to the moral, and then sin will be continuous abnormality, a perpetual infirmity, but it will never be trespass. We must first recognize the throne of God, and the government of God. If you question that honestly and sincerely, then you will not follow my text. We must first take for granted that every man and woman, each one of us, is an individual creation of God, and that for every human life there is a Divine plan, a Divine purpose, and a Divine place. We must come to understand that the purpose of God in every human life is the purpose of perfect love, not merely for the race as a whole, but for every individual constituting a part of the race. Therefore in the economy of God the race is imperfect in the imperfection of any individual, perfected only as every man, every individual, finds his or her place in the great whole, and contributes his or her share to the commonwealth of which God Himself is King. The race is suffering from break-up, and division, and spoliation. But why? Always because the units have broken law, fallen out of harmony, created the chaos. As a whole, the race has no great and immediate responsibility to God. Individual souls have, and so we come down from the race idea, and think of this fact, that if I would contribute my quota to the well-being of all, if I would fill my niche in the infinite purpose of the infinite Creator, the unifying Originator, and the ever-present Governor, I must find what is His will for me and obey it. That is the prime necessity in every human life. Human life is created by God and for God, and the first question of every human life ought to be, What is God's will for me? It is always a larger question than it seems. Find God's will for you, and you have helped to bring in God's will for the world. Walk in the way God has appointed for you, and keep His commandments, and you have made your contribution by so doing to His ultimate realization of the largest purpose of His infinite heart. I sin not only against myself when I break law, not only against God, but against the race. I postpone the golden age. I hinder the incoming of all for which my heart sighs in its holiest moments whenever I sin, for by the breaking of law on the part of the individual there is the postponement of the realization of the purposes of God for the race. Actual sin on my part therefore is not merely something that wrongs me and insults heaven. It is something that harms and injures and blights the race.
If this, indeed, be a fact, that the whole race is under the government of God, but is dependent for realization of His purpose on the obedience of the individual, then we have made one step toward understanding sin. Every human life, every individual fife, is conditioned within law, and that law is simply the Divine revelation of the pathway along which the individual may move to fulfilment of personality, and so contribute to the realization of the largest purpose of God in the race.
Do we know anything of these things? We all do. You may never have phrased the thing as I have phrased it. You may have looked at it from the personal position, and never realized your relation to the whole race. But everyone is conscious of having met God, heard His voice, and disobeyed. And here is where some of you will challenge me. You will say, No, I have never met God. I have heard the voice of the preacher, I have read the statements of the Scriptures of the Christian, I have been made familiar with the ethic of Christianity, but I have never met God. Then let me state the case differently. Would you feel perfectly prepared to stand where I stand, and in face of this congregation of men and women, of like passions with yourself--would you be prepared to say, "I have never deliberately done wrong"? Has there never been a moment when you stood face to face with right and wrong, and chose wrong? There is not a man or woman that is honest but will admit the fact of personal wrongdoing. You say, "I was driven by the force of passion I have inherited." I have nothing to do with that now. You say, "The temptation was so subtle and strong I could not help it." I have nothing to do with that. I am asking you one question: Is there a trespass chargeable against you in the light of the infinite Order? For one single moment I will cease to speak of your relation to God, and ask you to speak of humanity as a whole. Have you sinned against your race? Has there not been one moment in your life when you knew truth, and lied; when you knew purity and descended to impurity; straightness and consented to crookedness? I need not labor the inquiry, for I take it I am speaking to those who are perfectly prepared, alone and in silence before God, to be honest; and if you are, though there is no terror in it to you yet, though you do not realize the tremendous meaning of what you have confessed, there is not one that will not have to say, "I also have sinned; I also have committed a trespass."
One step further. If you have submitted to this inquiry in simplicity, you have had to say more than once, "I have sinned." You have been compelled to say, "My sins as mountains rise." They may not have been the sins that society labels vulgar. The policeman's hand has never rested on you. You have not yet lost your character in the eyes of men. But you have descended to the low when the high flamed before you. You have chosen a pathway because it was easy, though you knew it was dishonorable, when the rough, rugged, heroic pathway was in front of you. We all have sinned.
Now I charge this home upon you-and not on you alone, beloved, but on my own heart, as we stand in the presence of this great fact. The moment I say I have sinned, in that very moment, solemn and awful as it is, in that very moment I have confessed that I have been guilty of something that I cannot undo, that I have put myself into relation with disorder, instead of order, that I have contributed to all over which I mourn as I look out abroad in the world to-day. In brief, I have said that I have done something that I cannot undo, and that I cannot forgive myself for doing, unless, perchance, by some mystery that is beyond me, it can be canceled, undone, made not to be.
Sin is not a small act. Sin is something which, once committed, cannot be undone. The broken law means a marring of the ultimate purpose. That is punishment beginning here, but not ending here, unless, by infinite grace, the sin is ended here. I am sometimes told that hell is here and now, and so it is. I am sometimes told that heaven is here and now, and so it is. Both axe here and now; but when I am told that hell is here and now, if the deduction I am asked to make is that it is only here and now, by the same reasoning I must decide that heaven is only here and now. If heaven be a condition into which a man enters now, and more largely in the after-life, hell is a condition into which man enters now, and more largely in the after-life.
Hell, according to Scripture is failure, with all that it means in the consciousness and experience of man. Literal fire? No, a thousand times no, nothing so small; but the actual positive consciousness that I have failed, and have contributed to the failure of others. The fire is never quenched, and the worm never dies. The fire is no more physical than is the worm; but they are infinitely worse; they are spiritual, they are the natural outworking of sin. God's plan for man is the ultimate realization of high purpose in the spiritual places. I would not have it. I chose the wrong. I sinned. In that moment, by the irrevocable decree of my own will, I set my face toward the darkling void where God is alienated, toward the awful spaces in which there is neither fellowship nor light, but in which I, with an ever-burning capacity for the high, am doomed to the low I have chosen. That is the out-working of sin. That is the meaning of hell. And I sit, and glibly, quietly, say, Oh, yes, I sinned, I lied, I committed a theft, I dishonored some other human being. I sinned, but it is all right.
Man, it is all wrong! And, having once done the sin, it is not thy tears of repentance or prayer can atone. You cannot undo it. There it is in the past. Ten years ago, twenty-more for some of you-- but you cannot undo it. Disorder in the universe, and you created it. No, no, not twenty years, not ten, but yesterday, to-day-with God's golden sunlight bathing all this Babel, prophetic of a great resurrection, you sinned under God's sunlight to-day. You cannot undo it. You cannot overtake it. You have started discord, and the infinite spaces are catching it up and multiplying it.
Sin is never little. Never talk of peccadilloes-hellish word for the excuse of the thing that aims at the dethronement of God and the spoilation of all His infinite plan. Oh, man, man! if you could but see your trespass, your little sin, in all its magnified meaning, you would cry out to-night, "What must I do to be saved?" "Our trespasses"--and some-times one wishes only that one could persuade people to put into their prayer the tragedy that ought to be in it. In great congregations we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses," and there is the rustle of soft music about it. Oh, there is tragedy in it, there is ruin in it, there is hell in it. If you and I prayed that prayer as it ought to be prayed, it would escape us with a sob, and a wail, and a cry.
But, thank God, there is the foreground of my text! What is this thing that Paul writes? "Our redemption through His blood." Now again we must get down to the simple things if we would understand the larger things. "Through His blood." Whose? And it is the old, old story. I have no new Saviour to bring you--"Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by mighty works and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you: Him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay." So said Peter in his first Pentecostal sermon. "Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God," the perfect One, the sinless One, the One Who never deviated from truth, or touched impurity, or committed theft, or chose the low, or consented to the dishonorable--the One Who never trespassed, Jesus, the perfect Man; and, if I am tempted to debate it, or discuss it, or defend it, I will resist the temptation. After all kinds of criticism, the ages have set their seal on the testimony of His own age, the testimony of a man in His own age: "I find no fault in Him"; the testimony of a devil in His own age: "I know Thee Who Thou art, the holy One of God"; the testimony of God in His own age: "Thou art My Son: in Thee I am well pleased." Every rolling century has made deeper the imprint of that great truth, that Jesus was the perfect Man.
But I am not redeemed by His perfection. His perfection may lure me to something higher. As I talked of trespasses--and I talked of mine as well as yours-suddenly there came passing in front of my vision the radiant Person of Jesus, so pure, so tender, so perfect, that neither man, nor devil, nor God could find fault with Him. I look at Him and I say: Oh, if I could be such as He! Oh, if from this hour, in this church, I could take this life of mine and live it like He lived His! I will follow Him; I will try; and back out of the years there come to me my trespasses, and suddenly my heart says, It cannot be. His life was perfect from cradle to Cross--no flaw, no deviation, no deflection; and if even from now I could live all the rest of my life perfectly, what am I to do with the scars and the spoiling of the past?
No, Jesus cannot save me by His perfection, Our redemption through His perfection? No. What, then? "Through His blood."
That phrase is not pleasant. It offends our sensibilities, Redemption through blood, and you shrink, you do not like it. You agree with the man who says that this is a religion of the shambles, and you object to it. God never meant that you should be pleased with that word, "blood." God reckoned blood so sacred as to say, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." It is not refined; it is vulgar, this shedding of blood! It shocks you, startles you, appalls you. God meant it should, and especially when you see Whose blood it is. Redeemed not with the blood of bulls and of goats--oh, soul of mine, how canst thou utter it?--but with the precious blood of the Son of God, the dying of the pure and spotless. What happened in that dying I cannot tell. I do not know the mystery. I cannot go into that darkness. Alone He trod the winepress. Alone He bore the pain. You and I must stand outside. Oh, behold Him, the Perfect dying, the Sinless suffering! God in Christ bent to bruising! And as I see the mystery of the human blood I say: What means it, for there is no place for such dying in such pure life?
And now the answer comes, and I dare not give it you in my own language. I will give it you in the language of Holy Scripture: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." "Who, His own self, bare our sins in His body upon the tree." "He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed." Oh, God, give us a vision of it! A small thing? Unutterably great! One lonely soul in the centuries! Are you puzzled and say, How can that be for the race? Behold Him! See Who that is! Put thy measurement, if thou canst, on the infinite value of His purity; plumb the depth of His holiness, climb the steep ascent of all that wondrous life, and know that this is God incarnate,--and when the vision of it breaks upon you, and the stupendous wonder of it overwhelms you, then listen: "Our redemption through His blood"; and if you dare to take that blood away, you must forgive me if I am angry with you. You knock from underneath my feet the one rock foundation of my faith, you take from my bruised and broken heart its only solace. I come to the infinite mystery, and there, by that scene, by that token, by that unveiling of the Infinite passion and compassion, I know that the trespass I could not overtake is forgiven.
You say, But you have not explained it. Again I say, I cannot, but I
know it. I want to say one little word to you, dear man, honestly
groping after some solution of this great mystery. If, somehow, you
could persuade me that God could forgive my trespass, which was the
breaking up of the order of the universe, simply out of pity, well, my
heart could not rest in it. I could not forgive myself that way. I
should always realize that the thing was there, that its issue could
not be overtaken. How can I utter it, how can I tell it, when I see God
in Christ stooping and catching that sin into His own heart, and
bearing its pain, and exhausting its powers? Then, while the Cross
shall ever fill me with grief on account of my sin, it fills me with
joy that Christ has triumphed, and that "where sin abounded, grace did
abound more exceedingly." The forgiveness of our trespasses can come to
us only through His blood.
But, then, there are unforgiven men and women, and to such my final word shall be spoken. How may we obtain the forgiveness provided by the mystery of the Cross? First, I think there must be a sense of need:
And now there are those who feel their need. You say, Of course, I
it; I need forgiveness, I also am a sinner, I also have sinned. That is
the first step toward obtaining. And what next? There must be a
recognition on your part of the supremacy and sovereignty of God, and
that I think is included in your confession of a sense of need. What
next? Now there must be on your part repentance, the renunciation of
the wrong, the spirit willing, if only the power be given you, to turn
from the sin.
Dr. Pierson once gave me a great illustration on this subject. He told me of how in one of the Southern States a man lay condemned to die for having murdered another man; and a brother of the condemned murderer, who himself was a pure, strong man, and had laid the State under obligation to him, went and pleaded the cause of his condemned brother with the authorities, and though the case was one of clear murder, though there was no question about this, for the sake of the brother who had saved lives they consented to pardon the brother who had taken life. Then he went with the pardon of his condemned brother in his possession. He did not tell him immediately, but presently in talking to him he said to him, "If you had your pardon, supposing you had it now, and you were to go out free, what would you do?" And with a gleam of malice and hatred in his eye the murderer said, "I would find the principal witness and I would kill him, and I would kill the judge." And that brother said nothing of the pardon, but leaving the cell he tore it to pieces and destroyed it, and you know that he did right.
Pardon for a man who is persisting in sin is impossible. It would continue the disorder, and make it infinitely worse. God will pardon you even though you cannot undo your past, pardon you without any merit on your part; but if in your heart you still cling to sin, He cannot, dare not, pardon you. And that is why the condition of receiving remission is repentance toward God. And repentance does not mean that a man quits sinning, it means that he is willing to quit if but the power be given him to do it. And that is the condition. You have committed sin. Are you willing to cease, if only the past may be dealt with, and power given to you by which you shall sin no more? That is repentance.
Yes, willing, more than willing, says some tired heart. Then what next shall I say to you? "Behold the Lamb of God." God will give you perfect and full pardon now if you will trust Him, if you will take it of His grace, if instead of attempting to win it, if instead of attempting to merit it you will just come as a poor, guilty, ruined soul-for such you are-and, kneeling at the foot of that Cross, will take God's pardon through Jesus Christ, that is all.
When may I have it? Now. All your sin may be blotted out now. Your neighbor will not know. God will know. But now, trust Him, sinning heart, not on the basis of pity, but on the basis of infinite righteousness wrought out in love ' I and rendered dynamic in the mystery of His Cross. "We have our redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of our sins."
PEACE IN HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS THE ISSUE OF PARDON AND purity. There
be no peace so long as sin is unforgiven; there can be no perfect peace
so long as impurity remains in the life, dominant and influential.
Peace is a necessary sequence in experience; if indeed my trespasses
are forgiven, if indeed my consciousness is purged, then issues peace.
The need of peace is created primarily by the fact that man is out of harmony with God. Here I need hardly stay to argue or discuss; I suppose it will be readily granted that this is true. This the Apostle declared in words both blunt and bold: "The carnal mind is emnity against God"; the "natural man" does "not know the things of God." He cannot know them. The natural man is in intelligence dark toward God, ignorant rather than intelligent; in emotion contrary to God, hating rather than loving; in will perverse against God, disobeying rather than obeying.
If instead of stating these things in these terms of doctrine I state them in the realm of experience, the fact is perhaps more patent. Man does not want to talk about God. In the most refined society-using that word in its very degraded and abused sense, for the only final refinement is the refinement of spiritual culture-the one subject which is "ta-boo" is God. Man is out of harmony with God, afraid of God, unbelieving toward God, and to-day, worst of all indifferent about God.
The reason for this is sin. Find me a man who is afraid of God, and I will find you a man who is a sinner and living in sin. The sin may be manifested in a hundred different ways, but it lies at the back and is the sole reason for lack of harmony with God. It is sin that cuts man off from God, for it is sin that blinds his vision, so that he cannot see God; deadens his emotion, so that he cannot love God; turns his will into perverse attitudes, so that he cannot obey God. Sin prevents the fulfillment of purpose, and thus puts man out of harmony with God.
Moreover, sin reacts on the sinner, polluting the very sources of life, and this pollution prevents communion, so that a man is not only alienated from God by his sin, but by his alienation from God prevented from ceasing to sin. Sin excludes me from the Divine presence. Being excluded, it may be that I want not to sin, but I have lost my power not to sin, for the only power that enables a man not to sin is that of direct communion with God. That is the awful tragedy Of sin-- its reflex action in human life. Men are coming to understand to-day that if man is to find perfect peace he must find his way into harmony with God. In his Varieties of Religious Experience, Professor James tells us that he has come to the deliberate conclusion along lines of scientific investigation that, somewhere, somehow, man has business with God, and that man fulfils his highest destiny only as he submits himself to the call of God.
But men are not having dealings with Him, do not find Him; cannot find Him though they search through the long and misty avenues of scientific investigation, though they spend long and weary years in philosophical elaboration and research. God is never so found. Yet men out of harmony with God are conscious that they lack peace, and the reason of the lack of harmony and the absence of communion is sin, the direct and wilful and personal doing of wrong, when right and wrong have stood confronting man's reason and his will.
Because man is out of harmony with God he is utterly out of harmony with everything else. A man who has no peace with God lacks peace within his own personality. A man who has no peace with God, and who lacks peace within his own personality, fails of peace with his fellow man. The man who has no peace with God, and lacks peace in his own personality, and therefore fails to have peace with his fellow men, is out of harmony with the whole of Nature.
The man who is out of harmony with God is out of harmony within his own personality. My text occurs in one of the stupendous passages of the New Testament: in order that its light may flash on my subject, I ask you to consider the context. The Apostle is dealing with the great subject of creation and of Christ's relationship thereto. He speaks of Christ as being the Image of God, and also as being the First-born of creation. He distinctly says that the God-created things were made by Him and for Him. He distinctly affirms that in Him-that is, in Christ--"all things consist." Then he declares, right at the heart of the great argument, that this Christ, Firstborn of creation, Upholder of creation, shed His blood in the midst of creation; and that through the mystery of that blood-shedding, in the midst of the creation held together by Christ, and created by Christ, He will reconcile all things to Himself, both on the earth and in the heavens. That is the majestic sweep of the passage.
In Christ all things consist. Banish from your mind all the larger outlook on creation. Forget the spaces by which you are surrounded: forget even this one little planet on which you stand, and out of its myriad mysteries consider your own life. You are part of creation; the principle that obtains in the whole creation obtains in you. In Him, the Christ Who is the image of God, things consist. In Him they harmonize, part fitting to part, power answering power, joint uniting with joint. If you banish this Christ from the life by sin, if you put God out of count, then you no longer consist, you no longer hold together. You become, within your own personality disorganized, broken up, disintegrated. Every man who is Godless and Christless is disintegrated in his own personality; he is a mystery to himself. He finds the physical--we all know the physical; he finds the mental--we are all conscious of the mental; every now and then he hears, not from without, as though a voice out of the blue addressed him, but from within, the voice of his spiritual nature. This last he stifles, silences, drives back. The mental he sometimes attempts to cultivate and refine; the physical he ministers to with all his power; but he is a broken man. The spiritual, which is the essential, is dethroned, imprisoned within the personality; the mental has the wrong vision, the wrong outlook, and, consequently, is perpetually degraded; and the physical is made the principal; that man lives, as Paul says, "in flesh" instead of in spirit. There is no harmony; and out of that discord of a human life come the questionings and the agonies, and the conflicts, and the defeats that are perpetual in human history. Out of that discord comes the dual cry of a man when he says, I would do good. Evil is present with me. I would climb, but I fall. The man who is Godless lacks peace within. There is passion within, there is power within, but not peace. Passion runs riot, power is misapplied; ambition, aspiration, desire, endeavor, all these things; but no peace. Moments that seem peaceful are broken in on by some rush of passion; moments that seem quiet are disturbed by some new mystery within the life of the man of the world.
Oh, man, thy personality is as marvelous as is God's universe, and the things in conflict are great things, God-made things. Every part of thy personality is the result of a Divine thinking, and a Divine creation; and if thou art living without the Divine Who thought, and the Divine Who created, the great forces in thy life are conflicting and clashing, and there is discord, but no peace.
The result is that man is not at peace with his fellow man. Each man being disorganized within his own personality, social disorganization must necessarily ensue. Are you prepared to say there is peace in the world? Of course, by comparison there are countries that are at peace, but I am not at all sure that the peace of to-day which is perpetually at- tempting to be ready for war is not more disastrous than war itself.
Is there social peace? Nation is divided against nation, class against class, there is commercial strife, and social strife is rife, and why? Because the units are at strife within themselves. When strife meets strife, strife is perpetuated, and you will never have the peace of a great socialism until you have the peace of a great individualism.
Finally, man is not only out of harmony within himself And with his fellow-man, he is out of harmony with Nature. I take up my Bible, and I turn over to that great psalm about man:
And now hear the answer:
That is a picture of God's intention for man, dominion over Nature,
harmony with Nature, mastery of Nature; a beneficent mastery of Nature
that leads Nature out to its highest and its best--that is God's
At the beginning God put man into a garden; what for? So that he might admire the flowers and pluck the fruits? No! "To dress it and to keep it." He put him into the garden in order that man might put his God-made hand on God's unfinished work and finish it. The Garden of Eden was a garden of potentialities, waiting for the touch of man to make it perfect. God placed man in it, and said, Now touch it with labor, and it will laugh at you with flowers. We can see something of this even to-day. One's mind goes to the simplest of all illustrations among the flowers. Who of us has not seen the wonderful development of what in my boyhood's days was a simple country flower, the chrysanthemum? I remember it in my father's garden. It was so old-fashioned that there were gardens that would not have it, but there is not a garden that has not room for it to-day. It has grown since those days, and the petals have run out into wavy gracefulness and tender tints. What has happened? Man has touched it. The potentialities of the chrysanthemum of to-day lay in the old-fashioned garden chrysanthemum, but it waited for man to complete the work of God. At this hour Nature as a great whole is an unconquered territory because man is Godless. You tell me that the most scientific men are Godless mem You tell me that the countries that are most scientific are the most Godless. I do not believe it. Let us study the map of the world; imagine you see it before you. Now put your hand on the places where most discoveries have been made. And while your hands are resting on those countries in which men have done most in the work of mastering Nature and discovering her secrets and giving them to men, they are resting on the countries where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has prevailed most. That is the larger outlook. You bring me to some man whom you call scientific, and he is Godless, and you say that scientific investigation makes a man Godless. I tell you it is a narrow outlook. It is just as narrow an outlook as the outlook of Robert Ingersoll when he said that something happened as naturally as water runs down hill. If you think that is true, read Father Lambert's reply, and see how Father Lambert demonstrated that water does not run down hill, that the vast mass of the waters of the world are piled at the equator.
In the light of Godliness men have mastered Nature; electric light has come directly as the result of Godliness, for if you find lands that are Godless you find them in darkness in every sense of the word. Man remains out of harmony with Nature until he finds his way to God. One man tells me he will climb to Nature and find God. Never. You must find God and then climb into Nature. Neither as to its beauty nor as to its potentiality can you ever be at peace with Nature until you are at peace with God.
And how we long for peace. Oh, the restlessness of the present age! Oh, the friction! Sometimes one pauses to listen and it seems as though surging through the cities, coming up from the quieter country, beating on the listening car, from all the continents and the isles of the sea, there is the noise of strife and battle, man within himself hot and restless, feverish, lacking peace; man battling with his brother man for territory, for commerce, for advance; man out of harmony with Nature, losing his love of the beautiful, failing to interpret its message of God, but slowly discovering its deep underlying secrets. Peace seems absent, and yet how man longs for it, sighs after it, sings about it, courts it, and fails to find it.
But there are men and women who have peace; there are men and women living at the very center of it. There are men and women who know peace with God, within themselves, with their fellow men, and with all the universe of God. And how has this peace come? I go back again to the first chapter of Colossians, and again ask you to let the great and stately argument of the Apostle pass before you. Christ, First-born of creation, all things held together in Him; Christ bowed to death, to the awful and lonely tragedy of an earthly dying, in the midst of the lack of peace, and making peace through the blood of His Cross.
This is the third time we have come to this central mystery, and for the third time I say to you, I do not know how it was done. I cannot fathom it, but I see the infinite order in the economy of God of which Christ is Originator and Upholder. I see the awful discord and lack of peace that sweep upon men and everything to the utmost limit of the universe. I see at the center the worst disorder of all, the dying Christ, and I see proceeding from that Cross reconciliation, the restoration of peace, men finding God, men finding themselves, because they have found God; men finding their brother men and getting back to them because they have found God; men finding the secrets and beauties of Nature because they have found God. Already I hear across the nations and the continents, war-mad, strife-occupied, the song of an infinite peace. How came it? It began in the mystery of His dying, and the awful darkness of His blood-shedding. I cannot fathom it; I cannot measure it. I cannot tell you all the deep mystery of that outpoured life and flood, but this I know, that through it peace is born.
First of all, peace between man and God. Let us take three phrases of the New Testament. "Justified by faith, we have peace with God." "Peace from God our Father." "And the peace of God shall garrison your heart." "Peace with God," "peace from God," "the peace of God." This is the experience of the soul that comes back to God from sin and pollution by the way of the Cross of Jesus. No man can speak perfectly of this peace. It defies analysis, it transcends explanation, it may sing itself into snatches of song, but the great infinite experience can never be told; it must be known. Peace with God, that is, if you will have it so-judicial peace. I have sinned against Him, and I am afraid of Him. But I come to Him as He calls me by the way of the Cross, and my sin is put away, I am no longer afraid. The fear is gone, that which made me afraid to speak of Him, to think of Him, has all been put away, and small as I am in His great universe, and utterly unable as I know myself to be to comprehend the full meaning of His existence, this at least is true-fear has been banished, I am at peace with Him, at peace with Him Who holds the universe in the hollow of His hand, at peace with the infinite Force and Intelligence. As God is my witness, standing by that Cross, claiming and receiving its pardon, its purity, I have also its peace, and I am not afraid. So the soul that comes to this Cross is first at peace with God.
This peace is also from God, the quietness that comes into the life when man knows that God is pleased. There is no language that can tell the deepest truth here, but as I am accepted in the Beloved, as I am complete in the Christ, the very blessedness of God rests on me, because it rests on Him, the Christ Himself. I have been joined to Him, and "he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit" And as the good pleasure of God was declared with the Christ, it is declared also with all such as put their trust in Him: pardon for the past, purity for the present, and the peace of knowing;
And yet once more and most wonderful of all in this connection, not
merely peace with God, and peace from God, but "the peace of God." What
is God's peace? It is the peace of His omniscience, the peace of His
omnipotence, the peace of His omnipresence. Do you not see how all
these things must necessarily create peace in the very Being of God?
What robs me of peace in the small affairs of life? My limitations. I
cannot see the end, and I am afraid. I cannot be where I would be, and
my heart is hot and restless. I cannot do what ought to be done, and
panic seizes me. God sees the end from the beginning, God is always
where He is needed. God is always equal to the demand that is made on
Him, even though it be the redemption of a lost race; and,
consequently, in the presence of the fall of man, in the presence of
the sin of the race, in the presence of the wrong of the centuries of
pain, God's peace in its deepest was never disturbed, because He knew
how out of it He would bring life and light and glory, until at last
heaven would be reached over the mystery of evil, and its mastery come
by the way of the Cross.
The perfect peace of God is the peace of the child of God. Not that I now can see the end from the beginning, but I know He can, and so I sing. Not that I now can be everywhere at the same moment, but He is, and so while I stand here, separated by miles from my friend in danger, I speak to Him, and in the act I am with my friend, for God is with my friend. Distance is annihilated in this life of fellowship, power is perpetual, and the things I cannot do, I can do in Him and through Him. The man who is at peace with God enters into the peace of God, for he has found his way, small atom though he be, infinitesimal part of the universe, into harmony with the order of the universe.
This necessarily means that the peace that comes to us is exactly what we need in other respects, not only in relationship to God, but in relationship to self. The whole being is balanced and quiet.
Look at these two men. What is that man? He is a spirit indwelling a body, having a mind. What is this man? He is a spirit indwelling a body, having a mind. What is the difference between them? This man is perturbed, he lacks peace, he is always full of fear, he is hot, restless, feverish. That man is quiet, calm, strong. What is the difference? This man is out of harmony within himself. The essential spirit is starved, dwarfed, driven out, consequently flesh is glorified, and worshiped and served. He lacks balance, harmony, there is no consistence in this man, because he has not found God. That man has found God, his own spirit is taken out of the prison house and put on the throne. The flesh is not bruised, the flesh is not scourged, it is governed, kept under, made servant, instead of master. He has found the true proportion of things. He is consistent within himself, and his life is full of peace. Why? Because he found God, and finding peace with God and from God and of God, he gained peace within his own personality, and his life became strong, free from friction, quiet, calm, powerful.
Watch that man still; that man knows what peace is with his fellow man. I know that Jesus said, I have not come to send peace but a sword." That is perfectly true. That is the effect produced among Godless men by the presence of godly men; so long as there are godless men they will hate the godly, and so will attempt to destroy their peace. The measure in which professing Christians fail to make peace is the measure in which they are not Christians. I think the day has come when we ought to be more ready to "unchristianize" the man who libels Christianity than to "unchristianize" Christianity on account of such a man. You tell me of a Christian man who is always making disturbances; I do not believe it. Oh, but he is a minister; that does not matter. He is a deacon; that has no signification in this connection. He has been a church member for forty years; I cannot help it. If the influence of his life is not that of peace, he is not a Christian. When once the peace of God possesses a human life, when once the peace of God dominates a human life, the influence of that life is peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God."
And yet that is after all but a negative way of arguing the case. Take the positive statement of truth. There are still those who dare say that war is devilish. There are some of us who still believe that you cannot justify war, and we say so because we believe in Jesus Christ. Thank God for the lonely singers! There is a good deal to be heard beside their song. There are a great many other voices attempting to express in harmony the glory of war; but I hear the singers on the other side of the sea and in this country; and even on that poor war-mad continent there are some foolish souls who believe in peace, and who will try to bring it in.
Where did they learn their song? It was never born or learned anywhere save in living relationship to God. The song of peace, prophetic, expectant, determined, is always the song of godliness, never the song of godlessness; and we know that all the peace that comes in social and national relationships is the outcome of relationship to God, restored in human lives by the mystery of the Cross.
Man finds his way back into the place of peace with nature by this selfsame work of Jesus Christ. As a side light on our subject read again the eighth chapter of Romans, and read it this time not so much in order to learn its marvelous teaching concerning personal relationship to God; listen for the larger thing in it. You will find groaning mentioned three times over. The Apostle says: "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now." "We also groan within ourselves waiting for the redemption." "The Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." The groaning of Nature is everywhere. The Spirit of God interprets the agony of Nature to the godly man, and the godly man groans in the midst of it, inspired by the Spirit into sympathy with it. "Preach the Gospel," said Jesus, "to the whole creation," and the Gospel of Jesus Christ has its application to all the sorrow and the evil there is in nature. Before the Cross has won its last triumph man will be restored to Nature, and Nature will be restored to man. When God's Second Man and Last Adam went down into the wilderness, He met and mastered evil, and at the close we read: "He was with the wild beasts," and we have read it as though it were a message of terror. It means He was with them in company and comradeship, and they were unafraid of Him. Because of His own absolute perfection ferocity ceased; there was no wild beast in the presence of God's Perfect Man. Neither will there be in the presence of a perfectly redeemed humanity. The earth is not old, it is young. This earth effete? By no means. We have hardly begun to realize its resources. The race is struggling still in its kindergarten days, believe me. When by-and-by His reign shall be established, when by-and-by man shall have found peace with God in a larger sense than the merely individual, then he will begin to find Nature and its secrets, then such flowers as men have never looked upon, then such wonders as we would now call miracles, then the resurrection of Christ shall no longer be a mystery to scientific thinking. Do not imagine, my brothers, you know all about Nature. So far, you have just scratched on the surface of things. That is all the race has done. When the Lord of creation, Who is First-born of creation, shall have won His perfect victory and reconciled all things to God, then man will have found peace with Nature. Have you entered into peace with God? If not, you have never seen a flower yet:
Peace! It can come to you, my brother, personal, social with Nature,
only as it first comes with God. I beseech you, it acquaint now thyself
with Him, and be at peace." And the only way is at the;
The only place is at the Cross, where He made peace through the
shedding of blood.
THE ASPECT OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST WHICH IS NOW TO occupy our
is one that has application only to a certain number of people, whom
the Apostle refers to in the words, "to us which are being saved." We
have spoken in this series of meditations first of pardon, and then of
purity, and lastly of peace by way of the Cross.
We are now to speak of a third blessing~power by way of the Cross. We are often reminded of the fact that in the great experience of salvation there are tenses. I was saved; I am being saved; now is my salvation nearer than when I believed-that is, I shall be saved. The particular aspect of the Cross which is before our minds deals with the present and progressive tense of salvation. Pardon full, sufficient, perfect, is granted in the very moment in which we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Purity is in that selfsame moment placed at our disposal; whether we appropriate it or not may be another matter. Power is also at our disposal from that moment and ever onward, but we necessarily come to understand it and make use of it as we live the Christian life. The Word of the Cross is the power of God to those of us who are being saved. The soul pardoned and purified immediately confronts the future, and nowhere is weakness more keenly felt than at that moment. Often men are kept from that great act of surrender to Jesus Christ, which brings them into the position of pardon or purity, or of both, by fear of the future. And though men yield to the call of the Lord, and rejoice in the forgiveness of sins; even though they submit themselves wholly to Him, and claim the great purging of conscience which comes by such surrender; even though the great peace of God is in their hearts, yet when they face the future the sense of weakness comes, perhaps as never before. To that sense of weakness the Cross brings an evangel, and as by the way of the Cross I have pardon and purity and peace, so also by the way of the Cross--blessed be God!--there is power for me.
Let us think for a moment of the need of the soul pardoned, purified, at peace. The new relationship to Jesus Christ does not remove us out of all the old relationships. We are still left on the probationary plane. We shall live in the same store, the same workshop, even though our sins are for-Christ. We shall go back to business in the same office, the same store, the same workshop, even though our sins are forgiven. All the peculiar forces that have played on our personality prior to our relationship with Jesus Christ will still operate to-morrow, though He has forgiven us, purified us, and brought us into the place of peace. All the ordinary conditions and contingencies will recur to the soul that has come into new relationship with the Lord. The old temptations will come again, and will be felt far more keenly than they have ever been felt before. The old temptations will come through the old avenues; there are but three-the physical, the spiritual, and the vocational. Bread-that is the first; tampering with confidence in God-that is the second; attempting to possess the kingdoms in some other way than by treading the Divinely appointed pathway--that is the third. The devil has no other. These avenues are still open when I give myself to Jesus Christ. I still live within the physical tabernacle; I still am dependent on God for everything, and must live the life of trust; I still am called to Divine purpose in the world. And along every one of these avenues temptation will come to me, even though I am forgiven, purified, and at peace. My consciousness of temptation will be far keener than it ever has been; temptation will be more subtle; the tempter will be more busy. The devil is far more eager to spoil that new life dedicated to Jesus Christ than he is to pay any attention whatsoever to the souls that lie asleep in him.
Not temptation only, but suffering will still be my portion. Bereavements will come to me, as they come to others; defeat will sometimes overtake my endeavor, as it overtakes the endeavors of all men; treachery may lurk in the pathway to harm me; I am still in the place of tears, the place of suffering, the place of sorrow. Again, I am still in the place of joy. I now belong to Jesus Christ, but that will not rob me of the rapture of success; I have been pardoned and purified, and am at peace with God, but that will not interfere with the delight I have in the comradeship and friendship for others of my kind. I have indeed seen Him Whom to see is to find light and life and love and liberty; but there is still within me that which asks for gold on the morning sky. Hope will still take hold of every promise and build on it some great expectation. I am still in the midst of the old circumstances. I must still live the old life.
Once again, the dedication of my life to Jesus Christ, and all the answering blessings that come by the way of the Cross: these things do not remove me out of the place of mystery. I am still limited in my outlook. Phantoms will flit across the seas of life, threatening me and affrighting me; questions will still arise in the inner life as they did before. Yielded to Jesus Christ, I am not at the end of the questioning mind, I have not solved the last riddle or probed the deepest problem.
The man pardoned, purified, and at peace, abides in the place of peril. He must live where he lived, and as he lived, must strive for bread, and prosecute his business, and touch the world. At least, that is the Divine intention for him. And if any man shall attempt to live the Christian life by escaping from these conditions and hiding within stone walls, he will find that he has cut the very nerve of saintship, and has made it impossible to be all that Christ meant him to be. "As is the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters." Christianity is not an exotic which flourishes in hothouse atmosphere, separated from all difficulties. Christianity is a hardy perennial that blossoms among the thorns; and if a man moves from such surroundings he will move from the conditions that make him strong.
Yet it is not merely in order that we may meet these things that we need power. When we yielded ourselves to Christ, and received blessing at His hand, we were brought into a new realm of activity. New demands were made on us. When I come to the Cross and receive these benefits, I, by that reception, commit myself to its responsibilities. When I come to the Cross, and there, a lost and ruined soul, see that I am found and redeemed, in the act by which I receive the Christ I take the oath of allegiance to the One Who saves me. In that moment I commit myself to all the enterprises of God. He demands that what there is of my life shall be surrendered to Him, and that from that moment I shall be a worker together with Him, in fellowship, partnership with Him. From that moment I am to stand, wheresoever my lot may be cast, for righteousness, and not for policy merely--I am to put my whole life into the great business of bringing about a reconciliation of men to God. From that moment in which the blessings of the Cross become my own, my life is committed to the publication of the evangel of the Cross to all men; from that moment in which the compassion of God becomes my salvation, I am called on to live in the power of that compassion for the salvation of others. Standing on the brink of the new life of service, with its demands so great and wonderful, the soul says, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Pardoned, purified, at peace, I have to live and serve. How can I live and serve?
What I need is that there shall come into my life a new force that is equal to all the demands. Power to resist temptation, power to endure suffering equally, power to endure joy that I be not spoiled thereby, power to wait amid the mysteries until His light shall shine on the pathway.
For service I need power. If I am called to this new service I need the passive power that will enable me to stand four square to every wind that blows; I need the active power that will enable me to accomplish the work God puts in my hands as a saved man; I need persuasive power to constrain men to this selfsame Cross where I have found my blessings.
Now, I take up this letter to the Corinthians because in face of difficulties and divisions and misunderstanding the Apostle insists on this one thing, that "the Word of the Cross is the power of God."
Now, the question arises, simply and naturally in the heart of each one of us, In what sense can it be true that the Word of the Cross is the power of God to them that are being saved? Not merely the power which enables a man to find salvation, but the power that he needs to live this life, which is in itself a procession and probation of salvation. In what sense can the Word of the Cross be said to be power? If you approach from the standard of merely human intellectual strength you will come to one of two conclusions. You will come to the conclusion of the Jew or of the Greek. You will come to the conclusion that the Cross of Jesus is either a stumbling-block or utter foolishness. These are perfectly natural conclusions. The Jew said the Cross is a stumbling block, a skandalon, something in the way, over which men fall. Put the Cross into its relation to the life of Jesus as the Jew saw it. Take the disciples, not the great crowd that neglected Him: they learned of Jesus, and learned to love Him, and desired to follow Him. What was the Cross prior to Pentecost? It was a stumbling-block; the moment Jesus mentioned it they drew back from Him, and why? Because they thought the Cross would hinder, not help. There was no power in the Cross to the mind of Peter when he said, "That be far from Thee, Lord." It was the thing that ended power, that robbed Jesus of power to the thinking Jew unilluminated by the Spirit of God, who had never seen into the mystery. After the Cross and resurrection, when Jesus walked to Emmaus, two men talked to Him about the Cross. They said, "We hoped that it was He which should redeem Israel." In imagination I will join the group, and ask these men a question. Do you not still hope? No, we have lost our hope. What killed it? The Cross killed it. So long as He was careful, or seemed to be careful of Himself, so long as when men were angry He went away into the country and waited awhile, and went on with His teaching, we hoped; but when He became reckless and set His face to go to Jerusalem, and we could not dissuade Him, that Cross was the stumbling-block; there He fell, there our hopes were ruined. There is no other conclusion; they were perfectly right, judging by natural law.
Or if not, then what? Then, still within the realm of the natural, you say with the Greek, the Cross was foolishness. It means the same thing underneath. It is absolutely foolish to talk about a Roman gibbet lifting a man except that it may kill him. Foolishness to the Greek. When Paul began his ministry, this teller of tales. There were men who traveled through these Greek cities doing nothing but telling tales of travel, adventure, things seen in distant places; and the men of the time who listened had itching ears-and they have successors to-day-men always seeking for some new thing. When Paul came to tell them the story of how Jesus lived and was crucified and rose, they said: This is a tale, and it is just foolishness, we will amuse ourselves and listen to it. The Cross is still that to-day to some. There is nothing that vitalizes the intellect until you are born again; there is nothing in the Cross that helps on the redemption of the race until you are born again. It is a cold, dead, lifeless stumbling-block, and some men are doing their very best to get rid of it. I am therefore limited in all I say now. "To us which are being saved."
What is it to us who are being saved? "The power of God." What is the "power of God"? The "Word of the Cross." Not the preaching of the Cross-one of the most important changes in translation here-not the preaching, but the Logos, the Word, exactly the same phrase which you have in John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." "The Word of the Cross." It is not the preaching of the Cross that is the power. Thank God there is a sense in which the preaching of the Cross is the power of God; it is by the preaching, the heralding, the proclamation of the Cross that men find the Word of the Cross. But it is not the act of preaching that is powerful, it is the thing preached. Some years ago a theological professor said what seemed to be a smart thing to his class. He said, "Gentlemen, remember God has chosen the foolishness of preaching, not the preaching of foolishness." If he had looked a little more closely he would have found he was wrong. God has chosen the preaching of foolishness, foolishness to the Greek. What is this foolishness? "The Word of the Cross." Let us take the phrase and look at it for a moment, very reverently. "The Word ... .. The Word of the Cross."
Have you ever made anything like careful and patient study of what the Bible says about the "Word of God"? Have you ever taken that phrase and traced it through? The Bible says wonderful things about the Word of God. I go back into the Old Testament, and there is a wonderful amount of New in the Old. I turn to one of the Psalms and I read this:
Listen to a statement of the New Testament, "Who being the
of His glory, and the very image of His substance, and upholding all
things by the word of His power, when He had made purification of sins,
sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." "He spake, and it
was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." "Upholding all things by
the word of His power." Hear once again. An angel visitor is talking to
the Virgin, and in the midst of her sweet and holy questioning he says,
"No word of God shall be void of power." The word of man is a wish! The
Word of God is a work! It is always so. I speak, and then I must do it;
He speaks, and it is done. I utter a thought that is in my mind; it is
a dream, a prophecy, a desire, a disappointment perchance. When God
expresses Himself, the thing He expresses, is. The Word of God is the
expression of God, the Speech, the Revelation, the uttering forth, the
going out, and with the Word is the Work.
In the fulness of time "the Word was made flesh." And what did men do with that Word made flesh? They crucified Him. I know perfectly well that at this moment-God help us to be reverent--we are standing in the presence of the burning bush. It is well that we take our shoes from off our feet, and say to our hearts that we are looking on the ineffable glory, and cannot explain it. We stand and peer into the mystery, and never understand it; yet, I pray you, think moment in the realm of analysis.
Reverently let me take that great Word of the Cross and see how power is in it, in the mystery of defeat, in the hour of dying, by listening to the words of the Word of the Cross. If you will take the words spoken by the Word in the supreme agony of the Cross, you will find every one of them tells of defeat and of victory, of weakness and of power.
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." It is the word of an unutterable pain, but the pain is the plea that prevails.
"To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." It is the confession of defeat; not often have we said so, but you must take the word and put it into Jewish thinking. Paradise, what is that? The place of departed spirits, and men do not want to pass into the place of departed spirits. He says in effect: I am passing, I am a dying Man, I am going to Paradise. But you will not leave it like that; you know full well it is the passing of a King, that it is the voice of the Master of all defeat, that it is the voice of One Who in supreme defeat utters the word of an eternal victory, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."
"Woman, behold thy son," "Behold thy mother." His heart is bereaved, and He knows His mother's heart is pierced through with a sword, and yet He knows that there, through that bereavement and that agony and loss and suffering, the suffering of sympathy for His own mother, there He creates the new kinship, the new relationship, gives His mother a son in the bond of His love, such as she never could have had in any other way, gives Himself back to His mother through John in the new discipleship of John, and begins that gracious work that He has carried on ever since, of healing broken hearts with the new kinship, the new relationship, the new family of God. It is a great triumph through a great sorrow.
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" That forsaking that so appalls you as it appalls me, what is it but the way of approach? ne forsaking is the pathway to fellowship.
"I thirst." Out of that thirst there springs the living water of which thirsty men shall drink, and never thirst.
"It is finished," and we sing of it to-night, not as the declaration of a Man who is beaten and defeated. We know the ending was the beginning. That is the dawning of the new order and the new life.
"Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." The actual passing is the coming back to the Father. Take any of the words, and I will defy you to explain them. Crucified in weakness, and yet throbbing through the weakness rivers of power, which, by the way of the resurrection, have passed out into all human life. "The Word of the Cross" is "the power of God." He spake at creation; it was done. He spoke in Jesus, and it was done. Pardon and purity and peace, and all the power that man needs to live a life and render a service come by the way of the Cross.
Now, brethren, finally, how am I to realize this power as an actual positive fact in my own life? The abiding condition of the manifestation of Divine power is that of weakness. This, carried to its logical and proper conclusion, teaches us that the supreme condition for the working of the power of the Word of the Cross in our lives is that we know what it is to be crucified with Him, to enter into the place of death with Him. It is when I come to the point of the cessation of my activity in the power of the flesh, in the power of my own intellect, that the power of the Cross becomes operative in me, and through me. Here is where we stand away, and do not know His power, even those who are His. Someone writes me. I open the letter, and I read it. It is such an old story. It says: "I am a Christian, and have been one for long years, but I cannot overcome this temptation, this besetment. I want power to overcome." Or the letter says: "I have been trying to work for God for long years in the Sunday school, in the church, it may be in the pulpit, but there is no power. What am I to do?" And my answer in every case must be the same. "The Word of the Cross. . . . is the power of God."
But how am I to make contact with that power, that I may overcome? How am I to appropriate that power in order that I may serve in power? There is only one way, and it is that I get to the end of my own attempts to do without God, that God is able through the mystery of this power of the Cross to come into my life, and work in victory over temptation and sin, and in all the service that His will appoints. "I have been crucified with Christ," said the Apostle, and sometimes one is almost afraid to quote the passage, it has been quoted so often, it has been preached on so constantly. Yet never until I come there shall I know what power is in my own life. That great power of the Cross operates in and through only men and women who are content to die with Him, to be at the end of self, that He may be the one supreme enthroned and crowned Lord of the life. Oh, it is this dying that hinders us. These ambitions must be laid aside, these prejudices must be crucified, this pride must be humbled; that goal toward which I have been running, which is, in the last analysis, pure selfishness, must be swept away, and I must be willing to say, "I live, yet not I." It is that canceling of the "I" in the life of the Christian that creates contact with the power of the Cross. It is only as we are prepared to go down into the death of the Cross that we shall begin to find its dynamic and its thrill, and shall know its mastery in us, over all that is against us, and through us, over all that is against God. Thank God, it is the "Word of the Cross," and it is "the power of God." No human philosophy can explain it, and no human investigation along the lines of scientific method can account for it. Here the fact remains, and the simple illustrations are to be found everywhere. Here is a frail man, battered and bruised by his own sin, who comes at last to Jesus for pardon, claims His purity, finds the peace of God, and then goes out to begin his life anew. Beginning it anew, there is no dependence on himself. He says, "I have tried and failed; I yield myself to Him, willing to be nothing, sinking to the place where I count not my life to be anything. I cast ambition as dust beneath my feet, or, in the words of old, 'I lay my treasure in the dust,' and all I counted as dear is to be counted as dross and dung. I am nothing." Easily said, but not so easily consented to. It is when a man gets there--and now I am out of the realm of explanation, but I am in the realm of faith-that this great Word of the Cross, the Cross that is the death of sin, the Cross that cancels sin, the Cross that brings the power, begins to thrill and throb through that man's life. He is able to sin no more.
God is sufficient for all the life and service of His people. No exigencies can surprise Him, no combinations can defeat Him. But the element of human trouble and weakness has ever been the self-life. Where that ends, God, through the mystery of His Cross, the Cross of His Son, resumes His government, resumes His activity; then the life touches the place of omnipotence. I thank God for the pardon of the Cross. I thank God for purity that is mine by the way of the Cross. I thank God for peace; but, oh! sometimes--and I suppose it is because it is the last thing one thinks of in God's great gifts is always the best-this power that has come into the life and made it equal to the things to which it was unequal, this present power of God, how great and gracious a thing it is! If you and 1, who tremble and are afraid as we face our surroundings and our service, will but consent to all that is meant by crucifixion with Him, we shall find that that Cross, which was a stumbling-block to Jew and foolishness to Greek, is to such as are being saved the power of God.
WE NOW COME TO THE LAST OF THESE STUDIES AROUND THE Cross of our
and Saviour Jesus Christ, a series in which we have attempted to deal
with some of the rich and gracious provisions of the Cross; here we
shall consider some phases of that all-inclusive and plenteous
redemption which God has provided for us through the Son of His love by
the way of the Cross.
We have seen the Cross of Christ standing amidst human rain and helplessness at the very center of redemption, and as the channel of power.
We have endeavored to watch the progress of its work in the experience of the soul who surrenders to Christ.
We have first seen how pardon is ours, that we "have redemption through His blood . . . the forgiveness of . . .trespasses"; we have seen how purity comes to us by the way of the Cross, seeing that our consciousness may be "purged from dead works to serve the living and true God" by that same most precious blood; we have seen how peace comes to us by the way of the Cross, for He "has made peace" by the blood of His Cross; and, last, we have considered how power comes to us, for "the Word of the Cross," the Logos of the Cross, "is the power of God to such as are being saved."
Let us once more take our stand by this selfsame Cross, and observe how it'flings its light out on all the future, and on all possible needs and contingencies that may arise.
This is an aspect full of value to us. We are all growingly conscious of our limitation, of the fact that there are more things in heaven and earth than have been dreamed of in our philosophies. This growing consciousness very often affects our thought of, and relation to, spiritual things, the things of the soul, the things of redemption. There are moments when the trusting soul trembles through its own limitation of knowledge and vision.
Have there not been moments in your own Christian life when the very consciousness of the unending ages has been almost too great a burden to bear, when the consciousness of the illimitable spaces that lie unmeasured and immeasurable around you has almost crushed your spirit? We have all had such moments, in which we have asked questions about those ages, those spaces, those infinite things round about us, and there have been moments when we have asked questions about our own relationship to God in the light of these things.
Let us go back to the eighth chapter of Romans, and if there has seemed to be something of the nature of speculation in my introductory words, I want you to listen to Paul. These are some of the questions he asked: "Who is against us?" "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" "Who is he that shall condemn?" "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"
It is impossible for any who know the Lord Jesus, and have come into the blessings that have lately occupied our attention to read those questions without the tone of challenge creeping into the very reading of them. I am perfectly sure that this was in the mind of Paul when he wrote them. "Who is against us?" "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" "Who is he that shall condemn?" "Who shall separate us?"
Remember where the great questions occur in the scheme of this epistle; they do not come in the early part in which the Apostle is dealing with the need for salvation, nor in the central part in which he is laying down the plan of salvation, but in chapter eight, the chapter of the final triumph, in which life in Christ is so wonderfully described, life by the Spirit, which is life in Christ; the chapter which, as so often has been said, begins, "no condemnation," and ends, "no separation." Beyond the first part of the chapter, beyond the present experience of the power of the Cross, these questions occur. To pardoned, purified souls, at peace and having power, all these questions come sooner or later. Happy and blessed indeed are the men and women who can face them as Paul faced them, so that in the asking of them there is a tone of challenge, the great ring of a sure triumph.
"Who is against us?" What attack may be directed against our souls? "Who shall lay anything" to our charge? Can any other accusation be brought against us? "Who is he that shall condemn?" "Who shall separate us?" They are all questions born of the soul's consciousness of limitation. We are coming day by day to have a widening conception of life; we are living in an age in which the universe is a great deal larger than it seemed to our fathers. The discoveries of science--I say nothing of their speculations, I am always willing to wait while they speculate-have put the horizon back much further than it seemed to be. Theories which sounded like speculations to them are now ascertained facts; indeed, so great has the universe become that some men deny the relationship of the individual to God. All this is born of the ever enlarging sense of the universe.
These widening conceptions of life, this deepening sense of personal frailty, lead us to ask such questions. Can anyone be against us? I know some of the foes, but are there others of whom I know nothing? I read in my New Testament of "principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world," and all this phraseology has grown in meaning with the passing of the years. I do not say it means more essentially, but it means more to us than it did.
As one in this little planet, one in this ever widening universe, ever widening to human conception, how do I know what lies beyond in the dim distances? Who can be against us? Is there some spiritual antagonism I have never yet faced, ready to attack me? Is there some accuser who will rise up and set my life in relation with other laws? Shall I find myself a sinner in some deeper sense? Is there any accuser? And the final throbbing, agonizing question, until we come to the Cross for an answer, is, "Who shall separate?" Can anyone?
Every question is in itself a demand, a reverent demand, the demand of the soul; and when I ask, "Who is against us?" I am asking for defense against all possibility of attack. When I ask, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" I am asking that my justification shall be a justification in the presence of any and every possible accusation. When I ask, "Who is he that shall condemn?" I am asking that my acquittal at the bar of Infinite Holiness shall be from any possible condemnation that may arise. When I ask, "Who shall separate us?" I am asking that my communion with God shall be so arranged that all need arising from the new nature and the new conditions and the new demands shall be met.
I tremble on the verge of the eternal, I am, in my own poor personality, afraid in the presence of the immeasurable and the infinite that stretches out beyond. I stand, a man, a speck amid immensity, and I do not know what cohorts are hidden behind the distant hills ready to come against me. I do not know what traducers may yet bring charges against me. Can anything separate me from the love of God?
These are great questions. They do not always take this form, but they come to us all, sometimes very simply, and perhaps, therefore, the more subtly, with more far-reaching and deep-searching agony of soul.
In view of such questionings the greatness of my text is revealed. It is an answer to one of the questions, but I take it because out of it come the values that answer all the questions. "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things."
I suppose every man who preaches the Word sometimes feels as though there is nothing more to say when he has read his text. That is certainly how I feel about this. Note its historic basis, "He spared not His own Son." Notice its logical conclusion, "Shall He not freely give us all things?"
When God gave His Son, He gave His best; and now human language must be imperfect. He emptied heaven of its richest; He had nothing more worth the giving. He gave in that moment not something better than the rest by comparison, but something that included all. The Apostle here says, in effect, when God gave His Son, with Him "He freely gave us all things." It is not merely that if He spared not His Son He will give other things. It is really that when He gave His Son He gave all. Take another statement of this same Apostle, from his Colossian letter, which deals with the glorious Christ, and remember his words about Jesus, "Christ, Who is the Image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him were all things created . . . and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist." There is no far distant part of the universe of God that is not held together in orderly array by Christ. No mystic secret of the Divine procedure is unknown to Christ. No foe of humanity lurking in any of the infinite spaces that baffle and affright me is hidden from Christ. God gave His Son, and when He gave His Son, He gave the One in Whom all things consist, from Whom all things came, to Whom all things proceed. In originating wisdom and creating force and upholding power, He gave the sum total of everything when He gave Christ, so that when I ask a question about the infinite spaces I am asking a question about the things that are as familiar to Jesus as are the few grains of sand that I can hold in my hand and look at, and far more familiar, for I cannot tell you the deep- est mystery of the grains of sand, and He knows the last mystery of all the universe. When I ask my question about the days that are coming, I am asking a question about things that He will make, for He it is Who fashions not only the worlds of matter, but the worlds of time, the rolling ages as they come. God has given this Son of His love--Framer of the Universe in infinite wisdom, Upholder of it on its onward course to the final goal--given Him freely for us all.
Now, the Apostle says, "Who is against us?" "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" "Who is he that shall condemn?" "Who shall separate us?" Notice the questions again, and notice them as they are set against the great declaration.
First, "If God is for us, who is against us?" How, do I know God is for me? He gave His Son. There is no other demonstration. If you doubt the Cross you have no proof that God is for us. If you lose the sight of the Cross, and do not hear its message of the Divine good will and favor' there is nothing in Nature to show you God is for you. Nature is red in tooth and claw. We are told sometimes that it is kind, and so it is if we are kind to it; but offend it, break its laws, and it will crush you with merciless severity.
And this also is a merciful provision, for the crushing of anything effete is good for the things that remain. God by salvation has not come to save effete things as effete things. He has come to save things from effeteness and make them new. Nature will laugh in sunshine on the face of your dead child; there is no message in Nature that tells you that the God behind it cares for you.
But this man, weak and frail, suffering the loss of all things, the pity of all worldly-minded souls, says God is for him. How does he know? "He spared not His own Son." That is the infinite proof. The Cross is the revelation of the Divine interest. If I have that Cross, there God has given, in the mystery of that dying, His own Son, and I am prepared to challenge all the universe. "Who can be against me?"
As I learn the lesson and repeat the challenge there will come into it, not merely a tone of challenge, but the tone of contempt for everything that is against me. Circumstances are against me; let them be! God is against the circumstances! Another man says, My parentage is against me. God becoming your Father cancels the evil inheritance with which you entered into life.
But these are things of to-day. What lies beyond? I do not know. What infinite forces will be born in the new ages, the ages that will come fresh as the morning from the wisdom of God? What forces may be born with new principalities and new powers? Perchance some of them will be against me. It does not matter, they will be born of God, and God is for me, and the man who stands by the Cross of Jesus and knows that that, is God's gift for his redemption knows that nothing can emerge out of the endless ages, or gather from infinite spaces, that can harm, because by that Cross he knows God is for him. Who can be against us?
As to accusation, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth." We must interpret this word of the Apostle by his previous use of the word in the same argument. How does God justify? "Being, therefore, justified by faith . . . we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and . . . rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Who shall lay anything to my charge? It is God that justifies me. How? By that Cross of Jesus. You may lay to my charge what you will. You may see in me the imperfection that contradicts your sense of law. I am talking in imagination to the principalities and powers which may be created fifty millenniums hence. God has justified me by the Cross, which does not mean for one single moment that He has covered and excused my sin, but by the infinite mystery of the pain borne in that Cross, He has made my sin not to be, canceled it, put it away, and in this justification God acts, not out of pity, but on the basis of eternal justice and righteousness.
I challenge all the accusers. Who are you? Lay your accusation. Yes, it is true, perchance even in the holy service of to-day, perchance even in the service of the ages to come, there will be the falling short somewhere. I do not mean wilful sin. Do you not know that God charges the angels with folly? When I measure my service, even in the infinite hereafter, by the compulsion and propulsion and constraint of the Infinite love, I think that we shall always have to cast our crowns at His feet and say, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory." If someone shall lay a charge against me that the thing is not as high as it ought to have been, then in the infinite ages the Cross of the Christ abides, God's eternal provision, so that none can lay anything to the charge of such as He shall justify.
Or again, "Who is he that shall condemn?" "It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather"--hear the music of it, if death were all, the condemnation would abide--"yea, rather, that was raised from the dead," and in the mystery, and miracle, and marvel of that resurrection there is the demonstration of the truth that the dying was efficacious, that in the dying He accomplished the purpose of His heart, in the dying He put guilt away and bore sin so that I need bear it no more. "Who shall condemn?" The soul, afraid of possible condemnation, hides again in the cleft of the rock, and points to the Cross and the empty grave, and says for evermore, By virtue of that Cross and that empty tomb, there can be no condemnation to the trusting soul.
Once again, "Who shall separate us?" Paul always seems to me, at this stage, as though he had climbed to some great height and was looking out on all the dimensions. "Death," he puts that first, because that is what men are so often afraid of as a separating force. "Life," which is far more likely to separate us than death, even though men do not fear it. "Angels, principalities," the whole world and universe of created intelligences. "Things present-things to come," in simple sentences he sweeps through all the ages. "Powers, height, depth."
Notice carefully this final phrase-"nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Did you notice the Apostle's outlook on all these things? "Death?" That is a creation. "Life?" That is a creation. "Angels" and "principalities?" Creations. "Things present?" Creations. "Things to come?" Creations. "Powers?" Creations. "Height?" Creation. "Depth?" Creation. All had issued from God. How can created things separate me, says the Apostle, from the Origin of the created things, seeing I am bound to Him through the work of Jesus, His own Son? I cannot be separated by things created by the Creator, for the Creator has bound me to Him by giving His Son, and brings me back with His Son into eternal union with Himself. "Who shall separate me?"
The Cross of Jesus, the rough Roman gibbet, brutal Cross so far as
had anything to do with it; the Cross of nineteen hundred years ago,
which was the manifestation of the great mystery and passion by which
God redeems men, that Cross flames with a glory far greater than is
needed to illumine the little while, and the here and the now. Its
light fills all the universe; its glory rests on all the coming ages.
At its birth every new-born age will be baptized in the infinite light
that streams from the Cross of Christ. I do not know what they will
have in them. One of the joys of the contemplation of the hereafter is
that God is infinite in wisdom and power, and my own consciousness of
eternal existence becomes bearable as I remember that there can be no
monotony with God, always new ages, always new creations, always new
manifestations of the one Eternal, incomprehensible Being Whom I call
And I do not know what, or how, how long, how brief, how great, how simple. But this I know, that by the Cross I have been brought into the love of God even though I was a sinner; and this I know that nothing He creates can ever separate me from Him Who does create. I know it by the Cross. "No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." When? By the way of the Cross. Men may know the exceeding power and wisdom of God if they study Nature, but they never find His heart.
There is only one way in which men find that--by the way of the Cross. But when a man comes that way, he comes at last to the point where he can write such a chapter as the eighth of Romans, and looking out from the midst of conscious weakness, out into the infinite spaces, as the questions throb through the mind, "Who? . . . who? . . . who?" He can answer them all with a quiet, calm assurance.
A man at the Cross challenges all attack, all accusation, all condemnation, all separation, and ends in the glorious declaration that none can be against, none can dare accuse, that none can condemn, that none can separate.
In conclusion, let me ask, what is the law of appropriation? There is no specific law of appropriation here; this aspect of promise leans back on God and the work accomplished in Jesus. Yet there is a law of appropriation; it is that of the realization of all that we have spoken of before. If I have never been to the Cross for its pardon, if I know nothing of the purity of consciousness that comes by it, if I am not now at peace with God, and within myself, therefore, if I know nothing of the power of the Cross in this life of probation, then the Cross brings me no promise, but condemnation.
The Cross of Jesus brings me all light, or banishes me to all darkness. Our fathers used to preach about the sin of rejecting Jesus. We do not hear very much about that to-day. And yet, believe me, it is the sin of all sins, it is the sin against the Holy Ghost. There is no sin so deep, so heinous, so awful as that. If I will not have its pardon, or its purity, or its peace, or its power, I cannot have its promise. Then if I ask this question, Who is against me? a myriad forces of evil charge on me to destroy me. If I ask, Who is he that lays anything to my charge? the great accuser stands before me and before God. If I ask, Who is he that shall condemn? the very God of love that would redeem, condemns. If I ask, Who shall separate me? I am separated by my own choice; and the question now becomes, Who can unite me? There is none can unite me if I reject the Cross of His dear Son.
Then let us rather come to the Cross, and in submission yield to its claim, and so receive its blessings.
The Cross is God's giving, and the proof of His giving. His giving,
spared not His Son." The proof of His giving, "Shall He not freely give
us all things?"
The Cross is the place of my receiving. I look back, and the Cross brings me pardon. I look within, and the Cross brings me purity. I look up, and the Cross brings me peace. I look around, and the Cross is the Word of power. I look on and out at the infinite and unknown possibilities of eternity, and the Cross is the message of promise. Here and now, as I know my own life, as I know my own heart, I have no hope for to-day or to-morrow, for life or death, for time or eternity, but in the Cross of my Saviour. I have that hope, for
IN OUR PREVIOUS STUDY WE CONSIDERED THE FIRST BLESSING that comes to
men by the way of the Cross-first, I mean in the line of human
experience-the blessing of pardon. We attempted to listen reverently to
this note of the great evangel the glad declaration that forgiveness
for actual trespass is provided for men not merely on the basis of
pity, but in righteousness, through the mystery of the Cross of Jesus.
We all are conscious how great a blessing this is, yet I think I speak
for every person here when I say that we do not feel that it goes to
the root of our need.
That is not to undervalue the blessing of pardon, but it is to say that mere pardon leaves us lacking something that we do not earnestly desire, and something which we desire the more earnestly as the result of the pardon bestowed on us. I attempted very carefully to limit our previous study to the word which my text contained, "trespasses": sins rather than sin, definite, personal, actual acts of disobedience. Sins as trespasses are pardoned by the way of the Cross, but all such sins are the outward manifestations of an inward disease --a moral disease, of course--the disease of sin.
I am not proposing to enter into any lengthy discussion even now as to how man, using the word in its generic sense, contracted the disease. I simply propose to recognize the fact that it is here, present in human life, that we are all conscious of it, that we feel that behind the deed is a force which impelled us to the deed, and which, strive as we will, struggle as we may, has proved too much for us.
That is not the experience of lonely individuals. It is the common experience of the race. Every man fails, goes wrong, breaks down; and the fact of his actual transgressions results from this deeper, subtler, profounder fact of a tendency toward actual transgression, of a bias in that direction, You may call that original sin or continuous abnormality--phrases matter nothing. The fact of which I am conscious and you are conscious and every man is conscious is that in man there is the double consciousness of a desire to do good and of a force which prevents his doing good.
Unless the evangel of the Cross can deal with that deeper thing in my life it does not meet my profoundest need. Great and gracious is the proclamation that my sins may be forgiven, and my hands are open to receive that gift and my heart sings a song of gladness as I receive it; but, oh, my soul, is that all? Must I still be left with this underlying somewhat that drives me to sin? Can nothing be done for me in the actual warp and woof of my spirit, in my moral fiber, to quench the fires of passion, to correct the poison that throbs? Or, again, to use the simpler language, is my prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," to find no answer?
The evangel of the Cross is incomplete unless it meets that great need. My probation is not the probation of an unfallen man, of a man born without these forces and vices within him. The probation that I live is not exactly identical with that of the perfect One of Nazareth, or even of the first man according to the story of holy writ. The father of the race, according to that story, stood upright, erect, began without these forces throbbing through his consciousness. I did not so begin. I was born in sin and "shapen in iniquity." I was born with the need of a redemption that should deal not merely with the sins I have committed as the result of an inherited iniquity, or deviation from the straight, but with the inherited iniquity itself. And I am prepared to say this, even though for a moment it may sound a startling thing. Believe me, I say it most reverently, and yet I am talking out of the deepest and most passionate conviction of my life: Unless God has provided a redemption that touches sin in me as well as the sins that grow out of it, it is an imperfect redemption. All that, as it states the need according to the common experience of men, prepares the way for the consideration of our text, in which the perfect provision is revealed.
God has provided-to quote from the passage I read--"eternal redemption," and eternal redemption is infinitely more than long-lived redemption. Eternal does not finally or necessarily mean continuance without end. Eternal is as broad as it is long, as high as it is deep. Eternal redemption is redemption that meets every possible and conceivable necessity of the case. He has provided that redemption, and, while pardon for sins is its first benefit, everything else that I need is contained within that selfsame redemption. In this passage it is declared that Jesus Christ, who offered Himself through the Eternal Spirit, without spot to God, made a provision by which my conscience can be cleansed from dead works, that I may be able to do that thing that I have not been able to do--to serve the living and true God.
Now let us consider some of the outstanding terms of this text. I want to draw your special attention to the expressions, "conscience" and "dead works." "Conscience" is a word used at this point in one particular sense. "Dead works" is a figure of speech, and we must go back to the old economy with which the writer was dealing if we would understand what the phrase really means in this connection.
According to popular usage, conscience is a faculty enabling men to distinguish right from wrong. Conscience in the Bible has a far wider meaning.
The word is found only once in the Old Testament save once, and then it is in the margin. A careful examination of all the passages in which the word occurs in the New Testament shows that it is used in the sense of consciousness rather than in our ordinary sense of "conscience." The Apostle speaks of "a good conscience," of "a conscience void of offence," of "an evil conscience," of "a conscience branded as with a hot iron." Now, in neither case was he referring to the faculty that discerns between good and evil, but rather to the facts discerned. When he speaks of a good conscience he does not mean an excellent capacity for the discernment of good and evil. When he speaks of an evil conscience he does not mean a conscience unequal to the discernment of good and evil. Conscience is consciousness. To make this clearer let me requote those isolated passages, inserting the word "consciousness" instead of conscience. "A good consciousness," "a consciousness void of offence," "an evil consciousness." In each case the word indicates the fact of discernment rather than the faculty of discernment. "A conscience void of offence," then, is man's inner consciousness, having nothing in it that causes him to offend. "A good conscience" is man's whole consciousness, the whole sweep of his mind good. "An evil conscience" is man's whole consciousness, the whole content of the mind evil.
And here the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that by the mystery of the Cross man's consciousness is cleansed. Consciousness lies at the back of conduct, is influenced by conduct subsequently, but is first the inspiration of conduct. There is perpetually a reflex action between a man's consciousness and his conduct. My consciousness of anything creates my conduct toward it, and my conduct toward it reflects on my consciousness, and changes it, in that it either defiles it, or lifts it into higher reaches of purity.
Take the simplest thing you know for purpose of illustration. Let us take such a simple thing as the Master would have taken. Bring me a little child, and put this little child in the midst. My consciousness of a little child will create my conduct toward that little child. Let that be my first proposition. What is a little child? What do you think of a little child? Tell me, and I will tell you what your conduct toward that child will be. Is your consciousness of a little child a low consciousness, a mean consciousness? Your conduct to the little child will be low and mean. Suppose you have the same consciousness of a little child that Jesus had, suppose you say, In heaven its angel always beholds the face of the Father, then what? Then your conduct toward that little child will make you say what He said. If you offend that child it is better that a millstone were hanged about your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. My consciousness of a flower will affect my conduct toward it. Young man, your consciousness of a woman will affect your conduct toward her. Now, as God is my witness, there is nothing I crave more than a clean consciousness of things--a consciousness that takes hold upon a flower, a child, a woman, a city, everything, cleanly, purely, and without defilement; if I have that, then have I solved my riddle, then have I found plenteous redemption. And that is exactly what the Cross provides for every man, no matter how depraved he may be, or how utterly his consciousness has become evil. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, "If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your consciousness from dead works to serve the living God."
Now let us look at that phrase, "dead works." As we indicated before, it is absolutely important that we should notice that the writer is dealing with the old economy, and we remember how strict and stringent were the laws of that economy concerning ceremonial defilement. Both in Leviticus and in Numbers we find clear revelation of how particular God is about small things. To touch the dead was to be defiled, and cleansing was needed. To enter the house where the dead were, and, though they were wandering through the wilderness, and the tabernacle was not erected, and they could not come to sacrifice, they must be sprinkled in water in which were the ashes of a red heifer. If you will ponder well these old Mosaic requirements they are suggestions and pictures of infinite truth, telling us what God thinks of defilement and how easily a man is defiled. So that when I read here, on the page of a letter written to Hebrews, the term, "dead works," I must not pass it over as a mere poetical description. It is a description of corruption, of an evil thing that contaminates and spoils the life. These are the very forces spoiling me; these are the things from which I want a cleansing. My consciousness-how, I do not know; why, I may not be able to tell-is defiled, is contaminated; it suggests things to me which are not pure. Of course, I am speaking of a man by nature, and apart from the grace of God. I am speaking also of many a man who has been born again, but who has never appropriated God's gift of purity. The consciousness is tainted, defiled, spoiled by dead works. It is from that possibility of being contaminated that man wants cleansing.
Let us take some illustrations of things resulting from a consciousness defiled by dead things, corrupt things. First, in personal life-in the realm of the physical, a perpetual inclination to self-indulgence, to laziness, even to sensuality; in the realm of the mental, a tendency toward sloth, toward covetousness, toward dishonesty in dealing with truth, and even, alas! sometimes toward actual impurity of thinking; or, in the spiritual, proneness to lethargy, to neglect, to compromise between right and wrong. It was such impure consciousness issuing in carnal conduct which made the Apostle urge the Corinthians to purify themselves and cleanse themselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit. It is the defilement of the spirit which lies at the back of these manifestations in the realm of the flesh that we supremely need to have dealt with.
Then, because of this defiled consciousness, this defiled spirit, sin abiding still in the life manifests itself in lack of love, so that envy, malice, and even hatred are present. These are actively expressed by unwillingness to forgive where wrong has been suffered and unwillingness to apologize where it has been done. Or, again, in violation of truth, so that men are given to exaggeration or to prevarication, which is an evasion of truth; or deceit, which is to give another a wrong view of a matter; or fraud, which is to give another a wrong view in order to gain something for oneself; or slander, which is to issue a false report to the injury of another person. Or, again, in the violation of justice, the spiteful disposition, the incivility, the rudeness, the thoughtlessness, and, alas! sometimes the robbery. Now, all these things are to be found, not all in any one person perchance, but in the common consciousness of men and women who have received the blessing of pardon and sing in their joy over that blessing. My brethren, I am talking with you, not merely to you. We know what this conscience or consciousness is which is not devoid of offense, out of which offense comes, so that we do not look on men or things or affairs as we ought to, and the distorted vision of men and things and affairs produces a wrong attitude toward men and things and affairs. We know this is wrong, and we cry out at last, in the agony of our hearts, and say the good we see we cannot do. The vision of the ideal is in front of us, but power to realize it we lack. Or, in the words of the Apostle, when we would do good, evil is present with us.
Now, what we need supremely--what I need, what you need--is that our very inward nature should be taken hold of and cleansed. We need not merely the forgiveness of sins, but a consciousness that is clean. It is a terrible need. It is as deep as our nature, and the cleansing must penetrate as far as our pollution. It must be a cleansing that deals not merely with the surface of sin, but goes down into the warp and woof, into the fiber of the being. Water will not do; fire is needed. Water is not sufficient; the infinite mystery of blood is demanded.
If I have partially voiced your sense of need, as I have spoken experimentally to you of my sense of need, as I have come to know what God is, and what I am, then I bring you the second note of the evangel. It is in the presence of that need that the writer asks, "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your consciousness?" Christ offered Himself through the eternal Spirit. And by that offering He is able to cleanse the nature of the soul that trusts Him by the mystery of that blood poured forth. He can cleanse the consciousness and make it pure and good. And again I say I am not going to tell you how it is done, I am not going to try to explain to you by speculation of my finite mind or any philosophy of man how through the mystery of that shed blood a man's consciousness can be cleansed as he trusts in Jesus. The writer does not explain it, he affirms it, and all the burden of the teaching of the New Testament is this, that not merely by the mystery of this shed blood a man's sins are forgiven, but he is cleansed from his sin, changed, remade, a new creation, so that the consciousness defiled becomes a consciousness that is pure.
Now, I am perfectly well aware that a great many people who certainly have received the blessing of the forgiveness of sins have never appropriated this blessing of the cleansed consciousness and purity. I am perfectly well aware that hundreds and thousands of us are sighing after it, but not possessing it; and consequently I am driven to ask this question, if that indeed is declared to be a possibility, on what ground can I have that cleansing of my nature which shall change my view of everything, and give me a new outlook on everything, and so remake my attitude toward everything? How, in brief, can I have, instead of an evil conscience, a good conscience, instead of a conscience seared as with a hot iron, a consciousness which is void of offense? How? And the answer takes us back again to the statement of first principles.
The first thing we have to learn to do is to cease attempting to change our own consciousness. We must quit the conflict which is purely personal. A man says, I will come to look upon a little child as I ought to look upon a little child. You cannot do it in the strength of your own willing. That is the very mystery we have been dealing with. How many a man has said, I hate my outlook, this conception which is false and which issues in sinful conduct. I will alter it, I will change it, I will look upon the old things from a new standard, with cleanness of perception. A clean consciousness of the things round about me shall be mine. He was sincere in the vow, but long before the sun went westering, and the night had come upon him, he had looked again with evil thoughts, and impure desire, and debauched conceptions. The first thing, then, to do, strange as it may sound, is that we cease attempting to change our own consciousness. What then? Then we must be ready and willing to abandon once and forever all permitted acts of sin. We are to put ourselves, so far as it is possible to us, outside the place of sinning. That is very concrete if only you will make it so. It means this. If you are going to quit impure thoughts you must begin by burning your impure pictures. If, after long struggle, you are going to enter into the possibility that lies declared in this text and overcome your tendency toward drunkenness-for let us name things by their right name-- you must begin by turning out the last hidden cupboard in your house of the thing that has made you sin. "Having, therefore, these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." "Having, therefore, these promises," what promises? "I will be their God." "I will dwell in them and walk in them." "I will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to Me sons and daughters." These are the promises. Having them, what am I to do? Cleanse myself! But that is what I cannot do. If I try self-cleansing apart from these promises, and apart from the claim that faith makes upon them, I shall fail; but if I claim the promises and neglect the personal cleansing, I shall fail. There must not only be first a cessation of attempt to master the underlying evil in my strength, there must also be what appears to be a contradiction to that first statement, a resolute parting company with all the circumstances and friends and habits and methods which I know have led me into sin.
What beyond? There must be a handing over of the life just as it is, with its defilement, to Jesus Christ. Oh, but you say you are telling us to do what you tell people to do when they come to Him at first. Exactly! When the Church at Ephesus lost her first love, the great and glorious One, walking amid the seven golden lamp-stands, said, "I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love." What shall she do? This is what she shall do: "Repent, and do the first works." Begin where you began, fall in line with the principles you have neglected and wandered from. Remember, when we come for purity we are to come exactly as we came for pardon. First, "Nothing in my hands I bring," the cessation of my attempts to deal with the underlying impurity; second, "Here I give my all to Thee," the utter and absolute abandonment of the life to Jesus Christ-not as a theory to be sung, but as fact. And then what next? Then, dear heart, trust Him for that very thing after which you have been sighing. Accept it as from Him, trusting in Him. The cleansing of the conscience comes whenever a soul ventures everything on Christ and trusts Him absolutely. If you will come now, just where you are and as you are, with your false consciousness, but in strong determination that you will cut every cord that binds you to the old life, burn every bridge behind you, stand out in separation to Him, and then trust Him, He will break the power of canceled sin. He will set the prisoner free. And so, by the way of this Cross, infinite and ever-increasing mystery of God's love, there comes to men not merely pardon, but purity-that for which the heart, quickened by the Spirit, most profoundly seeks.
* G. Campbell Morgans sermons found in: The Westminster Pulpit, originally published by Hodder and Stoughton, London